21 Nov 2014

Big update for Blackmagic's URSA: "It's like having a whole new camera..."

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These days a simple software upgrade can transform your camera

Black Magic’s ambitious full-size 4K production camera, URSA, is a new product, but with this latest firmware update, it’s already taking some interesting new directions.

The key new capabilities include 80fps recording, in RAW or ProRes, and visually lossless 12 bit compressed raw recording. There’s a new way to handle slow motion too: the sensor frame rate and the project frame rate are decoupled, so high speed footage can be previewed at normal playback speed for instant review of of slow motion.

Let’s look at these changes in more detail.

Modern sensors are often able to capture video at quite high frame rates, but the limiting factor is the data rates that these produce. Video at 4K is essentially an eight megapixel still every 24th/30th/60th/80th of a second. That quickly adds up to the point where it maxes out storage and even data pathways within the camera. It may also exceed the camera’s ability to process the data as it comes off the sensor. Still cameras have it much easier!

New compression format

Alongside the new, higher frame rate of 80 fps the URSA’s been updated with a new compression format: RAW 3:1. This compresses the raw output from URSA’s sensor while retaining its quality (it’s visually, but not mathematically lossless) and reducing it in size by 50%. Blackmagic gives the following example: you can record seven minutes of raw onto a 128GB CFast card, but 14 minutes of RAW 3:1.

Visually lossless means just that. It’s just as good as compressed, unless you’re going to compare the difference after a very large number of generations.

URSA now makes a distinction between the Sensor Frame Rate and the Project Frame Rate. The latter is the rate at which the footage will be played back in the project - or in the final production. It is essentially the speed at which you will see the video in your editing system’s timeline - without doing anything with it - because the NLE will just see it as native 24p, 30p or whatever. It’s slow motion without having to process it.

The variable speed feature now goes way beyond this because frame rates can be selected from five to eighty fps in one frame increments.

The full Blackmagic Press release has more details and some good explanations of how this all works, so we’ve reproduced it over the page.

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David Shapton

David is the Editor In Chief of RedShark Publications. He's been a professional columnist and author since 1998, when he started writing for the European Music Technology magazine Sound on Sound. David has worked with professional digital audio and video for the last 25 years.

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