Simon Wyndham reviews the beefy and featured-laden URSA 4K camera from Blackmagic Design paired with a Zeiss CP.2 50mm PL-mount lens lens.
With the sheer choice on offer, you cannot buy a bad camera in today's market. A bold statement to make, perhaps, but one that I believe is true. Some cameras do certainly perform better than others, while some have better specifications and features, but I can say without reservation that, if you so chose any person with skill, you could make something of great quality with any of the pieces of gear on sale today.
What we have now is a buyer's market. Where once the only serious choice was between Sony and Panasonic, we now have a multitude of manufacturers who all offer well specced gear, including cameras made by companies who had previously only dealt with I/O hardware, namely Blackmagic and AJA.
Whilst Blackmagic's previous forays into the world of cameras have been developments on the video DSLR form, its new camera, the URSA, has made bold promises to change the way that we think about camera design. Now that I've been lucky enough to now test one, how does the URSA stack up in the real world?
The URSA is Blackmagic's first exploration into what could be considered a serious EFP (Electronic Field Production) camera. With its current firmware, the URSA is a lower-priced alternative to Sony's F5, featuring 12 stops of dynamic range, an interchangeable sensor block, global shutter sensor as standard, 4K RAW and Prores recording, as well as being able to record 4K at up to 80fps with the latest software update for fantastic slow motion. It is clear that with the URSA, Blackmagic means business.
Before you have even opened the box for the URSA ,you will receive immediate feedback through your arms, with regard to one part of the camera's specification: the weight. Make no mistake, this is a heavy camera. At 16.32lbs, it is heavier than some of Sony's old Beta SP tape cameras.
There are a few reasons for the URSAs' weight. First and foremost, it is designed to last. The entire chassis, including the external panels and the large LCD screen housing, the whole lot, is made out of black anodised metal.
Could they have made it out of lighter weight material? Possibly, but it has to be considered that the URSA not only contains an awful lot of internal processing grunt (to account for future developments and upgrades), but the metal body also provides a massive amount of heat dissipation, when combined with the liquid and fan cooling.
The URSA is a beast indeed. With its sculpted lines and matte black paint scheme, this is a camera that looks the business and is built like a proverbial tank.
Design and features
At the front end of the URSA, you'll find the removable sensor block. Once again made out of machined metal, this is replaceable by undoing four chunky allen key bolts.
This is one of the main selling points of the URSA in that, when even better chip technology comes along, you will not have to replace the entire camera. It also has huge benefits if it is possible to purchase the different blocks separately. You could, for instance, have a PL mount cinema camera one day and swap for the B4 lens mount with a built in ND wheel the next for ENG or freeform documentary-style work.
Built into the body at the base is a 15mm rail mount with a VCT-14 compatible wedge plate. This is fantastic news for those who are fed up with having to purchase such things for each camera from third parties.
The top of the camera is home to the substantial top handle, which is mounted via a very chunky allen key bolt. The handle itself features four large screw holes for mounting accessories. Underneath the handle are five more accessory bolt holes, with a sixth being revealed when the handle is removed.
At the back of the camera, there are mounting holes for battery plates. In the case of the review sample, this was a V-lock system. Next to this are a multitude of BNC connections featuring SDI in, SDI out, Reference in, Timecode in, Timecode out and, beneath this, a four pin XLR 12v power input.
The right hand side of the camera is where many of Blackmagic's efforts start to show themselves. A centralised 5" touch screen is accompanied by large bright LED VU meters with dBFS markings, volume control knobs, iris, focus, peaking, display selection, menu, slate and power buttons.
This side of the camera also features a headphone output, which to my joy is actually a 6.3mm jack, instead of the rather small and flimsy 3.5mm that is featured on far too many other cameras. Have you noticed a theme yet? Everything on this camera is chunky, strong and designed to last.
Near the front of the camera body on this side is another SDI output, positioned as such for use with a third party EVF. There is also a 12v out and two XLR audio inputs.
This is nice positioning, especially for the audio inputs, because it allows easy wire routing for a semi-permanent mic mounted near the top handle, as well as any other external mic you may wish to use.
The left hand side of the URSA is where most camera operators will be and is, therefore, the most important one to get right.
At first glance, this side of the camera features nothing other than a few small control buttons at the front end of the device featuring a record button, iris, focus and playback transport controls, which can also adjust DSLR lens exposure manually. Then, you unclip and open up the LCD display that is covering the entire side area...