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Friday, February 2, 2018

Blackmagic Design URSA Broadcast - in depth look

Blackmagic URSA Broadcast camera
On the 2nd of February 2018, Blackmagic Design announced a new high end professional broadcast camera. The URSA Broadcast camera for ENG and programming work as well for studio work and live production. A very versatile camera which I'm very exited about. It's completely tailored to be used in combination with b4 2/3 inch broadcast lenses, by reducing the size of the sensor to 13mm x 7mm so you won't have to deal with crop factor or magnification of the field of view. Of course you won't have the same depth of field as with a full frame camera, but in news- and events coverage or when shooting TV shows this has never been an issue. And from experience I know that with enough zoom and using a wide aperture you can still get some nice depth of field shots. This is what Blackmagic has to say about the sensor: "The image sensor is designed for both HD and Ultra HD so you get amazing texture and detail, accurate skin tones, vibrant color and high dynamic range video, all without the need for post production". So without further ado, let's have a look at some of the key features.

Blackmagic URSA Broadcast Key Features

URSA Broadcast is like two cameras in one, an incredible field camera for ENG and programming work, as well as a professional studio camera. The camera features traditional broadcast controls along with exceptional image quality, all in a compact design that is ideal for fast paced, fast turn around production work. The key is URSA Broadcast’s new extended video mode which captures incredible looking video with accurate skin tones and vibrant colors. That means customers don’t have to color correct images before going to air, making URSA Broadcast perfect for news, live sports, studio talk and game shows and more. URSA Broadcast lets customers shoot, edit and get stories on air faster than ever before.

URSA Broadcast is also designed to work with the equipment and systems traditional broadcasters already have. For example, customers can use their existing B4 HD and Ultra HD lenses with URSA Broadcast. Unlike other broadcast cameras, URSA Broadcast records onto inexpensive standard SD cards, UHS-II cards and CFast cards, and records 1080i or 2160p video into standard .mov files, with .mxf to be added in future updates. URSA Broadcast records using DNx145, DNx220X or ProRes, so video doesn’t need to be copied or transcoded. This makes it fast to work with video from URSA Broadcast because it’s compatible with virtually all existing broadcast systems and editing software.

The B4 lens mount and matching sensor on URSA Broadcast enables wide depth of field, so broadcast customers can shoot without constantly chasing focus. The lens mount features high performance optics with spherical aberration correction specifically designed to match the camera’s sensor. The ?” mount lets customers use existing HD lenses or Ultra HD lenses. Because B4 lenses are par-focal and have an extremely wide depth of field, images stay in focus when zoomed in and out. That lets customers work faster because they don’t need to change lenses or refocus between close up, medium and wide shots. URSA Broadcast also supports full electronic B4 lens control so customers can adjust focus, iris and zoom using the camera’s controls, or remotely from an ATEM switcher or ATEM Camera Control Panel. In addition, the standard B4 lens mount can be swapped with optional EF, F and PL mounts so customers can use everything from inexpensive high quality photographic lenses all the way up to massive cinema lenses.

Front view of the URSA Broadcast
URSA Broadcast features a high quality 4K image sensor and a new extended video mode with better dynamic range and color fidelity. The sensor is designed for both HD and Ultra HD, producing images with fine texture and detail, accurate skin tones, vibrant color and high dynamic range. The images from URSA Broadcast have been designed to be used without additional color correction. This makes editing faster, which is crucial in the fast paced broadcast world. The high resolution sensor is a huge advantage, even when working in HD, because it enables sub pixel image processing and superior anti-aliasing, resulting in super sharp images.

URSA Broadcast is designed to be the toughest and most fully featured camera available. It includes everything customers need in a compact handheld magnesium alloy body that’s durable and light enough to use anywhere. There’s an external high visibility LCD status display for viewing critical shooting information, a foldout touch screen for reviewing shots without needing an extra on-set monitor, professional connections such as 12G SDI, XLR audio, built in high quality stereo microphones and more. Plus, every single control on the camera has a redundant backup, including the power, so if anything should go wrong in the field, the camera can still be used.

The URSA Broadcast also features built in neutral density (ND) filters with IR compensation for quickly reducing the amount of light that enters the camera. The ¼, 1/16th and 1/64th stop filters are specifically designed to match the colorimetry of the camera and provide additional latitude, even under harsh lighting conditions. That means customers can use different combinations of aperture and shutter angle to achieve shallower depth of field, or specific levels of motion blur, in a wider range of situations. The IR filters evenly compensate for both far red and infrared wave lengths to eliminate IR contamination. The ND filters are true optical filters with a precision mechanism that quickly moves them into place when the ND filter dial is turned.

Blackmagic URSA Broadcast puts control buttons, switches, knobs and dials on the outside of the camera, giving customers direct access to the most important camera features. The controls are laid out in a logical order that makes them easy to remember so operators can use the camera without having to look at the buttons, hunt through menus, or take their eye off of the action. URSA Broadcast also features a high visibility LCD status display which shows important information such as timecode, shutter and lens settings, battery, recording status, and audio levels. The status display features a backlight and is designed to be clearly visible in both dimly lit studios and outside in direct sunlight.

URSA Broadcast features both dual CFast 2.0 recorders and dual SD/UHS-II card recorders. Both types of media are standard, non-proprietary, inexpensive and readily available at most computer and camera stores. Customers can record 10 bit broadcast quality DNxHD 220X, DNxHD 145 or ProRes files with metadata, making it is easy to integrate URSA Broadcast into existing broadcast systems and workflows. URSA Broadcast can even record lossless 12 bit CinemaDNG RAW files for high quality programming and post production. With dual slots for each media type, URSA Broadcast gives customers redundant recorders and non-stop recording. When the first card is full, recording automatically continues onto the next card so the full card can be swapped while recording continues on the other.

All of the connections on URSA Broadcast are standard television industry connectors so customers don’t need expensive, proprietary cables. The camera features multi rate 12G SDI connections for video output and return program feed input. Both connections automatically switch speed so they work with all HD and Ultra HD formats up to 2160p60 over a single cable. In addition, URSA Broadcast features HD-SDI monitoring out, 2 LANC inputs, balanced XLR audio with phantom power, and timecode/reference input. A 12 pin Hirose connector provides analog and digital broadcast lens control for powering and controlling SD, HD and Ultra HD lenses. There’s also a 4 pin XLR 12V DC power output and HD-SDI monitor output that can be used with Blackmagic viewfinders or any third party viewfinders and monitors.

Professional audio options
Blackmagic Design also makes a complete set of professional camera accessories designed to work perfectly with URSA Broadcast. Customers can add a Blackmagic URSA Viewfinder or a large 7 inch Blackmagic URSA Studio Viewfinder. There are microphone mounts, standard V-Lock and Gold battery plates, optional lens mounts and more. The all new Blackmagic Camera Fiber Converter, Blackmagic Studio Fiber Converter and ATEM Camera Control Panel let customers create a complete broadcast camera chain that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars less than traditional camera chains. The fiber converters let customers extend their cameras and power them from up to 2 km away using industry standard SMPTE fiber cables. It includes 1 Ultra HD camera feed, plus 3 HD return feeds, common live camera controls with multiple channels of talkback, and standard television industry talkback headset connections, all in a compact IP video based design that allow it to be connected and controlled from a live production switcher.

URSA Broadcast lets customers get the most out of their investment in cameras and lenses because it can be re-purposed and used on every type of project, whether it’s out in the field or in the studio. It’s like getting two cameras in one.” said Grant Petty, CEO, Blackmagic Design. “URSA Broadcast is exciting because it makes high end broadcast camera technology available to everyone from AV and web producers all the way up to professional broadcasters, for the same price as a common DSLR!”

Blackmagic URSA Broadcast Key Features
  • 4K sensor, extended video dynamic range, traditional external controls and buttons, built in optical ND filters, dual CFast and dual SD card recorders,
  • Advanced HD and Ultra HD broadcast camera with B4 mount.
  • New extended video mode with better dynamic range and color fidelity producing images with amazing texture and detail, accurate skin tones, vibrant color and high dynamic range.
  • Full electronic B4 lens control support for adjusting focus, iris and zoom using the camera’s controls, or remotely from an ATEM switcher or ATEM Camera Control Panel.
  • Built in dual SD/UHS-II and CFast card recorders allow unlimited duration recording in high quality.
  • Records 1080i or 2160p video into standard .mov files using DNx145, DNx220X or ProRes for compatibility with existing broadcast systems and workflows. Standard .mxf will be added in future updates.
  • - Support for DNxHD 220X, DNxHD 145, Apple ProRes 4444 XQ QuickTime, ProRes 4444 QuickTime, ProRes 422 HQ QuickTime, ProRes 422 QuickTime, ProRes 422 LT QuickTime and ProRes 422 Proxy QuickTime, CinemaDNG RAW, CinemaDNG RAW 3:1, CinemaDNG RAW 4:1.
  • High quality clear, 1/4, 1/16th and 1/64th stop neutral density (ND) filters with IR compensation designed to specifically match the colorimetry and color science of URSA Broadcast.
  • Fully redundant controls including external broadcast controls which allow direct access to the most important camera settings such as external power switch, ND filter wheel, ISO, shutter, white balance, record button, audio gain controls, lens and transport control, high frame rate button and more.
  • Interchangeable lens mount with B4 mount included as standard. Optional EF, PL and F mount available separately.
  • Status display for quickly checking timecode, shutter and lens settings, battery, recording status, and audio levels.
  • Features all standard connections, including dual XLR mic/line audio inputs with phantom power, 12G SDI output for monitoring with camera status graphic overlay and separate XLR 4 pin power output for viewfinder power, headphone jack, LANC remote control and standard 4 pin 12V DC power connection.
  • Built in high quality stereo microphones for recording sound.
  • 4 inch foldout touchscreen for on-set monitoring and menu settings.
  • Blackmagic SDI Control Protocol for external control or iPad control via Bluetooth®, 2 x 2.5mm LANC for lens and record control.

Availability and Price

Blackmagic URSA Broadcast is available from B&H for US$3,495.

So after learning about a lot of pro's, what about the con's? For starters the lack of being able to record in the popular XDCAM HD codec (recording in MXF will likely be added later). It's thé format that broadcasters work with. However, in a time where technology is changing fast and TV shows are able to use content from all kinds of different sources (and editing software doesn't have a problem handeling it all on the same timeline) this might be less of a deal breaker. In the end it's the cameras image quality that counts the most. I've had a JVC camera with the XDCAM HD codec on board and the footage it produced was underwhelming to say the least.
The second thing that has to be mentioned is that although the camcorder is priced around $3,495 you would still need to add a few accessories to make this into a true shoulder mounted ENG camera. A Blackmagic Shoulder-Mount kit sets you back another $395.00 and the Blackmagic Design URSA Viewfinder is no less then $1,495.00. And you still need a Battery Plate ($95) to be able to use your beloved V-Mount batteries or Gold Mount batteries. Bringing the total to $1,985 of necessary accessories, to have it up and running as a 'basic' ENG camcorder. But lets put these prices into perspective. The broadcast market won't fall from their seat when looking at these prices. In fact, If you take a look at a very popular SONY ENG HD camera like the PDW-850 for example, the body only will set you back a whooping $25,783.95 which also doesn't include a viewfinder. If you like to add one of those (and I would certainly recommend one) then you will need to add another $13,238.95 to your total bill just for a 2.7" HD Color Viewfinder. Or you could go for the "cheaper" HD viewfinder starting around the price of a new URSA Broadcast Camera. I'm not kidding. So a dressed up URSA Broadcast camera costs $5,480 and a widely used Sony Broadcast camcorder $39,022.90 (both without lenses since these are interchangable). Not only is the URSA Broadcast camera $33,542.90 cheaper then the Sony Broadcast camera, it's also able to shoot in 4K. Even if you don't compare it to a similar type camera but an FS5 for example (completely dressed up as a ENG style camcorder) the price difference is still thousands of dollars! These facts are difficult to ignore and it makes me very exited to see what kind of footage it produces. Knowing the Blackmagic camera's it might be a real game changer and I can't wait for more footage to showup and get my hands on one myself someday to do some extensive field testing.

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