Blackmagic Design touts its URSA Broadcast camera as a broadcast solution with a DSLR price tag. I’ve had some hands-on time with the camera and while I’ll not comment on advertising slogans, nonetheless the camera will do the job for a wide segment of the market.
URSA Broadcast is roughly based upon the URSA Mini Pro 4.6K in body and electronics, but is built around a 13.056x7.344-mm sensor, making it just slightly larger than a 2/3-inch sensor. It has a B4 mount standard with standard broadcast lens connector. Optional user-changeable EF and Nikon F mounts are available. The camera body itself has electronic connectors for electronic operation of EF lenses when used with the adapter.
It has an advertised dynamic range of 12 stops and shoots at UHD or HD resolutions in DNxHD 110x and 145, all flavors of ProRes and RAW (uncompressed, 3:1 or 4:2 compression) at frame rates from 23.98 to 60fps depending upon format and media. Like the MiniPro 4.6K, it accepts both CFast 2 and SD cards with a physical toggle between cards. A list of qualified cards is found on the Blackmagic site. I did find it possible to shoot UHD 23.98 ProResHQ on a non-qualified V60 rated card but not surprisingly the card balked at RAW. Recording to qualified CFast2 cards was problem free at all supported frame rates and resolutions.
The URSA Broadcast, in sharing layout with the Mini4.6K, would be familiar in the hands of any experienced camera operator because everything is where you would expect it to be. An ND wheel can select clear, 2, 4 or 6 stops of ND filtration with IR protection. The turret turns smoothly and would be easy to adjust in field work.
As a broadcast-centric camera, gain is only expressed in terms of db rather than ISO. Thus 0 db is equivalent of ISO 400 and +12db equates to ISO 1600. This does not exactly make the camera a speed-demon and does challenge the DSLR equivalence since virtually all mirrorless and DSLR cameras are far more low-light capable.
Like the Mini Pro 4.6K the camera has two XLR audio inputs on the rear top of the camera—not the most convenient place for plugging in mics—and inputs can switch between internal microphone, mic, line or AES (yes, I could take digital output from my Mix Pre-D to the camera). There is no slot for a wireless mic, which is something that a traditional ENG shooter would miss.
Remote control can be achieved via Bluetooth and app or through a LANC connector. It has one SDI each in and out up to 12G. Timecode /reference in is also via a BNC connector. Note, however, this is not genlocked and despite BMD claiming an accurate clock, I would personally feel much more comfortable in that environment with an external timecode box such as the Ambient Lock It.
The 4-inch pull out screen is bright and its touch screen is just right—not too sensitive and not too difficult to engage. The camera does shine as a shoulder mounted camera with the optional viewfinder and shoulder mount with VC-14 foot. It is very easy to go from tripod to shoulder and the camera is well balanced even with lens and a big battery sticking off the back.
But now to actually shooting with the camera.
I was fortunate enough to have the use of a Fujinon UA18x5.5BERD-S6 4K lens for the test. I remarked both to Bob Caniglia of Blackmagic Design and Mark Shurer of Fujinon that it felt a little funny to have a $46,000 lens hanging off a $3,500 camera. But needless to say, the Fujinon’s performance, resolution, focus and responsiveness was stellar.
Still it raises a significant question in the practical use of the camera. Cameras may come and go but optics endure. High end productions demanding the resolving power of a true 4K ENG lens can always go the rental route. Potential URSA Broadcast customers will likely have an investment in B4 glass and it is ultimately the users’ expectations that will dictate whether older glass is adequate. Can older SD glass be used at HD resolutions? Or UHD resolutions? I suspect again that the answer is dependent upon what the station or client accepts as adequate.
And here we come to the question of where the camera fits in the production scheme of things.
Certainly ProRes and DNxHD are ubiquitous post production formats. But certainly ProRes files are much larger than the AVC files used in other cameras, requiring potentially more media or more media changes. And under what scenarios would a production shoot UHD?
Bob Canigilia of Blackmagic suggests that one possible use in the broadcast world very well might be setting up a remote operation, for example, using multiple cameras that could allow communication with a director via the built-in talk-back functions and connected to a Blackmagic ATEM switcher, recording ISO shots in camera and a switched program feed to media and/or streaming. Using the Blackmagic Camera Fiber Converted and Studio Fiber Converter announced simultaneously with the camera adds versatility to this and many other scenarios with the ability to connect to other devices up to 2 km in distance over just one single cable.
RAW or higher bitrate ProRes codecs might be used in what I’ll loosely term “higher production value” shots, but I honestly do not see much RAW shooting with this camera. But there was little reason for Blackmagic to remove it from the base camera. And with DaVinci Resolve, Blackmagic RAW isn’t difficult to deal with in post. It just is a media-hog.
An interesting twist with this camera is its shooting gammas. Blackmagic cameras always had a video (Rec 709) and film (Log) gamma, but URSA Broadcast adds something called Extended Video. It is advertised to expand dynamic range and produce a shot the doesn’t require grading. Now, I simply don’t understand that last contention since virtually any shot requires some form of correction. But according to Blackmagic, Extended Video has a slightly “less aggressive” gamma curve, which I read as a softer roll-off, and a slightly wider color gamut than Rec 709. In shooting both video and extended video, I did find the extended video handled highlights and wider dynamic range shots better. Furthermore, DaVinci Resolve 14.3 and greater include a Blackmagic Broadcast to Rec 709 3D LUT. It makes me wonder whether we will see this in future updates even to existing Blackmagic cameras.
I would show some level of concern as an ENG operator using this camera on a daily basis. Not to impune those fine men and women who shoot the news, but fast pace shooting doesn’t always lead to the most gentle of camera handling at times. This camera simply does not feel to me as durable as a traditional ENG camera. Now you might say that many folks are shooting hand-held cameras. But I’ve seen some pretty well built hand-held cameras and they don’t have a big lens hanging off the end that can be snapped. And a broadcast station will have a relationship with its camera vendor that will expedite repair and replacement. Is Blackmagic ready to handle the physical support needs of a broadcaster?
Like other Blackmagic cameras, URSA Broadcast can be equipped with Blackmagic’s URSA Studio Viewfinder and find its way into a studio operation. This would be a perfectly reasonable application. I have always liked Blackmagic’s color science and the image looks good. Staying in a Blackmagic production chain, the ATEM switchers can act as camera CCU’s and match cameras in a multi-cam environment. A small studio or broadcasters, religious users, education and corporate users can literally save thousands with this hardware configuration and create technically solid content as well.
My sample camera performed well. The URSA Viewfinder’s diopter was very stiff and extremely difficult to adjust. I’ll just relegate that to sample error since I both own an URSA Viewfinder for my personal URSA Mini 4.6K and I have used them in reviews of other Blackmagic products. This is the first unit with the sticky diopter.
CFast2 media remains pricey but still below solid state media used by other manufacturers. The SD card option even for UHD makes media for this camera and absolute bargain.
Over the years, Blackmagic Design has delivered affordable products that perform well and that, like any product line, can be appropriate to certain customers but not to others. Only you can assess your individual needs and budgets. But just on the absolute scale of the quality and image quality of the URSA Broadcast, I would give it a hearty recommendation. Slogans notwithstanding, it is a lot of hardware for the money.
Summary: A 2/3-inch HD and UHD camera based upon the Blackmagic Design Ursa Mini Pro 4.6K with optional EF and F mount lens mounts. It records ProRes, DNxHD and RAW to CFast2 or SD cards. Can be configured for remote or studio usage.
Application: ENG/EFP and whatever applications called for by traditional 2/3-inch cameras
Key Features: Interchangeable lens mounts. Four levels ND filtration. ProRes/DNxHD/RAW shooting. HFR only to 60fps in HD mode. Records UHD and full HD. Timecode in/out. Full tally and talkback. Integrates with Blackmagic ATEM switchers and optional Blackmagic Fiber backs.
Price: Camera $3,495. Viewfinder $1,495; Shoulder mount $395