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Almost Live with Streaming Media: Blackmagic URSA

Streaming Media Producer's Shawn Lam and Blackmagic Designs' Bob Caniglia discuss the new Blackmagic URSA camera, which features a Super 35mm UltraHD sensor, comes in multiple lens mounts, and features an innovative dual-sided touchscreen to enable on-camera collaboration for multiple crew members.

[Note: This sponsored interview was recorded at NAB 2014.]

At NAB 2014 in Las Vegas, one of Blackmagic Designs' most intriguing announcements was the new URSA camera, which continues the company's forays into innovative camera design with a new Super 35mm production camera. Available in  July in both EF and PL lens mount models (with a B4 model coming later), the URSA records UltraHD to CF Fast and also supports HD formats.

It features touchscreens on both sides where, according to Blackmagic Senior Regional Manager Bob Caniglia, "where you can enter in metadata and see the display for audio metering, focus peaking, and histogram ... because sometimes multiple people are working in the same crew. This way, the focus puller can see what’s going on while the DP is looking over here, and the audio guy can plug in and look at this meter. This makes it interactive for multiple people, and it provides multiple viewing angles for single users. If you’re directing and you want to be on one side, but you still want to see what’s going on framed in the shot, you can do that too."

The camera is field-upgradable in the extreme: as updated components become available, users will be able to replace both the mount and sensor while keeping the camera body itself intact.

Shawn Lam met with Bob Caniglia at the Blackmagic booth at NAB 2014 to discuss the camera and learn more about its innovative design, capabilities, and positioning, and how it extends the capabilities introduced in earlier Blackmagic camera models.

Shawn: It’s Shawn Lam here for Streaming Media Producer at NAB 2014. We’re at the Blackmagic Design booth with Bob Caniglia, and we’re here to talk the new Blackmagic URSA camera. This is a little bit different from the Blackmagic Cinema Cameras. Tell us about URSA.

Bob: URSA is the next evolution in our camera line: We’ve gone from a handheld model to a full-on production camera. We saw what people were doing with some of the smaller cameras by adding monitors and what-not, so we decided to add a 10-inch screen. It’s not a touchscreen, so you have great viewing angles, and it angles all the way up, or all the way down, depending on how you’re shooting. We also have touchscreens on both sides. That’s where you can enter in metadata and see the display for audio metering, focus peaking, and histogram. You can enter in metadata just as you could in the Cinema Cameras, where you can go through all the menus and stuff. And then on the other side, we have another one, because sometimes multiple people are working in the same crew. This way, the focus puller can see what’s going on while the DP is looking over here, and the audio guy can plug in and look at this meter. This makes it interactive for multiple people, and it provides multiple viewing angles for single users. If you’re directing and you want to be on one side, but you still want to see what’s going on framed in the shot, you can do that too.

Shawn: This has a 4K Super 35MM sensor. What’s the lens mount?

Bob: We currently have a choice of two mounts. We have an EF mount and a PL mount, and we’ll ship those later this summer. Down the road we’re going to have a B4 mount for TV lenses. We’re also going to come out with another one that doesn’t have a mount at all. It doesn’t have a sensor either. It’s a camera without a camera. It’s designed as a “cheese plate” where you can strap on, say, a Canon 5D and then take the HDMI output, and this way you get everything you would want in the full feature of the camera, so you can record on the CF Fast drives over here. There are dual CF Fast drives, but you’ll also get all the audio. We have phantom power audio and of course all the other ins and outs that are on the body, but this way it’s without a sensor. And then at some point down the road, when you want to upgrade this camera, the camera body itself will be reusable, but the front plate will take out the mount and the sensor, and you can add a new sensor, so it’ll be a field-upgradable camera in the future.

Shawn: Can the user upgrade it, or does it need to be sent back to the factory?

Bob: It’s going to be a user-upgradable sensor. I’m sure some of the resellers might do it for some of the customers that don’t want to deal with it, but it’s really quite easy. There are four hex nuts in the front.

Shawn: Okay. So the maximum resolution this records is 3840x2160, which is UltraHD on CF Fast. What type of codec does it record to?

Bob: We’re going to do Cinema DNG Raw and as well as ProRes.

Shawn: And of course, the camera supports lower resolutions such as standard HD?

Bob: Yes. There’ll be some HD formats in there as well.

Shawn: What about SD?

Bob: I don’t think so. I think we’re just going to stick with HD.

Shawn: It’s a good idea.

Shawn: Pricing and availability?

Bob: Sure. The EF version of this camera is $5995. The PL version will be $6495. The version without a sensor at all will be $4495, and the B4 mount will be announced pricewise and deliver date later in the year. But the first two EF and PLs will be shipping in the July time frame.

Shawn: Thank you very much, Bob. Some very exciting new camera announcements from Blackmagic here at NAB 2014.

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