This article is about the Blackmagic URSA 4K EF camera. Specificaly about the V1 version (the original big one). The URSA is a great camera and is relatively affordable but is accessories are not.The motivation to write this article is that there isn't a lot of info available about this particular model. Most web pages are about the Blackmagic URSA mini and it's variants. The sections below give a summary about my findings about the camera and the solutions I came up with. Hope it can help some proud owners of the URSA.
Let's first state that I'm not a professional videographer and that I'm also on a budget. I'm Belgian, so most provided links are from Belgian or Dutch webshops. Most likely, any article mentioned here is available at Amazon or AliExpress.
Buying the official Blackmagic accessoires is ofcourse the easiest option. But alas also the most expensive option. I searched online to come up with cheaper alternatives. Here is my story:
Rigging the URSA
I really like the built-in rod support from the URSA. I already had 2 15mm rods from my previous setup. The official shoulder kit from Blackmagic costs about €400,00 which is a little bit to expensive for just a shoulder cushion. Because of that, I searched online and came across SmallRig. I bought the following things:
- SmallRig 11" articulating rosette arm - €11,00
- SmallRig universal shoulder pad - €80,00
- SmallRig rubber shoulder support kit arri rosette - €230,00
I am really satisfied with my purchase. The quality is the same as my previous Tilta rig (which was also very good).
Keep in mind that the URSA is a heavy camera! Using it handheld is tough.
The Idea for the SmallRig came from Andrewbrinkhaus' blog post on bmcuser.
Tripod for the URSA
The URSA is heavy. Really heavy. So it requires a heavy duty tripod. I own a Secced tripod (bought it years back when I bought my JVC GY-HD201e). When the screws are retightened after all these years, it holds the camera well. At least when I don't set it higher than 1.5 meters. I also used the URSA on a Libec tripod from my colleague, the tripod seems to hold it even better than the Secced. Mounting the URSA with a telephoto and mattebox on the Libec JIB 50 is also no problem at all.
Flightcase for the URSA
The first half year I owned the URSA I didn't have a proper flightcase for it. I just used the original box it came in and the provided foam. People who bought the URSA when it first came out are lucky enough to have it come in a black foam enclosure. This is strong enough to be placed directly in a case, the white one unfortunately not. No incidents happened. But my colleague warned me about the possible dangers. So I went out and searched for a case.
The Blackmagic forum mentiones a case specially for the URSA, a Jason Cases case (can be found here). It does look perfect with room for accessories but €500,00... An alternative is the HPRC4100 from NSP Cases (can be found here). It's less expensive, but it has no room for accessories. On Photokina I came accrose the Peli booth. They showed me their lineup and I was immediately convinced. Two of my colleagues also own Pelicases and they are also very satisfied, so it was an easy decision.
The next day I ordered a Pelicase 1610 on Coolblue for €284,00. I am very satisfied with this case. Preparing the case is very easy, you can reform the foam without any tools. Using just your fingers works even better than using a knife. Most of my accessories are in the case. Only the batteries are in an external bag. The only disadvantage I can think of is the weight of this case. It comes in a 10kg. With the URSA, which is not a lightweight either, inside and it's accessories, the case weights about 20kg. Which is not that light as you think.
Lenses for the URSA
I have the URSA with the Canon EF mount. I opted for this mount because my previous camera (Blackmagic Production Camera 4K) also had a Canon EF mount and I already had some glass. Keeping the same mount seemed like an easy choice.
I already owned two cine primes: the Samyang VDSLR 14mm T3.1 and the Samyang VDSLR 35mm T1.5 both EF mounts. I was really happy with these lenses, they are cheap, very well build and have a great image quality in my opinion. I also have a Sigma 120-300m f/2.8 telephoto zoomlens with EF mount. The colors of the lens blend really well with the Samyang lenses. However I just replaced my Samyang 14mm lens with a Xeen 24mm T1.5. Results will be added soon.
One thing I miss on these prime lenses is ofcourse the zoom functionality. Ofcourse the Sigma is a zoomlens, but it's a telephoto. I also own three shoulder mount ENG camera's: one JVC and two older Panasonics. Those Panasonics have 2/3" B4 bayonet lens mounts. Both of these camera's came with a Canon zoom lens. I really like the image quality from these lenses and wanted to use them on the URSA. I searched for an adapter which is more expensive than I have hoped it to be (€1000,00 and up). I didn't find it that interesting, especially because many blogs stated that the image cirle of the lens does not cover the whole image sensor unless you film in 'Window' mode or have a lens with a 2X extender. Later I came across a B4 to EF adapter on eBay for €80,00. (I found the same one on Amazon for as little as €50,00).I ordered it and it works perfectly. Great quality, the lens is very well attached to the body. It doesn't shake at all.
One of the B4 lenses is a Canon J13x9 with built-in 2X extender. When the extender is turned on, the image covers the whole sensor and I can film in UHD without vignettes. The other lens, a Canon J15x9.5 doesn't have an extender. It can only be used in 'Window' mode which essentially only uses the center of the image sensor. This also works perfectly without vignettes. When I use the first lens with the extender and film in 'Window' mode, the extender can ofcourse be used to zoom in the image two times which gives a nice zoom range. Because I have these lenses laying around and the adapter was actually really cheap, the deal was worth it. If you are planning to use ENG style lenses, they can be found really cheap (starting from €200,00 on eBay or other sites). My lenses don't have the 'HD' mark on them, but when filmed in UHD and viewed on a 43" UHD monitor, the image still seems clear.
There are some problems with these lenses though. Firstly, the URSA doesn't provide a 12-pin power output for the lenses. To cover this problem, I bought a 12-pin to D-tap cable on AliExpress for about €20,00. Connecting this cable to the V-mount battery (apparently the D-tap connection on the V-lock plate doesn't quite fit), the motorized zoom works perfectly. Ofcourse no automatic iris adjustment.
Another problem with these older lenses is that they become very blurred when opened up to f/1.8. But when dialed down to about f/2.8 the image is as sharp as the Samyangs. When compared to two broadcast Canon B4 lenses from my colleague, the image has the same sharpness.
A final remark on these lenses is the back-focus. When used on a larger sensor (and a different distance between lens and sensor), the back-focus needs to be adjusted. Luckly this is very easy to do, a demonstration video can be viewed here. Keep in mind that the distance marking on the lens may not be correct after adjusting the backfocus.
Viewfinder on the URSA
The Blackmagic viewfinder may be rumoured to be the best viewfinder out there, it is however expensive for someone on a budget. There exist many small and cheap field monitors which can be used as viewfinders but they mostly come with a HDMI connection. The URSA however only has a SDI out. I own a SDI to HDMI 4K converter from Blackmagic, but this device also needs to be powered. Because of that reason, I wanted a SDI monitor or viewfinder which can be used without a HDMI adapter. I came across the Feelworld S-350. It has HDMI and SDI, use Sony batteries and costs only €250,00. Almost to good to be true.
There weren't that many reviews online at the time, only some complaints about the magnets not being glued to the device very well. I thought no viewfinder is worse than a bad viewfinder so I ordered it anyway. I arrived very fast, the fastest delivery from AliExpress I ever encountered. It is really well packaged and I must say that is is much better than expected. I also has built-in features like focus assist and mirror. I like the image of this viewfinder more than the Sony FS-7 viewfinder. Really satisfied, would recommend the viewfinder!
Ofcourse there is an official list of approved CFast 2.0 cards provided by Blackmagic (you can find it here). But it's rather short and mostly mentions the expensive brands. (At this moment I refuse to pay €500,00+ for 128GB...) So I purchased a CFast card from Angelbird. I chose for Angelbird after seeing some YouTube reviews because it's a little cheaper than for example Lexar, Sandisk etc. Here are my findings with the CFast card:
Dual card recording is turned off.
- Angelbird AVpro 240GB - 4K RAW 25fps 2 min no dropped frames!
- Angelbird AVpro 240GB - 4K RAW 30fps 2 min no dropped frames!
- Angelbird AVpro 240GB - 4K RAW 50fps dropped frames after 6 seconds!
- Angelbird AVpro 240GB - 4K RAW 3:1 50fps 2 min no dropped frames!
- Angelbird AVpro 240GB - 4K RAW 3:1 60fps 2 min no dropped frames!
- Angelbird AVpro 240GB - UHD ProRes HQ 50fps 2 min no dropped frames!
- Angelbird AVpro 240GB - UHD ProRes HQ 60fps 2 min no dropped frames!
I paid €299,00 for a 240GB card. Formatting to exFAT is actually pretty fast, it takes about 13.5 seconds.
I also bought the Komputerbay 3700x 256GB CFast card. It was even cheaper with €181,00 on Amazon. Here are my findings with the CFast card:
- Komputerbay 256GB - 4K RAW 25fps 2 min no dropped frames!
- Komputerbay 256GB - 4K RAW 30fps 2 min no dropped frames!
- Komputerbay 256GB - 4K RAW 50fps dropped frames after 7 seconds!
- Komputerbay 256GB - 1080p 150fps 2 min no dropped frames!
More tests coming soon.
Only a CFast card is not enough. You also need a CFast 2.0 reader which turns out to be not so cheap as expected. I opted for a known brand this time, a G-Technology CFast 2.0 reader, about €130,00. Amazing build quality! The reason I didn't get a cheaper alternative is that I may buy a G-SPEED Shuttle in the future.
Do you also want to buy a Angelbird AVpro CFast card? Get one here: Angelbird AVpro CFast 2.0 256GB.
For my next CFast card purchase I'm thinking about the following brands: Angelbird 240GB (€439,00 Kamera-Express.be) or Angelbird 256GB (€350,80 - Amazon), Transcend CFX650 256GB (€319,05 - Megekko), GoldenDisk 256GB (€289,40 - Amazon) or JEYI 256GB (€307,82 - AliExpress). To be continued...
Why use SSD's?
Eventhough I've found a rather cheap solution for using CFast 2.0 cards on the URSA, the 'cheap' brands aren't really that cheap. So I opted for another approach. Blackmagic saw that the CFast cards are a maior burden for some cinematographers and created a SSD dock for the URSA mini. Unfortunately there is no official SSD dock from Blackmagic Design for the original URSA. So people needed to improvise.
CFast - SATA adapter
I bought two Chinese CFast to SATA adapters and two USB to SATA power adapters to connect external SSD's to the camera.
However I can't find these on Chinese webshops anymore. There are a litte more expensive alternative breakout cables available on Amazon: This one for example. Keep in mind you also need to power the SSD's. I chose to use USB power with a D-tap to USB adapter.
Blackmagic does provide an official list of approved SSD's (you can find it here). But it's rather short. I have tested several other SSD's and here are my findings:
- SanDisk Extreme Pro 240GB - 4K RAW 25fps 2 min no dropped frames!
- Kingston 240GB - only 1080p is usable (also formatting takes up to a minute)
The two CFast to SATA adapters work like a charm! At first I used a smartphone powerbank to power the SSD's (pretty much every power bank works the whole day as the SSD's don't draw that much of power). Later I purchased a D-TAP to USB adapter. Doesn't affect the battery life of the V-mount batteries at all. This is also a much cleaner solution than using a battery bank.
I taped some velcro on the V-mount batteries and on the SSD's to mount the drives to the camera. To protect the drives (and to have an on-the-go docking) I bought some Icy Box converters for €19,57 here.
Although the red cables coming out of the camera looks very cool, it's not that practical. For example, you cannot completely close the 10" screen. It can close enough so that the camera can be used on your shoulder but the 10" screen and the left 5" screen stay turned on. (Apparently the two screens only turn off when the fold out screen is completely closed. - Yes I did the same experiment as with the fridge light.) If you have enough batteries this doesn't sound so much as a problem. The main thing however is that I fear that the adapter cables will be damaged over time. Because of this, I bought my first CFast card (see the section above).
My conclusion about the CFast to SATA adapter is that it can be very usefull when used on a tripod but can be a burden when the camera is used handheld. That's why I opted for the best of both worlds: SSD's for my main recording medium (because it's cheaper) and some CFast cards for handheld shots (because of the convenience).
Sensor upgrade 4.6K
At this moment of writing, I do not have the 4.6K sensor upgrade. I found the upgrade online for €2.134,00 here.
I'm fine with the original sensor. It's the same as the one in the Blackmagic URSA 4K production camera (which I owned previous to the URSA). The only difference with the BMPC4K is that the URSA can handle faster framerates. That being said, it has the same shortcomings as the BMPC4K, for example the Black sun error still exists (even in the latest 2018 firmware update). Luckly, I edit with Davinci Resolve and it has a built-in workaround for this problem. (In the Color page, rightclick a clip and select 'Black sun removal'.)
Powering the URSA
The URSA uses a lot of power. When I use some older Sony V-mount batteries, they last about 5 minutes. When I check the battery after power off, they indicate that they are still full, just not strong enough to power the camera. When I used these batteries on my Blackmagic Production Camera 4K or on my JVC GY-HD201e, they lasted at least an hour or more.
When I'm on location I use three 90Wh Wespgear XV90 V-mount batteries (I cannot find these online anymore, but they come from Delimex Belgium) attached to the Blackmagic Design V-mount battery plate. I bought this plate for €99,00 here. Very easy installation, just four screws and plug-in the connector. Works very well and the battery mounts very sturdy to the plate. I know there are Chinese alternatives, but I haven't tested them on the camera. I do however own a Chinese V-lock plate for my DIY 27" field monitor and i'ts quality is similar to the Blackmagic Design V-lock plate only at a tenth of the price.
Recording with the URSA (one card present, 10" screen 100% brightness en both the 5' screens at 100% brightness) I get about 75 minutes from a single battery (in room temperature, not yet tested in winter conditions). I must add that these batteries are also about 6 years old now. One of them starts to malfunction and can sometimes be drained after as little as 5 minutes (I don't use it anymore because of that).
Battery power + Power brick
One thing that wasn't clear from the user manual; if it is possible (and safe) to power the camera using the provided power brick and to have a V-mount battery attached at the same time. Well this is the setup I use most of the time now. I have always a V-mount battery attached to the camera, even when it's plugged in in the studio. Works without a problem, no power is drawn from the battery though. The reason I use this dual power setup is that te camera always has a backup power source if the power brick should suddenly be disconnected for some reason (a.k.a. someone trips over the wires).
When using the URSA on wall power, the only thing I find frustrating about the provided power brick is the cable length. It's about 1.5 meters. Most of the time I'll tape the brick to my tripod and use an extension cord from there.
Most V-mount batteries (e.g. IDE VL2-PLUS) have a 4-pin power out. I have a 5 meter 4-pin cable connected to such a charger when I don't want to tape the power brick to the tripod. Works as well.
- Cleaning the URSA
- Raincover for the URSA
- Screenprotectors for the URSA
Do you also have some ideas for the URSA and want to share them? Send me an email to [email protected] or use my contact page (in Dutch).