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Blackmagic URSA 4K EF

This article is about the Blackmagic URSA 4K EF camera. Specifically 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 its variants. The sections below give a summary of my findings of 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 accessories is, of course, 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 two 15mm rods from my previous setup. The official shoulder kit from Blackmagic costs about €400,00 which is a little bit too expensive for just a shoulder cushion. Because of that, I searched online and came across SmallRig. I bought the following things:

I am really satisfied with my purchase. The quality is the same as my previous Tilta rig (which was also very good). One sidenote though, the four screws on the support arms (not on the handle and not on the center piece) come loose very often because of no reason. Remember to tighten them every time, or you'll use one or more screws.

Blackmagic URSA - Tim Vervoort

Keep in mind that the URSA is a heavy camera! Using it handheld is tough. The advantage though is that you can hold the camera pretty steady. When filming with a wide-angle, a 24mm for example, it's usable although both the camera and cine lens don't have any optical stabilisation.

The Idea for the SmallRig came from Andrewbrinkhaus' blog post on bmcuser.

An important remark is that you can't mount the camra on a tripod while the shoulder pad is installed (even with the official from Blackmagic that isn't possible). You'll need to remove it, which takes some time.

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 Second. Mounting the URSA with a telephoto and matte box on the Libec JIB 50 is also no problem at all.

Blackmagic URSA - Tim Vervoort

Flightcase for the URSA

Prebuild solution

The first half year I owned the URSA I didn't have a proper flight case 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 mentioned a case especially 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 a little less expensive, but it has no room for accessories. On Photokina, I came across the Peli booth. They showed me their lineup and I was immediately convinced. Two of my colleagues also own Pelicases and they are very satisfied, so it was an easy decision.

Blackmagic URSA - Tim Vervoort

Pelicase

The next day I ordered a Pelicase 1610 on Coolblue for €284,00. I am truly 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 stored in the case. Only my batteries, lenses, matte box, lights, and tripod are in external bags. The only disadvantage I can think of is the weight of this case. The case 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. The wheels are a welcome addition but are useless on gravel.

The advantage of storing crucial tools and accessories with the URSA is that you always have the required items to start filming. You can't forget the most items, because they're in the case. It's also very handy when the production has ended. You can easily see if you have everything because all sections in the case are filled.

Lenses for the URSA

Prime lenses

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.

Blackmagic URSA - Tim Vervoort

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're cheap, very well build and have a great image quality in my opinion. I also have a Sigma 120-300m f/2.8 telephoto zoom lens with EF mount. The colors of the lens blend really well with the Samyang lenses. However, I just replaced my Samyang 14mm and 35mm lenses with a Xeen 24mm T1.5.

Blackmagic URSA Xeen 24mm - Tim Vervoort

Is the XEEN a worthy upgrade over the regular Samyang lenses? I don't know. The image quality looks the same. However, the build quality of the XEEN lens is much better than the already great build quality of the Samyang lineup. In addition, all XEEN lenses (except the ultra wides) are the same size (and weight I assume), which makes rigging a lot easier. The main advantage for me is the longer focus throw, it makes focussing a pleasure.

Something I don't like about the XEEN and Samyang lineup, the distance markers on the lens are not reliable. The problem get's wore the wider the lens is.

Zoom lenses

One thing I miss on these prime lenses is, of course, the zoom functionality. The Sigma is a zoom lens, but it's a telephoto. I also own three shoulder-mount ENG camera's: one JVC and two older Panasonic camera's. Those Panasonics have 2/3" B4 bayonet lens mount. Both of these cameras came with a Canon zoom lens. I really like the image quality back when I bought them 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 circle of the lens does not cover the whole image sensor unless you film in 'Window' (HD crop) 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 and it doesn't shake at all.

Blackmagic URSA Canon B4 lens - Tim Vervoort

One of the B4 lenses is a Canon J13x9 with a 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 such 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.

This isn't always true. A colleague of mine has an ultra wide BF Canon lens without the extender. When zoomed out all the way, it still projects a vignette on the sensor, which makes it totally unusable.

When I use the first lens with the extender and film in 'Window' mode, the extender can, of course, 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). The additional advantage is that these lenses are parfocal, which means that they keep their focus when you zoom in or out (when the back focus is set correctly). 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 with an aperture of f4 and up.

There are some problems with these lenses though. Firstly, the URSA doesn't provide 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. Of course, there is no automatic iris adjustment.

Another problem with these older lenses is that they become very blurred or soft when opened up to f/1.8. If you open up the aperture too much, you'll get internal reflections which result in a very soft image (this even happens with very expensive BF lenses).

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. Luckily 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 back focus.

Viewfinder on the URSA

The Blackmagic viewfinder may be rumored 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 an HDMI connection. The URSA however only has an SDI out. I own an SDI to HDMI 4K converter from Blackmagic, but this device also needs to be powered. Because of that reason, I wanted an SDI monitor or viewfinder which can be used without an HDMI adapter. I came across the Feelworld S-350. It has HDMI and SDI, a removable iris (to be used as a screen only), uses 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 have 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 to everyone!

The power usage is also very modest. When powered at full brightness, a twelve-year-old Sony NP-F550 (10.8Wh) can power the EVF for two hours!

Blackmagic URSA - Tim Vervoort

The URSA has two SDI outputs, one on the front and one on the back. I connect the EVF to the front. The front connector also has a 12V power delivery output, but I don't use that. I ordered a custom short red SDI cabled, apparently, 30 cm is a little too short. You'll want to order at least 40 cm.

Recording audio

The URSA has a built-in microphone which cannot be used for production audio. You'll hear the noise of the fan and clicking/touching the buttons and screen. The camera has two phantom powered XLR-inputs, but I find them of low quality. There is much noise and when the gain is set to 'high', it isn't as sensitive as you'd expect or want it to be. I suggest you'll use an external audio recorder like the TASCAM DR-60D.

However, on a run-and-gun operation, I'd like to have usable on-camera audio. I mounted a Rode NTG-1 with a short XLR-cable on top of the camera. Rode has a microphone mount with a 3/8" bolt which can be mounted to the top handle or the top of the camera directly.

I don't know the model anymore, but Saramonic sells something similar.

Blackmagic URSA Rode microphone - Tim Vervoort

CFast recording

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 as little as 128GB.) So I purchased a CFast card from Angelbird. I chose 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.

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:

Finaly I bought two 256GB Angelbird AVpro CFast cards. Here are my findings with the CFast card:

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 G-Technology CFast 2.0 reader, about €130,00. It's amazing build quality! The reason I didn't get a cheaper alternative is that I may buy a G-SPEED Shuttle in the near future and many reviews about cheaper alternatives mentioned slow speeds, even with high-end cards.

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: Transcend CFX650 256GB (€319,05 - Megekko), GoldenDisk 256GB (€289,40 - Amazon) or JEYI 256GB (€307,82 - AliExpress). To be continued...

CFast cards are expensive so you should store them somewhere safe. I orderd the €10,00 CFast card case from Amazon which stores up to six cards.

SSD recording

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 realized that the CFast cards are a major burden for some cinematographers and created an 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.

Blackmagic URSA - Tim Vervoort

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. You could also use a power bank, but thats' another device you have to attach to your camera and have to charge overnight.

Which SSD's?

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:

My opinion

The two CFast to SATA adapters work like a charm! At first, I used a smartphone power bank to power the SSD's (pretty much every power bank works the whole day as the SSD's don't draw that much power). Later I purchased a D-TAP to USB adapter. It 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 look very cool, it's not that practical. For example, you cannot completely close the 10" screen. It can close just 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 or the screen itself will be damaged over time. Because of this, I bought my first CFast card (see the section above).

Blackmagic URSA - Tim Vervoort

My conclusion about the CFast to SATA adapter is that it can be very useful 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 and higher quality ProRes options. That being said, it has the same shortcomings as the BMPC4K, for example, the 'Black sun dot' still exists (even in the latest 2018 firmware update). Luckily, I edit with Davinci Resolve and it has a built-in workaround for this problem. (In the Color page, right-click a clip and select 'Black sun removal'.)

Blackmagic Production Camera 4K - Tim Vervoort

Powering the URSA

Battery power

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 the same batteries on my Blackmagic Production Camera 4K or on my JVC GY-HD201e with an external recorder, they lasted at least four hours or more.

JVC GY-HD201e - Tim Vervoort

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 the official Blackmagic V-mount plate for €99,00 here. Very easy installation, just four screws and plug in the connector. Works very well and the battery mounts very sturdily 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 its 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 and 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), with a closed screen and external EVF, the batteries last 90 minutes. I must add that these batteries are also about 7 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 reason).

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 the 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), which already happened in the past.

Power brick

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. When your tripod is high, the power brick cannot be laid on the floor.

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. That works as well.

T.B.A.

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).