Review: Blackmagic Design URSA Broadcast

Review: Blackmagic Design URSA Broadcast

If you can get past the unimpressive low-light sensitivity, the Blackmagic URSA Broadcast 4K is a low-cost and capable video camera that can be configured for ENG or Studio work with natively mounted, powered, and controlled B4 lenses.

The Blackmagic URSA Broadcast is a 4K video camera that can be configured for ENG or Studio work. The URSA Broadcast shares the same body with other URSA cameras, like the new URSA Mini Pro, but there are two big differences that make this variant in the URSA line more suitable for broadcast use: The B4 lens mount and the 2/3” sensor were chosen so that this video camera could be paired with ENG and studio B4 lenses that are the standard in the broadcast industry.

B4 Mount and Lenses

While the film industry and many video producers have adopted video cameras with larger MFT, Super35, and full-frame sensors, this has led to a decline in the demand for film cameras and camcorders with integrated zoom lenses. Broadcast needs haven’t changed much, and ENG and Studio camera operators still need zoom lenses and B4 lenses have three main features that photo and cine lenses don’t have.

Broadcast B4 lenses (Figure 1, below) have a longer available zoom ranges with multipliers typically 11-23x with 2x doublers for extra range, while photo zoom lenses are typically 3-5x. B4 lenses also come as Studio Box and Field Box lenses for studio and sports work. The longest zoom range on a UHD Field Box lens is currently 107x with a 2x doubler, for when you need to get a close-up on a celebrity who is seated the other side of the ballpark.

Figure 1. URSA Broadcast with B4 lens

Broadcast B4 lenses are parfocal, meaning they hold focus throughout the zoom range. Some cine lenses are parfocal but photo lenses are not.

Broadcast B4 lenses have handgrip controls with servo-driven iris, zoom, and if supported, focus. These controls require connecting a 12-pin hirose connector and can even be controlled remotely by a supported ATEM switcher or the ATEM Camera Control Panel ($2,995).

New HD B4 lenses cost $5,000-$80,000 and UHD B4 lens start at $40,000 but there are a lot of older used SD B4 lenses that you can buy for hundreds or dollars that will also work on the URSA Broadcast 4K. All B4 lenses designed for a 2/3” sensor will fill the URSA Broadcast 4K sensor and will not require you to crop on the sensor or use a doubler in order to fill the frame. The difference in the “resolution” of the lens also doesn’t limit your recording resolution but is more a reflection of the resolving power of the lens. In some ways using an SD B4 lens on the USRA Broadcast 4K is similar to using a vintage photo lens on a DSLR: the center resolution will probably be very similar, but the look might have a bit more “character” to it.

Shoulder Mount

The URSA Broadcast body ($3,495) isn’t a new design, so you can accessorize the camera with items like the URSA Viewfinder ($1,495), URSA Shoulder mount kit ($395), URSA Mini Mic Mount ($135), and V-lock or Gold battery plate ($95), for ENG/Shoulder mount use. These accessories do add up both in cost, and because of their solid build quality and use of metal, they also add to the overall weight.

BMD did a good job at converting the URSA body for shoulder mount use with these accessories, but the form factor does show the legacy of the design in that, compared to a traditional longer-bodied ENG shoulder mount video camera, the front controls on the camera are not far enough forward to be easily controlled without first tilting your head away from the camera.

One of the benefits of using a broadcast camera is that, unlike with DSLRs, you don’t have record time limits. The URSA Broadcast features active cooling with an internal fan on the bottom and air vents on top. While great for keeping the sensor cool, this design means the URSA Broadcast is not an all-weather design. For outdoor use it would typically be configured with additional protection in the form of a camera cover.

The B4 mount on the camera can be changed to accommodate EF, PL, and F mount lenses. I wouldn’t suggest buying an URSA Broadcast with the intention of changing the mount permanently because lenses for those mounts are designed for larger sensors and the URSA Mini Pro with its Super35 sensor would be a more natural fit. But if you occasionally want to switch the lens mount for use with a specific lens, you can.

The URSA Broadcast records to UHS-II and CFast 2.0 cards with the DNx145, DNx220x, or ProRes intraframe codecs and CinemaDNG RAW. You can also connect an URSA Mini SSD recorder ($395) directly to the back of the camera if you want to record direct to higher capacity SSDs. The Mini SSD recorder is controlled by the camera so you don’t need to hit the record and stop buttons separately. SSDs can be formatted to both HFS+ format for Mac OS or exFAT for compatibility on both Mac OS and Windows OS. Supported internal recording resolutions include HD and UHD (1920×1080 and 3840×2160) in 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94 and 60 fps.

Studio Configuration

In my live-switch setups, I am always trying to refine my workflows so I can easily output live video from multiple video cameras to a video switcher and communicate back with the camera operators via intercom. This might sound like a straightforward requirement, but it gets complicated really fast and I appreciate workflows that have end-to-end solutions, like the URSA Broadcast workflow when paired with an ATEM switcher.

There are two SDI outputs on the camera. The first outputs a 3G-SDI signal (1080 60P) and is intended to be used with your viewfinder or monitor, like the Blackmagic Design URSA Studio Viewfinder ($1,795, Figure 2, below), that has an integrated tally light. The second output offers a wider range of outputs between 1.5G–12G-SDI (1080 60i – 2160 60P) and is what you would send to an ATEM video switcher like the ATEM Television Studio Pro 4K ($2,995).

Figure 2. The URSA Studio Viewfinder with integrated tally light. Click the image to see it at full size.

In addition to the SDI outputs, there is a 12G-SDI input. This input can be used to send the camera operator a program output from a video switcher or external video source, so they can monitor it during a shoot. To access the program feed the operator simply holds or double presses the program button on the control panel. Additionally, the SDI input when connected to an ATEM switcher can be used to synchronize timecode. This is important in a multicamera environment to reduce latency between the sources. If you aren’t connecting to an ATEM switcher or are using external reference and timecode, the URSA Broadcast has a reference in BNC port that accepts tri-level sync and black burst reference signals.

It is worth noting that the Blackmagic Camera firmware update 4.8 from December 2017 lowered the SDI output latency to less than 1 frame. Latency was previously and issue on other URSA models with earlier firmware, so I am glad BMD addressed this issue as latency leads to out of sync audio and a delayed live IMAG signals.

The URSA Broadcast body has a small speaker at ear-level when the camera is shoulder-mounted for convenient audio monitoring without the operator having to wear headphones. There is also a 3.5mm jack for connecting headphones that also supports talkback when using headphones with inline microphone. Talkback requires that the URSA Broadcast 4K is connected to an ATEM Talkback Converter or one of the talkback-supported ATEM switchers. Being able to communicate with your producer, technical director, and other camera operators without having to add a dedicate intercom system is really convenient because the talkback audio flows over the SDI audio channels 15 and 16 on the program return line and doesn’t require separate XLR audio cables.

Low-Light Performance

The base ISO on the URSA Broadcast is 400. This is not a low light-sensitive video camera, and this is the trade off with the move to a smaller 2/3” sensor, compared to the URSA Mini Pro that has a base ISO of 800. This lack of low-light sensitivity is really noticeable when you try to add gain. There is surprisingly only 16dB of available gain, which means you will need more light than you might be used to.

ATEM Workflow

If you were just looking at the URSA Broadcast 4K as a standalone video camera in isolation for use in a legacy workflow, you would appreciate it for having the lowest cost for a UHD or even HD B4 mount video camera. But you would be missing out on the additional workflow benefits you gain when connecting an URSA camera to other Blackmagic hardware, such as an ATEM video switcher.

I have already discussed the tally, talkback, and B4 lens controls that are possible when connected to an ATEM switcher. Other features include the ability to perform color shading with an interface that is the same as DaVinci Resolve’s primary color corrector with powerful lift, gamma, and gain controls. For more advanced audio controls of the camera or external audio, the ATEM Television Studio Pro 4K ($2,995) also has a built-in Fairlight audio mixer that includes a 6-band parametric EQ, compressor, limiter, expander/noise gate, pan, audio channel split to dual mono, stereo simulator on analog and mic inputs, and an audio delay on analog inputs.

Connecting URSA Broadcast to an ATEM switcher is typically done via HD-SDI cables but you will want to consult a video distance chart to determine how long you can safely run a specific cable in your chosen video resolution. Typically, an HD-SDI cable that is rated for 300’ at 3G-SDI is only rated for 200’ at 6G-SDI and 150’ 12G-SDI. If you need longer runs you can re-clock the HD-SDI signal by connecting your two cables to a powered HD-SDI distribution amplifier.

The other alternative that can give you up to two KM of cable length is to mount the Blackmagic Camera Fiber Converter ($2,995) to the back of the URSA Broadcast 4K and connect it with SMPTE fiber to a Blackmagic Studio Fiber Converter ($2,995, Figure 3, below). Adding the Fiber converter adds 2 channels of standard 5-pin taklback connections, 3 return video feeds, 2 extra audio inputs, and connections for PTZ and trackers. The URSA Broadcast can even be powered from the SMPTE Fiber connection so the camera doesn’t need its own power supply.

Figure 3. The Blackmagic Studio Fiber Converter

Touchscreen Controls

Operating the URSA Broadcast 4K is refreshingly straightforward, thanks to the easy-to-use and navigate menu system that you can access via the touchscreen LCD (Figure 4, below). Settings are organized into 6 tabs: Record, monitor, audio, setup, presets, and LUTs.

Figure 4. The Blackmagic URSA touchscreen LCD

In the record tab there are three dynamic range options. Video is a standard REC 709 range, Film uses a log curve, and Extended Video is a balance between video and film, and has a wider dynamic range, but still can be used ungraded.

The Monitor settings allow you to independently control the feed to each of the LCD, Front SDI, and Main SDI. You can choose between a clean feed or displaying with a 3D LUT, zebras, frame guide, grid, false color, and focus assist. Familiar filming aids like zebra, focus assist, false color, combined with the ability to load LUTs, ensure that there are no unwanted surprises when you view the footage in post. I appreciate that the audio meter is large and has both numerical and green, yellow, and red color values and that you can check focus by simply double tapping on the LCD screen where you want the image to be magnified.

My favorite feature in the menu system is the ability to create presets and give them custom names. While some cameras allow you to access and recall picture profiles for color settings, the BMD presets save all of the camera settings, which is useful to set up multiple cameras in a multicam shoot or when you film a variety of different types of content and find that you frequently change your settings depending on the application.

Getting to know a video camera inside and out can be challenging, especially when so many instruction manuals are weak on details, explanations, and examples of how your camera interfaces with other equipment in a production workflow. The Blackmagic URSA Broadcast 4K manual is very well written and features hundreds, if not thousands, of color images and diagrams. The first 240 pages in the PDF manual are in English and there are 8 additional language versions. Not only does the manual cover in detail how to operate the camera but it goes into detail on items like understanding third-party B4 lens options and how to connect and operate Blackmagic hardware and software that would typically be used in a live workflow.

Conclusion

If you can get past the unimpressive low-light sensitivity, the Blackmagic URSA Broadcast 4K is a low-cost and capable video camera that can be configured for ENG or Studio work with natively mounted, powered, and controlled B4 lenses. On its own it offers an impressive feature set and amazing value proposition, but it really shines when used in a Blackmagic ATEM workflow.

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