Attention community cable television stations, college video departments and houses of worship: With the announcement of the Blackmagic Design URSA Broadcast Camera, you can now get a true, professional studio camera system with state-of-the-art imaging and advanced camera controls starting at $3,500 (for the camera body).
The Blackmagic URSA Broadcast Camera sports a 2/3″ sensor chip, uses readily-available B4 type lenses (and can be adapted for EF, F and PL lenses), records to SD card, SSD or C-fast media, and features broadcast-style controls on the side of the camera. Also announced is a new fiber converter (for studio connection) which attaches to the back of the camera (and adds another set of rear camera controls) and a full-featured 4-camera remote control panel / CCU.
Affordability is a matter of perspective. There is a class of professional studio cameras available today which are marketed as ‘affordable’ and cost about the same as a new car – per camera. Then you have to add CCUs and control panels, and by the time you are done setting up the whole system, you are well into the six figure range. A lot of institutions with a need for studio cameras instead opt for ENG-style cameras due to their slightly lower cost and similar imaging capabilities. These cameras offer a limited studio control, if any, and lack some of the essential features needed for a true studio camera system- and they still aren’t cheap.
Most of my clients work in the government, house of worship and education sectors, and they have limited budgets. I have seen studios outfitted with handheld camcorders mounted on pedestals with LEDs taped to the handles to use as tally lights. I have seen aging ENG cameras on pedestals with no back-end camera controls. I have seen workhorse standard definition studio camera setups still being used every day, because there is simply no budget to replace them. Why, I wondered, has no one released a product to cater to the needs of these institutions? Don’t manufacturers realize that, to a small cable TV station or church, $25,000 looks more like the budget for the whole year, not just for one camera?
Blackmagic Design gets it. And they answered the call and disrupted the entire marketplace.
Here’s the thing about the Blackmagic URSA Broadcast Camera — Based on its features and Blackmagic Design’s reputation for solid build quality, it is not just on par with studio camera systems that cost anywhere from 5x to 10x more, it is better. Let’s break down all the reasons why.
Right off the top, having the ability to capture in 3840×2160 makes this camera a tremendous value by itself. I dare you to Google the cost of a professional studio or ENG camera capable of 4K. It also shoots in every frame rate from 23.98 to 60 fps – interlaced or progressive.
B4 Lens Mount
This is not Blackmagic Design’s first camera. Their current lineup of ‘studio’ cameras, however, all feature micro four-thirds lens mounts, which are suited to still image and digital cinema applications, but are not ideal for news gathering. The Blackmagic URSA Broadcast Camera features an effective 2/3″ sensor when paired with a standard B4 lens – affordable, commonly available, and perfectly suited for news gathering and studio conditions. Additionally, the camera can be adapted for EF, F, and PL mount lenses. Blackmagic Design describes the advantages of B4 lenses better than I ever could:
Because B4 lenses are par-focal and have a very wide depth of field, the image stays in focus as you zoom in and out, so you don’t need to chase focus as you shoot. That lets you work much faster because you don’t need to change lenses or refocus between close up, medium and wide shots, which is perfect when you’re following the action in fast paced sport!
SSD, SD and C-Fast Media
This camera has 2x C-Fast slots and 2X SDXC slots. The only supported recording codecs are various flavors of the standard editing codecs ProRes and DNxHD/HQ. While this means you can simply copy the media right into your NLE and start editing, these codecs take up a lot of space and will fill your memory cards up pretty quickly. But, the camera features dual-memory card continuous recording, so when one card is full, the camera seamlessly switches over to the second card. All in all, I would say this is a positive. In my experience, ENG shooters are constantly trying to meet deadlines, scrambling to get their media off of the camera so they can start editing it immediately. Not having to transcode the video beforehand is a major time-saver.
Camera Control – On the Side, In the Back, and In The Studio
Another thing that Blackmagic Design recognized with this camera is the demand for versatility. I know of several television studios that use studio cameras in the field for news gathering, and others that use ENG cameras in the studio. For a smaller institution, the two use cases are interchangeable. The Blackmagic URSA Broadcast Camera features a robust set of controls on the side of the camera, which is a must when the camera is hoisted on the operator’s shoulder. In a studio situation, however, the camera operator is standing behind the camera. When you add the Blackmagic Camera Fiber Converter to the back of the camera, you now have your most used camera control settings on the back, as well as back in the studio.
Blackmagic Fiber Converters and ATEM Camera Control Panel Make this a True Studio Camera System
Blackmagic’s current studio cameras are somewhat misnamed: They lack a real CCU or control panel, offer limited studio painting abilities, have limited connectivity options, and use a still image/cinema style lens mount. With the addition of the new Blackmagic Fiber Converters and the ATEM Camera Control Panel, Blackmagic now offers a real-McCoy studio camera system, rivaling any of the major brands on the market in its feature set. This is one area in which the Blackmagic Broadcast Camera could be a real disruptor.
In a studio setup, you will attach the Blackmagic Camera Fiber Converter to the back of the camera and connect it via SMPTE hybrid fiber cable to a Blackmagic Studio Fiber Converter back in the studio. The camera fiber converter adds some common controls to the back of the camera for better accessibility in a studio situation and the studio converter includes an LCD panel so you can montior the cameras output and verify the signal integrity. The SMPTE hybrid fiber cable carries everything you could ever want in a studio camera signal: Power, tally, two channels of intercom, PTZ commands, analog audio, 12G-SDI, reference timing, and extensive camera painting and lens control.
Once the signals get back to the studio, they are routed into the ATEM Camera Control Panel which, in studio camera parlance, is the equivalent of four remote control panels (remote operation panel, remote controller, etc.) and four ‘CCUs’ (Camera Control Units) in one. Once again, I dare you to Google the cost of four control panels and four CCUs. The sleek and ergonomic industrial design of this control panel is stunning, like most Blackmagic products, and it has a feature set that rivals the traditional control panels that we are used to. You have the functionality you would expect – white balance, independent RGB, white and black level controls, gain, shutter, and iris. Additionally, there are slew of little features that you might not even have known you wanted. There are colored LED status readouts that display the camera number, with a different color depending on preview or ‘on air’ status. There is a preview button to send the aux feed to the monitor without moving the joystick, a call button to flash the tally at the camera operator to get their attention, a panel ‘lockout’ toggle to prevent accidental changes, and status lights for signal integrity. Even the joystick has some added features that improve upon a traditional control panel. Here is an excerpt from the Blackmagic Design website describing how their joystick works:
You can use the knob on the LCD to set the camera number, which turns red when a camera is on the air. The main joystick control can be moved vertically to adjust the camera iris while the knob can then be rotated to change the master black level. Pressing down on the knob will let you monitor the camera you’re currently controlling via the aux output of the switcher. Simply push the knobs to rapidly switch between cameras to ensure all your cameras match color. The ATEM Camera Control Panel is fast to set up so you can instantly start controlling the cameras that are connected to your switcher!
Long Story Short: If You Have Been Wanting an ENG or Studio Camera System But Didn’t Have The Budget, Your Prayers Have Been Answered
There is not much else to say about this product announcement. All of the pieces are in place for a major change in the marketplace. There is such a need for a product like this and now that need has been met. We can’t wait to get our hands on one of these to try it out. I am sure that as people start to use these cameras, we will find a few “gotcha’s,” but just based on features and cost alone, this camera system is a tremendous value. Finally, a smaller studio or church on a limited budget can get a real, professional ENG and studio camera system.