Not content to let the collective “wtf” hang in the air too long after the announcement of the Black Magic Studio Camera, Black Magic has announced the Black Magic Ursa. It’s nearly 8 pounds, has a 1o inch 1080p monitor, xlrs, a switchable sensor and lens mount, two CFast ports, and internal 4k 60p. These are the specs folks expected to be included in the Production camera – well, maybe not the nearly iPad sized built-in monitor. Keeping everything I said in our last post about manufacturing process in mind, I’m intrigued by the Ursa. It’ll cost about $6,000 for the EF mount version which puts it against the FS700 in terms of price, but it’s ergonomics and specs definitely seem to compete with the F5. For low budget shooters reading this and thinking, “I’m going to buy an F5 for 5,000 dollars”, keep in mind that a 60gb CFast card costs 600 dollars. That 4k Prores is around 800 m/bits a second – doing absolutely no math, that translates into a lot of expensive cards to even start shooting. Which begs the question, who is this camera made for?
I really don’t know what I think about the camera. On one hand it looks like a more reasonably designed version of the Production camera with all the bells and whistles you’d want, but what is the thinking behind the CFast cards? Having an interchangeable lens mount and sensor is a great, even a terrific move for Black Magic. I love the idea of the HDMI version essentially being an all in one buy of pro audio connections, better recording, and shoulder rig upgrade for a camera like the A7s. But then you’re shooting to 600 dollar CFast cards. Sure prices will come down, but when SSD’s are selling for less than a dollar per gig, it’s kind of a puzzling situation for Black Magic to choose CFast over SSDs. I think if the Ursa had shipped with SSD’s I might have really seen it more as a sort of super upgrade to a smaller camera. Being able to have all the connections I need in a pro form factor, and then just taking the sensor part off and using that component for stealth shooting is really appealing to me. The CFast kills that.
But maybe a more interesting question here is: Does Black Magic view the sensor as the most disposable part of the camera? The sensor is what has plagued their manufacturing. It’s what has slowed them down. Using an uncompressed HDMI out from a camera like the A7s or the GH4 gets around that and allows Black Magic to focus on the aspects of camera design that they’re really good at – the codec recording. I had a chance to chat with a sales rep and the impression I left with was that this camera is really a future proof recorder and the sensors are going to be swapped out. I like this idea a lot, but only time will tell if it ships and how ready to go it will be. The unit I used was locked at ISO 400, and given the performance of the Production camera in low light and with fixed pattern noise, there are still some really serious questions as to the camera’s image quality.
Continuing on Sony’s strategy of announcing products before NAB even starts, last night saw the announcement of the DJI Ronin, the Atomos Shogun, the AJA CION, and another Black Magic Camera that will ship sometime in 2016. I honestly have no idea why Black Magic announced another camera. Just like a lot of folks, I was totally blown away when Black Magic announced the Cinema Camera two years ago. It had crazy specs for it’s price and more importantly marked the start of companies that don’t make cameras buying off the shelf products and cobbling together their own camera. Everybody knows it never shipped in volume – they had cut the price before the preorder list was even filled. When they announced the Production camera and the Pocket Camera, it seemed like BMD was doubling down and really trying to get a foothold in the production market. The Production Camera still hasn’t shipped in volume and by the time both the Pocket Camera and the Cinema Camera, BMD had earned itself a reputation of announcing products it couldn’t deliver. So, I find it hard to believe anybody really expects to pick up one of these Studio cameras in the next six months.
As much as I love the disruptive nature of a company like Black Magic entering the camera market and offering the full potential of their sensors their including in their cameras at a lower price point, the reality is a company like BMD and their suppliers don’t have the infrastructure or corporate experience to ship these things in bulk. Both the Cinema Camera and the Production Camera have been plagued with manufacturing issues. Companies like Canon don’t have that problem because they’ve figured out their supply chain management. They sell millions of Rebels every year and that means when they announce a camera it’s going to ship because they’re not also figuring out to mass produce at the same time their designing it.
This brings me to the AJA CION. Specs wise it looks great. Form factor looks right. I’m interested, but honestly I’m skeptical that’ll be able to ship in large numbers for exactly the same reasons Black Magic hasn’t been able to. It’s great more companies are getting into the camera game, Canon needs to be prodded into innovation, but I wish they’d include their manufacturing plan in addition the specs when they announce these cameras because it’s one thing to make 15 cameras custom order and something entirely different to ship thousands in bulk with high quality control.
These announcements can be exciting, especially to give consumers insight to what is technologically possible for a camera. But, they’re just words on a page. They’re not a shipped product and before you get super pumped about shooting everything with a camera that’s just been announced it’s probably wise to consider the cameras manufacturing history and ask yourself: will this ship?
Just as I’m finishing up this post Black Magic has announced the Black Magic Ursa, an obvious replacement to the Production Camera – a camera that still hasn’t shipped.