Monday, 5 May 2014

How to Know if the Upgrade is Worth It: Blackmagic URSA Edition

Media professionals have some of the worst cases of ‘gear envy’ known to man. I’m no exception to this, so naturally when I saw Blackmagic was releasing a new flagship camera, the URSA, I didn’t pay any attention to the $6000 price tag. It’s easy to want this incredible camera, but what I wanted to know is if I truly needed one. Below are some questions one should ask themselves when looking to invest in any new camera system.

When I first read about the URSA.

1. How does it advance the potential of my business?
Do you really need a 4K camera? What do you shoot mainly? Corporate interviews? Action-packed short films? Moving documentaries? It could be argued that any video looks better in 4K, and while I’d agree, the issues here is if it needs to be in 4K. Nine times out of ten the answer is no. The first consideration is, will it ever hit ‘the big screen’? If the answer is no then you can safely assume you do not need 4K. While many companies are beginning to release 4K televisions we’re still years away from the average viewer watching videos in 4K. It’s nice to have but 4K is largely wasted on videos meant for anything other than theaters.

Summary: 4K is nice but it’s not a huge selling point for this particular camera since 4K isn’t the resolution most audiences will view your final video at. This is even more true when you consider there are cheaper 4K cameras out there.
2. What features does it bring to the table that I don’t already have?
Here’s where you’ll start finding some capabilities you may not have. Does your camera shoot RAW? Does it have continuous recording? When it’s outdated can you simply swap out the sensor? Oh yes, you read that correctly. With the Blackmagic URSA you can simply swap out your sensor when a newer one is available. Before we get too excited about this let’s remember that it’s extremely likely that only Blackmagic will sell new sensors, which means there will probably be an incredible markup. Only time will tell. Even so, it’s safe to say your camera probably doesn’t support RAW video shooting (without some hacks) and it almost certainly does not support continuous shooting. I come from photography so the power of RAW editing is no stranger to me. What I wouldn’t give to be able to go back later and change a slightly off white balance of certain clips. There have also been plenty of times where we’ve had to pause an interview due to a camera reaching it’s recording limit or  card filling up. The ability to just pop in another card and keep rolling is infinitely valuable.

Summary: You’re definitely going to get some nice features with this camera. The RAW capabilities alone could be worth the investment, so just consider continuous shooting and future-proofing the cherry or two on top.
3. What hidden costs are associated with the product?
So you’ve purchased a new camera, congratulations! Oh, but I see you don’t have a bag/case for it. You’re going to need one of those. Oooh, and you don’t have an on set monitor? Well that won’t do, better throw that in the cart as well. And what about sound recording, does your camera do that? No? Hmmmm. If you’ve ever bought a camera you’ve definitely experienced the never-ending road of accessories and gear that you need to go with it. Your camera rig is never quite complete. The URSA is no exception, however, it does come standard with several pieces of equipment that are nice. For instance, a 10 inch fold-out on set monitor. These suckers are expensive, usually clocking in between $1000 - $2000 depending on the brand, resolution, and features. Having one included easily helps justify the cost of the camera, especially if you don’t already have a production monitor. But the train doesn’t stop there folks, the URSA also come with a ton of mounting points and brackets, including a standard 15mm rail mount. You’ll still need to invest in the rails themselves, but essential the camera has a cage built into it. Considering camera cages can run you anywhere from several hundred to several thousand, I’d say this is a very nice feature that Blackmagic has included.

Summary: Anyone lacking in production gear is going to find some added value in this camera due to the accessories included right on the camera itself. There’s a diminishing return, however, for anyone who has already invested in a lot of on set gear. If you already have a cage and a monitor you’re paying a lot of money for something you don’t necessarily need.
4. What sort of post-production time is involved?
This may be a deal-breaker for some. If you don’t have the time and/or processing power to color correct all of your footage then go ahead and turn back now. RAW video is amazing, but it is time consuming in post. Blackmagic is kind enough to throw in a version of DaVinci Resolve, which makes color correction a breeze, but this still takes up valuable time and processing power.

Summary: If your can spare the extra time it will take you to color correct your footage then shooting RAW will be a huge asset for you. Keep in mind you’ll need to build this into your deadline and billing structure though.

When you need to color correct several hours of b-roll.
5. Can I afford it?
This may seem basic, but it’s arguably the most important question of all. Too many people dig themselves into debt in order to purchase a new piece of gear. Credit cards can be useful tools but they can also put you in a hole that’s difficult to climb out of. Use credit reasonably and make sure you’re only charging what you can pay back.

Summary: If you happen to have six grand laying around that’s begging to be spent then think carefully about whether this is the best investment. $6000 is a lot of money and could buy you all sorts of goodies that may have been on your wish list for a long time (several high quality lenses for example).

Spend your money responsibly. Or don’t. It’s your money.

What are your thoughts about the Blackmagic URSA? Do you think it’s worth the Money? Will you be upgrading? We always love to hear from you.

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