I for one have fallen into the trap of not wanting to lag behind and indeed became one of the reportedly zillions of new drone owners of Christmas 2014, fantastic as my be-gimballed GoPro-equipped DJI Phantom 2 is, due to CAA regulations it will be sometime before I am licensed and approved to use it commercially and even then pretty much all of the shots in my head, flying between Cathedral spires and elevating over busy gatherings will probably never be permitted. As a by-product of this need for intelligent camera stabilisation the technology is now being applied to hand-held equivalents, so there is now an increasingly huge range of easy to set up and use floating camera equipment to make us reach for our credit cards, I for one will be jumping on this bandwagon too.
For me, the first significant thing to happen in 2015 was the delivery of an EF flavoured Blackmagic Ursa, I have to admit to looking forward to receiving one for review, not because I’m a huge fan of their cameras but because this particular model could represent a fresh breakthrough in dedicated tools for filmmakers on less than generous production budgets.
it was delivered in my absence to the Building company located next to my studio, the arrival was announced by one of the office staff coming in and saying “I would’ve brought it around but it’s too heavy”, undeterred I collected the camera, opened the box and wondered at the beautifully engineered chunk of black aluminium that greeted my post-new year sore eyes. Heavy, yes, unnecessarily so, maybe but rock solid it certainly was, even the huge screen that protrudes from the side didn’t feel fragile or as vulnerable as I expected, less so than some broadcast cameras so that was one concern about the design laid to rest.
This camera is clearly designed to fit into the workflows usually reserved for the likes of Red and Arri but in a price point aimed to please the more cash strapped filmmakers amongst us wanting the flexibility of owning a tool designed for moving images rather than the logistic and contact time limiting problems associated with camera hire.
It’s fair to say that clients love it, I had a client-assisted (!) shoot booked, so I decided to give the Ursa a go, the first thing my client said was “that looks good” pointing at the as yet underexposed, out of focus image on the 10” screen. I have to say, I did lose my nerve and shot the piece with my Ninja-equipped C100 due to the low(ish) light, no-fail nature of the shoot.
The next time I took the camera out in anger was again somewhat out of it’s comfort zone, I needed to shoot some B-roll for the intro of a documentary that necessitated the acquisition of some images of and around a hilltop, I found a large camera bag, man enough to take the 7+kg camera fitted with the 15mm Zeiss CP2 supplied by Blackmagic, and the V-lock battery all in one piece and set off. I have to say, in a decent bag it didn’t feel so heavy and once on a tripod it handled pretty well unlike when attempting to use it on the shoulder which was near impossible.
There were a few more problems though, low light performance was the worst I’ve seen in a while with a native ISO of 400 and max of a gainy 800, also when the camera was slightly above you on a tripod you were unable to tilt the screen down at all if you were using the CP2 with a follow focus, sounds petty but this is quite a common configuration.
If I’m brutally honest I wasn’t a fan, that said, if Blackmagic build a Ursa Minor, the same shape but half the size, a third of the weight with a 4 to 5” screen for relative investment I would probably buy one, especially if the low light performance was addressed, don’t get mr wrong, I think the current Ursa represents good value in the right production environment, it’s just not right for me.
As many of you may have read at the time, in 2012 I was lucky enough to be invited by Nikon to the New York launch of the DSLR megapixel race defining D800 bringing users an impressive 36.3 megapixels, at the same time the D800 was also their first serious video savvy DSLR. This year has witnessed Nikon well and truly de-crowned in the pixel count stakes with the birth of the Canon 5DS and 5DS R weighing in at a mighty 50.6 megapixels. This win unfortunately for the video-centric amongst us is at the cost of a headphone jack and clean HDMI output, a huge loss for me over the 5DIII and indeed the Nikon equivalent.
Sometimes it’s easy for us to forget that the 2nd incarnation of the 5D was and is primarily a stills camera as it was very much a video game changer so I think Canon have made a fair decision as to their true priorities, and let’s be honest there are plenty of large sensor alternatives now as opposed to in the glory days of the 5DII when there was little on offer for the shallow DOF hungry. Canon themselves have in many ways lead the field with era-defining super 35 cameras a range that has seen minor updates but are becoming over-due for an upgrade. Especially with Sony breaking new ground in bang-for-buck with the better ergonomics, higher resolution, higher dynamic range FS7, this camera could be my next…..