Blackmagic Ursa vs. Sony A7s / by Matt Mahoney

This is not a Blackmagic Ursa review.

I had a chance to shoot with the Blackmagic Ursa this week. I was tasked with testing the camera to find it's strengths and weaknesses by putting it into the situations I normally shoot and grade. So along the Sony A7s grade test I posted earlier, I also compared the Ursa to the A7s in a typical interview situation.

Shooting with the Ursa is nice if you're on sticks. It's a heavy camera. The large flip-out monitor is nice for framing your shot and checking focus. And the peaking feature is nice. But I noticed it's not always accurate, more on that later.

The Ursa's native ASA is 400 I believe, so that's where I started. I set the camera to record 1080p Pro Res 422(HQ) and used my Zeiss 50mm, 85mm, and 135mm to record the three shot variations. Each at f/2.8. I then flipped the ASA to 800 and did the same thing. Next I popped the A7s onto the sticks and shot the same shots. The A7s was set to SLOG at 3200 iso with a +2 stop exposure. I grabbed the media out of the cameras, headed into the color suite, and offloaded the cards.

Once I got everything into Davinci I decided to try to match, and then grade the shots. The reason for this was to see if I could match the Ursa's 400 and 800 ASA's and then match the A7s shots to the Ursa's. I found a few things that surprised me. First off the Ursa is incredibly sharp. Almost unflatteringly sharp. If I were ever to shoot a female interview with this camera, I'd be sure to have a black satin or a soft fx filter. Secondly, I preferred the 800 ASA image when compared to the 400 ASA. The 400 ASA shots felt more cinematic, with skin having a nice roll off from highlights to shadows. But there was a little more life to the 800, and a bit of grain which I also liked.

The Ursa's footage grades nicely you can push it and pull it pretty far before the image breaks. The global shutter is also really nice. I can't wait until more cameras have this feature. It's awesome. And it sticks out while you're recording after having shot with dlsr's for so long. I found myself looking at that huge flip-out screen and thinking "wow". The A7s was recorded straight to the card and not out to a recorder. I know this isn't technically a fair fight but I wanted to see how everything looked. I also flipped the Sony to the crop-mode to get the sensor closer to the Ursa's. At super 35mm it's only slightly larger than an APSC-sized sensor. Again, this test wasn't scientific so everything wasn't done under laboratory quality control. I just wanted to shoot the cameras in real life situations, which is how it should be.

I was also surprised at the A7s and how close the image quality is to the Ursa. With the price difference between the two cameras being $3500 I didn't think it would be a landslide, but I wasn't expecting it to be this close either. The Ursa wins in other categories of course, but that's expected out of a camera that was designed to be in a studio.

The verdict:

Overall I liked a lot of what the Ursa had to offer. But there are weird things that happen in the highlights with it. If you're shooting outside, anything that has a reflective surface like cars or aluminum bleachers will blow out with these weird purple blobs. Shooting straight into the sun will obviously do the same thing. In the studio, I saw the same purple blobs appear in the rims of silver eye glasses, Arri fresnels, in the silver side of a collapsable reflector, and even in bare 65w bulbs. This was really a bummer because who the hell wants to brush all of that out in After Effects every time? Certainly not me. The fact that you can't have bare bulbs or reflective surfaces in your shots is really restrictive. I didn't find the peaking to be accurate outside in high-contrast situations. On several shots where the focus should have been dead on according to the peaking, it wasn't. This could have been my error as I was having difficulty seeing the screen outdoors, but I feel like that's one big reason for peaking in the first place: To double check your focus when it may be difficult to see. So the Ursa is going back. Blackmagic has made cameras capable of producing wonderful images and the Ursa is one of them, but to me the sensor issue needs to be worked out before it becomes the camera it's very capable of being.