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June 30, 2014

Blackmagic CEO Grant Petty Discusses URSA & Image Issues with Production Camera 4K

A little over two years ago, Blackmagic Design completely disrupted the cinema camera market, and changed expectations about how much we should be paying for excellent image quality. Their goal with the first 2.5K Cinema Camera was to make something with as much flexibility in post as possible, and would be a companion to cameras like the Canon 5D Mark II -- which is why they chose the Canon EF mount. They haven't stopped with just one camera model, as they have since introduced the Pocket Cinema Camera, Production Camera 4K, and the URSA 4K Digital Cinema Camera, which features interchangeable sensors. At the recent NAB show, I interviewed Blackmagic CEO Grant Petty and asked him all sorts of questions about their camera line, firmware updates, and what he thought about the image issues some people have experienced with the Production Camera 4K.

Some of my questions have since been answered thanks to the 1.8 firmware update released last week, but there are still other additions, like card formatting, that have not yet been added. Here is the full audio interview with Grant Petty:

Here are the timestamps of specific questions if you want to jump ahead:

  • 2:58 -- The 2.5K camera was created with image quality as a priority, not final cost
  • 11:10 -- Higher speed sensor for the URSA may or may not be available by the ship date, but higher frame rates should come this year
  • 13:31 -- The URSA sensor blocks aren’t really made to be switched out every day
  • 14:26 -- Using all of the current Blackmagic sensors with the URSA
  • 15:20 -- Using the Super 16mm Blackamgic Pocket sensor with the URSA
  • 17:02 -- Higher frame rates on the 2.5K and Super 16mm sensors with URSA
  • 18:58 -- Why CFast Cards in the URSA?
  • 20:23 -- SSD vs. CFast, and issues with SSD reliability
  • 22:42 -- Hot swapping CFast cards with the URSA
  • 23:39 -- URSA is not meant to be used on your shoulder with the 10” monitor flipped out
  • 24:57 -- What about a Blackmagic EVF for the URSA?
  • 27:05 -- Firmware updates: audio meters, histogram, card formatting in-camera
  • 30:06 -- Image issues with Production Camera 4K

While Blackmagic has certainly been the least expensive option for the image quality offered, it's interesting that cost seems to be such a secondary consideration. The first Cinema Camera is still one of the cheapest RAW cameras out there, so it shows how far ahead the company was in terms of pushing higher IQ with their products.

The thing that has now been reiterated over and over again is how powerful the URSA 4K camera is under the hood. Since they are designing it for sensors that haven't been released yet, a lot of headroom has been built-in for higher resolutions and frame rates. This means that not only are higher speed 4K sensors possible, but the current 2.5K and 1080p sensors should be capable of higher frame rates if they are eventually paired with the URSA camera body. I have been told that these sensor packages should be available separately from the cameras, but we'll have to wait and see how that works out.

The company has also tried to use off the shelf media as much as possible, which is why they have not developed their own proprietary cards for the URSA, and have chosen CFast (just as the ARRI AMIRA has). Sustained card write speed is one of the biggest reasons they have moved in the CFast direction. SSD manufacturers tend to bend the truth a little when talking about write speeds, because these speeds aren't necessarily maintained over longer periods, which is an important statistic for camera media. CFast cards should have better and more reliable sustained write speeds, which is needed for 4K RAW and high frame rates and higher resolutions.

Part of their recent firmware update 1.8 for the current cameras was reworking the back-end so that they can more quickly deliver updates and new features. Now that much of that work has been completed, getting audio meters, a histogram, and card formatting in all of the cameras is only a matter of time. Even though these things are already in many other cameras, the company has limited resources, and chose to prioritize certain things in order to get the cameras out there. I think Blackmagic recognizes that they aren't going to get everything right at the beginning, so having the core features allows people to take advantage of the product and also let the company know what features they are really missing, and what features people really need.

I was only scheduled to talk with Grant for 15-20 minutes, but our talk went well over 30 minutes. Just before he had to leave for another meeting, I did ask him about image issues people are seeing with their 4K cameras, and he did not seem to think this was happening (though that could be for a number of reasons, and he may even have a different opinion at this point).

If you aren't familiar, some people have noted that they are seeing excessive fixed pattern noise in their 4K cameras (especially with log profiles), or even white dots on the image. I tested the Blackamgic 4K camera earlier this year, and while I did have the white dots at one point shooting in very cold conditions, I did not really notice the fixed pattern noise, except on areas that were underexposed. Here is a quick clip I shot at ISO 400 ProRes Film/Log (download the original ProRes clip over on Vimeo):

Fixed pattern noise is something that is present in all CMOS sensors, and is usually removed as a step in the image processing. The Apertus Open Source 4K camera project has been testing a similar (or maybe even the same) sensor as the one in the Blackmagic 4K:

The hardware in the smaller Blackmagic cameras is obviously limited due to size, but it's unclear why something that can be corrected out of many cameras is still in some final production models (other cameras have suffered from similar issues to some degree, the first model GH1 that I owned had quite a bit of vertical banding in underexposed areas). It's unclear if the firmware in the Production 4K camera can be improved to make the fixed pattern noise less apparent, but there is no question some people are seeing it more than they have seen with other cameras.

Blackmagic has had a hard time delivering cameras when they say they will, so it will be interesting if the URSA follows the same pattern, or if they deliver many more cameras closer to the scheduled ship date this summer.

Even though I didn't have time in the audio clip above, I want to thank Grant for sitting down to talk with me, and Terry for setting up the interview.

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82 Comments

I for one am amazing with what Black-Magic has been able to do. I have not used the cameras on a paid gig yet as I dont own one, but even though the URSA is a huge camera it really was the camera I looked at and liked out of all of them. Now to hear it will be be getting better sensors in terms of speed and res is really amazing and Im excited to see what it can do in the right hands.

June 30, 2014

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Russell

Technically he still did address the issue to the point ifvresloving the issue , either fix the cameras or do not make or sell any more until you fix or have a solution to the problem

This is not hate just honest truth

June 30, 2014

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cjay

+1

June 30, 2014

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Adam

When is it "supposed" to hit the streets?

June 30, 2014

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XML

End of July/early August, essentially sometime this summer, which has been their goal with the previous two releases, but obviously there were delays with those cameras.

June 30, 2014

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director
151

I'm sure the last 4 min are going to piss some people off, but I thought it was awesome!

June 30, 2014

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CoolHandLuque

I happen to be one of the customers who had a BMPC4k with fixed pattern noise. I pre ordered it on April 2013 and waited 8 months for the camera to arrive only to be a dead investment. I really despise Grant Petty after hearing this interview. he basically says there is no problem with the 4k (all you have to do is read the forums, everybody with a 4k camera has FPN, some more noticeable, some lesser). And he actually says BMD has a great PR department, they didn't communicate and still fail to do so. Most of us expect a little something on the forum when we buy a product that doesn't work properly, is extremely late and/or missing features.

I learned a hard lesson when buying this camera. I hope I'll never go through anything like this again

June 30, 2014

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Carlos

agree 1000%

Hey Grant Petty, answer the tough questions about why your products don't work. And hey Joe you too...why don't you ask them, and hold these people accountable. Well I guess if you piss them off by bring up the tabu conversations they wont give you another interview next time, because your now the guy who likes to "cause problems", right?

Hey BlackMagic... Transparency is not a choice, its going to happen. The only choice is does it happen to you, or do you participate in it. And when it happens to you, its proven to be really ugly. Check your forums.

June 30, 2014

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Adam

I asked him at the end of the interview. If he doesn't believe (or maybe he does now) that there are image issues with some 4K cameras, and I don't have any examples in front of me to show him, what else is there for me to say?

June 30, 2014

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director
151

Yes, I heard that, Joe. And thank you for trying to go toe-to-toe with they ALMIGHTY ceo.
I also heard him get a little defensive at 32:12 when you ask him about supporting the products.

Products people have paid good money for based on their advertise specs and promises. What IS "relevant" is the fact that you have taken peoples money, and not delivered what was advertise the product to be. Its not the press, its your customers/users - once again BlackMagic, check your forums. Respond to your user base .....they are "real" people.

June 30, 2014

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Adam

Frame pattern noise in the 4k camera is prevalent (and, like you said, inconsistent) and I think BM's lack of a statement about it is telling that it is a pretty serious problem. I have 2 cameras and a friend in my town has a third, all were preordered and delivered at different times, and all three inconsistently exhibit FPN at 400 iso, and it really comes out if you try and push the image in post. 200 is dependably clean and awesome though, but being limited to 200 iso is a tough pill to swallow.

I'm sitting on both of them before trying to get replacements from Blackmagic, because I've seen camecras that the replacement had worse FPN than their original. Hopefully this summer a firmware update can improve the situation, or someone can release a post production technique that can fix affected shots. It would be nice to have a useable 800 iso, but that is a pipe dream as far as I'm concerned.

June 30, 2014

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Chris

You have to shoot at 200asa? Is this the 1950s!

June 30, 2014

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Keith

Not as miserable as only a few years ago when we had to shoot at effectively 16 ISO because we were using the HVX-200 with mini 35 and Superspeeds.

July 1, 2014

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Harry Pray IV

According to someone on the CML mailing list, who did some extensive tests, even the Red Dragon has the best signal-to-noise ratio at it's lowest ISO: 320.

While being stuck at one ISO is a major pain, having the option of low ISO's is really great. Having a "native" ISO of 800 is kind of obnoxious because you have to throw a ton of ND in front of your lens to shoot during the day, which really degrades your image.

July 1, 2014

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Kenneth Merrill

The F5 base ISO is 2000 and while it helps having built in NDs keep in mind if you want to shoot higher frame rates you want a higher base ISO because you need more light the higher the frame rate. 800 ISO is really not much of a starting point for shooting slow-motion.

July 1, 2014

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Not trolling, but in the 50s, cine film stock ISO/ASA ranged from 16 to 50. Even as late as the mid-90s, 200 was the highest you tried to ever go (especially with 16mm) because even 500 on 35mm was visibly grainy. To anyone who learned on film, shooting at 1600+ ISO was at one time almost unfathomable.

July 1, 2014

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+1

July 1, 2014

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Geno

About CFAST: "doesn't make camera body big..."

June 30, 2014

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k

I am wondering how big URSA would be if they would use SSD's...

June 30, 2014

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k

"people aren't having issues with the 4K camera"

I love what Blackmagic has done for indie filmmakers, but that was a pretty slimy comment.

June 30, 2014

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+1

June 30, 2014

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Ricks

+2. That's the kind of dismissive response I'd expect from a corrupt corporate CEO getting grilled on 60 Minutes, not a fair question regarding customer feedback. I'd like to think he made that comment because he lacked a thoughtful answer, not because he really thinks Blackmagic is the victim of online trolls.

July 1, 2014

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Marc B

Hey Joe, the CFast 2.0 cards are not just a little more. THEY ARE TWICE THE COST of CF cards.

That's HUGE, not a casual and minor difference.

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1032305-REG/sandisk_sdcfsp_120g_a4...

June 30, 2014

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Ricks

still cheaper than RED media...

June 30, 2014

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sean

I've seen about a dozen different 4k production models. Not one of them has been identical to the other in FPN behavior. Some are ok, not too bad. Some are rough. A few are frighteningly bad, as in no normal operation even at 200ISO. Something is up with the sensor, and the fact that this lack of QC and the same model are headed into the Ursa doesn't give me much confidence.

June 30, 2014

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alex

Yeah me too.

June 30, 2014

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Tommy Stevens

Great interview. Very interesting and honest no BS interview. I was interested in buying a Blackmagic cinema camera a while ago, but what with all the negative feedback about delays, mis-calibrated cameras, software, workflow and formatting issues, I felt the need to wait. Now the GH4 & Sony A7s, I'm thinking of one of those instead....

June 30, 2014

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I have fixed pattern noise on my BMPC and it is quite visible at ISO 800 in the shadows, some people may accept that level of FPN, but for me it means ISO800 is not really usable.

At 400 ISO the FPN is barely visible and at ISO200 it is gone. So I can use ISO 400 and ISO 200. The GH4 doesn't have that problem. I hope they will find a solution for it. If they do, I will send in my BMPC for a recalibration.

June 30, 2014

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Erwin

Don't avoid the inevitable, just get rid of it altogether and get a GH4.

June 30, 2014

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Adam

There were real issues with BMPC 4k cameras. I find it annoying and bizarre that Black Magic would release such a product. I loved the image the BMCC created and preordered, but for Grant Petty to play it off like it is BS from the competition He is either mis informed or full of crap. I waited for 2 months for a fix. Thank God I was able to return my camera after much pushing my dealer to help me. Im not a sales guy, Im a camera man with a reputation for quality. Hope they get it together as I really to like the image their cameras create and would like to use them in the future if I don't have the Fixed Pattern or banding noise in my image. I applaud Black magic for being innovative and opening doors and lowering the point of entry in the industry but come on.

June 30, 2014

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And people STILL want to pre order the URSA? Why not just wait and let this company sweat a little until you know it comes out right?

June 30, 2014

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VinceGOrtho

I think their problem is project management.

Issues across 3 cameras has to be down to the project manager. Any claim its the component manufacturers fault is BS. Its the project managers job to sort that crap out.

Blackmagic is, if not already has developed a reputation for below average/bad cameras. At least their reputation is rapidly heading that way, but at the same time have a great reputation for Resolve.

I would hate to see them have to sell off the Resolve division to pay for the camera issues. Thats almost never a good outcome for software. Just look at Softimage ending up at Autodesk after being the hot potato between companies for years and there was a time when Softimage was the very best in the industry as I would say Resolve is now...

Blackmagic your first camera was your best camera and everyone wants you to do well. But you need to do well.

June 30, 2014

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BMD is very well funded and I would speculate that margins on their cameras are very thin to begin with.
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That said, BMPC4K has some very bad reviews, both on the independent forums and on the various retailers own sites. Many give it a 1-star rating as basically a defective product. GH4's lowest rating on B&H is 4 stars, which is why it's a top seller. And it's amazing how quickly both good and bad reviews spread in this day and age.

July 1, 2014

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DLD

As I said above.... Transparency is not a choice, its going to happen. The only choice is does it happen to you, or do you participate in it. And when it happens to you, its proven to be really ugly.

July 1, 2014

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Adam

There is a lot of anger over these cameras. Bear in mind the current cameras all cost 4k and below. If I pay $2.99 for a prime steak, should I be suprised when the waiter brings me shoe leather? And this is not hate against BM. These cameras used to cost 200k. If you want a fully pro camera pay for it. Go to canon, red, arri, or sony they all make great working pro cameras in the 20k range except for arri. Or better yet rent them. Again what BM is doing is phenomenal at this pricepoint. But it is still a rock bottom price, from a 2 year old camera company. Quality costs.

June 30, 2014

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david

Sorry but I disagree with you. You can't sell a product at a price, promise the same quality minus some things as a higher range product and then shield in the ridiculous argument that you get what you paid for.

June 30, 2014

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Carlos

Yeah, but that $2.99 prime steak is being sold/advertised as a GREAT steak. Not shoe leather. So yes, people are pissed when they get shoe leather and not the great prime steak they were sold/promised.

June 30, 2014

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The other David

Yeah but there are entire TV shows dedicated to helping people who paid the lowest bidder to renovate their house and their house fell apart, because they got ripped off. I'm not white washing BM, I'm saying Pay for a good camera! Buyer beware. if you're paying 2.99 for prime rib something is wrong with it.

June 30, 2014

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david

I bet they don't shoot those TV shows on a BM.

July 1, 2014

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ronn

I do know that Castle has used the BMCC without any issues.

July 2, 2014

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Christian

Even Phillip Bloom will say rent the camera and test it before you buy it. Shane Hurlbut says test it before you film with it. And all cameras have their quirks, the lower end cameras are expected to have more. If you buy a camera with out testing it you roll the dice. Besides last I checked B&H has a return polixy, if you didn't like it return it.

June 30, 2014

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david

And I did.

Hey BlackMagic, you can keep your camera. I wont be buying anything from you anytime soon until you fix the well documented issues.

June 30, 2014

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The other Da

And those brands you mentioned DAVE? They infalte, pad their prices. For one reason only; to make a profit, staisfy their shareholders and board members and that's it. You would have to show me the detailed facts that a 60 grand ARRI 4 k...actually costs over 30 grand to make. No goddamn way, not when the same tech is being used by opther countries...and selling just as capable 4k cameras for under 20 grand!

Just because the prices is inflatedly high...doesn't mean...it cost that much to make! Or, that a high prices is dues to the highest professional quality tecs and equipment used -- not when everyone in the digital age pretty much has access to the same tech and equipment.

BM will get this ship straightened out; likewise with KINE...and RED and ARRI can keep their high prices in the Hollywood studio system allto themselves. Only to get knocked off their inflated pedestal a few years from now by...yeah...the growing competition with just as highquality techs and equipment for the "truthful" half the cost

July 1, 2014

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MARK11

Well yeah... But.... Those cameras - Arri, Canon, Sony - are reliable. Sorry, but you CANNOT use a BM4K on any type of network shoot since you run the risk of never working for them again. BM4K is not a real production camera until they make it right. It's only good for art projects, birthday parties or no budget Indy films at this point where buggy footage is sorta acceptable.

I've been using the FS700 + 7Q on a number of network gigs for Disney and Discovery because it's a real camera in that it's dependable. Yes, Convergent is lagging on some features, but overall is works well and the footage is stellar to say the least. The BM4K is not dependable, therefore it's NOT a production camera. Sorry. And yes, my friend had one of the first BM4Ks and the FNP was clear as day on higher ISO on our tests. He wisely sold it quickly.

BM4K is garbage until they fix it.

July 1, 2014

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Gene Sung (non-...

Drew seems to agree with you ;-)

[ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRLbOpj9MfY ]

July 2, 2014

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Geno

Blackmagic have tried to do great things with their cameras by giving us high specs and low prices. Unfortunately one of the most expensive aspects of a camera is building in reliability and R&D to deliver a reliable camera that is user friendly. That, is where BM have really failed. While their cameras 'seem' like great value for money, once you start using them their issues quickly become apparent.

June 30, 2014

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Tone13

I wanna see or hear the interview with Grant Petty from someone who asks the tough questions directly and demand an answer from the CEO of this company. I don't care if your misinformed or what, as CEO your responsible for your company and its products. Sorta like the Captain of the ship.

And if he thinks there are "no problems" with their cameras he's delusional, and should be fired immediately.

June 30, 2014

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Chunk from Goonies

I would rather interview the product manager of the cinema camera and ask him the hard questions. At least he should be able to get a real answer out of as to why they shipped the camera the way he did. Not all ceo's are like Steve jobs.

June 30, 2014

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david

Very true.

June 30, 2014

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Chunk from Goonies

Some BMCers had poor calibration sensors causing FPN. Most that complain about it don't know what they are doing.

June 30, 2014

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ryan

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