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URSA Viewfinder: Want! (Updated)

September 18, 2015

URSA VF big 1

UPDATE 7/17/16: My review of the Cineroid EVF I bought for use with my BMPC-4K.

Update 11/20/15: Wooden Camera’s awesome “Blackmagic EVF Modification Kit” (see link & videos below).

Blackmagic Design appears to have another runaway hit on its hands. This is in addition to their amazing-spec, soon-to-ship URSA 4.6K and URSA Mini 4.6K cameras.

The new hit product I’m referring to, and the one I’m personally really, really excited about, is the now-shipping, competitively-priced URSA Viewfinder (at the bottom of the page on BMD’s URSA Mini site).

What’s so exciting about the URSA Viewfinder?

Many popular DSLRs & video cameras have relatively low-quality built-in electronic viewfinders (EVFs) and monitors. Most are relatively low resolution, or have inaccurate color, or have inaccurate brightness/contrast — or all three — by any reasonable professional standard. Most monitors are difficult or impossible to see clearly in bright environments. Built-in EVF/monitors are typically OK for framing, but only a few have enough resolution or on-screen tools for accurate focussing, or adequate contrast/brightness or tools for accurate exposure, and almost none offer accurate color. A few optional, add-on 3rd party EVFs and small monitors offer above-average image quality — typically the most expensive ones. Experienced camera ops have learned to make do with these tools, but most would greatly prefer higher-quality built-in or add-on EVFs, especially if they were available at a lower price.

That’s why BMD’s new URSA Viewfinder is so exciting. It features relatively high-resolution (full 1920 x 1080), far above-average brightness/contrast & color accuracy (OLED), and a relatively low price ($1,495 US) compared to the competition. New URSA Viewfinder owners report it works great (of course) with URSA or URSA Mini cameras, and also with other HD-SDI video sources such as BMD’s BMCC and BMPC-4K cameras.

The URSA Viewfinder’s on-screen focus & exposure tools such as False Color work with any HD-SDI source, and can be easily enabled/disabled using the VF’s built-in menu & function buttons. The VF’s built-in mount includes a standard 1/3″ threaded bolt for easy mounting to many cameras & rigs, or you can substitute your own 1/4″ threaded bolt if required. The VF’s BNC HD-SDI cable connects directly to most pro cams (or a small portable HDMI-to-SDI converter device can be used). The URSA VF requires power from an external source such as a 12VDC camera battery via a relatively inexpensive cable adapter (typically a short 4-pin female XLR to male d-tap/p-tap cable, available from B&H, etc.).

Note 1: The URSA Viewfinder’s record tally light feature is currently only supported by URSA & URSA Mini cameras. This feature is toggled on/off via a control signal transmitted from an URSA camera to the VF via HD-SDI.

Note 2: John Brawley confirms the Ursa VF’s built-in “Film-to-Video” LUT is optimized for URSA cameras, but can be used with other HD-SDI sources, such as the BMCC and BMPC-4K. He also confirms this feature can be manually toggled on/off using a button on the VF or its menus.

Operating instructions for the URSA Viewfinder are in the URSA camera manual (PDF) available from BMD’s site.

Why use the URSA Viewfinder instead of a monitor?

A major benefit of using an EVF compared to a monitor — aside from an EVF’s superior usability in very bright environments — is because the distance between the eye & EVF screen is essentially constant. As a result, the eye doesn’t have to constantly adjust focus on the screen, which reduces eye fatigue and greatly improves viewing accuracy/comprehension. As the saying goes, with HD, and especially 4K, “If it’s not in focus, it’s not HD (or 4K)!” That’s the single most important reason for using a high-resolution viewfinder.

Using an EVF properly doesn’t necessarily result in a loss of situational awareness. Experienced cam ops quickly learn to keep both eyes open as needed, while one eye stays firmly against the EVF eyecup. Most operators quickly adapt to this effective method of seeing the world while operating the camera.

Also, for the eye in the EVF’s eyecup, the area outside/surrounding the camera’s view essentially stays constant (black). That eye and your attention can stay locked-onto the contents of the scene, undistracted by everything else. You can selectively open & close your other eye as often as required to see what else is going on, and as a literal reality check to compare with the image in the EVF.

I understand that some cam ops prefer using a monitor instead of an EVF — such as Blackmagic’s new 1080p Video Assist 5″ HDMI/SDI monitor/recorder — and that’s cool. For less than the cost of an URSA Viewfinder, you might add a Hoodman sun hood or GRID loupe to the Video Assist and accomplish many of the same tasks. It’s great to have choices. However, the URSA Viewfinder appears to be a huge step forward in EVF design in terms of image quality, usability, and price.

Here’s what early users of the URSA Viewfinder say:

A new owner temporarily connected an URSA VF to a BMPCC.

An URSA VF connected to a BMCC.

A brief customer video about using the VF with an URSA camera.

An URSA VF connected to a RED Dragon.

Update 11/20/15:

Wooden Camera’s awesome “Blackmagic EVF Modification Kit“:

P.S.: I won’t be surprised if BMD announces a “universal” EVF as soon as NAB 2016 next April. A design based on the URSA Viewfinder, but perhaps with both HDMI and HD-SDI support, full user control without an URSA camera, and other improvement — all at a very competitive price. Who knows? It could happen, maybe.  😉

©2015 Peter J. DeCrescenzo. All rights reserved.

Note: I don’t receive income or remuneration for this blog, or for products seen or mentioned here. Advertisements on the page have nothing to do with me. The ads support WordPress, the publisher.

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