Nobody needs 12K – Blackmagic’s new Ursa, and why you actually want 12K

So Blackmagic announced the new Ursa 12K – and folks went totally mental. “Nobody asked for 12K” and “I wanted a flip screen, and all I got is 12K” – comments all over the web.
Only a few people seem to get, what this new RGBW sensor actually means, and why it is not about 12K. Actually the 12K are only a side effect of this exciting new sensor development. We have to talk.

I’m not listing the specs and camera description here, if you read my blog, you already know them.
What this is about, is the future of this new custom sensor design, and what it does for you.
It’s all about how they USE those pixels, to make the best 4K/6K, and maybe even 8K images possible.

Making better pixels

Blackmagic designed this new Sensor completely from scratch, and together with BRAW for 3 years now – both are highly integrated and go hand in hand – and it’s the only codec the new Ursa 12K is recording. I would have given the sensor a catchy name though – but that’s just me.

The new sensor doesn’t use the typical Bayer 2×2 pattern CFA of GGRB, but a 6×6 grid, that features 6G, 6R and 6B as well as 18W photo sites.

The sensor size is 27.03 x 14.25mm. So the image circle of a lens required to shoot 12K DCI needs to be at least 30.56mm.

“White pixels” in addition to the RGB pixels where used before. Kodak came up with that idea in 2007, and it was used in Phones from 2013 on. The Moto-X was the first one – but the way the RGBW pattern works together with BRAW, is where the (black)Magic lies (and yeah, sorry for the corny pun) – the way they combine the 3 x full color readout information, with the luminance values of the “white” photo sites, kills a few birds with one stone.

Together with the 5th generation of Blackmagic’s color science (looking at neon signs and LED taillights), and a brand new film curve, developed to make full use of the massive amount of color data, wrapped in – super snappy and lightweight (for 12K) BRAW, that is easily workable on any halfway decent computer – what else could you wish for?

Fun fact: Back in the days, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, Studio TV cameras like the GE PE250 were already featuring 4 tubes and LRGB.

Bayer 2×2 CFA pattern

Ursa 12K 6×6 +luminance CFA pattern – Disclaimer: I’m not sure if this is the actual pattern BM is using (probably not, IMHO the “white” photosites are smaller), but you get the idea.
  1. you get better DR, cause noise gets so small by down sampling that it almost looks like grain, so you can lift your shadows to a level, which would have not be possible before (or would have needed massive NR – with the well known side effects)
  2. Aliasing and Moire are vanishing without the need of a heavy OLPF, preserving important fine image information without artifacts.
  3. Color fidelity (especially in the higher frequencies) is way better – giving you better perceived sharpness and clarity – while still maintaining buttery skin, without the need of diffusion filters.
  4. Better SN ratio.
  5. Better chroma resolution due to the full RGB color readout.
  6. Less artifacts
  7. Great skin tones
  8. No cheap line slipping and binning.
  9. The richness, smoothness, and – in lack of a better word – fatness of the images, that the sensor delivers is amazing.

A matter of size

A lot of folks are concerned about the 2.2 micron size of the 12K sensor. ARRI always had the mantra of better pixels by bigger pixels, so the Alexa still features 8 microns, while even a G2 has a pixel pitch of 5.5 microns.

So does a pitch of 2.2 microns hurt low light sensitivity, decreasing DR and making a noisy image? The answer (in this case) is no.

The secret sauce is in the “white” unfiltered photo sites. If you combine the luminance information with the full read out RGB color information, you actually get a better DR.

And while at it, we also can do away with all this “oh but it’s only 14 stops” moniker. From what I saw so far, those (very conservative) 14 – actual usable – stops are not going to be a bottleneck for your next film any way soon.

Heck, an Alexa has 14 stops, and is still considered a gold standard. So what else do you really need? If 14 stops isn’t enough for you, you may consider an other job.

But I still don’t need 12K

Not for delivery. Lets be honest – 12K viewing devices are pretty much non existent, and most people are happy to get 4K at home, not to speak of the side effects and image information loss of heavy delivery compression – but that’s an whole other article.

But using a 12K sensor for acquisition gets you an unheard quality to begin with. The beauty of all this is, that you don’t even have to shoot (record) in 12K.

If your Delivery is in 4K you can shoot in 4K or 6K (if you need/want some leeway), and still get all the benefits of the 12K image capturing (without any cropping, line skipping, binning, or any other dirty tricks), since the down scaling on sensor level does all the magic for you in camera, you don’t have to do it in post, if you don’t want to.

This camera gives you 12k, 8K 4K RAW without changing field of view (though you can crop if you want) – let that sink in for a moment.

Here is some of the material John has shot:

Okay I get it, the sensor is awesome, but the material will turn my computer in a stuttering furnace.

No it wont. Actually BRAW is so advanced now, that you can edit 12K (if you have to) on a mere 2015 Macbook an iMac, or on every halfway decent PC with a suitable CPU that will run it like butter. Some say it is even more snappy than ProRes. No need for proxies and pre-rendering.

Compared to this, even mere 8K RED material is pretty much unworkable, if you don’t have a hopped up macho computer that costs more than your new truck.

Not even the data rate is something you want to write home abut anymore. Q5 for example gives you 433 Minutes of 12K material on a cheap external USB drive. And even Q0 is still a bit lighter than the industry standard ARRI raw 4K off the Mini LF. So even with 12K, you are still in the same league as standard 4K workflows these days. What’s not to love.

I also heard some concerns about rolling shutter. Even with my Ursa Minis, I never really run into a rolling shutter problem, during a normal shoot. It’s there, but you really have to force it.

The new sensor sports a rolling shutter of 15.5ms @ 12K, and 8,5ms @ 8K/4K.
In 6K crop it’s 7.8ms and in 4K crop only 4.25ms.

That’s not only way better than most cameras, it should be way more than enough for everybody.

But how about lenses? What lens resolves 12K

To actually resolve 12K, you need a lens that resolves 227 L/pm. Most lenses that are considered “sharp”, are around 200 L/pm, but the analog nature of optics doesn’t really have a fixed breaking point, that would render any other lens useless.
If you really need “sharp” – get a lens that does the trick, but since most DPs I know are using diffusion filters even at HD/4K, you may want to take the digital edge off your images, by using any lens in your arsenal, and not even need a diffusion filter on top of it.

Also, the damage done to actual image information (not resolution) by H264/65 delivery compression, pretty much renders any difference between a killer 227 L/pm lens and your standard go-to glas out of the window anyway.

So stop overthinking it – your images will benefit from the new sensor, no matter what lens you are bolting in front of it.

Take away

BM really outdone them self here. And yeah, I know – I sound like a die hard fanboy, but no other camera company is innovating and pushing the envelope right now like BM. They always been a market disruptor, making high end stuff affordable for the masses, but IMHO this new sensor is really a game changer (there I said it) – and I’m not using this term lightly.

Though I’m pretty sure, the lights at the RED headquarter started flickering, and Jarred felt a great disturbance in the force, when Grant announced the price of the new Ursa 12K 😉

Actually this is the only silver lining in this terrible and bizarre year so far, and the fact that they where able to pull of something like this in 2020 is even more fascinating (and yeah, I know they where working on it for 3 years now – nevertheless).

And this is just the beginning. I guess the technology will trickling down to other models in the future, and I’m sure they refine the sensor tech and BRAW. The images this camera already provides are IMHO actual black magic.


If you really want to deep dig in the sensor tech, here is a link and some of BMs patents for you:

9 thoughts on “Nobody needs 12K – Blackmagic’s new Ursa, and why you actually want 12K

Add yours

  1. Hi Frank.Thanks so much for your — as usual — perceptive analysis. It’s not just Red that should be worried. I was selling my UMP4.6k in favor of adding a Bmpcc 6k to my Bmpcc 4k. Now i’m thinking about the new camera instead. I absolutely don’t need 12k, but that sensor is amazing. Price is a factor,always, but it’s not the only factor. I’m already a BRAW convert, this takes it to another level.

  2. Mal wieder ein exzellenter Artikel, der den Kern der Sache trifft. Blackmagic hat wahrscheinlich einen verdammten guten Sensor entwickelt und alle hängen sich nur an 12K auf. Natürlich ist das auch geschicktes Marketing von Blackmagic.
    Freue mich immer, wenn es einen neuen Artikel bei dir gibt.


  3. Finally a quality article in this jungle of “techno-impatient” who do not see the essential!
    Thanks Frank

  4. Super gemachter Beitrag! ein echter Glencairn halt!

    Die Kamera bietet Dir halt wie ein Canvas oder Fussbalfeld, genau das an, was man
    innerhalb (einfach gesprochen) sehr gut bekommt. Das man gewissen Firmen, die
    ihr Maul zu weit aufmachen, stopft, hat was…. Australisches.. Die sind immer etwas
    unverkrampfter und bieten dir den 6,2 liter V8 Holden an, und es macht. ( es gibt ja
    ander Unternehmen die mit mafiöser Art wegen Birne soll wie Apfel aussehen vorgehen..
    unfähig und leider verlogen, aber die Massen rennen und kaufen.. che suis PREPEAR)

    Wie der Sensor es macht, ist das Ding. Das ist der Weg. Und da bin ich gespannt, wie die
    den 6k/4k Sensor der Poket und einer kleinern Ursa aufwerten werden.
    Und ja, der Preis. Der stimmt, jeden Cent wert.( oder du gibst 100%
    und bekommst dafür 23% in der Firma die..egal)

  5. THANK YOU!!! I have been making the same arguments to so many people who have been dissing this camera. I finally got a chance to play with some footage from the camera and I have to say the color blew me away. I’m only sporting a Ryzen 2700x with a RX580 gpu and it played without so much as a single dropped frame, even after some heavy grading. I do this it is slightly noisy, but honestly, when you export it at 4k or even 6k you won’t be able to tell that there was noise. I don’t have $10,000 to blow on this camera, but if I did I absolutely would, it is as you said yourself, “A Game Changer”. I hope to rent one for my upcoming feature.


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