Cinema Quality Handheld Design

Cinema Quality Handheld Design

The Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K is a lightweight camera designed with handheld ergonomics in mind. Images captured during tests proved to be rich and organic, with plenty of latitude. Blackmagic’s latest camera is an excellent choice for film, reportage and documentary filmmakers.

Blackmagic Design has been a player in the video scene since the early 1980s, acquiring DaVinci Systems in 2009 before entering the digital cinema market a few years ago. The company’s latest camera is the URSA Mini 4.6K, an incredibly versatile unit capturing up to 60 fps in CineDNG RAW on a Super 35-sized sensor.

My first impression of the URSA Mini? Impressive. It looks and feels like a real cinema camera. Its body has a slick ergonomic feel and style, possessing a rugged exoskeleton made of magnesium alloy, with plenty of ventilation, solid support and pick points. The sleek, lightweight camera is designed for real-world applications. The lens-mount options are Canon EF or Cinema PL, as well as B4. I chose the PL-mount version that turned out to be very solid and well designed, integrating seamlessly into the camera body.

RAW non-compressed files captured on the camera’s 4608×2592-pixel sensor are massive, an estimated 10.5 MB in size per frame. As a result, applications for the camera can go way beyond simply making pretty pictures, making it useful for a plethora of detailed VFX work.

Cinema Quality Handheld Design
Cinema Quality Handheld Design

My original thought was to shoot in the camera’s highest resolution, but I quickly realized it was more than my home editing system could handle. It should be noted, however, that even though the file sizes were daunting, they easily imported into both Adobe Premiere and Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve. All was ready for down-res or transcoding to any number of optional post formats with ease.

On the backside of the camera comes an integrated V-mount battery plate that feels like a true extension of the unit. What I really liked was the rosette mount on the camera’s side, allowing for a side grip that was strong enough to support the full weight of the URSA Mini. It’s also outfitted with a record button, plus iris and focus buttons for use with ENG-style lenses.

The camera comes with a built-in 5-inch monitor that flips out from the body, with buttons on the backside for record, playback, iris and focus. Two other assignable buttons are also available when the door is closed.

I thought I’d never use or even like a flip-out-style monitor on a professional camera, but after a few days, I found it very useful. The quality and the images displayed were superb.

Cinema Quality Handheld Design

The touch screen and the subsequent menus make this camera very cool. I’m not sure I’ve ever used a simpler menu system on any other camera in my career. It’s as simple as using an iPhone, but not so simplistic that it lacks sophistication. Simply stated, the camera has a very friendly touch-screen interface that’s fast and easy to navigate, and that leaves you to do your job without fussing over menu locations. Any professional could easily pick up and run this camera system with absolute confidence in a matter of minutes.

SHOOTING WITH THE URSA MINI

For tests, I chose to reduce resolution to 3840×2160 and shoot multiple codecs from 444 HQ to 422 ProRes, plus HD resolution for windowed shots ramped to 120 fps to capture sparks from a grinder.

The camera records to two onboard CFast cards, either independently or simultaneously. The simultaneous recording option is a very smart feature, as it relays alternating frames to each card to enable RAW capture as well as high frame rates at such large resolution. With all frame rates at 30fps and above utilizing the technology, the URSA Mini 4.6K is capable of up to 60fps in CinemaDNG RAW and 160fps in HD for slow motion options.

I shot with Zeiss Super Speeds (courtesy of CamTec), but switched to Leica Summicron primes (courtesy of Leica) and ran the camera through some varied lighting situations. This included sunset at the beach, night scenes at the Santa Monica Pier and documenting welding in a factory to catch sparks and other bright details.

Cinema Quality Handheld Design
Accessories available for the Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K include a Shoulder Mount Kit, allowing for comfortable balance of the camera on the shoulder, a 1920×1080 OLED viewfinder, featuring precision glass optics that proved to be exceptional, and a B4 Lens Mount to support the use of broadcast ENG lenses.

Cinema Quality Handheld Design

The first thing I noticed was that the highlights rolled off nicely into overexposure with no obvious artifacting. Black levels seemed better in the lower ISO settings (as one would expect, as the camera is native ISO 800 with optional settings to a low of 200 and a high of 1600), but overall sensitivity in these settings was impressive. I tested between ISO 200-1600 at the pier at night and felt that ISO 200 was the preferred look. A test made in downtown Los Angeles at night garnered a favorable look at ISO 400.

Shooting skin tones, I was pleased with the results, as well. A natural true-to-eye look was apparent, even in a mixed daylight and tungsten interior scene. The camera performed flawlessly in every situation. Power up and power down were also fast and simple, while swapping recording formats was quick.

Overall operation was smooth, and the camera felt as intuitive as any one of my well-worn DSLRs. It has a nice weight distribution—just heavy enough to be solid, yet light enough to carry. Its ergonomics are also practical and thoughtfully designed.

I really liked using the viewfinder during tests, offering adjustments for right- and left-eye-dominant operators, friction adjustment for tilting, and a diopter that was smooth and easy to adjust. The fore aft adjustment with a dovetail plate that slides nicely under the top-carrying handle is a neat touch.

Cinema Quality Handheld Design

Playback from the camera performed well, but one should note that the camera must be in the same settings as the acquired footage in order to play back.

The PL-mount version has a price tag of $5,495, while the EF-mount version comes in at $4,995. The viewfinder is an additional $1,495, the shoulder kit, $395, and the V-mount battery plate, $95.

In the end, I attempted to find situations where I thought the camera wouldn’t perform well, but came away with none. I’m amazed at how far, and how quickly, digital cinema cameras have advanced in recent years, and the URSA Mini, dare I say it, feels like a game changer. Could it be the start of a new generation of game-changing digital cameras? We shall see. 

Learn more about the URSA Mini 4.6K at blackmagicdesign.com. Jimmy Matlosz is a cinematographer, director, writer and photographer, and the Chairman of the Emerging Cinematographer Awards. Though an Idaho resident, he often can be seen cranking up hills in Los Angeles on his bicycle in between gigs.

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