I’ve spent several weeks with the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro, as well as the accessory viewfinder, handgrip and shoulder rig kit, and feel that at the $6,000 price point (body only), it’s now one of the best values in the market, albeit with some issues that are worth considering before purchase.New users flocked to the video market around the time of the launch at NAB 2012, thanks in part to the increasing video capabilities of still cameras, as the company continued to develop new systems that challenged convention and won over a portion of the market left unattended by competitors.
While the original Blackmagic Cinema Camera looked like the company simply put a lens mount onto a camera-sized LCD screen, it offered wide dynamic range, RAW video capabilities and better color rendition than existing SLR-based video tools. The subsequent Blackmagic Production Camera 4K upped the capture resolution, but didn’t address the ergonomics of the system.
To appeal to more serious users, the company’s URSA line offered a traditional design, with a variety of features designed to appeal to broadcast and cinema shooters in a body that weighed 16 pounds without a lens or battery attached. The system was too unwieldy to shoot handheld, so the more compact URSA Mini line was introduced, providing similar imaging characteristics in a smaller body, with a 4K and then a 4.6K version available in the URSA Mini lineup.
To shrink the size, the company removed many of the pro-level interface elements, and the resulting lack of direct accessibility to key controls earned the system praise for the image quality and price point, but criticism for the difficulty operating the camera.
With the URSA Mini Pro (or, URSA Mini Pro 4.6K, as the box and some retailers call it), Blackmagic Design has managed to keep to the general size of the Mini system, with the access to controls that professional broadcast and cine shooters need. They also managed to include an interchangeable mount system—allowing the EF-mount camera to convert to a PL or B4 mount by switching modules—and added the ability for the camera to record to SD cards as well as the CFast cards on their previous systems.
Shooting And Recording
The URSA Mini Pro captures a claimed 15 stops of dynamic range (we’ve seen test charts showing anywhere between 13 and 15), depending on the codec used to record the footage. With a 4.6K sensor, the camera has an effective resolution of 4608×2592, which gives some extra room for cropping to 4K in post. The URSA Mini Pro can record in that full resolution, in 4K (at 16:9 or 2.4:1), Ultra HD, 3K anamorphic, 2K (at 16:9) and 1920×1080. Frame rates run from 23.98 to 60 fps, and an HFR (High Frame Rate) button allows quick jumping to 60 fps. ISO can be set to 200, 400, 800 or 1600, while white balance settings range from 2500K to 10000K, and both can be quickly toggled using the dedicated switches.
One of the strong selling points of the Blackmagic camera has been the RAW shooting codec, and the URSA Mini Pro can capture 12-bit CinemaDNG files at the 4608×2592 resolution and 10-bit using Apple ProRes from the smallest 1920×1080 ProRes all the way up to Apple ProRes 444 XQ at 3840×2160.
The previous Blackmagic URSA Mini 4K had a global shutter, which prevented rolling shutter “jello” artifacts, but both the URSA Mini 4.6K and the URSA Mini Pro 4.6K use a rolling shutter, albeit with very little image distortion. In both my tests and the tests I’ve seen posted, the camera has very minimal rolling shutter issues.
Gone, too, or at least significantly minimized, is the “magenta cast” seen on previous Blackmagic cameras. Footage I tested and the numerous color test samples and uncorrected footage samples available show this is a problem that has been resolved.
Design And Control
The Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro does away with the stripped-down control interface of the previous cameras in the URSA Mini line and replaces it with nearly every possible control a camera operator could need. The older URSA Mini had eight buttons for control of recording on the shooter’s side, while the URSA Mini Pro has around two-dozen controls. The key functions of power, ISO, white balance and shutter are controlled by metallic flip-switches instead of buttons, which is a welcome change. The accessory viewfinder adds three additional controls and a record light, while the handgrip adds recording controls.
The hinged left-side contains a large LED display with key shooting data, including ISO, frame rate, white balance, battery time, time code and more. It’s easy to see even in bright daylight. The other side of the unit features a 4-inch LCD screen, an inch smaller than the previous URSA Mini but at full 1920×1080 resolution. With more controls moved to the actual body, the smaller LCD is fine, especially if the external viewfinder is used.
Forward of this are the aforementioned switches for ISO, shutter and white balance, programmable function buttons and a recoding button, plus menu controls and a control wheel next to switches to toggle the functions.
Not only is the LCD screen a viewfinder, but it’s also a touch-screen menu, and the menu system is one of my favorites on a camera system. Unlike most DSLR and mirrorless systems where users scroll through dozens of menu tabs, items on this menu are logically arranged with large buttons. If you want to switch from RAW to ProRes, simply tap ProRes and then tap the format you want from the next line of choices, and finally the resolution. That same change on a still camera would take multiple button presses and jumps between setting items. I wish camera manufacturers would study this menu interface. You even can use the camera to add metadata (such as take number) directly into the video.
Underneath this pivoting LED/LCD left panel are controls for the audio inputs and redundant recording controls, handy if the screen is in the outward position. This section also contains the card slots, and one of my biggest grievances about the design. It’s wonderful that the camera now has dual CFast and dual SD slots, but there’s no protective covering over the slots other than the frequently used viewfinder. Shoot without a CFast card in a slot in a dusty or windy environment, and there’s no way to prevent debris entering the ports.
At the front of the camera is a neutral-density control that switches between ND of 2 stops, 4 stops and
6 stops, and the URSA Mini Pro’s design filters both IR and optical light, which reduces the color cast often seen when using a rotating ND filter. This built-in ND filter is one of the highlights of the new system.
The UHS-II SD slots are a very welcome addition, as the price of CFast cards is still high relative to where similar-capacity CF and SD cards are due, naturally, to the added complexity for capturing high-bit-rate video. The SD slots can’t record the full 4.6K footage, but they’re good for ProRes footage. The camera will automatically fall over from one card to the next when cards fill up, a great feature considering that 4.6K CinemaDNG RAW requires about 30 GB per minute (that’s 1846.8 GB/hour) at 30 fps, and even shooting 4K ProRes 422 HQ at 30p requires about 340 GB for an hour of footage at 30 fps.
Connections abound on the body, with 12G-SDI and 3G-SDI outputs, a 12G-SDI input, a timecode generator connector, power jack, headphone jack, XLR jacks and connectors for the external viewfinder. The V-mount battery plate I tested is sold separately, and the system can be adapted to use other battery types.
The ability to switch lens mounts (which I didn’t try during the test) is a huge advantage for shooters of this system, and it really increases the viability of the URSA Mini Pro, as it can adapt to a variety of use cases. It means that small production companies can invest in the camera and swap out lens systems to match the need of the jobs, and larger studios can maintain a look between different cameras.
The company has revamped the audio functionality, with built-in stereo mics and XLR jacks with phantom power. The controls on the front left of the camera allow the operator to adjust levels easily without having to dive into a menu system. Unfortunately, the audio on the USRA Mini Pro 4.6K still lacks some key features, including the ability to use mics with different impedances. The built-in mics work better than the previous models, and the multiple XLR ports and four-channel audio will certainly be good enough to capture news, live events and shooting at venues, but larger or more complicated audio situations will still need external audio recording.
The Changing Marketplace
As the Blackmagic URSA Mini system continues to evolve, some of the competitors that traditionally serve the higher-end markets have started to enter the space. Canon’s recently introduced EOS C300 Mark II comes in at the same price point, as does the Sony FS5 camera. Both systems have trade-offs (as does the URSA Mini), but they’re vying for a similar customer with a similar budget and similar needs.
That’s not a bad thing—the increased attention to the customers who need affordable and powerful solutions for broadcast, cinema and video production means a greater array of products, faster technological improvements and a reduction in cost. Blackmagic Design helped lead the way in this space, and the URSA Mini Pro 4.6K shows they’re still helping to define the category.