Hands-On Review: Blackmagic Design’s URSA Mini Pro G2

Blackmagic Design introduced the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 in March of 2019, which was a significant update from the original URSA Mini Pro, which was announced two years earlier, in March 2017.

Here’s a brief description of it from Blackmagic Design’s website: “The URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 is a next-generation digital film camera with updated electronics and a high-performance 4.6K HDR image sensor for shooting at up to 300 frames per second. You get a Super 35mm 4.6K sensor with 15 stops of dynamic range, built-in optical ND filters, interchangeable EF lens mount that can be swapped for optional PL, B4 or F mounts, Blackmagic RAW and ProRes recording to dual CFast or dual SD cards, and an innovative USB-C expansion port for recording directly to external disks. In addition, URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 features a massive set of external broadcast style controls, backlit status display, foldout touchscreen monitor and more!”

The UMP G2 includes additional features as well, including a variety of shooting resolutions, including 4.6K (4608 x 2592), 4K DCI, UHD, 3K Anamorphic, 2K DCI and 1080; high-speed frame rates, including Blackmagic RAW (8:14.6K full—up to 120 fps); UHD Windowed (up to 150 frames per second) and HD Windowed (up to 300 fps). The camera also includes the ability to shoot ProRes 422, up to HQ codec. It has a built-in four-position ND-filter wheel, with clear two-stop, four-stop and six-stop ND filters. It comes with autofocus (when using compatible lenses, iris control, a 4-inch LCD capacitive touchscreen, a highly accurate time-code clock, an SDI 12G output and dual XLR audio inputs).

Blackmagic Design’s URSA Mini Pro G2
You can tell the URSA Mini Pro G2’s interface was carefully designed. For instance, controls are placed in convenient locations for shoulder-mounted shooting.

Plus, on the main products page of the website, the new model is described as “three cameras in one” because, the site says, it combines high-end digital film quality with the features and controls live broadcasters want. And just below that, the website refers to the camera as also being “ideal for any kind of work from high-end feature films, television shows and commercials, to independent films, broadcast news, and even studio and live production.”

After doing my research, I believed that Blackmagic Design was positioning the UMP G2 as an all-around professional digital camera. But that was just an educated guess—to get a better sense of this camera, I’d need to do two more things: Do some hands-on tests with the camera and look at pricing. But to do the latter, I’d need to consider how I wanted my UMP G2 configured for the work I do.

Configurations & Pricing

Let me break down the camera configurations that I received and give you a realistic picture of how you’d probably want to configure the camera if you were going to buy it:

  • Camera body ($5,995): The camera body includes a flip-out 4-inch LCD, an EF lens mount, an owner’s manual…and that’s about it. The remainder of this list comprises accessories you’ll pay extra for.
  • URSA viewfinder ($1,495): The high-resolution viewfinder includes a full HD-OLED display and true glass optics.
  • URSA VLock battery plate ($95): V-Lock-compatible battery plate for attaching third-party batteries to URSA cameras.
  • Microphone mount ($135): This is a shock-and-vibration-isolated, professional microphone mount.
  • Blackmagic URSA Mini SSD Recorder ($395): Record Blackmagic Raw or ProRes files onto standard 2.5 inch SSD Media with your URSA Mini Pro camera.
  • Blackmagic URSA Mini Shoulder Kit ($395): The kit includes a shoulder pad with built-in rosettes, rail mounts, integrated tripod quick-lock release and top handle.
  • Blackmagic URSA handgrip ($199): Side-hand controller for URSA Mini Pro with record start/stop, iris and focus buttons built in. Standard rosette and LANC for attaching to the side of the camera or relocating it to the front of the camera with the URSA Mini Shoulder Kit.

Learn more about the URSA Mini Pro G2 at B&H. 

Blackmagic Design’s URSA Mini Pro G2
You can tell the URSA Mini Pro G2’s interface was carefully designed. For instance, controls are placed in convenient locations for shoulder-mounted shooting.

So, the UMP G2 with all these extras will actually cost $8,709, about $3,000 more than the camera-body price.

Putting The UMP G2 Through Its Paces

Now, the specs and list of features are impressive, but to get a sense of what the UMP G2 can do, I wanted to use it on a project. It’s the best way to find out how it will perform in action.

Luckily, as a producer and cinematographer, I had various projects in the works. So, I decided to put the UMP G2 through its paces by taking it on a client-paid shoot to determine how good the new camera is. My reasoning? It’s simple: Although it’s always tempting to talk about numbers and specs when it comes to cinema gear, there’s nothing like taking a brand-new camera out in the field—under pressure and in challenging conditions—to see how it performs. And where it belongs in the world of cine camera gear.

Blackmagic Design’s URSA Mini Pro G2
Cinematographer Tony Peck puts the URSA Mini Pro to work at the finish line.

Now, I didn’t have a chance to use it on a feature film or on broadcast news. But I did use it on a non-profit project: The event we covered with the UMP G2 was a paddleboard race, called the Catalina Crossing. During this event, we filmed interviews and shot b-roll of the event. We captured top paddleboard racers as they crossed the finish line in Manhattan Beach, California. All in all, I felt the shoot offered challenging conditions on every front—requiring handheld footage, shots from tripods with long-lens shooting in extremely bright, harsh sunlight conditions with wind and ocean noise as well as tons of people and lots of white, reflective sand.

First Impressions During The Project

I received the review unit from Blackmagic a few days before the shoot, which meant I was able to rig it up for shooting and just tried a few quick shots around the office before packing it up for the big shoot. My first impressions were good: The camera seemed to be very well built. But the UMP G2 isn’t a light camera. Just consider the following and how much the camera and various accessories weigh:

  • Camera body with two CFast 2.0 cards and V- Mount battery plate: 5.2 pounds
  • Shoulder mount kit: 3.4 pounds
  • Handgrip: .67 pounds
  • Viewfinder: 1.5 pounds
  • Canon EF 24-105mm f/4.0 IS II lens: 1.8 pounds
  • MaxOak 177Wh V-Mount battery: 2.4 pounds
Blackmagic Design’s URSA Mini Pro G2
The location for our test shoot with the URSA Mini Pro G2 was the finish line of the Catalina Crossing Paddleboard U.S. Championships in Manhattan Beach, California.

All in all, the total camera package weighed almost 15 lbs. (Although, to be fair, my Canon C200 set up weighs just a couple of pounds less.) What’s important to note, though, is weight in cine cameras has its advantages and disadvantages:

  • Pros Of Shooting With Heavy Cameras: For shooting shoulder-mounted footage, heavier cameras are better since their mass allows you to produce much smoother, less-shaky movements. You also have the ability to hold longer lens shots steadier simply because you won’t get the micro jitter that plagues small, lightweight cameras.
  • Cons Of Shooting With Heavy Cameras: The disadvantages to a heavier camera when shooting as a one-man band is that carrying a heavier camera around tires you out much more quickly. Add in a backpack for a water bottle, snack, spare batteries and media, and a 20- to 25-pound pro tripod, and you could easily be lugging around 50 to 60 pounds’ worth of gear.

During our shoot, we found a lot to like about the camera.

For instance, the EVF is excellent. It’s super bright and clear, with good color. For $1,500, it looks as good as other EVFs that cost a lot more. The menus are clear, simple and easy to navigate. We also found switching between regular shooting and slow motion was a breeze.

Blackmagic Design’s URSA Mini Pro G2
The UMP G2’s outside panel displays most of the timecode, exposure and card status info you need at a glance if you’re shooting with the flip-out LCD closed.

But the camera had shortcomings as well. For example, there was no waveform monitor, only a histogram, and the record button on the handgrip was difficult to find by feel. They also positioned the XLR inputs facing up instead of placing them at the back of the camera. I also found the autofocus is pretty limited for moving subjects—it’s slow and takes a long time to lock onto the subject.

I also had a hard time balancing the rig, especially using my Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II lens. The shoulder pad moved a little to allow you to shift the balance point, but it didn’t move enough. Plus, you have to unscrew two screws each time you want to move it, which isn’t convenient jumping back and forth with lighter and heavier lenses.

Assessment Of Resulting Footage

We shot with Blackmagic RAW for a few clips just to test it out. We then switched to Prores HQ, since this footage was supposed to slot on with a lot of other footage that had already been shot and was edited in FCP X as Prores. We also shot footage at 120 fps and even higher frame rates. It’s impressive that this camera is able to shoot at up to 300 fps!

Blackmagic Design’s URSA Mini Pro G2
The URSA Mini Pro G2 EVF impressed us with its clarity, brightness and sharpness.

Overall, the footage looked very good. As expected, the Blackmagic RAW images in Resolve seemed to yield better sharpness and slightly lower noise than similar Prores HQ clips in FCP X. We shot Blackmagic RAW at 5:1, 8:1 and 12:1 compression ratios and, predictably, in really bright sunlight, there weren’t a lot of recognizable artifacts or compression signatures we could see. Rolling shutter wasn’t much of an issue: We put the camera on a tripod, panned back and forth with some light poles on the pier, and saw very little skewing or JELL-O vision.

Our footage was taken on a very bright, sunny day, which meant we didn’t have a chance to increase the ISO to see how it performed at higher gain settings. But we tried it out back at our office.

The URSA Mini Pro G2 doesn’t have the same dual-native ISO of the Pocket 4K and 6K cameras. For me, I was comfortable shooting the camera at a maximum of ISO 1600. (In comparison, we’ve shot the Canon EOS C200 several times at ISO 2500 and even 3200 before seeing objectionable noise creep into the image.)

Blackmagic Design’s URSA Mini Pro G2
When we configured the UMP G2 with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II lens, it was even heavier than when we configured it with our standard lens.

The Highs, Lows And Bottom Line

After using the UMP G2 on our project and taking it through its paces, here’s my general assessment of what I found:

The Highs:

  • It’s well-built and robustly constructed.
  • It comes with the best menus of any camera I’ve ever used. Simple, clean, easy to navigate and find settings.
  • Excellent electronic viewfinder (EVF).
  • Exceptional slow-motion capabilities. In fact, I’d rent this camera just to shoot slow motion.
  • RAW, with multiple compression ratios, and Prores LT, 422, HQ, 444 and XQ. In short, you have an excellent selection of codecs to choose from.
  • The Integrated recording unit that uses SSDs is slick: Every camera on the market should have this feature.
  • Beautiful, very natural image, with great color science.
  • Nice integration with accessories. Blackmagic makes and sells the EVF, V-Mount and Gold-Mount plate, shoulder mount kit, handgrip and SSD recorder, all at a reasonable cost. They’re also all well-integrated. There’s no third-party confusion that you end up with when using other camera brands to obtain the same accessories.
Blackmagic Design’s URSA Mini Pro G2
The menus on the UMP G2 were clear and easy to understand, which made navigation a breeze. We shot mostly UHD Prores HQ, although you can see there are a lot of other choices as well.

The Lows:

  • No Waveform Monitor. Histograms are for stills and close to useless for digital cinemas with no scale or IRE to expose skin tones correctly at a glance, although you can at least get an idea with Zebras.
  • Audio XLR inputs are located in an awkward location.
  • No cold shoe on-handle in shoulder mount kit.
  • The 4-inch LCD screen only flips out 45 degrees, instead of 90 degrees and folds against the body. (You might try out the G2’s selfie mode if you shoot alone and want to adjust settings or lighting. )
  • Shoulder pad barely allows forward or backward movement to balance for many different lens and battery combos. When you do need to adjust it, you need a screwdriver and have to loosen and tighten two screws.
  • Using the handgrip, it isn’t easy to feel for and find the record button.
  • Mediocre in low light. The maximum ISO I’d use is ISO 1600. I found ISO 3200 was too noisy.
  • Needs extended ND: The internal NDs only go to ND 6, which isn’t enough for sunny days at the beach or snowy days.
  • It’s heavy!
  • The autofocus takes a long time to lock in and focus. And it’s not continuous. It’s limited unless you’re shooting static or slow-moving subjects.
  • When the LCD screen is pulled away from the body to use, SD and CF card slots have no protective door to cover the unused slots. Not ideal for operating in sand, dust, rain, etc.
Blackmagic Design’s URSA Mini Pro G2
We shot almost exclusively with the Film to Extended Video LUT and achieved good results in post with a variety of LUTs.

The Bottom Line: Performance And Value

Performance: If you use a fast lens, set the UMP G2 at ISO 1600 and light your scenes or shoot in well-lit environments, your footage should look quite good. But if you regularly shoot in very low-light environments, the UMP G2 may not be the best choice for you.

I’m always torn by cameras like this because to make good-looking images, you need to light them, period. And the G2 responded beautifully to the good lighting we used in our project. But I also shoot a lot of documentaries, which are often shot in poorly or even atrociously lit scenarios or in scenarios where there’s only a little light. So, for us, lighting the scene up just isn’t an option.

Value: Whenever I test a cine camera, I ask myself if it represents a good value. I also have to ask how this model might help me in marketing my work. And since I work mostly in the Los Angeles market and for my work-for-hire as a director of photography, I always have to face facts: Trying to sell an ad agency, PR or marketing firm or the studios that you’re going to shoot with a Blackmagic camera can be an uphill climb. That’s because Blackmagic Design cameras aren’t nearly as well known with clients as RED, ARRI, Sony, Panasonic or Canon cameras.

Blackmagic Design’s URSA Mini Pro G2
The URSA Mini Pro G2 features an internal scratch microphone for when you can’t hook up an external shotgun to record scratch audio.

On the other hand, some clients don’t care what you shoot with (which was the case in this instance) just as long as the results were professional and the images looked and sounded good, which they did. But many clients—PR/marketing/corporate/the studios—do care which camera you use.

Still, it’s just one of several factors to consider.

One of the most important, of course, is price. The UMP G2, configured the way I needed it to be configured, costs close to $9,000 with all of the accessories I’d need and want to make it work for my shoots. However, I do have an alternative. Most other camera manufacturers in this segment offer multiple cameras in this general price range.

Consider the following: Panasonic offers the VariCam LT for just a little more and the AU-EVA1 for a little less. Sony offers the PXW-FS7, PXW-FS7 MKII and soon the upcoming PXW-FX9, for a couple of thousand dollars more. Canon offers the C200 at roughly $500 more for the basic camera package, except the EOS C200 includes the top handle, handgrip and a few other accessories that are extra on the URSA Mini Pro G2. Canon is still selling the EOS C300 MKII, as well, for just a little more than the URSA Mini Pro G2.

Blackmagic Design’s URSA Mini Pro G2
I wasn’t crazy about the audio input XLR location. It’s functional, but it drapes the XLR cables over the rear of the camera.

So, if you want a camera in this price range, you do have quite a few options. My point is, there are a lot of candidates for professional digital cinema cameras in the $6,000-to-$10,000 space.

But Blackmagic does have one ace in the hole: The URSA Mini Pro G2 has the ability, with the right Blackmagic accessories, to transform into a live event or broadcast camera, something that none of its competitors are designed to do.

The URSA Mini Pro G2 was designed with this in mind. So if having an extremely versatile camera is important to your work, then the G2 is worth considering.

Overall, we were impressed with the URSA Mini G2 since it does a lot of things exceedingly well, including its superb slow-motion capability and its menu system that’s a joy to navigate.

Blackmagic Design’s URSA Mini Pro G2
Certain features, like the excellent EVF, simple menus and class-leading slow-motion capability, make the URSA Mini Pro G2 a contender against its competition.

There is an additional way the UMP G2 is unlike its competition: Blackmagic Design makes one of the best software suites for editing your URSA Mini Pro G2 footage: It makes DaVinci Resolve 16, and the company even gives you a free copy of the Studio version with your purchase of the camera. No camera manufacturer makes a good editing program along with its own lineup of pro digital cinema cameras.

If the limitations mentioned can be worked around in your workflow, the URSA Mini Pro offers an excellent value, robust build quality and a great image. It’s a cine camera I’d consider as seriously as any of its competition.

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