REVIEW: Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K
The Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K is finally available. Despite missing the promised global shutter, it's still a killer camera for the price.
I've been with Blackmagic for a long time. I was an early early adopter of the Cinema Camera and shot a feature on it when the camera still had a bevy of issues. I've been shooting extensively with the Pocket Cinema Camera, which I also shot a feature on in 2015. I've had my issues with the company, but ultimately I've always found its cameras to be extremely empowering.
When I first got my hands on the URSA Mini, I didn't think I was going to like it. However, after using it for a few months I can confidently say that the URSA Mini 4.6K is Blackmagic's best camera, bringing together everything I love about its cameras in a form that finally feels like a solid, multi-purpose, narrative unit. I had a chance to shoot with the camera in many real-world scenarios, music videos and narrative short-form content over the past few months.
I can confidently say that the URSA Mini 4.6K is Blackmagic's best camera.
Here's a music video for Weyesblood that I shot last September with the camera:
We've all heard a lot about Blackmagic's magenta cast issues with these sensors, which required additional color correction to maintain nominal skin tones. This issue affected many users, mostly in the first run of cameras. The company has since fixed its hardware and the issues are entirely resolved in the camera I've been using. Many users also speculate that the semi-recent 4.0 firmware fixed this problem.
Despite the disappointment that the camera shipped without global shutter, the rolling shutter on the camera looks pretty great compared to previous Blackmagic cams and especially DSLRs. I was pleased with the motion of handheld work, which is my biggest pet peeve when working with CMOS sensors. Thankfully, avoiding jello is something I never had to think about when using the URSA Mini. Operating handheld with a wide lens and a little warp stabilization, you can achieve slow tracking or pushing movements with pleasing shutter and smooth motion.
The newish 4.0 Firmware that Blackmagic introduced earlier this year greatly improves the camera's usability. More user-friendly menu structures allow quick access to key settings and the fastest swapping between 23.98 and 60fps that I’ve ever experienced, which comes in handy when you’re moving fast.
The flip screen blocks access to the CFast slots and all camera settings, rendering the the URSA Mini less than ideal for use on a Steadicam or gimbal.
The flip out screen is really difficult to see in sunlight, which is par for the course in Blackmagic cameras. This is a bummer because you need the screen to control the cameras settings. A sunhood could do wonders for this problem, but would also make the screen non-collapsible. Keeping the brightness at 100% helps, but it's still tricky to see. Unfortunately, the on-board LCD screen doesn’t rotate 180°, which seems like an oversight for an obvious feature we've come to expect in on-board camera monitors. The flip screen also blocks access to the CFast slots and all camera settings, rendering the the URSA Mini less than ideal for use on a Steadicam or gimbal.
De-squeezed monitoring for 1.33x and 2x on the LCD and the EVF are welcome tools for shooting anamorphic, especially if you aren’t already using another external monitor for this. I like to use my SmallHD 502 where possible, but you would still able to shoot with minimalist anamorphic handheld setup without one with the Ursa mini.
The lighter weight (5 lbs.) of this camera is a huge improvement over the massive and unwieldy original URSA. I do a lot of handheld but I'm no body builder and have chronic shoulder issues, so I love my cameras lean and light. This camera isn’t exactly light—its solid magnesium body adds a lot of weight—but it's way more manageable than, say, an Alexa. The ergonomics of the camera are leaps and bounds ahead of anything else Blackmagic has made and I am able to operate the camera for hours without excessive strain. At times, I find myself wanting to remove as much weight as possible while shooting, including the EVF and shoulder pad, but it really depends on what you're doing.
Shoulder Mount & Side Handle
The URSA Mini's shoulder mount is built well for the size and length of the body, and includes 15mm rod support. I find the hard foam pad extremely uncomfortable and need additional padding for long use. The rotatable side handle has iris control and LANC control for stop/start. An ARRI standard rosette extender allows you to reposition the handle to your liking.
Programmable Function Buttons
The four program buttons on the backside of the LCD screen are easily programmable to a number of settings, unlocking a level of customization unprecedented in Blackmagic cameras. I set my Function 1 to switch between 23.98 and 60fps (which is incredible because it allows you to switch to slo-motion during a shot), and my Function 2 to aspect ratio when I was working on a project in 4:3.
As with all of Blackmagic's cameras, this is not a low light camera. With a native ISO of 800, you're pushing the sensor at 1600. Although there's a lack of fixed pattern noise in the images, it still needs light to really give its best performance.
The electronic viewfinder (EVF) on this camera is a pleasure to use. It's sturdy and firmly attaches to the top handle of the camera to provide a key contact point for handheld operation. The beautiful HD display provides one of the better EVFs I've used. There's zoom and programmable function controls atop the unit, and it has its own unique internal menu for adjusting to your specifications.
For example, you can customize the EVF to show you the LOG image while your 702 or LUT goes downstream to a director or producer. The optional tally light on the back of the EVF is a handy feature that you don't see on many cinema cameras. One downside is that there’s no way to access the menu from outside the camera if you’re using the EVF.
With two channels of audio, you can either use the onboard mics for scratch or put a microphone into the XLRs. As some other reviews mention, if the camera had four channels it would allow for a more reliable scratch audio source. XLR inputs are on the top which is a bit awkward. The physical audio dials have no markings and no hard stops, so it's hard to tell where you're at. Either way, you should only use these inputs for scratch audio.
Media & Data Rates
In 1920x1080 and 2K you get 40 minutes per 64gb card, which is a lot. Media rates plummet when working with 4K or 4.6K footage. Furthermore, the CFast cards are exposed to dust when the screen is open, and inserting CFast cards is not entirely foolproof. You have to make sure not to insert the cards at an oblique angle, because they can become wedged in the slot. Since CFast cards are so expensive right now, it's one of the biggest downsides of this camera for small budget productions. As the cost of CFast continues to decrease, this problem will phase out.
Some negative reviews have written this camera off, mostly due to the aforementioned early-run magenta issues, but I think it really earns its place in the mid-range cinema camera market. It looks and feels so much more like a fully functional camera, and all of its parts work together seamlessly. After shooting almost exclusively with it for three months, I've fallen in love with its versatility, form factor and most importantly, the image. The URSA Mini 4.6K picks up and improves upon where Blackmagic left off: great RAW or Log images, powerful features in a low cost package, and versatility for filmmakers.