January 3, 2017
Review

REVIEW: Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K

Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6k Review on No Film School
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:

Magenta Cast

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.

Rolling Shutter

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.

URSA Mini 4.6K Firmware 4.0

Firmware

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. 

LCD Screen

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. 

Ursa Mini 4.6k with GL Optics 15-35mm and Lanparte Follow Focus
Kitted out with the EVF and shoulder pad, GL Optics 18-35mm and Lanparte Follow Focus

Anamorphic

Shooting handheld anamorphic with SLR Magic Anamorphot 1.33x 50mm for Weyesblood music videoCredit: Journey Wade-Hak

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.

Weight

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.

URSA Mini Side Handle LANC Control
URSA Mini Side Handle LANC Control

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 on the backside of the LCD screen.

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.

Low light

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.

Blackmagic URSA Mini EVF Buttons
Double duty zoom, display, focus peaking and function buttons atop the EVF.

EVF

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. 

XLR inputs mounted directly on top is an awkward position for anything longer than a camera-top mic.

Audio

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.

Blackmagic URSA 4.6k  CFast 2.0 Slots
Media is exposed when LCD is open. Both menu buttons and power buttons only accessible with LCD open.

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.

Weyesblood Generation Why Blackmagic URSA Mini Micah Van Hove
Shooting the Weyesblood 'Generation Why' video on the Ursa Mini 4.6K EF.

Summary

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.      

Your Comment

25 Comments

What's total cost once you add the EVF and shoulder mount? Around $7k?

January 3, 2017 at 12:55PM

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Pat Heine
Producer.
103

Correct, just under $7k.

January 4, 2017 at 6:23PM

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Sean Pettis
Filmmaker
211

I can confidently say, this is not even a mediocre camera.
I can't trust Blackmagic cameras, as I did invest in buying and renting their early Cinema Camera as well as URSA Mini and both failed me badly.
To name a few; FPN, Bad Low Light Performance, Going off for no reason, Inconsistent color in different units (Same Model), Banding, XLR weird noise interference!
I happily spend more on an Arri, Red or Sony camera not to risk the whole production because of saving a little bit on equipment.
If the budget is tight, there are other reliable DSLR/Mirrorless options I'd happily go with.
They promised to fix many problems with each version and new problems appears!

January 3, 2017 at 1:34PM

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ehsan abbasi
Cinematographer
18

I disagree with some of what you said, but I enjoyed your reel. What camera/s did you use in those productions, specifically during the first sections?

January 4, 2017 at 6:25PM

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Sean Pettis
Filmmaker
211

I love my Blackmagic Cinema Camera and I'm excited about some of the improvements on this model. It's a shame that the media is so expensive. I like the 2.5k of the cinema camera because for a micro-budget filmmaker, that's about the highest resolution my old computers can handle. Also storing 4k RAW would break the bank. My current feature "Girl, Yeti, and a Spaceship" is shot in RAW and stored on 3 FreeNAS boxes taking up over 10TB of space. With mirroring that adds up to 20TB of hard drives under my desk. It's great equipment for the price!

January 3, 2017 at 2:13PM, Edited January 3, 2:13PM

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Anton Doiron
Creator/Filmmaker
423

Yes, CFast was an unfortunate regression from the good decision BM made in their original cameras (to use SSDs).

People still act as though CFast will come down in price like SD did, but that's not going to happen. There will never be wide consumer adoption of CFast, because it's way too big and unnecessary for consumer applications.

The only good part is that CFast is at least used by several camera vendors, unlike Sony and Panasonic's ridiculous proprietary junk.

January 9, 2017 at 7:14PM

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David Gurney
DP
1708

Shooting a feature later this year and seriously considering this camera. Any tips?

February 8, 2017 at 9:05AM

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Kayode
858

I gave Blackmagic two tries (both the original 2K cinema camera and the 4K production camera) and while I was drawn to Blackmagic due to the price it ended up leaving me wanting for more due to lack of features and awkward form factor. Instead of buying the URSA Mini, I went for the RED Scarlet-W.

January 3, 2017 at 3:16PM, Edited January 3, 3:16PM

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Aaron Nanto
Creator/Filmmaker
215

My experience exactly. Bought both the original cameras. The lack of reliability, limited functionality, and horrible customer service are why I will be purchasing a RED Scarlet-W as well. I currently own an fs5 with a Shogun Inferno combo. The .cdng files are lovely and the camera is rock solid with an amazing sensor. As soon as I started using the fs5 I realized just how much of a box the Blackmagic camera put me in.

January 4, 2017 at 12:47AM

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Sony image over Blackmagic Image... hmm... Thank God for ACES it ma just be usable or may be paired with a RED or Arri.. apart from that.. i dont know how you would even try to put the Sony Image against The Blackmagic URSA 4.6K. The FS5 isn't even worth of going up against the BMCC 2.5K... i'm sorry. Pleas Note, my point of view is from working with both systems.

January 4, 2017 at 8:04PM

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Wentworth Kelly
Director/DP/Colorist/Drone Op
2397

What limited functionality do you mean? And what was horrible about the customer service?

I have a BMPC. The functionality limit that bothers me the most is the max frame rate of 30. I'd be happy with just 48 FPS. I wonder if BM could have given us 48, at least in HD, but just didn't bother to continue revising the firmware. There hasn't been an update in ages.

My experience with their support has been very limited, but quite good. Dust somehow got INSIDE my sensor (which admittedly shouldn't happen), and they quickly cleaned it free after the warranty had long run out.

January 9, 2017 at 9:14PM, Edited January 9, 9:17PM

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David Gurney
DP
1708

That's hardly a good comparison, though. The Scarlet-W doesn't come with ANY lens mount. That's an extra $700.

Then you have to buy Red's proprietary touchscreen monitor to operate the camera. And since it has no SDI or HDMI output, you have to buy an add-on module to get those.

In all, you'll need most of Red's "basic" package, which costs another $5600. So you're looking at $17,000 for the camera with one puny 128 GB media card. That does include two batteries and a charger. You might be able to get the cost down by adapting some other kind of batteries, but realistically you need to buy $2800 of media to be viable.

January 9, 2017 at 9:18PM

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David Gurney
DP
1708

I've used this camera heavily for the past 6 months on professional video work and have had a very positive experience as well. Like many, I've read much about quality control problems (and the first camera we received had defective on board xlr recording) but once that was sorted with what was in our case pretty good customer service, using the camera has been a smooth process.

As far as the functionality I need it for, the price is hard to beat for this level of quality both in image and functionality. Definitely also worth looking at the total cost for one's particular package compared to other cameras one might be considering, as the shoulder mount and CFast 2.0 cards are essential and add to the costs quickly. I have to stop short of a ringing endorsement and I get how Blackmagic's past cameras and ongoing QC issues have burned some bridges, but I do love the camera now and have had no significant problems with it over months of heavy use, since getting the defect on our unit sorted out with customer service. That may be too big a caveat for some people.

January 3, 2017 at 3:49PM, Edited January 3, 4:02PM

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Philip Heinrich
Director, Producer
827

I really like BMs products a part from the sensors and lack of higher framerates. Of coz, considering the prices, why complain...
In terms of malfunction and failure, which someone claimed: that's bad cos I have never experienced any failure with any BM equipment whatsoever; and I've used them in sun, rain, dust, wind, and snow (I live in Sweden).
Nonetheless I still like Canons products, like the C300, more. I don't know why, coz they are not always better.

January 3, 2017 at 4:57PM, Edited January 3, 4:57PM

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d h
259

I was a pre-orderer of the 2.5k BMCC and it's still my preferred camera for a lot of projects. It has been reliable and rock-solid. Based on what I've read over the years and what we all know about Blackmagic as a company, there are major quality control issues with their cameras and they release equipment a lot sooner than they should in order to be on top of the market. It's almost as if they should announce that they're releasing cameras in an alpha stage first and offer full support to get those cameras running the way they're supposed to. Negatives aside, if you get one of the good ones, they're amazingly competitive for the price. I fully intend to pick up an Ursa Mini 4.6k, after a few good paying gigs.

January 3, 2017 at 5:19PM

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Sean Pettis
Filmmaker
211

man that music video is beautiful - what were the lenses you used? really gorgeous stuff!

January 3, 2017 at 5:34PM, Edited January 3, 5:34PM

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Ed David
Director of Photography
1662

Thanks Ed. I used SLR Magic Anamorphot 1.33x, mostly 50mm I believe, and a little GL Optics 50-100mm (Sigma) for the zoom.

January 3, 2017 at 9:16PM, Edited January 3, 9:16PM

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Micah Van Hove
Writer
director, producer, dp

gorgeous - i love the look of that anamorph - i like what it does - kind of an imperfect perfect

January 4, 2017 at 12:11AM

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Ed David
Director of Photography
1662

January 3, 2017 at 5:58PM, Edited January 3, 5:58PM

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Adrian Tan
Videographer
853

Thanks Micah. You mention four programmable function buttons, but I only count two?

When I hired the camera, simply changing aperture required reaching around to awkwardly placed buttons on the left side. This is very doable on the Pocket, but not this camera. The handgrip seemed to be a simple LANC arrangement, which felt really limited on such an ambitious camera. The mic amps sounded nice, but couldn't produce enough gain for an overhead interview mic. As you mentioned, the input gain controls were somewhat redundant. I imagine 4.0 helps with this, but tapping on a screen whilst finding shots wouldn't often suit.

Neither of these are issues in a 'cinema' setting, but BMD are marketing this as a production tool as well. If we can't operate the iris and the mic amps, as you suggest, are good for scratch audio, we're stuck needing something else for much of the bill-paying work.

That's what frustrates me about BMD. Despite being a huge fan of my Pocket camera, I'm annoyed they still can't make a good 'cross-over' solution for those who love the image, but need something that also covers general video production tasks. Here's hoping.

January 4, 2017 at 7:27AM

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I love this camera and was willing to purchase this camera. However due to my shooting style and interest ,this camera wouldn't work for me. I'm trying to go smaller lighter and unseen. more documentary style so low light is a must for me. i love my pocket camera and if they ever came out with a 2nd version I would probably look at it. I love the 10bit prores format. I have found solutions for audio which I love my dr 70d for. I wish this company would make a small camera to battle the sony a7ii or a7r. oh and camera stablization.

January 4, 2017 at 11:04AM, Edited January 4, 11:04AM

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Howard L Hughes
Content Creator
173

I really like using this camera!

January 5, 2017 at 9:25AM

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O'Raine Thomas
Cinematographer/DP/Editor
22

how does it handle problems such as aliasing and vertical stripes? thanks a lot

January 7, 2017 at 5:17AM

1
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Assuming BMD have solved all the issues reported by users, the biggest sticking point the Ursa Mini has, is those CFast cards.
After breaking away from the bespoke media of other manufacturers with the logical and intelligent choice of a Sata connection and SSD slot for the Cine Camera and Production Camera, swapping to the expensive and less easily found CFast media seems to be a step backwards, and a step towards deliberately making the cameras more expensive to use.
The cameras from Canon, BMD, Hassalblad and Arri that use CFast, are not a big enough product base to drive down the price of the media with sale volumes. CFast is doomed to stay too expensive for the average buyer of the earlier BMD cameras, which also limits the number willing to update to the Ursa range.

January 9, 2017 at 7:52AM

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Stewart Fairweather
Cinematographer
317

AMEN. The use of standard SSDs on the first two cameras was a refreshing change from the rest of the industry. CFast is a regression.

Anyone who thinks the price of CFast will fall significantly isn't thinking things through. SD prices fell because of mass consumer adoption, which will never happen with CFast. CFast is way too big and overkill for consumer needs; SD is more than adequate for those.

At least CFast is used by multiple vendors, unlike Sony and Panasonic's proprietary junk.

January 9, 2017 at 9:24PM, Edited January 9, 9:24PM

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David Gurney
DP
1708