REVIEW: Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro
With the URSA Mini Pro, Blackmagic has finally graduated from being a minimalist sensor-in-a-box to a full-fledged professional camera.
Complete with all the bells and whistles that professionals need, the URSA Mini Pro is the most exciting camera announcement from the Australian company to date. It's got the high image quality of the original URSA Mini, with several serious improvements, which I'll outline in this review. Here's everything important to know about the new camera at a glance:
- ND Filters (2/4/6 stops)
- Physical knobs for all the important features
- Improved audio preamps
- Outward-facing status display
- Reduced boot time
- LCD is one inch smaller (4" vs 5")
- Weighs slightly more than the original (5.10 lbs)
- Shipping now
The addition of ND filters signifies the arrival of a professional camera more than anything else. These built-in filters give the Pro a huge boost over the original Ursa Mini. As you progress in cinematography, you will inevitably ditch the rotation polarizer variable-NDs because the color shift is just too overbearing. However, Matteboxes and filters are huge investments. ND filters have put the Canon C300 at an advantage over many other cameras for a long time.
Shooting three projects with the URSA Mini Pro over two weeks, I found the filters to be very consistent. I assume Blackmagic only chose to include three levels of density because, once you get into eight stops or above, color aberration is inevitable, and the company probably didn't want any more bad press about color shifts after their magenta sensor debacle. Still, six stops of ND is great for most situations—even direct sun—and this feature has already proven useful to me a few times in the field. I can't speak highly enough about Blackmagic's decision to include these filters.
Buttons, real buttons!
Blackmagic has always relied heavily on touchscreen menu structures for quick access to features. The URSA brought more buttons, but the company didn't really figure out how to do it right until this URSA Mini Pro. Yes, cinematographers need buttons on the exterior of the camera. I've shot extensively with every Blackmagic camera over the years and I'm really happy that these are finally here.
There are now tiny metal toggle switches for on/off, ISO, Iris, and White Balance. The location of the on/off switch is out-of-the-way enough to worry seriously about turning it off by accident, but the possibility is definitely there. I would like to see some kind of small covering over the on/off switch in future iterations.
New audio pre-amps: actually usable for single system audio?
There haven't been any published specs on the audio preamps (why don't camera companies make these specs available?), but Tor from Blackmagic compares the new preamps in the URSA Mini Pro to those of Sound Devices. As it wasn't really a highlighted part of any of Blackmagic's press around the camera, something seems fishy about that claim. Upon testing them, I did find them to be quite pleasing, but I'd like to see some published specs on their pre-amps or a deeper technical test from an audio professional.
Update: Curtis Judd's review on the URSA Mini Pro Pre-Amps can be found here.
Taking a cue from other professional cameras with user-facing status displays, this new feature on the URSA Mini Pro helps you keep track of all of your settings in one place without having to open the LCD. In terms of making small changes that just help speed everything else up, this handy display is icing on the cake. I ended up glancing at this display often, as I prefer a clean image with no display text when I'm shooting with an EVF. Great addition.
One of the biggest things holding cinematographers back from switching to an URSA system in the past was the extreme expense of cards. Now users have the option of recording to cheaper UHS-II SD cards with a dual slot. Though I haven't personally tried it, it's clear that Blackmagic is listening, wants to bring costs down and wants to provide shooters with as many media options as possible.
A 5-second boot time is great for saving battery
While you shouldn't really have to worry about battery life in most situations where you're near power, battery conservation is hugely important for remote shootes. I'm always trying to get the most out of my batteries by powering down the camera whenever possible. Quicker boot time means I don't have to worry about missing some action when I'm in conservation mode.
Blackmagic had a great camera with the URSA Mini and have only made it better in this iteration. You get the same exact image with a lot more functionality. Check the Blackmagic site for full tech specs. Shipping now for $5,995, I think that for the image quality, features and price, this camera can't really be beat, and I foresee myself recommending it as an option on a lot of upcoming productions.