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Review: Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K

Blackmagic Design's URSA Minis boast a 4.6K and 4K sensors that can deliver dazzling images. Here's a look at how two URSA Mini (both a 4K and a 4.6K model) performed when used in tandem on a recent corporate shoot.

I first fell in love with the remarkable resolution of 5K cameras when I produced and served as director of photography on my first feature film, Ragamuffin. We used a two 5K RED models, a RED EPIC and RED SCARLET, with Master primes, and I was blown away. I fell in love with that 5K image and couldn’t wait until that resolution and technology would work its way into the day-to-day production world for my company. Since then, 4K cameras and gear that come close to the 5K look I got with the RED cameras have become widely available; however, the clients demand for work delivered at resolutions higher than HD has been slower to materialize. Moreover, filming in 4K was just not as accessible and cost-effective as I would have hoped. I felt uncomfortable pitching 4K to my clients and convincing them to spend the money to produce corporate films, music videos, or commercials at this level.

So I waited. When the time finally arrived, I was excited to get a call from Ryan Grow, my good friend and fellow Ragamuffin cinematographer, inviting me to work with him on a new project. He was producing a film for a marketing company, Brand Story Experts, that was in need of 4K production and workflow all the way to the master for a few clients in Florida. For this project, we would use the Blackmagic URSA Mini cameras on a two-camera shoot. Needless to say, I was in!

For the past few years, my day-to-day productions have used Canon C100s, C300s, and various DSLR cameras. I love the Canon C100 and C300 for many reasons: the form factor, the ease of use, the built-in neutral-density (ND) filters, the build and functionality of the cameras themselves, and the Canon Log and dynamic range.

Unfortunately, by the time the URSA Minis arrived for the Brand Story shoot, I had only a few hours the night before we left to get hands-on experience with the camera. As I handled the URSA Mini and unpacked all of its accessories, I was impressed with the build of the camera. Overall, I was happy until I powered on the camera and flipped out the TFT-LCD. I was not impressed with the touchscreen display or its resolution. And it only got worse in the field (more on that later).

Camera Body

My first impression was that this camera was not “mini.” The URSA Mini (Figure 1, below) is a basic, straightforward camera body, as you would expect, with a battery-mount system on the back for large bricks. The build quality is solid. My favorite physical features of the camera are the shoulder kit, the top handle, and the full-resolution HD viewfinder. I found myself having to rely on the latter because of the inadequate TFT-LCD flip-out screen and display.

Figure 1. The Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K

The quick-release mount with the VCT-14U plate is an excellent feature. It allows for solid handheld and shoulder work, which reminds me of my news days some 14 years ago. It was nice to have this feature, and I used it quite a bit on the Brand Story shoot.

Sensor

The specs for the URSA Mini’s sensors have been touted all over the internet and can be found at Blackmagic’s website (bit.ly/1J2e18z). Here are my impressions.

For this shoot, we had two different URSA Mini models: the 4.6K and the 4K. I loved the 4.6K sensor. It was everything I expected and a little more, to be honest. And the dynamic range was a lifesaver when trying to match this camera to our second camera, the URSA Mini 4K. The 4.6K served as our main camera, and we used the 4K as our b-roll and second camera.

I had an issue with the sensors, because we could not get the cameras to match up at all. In fact, this was so bad that on our second shoot a week later, we used an entirely different camera, the Sony Alpha a7s II, for our b-roll and second camera.

Side Handle

I always find a side handle like the one on both the 4.6K and 4K URSA Mini models (which differ only in the sensor) handy. I rely on side handles often with my handheld work, and having the ability to mount the side handle to the camera or off the camera for various shoulder-rig setups was fantastic.

Menu buttons are not accessible to manage via the side handle. Only record, focus, and iris are built into the handle.

TFT-LCD

I was not impressed with the flip-out TFT-LCD display (Figure 2, below). It was clunky and no more than a glorified framing tool and menu liaison. I have never been a fan of touchscreen displays on cameras for many reasons; fingerprints smearing the screen is foremost among them. I also do not like the power button being hidden behind the TFT-LCD display screen. This creates more wear and tear on the hinges, and it can be tricky to reach the button in tight situations.

Figure 2. The less-than-impressive flip-out TFT-LCD

I noticed the URSA’s TFT-LCD indicates less highlight range. This makes it difficult to use, and it can push operators to overly cautious exposures. When we had the camera outside, it was worse than I ever could have expected. If you purchase an URSA Mini, I recommend that you do not rely on this TFT-LCD display at all; instead, use an additional monitor and/or the OLED Viewfinder.

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URSA Mini Pro features a massive number of tactile control buttons, switches and dials that make it faster to use, built in optical ND filters, a new interchangeable lens mount, dual CFAST 2.0 and dual SD/UHS-II card recorders