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Research and Development: Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K Proves Worth the Wait

Blackmagic’s URSA Mini 4.6K finally shipped some 11 months after its introduction at the 2015 NAB Show. While Blackmagic has consistently announced ambitious shipping dates for its cameras, buyers took to the web in frustration over the URSA Mini and URSA Mini 4.6K delays.

In the April 2015 press release announcing the cameras, Blackmagic stated that the URSA Mini would have a global shutter, while the URSA Mini 4.6K would sport a hybrid global-rolling shutter, with rolling shutter kicking in over 30 fps.

In March of 2016, Blackmagic announced that the URSA Mini 4.6K was finally shipping. According to a company statement, delays were caused by problems implementing the global shutter in the camera. After describing the performance of the global shutter on the URSA Mini 4.6K as “not up to the high quality level that Blackmagic Design strives to give its customers,” it said that the company had decided to ship the camera without that feature. It would have a rolling shutter instead, but with 15 stops of dynamic range and high frame rate capabilities.

URSA Mini with handgrip

The release went on to detail the engineering trade-off. “Originally URSA Mini 4K was intended to be the entry-level model and the URSA Mini 4.6K to be the higher-end model with more features. However, now these two cameras are targeted for different kinds of work as customers can choose between URSA Mini 4K if they want global shutter for fast action sports and URSA Mini 4.6K if they want wide dynamic range for high-end digital film work.”

Market positioning aside, that preface is necessary to demonstrate that a product that breaks a lot of ground is sometimes modified significantly between prototype and delivery stages.

URSA Mini 4.6K shares external and physical specs with the URSA Mini. Both have a lightweight and sturdy magnesium body that weighs 5 pounds with handgrip but without lens and battery. URSA Mini 4.6K features 12G-SDI connections, a 5-inch fold-out touchscreen monitor and side grip with camera control functions, as well as dual CFast card recorders and built-in stereo microphones.

The EF mount model offers full auto and manual control of EF lenses, while the PL model offers a sturdy PL mount. An optional B4 mount is user-installable and has a power adapter to draw camera power for lens operation. It ships with AC power adapter. The V mount battery adapter is a $95 option. There are third-party power solutions from Anton/Bauer, IDX, Wooden Camera and others.

Blackmagic offers a $395 shoulder mount and top handle kit with a padded shoulder piece, rosettes and 15mm rod slots. The top handle, also with secure mounting holes, integrates with Blackmagic’s optional $1,495 URSA Viewfinder or $1,795 URSA Studio Viewfinder. Thus anyone wanting a full kit is looking at about $7,000 plus media, lens and battery.

Shown with optional shoulder-mount kit

The URSA Mini 4.6K has dual CFast 2.0 card slots. CFast media remains relatively expensive, but prices have been dropping as more camera manufacturers adopt it. Still, at about $650 for a 256 GB 3600x card and comparable prices for SanDisk, media needs to be considered when developing budgets.

My evaluation unit came with the V mount adapter, baseplate/handgrip/top handle and EVF. Assembly of the whole unit was quick, with superb instructions.

It sits very nicely on the shoulder, and the shoulder pad adjusts on a forward-backward axis to compensate for front-heavy lenses. The handgrip can mount either on the “dumb” side of the camera (the right) or on the extension rod. I found the extension rod to be too short and disliked that I had to loosen the rosette screw to adjust the angle. The handgrip itself is comfortable and offers start/stop, iris and focus buttons.

The camera shares Blackmagic’s simple and intuitive menu structure. Unfortunately, you can’t get to that menu structure without opening the viewscreen door. The exterior of the viewscreen has transport buttons, used for playback and iris control of EF lenses, as well as two function buttons yet to be implemented. Blackmagic certainly could have put a menu button on the outside and allowed menus to be accessed through the viewfinder, whose SDI interface can be configured in camera to display camera settings and menus.

URSA Mini user interface

The viewing options are all fantastic. The 5-inch built-in viewscreen has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and is tack sharp. Brightness is easily adjustable via the simple, logical Blackmagic menu structure. The optional $1,495 EVF rivals any comparably priced viewfinder on the market. It can pass through SDI camera info (or the camera can be set for clean SDI output from the front SDI port) and has its own options for peaking, guides and zebras. It slides into the top handle and can be adjusted on all axes. The SDI and power cables that connect to front ports on the camera are permanently attached to the EVF. You can look at that in two different ways. Either: they won’t come unplugged. Or: replacing a damaged connector requires a trip to the shop.

Blackmagic quotes a native ISO of 800 for the camera. I found shooting at 800 to be clean, and even pushing to 1600 had acceptable noise levels, depending on the situation. If you don’t like the apparent noise, Blackmagic includes a free license and dongle for Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve Studio with, among other features, greatly enhanced noise reduction capabilities in version 12.5.

Like all Blackmagic cameras, it has modes for shooting “film” and “video,” which translates into log and Rec. 709. There are “film” and “video” viewing options, which means either no viewing LUT (film) or a Rec. 709 viewing LUT (video). I find the Rec. 709 viewing LUT a bit contrasty, but you could argue that the contrast aids in focusing. The LUT isn’t burned in, so it doesn’t really matter. Advertised dynamic range is 15 stops. Unscientific guessing on my part says that number probably isn’t far off.

URSA Mini 4.6K Shooting Resolutions

4608 x 2592

4096 x 2304 (4K 16:9)

4608 x 1920 (4K 2.4:1)

4096 x 2160 (4K DCI)

3840 x 2160 (Ultra HD)

3072 x 2560 (3K anamorphic)

2048 x 1152 (2K 16:9)

2048 x 1080 (2K DCI)

1920 x 1080

URSA Mini with Studio Viewfinder

The camera’s 4.6K translates to a top shooting resolution of 4608 x 2592. This “oversampled 4K,” as I would call it, samples nicely as DCI 4K. Frame rates range from 23.98 to 60 fps, including a true 24 fps.

As far as codecs, it shoots every flavor of ProRes from Proxy through 444 XQ. It shoots uncompressed CinemaDNG raw, and compressed 3:1 and 4:1 raw. The raw footage imports nicely into Blackmagic Resolve, which includes specific LUTs for the URSA Mini 4.6K.

There are two XLR inputs and two built-in cardioid microphones. The camera shoots just two audio channels, though. I’d like to see this expanded to four. While I’m making up a wish list, AES/EBU audio would be really great but probably not possible at the price point that BMD seeks to maintain.

Shown with shoulder-mount kit

Bottom line: this camera produces beautiful images. Particularly impressive with BMD’s color science is skin tones, which appear organic and natural. In all fairness, most cameras on the market today can give you a great image, and in the final analysis your audience isn’t asking about the camera make. But it seems that footage from a Blackmagic camera does not require as much work to become a great image as footage from other cameras.

All things considered, I strongly recommend the URSA Mini 4.6K for filmmakers looking for a camera to own. The wait was worth it. 

Quick Take

Product: Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K

Score:

Pros: Compact, ergonomic, easy to use. Wide range of raw and ProRes codecs. Excellent skin tones and overall color science.

Cons: Menu access is only behind viewscreen door. Pricey CFast media. Menu choices are perhaps too basic and could be expanded. Just two channels of audio. No internal ND.

Bottom Line: This is an ideal camera for the indie filmmaker on a budget who wants to produce great images in an easy-to-manage package. The inclusion of DaVinci Resolve Studio adds $1,000 in value and is the perfect adjunct for color grading.

MSRP: EF model $4,995, PL model $5,495

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