Blackmagic Design’s Ursa Mini 4.6K is a 4K+ camera offering up to 15 stops dynamic range that looks ideal for drama, commercials or even studio work.
Despite the Mini label, the URSA Mini 4.6K is no lightweight at 3 kg. The Mini records to CFast 2.0 cards, as its higher bit rates require faster write speeds. It can record CinemaDNG Raw codecs with a choice of lossless 4.6K Raw or compressed 4.6K Raw. There are also ProRes 444 XQ, 444 HQ, 422 LT and Proxy for Ultra HD or HD. UHD at 25fps in ProRes 444 XQ offers 21 minutes recording time on a 256 GB card. A 10-second shot in UHD Prores444 is about 1.5 GB.
Frame rates include 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94 and 60 fps, depending on resolution, with the option of 40-120fps (in HD) for slow and fast motion. There is also a timelapse (interval recording) option.
The camera can come with a PL mount and takes B4 HD lenses using an adapter to the PL model, while the EF version can make use of Canon lenses. When the time comes, you should also be able to swap out the sensor. As new firmware upgrades and sensor technology arrive this might actually be a future-proof camera.
The Ursa Mini is no lightweight at more than 3 kg due to the strong metal chassis. Then you spot the size of the HD LCD touchscreen—at 5-inches, it is probably only bettered by the Ursa’s 10-inch screen.
There is peaking (green only—hopefully red will come in an upgrade) for focusing help. Plus, the camera comes with an adjustable side handle with auto focus, auto iris and record buttons. It can also be removed and attached to an arm if you plan to use the camera with the Blackmagic shoulder mount.
If you intend to use the camera outdoors and make use of the big sensor for shallow depth of field you’ll need some ND filters and a matte box, as it has no built-in ND filters. There is no manual or auto white balance; to white balance you choose from 2500K to 8000K using the touchscreen while keeping an eye on what effect it is having in the viewfinder.
Pressing the Menu button brings up six touchscreen icons from which to choose. The bottom three icons of histogram, audio meters and LCD overlays allow you to switch those items on or off the screen.
The Mini has two dynamic range options: film or video. The video setting uses the REC709 color standard for HD video, still useful to those with no time for a grade. The film setting shoots video using a log curve giving you a higher dynamic range. While the Mini 4K offered 12 stops, the 4.6K can deliver 15. You can set the dynamic range of the Mini’s touchscreen, SDI output and viewfinder independently. The 1080 HD OLED viewfinder is an extra option.
One of the first things I did while waiting for the batteries to charge was to check for updates. Blackmagic announced firmware update 3.2 at the 2016 NAB Show, which seemed to mainly concentrate on added features to make this a better studio camera, including tally support, talkback, color correction, detail, color bars and lens control. (Blackmagic also launched a new 7-inch studio viewfinder at the show.) There was also improved color reproduction on the LCD screen and a LUT (look up table) on the SDI output. All these things lie dormant until you plug it into a switcher that supports the SDI protocol.
To start, you need to format your card as HFS+ or exFAT. Blackmagic recommends HFS+ as it supports journaling, which can make it easier to recover lost data. The LCD screen offers many settings and adjustments, though it can be difficult to view in the sunlight. There is a zoom button that gives a 1:1 pixel view, magnifying the image on the LCD screen and viewfinder—this can be helpful when focusing, especially when using a prime lens. But it will only work in 4.6K and Ultra HD mode.
With my 18-135mm Canon lens, changing exposure using auto iris was not practical when recording in low light. Pressing the button sent the camera to f32 and then to the suggested aperture, so there was a temporary dip to black before the shot reappeared. However, this didn’t happen in daylight shooting. Hopefully this was just a glitch that will be fixed in firmware.
This camera is not for really low-light use; ISO goes from 200 to 1600; 400 being the native ISO. So, you’ll need fast lenses if you don’t have lights. However, there seemed to be minimal noise in the shadows, and the camera’s 15-stop dynamic range doesn’t just preserve the highlights, it also gives deeper blacks.
The 1080 HD OLED viewfinder is definitely worth it. Crisp and with good color rendition, it was essential when working in sunlight.
This is a great value for money camera. While the magnesium body makes it feel robust and substantial, it means it also really needs to go on a tripod. Compared to other cameras in its price range, it is heavy for on-the-shoulder shooting, especially when fully rigged with batteries and matte box. The pictures are really good straight out of the camera, but the HDR pictures actually looked great after one-button correction in Final Cut—and Blackmagic’s Resolve can do much more. So, there’s no excuse not to shoot in film mode and make the most of those 15 stops.
If you are shooting drama or commercials where you can plan shots and have grip equipment, the Mini will deliver excellent pictures and the additional pixels in its 4.6K sensor will be great in post if you need to reframe or stabilize the shots. With the addition of the larger viewfinder, this should really appeal to anyone needing to do studio or outside broadcast work. However, this is not a run-and-gun camera.
Christina Fox is a broadcast camera trainer with UrbanFox.tv. She has trained thousands of broadcasters, videographers and hobbyists to use cameras correctly, set up lighting and record good audio. Her list of clients includes the BBC, Channel 4, ITN, NBC, and the Press Association.
Drama, commercials and studio or outside broadcast work.
15 stops; 5-inch LCD screen; slow and fast motion recording; optional 1080 HD OLED viewfinder
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