Blackmagic Design URSA Mini 4.6K RAW Camera

by Jeff Gooch
in Road Tests
Blackmagic Design URSA Mini 4.6K RAW Camera. Fully loaded, the unit weighs in at about 8 pounds.
Blackmagic Design URSA Mini 4.6K RAW Camera. Fully loaded, the unit weighs in at about 8 pounds.

Cameras are like drugs for me. I liken getting into cameras kind of like getting into skiing. You start out with a cruddy rental of some ho-hum gear, slide down and get the general hang of it, and then you need to upgrade. And it’s not cheap. Because that thrill — that thrill costs money. I bought my first decent camera because I was tired of taking awful pictures. Now I need to rein myself in every time I go near a camera store. It’s almost worse in my professional life due to the fact that cheap gear ain’t pro, and pro gear ain’t cheap.

While it’s true that you can rent pretty decent kit for a weekend shoot or even a cost effective documentary/short easily enough, we’re now at the point where you can actually own a camera that will produce absolutely stunning footage and just rent decent glass.

The URSA Mini 4.6K uses C-Fast 2.0 media to record on, and the two slots are hot-swappable.

So it is with the URSA Mini 4.6K RAW camera from Blackmagic Design. Their camera lineup has progressed nicely from the early days of their hit “Cinema Camera” until this most recent release of the URSA Mini. It’s a hand-held Super 35mm digital film camera with a 4.6K imager and a whopping 15 stops of dynamic range.

I was shipped the camera itself, an URSA Viewfinder and an URSA Mini Shoulder Kit. I needed to source media, a lens and a battery locally, so my next stop was the pro camera store in town. (The problem for me, as stated before — it took a full three hours to just get out of the store, and not because they were slow).

Once I had the necessary extras, I bopped out to the park for some weekend shooting. At about five pounds, the URSA Mini 4.6K RAW is not overly heavy. With the shoulder kit, viewfinder, media and battery installed I was tipping the scale at just under eight pounds. Still within acceptable range.

While it’s relatively light, it does not feel light. It feels like a tank. Super rugged Magnesium design with many options for mounting rails; matte boxes, mics and other third party kit make this camera highly customizable for any type of shoot. It gives you the option of mounting a V-lock or Gold battery mount, and the shoulder kit is as well. You really do not need to feel careful about the URSA Mini 4.6K. The key here, though, is speed. I was able to set up and start shooting 15 minutes out of the box. Which brings me to the software….

The first thing you notice when you flip open the (huge) 5-inch 1080p LCD panel is the super easy menu system, or HUD. It’s a touchscreen, and you can access all shooting functions here through Blackmagic Design’s new 4.0 operating system for URSA Mini (it’s available as a free upgrade for all URSA Mini cameras).

Touchscreen controls were snappy and responsive. Audio meters and a histogram as well as card meters are along the bottom, informing you how much space/recording time you have left on your cards. All shooting functions and controls are on top of the screen. The image remains visible as all the menu functions are transparent and pop up on the bottom and top of the screen.

It can be a little cumbersome to have to change any of these if you’re shoulder-mount, because you have to lower the camera, open the screen, hit some tabs and reset. However, in closed position, there are two customizable function buttons on the outside of the LCD door which can be assigned to shifting up and down or turning on and off various features and controls like iris, ISO, shutter speed, WB, FPS, bars, focus peaking, or a LUT. Nice shortcuts.

The compact base units weights about 5 pounds, but does not have a 'lightweight' feel; the components are sturdy.

On the pistol grip there are three buttons — start/stop, auto exposure and auto focus. What all this does is speed up shooting. The faster I can switch things, the more creative I can be, and I lose less time on a shoot ultimately.

As for the main menu, you access this with a button inside the LCD door on the side of the camera. Here, you can change all the other record/monitoring/setup options. This is also where you can dive into the depth that this camera offers. Codecs available are Cinema DNG RAW in 1:1 and lossless compressed 3:1/4:1, 10bit 4:2:2 ProRes in all six flavors, from proxy to 4:4:4:4 XQ and DNxHR (coming in a future firmware update).

Resolutions are here as well, starting at the whopping 4.6K and working your way down to lowly HD. In total, there are nine possible resolutions, including resolutions for DCI, and even a native 3K anamorphic workflow. As for dynamic range, you can shoot in “Film” or “Video.” The film setting yields a flat, low contrast image meant for grading later on in Blackmagic Designs’ DaVinci Resolve. There are customizable zebra stripes to aid in seeing highlights. Video mode is recorded in Rec.709 and still gives a wide dynamic range, but highlights can tend to get overexposed. Still, with an unheard-of 15 stops, you have plenty of room to get the shot right.

URSA StudioViewfinder Tally

Media

About that media storage….

The URSA Mini 4.6K uses C-Fast 2.0 media to record on. There are two slots, and they are hot-swappable. Careful with that format, though —shooting in RAW 4.6K will fill those cards up quite fast, and they aren’t cheap. Yet. C-Fast 2.0 is still about $2/GB for anything remotely fast enough for this camera, so plan on spending some dough. You can opt to use an external recorder via SDI out, but you’ll limit your options for add-ons and resolution. But as history has proven, this cost of C-Fast 2.0 media will continue to scale down. Blackmagic is just ahead of the game is all, and honestly, there are not that many people who are going to even use 4.6K. But it’s nice to have it….

Right Angle Viewfinder

Footage

Which leads to footage. It’s ridiculous, really. The image quality that you can achieve with this camera is just stunning. I had the EF mount, and I used a Tamron 24-105mm f/2.8, and the images were crisp and beautiful across the range. The URSA Mini 4.6K is also available with a PL or B4 mount with an optional optical lens adapter for the PL version, so ultimately you have a wide range of choices for both film and video glass. The URSA Mini 4.6K ships with DaVinci Resolve Studio for all of your post-production grading needs. This is something I’m delving into deeper every year, and Resolve is incredibly powerful. If you’re going to shoot with this camera, you’ll need some grading skills for post, or know someone who does.

Audio and Connections

The URSA Mini 4.6K has a built-in stereo pair of mics up top and two balanced XLR inputs with 48V phantom power and level knobs on the inside face of the camera. There is a headphone port as well as LANC connections, SDI IN/OUT, as well as TC in. This is pretty standard fare for these types of cameras, and while not glamorous, they are professional.

The V-lock battery mount accessory.

A Little Extra

I was lucky enough to have the URSA Studio Viewfinder shipped with my URSA Mini 4.6K. This is not something you’ll need for run-and-gun shooting, but if you plan on using this in a studio or live concert environment, it’s a must. Again, incredibly sturdy and high-quality fit and finish made the Studio Viewfinder a pleasure to use. A bright, crisp 7-inch display with adjustable sun shield, tally light and BMD’s signature easy menu system. The rail mount was a snap, and the adjustable knobs made for an easy set. The one extra I did not get to play with, though, is the Arduino shield. For anyone into remote control, this is a totally customizable Arduino shield so control commands can be inserted on the 3G-SDI link. You can make your own CCU and control apps! There are even folks re-purposing old CCU’s and switchers using the Arduino IDE and making custom solutions.

All these specs are not completely remarkable by themselves. There are plenty of high-end cameras that will shoot some crazy good footage. The remarkable thing about the URSA Mini 4.6K is the price: $4,995 for the camera with an EF mount. Seriously. Granted, you’ll have to invest a little more for necessary extras, and you might get up to the $10K mark, but for a 4.6K RAW camera? Unheard of. The URSA Mini 4.6K packs quite a punch in a super easy-to-use package. And if you’re doing live event production, studio work or indie filmmaking, it’s well worth the price.

At a Glance

Impressive and Affordable

Blackmagic Designs’ URSA Mini 4.6K RAW unit is a hand-held Super 35mm digital film camera — which feels solid but not overly heavy — with a 4.6K imager and a whopping 15 stops of dynamic range. Its large LCD touchscreen features a user-friendly menu system, and it comes with DaVinci Resolve Studio editing and color correction software. Combined, it adds up to a compact, user-friendly camera capable of stunning image quality at a surprisingly affordable (for pro cameras) price.

  • PROS: Lightweight, but built solidly. Large 5-inch 1080p LCD panel. SDI In/Out, as well as TC in. The URSA Mini 4.6K ships with DaVinci Resolve Studio software. Two customizable function buttons on the outside of the LCD door. Great accessories.
  • CONS: Not easy to access screen to change settings while connected to certain type gimbals.

STATS:

  • Size: Compact hand held unit. Size dependent on lens and accessories added.
  • Weight: Approx. 8 lbs. with accessories attached.
  • MSRP: From $4,995 (Accessories extra)
  • Manufacturer: Blackmagic Design
  • More Info: www.blackmagicdesign.com

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