A Review of the Blackmagic Design Ursa Mini 4K/4.6K Camera
Meet the URSA Mini, one of Blackmagic design’s newest and leanest cameras. Despite its “Mini” name and smaller build, this new URSA packs plenty of punch as a professional video shooter and its smaller, more efficient overall build makes it an excellent choice for field use instead of just studio settings.
Featuring a very impressive 4.6K Super 35 image sensor with global shutter and a very broad 15 stops of dynamic range, the lightweight and highly compact Mini is ideal for handheld field use and shooting throughout the day. In essence, you’re getting a handheld camera with more dynamic range and better resolution than many Super 35mm studio film cameras.
Several models of the Mini are available, ranging from 4.6K to 4K image sensors and between EF and PL lens mounts, so there are lots of options on the table here and these options are expanded even further by Blackmagic Design’s excellent selection of accessories and related 4K-centric video shooting products. For most uses, you simply can’t go wrong with the URSA Mini, whether you’re a serious pro or someone who’s just dipping their feet into the more serious end of video production.
The Mini comes loaded with positive features and it’s hard to know what to list. Quite simply, this is a superb package in such a compact body.
For starters, the camera offers shooting at up to 60 frames per second even in 4K and 4.6K and offers a very bright super 5 inch foldout viewfinder for easier zoom and video shooting control. On tops of this, dual RAW and ProRes recorders create highly flexible shooting and video editing options.
The 4.6K sensor and its 15 stops of dynamic range are superb in the Mini and designed for creating some truly cinematic video shots. This means that anyone who’s interested in producing feature films, TV shows, commercials, serious indie films and even music videos would do well with this particular model. The Mini is particularly useful for action-oriented shooting in a variety of field settings.
Furthermore, and this is a major bonus of using Blackmagic Design products, the URSA Mini is highly customizable. It can be modified with a whole range of cinema rails, lenses, matte boxes and sensor types. There’s also an optional shoulder mount kit with a quick release mounting plate that lets you shift from shoulder use, to handheld to tripod in seconds flat. This is a golden characteristic for the kind of in-the-field shooting that requires fast movement and running around from one position to another.
Finally, the compact body of the URSA Mini belies just how fully decked out this camera is. The Mini comes with pretty much all the key features and components of BlackMagic Design’s bigger cameras without the more cumbersome construction. Like all of the URSA cameras, the Mini comes with the 5 inch fold out 1080p HD touch screen for monitoring and settings modification in-situ. Professional connectivity options include connectors for 12G-SDI, high-end stereo microphones, and USB ports. There is also a LANC control connection built into the rosette along the side grip of the Mini for start/stop recording on the fly.
B&H Photo Video
There is truly little that could be called bad or deficient about the URSA Mini. No, it doesn’t have certain even more professional features found in cameras with prices well above $10,000 but then this is to be expected. In fact, for its base price of just under $5,000 what the Mini offers is amazingly robust.
Thus, yes, the Mini lacks things like an internal ND option, or a menu option for switching between XLR audio between analog to AES/BLU digital audio, or a lack of dual slot recording in both CFast 2.0 cards at the same time for the sake of backup.
However, despite these deficiencies, the Mini more than makes up for them with its potential add-ons and customizations, as well as its finer native specs.
The URSA Mini from Blackmagic Design is a superb and highly affordable professional video recording camera that’s perfect for anyone who wants to go between commercials, indie movies, documentaries and right up to certain types of feature films without spending an absolute fortune on video recording equipment.
The Mini simply offers everything that’s essential to pro video shooting in a very robust and accessible package, even if you spend extra money on certain important accessories.
Camera Type: 4K video Production Camera
Video Resolution: 4608×2592, 4000 x 2160, 3840 x 2160, 1920 x 1080
Sensor Type: 21.12 x 11.88 mm (Super 35 mm)
Recording Formats: CinemaDNG Raw (Lossless or 3:1 Compressed) @ 4000 x 2160 (film dynamic range)
Apple ProRes @ 3840 x 2160, 1920 x 1080 (film or video dynamic range)
Recording media: 2 x CFast 2.0
Lens Mount: Active Canon EF (also available with a PL mount)
Display: LCD Full HD 5” Touchscreen
Microphone: 2 x Built-in cardioid microphones for stereo recording with -10dB pad and low-cut filter
Connectivity: 1 x USB 2.0 mini, 1 x 12G-SDI -- 10-bit 4:2:2, 1 x Reference input, 1 x Timecode input, 2 x XLR -- selected mic/line level and +48 V phantom power
Analog audio inputs, 2-channel DI Audio output
Frame Rates: 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94, 60 fps
Dynamic Range: 15 stops
Like all Blackmagic 4K cameras, the URSA Mini can be configured to take on a wide plethora of accessories such as new lenses, viewfinders, shoulder mount kits, Battery plates, filters and storage media. Furthermore, adding all of these in for a fully decked out base shooting rig will easily cost about $8,000 to $9,000. However, this is still quite affordable for what the camera offers and Blackmagic design does lend a nice helping hand by including a few key goodies right in the box with the original price tag.
These include Blackmagic’s basic shoulder mount kit and a 1080p HD OLED Electronic viewfinder that are like the cherry on top with this incredibly low cost, high quality camera. In addition to these, there is also an EF Mount Port Cap, a side handle, LNC cable, power supply, DaVinci Resolve Full-Version License dongle and a one year warranty that comes as basic with the camera.
The biggest highlight of the URSA Mini, or at least of its 4.6K EF/PL version is the beautiful Cinematic 4.6K sensor they come with.
This sensor makes the Mini operate at a dynamic range which goes well beyond the range of typical motion picture film and which also goes beyond what almost any other 4K pro video camera offers at this price range. The Cinematic sensor gives you access to 4608 x 2592 pixels of video shooting power which go well beyond the much more conventional Ultra HD 4K of other cameras or of DCI 4K. Furthermore, the 4.6K sensor includes a global shutter with up to 30 frames per second and a rolling shutter at 60fps and 15 stops of dynamic range.
Additionally, for this massive sensor package, there is a built-in refrigeration system for efficient cooling which ensures maximum dynamic range and maximal details in either light or shadow conditions.
The URSA Mini 4K offers something similar but with a resolution of 4000 x 2160 pixels and “only” 12 stops of dynamic range shooting.
Next up, there is the high frame rate recording of the URSA Mini. This is one of the stronger highlights of this camera and lets you capture even fast action sequences in beautifully clear slow motion by setting the sensor frame rate accordingly. With High frame rate recording, the URSA Mini lets you capture video at 60 frames per second even in 4.6K resolution or in more conventional 4K and for shooting in 1080p HD.
These frame rates aren’t quite as good as those of the original URSA, which manages even 4.6K at 100fps, but what the Mini offers goes well beyond the capabilities of many comparable competitor models such as the Sony PXW-FS7 XDCAM, which can only manage a 4K ultra HD of 3840 x 2160 pixels at 60 frames per second.
Finally, the dual CFast 2.0 recorders o the URSA Mini are excellent for continuous recording without having to pause your flow. Unfortunately, while you can’t record to both slots at the same time for the sake of backup redundancy, the camera does switch automatically from the first of the dual slots to the second as one fills up. Furthermore, the CFast 2.0 technology of the Mini means excellent recording speeds of as many as 350 Mb/s, which is pretty useful for video at massive 4K and 4.6K resolutions and 60 frames per second.
As all of the above descriptions obviously indicate, the URSA Mini is a superb overall performer. Its compact body offers up a full range of complete professional video production features and the highly flexible mounted or free-hand shooting options of the Mini let you move around quickly during filming.
As far as video recording goes, the Mini delivers some fantastic clarity with 4.6 or 4K video at 60fps and this clarity can be fully saved by recording to the dual CFast memory cards in raw, uncompressed CinemaDNG format at 60fps. On the other hand, if you want to work with something a bit more manageable, you can also go for recording in compressed raw at 3:1 and 4:1 ratios for easier post-production flow.
In simple terms, the URSA Mini performs wonderful for a wide range of production work either in a studio or field setting and its Cinema 4.6K Super 35-mm global shutter sensor delivers clarity and precision that are pretty much flawless for their level. The 15 stops of dynamic range (for the 4.6K version) or 12 stops of dynamic range (4K version of the Mini) allow for excellent cinematic imagery.
We’re going to summarize many of the features we’d covered above here.
The most obvious feature of the Mini is its miniaturized design. This camera was built as what basically amounts to a scaled down version of the original URSA. Thus, while most of the professional specs and characteristics of the URSA are still here, the size is much more manageable, particularly for hand held or shoulder mounted shooting.
The body of the URSA Mini is also very robust, in addition to being compact. This camera is built mainly with magnesium alloys that let the body be both very tough and surprisingly lightweight at just 5 pounds. Well-designed ¼” taps run throughout this lightweight camera body for mounting and rigging.
The Super-35mm sensor is also a key feature of the URSA Mini. Its 4K version and 4.6K version on the pricier Mini 4.6K EF/PL cameras both use a global shutter with a broad 12 to 15 stop dynamic range that does a lot to retain detail during shadow shooting or highlights and during color modification in post-production. Best of all, the size of this sensor creates a shallow depth of field look that’s very recognizable from association with Hollywood film shooting.
The Touchscreen control of the Mini is another crucial feature. Aside from its traditional button menus, the Mini comes with a fold-out 1080p HD 5 inch LCD monitor with an easily navigable touchscreen which lets you modify all camera settings while also being able to view timecodes, histograms, audio levels. The touchscreen is also useful for adding metadata for specific shots thanks to an onscreen keyboard.
Finally, we should mention the multiple power options and professional connectivity of the URSA Mini:
As far as connectivity goes, this camera features 12G-SDI out, HD-SDI monitoring out, 2 LANC inputs for side handle control, balanced XLR audio with phantom power, timecode-in and also a reference input. There is also a mini USB 2.0 port for whatever you might need it for.
In terms of power options, the camera’s 4-pin XLR standard power connecter works with 12V and 30V external power supplies for maximal flexibility while the battery connectors are the same as those of the original URSA and can take plates from assorted manufacturers, including IDX, Anton Bauer and Blackmagic Design itself.
The image quality of the URSA mini is superb for video shooting. Depedning on which model you buy, video can be captured in a range of resolutions between 4608×2592 pixel 4.6K down to 3840 x 2160 pixel 4K and conventional Full HD. There’s also a 4000 x 2160 cinema grade 4K resolution in the 4K version of the URSA Mini.
The base price of the URSA Mini camera depends on which model you go for. The most affordable of the Minis is the URSA Mini 4K EF, at $2995 USD. From there things get more expensive with the Mini 4K PL at $3495, the Mini 4.6K EF at 4,995 and finally, the Mini 4.6K PL camera at $5495.
B&H Photo Video
To very quickly summarize, the Blackmagic URSA Mini barely has any bad aspects within the context of what it offers. Everything you get with this camera, you get at a high level of quality. However, a couple of things like simultaneous Dual memory card recording and switching between XLR audio between analog to AES/BLU digital audio are missing and would have been nice to have.
• Excellent range of pro specs and features
• Tough, compact body
• Powerful 4.6K Super-35mm sensor
• 4K video at 60 frames
• Excellent price tag
• Lots of available accessories and add-ons
• Simultaneous dual memory recording isn’t possible