Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 digital camera
“The hardware is great, but Blackmagic RAW is a game changer for indie and small budget productions.”
Blackmagic RAW codec
120 fps 4.6K
Accessible user interface
Built-in ND filters
Cumbersome placement of the iris dial
Some nickel and diming for accessories
“Bear” is a fitting name for the beast that is Ursa Mini Pro 4.6K G2 from Blackmagic Design, the flagship of the company’s movie camera. But it is a well-trained bear. The Ursa is docile where other such machines appear fearsome in their complexity. I’ve never been so amazed at how easy a camera is to take professional pictures.
It really feels like cheating. Turn it on, point it at something, press record, and there will be a picture for the big screen. If you know how to use a DSLR, you can find out the Ursa in minutes.
Okay, it takes a bit more work. You need to decide which record button you want to press first – there are about four of them. But once you’ve chosen your favorite, there’s nothing standing in the way of making your director’s dreams come true. At least from a technical point of view.
Despite my love of techno, the Ursa remains outside my league – and still not out of budget. I won’t buy one soon for a five under $ 6,000, but it’s a lot cheaper than comparable movie cameras from other manufacturers.
I’m not sure why a Red or Arri, the Hollywood camera of choice, is worth tens of thousands more. But as someone who shoots video with a mirrorless hybrid camera, I can see the value of climbing to Ursa. Six giants are a lot of money. But here, with the Ursa, it feels like a bargain.
Design and user interface
The original Ursa Mini Pro 4.6K was Blackmagic’s first camera to feel finished. After a few years of eye-catching and bizarre designs, Blackmagic landed on a familiar shape that bridges the gap between a cinema camera and an ENG camcorder.
The G2 refines the formula with small but important improvements to the electronics without changing what has already worked. The result is not only a professional video camera that shames my aging but trustworthy Fujifilm X-T2, but also the best value in the cinema world.
Blackmagic gets a low price by selling you a bare bones camera. A viewfinder, a battery, and a handle are add-ons that can increase the price by hundreds or thousands. This can make cameras like the Canon C200 cheaper for $ 6,500 with viewfinder and battery. However, the Ursa has a hardware advantage: 15 levels of the announced dynamic range compared to Canon’s 13, higher frame rates and a more versatile RAW format.
Although not new, the integrated filter control for neutral density is a key feature of the Ursa – and many dedicated video cameras. You can select 0, 2, 4, or 6 density levels by turning an adjustment wheel so you never have to deal with a screw-on lens filter. Think of sunglasses for your camera. ND filters reduce light and allow you to keep a slower shutter speed for smooth movements and / or a larger aperture for a shallower depth of field when shooting in bright surroundings.
The viewfinder may not be standard, but a touchscreen monitor is the most accessible user interface you can get with a camera. Blackmagic has set itself the goal of standardizing the user interface for all camera models. So if you have a pocket cinema camera, you will feel at home with the Ursa. The user interface is easy to learn if you have not used a Blackmagic camera before.
The Ursa has numerous physical buttons and toggle switches for access to commonly used functions such as ISO, shutter angle / speed and white balance. A complaint? The iris dial is difficult to access when the monitor is open. This is a design flaw that Blackmagic may have overlooked because cameramen who use real cinema lenses use the iris ring on the lens.
Not me. I used standard Canon EF lenses. Apart from the bizarre iris control, I love that at Ursa. Camera lenses are much cheaper than their cinema counterparts, but often of no less optical quality. (However, the Ursa’s autofocus features are not good – stick to manual focus.)
For this test, Sigma lent me its 18-35mm and 50-100mm f / 1.8 lenses, a pair of zooms that make a strong case for being the only lenses you need. Together, they’re worth about $ 1,900. Sure, that’s a bit of a change, but it’s a far cry from the $ 8,000 required for theatrical versions of these lenses. (In truth, this is still quite affordable in the field of cinema glass.)
In addition, the Ursa Mini Pro has interchangeable lens mounts. In addition to the active Canon EF mount, you can use PL (the standard for cinema cameras), B4 for broadcast lenses or even a passive Nikon F mount. The latter opens Ursa to a legacy of photographic lenses that goes back decades. I have a small collection of Nikon glass from the film era that I would like to have tested on the Ursa. Next time.
Of course, cinema lenses have some advantages – mostly they make you look like an ass – but Blackmagic’s willingness to let you mount any old DSLR lens natively is a big plus for the indie and student filmmakers. From news gathering to film production, the Ursa Mini Pro can be configured to fill a variety of roles. The Digital Trends video team even used it on the floor at CES 2020.
Performance and picture quality
The updated electronics of the Ursa Mini Pro G2 are all about speed. This mainly means new slow motion HFR (High Frame Rate) options. 4.6K footage can be captured at up to 120 frames per second, while 1080p can reach 300 fps. The 4.6K / 120 film material is recorded across the entire width of the sensor and automatically reproduced in slow motion (up to 5 times with 24p recordings).
It looks absolutely awesome. I also appreciated how the camera records audio in HFR mode, which many smaller cameras don’t. This way, you can either slow down the audio in the mail to adjust it to the footage (think of the dramatic “Noooooo!” Shouted by a character approaching a certain doom) or the footage back to real-time speed boot up and use it more or less -less like a normal clip if you have to.
The updated electronics increase the maximum ISO by 3,200. That’s nothing compared to modern still cameras with hundreds of thousands of ISOs, but it makes the Ursa usable indoors. It is important that this high ISO value is useful when shooting HFR footage. This requires a faster shutter speed and requires compensation by either opening the iris or increasing the ISO.
Footage shot with ISO 3,200 can look grainy, especially when you try to lift the shadows in the post, but I never thought it would look bad. It’s what it is, and you should try to stay at lower ISOs if possible, but I appreciate having that extra stop when I needed it.
Thanks to faster processing, the readout time of the sensor is shortened and the “Jello Cam” effect of the electronic roller shutter is controlled. In practice, I didn’t notice it at all, except in very fast pans where I specifically searched for it.
File quality and flexibility
When I tested the first generation Ursa Mini Pro 4.6K, it was before Blackmagic released its RAW video format. It could record Cinema DNG, an open RAW format from Adobe, but I didn’t have the storage or processing power to handle it. With the G2, I finally experienced the power of Blackmagic RAW firsthand and it is absolutely revolutionary.
This is a RAW video format for the rest of us. With selectable compression levels up to 12: 1, .braw clips can be recorded on standard SD cards. In fact, the bit rate at 12: 1 compression is lower than the 400 megabits per second non-RAW codecs in cameras like the Panasonic Lumix GH5s and the Fujifilm X-T3. You still want a fast V90 card to be safe, but you don’t have to be a professional studio or have a big budget to work with RAW video. That’s great.
Sample material recorded with the Ursa Mini Pro G2 Daven Mathies / Digital Trends
I recorded all of my test material in .braw with 12: 1 compression and it looked great. I edited and colored the clips in Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 16 on my eight year old iMac and it worked. Performance was problematic after adding more than the most basic color adjustment, but the fact that it worked at all is impressive.
If you’re worried about editing performance, Ursa can record proxy files in addition to RAW footage, so you don’t have to create proxies when importing.
I am not an experienced colorist or even an experienced DaVinci Resolve user, but I come from the world of still photography, where RAW files have been common for many years. Working with RAW videos seems familiar to me. In some ways, it’s easier than working with other codecs like h.264 or even ProRes, which are often recorded with a flat logarithmic tone curve to maintain dynamic range and look like garbage before color correction is applied.
In contrast, Blackmagic RAW material can be used directly from the camera. It is also flexible. Even at 12: 1 compression, I was amazed at how many details I could pull out of the shadows.
Not everyone needs RAW video, but as Blackmagic explained to me, Blackmagic RAW offers the best quality-to-file ratio at any compression level compared to non-RAW formats. There is no reason not to use it. Well, unless you want to import directly into Final Cut Pro X, which currently doesn’t have a plugin to support .braw files. (There is a plugin for Adobe Premiere Pro.)
The Ursa Mini Pro G2 is proof that we are living in an incredible time for photo and video equipment. I am jealous of today’s film students who may have access to it. They can produce large-screen films in their dorms and never know how difficult it is to record and edit standard definition footage on MiniDV tapes.
For many of us, $ 6,000 can of course be $ 60,000. If it’s outside your budget, it’s outside your budget. However, some of the Ursa’s most important functions – such as Blackmagic RAW – are available in the cheaper Pocket Cinema Camera series. The Ursa Mini Pro may still be a desirable product for people like me, but unlike a Red or an Arri, it’s not a dream. I can at least afford to rent it.