Cameras, Reviews

URSA Mini 4K Practical Review


Welcome to this practical review of Blackmagic’s URSA Mini 4K Cinema Camera. Note: Not the 4.6K version.  If you missed my unboxing, it’s here. There are plenty of other reviews and sample footage online and I encourage you to check them out.

Disclaimer: This is my first camera review, I haven’t studied color science or camera mechanics, and I’m not a DP (I’m just a producer/director who enjoys shooting), so don’t expect super technical analysis. Lastly, I currently have no relationships with any companies mentioned here, I’m not getting paid, and I haven’t received any gear. I bought this camera for freelance work and this review is purely for fun and the learning experience. If you enjoy and want more, follow / subscribe on YouTubeVimeo, and/or Instagram.

Video Review

TL;DR

If you don’t want to sit through the whole review, here’s the takeaway: I think the URSA Mini 4K provides a solid bang for your buck and I’m happy with my purchase, but it has plenty of issues and drawbacks. It’s not the right camera for everyone and it’s not the right camera for all shooting scenarios, but it can produce some excellent images and sound. It needs lots of light, fast lenses, external audio sources (via XLR), and it also needs a firmware update from Blackmagic to address the biggest issues.

I’m a big fan of this camera’s image quality, dynamic range and bit depth, high frame rates, user-friendly time lapse, form factor, shoulder mount, EVF, and ProRes workflow.  However, I’ve been frustrated with the low native ISO400 and lack of higher ISOs, fixed pattern noise (FPN), overall noise at ISO800, and annoying glitches.

If you understand and are okay with the limitations of this camera, I think you can get great results.  In my opinion, it’s incredibly powerful for it’s price, especially compared to competing cameras like Sony’s FS5, FS7, and A7s II, or Canon’s C100, C300, and 5DmkIII. The most interesting comparisons seem to be to RED’s less expensive cams, but I know very little about them.

More importantly, everything I’ve read about—and the footage I’ve seen so far from—the URSA Mini 4.6K lead me to believe it will be a significant step above this 4K version.  With a larger and improved sensor with 15 stops of dynamic range, higher ISOs (native ISO800), and less noise than the 4K version—even if it never gets a global shutter—it could be the clear winner among cameras in its class.

Full Written Review

Background

Over the years, I’ve used a variety of video cameras in the prosumer and lower end professional range, from the Canon 5D mkII/III, 7D, C100, and C300, to the Sony EX1, EX3, FS100, FS700 (with Odyssey7Q), FS7, and A7s II, to the Panasonic GH4, to the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, Cinema Camera, and Production Camera 4K.  I’ve also worked with DPs operating nicer cams like the Sony F55, Arri Alexa, and Phantom HD.  The main thing I’ve learned: “different tools for different jobs (and different budgets).” The best camera for a low-budget documercial may not be best for a polished studio shoot.

When it comes to buying your own camera though, I think many of us are looking for a silver bullet; a camera that strikes the perfect balance between image quality, functionality, versatility, workflow, and (perhaps most important) price. Most people I know who’ve bought a video camera in recent years couldn’t afford the cameras that seemed most compelling and versatile: the Sony FS7 ($8k), the Sony F5 ($16k), or the Canon C300mkII ($16k) (body only prices).  Most have either gotten a C100, 5DmkIII, GH4, A7s II, or Blackmagic Cinema Camera, and I don’t think any of them feel they’ve found that silver bullet.

My first purchase after the 7D—which I’m using for shots of the physical URSA Mini in this review—was the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K (BMPC) and it also wasn’t a silver bullet.  I fell in love with the image quality, EF-mount, global shutter, and ProRes workflow, but I had to build an unwieldily rig around it, was stuck with 24fps (or 30fps), had to deal with challenging quirks like laughable battery life, “black hole sun,” and limited menus, and have wrecked my neck and shoulders trying to shoot awkward handheld with a top handle for long periods. Overall though, it served me very well for its price, and is my main point of comparison in this review.

When I first read about the URSA Mini, I thought it really had a chance to be that silver bullet. It was clearly an attempt to address many of the issues and limitations of the Blackmagic Cinema & Production cameras, while delivering Blackmagic’s fantastic image at an unbeatable price. I preordered the 4.6k version from B&H last September (knowing it could be delayed, as BM products always are), and after months and months of staring at a lonely Blackmagic EVF and shoulder mount, like many others, I couldn’t wait any longer. So I got the 4k version off Amazon to tide me over until the 4.6k finally arrives.

I’ve now shot with it in a variety of situations and have some reactions, both good and bad. It’s worth mentioning that the majority of my footage was shot in 4K ProRes 422 LT and I almost always edit in Adobe Premiere (occasionally FCPX), so my reactions are largely based on this. I’ve found this ProRes LT to be a practical middle ground between retaining quality and keeping file sizes more reasonable. I even shoot in ProRes Proxy sometimes for long-form training content when disk space is at a premium – it’s actually not that bad! Obviously, you’ll get higher quality with ProRes 422, 422 HQ, 444, 444 XQ, RAW 3:1, or Uncompressed RAW, but the file sizes (esp. in 4K) become enormous, and the RAW workflow is cumbersome, especially if you don’t edit in DaVinci Resolve.

Image Quality

Above all else, I want a camera that produces beautiful images and accurate color. As far as I can tell, the sensor is the biggest factor here, and reports are that the URSA Mini 4k has the same sensor as the BMPC.  I loved the images coming out of the BMPC and, so far, I love the images coming out of the URSA Mini 4K.

I’ve used the URSA Mini 4K outdoor in direct sunlight, in shade, and pointed directly at the sun.  I’ve shot indoor with practical lights, CFLs, and LEDs.  I’ve shot against a white cyc, and against a couple different green screens.  In all cases, when I’ve had enough light and shot at ISO400 (the camera’s native ISO)I’ve been happy with the image quality.  (For more on light and ISOs, see the Light Sensitivity section below.)

Global Shutter

The global shutter is easy to take for granted, but it’s a big reason I prefer this camera over others. It’s particularly helpful with fast motion, where a rolling shutter results in distortion and “jello-y” footage (as can happen on the Sony A7s II and to a lesser extent the FS5 and FS7). I actually had one project where I successfully reshot a close-up of a spinning contraption with the BMPC because vertical lines had been distorted by an Alexa’s rolling shutter. If the URSA Mini 4.6K never gets a global shutter, it could be a reason to keep 4K version around as a B camera.

10-bit 422 (12-bit RAW) Internal

Having 10-bit 422 depth (and 12-bit RAW) at 4K internally also seems like a big win compared to 8-bit 4:2:0 on the FS5 and A7s II (though color space stuff starts to go over my head). The dynamic range has actually seemed very good, despite being “only” 12 stops, but I’m really looking forward to the URSA Mini 4.6K’s 15 stops.

Samples

Moire

I’ve also been impressed with the lack of moire in tight patterns compared to Canon and Sony cams I’ve used.  It’s not perfect though – notice the moire in this fine-textured dress shirt.

ff-moire-1080

Color / Skin Tones

I’ve always felt that Canon footage was a bit orange and Sony footage a bit magenta, and that neither company has nailed skin tones.  I’ve been happier with skin tones in Blackmagic footage, but seems a bit greenish, so I almost always adjust the tint toward magenta in Premiere’s Lumetri plug-in. On that note, it’s also worth mentioning that I always shoot in “Film” (aka flat) mode and then the LUT I apply is Captain Hook’s “Hook_BM4KFilm2Vid_3DLC_BASIC_V1”, available here.

IR Pollution, ND, and OLPF

Quick glossary here: IR = Infrared, UV = Ultraviolet, ND = Neutral Density, OLPF = Optical Low Pass Filter.  Just as I was wrapping up this review, I came across an article that discusses the issue of IR (or infrared) Pollution with the URSA and other cameras.  I’d heard about this issue in the past, but never real understood it and never took the time to learn more about it.

I think I get it now. You may have noticed some of my outdoor footage seems a little magenta – I’ve recently learned that this is IR pollution.  It’s most noticeable when shooting outdoors with strong ND filters, and it’s really hard to fix with color correction.  I’ll talk more about ND filters in the functionality section, but for now you should know one thing: you really should have both ND filters and UV/IR-Cut filters on your lenses with the URSA Mini when filming outside. Most people have UV-only filters, but those won’t help with IR.  Here’s a quick demo of how increasing ND adds IR pollution, and how a UV/IR-Cut filter can counteract that pollution.

It’s subtle in the first shots where the ND is minimal and the aperture is more closed, but it’s very noticeable as ND increases and the aperture becomes more open. Big picture, you should notice an improvement in the range of colors with the UV/IR-Cut filter.

Form Factor / Design

For me, the most exciting features of the URSA Mini—compared to the BMPC—are the improved form factor and higher frame rates (more on frame rates under Functionality).  As much as Blackmagic touted the revolutionary compact size of the Cinema Camera / BMPC, the shape was always very awkward. Those cameras must have an external battery (or AUX power cord) to be usable, and rigging it to the camera is a challenge.  They also badly need an XLR->1/4″ audio adapter (aka “A-Box”) and a top handle, at the minimum. Even with a top handle, I often developed knots and pain in my shoulders and neck from holding the rig. The alternate solution is a large, two-handed, shoulder mount rig, which is expensive and often overkill.

IMG_0980
Production Camera 4K with power solution, A-Box for XLRs, and top handle.

The URSA Mini’s ENG-style form factor, shoulder mount kit, and EVF solved all of this. The battery mounts right on the back, shotgun microphone and lav receiver mount easily on top, cables are accessible, there’s a convenient top handle, you can balance the whole rig on your shoulder with one arm, and you have a truly free hand for the lens, menu adjustments, or checking your phone ;).  I’ve shot handheld for hours at a time with this rig and not been cramped and in pain at the end (though my arm does get tired).  One surprise was that this camera, while marketed as very lightweight at 5lbs (just the body), is actually about 14lbs when I outfitted it with battery, shoulder mount, baseplate, mics, etc. Not heavy, but also not that light.

URSA Mini 4K EF with shoulder mount, EVF, battery, and audio.
URSA Mini 4K EF with shoulder mount, EVF, battery, and audio.

I’ve also managed to get decently stable shots with the shoulder mount (though a gimbal is obviously better).  The one thing I haven’t figured out is a comfortable angle of the side handle (and if that can be remedied). I’ve had some wrist discomfort after long periods. Note: in order to easily switch between shoulder mount and tripod, you’ll need a specific quick-release baseplate – the one I got is the Sony VCT-14.

Functionality

High Frame Rates

As mentioned above, I believe the addition of higher frame rates to this camera (60fps in all HD and UHD flavors including RAW, and up to 120fps in HD (windowed sensor)) is the biggest news here, especially compared to the BMPC.  That said, it’s quickly becoming the standard in this class of camera, as we see similar options on Sony’s A7s II, FS5, and FS7.  I’m sure Canon will get its act together on frame rates imminently. For anyone wondering, these higher frame rates allow for smooth slow-motion, which can capture a moment or tell a story more powerfully, increase perceived production value, or simply make shooting more fun.  Also, slow-mo somehow never gets old or played out ;).

In the limited testing I’ve done, the results of these modes look fantastic (except at ISO800, see below).  It’s worth noting that the 1080p sensor crop for 120fps means your focal length is instantly magnified, which often means you need to either move back from your subject or switch to a wider lens to get your shot.

The only issues I see are related: light sensitivity and noise.  As you increase frame rates, the camera needs more light.  On a camera with relatively low ISOs (200, 400, 800), you quickly become very limited by available light.

Codecs

One of my favorite features of Blackmagic cameras is the variety of native ProRes flavors and internal RAW recording.  Sony and Canon often force us to use proprietary wrappers and compressed AVCHD or XAVC files that can only be viewed easily within offloading or editing software.  Recording RAW on Sony and Canon has always been damn near impossible without expensive external accessories.  (In the past, you even had to transcode footage to ProRes to make it practical to edit.)  I’m sure there’s debate around this, but I’ve always felt Adobe Premiere struggled harder to work with native files from Sony and Canon cameras than it did with ProRes Quicktimes. This is doubly true for Apple’s FCPX, which obviously loves ProRes. The addition of RAW 3:1 is also exciting (smaller file sizes than Uncompressed RAW), but I haven’t shot enough RAW to speak to it.

The one caveat is that all flavors of ProRes, especially at 4K, make for very large file sizes.  If you’re capturing a really large amount of footage at 4K (unscripted, documentary, or events, for instance) these file sizes could hinder your workflow or incur significant storage costs.

Neutral Density (ND) Filters

This has been discussed by everyone on the internet already, but it’s one of the biggest shortcomings of this camera: no built-in ND filters.  For those who don’t know, Neutral Density (whether built-in to a camera, as a glass filter that screws onto a lens, or in plastic sheets taped to a window) reduces the intensity of light entering the camera. Not having ND most often results in the following, especially with DSLR shooters:

You’re excited to shoot some beautiful, shallow depth-of-field, footage outside. You open up the aperture on your fast lens, but everything’s blown out, so you crank the shutter speed to something like 1/500 to get your exposure right.  The shot appears to look great, but the second anything in the frame moves, or the second you move the camera, you’ve got unintentional super sharp and intense war movie / music video style footage. Not a good look for most interviews and b-roll. ND allows you to cut down the light so you can open up your lens and still have a reasonable shutter speed (and realistic looking motion), which is more often somewhere between 1/50 and 1/100.

Menus

Thinking back to the menus on the BMPCC and earlier firmware on the BMPC, I’m thrilled with the menus on the URSA Mini.  That said, they’re still simplified compared to many of Sony and Canon’s cams.  Other reviews have gone in-depth on menus, so I’ll speak to just a few items:

  1. White Balance: I’ve heard complaints about the lack of granularity in white balance, but I’m fine with the 18 increments from 2800K to 8000K (90% of the time I’m on either 3200K, 5200K, or 5600K).
  2. Shutter Angle: I wish that you could switch between Shutter Angle and Shutter Speed. Sure, I could teach myself how to convert, but I learned Speed first so it’s hard to convert in my head.  Unless I’m going for a specific look with the motion, I’m on 180° or 150° 90% of the time.
  3. Audio Options: I have an audio section below, but in terms of menus, I wish you could set options for the two XLR channels independently.  For instance, it’d be great to be able to use XLR Input 1 for a shotgun or lav mic, and still get a scratch track via the on-board mic (right now it’s either all on-board mic or all XLR inputs). Similarly, I wish you could set Input Level (aka preamp) for each channel independently.  For example, you might want Mic Low for your shotgun and Mic High for your lav source. Note: you can set Channel Input amount separately (0-100). They should probably change the name “Input Levels” to something like “Amplification.”
  4. Resolution/Sensor: They should probably remove the choice of Sensor mode: Full or Windowed, and just have it update based on the resolution and frame rate you choose.  The current layout is a bit confusing/cumbersome.
  5. Time lapse: This is still one of my favorite features of Blackmagic cameras.  Super simple and user-friendly controls to get ready-to-edit timelapse files straight off the camera, without wasting time and disk space.

EF Mount / Canon & Leica Lenses

Like many people, I love the bang for your buck that you get from Canon lenses, so having EF mount on Blackmagic cams is great. That said, I can’t speak much to the communication between camera and lens, as I always shoot manual.  The few times I’ve tried autofocus, it took several seconds before it was focused.  Controlling aperture on lenses without an aperture ring with the Rewind and Fast Forward buttons is weird at first, but works just fine.

I’ve also been lucky enough to sometimes get access to some glorious Leica R lenses.  The combination of this higher-end glass with the URSA Mini (and BMPC) has produced some great footage.  For anyone who’s curious, I found a guy online (based in Barcelona, Spain) who makes Leica R->Canon EF adapters that are 10x better than any other adapters I’ve seen.  His company is called Leitax and these adapters screw into the existing bayonet of the lens, making them semi-permanent, but rock solid.  I’ve used $15 snap-on lens adapters, as well as $200 Metabones Adapters (and Speedboosters) and there’s always some play/jiggle and stickiness that’s off-putting. The Leitax adapters run from $60 – $140 USD, and are worth every penny.

Leitax R->EF Adapter on a Leica 35mm f1.4 Summilux-R
Leitax R->EF Adapter on a Leica 35mm f1.4 Summilux-R

Glitches

Some things I hate about Blackmagic: They’re absolutely the worst at delivering products on-schedule, they opt for silence in social media rather than conversation with their customers, and sometimes their products suffer from defects and glitches.

Some things I love about Blackmagic: They’re a younger, smaller, disruptive company that offers powerful products at unbeatable prices without unnecessary bullcrap like codec wrappers and proprietary media, and they provide relatively frequent updates to product firmware to address issues. So, while there are issues with the URSA Mini, I’m confident they will improve the firmware in this camera and add functionality (just as they did with the BMPC).

There have been several glitches reported online, but I can only speak to the ones I’ve experienced.

  1. Unexpected Power Down: On one occasion, when the battery was low (~20%), the camera powered down unexpectedly.  This didn’t happen while rolling (camera was idle), so no shots were ruined.  I swapped a fresh battery and it never happened again. Was it concerning? Yes. Was it the end of the world? No.
  2. Button Freeze: On five occasions, over the course of three full days, seemingly after longer periods of continuous use, all buttons on the camera became unresponsive. This didn’t happen while rolling, so no shots were ruined (or drastically extended, lol).  I’d be talking to crew or talent with the cam on my shoulder or tripod, then I’d hit Record and nothing would happen.  I’d hit Menu or Play, and nothing.  The only way to fix it was to hit the Power button to power down, and then start it back up.  Doing this always fixed the issue, and the freezes never happened back to back.  It was always at least a few hours between these. Did it suck? Yes.  Was it the end of the world? No. I’m sure this will be fixed soon.
  3. Dropped/damaged frame: This has only happened once to my knowledge, but it’s the worst offender.  I was reviewing some footage from a 2-day shoot and noticed a frame with a glitch (see below).  I’m not sure if it’s technically a dropped frame or something else, but it had the potential to ruin this take.  My only recourse was to duplicate or cut out the damaged frame. Blackmagic had better fix this ASAP.
  4. RAW Recording Button Freeze: This one didn’t make it into my video review because it just happened.  Every time I’ve recorded Uncompressed RAW at 60fps, I’ve struggled to stop recording.  I’ll hit the Record button, but the camera will continue on rolling.  It takes 3 button presses to get it to stop.  This is bad, particularly because this mode is the absolute biggest space-waster on the CFast cards.  You want the minimum time with the camera rolling! Blackmagic needs to fix this one ASAP too.

Dropped frame glitch (using 3500x Lexar CFast 2.0 card).
Dropped frame glitch (using 3500x Lexar CFast 2.0 card).

Other obligatory complaints others have already covered:

  • Sole power and menu buttons are inside the on-board touchscreen. It’s awkward to open the touchscreen every single time.
  • There’s no HDMI out (though I rarely have used HDMI-only monitors).
  • There’s some fan noise (it’s louder when the cam’s working harder, but it hasn’t been horrible for me).

Light Sensitivity

Hands down, everyone’s biggest complaint about this camera is it’s lack of light sensitivity (and I agree).  This is nothing new, as it’s the same sensor as the BMPC, but I think with the new form factor and functionality come higher expectations. Not only is this not a low light camera, it’s not suitable for many indoor, unlit, situations. So if low-light is important to you, forget the URSA Mini 4K.

The camera has three ISO options: 200, 400, and 800, and its native is 400. I’ve never needed to use ISO200 but the few times I’ve used it, it has looked fine. At ISO400, any indoor shooting—even with CFL or LED production lights—is challenging.  I rarely want to slow the shutter speed below 180° (1/48 at 23.98fps), but even with a really fast lens fairly open (say f1.8), it can be challenging to get proper exposure.  Most people have f2.8 lenses which are even harder to use. The result indoors is that lenses are often wide open and higher shutter speeds are impossible.  This limits your options when you encounter curve balls like flicking LCD screens or the need for less shallow depth of field. One such situation I encountered was shooting on a green cyc.  Budget was limited, so we couldn’t blast the stage with lights. I wanted more depth of field (to keep the subject in focus) and I wanted higher shutter speed (to minimize motion blur and allow for a cleaner key).  I ended up stuck at 150° shutter angle and had to open up to f2.0, which wasn’t ideal.

ISO800 is just awful. It is so riddled with noise, I can only imagine wanting to use it in a situation where what’s happening in a scene is so spur of the moment that capturing it trumps quality.  Additionally, I have only encountered the dreaded Fixed Pattern Noise (FPN) issue at ISO800.  Thus, I have trained myself to ignore the ISO800 option altogether on this camera.

There is one thing I’ll say about this camera’s biggest competitor right now, the Sony A7s II. I had a chance to shoot some test footage (which I’ll be releasing as a short video on FrameFury soon) and the image is by no means perfect.  It does have much, much higher ISOs than the URSA Mini, but I struggled to minimize noise in the footage when shooting at the recommend flat profiles of sLog2 and sLog3. Even after applying the appropriate LUTs, the footage was noisy.  It sounds like lost of folks are simply shooting in the CINE4 profile with the A7s II and I didn’t think that was free of noise either.

The most encouraging thing about the URSA Mini 4.6K is that it has a completely new sensor, higher native ISO, and higher ISO options.  Information circulating online is that native ISO is 800 and that it can go up to ISO1600.  Initial sample footage looks gorgeous, particularly RAW, but I’m very curious to see if there’s much noise at ISO1600 in the lower ProRes flavors.  We’ll see if Blackmagic can improve ISO800 issues with the 4K cam (they managed to address FPN on the BMPC with a firmware update).

Power

Personally, I love that Blackmagic gives consumers the option of what power solution they want to use with this camera: V-mount or Gold-mount.  This means we benefit from market competition on battery performance and price, and we can use the same batteries with a variety of existing and future production products (unlike Canon or Sony batteries).  All the research I’ve done seems to show that V-mount is more popular among consumers, but that Gold-mount is a stronger mechanism that lasts longer and isn’t prone to disconnecting accidentally.  So, I got the Anton Bauer Digital 90 Gold-Mount battery kit.  I’ve been very happy with these batteries, and even more pleased with the charger.  It has a built in carrying handle, a color LCD display, and can charge two batteries simultaneously from 0-100% in under 90 minutes.  That’s huge when you’re used to Switronix batteries that take several hours to charge (though maybe their newer models are better). These Digital 90 batteries also last about 3-4 hours each with the camera and EVF going, which is excellent.

My only complaint is that the URSA Mini 4K shipped with only half the charging cable in the box.  I’m not sure if this was an assembly line error, or a penny-pinching business decision, but it sucks to have to separately buy such a core component like a power cord, even if it is inexpensive. I bought this one. I’ve been told B&H is including this missing part with new URSA Mini purchases.

Touchscreen & EVF

People have been heaping praise onto the external Blackmagic EVF, and I agree that it’s fantastic, but I also haven’t used many others for comparison. There’s a good review with plenty of info on it here.  One option that would be nice would be the ability to apply the in-camera LUT to this EVF, just as you can with the on-board touchscreen.  Currently, you’re stuck with just the Flat profile on the EVF.

The URSA Mini’s on-board touchscreen is a mixed bag.  While it is relatively large and bright, and has some solid display options, it could be improved.

  1. Rotation: First, it only has 180 degrees of rotation from straight up to back-facing to straight down.  Ideally, it could flip around to forward-facing for situations where you’re a one person crew and need to see your shot while adjusting lights.  Having to run back-and-forth from the camera to the subject wastes precious time. If you could have it facing out, but flipped down, that would allow easy menu changes during handheld as well.
  2. Color: In my opinion, when in Video mode, this touchscreen always looks very yellowish green.  It’s probably just the settings of the in-camera LUT, but it’s bad.  When I pull the flat footage off the camera and apply other LUTs or color correction, the color never looks quite like it does on the touchscreen.
  3. Dynamic Range: This display also looks a couple stops overexposed when in Video mode.  Sure, you can use Zebras, but a reference monitor should be helpful.  The in-camera LUT feels heavy-handed.  When I’m on a tripod, I like to use both viewfinders (EVF for exposure and focus, and touchscreen for composition, white balance, and color).  It’d be nice to be able to trust both more.

Workflow

The biggest story on the URSA Mini’s workflow is CFAST 2.0 cards.  These are definitely expensive!  However, they are competitive with Sony’s XQD cards, and are coming down in price gradually.  When you consider that they currently go up to 256GB and you’re able to write up to 60fps Uncompressed RAW to them internally, it’s amazing how small they are.  The BMPC had to use larger, standard SSDs to pull that off, and you had to use the Odyssey 7Q with SSDs to do it on the Sony FS700.  For now, I opted for Lexar 128GB 3600x and Lexar 256GB 3500x CFAST cards.  Reports online are that you can use all modes on the camera with even slower cards (as low as 3400x). I haven’t experienced any issues so far.  Offloads via a USB 3.0 card reader are reasonably fast.

As I mentioned in the Codec section, I love being able to shoot multiple flavors of ProRes.  Having Quicktime files available at the top level in the Finder and ready to copy for editing is worlds better than using Sony’s .MTS files or Canon’s “PRIVATE” file directory. I simply copy the files off the card onto my editing drive, then import them to Premiere and start editing. As mentioned above, I apply Captain Hook’s LUT and then any other color correction. (Note: you can even apply the LUT to the master file with Lumetri, so that all timelines have the corrected footage without copy/pasting plug-ins around.)

The workflow for RAW (folders of DNG image sequences) is more complicated and best handled with DaVince Resolve Studio (a great free bonus with Blackmagic camera purchases).  Since I like editing in Premiere, the few times I’ve shot RAW, I’ve used Resolve to transcode the DNGs to ProRes 4444 Quicktimes, then imported those into Premiere.

Audio

I have audio at the bottom of the list because I don’t think it’s critical to a great video camera. If you’re capturing multiple sources or need top-notch sound quality, you’ll hire a sound person with a separate recorder anyway. The big news for the URSA Mini over the BMPC is the addition of native XLR inputs and phantom power.

The good news: you can now easily (without needing adapters) run a shotgun mic and a wireless lav mic into the camera (or other phantom-powered mics), and I’ve generally gotten good results.  The bad news: the XLR ports are a bit sticky and hard to pull the cords out of (though not as bad as one YouTuber made them look), Phantom Power appears to generate more hiss than it should, and the preamps in the camera seem a bit underpowered. A small note: I noticed I was picking up a very faint radio broadcast in the headphones while shooting this review. I’ve confirmed it didn’t get baked- in to the recording, but I wonder if that’s something that can be fixed.

I haven’t used the on-board mic much and, when I do, I use it for a scratch track. I’ve read reports of it having a very noisy signal, but can’t confirm (and don’t really care since it’s just for scratch audio). I have noticed some audio noise when using the XLR ports and have gotten the best results with the following settings:

For a Sennheiser MKE600 shotgun mic:

  • Use a (fresh) AA battery in the mic
  • URSA Mini Phantom Power OFF
  • URSA Mini Audio Menu set to Mic High
  • URSA Mini Audio Level between 25-50% with the mic near to subject

For Sennheiser G3 wireless lav mics:

  • URSA Mini Audio Menu set to Mic High
  • URSA Mini Phantom Power OFF
  • G3 Transmitter set to -18dB
  • G3 Receiver set to -18dB
  • G3 Pitch Tone Active
  • G3 Squelch Low

My only complaint is that the physical audio dials (a welcome addition since the BMPC) don’t have a “hard stop,” and audio gain isn’t displayed on either viewfinder.  The dials spin to infinity in both directions.  That, combined with needing to go into the menus to see your gain level, makes quick audio adjustments on the fly very difficult.  The quick fix here is for Blackmagic to add the audio level percentage somewhere on the display overlays.

Conclusion

See TL;DR at the top of this review. 😉 Thanks for watching and/or reading – happy shooting!  If you missed my unboxing, you can see it below.

One Comment

  • Thanks so much for the review, just about the get the 4k & 4.6k tomorrow for a shoot. Really appreciate the insight to the 4k version. I know this is your first review but I wish all reviews were like this! Much more helpful to me than the color science lab approach. Thanks again for taking the time brother!

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