4.6K BLACKMAGIC URSA MINI REVIEW
We’ve been waiting on this camera, and this sensor, for almost a year. We saw many Beta testers out in the wild. We pined for 4.6K footage, and we hoped it would look the way we wished it would.
You were not alone in wondering why the 4.6K URSA Mini was taking so long to reach the market. Here at Pro Video Coalition we had a nearly weekly request for a review copy for six months straight. We were just as frustrated as everyone else. Then, the camera arrived. I had a single week with the Mini and I shot as much as I could with it. In short, Blackmagic has made a great camera in the 4.6K URSA Mini. The longer version is below:
Day One – 1st 4.6K Shoot
You don’t get to pick and choose what you will shoot when you have a camera for a short period; you just shoot. So I did. I shot traffic. Literally, the most mundane forty-five seconds of traffic as the sun set in the background. No, this was not a sexy, bring out the models kind of shoot, it was way closer to let’s test the slow-motion and dynamic range kind of test.
I used LUTs from Daniel John Peters since Adobe does not have a 4.6K Blackmagic Design LUT added to its color page. Yes, I could have taken the footage through Resolve, but I wanted to test a quick down and dirty kind of shooting and editing. I think the results speak for themselves. The color is vibrant without too much video saturation. The shadows retain a generous amount of detail. In one shot, I focused on a white Honda SUV and you can make out the shadow detail inside the car. The regular USRA wouldn’t hold those details as well.
15 Stops Dynamic Range
Is this camera a true 15 stops of Dynamic Range? It certainly looks so. I could point the camera at the sun and see shadow details. I could not see such a thing with the 4K URSA. When color grading the sunset footage I feel like the image just fell into place. When shadows are brought down and just enough saturation added the image comes alive. Below I’ve included both a color corrected video and one not color corrected. Both are downloadable from my vimeo page. So color grade to your hearts delight. I’m interested in seeing what some end results will look like.
The Hand-grip is a nice addition and proof Blackmagic is listening to customers, and customers want ergonomic cameras. Personally, I love cameras that are easy to shoot. I want a quick release plate, a shoulder pad, and a hand-grip so I can be on a tripod one moment and the next the camera is on my shoulder grabbing a hand-held shot. Thankfully, Blackmagic has given us these options.
When the hand-grip is on the side of the camera body the 4.6K URSA Mini is easy to hold waist high. In this position the on-board monitor and the hand-grip balance the camera well. When the shoulder mount is attached the hand-grip has the option to be on an accessory arm and in a position to use it when shouldering the camera.
What I wished was included on the hand-grip was a iris wheel. Then an operator wouldn’t have to attempt to hit the correct button on the side of the camera to change their aperture. Inevitably, I have to pull my head away from the EVF, and stop shooting, to find the right button.
I like having the hand-grip on the side of the camera so much I keep it there and place my kino grip in the other position. This way I have my Kino Grip ready when shouldering the camera and I can bounce for a waist high shot without missing much.
EVF – A Must?
Yes, I think if you’re going to buy the 4.6K URSA Mini you might be wise to pick up the EVF with it. The size and solid mount are perfect for the Mini. Anything bigger and that EVF will get in the way of operating the camera. Even though the EVF adds $1495 to the $4995.00 cost equalling $6490 I say it’s a smart move.
Yes, at $6490 the 4.6K URSA Mini with the EVF comes close to Sony’s FS7 base price of $7999.00. I have no way of saying one camera is a better buy over the other because those decisions are based on what you’ll be shooting. I think the 4.6K has a more interesting color science behind it, larger sensor, and 4K Raw at no extra cost. If I was shooting a commercial or music video I think I’d lean toward the 4.6K Blackmagic and it’s amazing color.
Above you can see, in the OneRiver Media picture, just how large the 4.6K Sensor is compared to other sensors. This is a true Super 35mm sized sensor where as the 4K sensor in the original URSA was quite a bit smaller. In the past we all talked about Blackmagic’s other sensors in terms of cost. The Cinema Camera looked great… because it cost so little. The Production Camera was alright if it wasn’t very light sensitive… because it cost so little for a 4K camera and a global shutter. With the 4.6K sensor Blackmagic is punching above its weight class. Could the 4.6K sensor stand up to an Arri or a Red? I think in the right hands, and situation, many professionals may have a difficult time seeing the difference on the screen. Before you write a comment below let me temper my enthusiasm for this sensor. What the 4.6K sensor doesn’t have is the more expensive processing and features which really bring out the differences
between more expensive cameras and the $4995 URSA Mini.
No Black Sun spot! Finally BMD has fixed this problem. In the video I shot of my wife, Angela, walking around Nashville’s Two Rivers Bridge you can see I shot straight into the sun many times. I wanted you all to see there is no over-loading of the signal on this sensor.
No global-shutter switch enabled in the camera, but the sensor seems to read very fast. When panned quickly I saw barely any jello effect. I did not do any flash tests to see if the image will band.
Arri Log – C or 4.6K BMD LUT
I decided to test the 4.6K’s color against what has become a sort of standard, the Arri Alexa. No I didn’t shoot the two cameras side-by-side. What I did do was use each manufacturer’s LUT on 4K ProRes HQ footage. It really comes down to a choice of preference, which surprised me. Arri Log-C definitely added a touch more contrast and mid-tone saturation to the image, but if color correcting in Resolve I think it would be very easy to bring the footage back into range. I can see reason to use either LUT, because this choice really comes down to style.
Alexa Log c to rec709
Arri Log-C Color
I did do a shoot with a different EVF. An EVF which comes pre-loaded with an Arri Log-C to Rec 709 LUT. You know those shoots where whatever you shoot looks amazing and the experience is near pure joy.? The combo of this EVF and the 4.6K URSA Mini gave me that feeling. I could point the camera at anything and it looked amazing. But, what about in post? Did using an Arri Log-C push my raw 4.6K footage into an un-usable range? Not at all. When I took the footage through Resolve it was as if I had pulled the film one stop – remember shooting film? The raw footage was a half to one stop over exposed… probably closer to Exposing To The Right – “ETTR” kind of shoot than a full stop over-exposed. But, here’s what is cool. In Resolve the raw footage has incredible latitude and a ton of information at the top end.
All I needed to do was re-align the whites to white and the blacks to black and the rest of the image fell into place. There also appeared to be more mid-tone saturation to the Arr Log-C LUT. Is all of this something you could do in Resolve. Absolutely, a colorist could easily match 4.6K footage to Arri footage. At least, in this down and dirty test it appears so.
Will It Fit On A Ronin
Yes, the 4.6K USRA Mini will fit on an un-modified Ronin, but just barely, and only with a small light-weight prime lens on the front. I think one could extend the arms of a Ronin and the URSA Mini could fly with larger lenses. If you’re thinking about putting the camera on a gimbal you better start working out. I shoot with the Cinema Camera on a Ronin everyday and I could feel the URSA Mini on the Ronin was giving me a good workout and my endurance was considerably less.
Personally, I wouldn’t shoot all day with a URSA Mini on a Ronin without multiple operators or a rig to assist with carrying the weight of the camera and Ronin. No reason to blow out your shoulders if you don’t need to.
Fixed Pattern Noise at 1600 ISO
I was a little disappointed to see some Fixed Pattern Noise at 1600 ISO when shooting in extreme low-light. Is it as bad as the original 4K URSA or 4K Production Camera? No it isn’t. Will we see Blackmagic update firmware to alleviate this slight FPN problem? I’d bet money on it. For now, I think it is best to shoot the 4.6K at 800 ISO and no higher. I’m keeping the image of the moon found below large so you can see what I’m talking about when it comes to FPN. Remember, this is meant to be a stress test. I purposely pushed the sensor as far as I could. When I saw the footage on my computer I decided to lift the exposure in post so I could better show you the FPN.
In 2K, when the sensor is windowed, the FPN becomes more apparent in the blacks. In the trees, of the moon shot, there is some FPN in the deep shadow. In the color correction I was able to hide some of it with Noise Reduction and primary grades. In the end, I think most of the FPN can be graded out. When the blacks are crushed a little bit the FPN becomes mostly hidden. Remember… this was an extreme test.
4.6K = Huge Files?
Not anymore than expected. The 4.6K comes with not only raw recording, that Blackmagic does so well, but with a 3:1 raw and a 4:1 raw recording. So you can keep some of those file sizes “reasonable.” On the other hand, if you are already a Blackmagic shooter than you’ve probably gotten used to larger files. Remember when we thought 2.5K raw produced unnecessarily large files?
This is a great camera. Blackmagic has a way of releasing a camera without all of the features in it. They did what we’ve come to expect. They get right the biggest features first: 15 stops of dynamic range, larger sensor, ergonomic camera, and great color science. Where I think they will deliver at a later time is improving the details: FPN cleaned up at 1600ISO, More available frame options; 4×3 Anamorphic… (pretty please), and Function buttons enabled. The good clearly out weighs the “wait and see” for me.
What is really promising is how great the 4.6K URSA Mini is right out of the gate. As time goes by this camera will continue to improve and become a great tool for shooters. Now, I’m even more interested with how the liquid cooled 4.6K URSA, the big boy, will handle the sensor. I think the beefier processing and better cooling system will be a great combo. For $1995 URSA owners should be buying this sensor in mass. It is too great to pass up at such a low cost. Parting thoughts, I think Blackmagic has a hit of a camera on their hands.