by BEAU ROSARIO
About a month or so ago, we shot a new real estate video for PMC Property Group in Inner Harbor, Baltimore.
We had the pleasure of using our dear friend's (Chris Cole) Blackmagic URSA Mini 4K. (Our URSA Mini 4.6K was still not shipping at the time, but we've been anxious to take this beast for a ride.)
For you video people out there, we shot in 4K RAW, graded the footage with Adobe Lightroom, transcoded the footage with Adobe After Effects, did our initial cutwork in Adobe Premiere, audio in Adobe Audition, and sent it back to After Effects for compositing/SFX.
We chose Lightroom over Blackmagic's own DaVinci Resolve because we were so OCD about the color accuracy of this footage; it's easy to grade something to look good, but it's hard to grade something to look exactly how it does in real life. If you'd like to get more details about our Lightroom-based post-production process, just shoot us an email. A more detailed camera review is below the video.
Anyway, here's what we got. Watch in the highest resolution your internet will allow, please! :)
I'll start off by saying that the URSA Mini 4K is by far the best $3K camera I've ever touched. For the price, it simply can't be beat. Again, that's for that price. It's not a perfect camera, by any means.
The camera is a great weight- not too heavy like some of those loaded RED's, and not too light like the a7s or other mirrorless cameras (at least, I've found their lack of weight to be really annoying to work with, but I guess that's preference.) Actually holding the camera, however, is a little awkward. Out of the box, the camera lacks a top-mounted handle of any sort, and will cost you an extra $400 to get one. Unfortunately, there's really no natural way to hand-hold the camera without that additional handle/shoulder mount package.
Though it doesn't have a top-handle, it does have a side-mounted handle with built-in LANC features. It's pretty awesome, but the camera is too heavy to hold with just your right hand- and that wouldn't be very stable anyway.
The flip-out screen is well-placed, and with buttons on both the outside and inside, it's practical for any production setup. I don't know that the screen is IPS, but it does have excellent viewing angles.
The CFast card slots are easily accessible, the audio jacks are top-mounted (which makes sense due to where most of us mount our mics) and the SDI ports are face back, next to the battery plate, just like a broadcast camera.
This camera will fit on a DJI Ronin, but you'll need an external monitor. That's where those SDI ports will come in handy.
I, personally, don't like it when there aren't tactile buttons for basic functions. The ISO and the White Balance are both hidden in the Menu in the touch screen interface, and cannot be changed with the camera's tactile buttons. (That's an annoying downside to me.)
This is where I feel like the URSA Mini 4K excels... It has SDI input and output, it has 12V power input and output, has a standard LANC port, headphone jack for monitoring, stereo XLR inputs, and most importantly, it allows for different battery mount plates to be attached. (The one we use is a V-Mount battery plate, but the Mini's universal power cabling allows for other types of batteries.)
The 2nd biggest downside (more on the first in a bit) to the Mini is it's use of CFast cards. For those who are familiar, CFast cards are incredibly expensive- CFast cards can cost $2-3 per gigabyte, compared to SD's approx $0.30 per gig. One solution for the Mini is in production here.
Out of the box, it only comes with an AC power supply. In order to use a battery of any kind, you must first buy the appropriate mounting plate ($100-200) and then buy the battery from a third party, which is easily another couple hundred dollars.
The image quality, sharpness, and color flexibility is impressive, to say the least. It includes a number of ProRes profiles including the all-powerful ProRes 4444 XQ. The color from the CinemaDNG RAW files were almost as malleable as those from a Canon DSLR. It gives filmmakers a lot of versatility, especially when short on file storage, since it gives you a variety of ProRes flavors to keep file sizes down, or to get the quality and flexibility you're looking for.
It's Super 35 format, which means that some of you switching from 5DII's and other full-frames will have to get used to the much tighter frames, but that's any production-level camera.
The single biggest issue I have with this camera is it's low-light performance. At ISO 200, the image is clean. At ISO 400, the image is acceptable. At ISO 800, the noise renders the image unusable. At ISO 1600, the image is... Wait, there's no ISO 1600. Yep, you heard correctly, it doesn't even go above 800.* My old Rebel T2i goes up to 6400, and this "production-level" camera doesn't break 800? It would be one thing if the 800 was at least halfway decent, but it's not, and it makes this camera unusable in not-perfect lighting scenarios. Even with full control of our environment in the real estate video, we had many issues just because of the 800 noise level. NeatVideo ended up being our best friend, but while that works well for smooth, single-colored interior walls, it won't work so hot with skin or finely detailed images.
*The URSA Mini 4.6K does go up to 1600, and it is slightly better in low light. But, still, it's no C300.
White balancing was a little tricky, not just because of the function's lack of tactile buttons, but because everything has a slight green tinge to it. Again, it's not a huge problem because of the files' color flexibility.
The biggest upside to this camera, in my opinion, is the Dynamic range. At 12 stops, it's pretty great. However, the real impressive spec is in the 4.6K model- 15 whopping stops of dynamic range. You won't see that in this real estate video, because that was shot on the 4K, but we'll update this with some test footage soon.
There are a variety of frame rate/resolution options, but in short:
The Mini 4K can do 4K ProRes footage up to 60fps, or 1080 CinemaDNG footage up to 60fps- not both at the same time though. The camera can not top 60fps in any setting, though. However, the 4.6K model can reach 120fps in 4.6K ProRes, according to the manual. (We tested this, and can't seem to find this option in the 4.6K model- only at 1080p... Maybe we need a firmware upgrade? We'll see.)
Dual Card mode- super helpful, Google it if you don't know what it is.
The camera also has a built-in Intervalometer, which is great for all of you timelapse-junkies out there. Zebras, frame guides/overlays, and audio levels help to monitor your content. You also have control for the overlays of just the SDI peripherals.
For audio, the camera also has built-in Low Cut filter options, manual levels, a mic Level Padding feature, and Phantom Power.
The Mini allows you to format with exFAT or HFS+ card types, (exFAT for Windows and Mac, and HFS+ for just Mac, which gives you a higher chance at file recovery if a card were to fail.)
One big pain is that you cannot delete files in camera. The reason they do that is because of it's RAW capabilities- since RAW video is recorded in CinemaDNG here, deleting a CinemaDNG file is like trying to delete a folder of RAW stills, and it runs a high risk of corrupting other files or the whole card.
The Blackmagic URSA Mini is an excellent production camera, that will give you best-bang-for-your-buck images with the right lighting. It's versatile on the inside, but will probably need accessories to make it's use realistic. Even after the high expenses of CFast cards, V-Mount batteries, shoulder mounts/stabilization, it's still a very impressive camera for your total costs. Dynamic range, color, and good ergonomics are it's strong points, and it's low-light performance and it's accessory/storage costs are it's primary weak points.
In this case, though, I'd say the good outweigh the bad- for either the 4K or 4.6K models. I'd say the 4K is worth it's $3,000 price tag, and the 4.6K is even more worth $5,000.
Though this review is primarily on the 4K model, this bad boy (below) just showed up on our doorstep yesterday, so we should have more to post on this later!