The URSA Mini was created to be used on feature films, television shows, commercials, indies, documentaries, music videos and more. With stunning image quality, relatively compact design and customization options for many situations, the URSA Mini will certainly garner a slice of the market.
We had the opportunity to test out the URSA Mini 4K EF mount, which we used to film our coverage of the NABShow 2016. There are several different models available from 4K to 4.6K each in EF, PL mounts and even an optional B4 mount kit, so there is an URSA Mini for everyone. For this review, assume we’re talking about the 4K EF mount model unless otherwise stated.
While shooting at NAB, we had a plethora of curious camera enthusiasts inquiring about how we liked the camera. Our response to them: We love this camera, but we do have some reservations about the situations in which the URSA Mini would best perform.
When it comes to image quality, the URSA Mini packs a punch for its price point. It shoots 4K RAW internally at up to 60 fps, providing absolutely stunning image quality. The global shutter eliminates motion artifacts and flash banding. It has a truly cinematic look and its super 35mm sensor allows for spectacular shallow depth of field with relative ease. It also has a wide 12 stops of dynamic range for impressive flexibility in post. As an added bonus, it comes with Davinci Resolve Studio — normally a $995 software package. However, this is a light-hungry camera and so does not perform well in low-light situations. Having a fast lens available helps mitigate this issue, but won’t eliminate it. At the end of the day, image quality is what matters most, and the URSA Mini excelled in this category.
The most obvious physical feature of the URSA Mini is its design. The Mini, as the name implies, is essentially just a miniaturized version of the full size URSA. If you know the URSA, you understand that “Mini,” in this case, is a relative term, considering the original URSA weighs in at a whopping 16lbs — the URSA Mini is a much more reasonable five pounds. The body is made from advanced magnesium alloys, providing ruggedness as well as a lightweight build and slimming it down to just a third of the weight of the full size URSA. Carrying a camera around for as long as we did, it was nice to have the portability the URSA Mini offers in contrast to the full-sized URSA, not to mention there’s no need to buy an expensive heavy duty tripod as is the case with heavier cameras.
Wherever you take this camera, you’re going to look like a true professional. It doesn’t hurt that it looks pretty cool, too. It’s completely black and looks like a mini-armored vehicle. More than a few people at NAB came up to us while we were shooting wanting to get a peek.
The Mini, as the name implies, is essentially just a miniaturized version of the full size URSA.
There’s plenty of ventilation on the top and bottom of the Mini, and the magnesium body also helps dissipate heat, helping to prevent the URSA Mini from overheating. The Mini provides all the features you’d expect from a full-size cinema camera, only miniaturized to a more compact, lightweight design that allows ease of use for smaller crews and one-person operations.
Super 35 Sensor
The URSA Mini is outfitted with a cinematic Super 35mm image sensor. Both the 4K and 4.6K sensors deliver absolutely gorgeous images. The 4K sensor captures 12 stops of wide dynamic range footage at up to 4000 x 2160 resolution, which surpases most high-end broadcast cameras. The URSA Mini’s sensor is capable of recording raw sensor data in the CinemaDNG format onto CFast 2.0 cards at up to 60 frames per second. The ability to record raw files offers full control while in post-production. However, at a rate of 265MB/s, recording in CinemaDNG RAW can quickly chew through your media cards. The Mini does offer a solution however: RAW 3:1 compression ratio at just 125MB/s. This allows for maximum flexibility in post while getting the most use from your cards. The Film dynamic range setting provides drastically improved images that can be color graded for a stunning cinematic film look. If quicker post-production is necessary, it’s easy to change the setting to use normal video dynamic range, giving you fantastic looking video without the need to spend time in post-production.
If you come from a DSLR background, the short ISO range may be frustrating. There are only three settings: 200, 400, and 800, with ISO 800 being reserved as a last ditch effort. We found substantial noise was introduced at ISO 800, and in some circumstances, there was fixed pattern noise, especially in the deep shadows. We don’t believe this is the case for the 4.6K sensor which has a base ISO of 800, but we didn’t have one to test, so don’t quote us on that.
We also looked into the black-hole sun issue that others experienced with the original URSA where the sun appeared as a black spot whenever it was in frame, but we didn’t experience it with the URSA Mini.
5-inch Foldout Monitor
The 5-inch full HD foldout touchscreen is a very useful feature. The screen provides you with a built-in monitor so you don’t need to carry around your own third-party monitor. The crystal clear display comes in handy when monitoring your shot, allowing you to more easily and accurately check your focus, exposure and composition. There are some assist options you can toggle on and off including histogram, audio meters and LCD overlays like focus peaking. Although the histogram is rather small, making it difficult to determine the peaks at times, we found it to be accurate. The screen folds out 90 degrees and can articulate both up and down by 90 degrees as well. However, it cannot rotate completely around, so on-camera talent monitoring themselves will require an additional external monitor. The screen itself is very bright, but it can still be difficult to see in direct sun. The touchscreen is not only for monitoring, but also for changing camera settings within the menu. The menu is very simple and straightforward, making it easy to quickly change your settings.
One small issue we ran into while operating the URSA Mini as an ENG-type configuration is that we occasionally touched the monitor by mistake when closing the screen and it opened up the metadata display. While this display is open, you’re unable to record. Because we were using a electronic viewfinder, and the metadata screen does not show up on the viewfinder screen, we were perplexed as to why we couldn’t record until we opened up the monitor again only to realize the metadata screen was open. We hope this is addressed in a future firmware update.
You’ll also want to keep some extra microfiber cloths readily available. After all, the monitor is a touchscreen, so you’ll inevitably wind up having fingerprints on your monitor.
One last factor that creates a notable amount of fumbling around is that the only power button is behind the foldout monitor. We found ourselves having to open up the monitor for nothing other than to power the camera off.
High Resolution Viewfinder
Since most of our shooting was done shoulder-mounted or handheld, we employed the use of the optional Blackmagic URSA Viewfinder ($1495). With the viewfinder, you get full HD images, which allow you to more easily and quickly capture accurate focus. Both the viewfinder and the 5-inch foldout monitor provide focus peaking for additional certainty that the correct subject is in focus.
There are also options to turn on false color, black and white and more. A pretty neat feature on the viewfinder is a sensor that turns on the display only while in use. This helps to save battery power as well as extend the life of the OLED screen. Also, without leaving the viewfinder, you’re able to access a display menu. This makes quickly changing the display settings such as black and white, peaking, zebra, zoom or magnify and several other options a breeze.
Side Hand Grip
The URSA Mini comes with a side hand grip which has a record start/stop, iris and focus buttons, as well as a LANC connection. The hand grip mounts via a standard rosette on the side of the camera body. One thing we felt would have been beneficial on the hand grip is a raised dot on the record button so you’re not fumbling around trying to identify it among other controls.
With this set up, you’re able to move around quickly and capture some great shots. The camera, when fully assembled with battery, lens, viewfinder, shoulder mount kit and any additional accessories like a small light or shotgun mic, is too heavy for most people to operate handheld for any substantial amount of time. You could keep a tripod around, but since we wanted to travel light for much of our testing, we opted to use the optional Blackmagic URSA Mini shoulder kit ($395). This allowed our shoulder to carry most of the weight. Although this does make it much more viable to operate the camera for longer days, we still couldn’t find a long-lasting comfortable position using the shoulder kit. You may want to try your luck using a third party rig if you’re shooting without a tripod.
The URSA Mini is outfitted with professional connections throughout its design, and audio is no exception. The Mini is equipped with two XLR inputs with 48V of phantom power, so you’re able to plug in all kinds of professional microphones. The preamps aren’t bad, which could eliminate the need to carry around an external audio recorder. There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack so you can monitor your audio — a must have when relying on a camera’s built-in audio system. On the inside panel, there are two gain knobs, so you can quickly adjust audio levels.
What’s more, you’ll find there are several professional audio options within the menu, such as input levels, -15dB pad and low cut filter, providing much needed flexibility. There’s also an onboard stereo mic, which is good for capturing natural sound, but we feel as if you’re best off using an external mic suited to the recording scenario. One thing we noticed about the built-in mic is that it was picking up some of the sound generated from the nearby exhaust vent on the camera.
The Mini is ready to take on a variety of professional applications, and it has the connections to match. We already mentioned the XLR and headphone jack connections, but there’s much more. There’s a 12G-SDI out and 3G-SDI out, a 12G-SDI in, a reference in / timecode in, 12V main power and 12V accessory power, plus a broadcast lens control connector, and two LANC inputs. With the high speed 12G-SDI, you’re able to plug in the Mini into existing equipment like production switchers, on-set monitors and more. Plus, the 12Gb/s rate is fast enough to handle UHD at 60 frames per second.
The URSA Mini has features found on much heavier and more expensive cameras without sacrificing too much in terms of compact design. It’s highly customizable, which means it can be used in a variety of applications from news gathering to live studio broadcast, documentaries, feature films and more.
We’d recommend this camera for intermediate and advanced experience levels for professionals and more experienced enthusiasts for its usability, ruggedness, high-end features and great price point.
Sensor Size & Type: 22mm x 11.88mm (Super 35)
Video Format: Lossless CinemaDNG RAW and RAW 3:1 with film dynamic range at 4000 x 2160. Apple ProRes XQ, 444, 422 HQ, 422 LT and 422 Proxy at 3840 x 2160 and 1920 x 1080 with either film or video dynamic range.
Resolution & Frame Rate: 4000 x 2160, 3840 x 2160, 920 x 1080, 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94 and 60 fps supported.
Recording Media: 2 x CFAST 2.0
Display Size and Resolution: 1 x 5” LCD capacitive touchscreen 1920 x 1080
Optical Zoom: n/a
Lens: EF Mount
Audio In: 2 x XLR analog switchable between mic and line levels. Phantom power support.
Audio Out: SDI 2 channel
Video Out: 1 x 12G-SDI BNC 10-bit 4:2:2, 1 x 3G-SDI BNC 10-bit 4:2:2
Other Interface: Timecode Input 1 x BNC reference or timecode input
Internal ND: n/a
Shutter Rage: Global Shutter 11.25° – 360°
Shot Assist: Zebra, Peaking, Magnify
Manual Exposure: Yes
Image Stabilization: none
Battery: 4 pin broadcast power connector compatible with most 12V – 30V power supplies.
Range of battery plates: V-Mount, IDX, Frezzi, Anton Bauer.
- Internal 4K RAW
- Great Image Quality
- Professional Connections
- Lightweight & Versatile
- Not the best Ergonomics for run and gun
- Small ISO range
- No Built in ND filter
- May need to purchase 3rd party rig
- Independent Filmmakers
- Corporate Filmmakers
- Jacks of all Trades
The URSA Mini is small for a cinema camera and comes equipped with many professional features found on much larger cameras.
A freelance video producer and director, Devin has produced television advertisements for local and national television markets