Blackmagic Design URSA Mini

It’s NAB time again, when filmmakers gather to drool over the latest and greatest offerings from companies around the world. This will keep us filmmakers busy for a few weeks, so let’s kick off with a company that been making waves in camera development for years: Blackmagic Design.

Blackmagic Design came on to the scene by first introducing an inexpensive, high dynamic range 2.5k raw shooting camera, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. Blackmagic then followed it up with the Pocket Cinema Camera and the 4k Production Camera.

One of the primary complaints about the Cinema and Production cameras was the odd form factor – it seemed people didn’t really want just a sensor in a box. So last year Blackmagic introduced the URSA, an upgradable bear of a camera (pun intended) that, while a large and heavy camera, is capable of 4k shooting with a global shutter.

How can Blackmagic improve on the URSA?

Blackmagic Design URSA Mini

Blackmagic Design URSA Mini

Blackmagic announced the new URSA Mini. And while it is designed to be smaller and lighter then the original URSA, it is not at all lacking in teeth.

It seems that Blackmagic Design is always listening to their consumers. The design of the URSA Mini is a far cry from the simple box of the Cinema Camera. It has a substantial body and removable, rotatable side handle that brings to mind the design of the Canon EOS Cinema series – Which have great ergonomics.

But what about the specs?

The URSA Mini touts a new 4.6k sensor. And the sensor can reportedly record 15 stops(!) of dynamic range in rolling shutter mode. And it can also switch to a global shutter mode at the cost of a few stops of range.

The option to switch can let you maximize your dynamic range in slow moving shots but avoid “jelly cam” when you need it. I’m always in favor of options. The ability to shoot 60 FPS at 4k is also great – it might not be much slow motion, but sometimes it’s all that you need.

There are some drawbacks to the URSA Mini, too. Using CFast cards is a good choice, but they are still extremely expensive (although prices are always coming down). And while the large (5 inch) viewscreen is good, if you want to carry the URSA Mini on you should (news-style) you’ll need to buy a shoulder rig ($395) and a viewfinder ($1,495). Accessories add up fast – including, for example, a v-mount plate for battery mounting ($95).

The Good of the URSA Mini:
– Super 35 sensor size
– Four models: 4k and 4.6k sensors in both EF and PL lens mounts
– up to 15 stops of dynamic range
– Selectable global or rolling shutter (at a price)
– up to 60 fps at 4k raw, 160 fps at 1080p
– Multiple recording formats: compressed and uncompressed raw, all flavors of ProRes

The Not So Good of the URSA Mini:
– Records to dual CFast 2.0 cards (good media, but still very expensive)
– No sensor upgrades (unlike URSA)
– EVF and should kit available (for $1,500 and $400, respectively)
– No built in ND filters

In short, if Blackmagic Design keeps up the pace, then the URSA Mini looks like a great addition to Blackmagic’s other camera offerings. Personally, I am more and more impressed with cameras with extended dynamic ranges, and 15 stops is up in RED Epic territory.

Add it together and the cost for the URSA Mini is not bad for low-budget filmmakers who have the post-workflow available for working with raw files.

Recent Blackmagic Design Updates Provide Good News For Filmmakers

Blackmagic Design Updates by Michael Head

Consumers sometimes claim that manufacturers ignore their customers and leave out key features that could be implemented. On one hand, this has led to great programs like the Magic Lantern group for Canon DSLRs – On the other hand, some manufacturers seem to ignore consumer requests and produce cameras each year with only minimal software and hardware updates. However, this cannot be said about Blackmagic Design.

Blackmagic Design has shocked the filmmaking world with a series of low-cost, high quality cameras ranging from the cellphone sized Blackmagic Pocket Camera, through the Cinema Camera, the 4K Production Camera, and the recently released 4K URSA and Studio cameras. So what can Blackmagic Design add now?

Listen to consumers and add in features that make already good products even better.

Blackmagic Design Updates

Blackmagic Design Updates

Blackmagic Design has been rolling out firmware updates rapidly over the last couple of months, and the additions they have offered fall on the spectrum from good to exactly what consumers asked for.

Beginning in late June, Blackmagic Design not only rolled out 4K raw recording for the 4k Production camera, but also improved their already great color science with better debeyering and autofocus on the Cinema camera and more lens support for the Pocket camera.

Only a few weeks later, Blackmagic Design added audio gain control to their family of cameras. While this does not improve the, frankly, poor recording circuits in the cameras, it does give filmmakers options while recording.

Two updates in a few weeks?

That might sound like a lot for some companies. But Blackmagic Design wasn’t finished pulling rabbits out of their hat: instead of only including Prores HQ for non-raw recording, Blackmagic added multiple “flavors” of Prores from 422 Proxy to LT to regular 422 – all of which mean that a filmmaker can choose to save some recording space.

But this still didn’t address two of the seemingly most commonly requested features – displaying remainging recording time and audio meters. But surely after three updates, they were done, right?

Wrong! Blackmagic Design just rolled out firmware update 1.9 for the 4K Production camera.

Not only did this update improve image calibration and add a histogram (an invaluable tool for a DP), but users now can see how much recording time they have left on their cards and see audio meters for monitoring audio coming into the camera. Wow!

But owners of the Cinema camera and Pocket camera looking on longingly at the announcement, until they realized that included in the announcement that their cameras would soon see their own audio meters and remaining recording time.

No one can claim that Blackmagic Design has been gathering moss, and they are definitely still making waves in the filmmaking community.

The production company Status Media & Entertainment is shooting their feature film “Checkmate” on two 4k Production cameras and a Pocket camera. Citing affordability and image quality, director Timothy Woodward Jr said, “we were able to use multiple cameras while staying in budget, which allowed for more coverage and faster shooting.”

Blackmagic Design has been gaining momentum and now it seems Hollywood is taking notice.