While at NAB Show 2016 I got my hands on my buddy Bart Johnson's (Bart Johnson Productions LLC) Black Magic Design URSA Mini 4.6K cinema camera while we were out at Fremont Street to put it through some tests with Nate Brubaker of Rock Shore Media.
If you have ever been to Fremont, you know that the lighting conditions here are harsh to cameras, so we figured this would be a good place to put the camera through its paces. What we found was that the camera does create great images, but there are also some downfalls.
Overall the design of the camera is really nice. The URSA Mini is much lighter than its predecessor, the full size URSA. There are two versions of the URSA Mini, the 4K and 4.6K. We were shooting on the 4.6K which has a better sensor than the 4K, not just in resolution, but in dynamic range as well.
The built in monitor on the camera is really great. It is bright, sharp, and does relatively well in daylight for visibility. My only slight complaint was that it was very stiff to move, but I am sure that was due to the camera being brand new and it should loosen up with further use.
The button arrangement on the camera is good, everything was very easy to access. My only frustration was that I had to look at the side of the camera to find the record button when I wanted to start or stop recording.
We were shooting with a Wooden Camera top handle which made handheld shooting really nice on the camera. The handle mounted in a way that gave the camera a really nice natural balance in hand.
There was only one REALLY huge flaw with the overall design, but it is something Black Magic could easily fix. The flaw has to do with the Operating System (OS) of the camera. We started the night filming at 4K Prores 422, but of course wanted to get at least one test shot in RAW.
So I popped the camera into RAW and filmed one shot then without changing anything else set the codec back to Prores 422. In my haste I did not notice the automatic change that occurred. The camera automatically set us to 1080p instead of 4K. We went on to film a bunch of shots in 1080 rather than 4K until Bart noticed the change.
We went back and tested and sure enough it was due to the camera auto changing resolutions that we ended up in 1080. So Black Magic if you're reading this, fix that right away!
The other thing is that this thing shoots to CFast cards, which as we all know, are insanely expensive. To get enough memory to really feel safe shooting on this thing would cost almost as much as the camera.
But by using CFast cards instead of solid state drives like other cameras in the Black Magic lineup, this gives the camera a pretty sweet feature of dual memory slots.
So overall, the design of the camera is prettygood.
Now we get into the really important part, the images that come out of the camera. From the test that we did, I have to say the image quality is nice. We were shooting at 1600asa on an f4 lens at 4K in Prores 422. Let's go ahead and watch the footage we shot.
The first thing that I noticed when taking the footage into post was not the magenta color issue everyone else has noticed, but the Fixed Pattern Noise (FPN) that I could see faintly in every single shot.
While we were shooting at 1600asa and Black Magic cameras are not known for their lowlight abilities, it was disappointing to see the FPN. I personally own the Pocket Cinema Camera and although it gets noisy at 1600asa, it doesn't have such a problem with FPN.
I was most disappointed about this simply because Black Magic cameras have such a great ability to create filmic noise that is more similar to grain, but FPN is always ugly.
So to try to remedy this, I used a high contrast, pretty harsh Lut/grade that actually did help to reduce the visibility of the FPN pretty well. In the end, I was actually pretty happy with the footage once it had been colored.
But here is where I really ran into an issue. I shot a single clip in RAW on the camera which should be the best image quality out of the bunch for color and lack of noise. Instead, this clip has the most obvious noise that didn't go away with the same color grade used on the rest of the shots. It also showed off the magenta issue reaaaaally badly. See the examples below. Click on the images to see them full size.
The colored image above is using the exact same color grade as the similar shot that was filmed in Prores. As you can see, the color difference is exponentially different. Not only does the uncolored RAW image show up as really red, but it becomes even more noticeable when colored.
The best part of the image quality that I noticed was how it handled skin even in such harsh lighting conditions. Even with the high contrast grade that I used, including my favorite Kodachrome emulating Lut, skin looks good across all the lighting conditions.
See the below images of a performer under different lights Click on images to view full size.
Also, the images coming out of this camera are very sharp without getting into the realm of being too sharp and digital looking. Proof of how good the image sharpness is is that even though we shot a lot of footage at 1080p, I was able to upres it to 4K and it seamlessly blended with the 4K footage on a 4K timeline.
The final flaw that we ran into was yet another when shooting in RAW....we had skipped frames. Both myself and Bart tested the RAW shot in Premiere Pro and both ended up with skipped frames.
I tried to open the clip in Resolve to test it but Resolve didn't want to recognize the file as a video, instead the individual dng files showed up. I'm guessing this might have been due to the missing frames, but I am unsure as I honestly didn't bother troubleshooting.
The URSA Mini 4.6K has a lot of potential. I think that with future firmware upgrades and proper lighting conditions, this thing can create absolutely, stunningly, phenomenal images. But as of right now, it has a little ways to go.
In regards to the use of CFast cards though, there are was a new product that Bart tested at NAB Show that uses dual dummy cards to output to a solid state recorder. Depending on the cost of this adapter, this could be a great option to bring the down the overall cost of the camera and put it in the realm of affordability.
To check out all of the tech reviews and information Bart has, pop over to his YouTube Channel Bart Johnson Productions.
For more of Nate Brubaker's work, check out his website rockshoremedia.com
Alan Meyer is an experienced cinematographer, but is no stranger to writing.