Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2. Bridging the gap between cinema and TV.
Lab test performed by Carlos Medina, Audiovisual Technology and Camera Expert and Advisor.
In 2002, the film Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, (a project by American filmmaker George Lucas), which was fully shot digitally, marked the first steps in industrial convergence of the audiovisual sector towards digital technology. That date should be highlighted on many accounts, and particularly as it crossed the line existing between two professional areas as cinema and television. Both were quite distinct in a time when image capture and handling processes were still analogue.
With the presentation of the URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 camera in the industry (March 2019), manufacturer Blackmagic contributed its bit towards more evident convergence and unification of results (in terms of images achieved) both for the world of cinema and television production environments.
Blackmagic has succeeded in interpreting the changes taking place in audiovisual production and the demands viewers themselves are making now. Thus, a great opportunity for URSA Mini Pro 4.6 G2, a camera catering to the needs of today’s audiovisual market.
This is the update of one of Blackmagic’s product ranges born in NAB 2014 under the URSA name, which saw its first variant in the successful URSA Mini Pro. Therefore, it is easy to see this manufacturer’s evolution towards a more compact, lightweight, professional camera featuring enhanced technical performance. URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 is the second generation of URSA Mini Pro.
URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 is a digital, modular-body, CTV (cinema & television) camera that weights 2.30kg (about 5 lbs). It is robust and features interchangeable optics. It must be pointed out that it finds its natural place in cinema production processes (take-to-take shooting) and in TV (multi-camera programs). But it is harder for this device to make headway in the field of street side features or news features for two main reasons: number one being the weight of the body, which a whole range of gadgets must be attached to in order for this camera to reach full operating and handling capabilities. And number two, the placement of access buttons on the camera does not offer immediate response in situations where an ENG (electronic reporting) recording can be found.
This was first noticed when we received the camera (in an airtight case) to get a closer look to its performance and technical data. Included together with the camera’s body was a Sigma 18-35mm 1:1.8 DC optic with EF mount. But we must mention that URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 has also versions for PL, B4 or F mounts, which definitely opens up countless optical possibilities and therefore allows inclusion of this camera in cinema shooting and TV recording processes.
The camera can control the optics either by means of the electronic connections existing between mount and lens (for EF type) or a 12-pin Hirose connector for supported lenses (mainly with B4 mounts).
As it features modular construction and design, we must include several accessories that boost the camera’s performance and, therefore, provide better operating capabilities for recording.
First of all: viewfinders. They are connected through SDI 3G (FHD output) and 12V (4-pin XLR) power supply offered in the camera’s own body. The operator’s side eyepiece (URSA Viewfinder) must be attached on the top handle. This is a FHD high-resolution viewfinder featuring an OLED display and image frame rate up to 60 f/s, 24-bit RGB color precision, adjustable diopters (-4/+3), a built-in activation sensor that switches the camera on when the operator approaches to look, a tally that activates while recording is in progress and buttons/shortcuts for adjustment modification; on the other hand -although we were not able to test this feature- it comes with a 7-inch studio viewfinder (URSA Studio Viewfinder) with large buttons and knobs that enable mobility and angle degrees catering to the needs of any operator and very fast, accurate responses (tally light or sunscreen) for any professional live production. The studio viewfinder is directly mounted on the camera’s top.
Attaching a battery adaptor is also a requirement: with V-lock base or Gold-Mount base, which provide full compatibility for the various power supply solutions offered by other manufactures.
An essential requirement in URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 is placing the handle on the top area (on 1/4-inch holes) for an easier grasp and handling. Also found on the lower side of the camera’s body there are 6.35 mm threaded holes for direct mounting on a tripod, or even for placing a shoulder pad –by means of universal rosettes and rail mounts- enabling fast camera release from the tripod. On the right-hand side, a side rosette allows attachment of a handgrip or an extension bracket for on-shoulder camera operation.
Once everything relating accessories to attach to the camera’s body has been arranged, we must point out that this model is not hard to understand or operate. On the front side we have the lens mount for attaching the lens most appropriate to the task at hand, a button for auto W/B and, worth noting, a ND filter knob providing four options: transparent, 2-step, 4-step and 6-step (0.6, 1.2, 1.8 or 1/4, 1/16, 1/64, respectively). These ND filters are of excellent quality and feature infrared offsetting, being essential for solving adverse lighting situations such as daylight in outdoor environments.
On the left-hand side, there is a large knob for camera menu access along with the ISO adjustments, shutter and white balance shortcuts; two fast-access buttons; a further button for HFR mode activation and, of course, a side REC button for easier recording processes. This side’s upper area has the must-have On/Off button (the camera takes about 10 seconds to be ready).
Blackmagic’s decision to provide enhanced use to the customary foldaway displays placed on the back of this left-hand side seems a smart move to us. In this model, the outward side of this screen offers operators a back-lit status display (with brightness adjustment for daytime and night-time recordings) providing information on the camera and on current recording (fps, ISO, Iris, shutter angle, white balance, TC, storage card enabled, battery level, audio input level), as well as audio input control (CH1/3 and CH2/4) and a monaural loudspeaker.
The foldaway screen itself is a 4-inch LCD tilting, capacitive touch-screen showing the object of our framing that displays camera details or nothing (clean display), camera menu navigation items, and offers the possibility of viewing material already recorded through very simple operations either by touching or sliding our finger on the screen.
Once the foldaway display is open we find inside the camera body another access button to the REC function, the sound input control (MIC, LINE, AES, 48V power supply in input 1 and/or input 2), a menu access button and other buttons for playing, pausing and shifting through recorded media.
A restrained, moderate design, conceived for quiet jobs that allow some time for configuring the camera. For that reason, the back side of the camera features a spot for fitting the battery adaptor base, a connector for main external supply (4-pin / 12-20V) three BNC connectors (SDI-12G out, SDI-12G and REf. In / TC In), as well as an audio jack for headphones (3.5 mm minijack connector). On the right-hand side the camera has the already mentioned universal rosette, a SDI Out connector and a 12V Out connector (additional power supply) for the camera’s viewfinder or a studio viewfinder, and a LANC connector and a multipin connection for control of professional lenses. On the top side of the camera, 1/4″ holes for handle mounting, a stereo built-in microphone on the front and two XLR3 connections for professional (24-bit 48 kHz) audio recording on the back.
What we have seen so far is only a camera body showing the identifying traits of manufacturer Blackmagic: robust equipment built with sturdy materials -a magnesium alloy- capable of facing any shooting or recording situation: operating temperatures between 0ºC and 40ºC and relative humidity between 0% and 90% without condensation. And then, what else does the URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 have? We can clearly answer this question by two words: technology and quality.
URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 features a Super35 sensor (25.34 mm x 14.25 mm) that provides high resolution levels and leaves SD quality far behind. Thus, 4.6K (4608 x 2592 pixels) 4.6K 2.4:1 (4608 x 1920), 4K 16:9 (4096 x 2304), 4K DCI (4096 x 2160), UHD (3840 x 2160), 3K Anamorphic (3072 x 2560), 2K 16:9 (2048 x 1152) 2K DCI (2048 x 1080) y FHD (1920 x 1080) are achieved. It implements current innovations such as HDR and HFR which, in combination with the possibility offered by this model to store output in Blackmagic’s proprietary RAW codec (BRAW) and the Film (log curve) mode, enable us to achieve a 15-step dynamic range when performing color grading and correction.
A camera must target two issues: facilitating the operator’s work and achieving professional levels in technical parameters such as resolution, colorimetry, sensitivity, and video signal response level as obtained in various shooting and recording situations. This is why this model has a native ISO value of 3200 and enables achieving a wider color range than the Rec. 2020 space.
Blackmagic is firmly committed towards providing both technology and quality at a very competitive price, in the knowledge that the audiovisual industry includes several stages -from capture to marketing of content- in a market where viewers expect (and pay for) the best story and the highest quality standards possible regarding both image and sound. This is the assumption under which Blackmagic has developed URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 and attained nothing less that Netflix Post Technology Alliance (PTA) certified quality.
In the first place, RAW recording, more specifically supporting the Blackmagic’s proprietary RAW (BRAW) codec, showcased in IBC 2018. By now perfectly established in the audiovisual sector, this is a 12-bit multiplatform codec that succeeds in keeping both quality and metadata generated in a recording in a manageable, compatible, compact file for trouble-free editing and/or color grading, thus minimizing processing times involved in RAW files.
URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 is capable of generating several types of BRAW codecs, depending on whether we will go for Constant Bitrate (3.1; 5:1, 8:1, 12:1) or Constant Quality (Q0 and Q5). And let us remind that Blackmagic generates another file named “.sidecar”, an editable text file stored in the same folder as the BRAW file and containing all metadata (color, ISO, gamma, optical data…) for the relevant recording.
Secondly, being able to complete the image production process by using one of the most relevant, well-established software programs for editing, color correction and color grading: DaVinci Resolve Studio.
But we can also generate Apple ProRes QuickTime files in various compression settings: XQ, 444, 422 HQ, 422, 422 LT and 422 Proxy, in combination with all image resolutions supported by this model and striving towards compatibility of these codecs with the most popular film and TV platforms.
URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 includes two recording slots for CFast 2.0 cards plus an additional two for SD UHS II cards for increased flexibility when it comes to choosing storage media and allowing uninterrupted recording (on-the-fly swapping between full and empty cards without cutting off recordings).
This decision to include such a high number of recording slots could be seen as a disproportionate -or even flawed- effort because of its impact on the camera’s body design or on the final price of the equipment; but in our opinion this is yet a further strength in this model thought out for answering the needs of today’s audiovisual market. CFast 2.0 cards are for recordings made in 12-bit Blackmagic RAW format, which is more commonly used in the film industry; and SD UHS II cards, which are somewhat cheaper, allow for file storage of Blackmagic 5:1, 8:1 or 12:1 RAW files in order to meet the requirements of the highest-quality production in TV environments (series and/or commercials).
And furthermore, this model provides us with a high-speed USB-C expansion port enabling connection of external devices such as flash or SSD units in order to be able to perform longer recordings. This is of vital importance when shooting in 12-bit Blackmagic RAW format without information loss or even at 300 fps image frame rate. Additionally, this model offers the possibility of recording files in 12-bit Blackmagic RAW format (4K and 4.6K) in regular 2.5-inch SSD units, which are faster and more stable. The Blackmagic URSA Mini SSD Recorder is directly fitted on the rear of the camera, between the body and the battery, and works through a SDI connection supporting 6G. As for HFR recording possibilities (by means of a shortcut button) recording in BRAW 8:1 at 4.6K can be achieved by using the sensor’s entire area up to 120 fps, whereas if we decrease it to 4K DCI it can reach up to 150 fps or 300 fps in 1080 FHD. If the ProRes 422HQ codec is used at 4.6K taking up the sensor’s whole area 120 fps are reached, while at 4K DCI frame rate can reach 120 fps; and with 1080 FHD, up to 240 fps.
This model excels in offering images in varying types of dynamic range: Film mode enables shooting content by using a 15-step dynamic range log curve; Video mode under the proprietary REC 709 standard for FHD images for TV, where quick delivery of content takes precedence over post-production processes; and the Extended Video mode, a well-balanced solution between the two above-mentioned modes.
It allows the possibility of importing, exporting and applying LUT conversion tables to the signal conveyed by the camera. These are only used as a preview tool and do not modify the material recorded in storage media. Includes 4.6K Film to Extended Video, 4.6K Film to Video, 4.6K Film to REC 2020 Hybrid Log Gamma and 4.6K to REC 2020 PQ Gamma (recommended for efficient coding of HDR images).
With such a huge amount of data, combinations of available resolutions and codecs as well as metadata, we embarked on the recording of different scenarios -always outdoors, as we must face variables that are less easy to control- to test the response levels of URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2. The material was stored in a 256 GB CFast 2.0 AV Pro CF card and viewed in DaVinci Resolve. Outcomes were highly positive in all possible combination, but worth highlighting is the strongly favorable and committed response obtained through BRAW 8:1 and the visual show offered by a change up to 300 fps (FHD quality).
Last, connectivity provided by this Blackmagic model is also worth mentioning. The camera features a rear BNC output in a single 12G SDI cable capable of transferring 2160p 60 images and support for SDI 6G, SDI 3G and SDI HD. On the right-hand side, a SDI 3G connection that offers only FHD. It is equipped with Bluetooth technology that allows transmission and reception of commands from a distance of up to nine meters through a tablet or a smartphone.
URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 means technology and quality at disposal of camera operators. We have already mentioned that the camera’s body comes with just the necessary elements for answering to operation and recording needs. Along the same lines is the simplicity of the camera’s menu and navigation between the various items and parameters. The menu features six main items: RECORD (which in turn allows access to three configuration sections: CODEC AND QUALITY -BRAW and ProRes-); DYNAMIC RANGE and TIMELAPSE); MONITOR (with two sections); AUDIO (two sections); SETUP (five sections); PRESETS and LUTS (two sections).
In our opinion, the possibility of being able to activate by touch the parameters shown on the image in the foldaway screen is a truly fast and effective feature. Access to FPS, shutter, Iris, ISO, WB, TINT and monitoring options, for example. Some parameters to consider when configuring the camera are: FRAME GUIDES: 4:3, 14:9, 16:9, 1.85:1, 2:1,2.35:1, 2.39:1, 2.40:1; Focus Color: Red/Green/Blue/White/ Black; Zebra levels: 100%, 75%, 80%, 85%, 90%; 95%; WB (2500ºk to 10.000ºK); ISO (220 to 3200); SHUTTER (1/50 to 1/2000) timelapse (number of frames to capture and time interval for the recording).
As for metadata, information is stored relating the camera’s technical configuration together with data shared with professional optics (automatic data in EF, B4 and PL lenses supporting i/Technology) and digital clapperboard data like project name, director, camera operator, and especially clip details such as reel, scene and take numbers or special notes (indoors/outdoors, day/night…).
URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 does not limit creativity and is no obstacle for undertaking film or TV projects. This is a camera ready for both work environments where the difference lies only in shooting/recording dynamics and professional profiles shaping the audiovisual content.