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17 Mar 2017

It’s a kinda magic… The Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro review

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The Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro: Add all the bells and whistles you need and you get a lot of camera for around $9K The Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro: Add all the bells and whistles you need and you get a lot of camera for around $9K Blackmagic Design

Index

Blackmagic has an excellent reputation for incorporating user feedback into the latest iterations of its cameras and, with the addition of NDI filters and some really well thought-out ergonomics, the $6000 Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro carries on the tradition. All in all, it is a lot of camera for the money.

Like all companies that make progress, the design of the cameras from Blackmagic has matured. First came the Ursa, the company’s first attempt at a more traditional form factor. This wasn’t without its quirks, and the sheer weight of it was offputting to some. BMD answered this criticism with the Ursa Mini; a camera that offered very similar performance, but in a much lighter, more compact form. BMD had its winner.

Again, though, the Ursa Mini wasn’t without its idiosyncrasies. If only the controls were more accessible, and if only it could have built in ND filters. Then we would have had the perfect camera.

It’s all about evolution and, now we have the Ursa Mini Pro. Place the new Pro version next to the original Ursa Mini, and you can certainly see where the ‘pro’ aspect comes in. Looked at separately and the changes look superficial. Looking at the two at the same time, and the original Mini looks basic in comparison.

Like all Blackmagic cameras, the Ursa Mini Pro is built to last. At 2.3kg for the body, it is only fractionally heavier than one of its closest rivals but feels much better built, with an all-metal chassis and body. Aesthetically it looks great too. So, what’s changed about this version of the Ursa Mini over previous iterations?

NDI Filters

One of the most requested features is up front. The ND filters. These are available in steps of clear, 2 stops, 4 stops, and 6 stops. Much to my relief these are also IR filtered as well and didn’t look to produce any noticeable colour cast during use.

The next thing you notice is the number of both rocker switches and buttons. There are three rocker switches up front, which cycle individually through functions such as ISO, Shutter, and White Balance. Along with the all-important record button, and assignable function buttons, these are all located right where you can access them when operating off the shoulder. A large iris control dial is also close by for DSLR style lens operation. There is also a rocker switch to turn the camera on and off (though if for some reason the switch breaks you can still turn the camera on and off by holding down the Rec and skip forward buttons behind the flip-out LCD).

Blackmagic-Ursa-Mini-Pro-5.jpg

On the Mini Pro, that was a 4” display compared with a 5” version on the previous cameras. On preceding versions of the Ursa, this display could get in the way because some important controls such as audio volume control, could not be accessed when it was closed up. The Mini Pro changes all that by featuring a separate display on the outside that shows VU meters, timecode, frame rate, external and internal timecode, and other important information at a glance. This display also features selectable backlight levels to make viewing it easier in different lighting conditions.

This is a huge step forward for the Ursa design. Rotary dials to control audio levels are also present to hand. Like the previous cameras, these have no hard stops and infinitely rotate.

Open the LCD out, and you have access to two CFast and two SD card slots, and audio input selections amongst other things.

Blackmagic-Ursa-Mini-Pro-4.jpg

How does it stack up in use?

Startup time for the Ursa Mini Pro is between 3 to 5 seconds, so it isn’t instantaneous. The monitoring touchscreen LCD is bright and easy to see, and to judge focus on. While the provided 1080p OLED viewfinder was also very clear and pleasing to use. I found one niggling foible with regard to the use of the OLED viewfinder, which may be a small bug in the firmware. The viewfinder can have the camera information fed to it by turning the display information on through the front SDI port. If I relied on the OLED display itself to provide the current settings information rather than turning on the “status text” output for the front SDI port, then the OLED gave me the wrong shutter speed in HFR modes. So make sure that you have the “status text” output set to on for the front SDI port until this bug is quashed.

Using this version of the Ursa Mini compared to the previous model is a lot more convenient. The simple addition of ND filters allows things to move along at a less fussy pace, and operating off the shoulder is finally fun. A large accessible clickable rotary dial also allows lots of the camera settings such as framerate, zebra levels, and much more to be adjusted on the fly without needing to take the camera down.

Incidentally, the camera with the supplied Sigma 18-35mm lens was nicely balanced while shoulder-mounted. The comparative lightness of the camera means that fatigue should be rare. The important buttons and switches are to hand, and make a positive movement and click when pressed.

One thing that I liked about the OLED viewfinder was its adjustability. It can be made to slide out quite a way; enough in fact that I am sure that left eyed operators might finally have a solution that works for them. While the optional shoulder-mount does not have a quick release slide mechanism, the unit can be unbolted and placed much further fore and aft to allow balancing with heavier or lighter lenses.

One small issue is that the main LCD monitor display still cannot be rotated 180 degrees, and, at some angles, it can obscure some of the operational buttons and controls on the side of the camera.

Power consumption was pretty good. With a 95w/h IDX Enduro giving roughly 2hrs operating time give or take. The Mini Pro can record to either CFast 2.0 or SDXC cards, which is a welcome feature, given the cost of CFast 2.0 cards —. especially when you consider that 128GB, even in Raw 3:1 mode at full 4.6K resolution, will only get you 12 minutes of recording at 23.98p. To flip between the two recording media types you need to flick a tiny switch near the top of the card slots.

The addition of SD card recording is a welcome one. But how much this will save you on recording media costs will depend on exactly what you want to record onto them. In order to get the best from the Ursa Mini Pro, you will need the top-end UHSII cards, and this may not be as economical as you might think.



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Simon Wyndham

Simon Wyndham is a professional cameraman of over 15 years, video editor, and all round on set grunt. With a background in indy feature making, when he isn't producing bread and butter corporate videos he can be found hucking the gnar on rivers whitewater kayaking and adventure sports filming.  (Website: http:// www.5ep.co.uk)

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