Announced last March, Blackmagic Design updated their URSA lineage of versatile digital filmmaking and broadcast cameras with the flagship URSA Mini Pro 4.6K. Building on the three-year-old URSA and the two-year-old URSA Mini by adding an interchangeable lens mount, new ND filtration, SD-card support, and several exterior enhancements, the URSA Mini Pro 4.6K incorporates many of the best features of previous models in the URSA family, like the B4 lens mount for motorized ENG use and remote operation on smaller support systems like drones and gimbals. Prior to using the camera, I spoke with Bob Caniglia, Sr. Regional Manager, Eastern North America at Blackmagic Design, about the reasons behind the changes and Blackmagic’s aims for the URSA system.
S&P: Would you give me a general breakdown on the URSA Mini Pro and the new updates?
Bob Caniglia (BC): The URSA Mini Pro 4.6K is our latest camera entry to the market. This one has some new features that we haven’t had in previous cameras. It’s designed to basically be a full hybrid in terms of being a digital film camera to shoot movies and TV commercials, but also to be used as a traditional video camera, putting on television-type lenses and being able to use it in a studio environment with different options. This one has the same Super 35 sensor at 4.6K with 15 stops of dynamic range as the URSA Mini 4.6K, but we’ve also put in built-in ND filters, dual CFAST 2.0 and dual SD/UHS-II card recorders, Blackmagic Camera Control, which is a free iPad app that lets users remotely control their URSA Mini Pro cameras via Bluetooth, a user-changeable lens mount, and numerous tactile control buttons and dials that make it faster to use.
The URSA Mini Pro comes standard with the EF mount and you can add the PL mount, as well as a B4 mount, as options. We also changed the way that the camera operates in the sense that the original URSA Mini was touchscreen driven. This one still has a touchscreen, but on the side of the camera, where you would use an URSA Viewfinder, that has a lot of tactile controls on the outside for making lots of adjustments.
When it’s on your shoulder, run n’ gun style, you can make a lot of adjustments, including flipping through the ND filters, hitting auto white balance, and a variety of different settings that are fingertip controls. They are all redundant, so you can use the inside screen or use the external buttons and knobs. That was one of the bigger upgrades to the product. But also, in terms of recording, we now have CFast as well as SD cards, so you can record on either one. That’s just to open it up to different uses.
If you’re using it as an ENG-type camera, you wouldn’t really need to record RAW, you’d probably want to record in video mode, so using an SD card is certainly going to be suitable. You wouldn’t need the higher media capacity in terms of speed that you would normally get from a CFast card, so it gives some more flexibility to different use cases of the camera.
We kept the camera’s body mostly the same, so it’s really only one side that has been changed. Because it’s the same URSA Mini body, if somebody were to buy an URSA Mini Pro and already owned an URSA Mini, they can use the URSA Mini Shoulder Kit for both, the URSA Viewfinder for both, etc. A lot of the accessories are the same, so people aren’t starting from scratch with a new body.
S&P: Are all of the accessories that are available for the URSA Mini available for the URSA Mini Pro, or do some of those not translate?
BC: They’re all the same, so they all translate over. The URSA Mini Pro has an interchangeable lens mount, whereas the URSA Mini doesn’t, so that is different. Even though the URSA Mini Pro ships with an EF mount, you can buy a separate one if people lose them, or do whatever. So those interchangeable mounts are different, but the rest of the accessories that you would use for the URSA Mini, the URSA Mini Shoulder Kit, the URSA Viewfinder, the URSA Studio Viewfinder, can be used with the URSA Mini Pro.
S&P: So that would make the URSA Mini a good B-cam for the URSA Mini Pro as A-cam?
BC: Exactly. They’re the same, so if you have the URSA Mini 4.6K, then you have the same sensor. The difference would be the ND filters, some of the knobs and buttons, and the recording capabilities. But if you were going to use them as live cameras in a studio situation, then essentially you have the same sensor. So, the same operability in terms of being able to hook it up to our ATEM switchers and being able to do color grading and color management of these cameras through the ATEM software, as well as the communication through the headphone jack, which turns into a headphone and microphone via the ATEM communication system, which has an intercom.
All those things are the same, so it really is something that would fit in with any of the existing cameras if the customer already has them.
S&P: You do have the same sensor in both, but just from the test footage I’ve seen so far, it seems like there is a bit of a picture difference. Were there any changes to the processing? I’m assuming with this newer operating system, there must be some sort of differences under the hood?
BC: I think maybe just the use of ND filters. I don’t know that there was anything huge really changed in terms of the color science. The menu structure changed, and that came midway through the URSA Mini. The URSA Mini original launch didn’t have this new camera software; that came about a year after that release. That whole menu structure carries over so anyone can upgrade the original to that. That did give a lot more flexibility in terms of being able to adjust your color temperature and your iris and all those kinds of things. It provided more steps and more range, and that has helped.
I think the ND filters really do make a big difference depending on where you’re shooting, so that may be some of where you’re seeing the difference. I also think that people are learning how to shoot with this sensor and also color-grade with it to get the best out of it, now that it’s been out for a little while. Of course, now people can buy the new DaVinci Resolve control panels for color grading. We’re really excited about the new DaVinci Resolve Micro and Mini panels. We’re getting a lot of those out in the marketplace given their price point and performance. The URSA Mini Pro, just like the URSA Mini, does come with the full DaVinci Resolve Studio license.
S&P: These are great changes, and I’m pretty excited about the interchangeable lens mount. What was Blackmagic seeing that implemented these design changes? Were you aiming towards the ENG market, or were you seeing a lot of people using drones and gimbals with Blackmagic?
BC: What we’ve found is that all our cameras seem to be adapted to any and all use cases. The interchangeable lens mount idea started with the URSA Mini. When we released the PL version, you could add a B4 mount to that one. But overall, people started to say, “Well, why can’t I put a B4 on the EF-mount camera?” The reason for that is the way that the electronics work, as you really can’t adjust that. So that led to thinking about this interchangeable lens mount. When I look at the way that people use these cameras inside a television station or a college station, or wherever, they could use the cameras in the studio, but then also go out and use them during the day to shoot whatever.
With this kind of flexibility, you can then adjust depending on which lens you have available. Oftentimes when you go to any television station, there are a lot of down hours for the studio cameras that could probably be used out in the field if you have this type of flexibility. Our URSA Studio Viewfinder has a quick release, so you can just leave the other URSA Viewfinder attached to the URSA Mini Pro, and put the video source on the URSA Studio Viewfinder. Use the quick release to take that off and go out and shoot in the field with just the URSA Viewfinder and then bring it back and reattach. It’s a fairly quick operation.
It was really about the flexibility. People say they’re using it in all different kinds of ways. We’re just trying to make something that has broad appeal but also has value.
You’re getting a camera that is versatile, and, compared to others, still relatively inexpensive. We wanted to make sure that we gave the customer something that they are able to use in multiple disciplines.
S&P: On this B4 mount, you can only do 1080 on that? And there’s a 1.1x magnification? It’s windowing, right?
BC: Right. The B4 lenses are HD lenses, so now you’re putting it over a 4.6K sensor. We use the crop there; it’s a window on the sensor. The 12-pin lens control connection that is built into the camera also works with PL glass. So as some of the lens manufacturers now have 4K ENG-style lenses, they use that same connection. A couple of times we’ve been able to borrow some really expensive lenses and put them on so that it’s a PL mount, but it does have the same ENG connections so you can use it as a parfocal lens, a rocker, a zoom and all those sorts of things.
That was also part of our philosophy. If we put the original one, the PL, it could use the B4 lenses now, and as 4K lenses become hopefully less expensive or more plentiful down the road, then you can still use that same camera. Just take off that PL mount, and now you can cover the whole sensor by using that 4K lens.
S&P: Any other specific changes besides the mount and the external menus?
BC: We added SD card recording, which I think is also something that people can take advantage of.
S&P: I did look at the recommended cards. Are you still suggesting CFast over SD for top notch?
BC: For RAW recording, for sure. For 4K and things like that, you definitely want to do that. That’s where it comes into, if you’re shooting ENG or news, you probably won’t be shooting RAW because of the time commitment it would take for color grading and all those kinds of things. This way you can use the SD cards for that.
And there is also an external screen now on the door, or the outside of the monitor. When you close it, it’s nice to have that status display on the outside so you can tell the frame rate, white balance, ISO, iris settings, which card you’re recording to, you can see audio meters and battery life… so even though the door is closed, you’re still getting a lot of visual information off the side of the camera.
S&P: In some of the test footage I did see, the audio seems a lot smoother with a little bit less pop, were there any changes to the audio or XLR system?
BC: That definitely got an “upgrade” if you will. I’ve had some people even talk about when they plug in different types of microphones, it seems to just adapt naturally and automatically to them. We did do some work on the audio side of it, and so far it’s been extremely well received, which is good to hear. Obviously, in a lot of situations, you’re probably going to want to record audio separately, but in cases where you can’t do that, you need it as high quality as possible. So we definitely did some work on that.
S&P: Do you know what the specific changes were?
BC: Just some on the circuitry side. Now we have more audio specific engineers that can help with some of that as we bought Fairlight, the audio company.
[*Blackmagic announced the acquisition of Fairlight during IBC 2016. Soon thereafter, in April at NAB 2017, DaVinci Resolve 14 was announced with a new audio page, including recording, editing, mixing, finishing, and mastering tools delivered by Fairlight.]
S&P: What’s the feedback been like so far?
BC: It’s been very good. It’s interesting, I’ve had a couple of people say, you know what you need next? And layout these things, these amps, so that’s always good when you meet and exceed the expectations there.
The sales have gone very well. We’re catching up to backlog as fast as we can. The other thing is announcing products when we start shipping them, which is something that we really have been trying to stick to for the last year or so, and that’s been apparent in several pre-NAB product announcements. Sometimes we have so many NAB announcements that they get lost in the shuffle. I think that’s been helpful because we’ve been able to break down the different releases that we’ve done prior to NAB so that all the news gets out there.
Images courtesy of Blackmagic Design