Insight Into The Blackmagic URSA MINI
Marco Solorio of OneRiver Media shares his initial thoughts about the new Blackmagic URSA Mini, a brand new camera from Blackmagic Design announced at the 2015 National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas. Could this be Blackmagic’s greatest camera design yet?
During the 2015 National Association of Broadcaster’s convention in Las Vegas, Blackmagic Design announced 4 new URSA Mini models:
This article primarily focuses on the URSA Mini 4.6K EF model.
Let’s face it; Blackmagic Design stole the big show in Las Vegas for the last four years consecutively, wowing the world with exciting new technology. In 2012, it was the original Cinema Camera EF (and months later the Cinema Camera MFT). In 2013 it was the Pocket Cinema Camera and Production Camera 4K. In 2014 it was the URSA “Major” EF (as I now jokingly refer it to) and URSA PL. And finally this year in 2015 it is the URSA Mini models, the sensor-upgraded URSA “Major” EF and PL, and the two new Micro cameras: Cinema and Studio 4K. In total, Blackmagic released an astonishing 38 new products this year! I don’t know how the people at Blackmagic keep up with all the data for these products, as it’s hard enough to remember all the specs for the cameras alone!
A New Beginning
To start, let’s look at the brand new 4.6K sensor Blackmagic announced, which works for both the URSA “Major” and URSA Mini. In short, this was a huge announcement for Blackmagic, as they put massive amounts of development time and dollars into this new sensor. Unlike previous “off-the-shelf” sensors in Blackmagic cameras, this is a completely unique sensor Blackmagic created from the ground up as their very own.
To start, the resolution is 4.6K, or more specifically 4608×2592. Having a larger resolution than 4K (even if just slightly) was something I asked for in my recent NAB Wish List blog post, as I like to use larger frame sizes for creative acquisition purposes. This larger resolution also means that going to standard DCI 4096×2160 workflow/output is not a problem (another wish list item of mine). In short, this sensor covers all resolution bases I’ve been asking for.
Another key point to note (and another wish list item granted by Blackmagic) is the physical size of the sensor itself (25.34mm x 14.25mm). The original 4K sensor from Blackmagic was slightly shy of true Super35 spec with regards to physical size (21.12mm x 11.88mm). It was never a big deal for me personally, but having a slightly larger sensor that truly fits the spec of Super35 means the sensor is consuming all of the potential light transmission an S35 lens can offer, which results in maximized sensor sensitivity and narrower DOF (depth-of-field). In short, the new 4.6K sensor is a true Super35 digital cinema sensor by all accounts.
The big deal with the new 4.6K sensor however is its dynamic range. Blackmagic claims a highly respectable 15 stops of DR. The original 2.5K Cinema Camera boasted 13 stops of DR and has been known to have excellent color/skin rendering (so much so that it cuts together incredibly well with the likes of the ARRI Alexa). Talking directly with the Blackmagic development team, the new 4.6K sensor’s color science fits extremely closely with the original 2.5K sensor, while having the added benefits of increased dynamic range by a whopping 2 stops (amongst other features). All in all, this is an amazing feat and seems to align this sensor in the realm of cameras costing 3 to 15 times more than the URSA Mini 4.6K EF at $4995.
Tested (and confirmed directly to me by the Blackmagic development team) is the fact that this sensor does away with any form of “black hole sun spots” (purple/black spots when shooting directly into extremely bright highlights like the sun).
Another interesting first with this new 4.6K sensor is the ability to switch between rolling shutter and global shutter. Interestingly enough (and also confirmed directly to me by Blackmagic) there is no stop-loss when switching between the two modes. In other words, turning on global shutter mode does not decrease light sensitivity, which is very nice. By switching to rolling shutter mode, you can effectively double the maximum frame-rate value. For the URSA Mini in 4.6K RAW, this means 30 FPS in global shutter mode and up to 60 FPS in rolling shutter mode. To add, running in 1080 windowed mode, the URSA Mini can record up to over-cranked 120 FPS for beautiful slomo recording. And note that all HFR modes, including 120 FPS are continuous record. In other words, these HFR modes are not restricted to short burst modes like some of the other cameras do. You’re free to record 120 FPS as long as you want or until you run out of cards to record to.
Another improvement with the new 4.6K sensor is sensitivity has been bumped back up to a native base level of 800 ISO (like the original 2.5K sensor) with a maximum level of 1600 ISO. A lot of people these days want super-high ISO levels like those from the Sony A7s, which I agree can be an incredible feature, but I wouldn’t claim that such high ISO levels are an absolute necessity nor a deal-breaker by lacking it. We shot an entire 90-minute BMW documentary feature film, “10/10ths” which was acquired mostly at 800 ISO with the original Cinema Camera (the only exception was native 400 ISO with the Production Camera 4K and URSA 4K) and in ProRes HQ LOG. Shooting at base 800 was never an issue, whether outdoors in the sun or indoors in the studio. Realize too that the ARRI Alexa, the highly regarded king-of-all-kings digital cinema cameras is also base 800 ISO. Likewise, the ARRI Amira (another amazing camera in its own right) was specifically designed for documentary/industrial shooting (while using the same Alexa sensor technology) is also EI 800 base ISO. Let me repeat that: The Amira, a camera specifically designed for documentary shooting, also uses EI 800 base sensitivity. To add, the Canon C300 has long been known for its sensitivity performance, but with regards to pushing grading levels in post, we’ve found the original Cinema Camera can actually retain cleaner results in most cases. Why? It’s not because the original Cinema Camera has higher sensitivity (it truly does not), but it has higher bit-depth precision, a cleaner (as some say, more “organic”) noise floor, and usable dynamic range in its RAW container. And this (the Cinema Camera) is from a much smaller sensor at “only” 13 stops, whereas the new 4.6K sensor is true S35 size at 15 stops. My point to all this is that sensor sensitivity is only 1 part of the overall equation, to which many variables need to be included in the grand scheme of things. So with the URSA Mini’s 4.6K sensor’s base level of 800 ISO, its 15 stops of dynamic range, its 16-bit linear sensor read-out, and shooting in either 12-bit RAW or 12-bit RGB ProRes444 (standard or XQ) will offer a surprising level of low-light retention in post-production (something we’ve done often with the original 2.5K sensor with very pleasing results, which can be viewed from my original 2012 video comparing the original Cinema Camera 2.5K and the Canon 5D Mk III). Knowing how well the original 2.5K sensor was in the Cinema Camera, the new 4.6K sensor takes that to a whole new level and beyond.
Also introduced with the URSA Mini is the addition of 4:1 RAW compression, which is very welcomed. Everyone (including myself) applauded Blackmagic for adding 3:1 RAW for the URSA Major in early 2015. I’d love to see a continuation of RAW compression rates with 5:1, 6:1 and 7:1. But hey, no complaints from me, as 3:1 and 4:1 are truly excellent.
Like there’s been in previous models of Blackmagic cameras, there’s the option shoot in either LOG (“Film” mode) and REC709 (“Video” mode) when in ProRes mode (RAW always has a LOG profile). It’s not clear at this time if the Mini’s various 4K resolutions will continue to be REC709 or adopt something closer to the newer REC2020 spec. At any rate, we primarily shoot in LOG mode (probably a good 95% of the time) unless a client specifically requests REC709/Video for faster editorial on their end with a more “burned in finished look” and don’t want to deal with a lot of color grading. Either way, the option to have both color space profiles is extremely useful.
Available resolutions from the new 4.6K sensor are also very impressive. As mentioned at the start of this article, the maximum recordable resolution is 4608×2592, which is larger than the digital cinema spec of DCI 4096×2160. This is a truly fantastic asset, as it gives you the option to either scale or window the frame to DCI 4K (or UHD 4K, 1080 HD, and so on). All recordable resolutions from the 4.6K sensor are as follows:
- 4608 x 2592 (Native 4.6K Resolution, RAW)
- 4096 x 2304 (4K 16:9, RAW)
- 4608 x 1920 (4K 2.4:1, RAW)
- 3840 x 2160 (Ultra HD, all ProRes formats)
- 3072 x 2560 (3K Anamorphic, RAW)
- 2048 x 1152 (2K 16:9, RAW)
- 1920 x 1080 HD (All ProRes formats)
I love that Blackmagic finally added native 2K resolution and 3K Anamorphic. The latter is simply delicious for those of us that want to use our anamorphic adapters and lenses. With that said, I’ll probably stick to either 4K UHD or full 4.6K resolution, depending on the project/shot type. As it appears at this time with the URSA Mini, all RAW resolutions look to be pixel-to-pixel (non-scaling) and all ProRes resolutions are scaled from the native 4608×2592 source (with an incredibly clean scaling algorithm that Blackmagic has used in their prior 4K cameras, which can reduce any subtle hints of moiré, and can slightly increase chrominance sampling quality). Likewise shooting between 61 to 120 FPS atomically puts the camera in 1080 windowed mode (cropped), rather than having the option to use 1080 windowed mode at any frame rate.
I’ve covered a lot about the new 4.6K sensor, but I feel it’s important to have done so, as it’s the heart and soul of the camera itself.
It should be noteworthy that the new full-size URSA now incorporates the same 4.6K sensor with all of the same specs, except that the full-size URSA implements higher frame-rates (120 FPS RAW 3:1 at full 4.6K and 150 FPS windowed 1080 HD). You can still get the URSA with the original 4K sensor in both EF mount and PL mount (for an even lower decreased cost in fact). Likewise, existing URSA can upgrade to the 4.6K EF Turret or the 4.6K PL Turret. It’s said by Blackmagic Design that existing URSA owners will have first dibs on buying the 4.6K turret upgrade of their choice.
The URSA Mini’s body is very well built. The main material is made of magnesium, which results in both strength and lightweight—much more so than aluminum does. The result is a 5-pound body (with the included side handle that comes shipped with the camera), which is very much in line with other cameras in this category. Ample 1/4″ taps run throughout the body for mounting points and rigging.
To keep things cool inside the URSA Mini, a smaller version of the liquid cooled thermal system that was used in the full-size URSA has been incorporated into the URSA Mini. Because the new 4.6K sensor is of such high quality, it’s imperative that this sensor has a constant running temperature to maintain its full 15 stops of DR with minimal noise—the liquid cooling systems helps ensure that thermal stability.
The Truth About CFast 2.0
It’s interesting to me that there seams to be some kind of anti-CFast 2.0 (CF2) movement throughout the interwebs, which unfortunately stems from the fact that CF2 originally had a very high price tag (about $1200 for 120 GB, or $10/GB) around Q3 of 2014. However, as predicted, in about 6 month’s time, the overall price of CF2 has dropped substantially while storage sizes have increased… all while additional companies have also been developing their own CF2 cards. As of this writing, you can obtain the SanDisk 128GB Extreme Pro CF2 card for $499 ($3.89/GB), more than twice the reduction in cost as compared to initial sales within a 6-month timespan. Lexar is currently the CF2 card of choice (in regards to performance) with their top 256GB card costing $964.90 ($3.76/GB). The URSA Major and the ARRI Amira adopted CFast 2.0 early on and now Canon has welcomed the format in its new C300 Mk II camera. Obviously companies see the positive future with CF2.
It’s amazing to me that CF2 gets so much attention to its cost, when in fact, Sony and RED’s cards cost substantially more, as previously covered in my last article, “Perspectives on the Blackmagic URSA” with a detailed price grid on CFast 2.0 versus others. I’ll go ahead and copy the same information here:
|Company||Media Size||MB/s Read||MB/s Write||Price*||Price/GB|
|CFast 2.0 (Blackmagic URSA, ARRI Amira)|
|Wise||128GB||520 MB/s||330 MB/s||$599||$4.68/GB|
|Lexar||128GB||510 MB/s||450 MB/s||$640.79||$5.00/GB|
|Lexar||256GB||510 MB/s||450 MB/s||$964.90||$3.76/GB|
|SanDisk||128GB||515 MB/s||440 MB/s||$499.95||$3.90/GB|
|Sony Media (Sony F5, F55, FS7)|
|Sony SxS Pro+||128GB||200 MB/s||187.5 MB/s||$1,069.99||$8.36/GB|
|Sony SxS Pro+ C||128GB||437.5 MB/s||350 MB/s||$1,149.99||$8.98/GB|
|Sony XQD G Series V2||128GB||400 MB/s||350 MB/s||$799.95||$6.25/GB|
|REDMAG 1.8″ SSD||64GB||?||?||$725.00||$11.33/GB|
|REDMAG 1.8″ SSD||240GB||?||?||$1,450.00||$6.04/GB|
*As of current pricing in April of 2015. These prices WILL continue drop, as they have done in the month of April alone!
As you can see, CF2 is not only less costly than Sony’s proprietary media, but is actually faster than it as well. Why CF2 gets such a bad rap at this point is beyond me, but having used the media since 2014, I can honestly say that I love using CF2; its performance, its lack of heat dissipation, its compact size, and its continual reduction in cost.
Optional OEM Accessories
This is what makes the URSA Mini even more exciting for me. This is the first time that Blackmagic Design built a camera that really speaks to the masses in terms of ergonomic mobility and functionality.
Starting with the Blackmagic Shoulder Mount Kit, this adds a well designed top handle and a padded shoulder mount, complete with 15mm rod mounts, ARRI-style rosette mounts, and standard broadcast V-lock tripod mounting (my personal preferred choice over the decades). Adding this $395 kit will substantially add to the usability and functionality of the URSA Mini. I can say the balance of the camera using this kit feels and performs great… I highly recommend it as a “must-have” with the Mini.
A huge surprise (if the URSA Mini wasn’t enough) is Blackmagic’s optional OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF). This is an amazing OLED EVF with full 1080 raster, true glass diopter-adjustable optics, and dedicated physical buttons (ZOOM, DISP, PEAK). The HD OLED EVF includes 2X zoom, frame guides, format info, running time on both CFast 2.0 slots, battery life, zebras, false color, focus peaking, audio meters, REC709 LUT, and more—very impressive altogether.
The OLED EVF has a nifty sensor that turns off the OLED screen when the eye isn’t cupped to it, thus preserving the life of the OLED element itself. Nice touch. The red tally light on the OLED EVF is a really nice addition too and is easily viewable by cast and crew. Lastly, the OLED EVF has horizontal adjustment, rotational adjustment, and can be viewed on either the left or right eye.
And although the OLED EVF was designed for the URSA and URSA Mini, it could really be used on any camera that sports an HD-SDI output. The EVF unit itself is powered by using the URSA’s dedicated 4-pin XLR power output connection (and using a simple low-cost adapter, the EVF could be powered from any other DC-powered source).
For feature/firmware updates to the HD OLED EVF, a dedicated USB port is located near the red tally light with a rubberized cover. Yup, this EVF is firmware-upgradable!
The URSA Mini comes with a 4-pin XLR power supply that plugs into the Mini’s 4-pin XLR power input, so the camera can be used straight away without additional batteries. However, if you want to use battery power, the same plates that were designed for the full-size URSA can also be used with the URSA Mini. Blackmagic offers an optional V-mount plate for only $95, which is actually very competitively priced. I’m a fan of Gold Mount however, so our existing Switronix GP-A plate works well, as well as those made from Wooden Camera and others.
I’m happy to see that Blackmagic has finally added a pair of “F” buttons to the body. This can open up a lot of added memory features, which is something I asked for in my recent article, “Perspectives on the Blackmagic URSA”.
The internal stereo microphone actually looks somewhat promising in terms of quality for what an internal microphone tends to offer. To add, this stereo mic is accompanied with the option to reduce incoming loudness with a menu-driven -10dB pad and a low-cut EQ filter. Nice!
Like the URSA Major, the URSA Mini incorporates a pair of XLR inputs with mic/line levels, phantom power, and the ability for audio bracketing by means of two physical input gain knobs on the side of the camera operator. Now that there’s an option to add a -10dB pad and a low-cut EQ filter to the internal mics, it would be great if this were a menu option for the XLR inputs as well. Maybe we’ll see that in a future firmware upgrade (that and menu-driven audio limiter functions is something I’ve asked for from Blackmagic for some time now).
Oh by the way… the damn camera has a freaking GPS and 9-axis gyroscope! Although in early form, this could result in a visual effects powerhouse of a camera. Ideally X/Y/Z axis with yaw/pitch/roll rotation (with the option of focal length and focus) could be embedded on every frame of video (as suggested by Blackmagic Design), as embedded metadata, or as a simple side-cart file (as either TXT, XML, or similar), resulting in perfectly matched 3D compositing. For example, you could shoot your plate shots with the URSA Mini, and composite 3D elements on top of it in 3D space. No extra software would be needed to do the 3D math or match-moving. Simply assign the 3D metadata from the Mini’s footage to the 3D camera of your compositing/3D software, like After Effects, Fusion, Lightwave 3D, Maya, 3D Studio Max, Cinema 4D, Blender 3D, or whatever 3D-compatible software you’re using. This will be really huge, so keep an eye on this development from Blackmagic Design.
Included With URSA Mini
Like all Blackmagic cameras that cost over $1000, the URSA Mini comes with a fully licensed copy (with USB dongle) of the full version of DaVinci Resolve. Purchased separately (as is the case with competing cameras in this category), you’d have to pay $995 for DaVinci Resolve. This is definitely an added perk when buying the URSA Mini.
The URSA Mini also comes with the mentioned side handle grip, a LANC cable (so the side grip can start/stop recording), the mentioned 4-pin XLR power supply, and a lens mount portal cap.
You Can’t Have Everything
It would have been great if Blackmagic had implemented an internal ND option inside the camera body, but alas, there is none. For some shooters, this is a critical omission and I completely understand their grief. For me personally, it’s definitely not a deal-breaker, as I’ve owned countless cameras over the decades that lacked any form of internal ND (and some that did have internal ND). I look at it from this perspective:
I’d rather have a missing feature in the camera (like internal ND) that can be easily added externally with minimal cost (like our Singh Ray Vari-N-Duo filter we’ve used for years or my favorite Schneider Optics ND filters and IR-Cut filters), than a missing major feature in the camera itself (like global shutter) that cannot be added, fixed in post, or extremely costly to work around. On a grander scale, I’d rather have a true Super35 global shutter sensor with 15 stops of dynamic range with internal recording options up to 4.6K resolution using RAW or literally any flavor of ProRes codec (including 12-bit RGB ProRes444 XQ) with extended frame-rate options. Again, I’d truly love to have internal ND in the URSA Mini, but on the grand scheme of things, I can live without it when there are so many other powerful features that the URSA Mini incorporates natively and internally.
I’d still like to see a menu option that would allow me to switch the XLR audio inputs from analog to AES/EBU digital (something I’ve asked from Blackmagic since 2012). This would also increase the total recordable audio tracks from 2 to 4 (AES/EBU digital audio can carry 2 tracks of digital audio for each XLR connection). This would allow us to record audio using extremely high quality mic preamps (like those found in our Sound Devices MixPre-D) with high quality audio shaping/filtering. This audio would then go out of the device digitally and into the URSA Mini without having to do a lick of analog/digital conversion. In essence, the URSA Mini simply becomes an audio “bit bucket”.
I’d love to see an option to have dual slot recording. In other words, the ability to record to both CFast 2.0 card slots simultaneously so that one card can act as either an identical backup or a proxy version. An example of the latter would be to record in 4.6K 24p RAW 3:1 on slot 1 and 1080p24 ProRes Proxy on slot 2. For the record however, the two CFast 2.0 slots do support simultaneous recording with regard to 4.6K HFR recording by performing an “odd/even pairing”, thus doubling the bandwidth speed of Cinema DNG encoding and write-speeds. The two slots also support contiguous recording so that as one slot fills up, the other slot will start recording, thus theoretically giving the operator unlimited record times (only limited by the number of cards the operator has).
Although I love seeing the inclusion of timecode input with the URSA Mini, I’d actually prefer timecode output. Having timecode output (and input) with the URSA Major has been huge for our type of productions. I’d love to see Blackmagic implement a menu option that switches the timecode SDI port between input and output. I don’t know if this is even technically possible in the Mini’s hardware, but it would be a fantastic addition for those of use that use timecode output with devices like our wireless Scriptlink system and our Denecke timecode slates. Truth be told, our Denecke timecode slate can just as easily be the master timecode generator and wirelessly feed that timecode to our Scriptlink and the URSA Mini, so there is a solution (basically up-stream instead of down-stream) when it comes down to it.
Cost Of Ownership
So how much are we going to spend to actually own and operate one of these URSA Minis? At the bare minimum, you’ll need some kind of lens and at least one CFast 2.0 card. Lens options are even more diverse than the cameras you can attach them to, so for the sake of brevity, I’m going to include the very basic, low cost Canon 50mm f/1.8 photographic prime lens as a starting point. No this isn’t the greatest lens in the world, but even I owned the original “Mark I” model many, many years ago and it actually produced pleasing results and is great for those on extremely tight budgets. Although there are quality 32GB and 64GB CFast 2 cards, I highly suggest starting in at the 128GB point if you plan on retaining a decent amount of running time when shooting 4K. If you’re okay with 1080 HD with a lower ProRes setting, then the 32GB and 64GB cards can work for you just fine. All examples in the following outline are based on the URSA Mini 4.6K EF model.
$115.00 – Canon 50mm f/1.8 II photo lens
$499.95 – SanDisk 128GB Extreme Pro CFast 2.0 memory card
$37.34 – Lexar CR1 CFast 2.0 USB3 Reader
$5647.29 – Total cost to start shooting with lens and CF2 card.
Not bad, as it’s only about $652 more to literally start shooting with the URSA Mini out of the box using the included 4-pin XLR power supply.
$115.00 – Canon 50mm f/1.8 II photo lens
$499.95 – SanDisk 128GB Extreme Pro CFast 2.0 memory card
$37.34 – Lexar CR1 CFast 2.0 USB3 Reader
$95.00 – URSA V-mount Battery Plate
$395.00 – URSA Mini Shoulder Kit
$1495.00 – URSA 1080 HD OLED Electronic Viewfinder
$249.00 – Switronix XP-L90S V-Mount 98Wh 14.8 VDC Li-Ion Battery
$325.46 – Switronix GP-LS Single Position Charger
$390.00 – Singh-Ray 77mm Vari-N-Duo Variable Polarizer + Variable Neutral Density Filter
$4.49 – 52mm to 77mm Step Up Ring
$8601.24 – Total cost to shoot with a fully OEM-rigged URSA Mini with V-mount power, 128GB CF2 card, and polarizing/ND filtration. Roughly $3600 more than the base cost of the URSA Mini body. Not bad.
$1569.00 – LockCircle PrimeCircle XM 50mm f/1.4 cinema prime lens
$1929.80 – 2X Lexar 256GB CFast 2.0 memory cards ($964.90 each)
$37.34 – Lexar CR1 CFast 2.0 USB3 Reader
$175.00 – Switronix GP-A-Gold Mount Plate for URSA
$395.00 – URSA Mini Shoulder Mount Kit
$1495.00 – URSA 1080 HD OLED Electronic Viewfinder
$996.55 – Switronix 2X HyperCore 98Wh 14.8V Gold Mount Batteries with GP 2-Position Charger Kit
$390.00 – Singh-Ray 77mm Vari-N-Duo Variable Polarizer + Variable Neutral Density Filter
$79.00 – LockCircle 90mm to 77mm step-down ring
$12,061.69 – Total cost to shoot with 2 CF2 cards, 2 gold mount batteries with dual charger, URSA Gold Mount battery plate, and upgraded to the LockCircle 50mm cinema prime lens. About $3034 of these items can be used with any other camera and not specific or required to shoot with the URSA Mini. The other $9000 is for the URSA Mini, which includes $4995 for the body with the rest for optional OEM accessories. I added Gold Mount (increasing the cost a bit) due to its superior locking mechanism compared to V-mount.
If you took the above pricing outline and applied it to the Sony FS7, it would come out to $14,699.99. This would include the camera, 4 XQD 128GB cards (to match the 512GB outlined above), the Tilta shoulder/rod/battery kit, an EF adapter, while omitting a true electronic viewfinder and using the FS7’s supplied loupe for its 3.5″ LCD screen. If you add the Zacuto Gratical OLED EVF kit to match the EVF quality of the kit outlined above, that brings the FS7’s cost up to $17,849.99. And none of this includes any RAW recording support to the FS7. I’ll detail all of this and more in the next section below.
Although it may appear that Blackmagic may have built the URSA Mini as a direct competitor to the Sony FS7 (a camera which I really like), this is actually not the case. In truth, Blackmagic had an obvious “hole” in their camera product lineup with regards to size, ergonomics, and features, and the URSA Mini was their answer to that missing product void, whether it’s a close competitor to the FS7 or not. In reality, the Sony FS7 and the URSA Mini are somewhat different types of tools.
With that in mind, the following is a very basic comparison between the URSA Mini and the FS7:
Blackmagic’s shoulder mount kit is $395 versus Sony’s VCT-FS7 shoulder mount kit for $990 (I’d personally opt for the $799 Tilta/Ikan ES-T15 FS7 cage + battery plate combo kit instead, as it offers way more features for the FS7 at lower cost).
If you plan on using Canon-mount lenses with the FS7, you’ll need either a passive mount adapter (specifically for fully manual EF-mount lenses) or an active mount adapter (for either manual or electronically controlled EF-mount lenses). There are many Canon EF to Sony E mount adapters in various types, but one that is especially cool for the FS7 is the Metabones Speed Booster Ultra adapter. Cost ranges from adapter type and quality, but can range from $50 to $650. Expect to pay at least $200 to $400 for an FS7 adapter that includes electronic Canon communication and good quality.
Although Sony doesn’t have a dedicated EVF for the FS7, you can use the integrated loupe (included with the FS7) that mounts onto the flip-out 3.5″ LCD screen. I admit that once you really start using a dedicated EVF (a true viewfinder, not a loupe attachment), it’s difficult to go back to the LCD loupe method. An EVF could be purchased separately from a 3rd party manufacturers from the likes of Cineroid, Alphatron, Zacuto, and others, but in reality, I doubt most people will go this route with the FS7 since the LCD-loupe tends to work.
On the URSA Mini’s side, the Blackmagic 1080 HD OLED electronic viewfinder is truly an amazing piece of gear and at $1495 it’s truly a bargain. To get this level of performance on the Sony FS7, you’d need to buy the Zacuto Gratical HD OLED EVF, which has a base cost of $3100 (or the Gratical + Axis Mini bundle for discount). At any rate, you’re spending at least double the cost for an EVF on the FS7 that’s comparable in quality/performance to the Blackmagic HD OLED EVF. You could save a buck with the Alphatron EVF-035W-3G Electronic Viewfinder (which I own) at $1395 (or $1799.95 for the EVF + mount kit), but resolution and quality is nowhere near the level of Blackmagic’s and Zacuto’s HD OLED EVFs with permanently housed glass optics and true diopter control (typically speaking, flip-out loupes on LCD screens inherently drop in overall optical transmission quality). One final idea for the FS7: mount the Blackmagic HD OLED EVF to the Sony FS7! You’ll need a power adapter from an external power source (like a V-mount battery plate) in order to power the Blackmagic OLED EVF through it’s 4-pin XLR connector. Not sure how mounting would work at this point however, but would seem doable.
In order to even think about RAW or ProRes with the FS7, you’ll need Sony’s XDCA-FS7 module that mounts to the rear of the FS7 (at the cost of added bulk and weight, but at the advantage of adding more features to the FS7). This unit costs $1999 and adds the ability to output 4K RAW (not record it) via the module’s RAW BNC output. To actually record to 4K RAW, you’ll need another external device, like Convergent Design’s Odyssey7Q+ OLED Monitor & Recorder for an additional $2295, plus $41 for the required USB3 Data Transfer Adapter. Likewise, you’ll want at least 2 SSDs for maximum 4K RAW recording ability, so at (minimum) $395 each, add another $790 for a pair of Convergent Design 256GB SSDs. This is a pretty key point to understand; the URSA Mini already does this RAW recording internally (and more, as we’ll about to see) with no added cost, except for the cost of at least one $499 128GB CFast 2.0 card. For the Sony FS7, the cost of externally recording RAW with multiple devices is about $5125 (remember, that does NOT include the cost of the FS7 camera itself). That $5125 price tag alone is actually MORE than the price of the URSA Mini itself. In all, you’re paying $13,124 for both the FS7 and external RAW recording devices. For the URSA Mini, it’s $5494 (cost of Mini + 1 CF2 card). Likewise, you ultimately end up with a much lighter, tidier, and more compact rig with the URSA Mini than you would with the Sony FS7 when recording RAW.
OR… (yes, the saga continues)
You could buy the Sony FS7 ($7999), the Sony XDCA-FS7 RAW Output Module ($1999), the Sony AXS-R5 RAW Recording Module ($5350), the Sony HXR-IFR5 RAW Interface Module ($2200), at least one Sony 512GB AXS memory card ($1800), and a Sony AXS-CR1 USB3 Card Reader ($550). Whew! That’s a lot of stuff! The total cost for complete Sony RAW pipeline with the FS7: $19,898. Again, the base cost to shoot and record 4.6K RAW at 60 FPS internally on the URSA Mini is $5531.34 (cost of URSA Mini + 1 CF2 card + CF2 Reader).
And after shooting RAW with either camera, how are you using that RAW footage in your workflow? The URSA Mini comes with a completely licensed copy of DaVinci Resolve 12 with a USB dongle at no additional cost. If you were to buy Resolve separately for the Sony FS7, it would add another $995 to the overall price tag to whichever camera package you’re putting together. It’s something to at least consider if you don’t already have a copy of DaVinci Resolve, which no question is the industry hallmark of professional color grading by the masses.
What’s the scoop on ProRes? I’ve owned and operated many Sony and Canon cameras over the decades (since the 1980’s to be exact), but personally speaking, I’m not a big fan of their modern proprietary file-based recording format structures in which the actual video files are buried within various folder and files. I know this is really not an issue for many people, so I wouldn’t regard this as a true negative point—just a personal opinion. Having shot with Blackmagic cameras since mid-2012, I’ve become incredibly spoiled with camera-generated ProRes files. These ProRes files are written at the root level of the solid state media and do not require additional files to work. In both our editing and visual effects applications, this is a huge bonus for workflow speed, media organization, versioning, and overall simplicity. It seems that with every new recording resolution and increased bandwidth availability from the likes of Sony, Canon, and Panasonic, a new proprietary codec is released from said companies. I really wish they would completely adopt ProRes in whole like Blackmagic has done. At least Sony’s XDCA-FS7 module (for $1999) adds a base amount of ProRes support, which basically includes 1080 HD ProRes 422—maybe not the same offering as URSA Mini’s complete collection of ProRes formats (from Proxy through 444 XQ), but better than nothing. If you want something higher than standard ProRes 422 in 1080 HD on the FS7, you can use the earlier mentioned Convergent Design’s Odyssey7Q+ OLED Monitor & Recorder ($2295) and accompanying SSD media, but even that will “only” get you up to ProRes HQ. Don’t get me wrong; ProRes HQ is awesome (we shot our 90-minute BMW documentary feature film, “10/10ths” primarily in ProRes HQ) but having the flexibility of lower/higher compressed ProRes formats is truly ideal for countless reasons and production scenarios. The Atomos Shogun ($1995 + cost of media) offers ProRes HQ, 422, and LT (along with AVID DNxHD/DNxHR formats, which is cool), but currently nothing in the 12-bit RGB 4444 offerings like the URSA Mini does (which is fantastic for fast turn-around chromakey production as I outlined in my last article, “Perspectives on the Blackmagic URSA”).
What about the notion that states, “I don’t care about 12-bit 4.6K RAW, I don’t care about all these ProRes formats, DaVinci Resolve, nor do I care about global shutter at 15 stops—I’m fine with the FS7’s internal codecs… how does the overall pricing stack up in that regard?”
If you combine the cost of the Sony FS7 ($7999), one Sony XQD V2 128GB card ($799.95), and a Sony XQD USB3 reader ($36.69), you come up with a combined total of $8835.64. Alternatively, if you combine the cost of the URSA Mini 4.6K EF ($4995), one SanDisk CFast 2.0 128GB card ($499.95), and a Lexar CFast 2.0 USB3 reader ($37.34), you come up with a combined total of $5532.29. That’s still $3303.35 less than the FS7 (but the fact remains you still get higher resolution, more dynamic range, 12-bit RAW, and all ProRes flavors with the URSA Mini). Even if you add the mentioned Singh-Ray 77mm Vari-N-Duo ($390.00) for variable ND/polarizing control on the URSA Mini, you’re still $2913.35 less than the FS7. Add the Blackmagic shoulder mount kit ($395.00) and the HD OLED EVF ($1495) and you officially have a camera that is more ergonomically functional than the FS7 and you’re still $1023.35 less than the FS7 with no shoulder mount kit, nor an EVF! I’m amazed that there is still a lot of chatter on the interwebs that the overall cost to build an FS7 camera package costs less than or equal to the URSA Mini, where in truth, the URSA Mini is drastically lower cost while retaining numerous internal features the FS7 just doesn’t have.
|Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K EF||Sony PXW-FS7 XDCAM|
|Camera||$4995||URSA Mini 4.6K EF||$7999||Sony FS7|
|Lens||$115.00||Canon 50mm f/1.8 II||$115.00 + $99.95||Canon 50mm f/1.8 II + FotodioX Canon EF to Sony E Adapter|
|Media||$499.95||SanDisk 128GB CFast 2.0||$799.95||Sony XQD V2 128GB|
|Reader||$37.34||Lexar CR1 CFast 2.0 USB3 Reader||$36.69||Sony XQD USB3 Reader|
|The above subtotals allow each camera to shoot out of the box in basic form with no other costs required.|
|Support||$395||URSA Mini Shoulder Kit with 15mm rod mount, ARRI rosettes||$799||Tilta/Ikan ES-T15 FS7 cage, shoulder, 15mm rod mount, battery plate combo kit (lower cost and more functional than Sony’s $990 kit|
|Power Plate||$95||URSA V-mount Battery Plate||$0||Not needed—included in above Tilta/Ikan kit|
|Battery||$249.00||Switronix XP-L90S V-Mount 98Wh 14.8 VDC Li-Ion||$249.00||Switronix XP-L90S V-Mount 98Wh 14.8 VDC Li-Ion|
|Charger||$325.46||Switronix GP-LS Single Position Charger||$325.46||Switronix GP-LS Single Position Charger|
|ND||$390.00||Singh-Ray 77mm Vari-N-Duo Variable Polarizer + Variable Neutral Density Filter||$0||Not required for FS7 but lacks circular polarizer in comparison|
|Step Up Ring||$4.49||52mm to 77mm Step Up Ring||$0||Not needed for this FS7 setup|
|The above subtotals put both cameras in fully operational production mode using their respective flip out screens (5″ for URSA Mini, 3.5″ for FS7). Even if you remove the battery/charger options for the FS7 and use the supplied battery and charger (reducing operating time), that still brings an overall cost to $9849.59 to the FS7.|
|EVF||$1495.00||URSA 1080 HD OLED Electronic Viewfinder @ 1920×1080 resolution||$0||FS7 includes a snap-on loupe for its 3.5″ LCD, although lower in optical quality/performance compared to the Blackmagic option @ 940×560 resolution|
|The above subtotals put both cameras in fully operational production mode but adding EVF functionality to both cameras.|
|OLED EVF||$0||Already added to URSA Mini above||$3,150.00||Zacuto Gratical HD Micro OLED EVF with Axis Mini kit|
|The above subtotals put both cameras in fully operational production mode with high quality 1080 HD OLED EVF functionality to both cameras.|
Do I love the FS7 any less? Hell no. As I said, I’m a huge fan of the FS7. In its own right, the Sony FS7 is an incredible camera: very well designed, ergonomically sound, truly produces stunning images (all of which are based on my personal accounts and opinions) and it’s easy to work with. It’s no surprise to me that so many people have adopted the camera as part of their production arsenal. But this isn’t a review of the FS7. What I’m merely trying to convey is how the URSA Mini compares to the FS7 (at the surface level) in regards to cost and feature set. Both cameras have their pros and cons, but it’s up to the user to really figure out which of those pros and cons is more and least important to them and their unique production scenarios. Nobody, including myself, can tell you otherwise, as investing in a camera is a very personal and specific undertaking. Do your homework!
|Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K EF||Sony PXW-FS7 XDCAM|
|Sensor Size||25.34mm x 14.25mm||24mm x 12.7mm|
|Sensor Precision Level||16-bit||16-bit|
|Maximum Frame Size||4608×2592||3840×2160 (UHD internal). 4096×2160 (DCI 4K external output with optional Sony XDCA-FS7 module)|
|Supported Frame Sizes||4608×2592 (Native 4.6K), 4096×2304 (4K 16:9), 4608×1920 (4K 2.4:1), 3840×2160 (UHD), 3072×2560 (3K Anamorphic), 2048×1152 (2K 16:9), 1920 x 1080||3840×2160 (UHD), 1920×1080 HD, 1280×720 HD. 4096×2160 (DCI 4K) and 2048×1080 (2K) external output with optional Sony XDCA-FS7 module|
|Lens Mount||Canon EF/EF-S or ARRI PL||Sony E|
|Dynamic Range||15 Stops||14 Stops|
|ISO Range||400-1600||800-6400 standard gamma), 1600-12500 (hyper gamma), 2000-16000 (S-Log3 gamma)|
|EI Base ISO||800||1000 (standard gamma), 2000 (hyper gamma), 2500 (S-Log3 gamma)|
|Shutter Type||Selectable Global/Rolling||Rolling|
|Internal ND||N/A||0, 1/4, 1/16, 1/64|
|Color Formats/Curves||REC709 (“Video” mode), LOG (“Film” mode)||Standard, Hyper Gamma, User Defined, S-Log3|
|Internal RAW Format||Cinema DNG||N/A|
|Internal RAW Compression||1:1, 3:1, 4:1||N/A|
|Internal RAW Precision||12-bit||N/A|
|Internal 12-bit Codecs||RGB ProRes444 XQ, RGB ProRes444||N/A|
|Internal 10-bit Codecs||ProRes HQ, ProRes 422, ProRes LT, ProRes Proxy||XAVC-Intraframe 422 (MPEG-4 H.264), XAVC-LongGOP 422 (MPEG-4 H.264). ProRes 422 up to 1080p30 HD (with optional Sony XDCA-FS7 module)|
|Internal 8-bit Codecs||N/A||XAVC-LongGOP 420, MPEG2 422 (1080 & 720)|
|FPS||5-60 (up to 4.6K, RAW and all ProRes formats internal). 61-120 (1080 HD internal)||1-60 (up to UHD 4K internal). 1-180 (1080 HD internal). 100, 120, 200, 240 @ 2K and 1-60 DCI 4K external output with optional Sony XDCA-FS7 module|
|Time-lapse||2 FPS to 10 minutes per frame (Any RAW or ProRes format)||1-60 FPS in S&Q Mode|
|Storage Medium||2x CFast 2.0||2x XQD|
|Maximum Data Write Speed||~900 MB/s in concurrent odd/even dual-card pairing for HFR RAW and 450 MB/s single card.||350 MB/s|
|Video Output||1x 12G-SDI, 1x 3G-SDI||HDMI, 2x HD-SDI|
|Timecode Output||1x BNC||Requires optional Sony XDCA-FS7 module|
|Timecode Input||N/A||Requires optional Sony XDCA-FS7 module|
|Reference Input||1x BNC||Requires optional Sony XDCA-FS7 module|
|DC Power Input||4-pin XLR||12-volt barrel connector (4-pin XLR with optional Sony XDCA-FS7 module)|
|DC Power Output||4-pin XLR||4-pin Hirose with optional Sony XDCA-FS7 module|
|Tally Indicator||Requires optional Blackmagic HD OLED EVF||Requires optional Sony XDCA-FS7 module|
|Orientation Data||GPS + 9-axis gyroscope||GPS|
|Full DaVinci Resolve Included? (Worth $995)||Yes||No|
|Built-in LCD||Flip out 5″ LCD Touch Screen (1920×1080)||Flip out 3.5″ LCD Screen (940×560) with snap-on loupe|
|OEM Electronic Viewfinder||Optional URSA 1080 HD OLED EVF @ 1920×1080||Included LCD loupe @ 940×560 (or 3rd party)|
|Body Weight||5 lbs. / 2.26 kg||4.4 lbs / 2 kg|
When it comes down to it, the URSA Mini 4.6K is an extremely low-cost powerhouse offering internal recording features and quality that other cameras just do not have, or do not have without adding, literally, thousands upon thousands of dollars.
To date, I’ve only used the URSA Mini in very limited fashion, but in the little time I’ve used it, along with the footage it produces, I’m extremely impressed with its results. Blackmagic listened to the community, truly sat down and created a high quality camera that resonates with what the masses are asking for: a compact shoulder mount camera that is physically balanced, ergonomically sound, and accompanied with high resolution, wide dynamic range, high frame rate, and internally recording to RAW and ProRes.
I truly love my original URSA “Major” and it will continue to be our most-used camera in a collection of about a dozen cameras we have access to (including a RED Dragon and a Canon C500), especially with the URSA Mini’s new mind-blowing 4.6K sensor. For many of our project types however, the URSA Mini 4.6K will be taking center stage with its compact form and high performance/quality. This will be especially true on our international projects where we need to travel incredibly lightweight without compromising any amount of image quality (like the time we were assigned to shoot on a commercial project in Costa Rica throughout the rain forest and rappelling enormous cliff faces… the URSA Mini would have been absolutely perfect for that job).
Having a 4.6K global/rolling selectable shutter sensor with 15 stops of dynamic range, and the ability to internally record to 12-bit RAW (in either 1:1, 3:1, or 4:1) or literally any flavor of ProRes (from Proxy to 12-bit RGB ProRes 444 XQ), all up to 60 FPS 4.6K (or 120 FPS HD) no less, is truly amazing to me. Especially at a $4995 price tag.
Combining Blackmagic’s shoulder mount kit and the 1080 HD OLED Electronic Viewfinder is the icing on the cake that truly makes this a complete package with versatility and mobility that everyone has been begging for from Blackmagic Design.
The bottom line for me: the URSA Mini, with its combination of low cost, high performance, and high quality is the absolute pinnacle of Blackmagic Design’s product creations to date. They really hit a grand slam with this camera and it’s going to fit incredibly well in our various production outlets, from feature film, commercial, high-end corporate, and visual effects production, to name a few. With so many applications this camera can be used for, I have a feeling it will be equally applicable to many others in the video and filmmaking industry.
Article ©2015, OneRiver Media. All rights reserved. No portion of this article shall be used/modified without the author’s expressly written approval.