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SALON – Shot with the URSA Mini 4.6K

Marco Solorio Blackmagic Cinema Camera, Reviews 22 Comments

Marco Solorio of OneRiver Media presents the short video, “SALON” in a production-style shoot using the Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K EF. As a beta tester of the camera for Blackmagic Design, he has been granted permission to release this video for public viewing.

I’ve been lucky enough to be a beta tester of the Blackmagic Design URSA Mini 4.6K. From the moment I got my grubby hands on it, I knew this camera (and more specifically, the 4.6K sensor) was something special. I’m not allowed to go into specifics into the performance of the camera and sensor just yet, since the camera is still technically under beta and I’m under NDA. But I can say this sensor is by far one of the easiest and best sensors I’ve ever worked with at any price level.

If you got a chance to read my very detailed article last year on the 4.6K sensor (and my social media comments), you may remember me saying how the sensor feels similar in nature to the ARRI Alexa sensor. Everything I felt about the sensor back then still holds true today. Without question, the 4.6K sensor is one of the easiest sensors I’ve ever lensed projects with. I feel as though the footage I bring into the computer to work with doesn’t require as much finessing to get the image dialed in. This includes both RAW and ProRes files. And even if you catch yourself under/over-exposed, there’s a ton of latitude to bring the image back where you need to. Likewise, the sensor is very forgiving because of its latitude, again, somewhat similar in nature to that of the ARRI Alexa sensor.

As I’ve said for many months now: this sensor is the real deal. It’s just so easy to work with and the latitude and detail is insane. To me, it’s not just about being a great sensor for a base camera starting at only $5k, it’s really about being a great sensor at any price.

SALON on YouTube in 4K UHD

SALON on Vimeo in 4K UHD

Although I’ve been using the URSA Mini 4.6K on various real-world productions at this point (since late 2015), our video, “SALON” was a project that we shot on our own time where we could release the footage publically. In a mad rush to figure out a shooting concept, my co-director, Suzette Mariel, came up with the idea to shoot in a salon. I thought it was a fantastic idea because I knew I wanted to (A) shoot in an interior location using production lighting and (B) shoot something that could make use of overcranking at 60 FPS for conformed slow-motion. I will say that glamour photography is one of the more difficult types of productions to undergo, especial in motion picture where you have moving highlights and shadows in the areas of interest (like the face), but I felt we were up to the task! Thanks to our friend, Stacy Langon Monroe, she graciously allowed us to shoot her in her salon with model, Tamara Lawrance, all of which was completely last-minute, so a HUGE thank you to them.

Because we were shooting in a live environment with actual salon clients getting their hair styled/cut in our immediate proximity, we had to shoot this incredibly fast. In all, we shot within a 3-hour window of time, which meant we were moving extremely fast between takes for different angles and actions. Juan Ruiz was my 1st AC to help keep things moving along. In terms of the shooting crew, it really only consisted of Juan and myself to manage lighting and the camera. In short, this was an absolutely small crew on a small set, in what felt like run-and-gun fashion. There were some shots I wanted to add, but we just didn’t have enough time. Nonetheless, I’m pleased with the shots we got and I didn’t feel the camera lacked in performance at all, even though we were rushing. It was actually a good test to see how well both crew and camera could perform under stress and in the end, everything worked out great.

Although this type of shoot doesn’t look like there’s a lot of dynamic range going on in the shot, there was in fact a lot. I think the beauty of this sensor is that the overall range is so incredibly smooth that you don’t really see how powerful it’s doing the job. The highlight rolloff is so smooth that you easily miss it if you’re not looking for it. Even little things, like the candle tips have their own subtle smoothness about them. Most any other camera would clip at the candles (and if you exposed for the candles on a lower-DR camera, the shadows would undoubtedly suffer). Overall, there’s really no blotchy clipping you’d otherwise get with a normal-DR sensor. Even some of the mirrors on the walls in the shots have reflections from the exterior windows: something that would produce a big white blotchy mess on a low-DR sensor but not so with the 4.6K.

Frame capture from, "SALON"

This might be my favorite shot from the video. The only portion of this shot that was directly lit by our production lights were on the talent, but as you can see, there’s an evenly distributed amount of exposure even in the other rooms in the background (which had its own mix of color temperatures). The left portion of the screen that is defocused shows curtains and a window, none of which was lit or ND’ed by us to control the outside sun exposure coming into the room. Because of the sheer latitude of the 4.6K sensor, this portion of the image is not blown out at all but instead produces gorgeously defined bokeh; something other lower-DR sensors would have suffered in as a clipped white area. Note the candles to the right and how they do not clip and have their own inherent smooth highlight rolloff.

The 4.6K sensor is like having the best things about the BMD 2.5K sensor (DR) and the 4K sensor (resolution), but better and with even more DR, resolution, functionality and power. As mentioned in my article last year, there is no dreaded black hole sun spots, no FPN, and definitely no moiré or aliasing. The noise floor is clean and organic. There also doesn’t seem to be a color bias. Everything is just downright clean.

Post-production was performed in DaVinci Resolve from start to finish. I shot this in Cinema DNG 4:1 RAW to maximize IQ and DR while keeping file size to a minimum. It’s an awesome format: I have yet to see any compression artifacts (even when pushing the footage) and even at 60 FPS, the files record without a single skip or glitch. I brought a bunch of CFast 2 cards just in case, but ended up only using one Lexar 256GB card (my CFast 2 card of choice) and only partially full. And because this was done in Resolve, the files just pop right in and I immediately work between editing and grading with the 12-bit RAW footage; no proxies, no round-tripping, no wasted time. No question, this is one of the most powerful all-in-one solutions I’ve seen come along in the film/video industry. It’s just downright cool.

We used our Flanders Scientific monitors for this shoot; the BM 210 on a light stand for large viewing and a BM 090 on the URSA Mini itself. This monitor combo is truly fantastic and I love using them on set.

In some cases, I needed to ditch the AC power so I used our Switronix HyperCore 98 gold mount batteries and like always, they powered right through huge draw (powering the URSA Mini, the OLED EVF, the Wooden Camera C-Box, and the Flanders Scientific BM 090 simultaneously). I can’t say enough great things about these batteries (stay tuned for an upcoming review).

Well, I’ve already written more than I had planned for a quick “briefing” of the video. I’ll be writing added details once the camera is no longer in beta. Likewise, I’ll discuss details about the shoot itself, including behind-the-scenes, rigging, optics, and more.

And to answer the elephant in the room… I wish I knew when the 4.6K was going to be publicly released, but I just don’t have that information. But I will say this: It’s worth the wait!!!

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About the Author

Marco Solorio

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Marco Solorio is an award-winning feature filmmaker, published author, and international speaker as a 30-year veteran in the industry with many industry awards to his name. As owner of OneRiver Media, he has produced, directed, and lensed content spanning from commercial to feature film works. As a credited thought-leader in the industry, Marco has consulted for the likes of Pixar, Apple, and Google to name a few. Along with published books to his credit, Marco has also been featured in... Read Marco's full bio here.

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Comments 22

    1. Post

      Hi Dave. Thanks for asking. I know it’s very easy to miss, but towards the end of the article, I briefly mentioned that I’d be sharing another post on the optics and setup used for this production. I have to save some surprises for the follow-up article! Please stay tuned. Thanks!

  1. Thanks Marco,

    Great work as always. Can’t wait to get the details on lens and lighting setup. The images coming from the beta testers is so amazing, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop… what’s wrong with this camera, and why is it that most other manufactures are only offering 11 stop, 8bit, 4:2:0 cameras in this price range. Thanks for sharing the footage, looking forward to seeing more from you.

    1. Post

      Thanks so much, Shawn. Much appreciated. Yeah, I often wonder why there aren’t other cameras offering similar specs for the price but I think it’s sometimes a matter of protecting the established higher dollar products. Luckily BMD has never followed that particular model and strives to produce affordable products with as much features the current technology can provide. Thanks again for your kind comment!

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  2. I’m really looking forward to the release of this camera and appreciate your videos and sharing your knowledge with us. Although it’s a beautiful image, there is something missing picture-wise. I just watched a video called “Training Day”, it was shot on the new unreleased BMD Micro Cinema Camera and the “look” of that video blew my mind. I don’t know if it was the lenses, the lighting, the color grading, or something within the camera but to me it looked more “organic” than anything I’ve seen so far from the Ursa Minis.

    1. Post

      Well I do believe part of anything that is visual or audio based is subjective from person to person. Like any “art”, one oil painting will resonate with one person and not with another. Same holds true for music, films, etc. We approached the Salon video with a very stylized approach in both the lighting style, the edit, the composed music, and especially the grade. I knew beforehand the style wouldn’t resonant with everyone, and that’s okay, but this particular style is how we wanted to work with this particular project. I do believe however that there is an inherent organic quality to how the 4.6K sensor acquires footage in a way many sensors do not, namely in the smooth highlight rolloff, the contrast transitions, skin tones, the noise floor, and so much more. I think you’ll feel the same once you get a chance to play with the 4.6K… hopefully soon!

    1. Post

      Thank you for the kind comment. I think part of the reason there are no reviews, per se, is because the 4.6K is still technically under beta phase and Blackmagic is requesting that no testing go out at this time until the sensor is publicly released.

  3. Great blog post and many thanks for sharing the footage. I am waiting on delivery on my pre-order, just like a lot of us, and the more I see of the sample footage making its way to the surface, the more I [1] know I made the right decision, just as I did with the BMCC 2.5K, and [2] that I am starving to have the 4.6K Ursa Mini in-house. To my eye, Blackmagic sensors have always created images that I connect with ahead of most all others. I suspect it has to do with bit-depth and sample ratios that have routinely been superior to cameras costing multiple times more, and that result it beautiful rendition of color.

    I hope you will be returning to the subject of recommended rigging for the new form design.

    1. Post

      Thanks so much for the friendly words and your insight as well, Greg! Yes, stay tuned as I’ll be writing up a post on my experiences with the URSA Mini 4.6K and how it’s been the most versatile camera for my needs (for various reasons) in the 25 years I’ve been working in media. There are several key factors to this that overlap and I’ll be showing why. Stay tuned!

  4. Very nice Marco, not totally convinced on the skin tones though to be honest! One question that has been haunting me is does this mini shoot 100fps? I seem to be getting mixed responses on that. But according to the BM website it says:
    “When you need even more dramatic, higher frame rate slow motion shooting, you can use the regular URSA which can record high resolution 4.6K images at an amazing 100 frames per second!” Just to be clear, does this mean only the full size Ursa 4.6K will have this capability?

    1. Post

      Hi Chris. Thank you for the comments. No worries if you’re not convinced on the skin tones. I knew the style we chose wouldn’t appeal to 100% of the viewers! I will say however that it’s more of a stylized color grade decision on our part than any kind of restriction by the sensor. The sensor itself is so rich with latitude and deep color that skin tones can really go in any creative direction you’d like. Yes, the big URSA has higher HFR than the Mini. The Mini is capable up to 60 FPS full sensor and 120 FPS @ 1080 crop. Not sure what the exact number will ultimately be on the big URSA with the 4.6K sensor (as we don’t have it yet) but minimum should be 100 FPS full sensor and 200 FPS @ 1080 crop.

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  5. Hi, Marco, amazing work up there! One quick question: I know there is a big talk about them export settings and stuff, but you really nailed it this time, and I can’t help to ask about it. Even on YT, your video is pretty darn good and sharp, and grading is just amazing. As someone who works on BMPC4K, it is an actual pain not being able to upload it correctly, even after hours and hours of forum and codec reasearching . All the best, and thanks in advance!

    1. Post

      Hi David! Thank you so much for your generous words. It’s appreciated! The biggest thing I make sure to do is encode a file (for YouTube) that has very low compression in it (using a QuickTime wrapper with the H.264 codec). YouTube always transcodes uploaded files, resulting in double-compression. So by starting with the very low compression, it’ll have lower compression artifacts in the end. The Salon video was also uploaded as 4K UHD, so that helps in sharpness as well. We use DaVinci Resolve for our grading and out of that we make sure to encode to full data level (0-1023) because otherwise using the Video setting (64-940) may truncate the black and white levels to an undesirable result for YouTube/Vimeo use. BTW, the 4.6K has so much inherent detail, that I’ve found there is no need for post-sharpening or things actually get too sharp and contrast-edgy. I’ve found this to be true most of the time with the 4K sensor as well. Hope this helps!

    1. Post

      Hello. As a starter, I prefer to not use LUTs when grading footage. Instead, I keep the footage in its original LOG state from the debayer process. Likewise, depending on how the footage was shot, I typically ETTR (Expose To The Right) so that there is a lower chance of shadow noise if there aren’t any highlights that are clipping (or allowing clipping in areas I’m not concerned about, like a practical light bulb). With that in mind, I adjust lift and gain accordingly, then sit the gamma where I like (the scopes are a huge help for this, especially lift and gain, but the eye is always the final decision maker). Once luminance looks to be in a good place, I bump up the saturation a bit and if needed, adjust the white balance in the 3 zones (lift, gamma, gain). Once the footage is now color-timed, I now have a base from which to work from to start color-grading a style. From here, it then becomes personal choice and/or expression. In this case, I went for a warm, almost sepia tone look, while still allowing colors to be present (green in the flowers, pink in the product bottles, etc.). Personally speaking, I do not like blown highlights, and try to recover them whenever possible, even if that means I need to power window and area that needs that recovery (by shooting it correctly and having 12-bit RAW, this makes the job much easier). It’s all part of the acquisition and grading process, which I feel goes very hand-in-hand. For some shots (like the closing shot), I added a subtle vignette to add focus and intensity to the model. Once all the shots are graded, I use the split view function in Resolve, to balance all the shots together so they match with one another. Then it’s off to the races!

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