URSA Mini UI/OS Review

Does a new user interface and operating system make the URSA Mini a new camera?

Finally, the new User Interface and Operating System has become available on the Blackmagic URSA Mini. I have tested it. I have shot with it. And, yes it is most definitely the other half of the camera. You read those words right. The firmware was the missing link in the URSA Mini. Crazy to say, I know, but this is the truth. First and foremost, the shooting experience is much more enjoyable by adding function to the function buttons on the outside of the camera, but this is not the only change.

To name a few of my favorite new features, we now have white balance settings including tint along the magenta / green axis. We have raw recording formats for 4.6K including 4.6K 2.4:1, 4K 16×9, 3K Anamorphic, 2K 16×9 and HD. There is a 4:3 Anamorphic 3K setting. To top it off there is even better color fidelity in the LCD screen and electronic viewfinder. The update is enough for the camera to feel like new again. But, how does all of this work? Does it work well?  After taking the 4.6k Blackmagic URSA Mini with its new UI and OS out to shoot for two weeks I can say the Beta works well with only a few small bugs.

URSA

UI Updates Needed

What needs to be fixed in the BETA of the UI and OS? The biggest problem I’ve seen is the monitor’s 3D LUT turning itself off. This happened at random times and wasn’t something I caught immediately. This, of course, is fixable. Actually, I believe it is an easy fix so let’s see how quickly BMD will address this one problem.

Now this is the point in the article I would list everything else wrong with the UI and OS, but, here’s the thing, there is not anything else I saw wrong with the firmware. This just works. This is a fundamentally new BMD. This is a company trying to ship their cameras quickly and releasing firmware and products when they originally said it would be shipped.

The New URSA Mini Menu

The menu on the URSA Mini is a deeper dive with more pages now, but the layout is smart allowing you to find the setting you might need quickly. This update is all about speed. Speed in changing any of the settings quickly. This includes changing the white balance or even adjust the audio.  All of this update is meant to work faster.

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Function Buttons

This is a huge help for shooters who are tasked with working quickly and capturing the moments no matter how fleeting they may be. You have a few settings options for function buttons: ISO, White Balance, Shutter, and FPS. I have my two buttons set to ISO and FPS. I did it this way to help me capture a moment as quickly as possible. I hit the FPS button and then I hit the ISO button to get my exposure the way I want it without the need to dive into the menu.

Auto Exposure

Not that I use auto exposure much at all, but I did run into a shooter on Sunday who was happy to let his Sony FS7 do some of the work for him. If he was to use the URSA Mini he would have three different options for auto exposure. Exposure can be changed by the camera automatically adjusting the Shutter, Iris, or Shutter + Iris.

Audio

Now you can not only adjust each channels’ audio levels, but you can adjust the master volume too (oops  *** update*** fuzzy memory, this is not a master volume, but a headphone and speaker volume *** update ***). You have no need to go into a menu. By tapping on the audio meters on the LCD screen you will open up the three audio level sliders: Channel 1, Channel 2, and a headphone or speaker volume. It is simple. It is quick.

There is only one change I’d like to see with the audio and I am not 100% sure they can do it with their hardware. I would love to have one channel of audio set to the camera mic and the second channel of audio set to an input. Last I checked, this was not an option. You either had to go with both channels set to input or camera.

The Touch Screen

MiniSpeaking of the touch screen on the URSA Mini. It is as easy as it gets. When shooting I feel no reservation about using the touch screen to make adjustments on the fly. On the LCD, all the settings one can change are far enough apart anyone with zero coordination will be able to tap the needed setting and have no worries he/she might open up the wrong setting. Today I was shooting an interview and I taped the screen to adjust my audio. I was able to do it without introducing camera shake. So, what else can one change on the LCD screen? This means ISO, frame rates, shutter, iris, white balance, and focus. The focus is especially cool because the zoomed in 2x focus assist area can be dragged around the LCD screen with a finger allowing an operator can check the focus on any area in the frame.

Finally White Balance

Praise all to the camera gods. Blackmagic has finally added a usable white balance setting to one of their cameras. I am just like any other cameraman / woman out there. I have to hand off footage to clients and those clients expect the footage to be as close to finished as I can make it. Without a tint control along the green / magenta spectrum, I was left with asking them to let me color grade it before handing it off.

Now we can confidently white balance our cameras and shoot away. We have preset choices between daylight, tungsten, fluorescent, mixed lighting, and overcast. You can also custom set your white balance by dragging your finger across the white balance slider. Then there is auto white. I did not test auto white. I am used to never shooting with auto white balance on. It is an old news photographer thing. My favorite way to set the URSA Mini’s white balance is just like I did with my old new camera, by setting a custom white balance with a white card.

Below you can see a couple frame grabs of me pushing the dynamic range in the URSA Mini. I shot raw 4:1 in HD on a cropped sensor. I wanted to show how much detail is in the shadows. It is pretty impressive after color grading, but even more impressive in the raw ungraded file. The intention was to shoot a dark mood for an incredibly sad story. I would not normally push the visuals this far but I’m trying to push myself to take great risks.

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I shot 4:1 raw in HD on the cropped sensor setting in the URSA Mini menu.

Anamorphic

Let me start with one simple fact: I have not tested the anamorphic feature yet. I am awaiting a PL URSA Mini to arrive to give the specific feature the full test it definitely deserves. I want to see if the URSA Mini will be the budget anamorphic camera of choice which will be a separate article in and of itself.

There are some aspects of the firmware I tried, but not enough to come to a grounded conclusion. Like importing LUTs different from the 4.6K BMD. It worked just as Blackmagic stated. I can see building myself a specific LUT for a project or music video. Then the 3D LUT feature becomes handy. In the end, this firmware update was as big of an update as Blackmagic was promoting at NAB 2016. It really does feel like a whole new camera and a camera more in line with other digital cinema cameras on the market. For the PL version, priced at $5,495, you get one of the least expensive anamorphic cameras shooting raw. Now that the function buttons work and the LCD heads-up display allows easier access to critical settings I think the URSA Mini will be on hell of a popular camera.

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I shot raw 4:1 in HD for this shot. I wanted to use the crop sensor to extend my throw on a canon 70-200

New Heads Up Display Features

  • Swipe up or down to show and hide the heads up display.
  • Added pan-able focus zoom.
  • Added ability to change frame rate directly from heads up display.
  • Added ability to change iris from heads up display on electronic lenses.
  • Added ability to toggle timecode or duration from heads up display.
  • Added ability to toggle favorite off-speed frame rate quickly.
  • Added ability to change shutter angle from heads up display.
  • Added flicker free shutter angle suggestions.
  • Added manual shutter angle option for up to 2 decimal places.
  • Added indicators for genlock, timecode status, and sensor window in heads up display.
  • Added ability to change ISO from heads up display.
  • Added ability to change white balance from heads up display.
  • Added white balance presets including daylight, tungsten, fluorescent, mixed lighting, and overcast.
  • Added tint control.
  • Added auto white balance feature.
  • Added audio input and headphone level control from the heads up display.
  • Added media status page for formatting cards and media information.
  • Added ability to toggle battery indicator from heads up display.
  • Added monitoring option controls from heads up display including zebra, focus assist, frame guide and grids.

New Metadata Features

  • Improved slate and metadata functionality.
  • Added lens data information to slate metadata.
  • Added auto-fill lens metadata from electronically controllable lenses.
  • Changed slate shortcut from a single tap to a sideways swipe on the LCD.

New Record Features

  • Added additional ProRes resolutions for URSA Mini 4.6K including 4.6K 16×9, 4.6K 2.4:1, 4K DCI, 3K Anamorphic, 2K 16×9 and 2K DCI.
  • Added additional RAW resolutions for URSA Mini 4.6K including 4.6K 2.4:1, 4K 16×9, 3K Anamorphic, 2K 16×9 and HD.
  • Added option to select the preferred card for recording.

New Monitor Features

  • Improved screen colorimetry for the built-in LCD.
  • Added ability to switch 3D LUT on and off for each output individually.
  • Added ability to switch false color, zebras, focus assist, frame guides, grids and safe area guide on or off for each output individually.
  • Added clean feed toggle for each output.
  • Added program tally indicator for the built-in LCD and Front SDI when using ATEM.
  • Added monitoring option for a tally, crosshairs, and center dot as part of grids.
  • Added 14:9 frame guides.
  • Added configurable safe area guides.
  • Expanded options for focus assist to include red, green, blue, black and white as well as peaking.
  • Added option for viewing codec and resolution setting instead of meters on the built-in LCD.

New Settings Features

  • Added ability to program function buttons as a preset for frame rate, iris, white balance, ISO or shutter angle.
  • Added ability to program function buttons for Up or Down frame rate, iris, white balance, ISO or shutter angle.
  • Added ability to program function buttons as a toggle for clean feed, display LUT, frame guides, focus assist, false color, zebra, grids, safe area guides, off-speed and color bars.
  • Added flicker free shutter frequency selection for 50Hz or 60Hz.
  • Added support for drop frame timecode.
  • Added ability to trigger color bars from the camera.
  • Added factory reset function.
  • Added hardware ID display.
  • Added software version display.

New Presets Features

  • Added ability to create up to 12 global camera settings presets.
  • Added ability import and export camera presets to CFast media.

New 3D LUT Features

  • Added ability to monitor with 3D LUTs.
  • Added ability to import 3D LUT from CFast media.
  • Added ability to store up to 6 custom 17 point or 33 point LUTs into the camera’s internal flash memory.
  • Added the ability to export one of the camera’s 3D LUTs to CFast media so you can pass the 3D LUT to a colorist or editor.
  • Added ability to delete 3D LUT from camera’s internal memory.

New General Features

  • Improved timecode functionality for external timecode and jam timecode.
  • Improved white balance performance.
  • Added option for a single clip or all clip playback.
  • Added loop playback feature.

Blackmagic URSA Viewfinder

  • Improved colorimetry for the viewfinder.
  • Improved proximity sensor sensitivity.
  • Improved proximity sensor timeout settings.
  • Improved frame guide appearance.
  • Added support for URSA Mini OS metadata settings.
  • Added support for new frame guides, safe area guides, and grids.
  • Added menu items for configuring overlay settings.

URSA

Mini

 

 


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Brian Hallett

Brian Hallett, is the senior promotions producer at the NBC affiliate in Nashville, TN, and an award winning cameraman, editor, and producer. He has shot everything from broadcast television news, promotional image campaigns, music videos, short films, and documentaries. First and foremost, Brian is a cameraman and since 1999 his skills have allowed him to work for Spike TV, NBC, Fox, and CBS.

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5 Comments on "URSA Mini UI/OS Review"

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Brian D. Hallett
Brian D. Hallett

Just a clarification on the frame grabs. I was shooting a very dark story about a child over-prescribed an opiate which nearly killed him.

Liam
Liam

Hi Brian. Are you recording audio straight into the Ursa Mini? One of my biggest fears with the camera is the preamps, blackmagic have a particularly poor history there. Not sure if people are recording directly in with both shotgun and lav mic’s? I’m itching to get my hands on the camera though, may find a reason to rent one soon.

Brian D. Hallett
Brian D. Hallett

Yes. I’m recording straight into the URSA Mini. The audio preamps have been upgraded on all of Blackmagic cameras. We even go straight into the BMCC now for audio. Just make sure to update your firmware. Here is an example of audio going straight into the URSA Mini: https://vimeo.com/179203543 and this is audio recorded straight into the BMCC: https://vimeo.com/129151702

Gerfried Guggi
Gerfried Guggi

Which ND are you using on the URSA Mini? Variable? thanks!

Brian D. Hallett
Brian D. Hallett

Tiffen ND 77mm & 82mm for my Canon glass. I also have a set of IRND filters from Tiffen, but I don’t use them as much.

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