Call us late to the party if you want, but like most in the blogosphere we are not yet famous enough to warrant the pre-release press prototypes of certain cameras for a test drive. No bother, though the BlackMagic URSA Mini Pro is fresh off the line, and from what we have seen, should be highly relevant, with a respectable shelf life for some time.
There are dozens of blogs out there that have already, and will continue to dive into the endless technical statistics and measurable data. Like us, you too have probably already read them, or glossed over the key details. For this exploration, we just want to offer up an ultra candid average user’s first impression.
That being said, first impression: highly impressed, and ready to splash the cash for our very own. Our recent experience with day-to-day cameras over the past few years has been based around the Sony FS-700, the Sony FS7, the incredible HDSLR Canon 1DXmkII, and most recently, and exclusively, the exquisite Canon C300mkII 4K cinema camera. Since the URSA Mini Pro is essentially a ‘C300 killer’ with it’s matched or better resolution and capture options, we jumped at the chance to grab one from the great folks at LensProToGo for a recent commercial shoot. If you are not familiar with LensProToGo, make yourselves familiar with LensProToGo! They are definitely the premier online gear rental house for photographers and video producers. If you are running a high end production with lots of specialized needs in the way of grip gear and support, sure, go through a local, major market rental agency. But, for cameras, lenses, stabilizers, and all sorts of great accessories, they are an awesome resource with broad rental terms. Not a paid testimonial, no allegiance to them over any of the other excellent online resources, just a happy customer with a lot of favorable experiences.
That said, when we got our mitts on the URSA Mini Pro we were highly impressed not just with the impeccable build quality and design, but most notably, the astonishingly well executed menu interface. Honestly, more than anything else, that was the ultimate selling point for me. With loads of recent experience with the Canon and Sony lines, despite regular, weekly use of those cameras and interfaces, I never felt completely comfortable with the menus and on-screen platforms from those brands. Within fifteen minutes of turning on the URSA Mini Pro and fooling around with the ridiculously intuitive touch-screen interface I felt fully confident in executing my tasks, completely and without reservation. The only thing I did after that fifteen minutes of noodling with the menu options was run a number of tests walking around the house shooting random stuff at the highest quality resolutions per formatting option.
Consider this a fully ‘realistic average user critique.’ The average user who buys or rents a camera, knowing they need to use it on a critical assignment in short order does not have the luxury of fooling around with it for a week, or even a few days, comparing it to a comparable model camera they also have access to, and running through diagnostic testing on each and every setting and resolution variable. The average rental user gets their paws on the new unit, and–especially with rental gear–finds the settings necessary for the maximum or required capture specs, and they execute the job. We did have several days to work with the camera before our project, but it was not even necessary. For anyone experienced with upper mid-market cinema cameras, the URSA Mini Pro is essentially a turn-key operation using the knowledge and ingenuity you have already amassed with other brands and models. Full disclosure in that this was absolutely my first experience with BlackMagic products. I steered away from the previous URSA models due to a lot of negative reviews, and knowledge that BlackMagic was correcting a number of errors and short-comings with those products. But, the new reviews and published improvements for the Mini Pro were so stellar, I knew this would be an excellent choice for our recent projects.
Okay, nothing is perfect. There will always be shortcomings or room for improvement. For me, and our somewhat short turnaround between receiving the camera and executing our production, there were certainly a few minor, but reasonable standouts. The camera does not have an HDMI output. It has a couple of SDI options, which is fantastic and top quality, but unless you have a higher end field monitor, you should be warned. Luckily we have the excellent BlackMagic Design SDI to HDMI 4K converter which pretty much irons out all of the conversion kinks for you automatically, but is not exactly cheap.
Additionally, the camera does not–at least from our research and usage–record, or have the capability to record simultaneous proxy footage to an SD card, as does the C300mkII. The on-board flip-out monitor is also only limited to a 270 rotation. Also, not a huge concern, but a shortcoming compared to the Canon Cinema camera line, and especially the new C200 which is set for release late this summer (2017). For us, other than those minor details, the camera is tremendously impressive. It is reasonably heavy, and a bit larger than the C300 and FS7, but each of these points is of minor concern when considering the URSA Mini Pro for purchase or rental.
If you have a chance, absolutely check out the URSA Mini Pro. Depending on your particular personal nuances or proclivities, you should find this camera on par with, or better than the current C300mkII or FS7 cinema cameras.
And, yes, it has ND!