Six Months with the Ursa Mini Pro

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It may only be a tool, but it's the best tool I've ever owned. I've really enjoyed shooting with the Ursa Mini Pro, so much so, I've barely picked up my Canon C100 Mark II in the past few months. 

My initial thought was that I'd use my Ursa to shoot narrative pieces and leave the run and gun stuff to my C100, but the more I shot with the Ursa, the more I realized it can handle the majority of shooting conditions I find myself in.

The first thing I shot was a few days of a feature film. We were shooting on location in very small and cramped real world locations. In the clip below, you can see a few of those locations - real bathrooms, bedrooms, and offices with little room to set lights and in most cases, no ability to strike a light through a window.

Despite most of these shots being underexposed in camera, I was able to grade a very clean and usable image while shooting ProRes HQ and 422.

Like every camera, the more light you can give the sensor the better the image quality. There's a lot of detail that can be recovered in the shadows as well as the highlights, but what others have said in regards to the highlights is true - the roll-off is not smooth so making sure you don't clip or come close to clipping in camera is very important.

The dynamic range is excellent. If you are still shooting with a DSLR or mirrorless, you may not understand what a difference it is to shoot with a camera that can resolve 15 stops of DR. This shot below of the West Point Rugby Team's Head Coach is a good example of a shot I would not have been able to create with my C100 or a DSLR. 

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The coach has a very small office and I had twenty minutes to set-up, interview him, and break down. This was the only direction in the office I could shoot and as you can see the background behind him is bright. It's about 3:30pm on a fairly sunny day. I had just enough time to set up an Aputure Lightstorm to camera right and blast it at him through some diff. There was no time to strike a second light or flag some light coming in through the windows. Apparently head coaches are very busy.

With a DSLR or mirrorless camera, getting his face properly exposed would have raised the highlights of the sky and field behind him to a clipped level. The Ursa had just enough DR to get them both exposed to a proper level with some minimal clipping where the sun directly hits the metal railing behind him. Is it the best talking head I've ever shot? Definitely not. Would I have liked another 30-40 minutes to work with? Fuck yes. Did the extra dynamic range of the Ursa Mini Pro help me get the shot? Absolutely.

I did shoot 4K anytime I had the chance when I was using the GH4 as my primary camera. That option was taken away when using the C100 Mark II and I was fine with it as I was doing work that didn't require the resolution. Now that my work is progressing and production budgets are rising, shooting 4K is becoming necessary.  I really enjoyed shooting 4K ProRes HQ on this set of commercials I made for an app called MOVED. 

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We lit these spots with a mixture of Aputure LED's and some older tungsten hard lights. Our final delivery was 1080p but it was really nice to be able to subtly reframe and take advantage of the extra resolution.

On the negative side, shooting 4K ProRes files eats up a ton of hard drive space and also makes my 6 year old Mac start to chug along. I've switched to a proxy workflow so as soon as I ingest my footage I create proxies for my edit.

I broke down the simple lighting setup for this above spot shot with the Ursa. With a really simple grade I was able to achieve a very filmic response from the sensor for this low-budget commercial.

For a recent green screen shoot I took advantage of the ProRes 444 XQ codec so I could pull some super clean keys.

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Finding myself filming in a small and very dark (no natural light and deep purple painted walls) I used only two Aputure lights to film this cover video for Youtube.

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I never use ISO 1600 on the Ursa as I've tested it and I immediately see FPN even at proper exposure levels. I went with ISO 800 wide open at f2.8 on my Canon 24-700mm with the Aputure Lightstorm and Lightstorm 1/2. I used some Rosco color gels on both lights as well as some diff on the key so I was losing light there was well. The image still held up and graded clean in Resolve.

I shot some really beautiful footage at sunset for this music video. below, Run Towards the Highway. The dynamic range of the UMP really helped when shooting these shots straight into sunlight near the end of the video.

Overall, here are some condensed thoughts after 6 months of using this camera 2 or 3 times a week.

Pros 

  • Amazing dynamic range for $6000
  • ND filters make this camera usable in a pinch in most situations
  • Shooting either ProRes in a number of flavors or RAW is awesome
  • It's a cool looking camera and clients are impressed 
  • Multiple output options for on camera and client monitoring
  • Great detail in shadows
  • Footage is sharp, but not overly sharp
  • Filmic sensor
  • Clean audio
  • 120fps (windowed sensor)

Cons

  • large file sizes but let's be honest that it's a reality for any real cinema camera now
  • highlight roll off gradient is not smooth
  • only usable up to ISO800 (at least on my model)

Hopefully some of these footage/still frames can be helpful if you're on the fence regarding this camera. I would still recommend renting before buying. If you have questions, leave them in the comments, and I'll answer as they come in.