Review: Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro 12K and DZOFilm Pictor 20-55mm T2.8 Cine lens (Updated)

Reviewed by Dr David Smith, Imaginaction

Updated:

At the bottom of this page is a 17 minute video review. A review of the lens starts at approx 7:46

Blackmagic Design have really pushed the limits in producing the latest version of the Ursa Mini Pro with a whopping 12,288 x 6480 pixel (80 megapixels) Super 35 sensor. If you plan to use the full 12K resolution, be prepared for everything to be huge. The camera, with large V-lock battery, handgrip and DZO Pictor 20-55mm cine lens weighed in at 6.55kg. The files, encoded with new, highly efficient proprietary codecs, will also be huge, as will the data transfer rates required to record these large images at up to 60 frames per second, but the results will blow you away.

All data are recorded solely in Blackmagic Design’s proprietary BRAW format. This requires editing in Da Vinci Resolve Studio, although Vegas Pro 19 and above will also natively handle BRAW files.1 There are several ways to record the RAW data, either at constant quality or constant bitrate. Four compression levels are available with constant bitrate recording, ranging from 578MB/s at 5:1 down to 160MB/s at 18:1 compression.

Choose variable bitrate, and your data rates will lie in the range 289 – 1,156 MB/s at Q0 quality, down to 97 – 413MB/s at Q5 quality.

The Blackmagic RAW codec is designed to work with various performance modes, so if you decide to shoot 12K and edit and finish in an 8K timeline or 4K timeline then the performance will be much faster and you may not necessarily need a high performance graphics card.

All of this data can be recorded internally on two CFast 2.0 cards or on two UHS-II SD cards, with the useful option of hot-swapping out cards as they fill up.  Alternatively, data can be recorded externally via the rear-mounted USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 Super Speed powered expansion port, recording to external media such as a high performance SSD drive. For this review a Samsung 1TB T7 SSD was used 2

It is important to use the cable supplied with the SSD drive, not an after-market version. I encountered numerous data interruptions, signalled by an exclamation mark in the red record button on the LCD screen, until I swapped to the Samsung USB cable that came with the T7. Once formatted, you can test the disk’s performance using the BMD Speed Test. On a PC, you’ll need to download the free BMD Desktop Video app which includes the Speed Test app. This will check that the read and write speeds of your SSD drive and your computer’s drives are adequate to handle the load imposed by the Ursa 12K.

Controls and connectors

Having satisfied yourself that the recording media are up to the task, the fun really begins. The Ursa Mini Pro 12K has been thoughtfully designed, drawing on the expertise of experienced cinematographers to ensure that everything you need is close to hand and easily accessed during a shoot. This care and attention to detail really pays off.

ISO/Gain, Shutter and White Balance levers are placed at the front of the side panel and status indicators are clearly visible in the LCD screen on the left hand side. This LCD panel opens to reveal the microphone selectors and phantom 48V power switches. Beside these are the four slots for memory media as well as a USB-C port for software updates. This port should not be used for data recording, which is handled by the high-speed USB port at the base of the rear panel. At the bottom of the side panel are record, playback and menu buttons. All very self-explanatory and easy to read with crisp white lettering on black buttons.

The inside of the side panel door features a large, colour LCD touch screen. This is where the very clear menu options can be displayed. The menu system is logical and well laid out and the screen itself is a very crisp monitor. The touch screen functions very well and the virtual on-screen buttons are large enough to be easily selected even under field conditions.

There is a large viewfinder which has its own menu system with buttons on top covering zoom, display and peak functions. Key functions include colour or monochrome, zebra, display overlays, display LUT, peaking, false colour, zoom and meters. The viewfinder zoom function is invaluable in getting precise focus which with pro-grade optics and an 80 megapixel sensor is critically important. 

The various inputs and outputs comprise three SDI jacks (one IN, two OUT) and two XLR audio input jacks with optional phantom power. These upward-facing jacks are protected when not in use by a sturdy rubber flap.  In addition to these mic inputs there are two inbuilt mics at the top front of the body, providing stereo audio input. Audio levels are controlled by two volume wheels on the door.

A four-position ND wheel is positioned at the front beside the lens mount. Below this are various controls which only apply when a servo-assisted lens is fitted.

Beneath the sturdy upper carrying handle, which has three ¼” 20 threaded sockets, are the mesh covered outlets for the ventilation system. I have always been concerned that upward facing vents may be vulnerable to dust, sand or rain although I’m sure the Blackmagic people have ensured that the risk of such entry is minimal.

I found the camera really good to use, provided you mount it on a sturdy tripod. There is a shoulder mount accessory that screws onto the base of the camera and that works well, especially with servo lenses having their own dedicated hand grip.

So what do 12K videos look like and how difficult are they to shoot?

Two decades ago I worked as Associate Producer on a large format (IMAX) feature film called Australia, Land Beyond Time. This was shot on an IMAX film camera, using 70mm film passing horizontally through a revolving gate. The film is therefore 70mm high by 15 perforations wide, hence the name 1570 film. Apart from the immense difficulties of trying to film wildlife with a very large, very noisy film camera, perhaps the most critical issue was focus. The depth of field was tiny so focus was critically important and difficult to achieve using a viewfinder basically similar to that on a Bolex 16mm camera. This is why the zoom function on the Ursa viewfinder is such a boon.

IMAX film purportedly has a resolution of up to 16K although direct comparisons with the pixel count in a digital film are not straightforward. Projected from a film projector, the image can fill a screen such as the one in the Melbourne IMAX cinema which is 32 metres wide by 23 metres high. The Melbourne cinema also features a 3D laser digital projection system with a resolution of 4K (2 x 2K projectors) and superior brightness and evenness on the huge screen.

IMAX certified cameras

Arri Alexa

4K

Sony Venice range

6K

Arri Alexa 65 IMAX camera

6.5K

Panavision Millennium DXL2

8K

RED Ranger Monstro

8K

 

As of August 2022, the Ursa Mini Pro 12K has yet to be certified by IMAX. Its specifications make it eminently suitable for that role, although the aspect ratio would need to be adjusted to match that of an IMAX screen, namely 1.43:1.

The reason I’ve made this digression into the world of IMAX is that IMAX 1570 film cameras are huge, extremely expensive, heavy and noisy. Recording dialogue is not feasible so in a drama actors must resort to ADR to successfully record dialogue. An IMAX 3D camera has two film magazines and weighs in at around 120kg. They also typically have a limit of around five minutes of shooting per magazine, with significant wastage as the film takes some time to accelerate up to speed and to slow down after you button off. In the IMAX film world cost is a major consideration. Film stock and processing are extremely expensive and the camera itself cannot be purchased, instead being rented at around $15,000 per week, with bookings being required up to two years in advance.

By comparison, the Ursa Mini Pro 12K weighs in at around 7kg, is silent and has essentially unlimited shot duration, depending only on the storage media. It also records sound. The total cost of the rig I have reviewed here is around $25,000 and the media, while not cheap, are readily available and re-usable. Especially in the case of live action and also wildlife film making, the Ursa Mini Pro 12K is an extremely attractive package.

Lenses

There is no point having a camera of this quality with such a superb sensor without providing the finest quality lenses. The lens reviewed here is the DZOFILM Pictor 20-55mm T2.8 Super 35 zoom  lens, supplied by Videoguys in Melbourne. It is a compact lens with all-metal internals and a moderately fast aperture of T2.8 throughout the zoom range. It is also a parfocal lens which means that focus is retained throughout the zoom range as well. I tested this by filming a calibration chart. With peaking switched on,  the chart glowed red as the peaks verified focus at 55mm. Then, zooming out to 20mm, the red peaks clearly indicated that focus was retained.

This Pictor cine lens retails for around AUD$3,999 which is an almost unbelievably low price. Videoguys are marketing a pair of Pictor lenses, 20-55mm and 50-125mm both T2.8 for AUD$8,299. At that price you would be very well set up for shooting a variety of projects with high quality results.

The description on the box promises ‘Gentle Sharpness and Moderate Contrast, Fine Details Capturing and an Organic Look and Cinematic Feeling’. Which is quite a promise. Given that a well regarded Japanese lens such as the FujiFilm XK 20-120 T3.5 retails for $24,000, how would the Pictor lens, at one fifth the cost, compare? The answer, based on my brief two weeks with the lens, is that the Pictor performs surprisingly well.

The lens is very well made, both physically and optically. With all-metal internal workings and an ultra-compact size it is an ideal lens, particularly for a film maker making the leap into cinema quality production. It is not servo controlled, which helps decrease both the weight and price.

The focus, zoom, and aperture rings move smoothly and with just the right degree of resistance. All three are equipped with standard 0.8 MOD/32-pitch gears to suit a variety of servo and focus-pulling options. The focus ring moves through a full 270 degrees which greatly aids focus-pulling.

Focus breathing, whereby a lens appears to slightly change focal length when focusing, is virtually absent in this lens. This feature, together with its parfocal property, is very unusual in such a relatively inexpensive lens and makes it an attractive option for someone moving into cine-style shooting.

The lens features a 16-blade iris which produces what DZOFILM describe as ‘Dreamatic Bokeh and Esthetic Transition’. This is marketing speak for producing pretty coloured dots in the soft focus background, and it’s a look commonly sought after in artsy feature films. This lens will make Bokeh-craving directors very happy.

The graduations for focus, zoom and iris are very clear, with large, bright yellow numbers on the black background. The focus ring has two sets of numbers, with distance in feet being read from the left, and meters from the right. Simple and sensible.

The Pictor lens has a Super 35 PL mount and comes with an EF adapter kit supplied. Also supplied is a set of shims that are required to adjust the back focus when using the EF mount. A lens support bracket is also provided.

Results  

The Mini Pro 12K is a delightful camera to use. I used it exclusively on a heavy Miller tripod both for security and stability. Although the weather was pretty much against me, with strong winds and overcast skies, I filmed a variety of shots around the Portarlington ferry terminal, including some shots of the Melbourne-to-Portarlington ferry coming into port and docking Fig. 13.

I also filmed some sunsets which included some very fine details, with birds flying through frame, a man fishing on a breakwater, silhouetted against a shaft of sunlight across the water, and a tiny speedboat tracking across the bay. I wanted to demonstrate the exceptional resolution that can be achieved with this camera and lens combination.

This still was taken from the timeline at sunset, filming at 12K resolution. In the camera’s viewfinder the detail was stunningly crisp. Even in this still the detail is very clear and in the close-up of the same image you can even see the fisherman’s fishing rod.  

The colour and detail in these views of a yacht in the harbour are impressive.

Initially I encountered some problems with dropped frames when filming at maximum quality 12K. I received very prompt, helpful advice from New Magic’s Technical Support Manager, Warwick Morris. It turned out that the problem was very simple: I was not using the USB cable supplied with the Samsung T7 SSD drive. However I did notice that when filming at 5:1 compression in 12K, the camera would stop recording after something like 30 to 40 seconds. I did several tests and found that dropping down to 12:1 or even 18:1 compression allowed recording to continue uninterrupted indefinitely. Also if special interest was that the files recorded at 18:1 were just about indistinguishable from those recorded at the highest quality, basically due to the power of the 80 megapixel Super 35 sensor and the DZOFILM Cine lens.

Overall I was extremely impressed with the quality of the footage I obtained, even despite the less than optimal weather I encountered. The colour is rich and deep and the fine detail is stunning.

The Ursa Mini Pro 12K will perform brilliantly at its highest settings, provided your recording media and computer system can cope with the load. For example, I recorded about one hour of 12K footage which resulted in almost a terabyte of BRAW files. Similarly Warwick from New Magic stressed that the absolute minimum specs for a graphics card should include at least 20GB of video RAM. That will be an expensive card. For example an MSI card with 24GB VRAM retails for around AUD$2,400 while a PNY card sporting 32GB tops out at just on AUD$13,000.

My primary video editing software is Vegas Pro which I have used and praised for two decades. My system comprises a Ryzen 7 2700X CPU running at 3.7GHz, 32GB RAM and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Super graphics card with 6GB DDR5 video RAM. This system handles 4K video perfectly well without the need for proxies but I was prepared for it to seriously struggle with 12K RAW video clips from the Ursa. That was certainly the case.

However, this camera is far more versatile than that. Given that most of us regard 4K as very high resolution, you could set up with 4K and minimum compression, and film documentaries, corporate and educational videos that would place minimal strain on any reasonable computer and look fantastic. And then if someone came along with a big pot of money, you could throw your hat in the ring and film your IMAX-quality masterpiece with the very same camera. What a lovely position to be in.

Da Vinci Resolve Studio

The Ursa Mini Pro 12K produces video files in just one format, Blackmagic Design RAW, or BRAW. In order to edit these files the best option is to use Blackmagic Design’s Da Vinci Resolve Studio. Resolve is an immensely powerful suite of apps and it is absolutely free. It is definitely not a ‘basic’ version and is actually testament to the philosophy of Blackmagic Design’s CEO Grant Petty, whose respect for film makers is legendary. Grant writes: With DaVinci Resolve, you get a complete set of editing, advanced color correction, professional Fairlight audio post production tools and Fusion visual effects combined in one application so you can edit, compose, grade, mix and master deliverables from start to finish, all in a single tool! And I say once more – it’s free.

Resolve includes Fusion, comprehensive colour grading and effects and even the full Fairlight audio suite. The free version is limited to 4K resolution video files, so for this 12K project I was provided with Resolve Studio. I’m not reviewing Resolve Studio here but simply commenting on how I fared as a new user.

I had to step onto the Resolve learning curve which, with a couple of exceptions, proved pretty straightforward. My main difficulty initially was finding where my projects were stored in Resolve. Under the File tab there is no ‘Projects’ option. I searched online and learned that the project files are located deep in the C drive, but that you have to open them from within resolve. I sent a distress call to David Hague and the ever-patient Warwick Morris at New Media and learned that there’s a little house icon at the bottom right of the main screen which opens the Project Manager. Double click on a thumbnail and that project opens. I only mention that here as a service to readers who might try exploring Resolve and face the same ‘lost projects’ dilemma. They’re not lost, just hiding in a different place.

Most of the files I recorded here were at 12K, 5:1 compression and they wouldn’t play back on either Resolve or Vegas Pro. There is an option in Resolve to build proxy files on the fly during playback. This helped a little but the solution that worked best was to take the time to build proper proxy files. These played back perfectly on my system. I also built proxies in Vegas Pro 19 and playback was perfect there as well.

Grabbing stills from the timeline is simple. Move the cursor to the frame you want, switch to the Color tab at the bottom and open the Gallery. Right click on the preview pane and select ‘grab frame’. The image will appear in the gallery. Right click on it and choose the format you’d like to save it in. I chose TIFF.

Coming to Resolve as an absolute beginner, I was impressed. It was fast and responsive and produced very high quality H.265 mp4 renders. I found most tasks intuitive and easy to get my head around. Resolve made use of twin monitors automatically as required and my Shuttle Pro 2 worked immediately. No setting up required. Bear in mind that Resolve is an immensely powerful and fully featured suite of apps and you can reasonably expect to spend some time learning your way around all the features on offer. It will be well worth your while because Resolve may well become your NLE of choice.

Conclusion  

Blackmagic Design have produced a real winner with the Ursa Mini Pro 12K. It is a remarkable camera that is really well designed and built. It is also incredibly good value at its list price of around AUD$10,000 as reviewed. It really is several cameras in one, being able to record superb 4K video that has small file sizes and great editing performance, but can then be extended right up to the full 12K for movies that will be perfectly at home in the cinema or on giant home TVs.

As Grant Petty writes in the Mini Pro 12K user manual, We hope you use your URSA Mini or URSA Mini Pro to produce some of the world’s most exciting films and television programming, music videos and commercials! Amen to that!

 The DZOFILM Pictor 20-55mm T2.8 Cine lens is also excellent value. It is compact, well built and has all the features you will need for professional cinematic shooting. Given it’s a truly parfocal lens with virtually zero breathing, it represents unusual value at the price of around AUD$4,500.

Bringing it all together is the brilliantly fully featured software suite Da Vinci Resolve Studio. For those working on video projects up to 4K, the free version is obviously unbeatable. For projects  at higher resolution, Resolve Studio is also excellent value at AUD$479.

Thanks to these great products I really enjoyed my foray into the cinematic world of 12K. The only downside was that I had to give all this beautiful gear back at the end of the review.

 

1 Blackmagic RAW can be handled natively by Davinci Resolve, Silverstack by Pomfort, On-Set Dailies by Colorfront, EditReady by Divergent Media (now Hedge), Scratch by Assimilate, Baselight by FilmLight, ShotPut Pro by Imagine Products, ProVu by Imagine Products, PrimeTranscoder by Imagine Products, Lightworks by Editshare, BRAW Studio by Autokroma, Edius by Grass Valley, Screen by Video Village, Kyno by Lesspain Software, SynthEyes by Andersson Technologies LLC, Mistika by SGO, Flare by Autodesk, Flame by Autodesk, Flame Assist by Autodesk, Lustre by Autodesk, Nuke Studio/Hiero by The Foundry, NeoFinder 8 by Norbert M. Doerner

2 The Samsung T7 is not on the Blackmagic Certified List. For a complete list of SD, CF and SSD  certified media click here


Blackmagic Design Ursa Mini Pro 12K

RRP body only, as tested AUD$10,095

Supplied by New Magic

https://newmagic.com.au

 

 

 

 

 

DZOFILM Pictor 20-55mm T2.8 Cine lens

AUD$3,999

Supplied by Videoguys Australia

www.videoguys.com.au

Da Vinci Resolve Studio available from Blackmagic Design

www.Blackmagic Design.com.au

 

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