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DJI Mavic Pro Test

Fun little test with the new DJI Mavic Pro at one of my all time favourite places - Double Island Point.  
Learnt lots playing with this drone (my first proper time flying one). Couple of things I'd do differently next time: 1) Use NDs (have some PolaPro ones coming soon). 2) Turn off obstacle avoidance, particularly when close to the ground or following vehicles as it's too sensitive at high speeds. 3) Never use the plastic protective cover over the camera as it flares badly (I was worried about sea spray flying low to the ocean). 4) Turn off auto exposure as it steps obviously. 5) Add dampening or make the pan axis less sensitive to avoid jerky movements. 6) Turn off automatic object tracking as I found even at low speeds the drone would keep drifting further away. Had much better (& fun) results tracking vehicle manually.
Quick grade using built in colour corrector in FCPX.


Mountain Hike Camera Test

Initial thoughts on the new Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6K camera

I’ve been eagerly anticipating the arrival of my new Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6K since leaked photos popped up in my Twitter timeline a year ago.  Seeing the integrated & compact form factor, broad range of edit friendly codecs, simple menu interface, slow mo capabilities and most significantly the brand new 4.6K sensor featuring 15 stops of dynamic range was what prompted me to immediately email my local camera supplier to pre-order this camera before it was even announced.

I knew it was going to be a long wait as experience had taught me from my last pre-order of the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K a year earlier, so I decided not to get my hopes up.  The only thing I could do was wait & get prepared.  This was great as I didn’t have to do much at all. Blackmagic had designed an EVF & shoulder mount kit to perfectly complement the camera, so all I needed was an Anton Bauer battery plate & a couple of CFast cards - a true out of the box experience.  This was extremely liberating, unlike my previous BMPC4K where I needed to think hard about how I was going to rig it up just to make it useable.  

Fast forward a year on & I was happy to hear the announcement that they were finally shipping!  As I was first on the list I received a call from my supplier saying it was on its way.  Next day the unicorn had landed!  I excitedly unboxed it, immediately noticing the impressive solid build quality Blackmagic is renowned for.  I took out my screwdriver & attached the battery plate.  Grabbed a battery, powered on & hurrah! The menu looks clean & simple, especially on the nice new 5” flip out screen.  But what is the sensor like?  I take the lens cap off & point it out the window but still a black screen.  Hmm… maybe it needs a lens on to activate somehow.  Still, nothing.  I scrolled through the settings to make sure there’s not some high shutter angle/aperture setting enabled by default.  Nope.  Still showing a black screen.  Maybe it needs a new firmware updated?  I plugged it in & it was up to date.  Long story short, with a heavy heart I sent my dead camera back to the Blackmagic support office to get a replacement.  Not a great first impression at all.  At the end of the day though I realised that this was just a piece of equipment and sending it back was a good reminder not to hold onto these things too tightly.  And after all this hasn’t been the first time I’ve pre-ordered something & it was dead on arrival (*cough* 27” iMac *cough* 5DMk2).

By the next week I was ready.  I unboxed the replacement camera & to my delight it worked perfectly.  Pheww.  So how was that sensor?  I threw my Canon 24mm on with a Genustech Eclipse Variable ND & headed outside.  Boom.  I pointed the camera up & on the nice flip out screen I could see the highlighted edges of the backlit clouds in the bright sunny sky at the same time as seeing the side of my house in the shadows.  Nothing on the sensor waveform was close to clipping.  Plenty of room to move above & below.  This was cool!  

With my BMPC4K I always shot in the “Film” dynamic range setting & most often in ProRes422HQ in either UHD or HD.  I was delighted to see the addition of ProRes4444 (& XQ) as I love the ProRes workflow but meant I could still have a whole lot of information to work with in the grade.  I have to be honest, I’ve had this camera for 2 weeks now & still haven’t even tested this camera in raw or even UHD.  I’ve just been using it in HD at either ProRes 422HQ (for 120fps) & ProRes 4444 (up to 60fps) & it’s delightful. 

My first proper test was a hike up a mountain with some friends.  I wanted to test a run & gun solution with it stripped back as much as possible to make it easy to carry.  I packed a medium size Lowepro shoulder sling bag with the Ursa Mini 4.6K body, side handle, 2 Anton Bauer batteries, a 256gb CFast card, 5 Canon prime lenses & a couple of different size Genustech Eclipse Variable ND filters.  The backpack was on the heavy side (the Canon 85mm 1.2 isn’t exactly light) but it all fit in perfectly.   When it was time to get the camera out I found my hand right at home holding the side grip.  The grip comes with a hand strap so I felt like I could confidently hike without worrying that it would slip out of my grip.  It also has convenient record start stop, auto focus & auto exposure buttons within thumb reach, all securely connected to the camera via the rosette mount & a small Lanc cable.  The integrated 5” flip out screen was a joy to use & made the camera nice to hold with one hand on the grip & the other underneath the camera.  I could easily see what was in focus & although it was late afternoon as we were hiking up, I didn’t find screen glare a problem at all.  But even still you could do a double tap on the screen to check focus at 2x magnification & rely on the histogram for exposure.  I found the autofocus a bit hit & miss, sometimes it hunts back & forward & lands on something in the background, other times it hits where I want but takes too long to get there.  I’d prefer a single point to focus on rather than the large square as it can be too large & gets confused.  The auto exposure isn’t a great feature either, as it works by stopping up or down the exposure so that no pixel clips, which often results in it being quite underexposed if there’s some hot spots in the frame.  I’d prefer an average or centre weighted auto exposure mode like on DSLRs.

I was really looking forward to testing out the slow mo, as I had been deprived of it for so long with the BMPC4K.  As I knew I would be filming while walking I decided to set it all to 60fps in ProRes4444 to help smooth out the bumps and take the edge off any harsh movements.  Looking back at the footage (as you can see in the test video at the top) this worked pretty well.  The movement wasn’t distracting, but still kept the energy of moving.  It also made the hike feel slow & hard, which is exactly how it felt as we were all pretty exhausted.  I did notice a slight bit of jello on one shot that was particularly rough, but nothing I was worried about.  When we arrived at the top of the mountain, one thing I noticed straight up was the colours that the sensor captured.  I could see so much of the beautiful gradients of the autumn sky on the horizon, as it starts from harsh orange & seamlessly blends to a soft magenta.  I think this colour science is a big improvement from the other sensors & something I particularly enjoyed grading as I didn’t have to do too much at all to get accurate looking colours.  In fact, I graded this video in FCPX using only one correction with the in built colour corrector, only adding a slight curve in the exposure, increasing the saturation & slightly shifting the hue to be a little warmer.  

Ungraded

Graded

This was also a great test for exposure in high a high contrast environment where I could easily see the edge of the sun roll off nicely into the sky, while getting plenty of detail in the shadows.  There’s so much more information to get out of the files if I had time.  I’m looking forward to testing the limits of these files in Resolve.  For the final test in this video I was shooting Claire against the dusk sky while she was holding up a lantern.  I had done a quick test the day before at 1600 ISO & saw a bit of fixed pattern noise in the shadows, so I decided to stick to 800 ISO (the base ISO & optimal balance of noise & dynamic range) & shoot wide open on my primes to get this shot.  I’ve found 800 ISO is a lot more useable base to work from than my BMPC4K at 400 particularly in low light situations.  I was very happy with how the noise handled in these shots.  I was shooting wide open, so did notice a bit of softness & chromatic aberration from my lens.  Which reminds me, I’ve recently done a few quick tests at 120fps mode and found that when it crops into the sensor it accentuates the softness & chromatic aberration, particular if you’re shooting fairly wide open, so I’d recommend finding the sweet spot of your lens to eliminate this.  There’s also noticeably more noise when shooting in the windowed sensor mode so it pays to take more care.  But to be honest, it’s rare to find situations where shooting at 60fps isn’t enough, so I’d mainly be sticking to the full sensor mode most of the time.

There’s a few little quirks with the Ursa Mini 4.6K.  One is the inability to power the camera while the side screen is shut as the power button is behind the screen.  Would be great to have the option to assign one of the F1 or F2 buttons on the outside of the screen to power up/down.  I’ll also mention that the Ursa Mini works well on my Letus Helix Standard.  It’s a bit heavier than my BMPC4K, but once I add my old alphatron screen on the top it’s well balanced and feels good to use.  It’s also great that it features 2 x Lanc ports so works with my Manfrotto Lanc controller which means I can control internal focus on my Canon stills lenses and use it to start/stop record.

Overall I’m very happy with the Ursa Mini 4.6K, particularly its bang for buck.  I look forward to seeing what it helps me create in the coming years.