Here Are the Best Cameras and Lenses of 2016
Let's look back at the year in gear.
2016 was absolutely on fire with lens announcements, which left many wondering if cameras had more or less peaked. Considering the high quality imagery that you could get from a 3-4 year old Alexa, RED Weapon, or even a 2 year old iPhone, was there still room for innovation in cameras? Then came the year's most potentially game-changing announcement: Lytro's Cinema Camera, with its 755 megapixel sensor that shoots at 300 frames per second with 16 stops of dynamic range, and ventures fully into the territory of light field photography.
Lytro’s availability is a ways off, but the four cameras below became available this year, and proved to us that there are still smaller innovations worth making in camera tech. Along with them, we also want to shout out to a few of the most exciting lenses of 2016.
Yes, I know we first saw footage in November 2015, but 2016 was the first full year of the URSA Mini being out in the field with most shipping starting in March, and the first year where we saw what it could do. It's an amazing camera that is just now starting on its march to possible industry dominance. It occupies a very strange price point at the moment, being slightly more expensive than a comparable mirrorless/DSLR solution, but the quality of the imagery, the smart workflow (no external monitor/recorder required for full res recording!), and now the new menu system and LUT integration make this the camera to watch. In certain situations it even intercuts quite well with Alexa footage and makes a fantastic B or C camera for Alexa productions.
Another one announced in 2015 but only really rippling out into the world throughout 2016, SXT brings internal RAW to the Alexa platform. This is particularly huge since most indie productions that could afford to bump up to the Alexa either couldn't afford the Codex external raw recorder or didn't want to bother with the hassle of external tethering. The indies shot on the Alexa recorded internal ProRes, with external raw being mostly reserved for the big boys. Now, with the SXT platform we're going to see most Alexa cameras in circulation having internal RAW, which is going to be great for indie filmmakers who might only get to play with the Alexa once a year, but want the full capabilities of RAW when they do so.
This is really the little camera that could. Topping many still photographers "best of" lists this year is the remarkable X-T2 from Fujifilm, which also offers internal UHD 4K recording and is starting to gain a footprint with filmmakers. The combination of internal 4K, great lenses, easy adaptation to EF or PL mount, and the price ($1700 or so when you can find them in stock; they were sold out for months after release), the unit gives great images straight out of the camera, and offers log recording over HDMI if you want the most powerful control in post. The ergonomics are also stellar, and body itself is small, making it a great option for gimbals or street photography.
Many still wonder "who needs 8K?" but many of them also wondered "who needs 4K?" back in 2008 when the RED ONE launched, and here we are in a 4K universe. With the 8K, RED continues their history of innovation and pushing the limits, especially in terms of raw camera resolution. With the Jonny Mass test film The Underdog, we got a first look at what the camera is capable of, and the results are pretty spectacular.
With all the activity in lenses, the thorough vintage lens tests, motorized Primo 70 lenses from Panavision, and ARRI's new lines for the Alexa 65, it's hard to single out just a few big lens releases this year. We settled on a set of Cine Zooms and a line of primes that offer a great combination of indie-friendly pricing (at least for rental), wide lens mount options, and great image quality.
T2 PL and EF mount zooms aren't supposed to really be a thing. You get T2 from a prime, not a zoom, and are happy when you rent a "fast" T2.8 zoom. With its new Cine zooms, Sigma has shaken that up, offering cinema-style ergonomics, with precise movements (they feel great in your hand), bright cine-style markings, .8 pitch lens rings, and solid image quality in a compact package. For around $4,000 each. That's awesome. One small touch that we appreciate: they've taken the care to print on the lens body some key details about the lens, like front diameter, to make life easier on rental techs who are managing a lot of lenses at once. This is a small feature that couldn't have cost that much to add, and it will surely be appreciated by the folks who manage packages with these lenses in them.
If you have a zoom that opens to T2, some might wonder why to even bother with primes? The big arguments in favor or primes remain their lighter weight and closer focus, two areas where zooms still lose the competition. With its line of XEEN primes, Samyang/Rokinon—who makes very popular still photo lenses that many DSLR shooters have adapted for cine use in recent years—has finally released a full line of dedicated cine primes. Available in all the popular lens mounts (most excitingly in the traditional cine mount, PL), these lenses will be useful on Steadicam, MoVi and other stabilizers when a zoom is just too heavy to do the job.
Those are our favorite cameras and lenses of 2016. We know that there's nothing you, our beloved community, love to do more that opine about gear, so have at it. What do you think? What did we miss?