December 16, 2016
year-in-review

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.

Blackmagic Ursa Mini

Blackmagic URSA MiniaCredit: Blackmagic

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.

ARRI Alexa SXT

ARRI Alexa SXT

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.

Fujifilm X-T2

X-T2 from FujifilmCredit: Fujifilm

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.

RED HELIUM

RED HeliumCredit: RED

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 Underdogwe got a first look at what the camera is capable of, and the results are pretty spectacular. 

Lenses

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.

Sigma Cine Zooms

Sigma Cine ZoomCredit: Sigma

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.

XEEN Primes

XEENCredit: Samyang

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? 


See all of our 2016 Year-in-Review coverage.

Your Comment

18 Comments

The Alexa XT has had internal RAW for years. You guys even reported on it way back in 2013.

December 16, 2016 at 4:59PM, Edited December 16, 5:02PM

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Richard L
Camera assistant, DIT, DOP
193

Internal Codex drives are in all alexas except the Classic, I think.

December 16, 2016 at 7:28PM

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Daniel Mimura
DP, cam op, steadicam op
2053

The Alexa XT has had internal RAW for years. You guys even reported on it way back in 2013.

December 16, 2016 at 5:01PM, Edited December 16, 5:01PM

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Richard L
Camera assistant, DIT, DOP
193

Not a Bad List At All...

December 16, 2016 at 11:14PM

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Wentworth Kelly
Director/DP/Colorist/Drone Op
2003

Nofilmschool, I believe it's Johnny Mass, not May...

December 17, 2016 at 8:05AM

19
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Not even a word about the Varicam LT & Pure, probably the most interesting cameras of 2016?

December 17, 2016 at 10:19AM, Edited December 17, 10:49AM

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JoachimV
311

Many still wonder "who needs 8K"?
Arri/Panasonic/Sony users do wonder probably. As a Red owner, I don't. It's a way to fix the ugly noise @4K/5K. Some fixing again .... like the interchangeable OLPF burden, the never ending blackshades, the long wait before the camera reach the good temperature and so on. And now the extra data and ND requirement with Helium 8K .... I mainly wonder when Red will release a simple reliable camera, and not patchy computers in a box for hardcore technicians.

December 17, 2016 at 10:39AM, Edited December 17, 10:54AM

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JoachimV
311

Over on REDUSER.net there are many who would not pick the Sigma "Cine" Zooms. I put Cine in quotes because they exhibit very strong breathing when focusing. A post last week measured the 50mm zoom end of the 50-100 as behaving like a 75mm lens at one end of the focus compared to the other. Now, if you are shooting in 7.5K and your must-have requirement is 5K resolution for a 4K finish, then one can indeed accommodate this amount of breathing. And then work like heck in post to ensure that your digital zoom correctly inverts the optical "zoom" of your rack focus.

Or, get real Cine zoom lenses that not only give you a wide range of focal lengths and a smooth zoom action (which the Sigmas do), but which also behave when you rack focus between two subjects (which the Sigmas do not).

December 17, 2016 at 12:19PM

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SXT is a step up in processing (shares the same guts as the Alexa 65.)

More monitoring path options to satisfy DITs, focus pullers, DPs, etc.

Also rec 2020 compliant and setup for HDR previewing.

As mentioned in a previous comment, the XT had internal RAW recording.

It is a bad ass and will likely be the next industry workhorse.

December 17, 2016 at 11:36PM, Edited December 17, 11:37PM

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Andrew Kierans
Digital Cinema Technician
23

I can't speak for elsewhere but most bigger productions here have all moved to Alexa Minis!

December 19, 2016 at 2:17PM

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Richard L
Camera assistant, DIT, DOP
193

No love for the Angenieux EZ zooms? Also T2 but have users swappable mounts (EF, E and PL) and covers VV/FF with expander at T3. That seems like lenses worth investing in.

December 18, 2016 at 1:26PM

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Alex Fuerst
Director of Photography + Cinematographer
122

I'm surprised to see the Ursa Mini on here. Seems like the roll out was pretty terrible. Pink cast to a lot of footage. Lensrentals.com includes this disclaimer: "We can’t recommend this kit for professional work. We reached this decision after Lensrentals folks and rental clients experienced repeated failures in the field. Though it might work much of the time, it’s our opinion that this product’s performance is too unpredictable to be trusted on high-value projects." Given this and my experiences with fixed noise in the production camera, I was scared off, and have felt as though interest in Blackmagic cameras for professional work has waned.

December 19, 2016 at 9:53PM, Edited December 19, 9:53PM

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The latest 4.0 Firmware update has fixed all sensor issues and magenta cast on the Ursa mini 4.6k

December 20, 2016 at 12:28AM

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Dane Parsons
Writer/Director/DOP/Editor
9

Dane Parsons is right the firmware update on the ursa mini has made the camera so much better and the picture is amazing. Don't forget that as much as this is a film camera blackmagic also built this camera to work as a complete live 4k production solution with built-in talk back and camera control over sdi. This is one of the biggest reasons I chose this system it absolutely deserves to be on the list.

December 20, 2016 at 3:31PM

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Dane - Glad to hear they have sorted it out. Admittedly, they lost me after the initial flaws, so I did not stay up on the latest news. My experience when I approached Blackmagic about FPN in my production cameras: I was told by Blackmagic that it was an acceptable level, and I was essentially out of luck....

Chardon - I don't do a whole lot of live work, and have never had to supply my own camera when doing so, so that's a very good point that I did not consider.

Thank you both for the response.

December 20, 2016 at 5:15PM, Edited December 20, 5:16PM

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Misspelled my name...It's not Johnny Mays it's Jonny Mass. Thanks for the shoutout however!

December 20, 2016 at 3:52AM

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Apologies!! Oof! We fixed it. And congrats on the film!

December 24, 2016 at 10:16AM, Edited December 24, 10:16AM

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Liz Nord
Editor-in-Chief & Lead Producer
Documentary Filmmaker/Multi-platform Producer

No mention on any of these cameras of a Global Shutter.

December 26, 2016 at 8:38AM

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