October 12, 2015 at 6:59PM

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4K (A7s ii) vs. C100: Top DSLR vs. low-budget cinema camera

The price drop of the C100 (body) to $3000, the same price as the new A7s ii, which is about to start shipping, and this has posed a dilemma for many, including me, between the two cameras.

I'm a starting-out documentary film-maker and video journalist, and the decision hinges on how important 4K is. I'm making a big investment now and don't want the purchase to be made redundant in 12 months' time. Some film-makers and journalists attest that 4K is demanded on between a quarter and a third of their shoots (though mainly at the high end, not typically for much work I'll be doing, yet). This is where organizations want a greater shelf life for work in case of complete 4K domination.

The C100 (mk1) is 3 years old, but has great shooting features easily built-in for that price: NDs, XLRs, solid color profiles, zebras, peaking, waveforms (though a terrible EVF, counteracted by the need for a Zacuto viewfinder most likely).

The A7s ii is ergonomically weak, and requires a bit set-up to get going, of a pre-amp or XLR attachment, manual NDs, most likely a rig, multiple batteries on the go, a Canon lens adapter. Possible overheating issues are yet to be clarified.

But obviously the low-light king, slightly superior color profiles and the kicker, internal 4K.

Does anyone have any advice? The next price bracket of $5-6,000 is too high for me - the likes of the C100 mk2 and the upcoming Sony FS5 (which does have 4K).

Many thanks!

29 Comments

I would wait for reviews on the Sony A7S II to come in, just to be sure it's everything people expect it to be. ( and that there is no 4K overheating issue like the A7R II camera )

You could always sell the C100 in a year or two and get most of your investment back, especially if you bought one used. ( you might lose nothing if you get a good deal on a used C100 right from the start )

October 13, 2015 at 1:03PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
30427

If you have shoots where you basically need to be set up as quick as possible, I'd recommend the C100. After buying this camera I knew for sure I would never go back to using a dslr as a main cam, and I've used them for several years with joy.

However, the joy the C100 gives me in terms of practicality is worth more to me than 4K. If the one-off client specifically asks for 4K I'll just rent.

Don't worry about low light with the C100, it'll do great in most circumstances. Don't worry about the image quality, it looks fantastic and the colours are awesome. The only downside is no high framerates, but no camera is perfect.

October 14, 2015 at 3:52AM

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Filmdudezero
Director
361

I was trying to figure this same thing out a month or so ago. 4K is something that we'll all have to deal with one way or the other soon, but as Filmdudezero says you can rent if the job is big enough that it needs it, or just save money from upcoming jobs and get an A7s ii or similar when you can afford it, which is my plan. I went with the c100 and I love it.

People don't talk a lot about it but the batteries are amazing. I've never had a camera with such a long lasting battery. I brought it as a B/C cam on a recent wedding shoot (not my normal type gig but it was a gig). We were shooting on two A7s's and the c100 was used as a wide room cam in most cases. Anyway, I used one battery the whole day, in many cases leaving the camera on and recording for very long stretched of time, and even somehow forgetting to flip it to off when we packed up. About 40 minutes later in the car home I took it out of the bag to film some sunset stuff and realized it was on and still had about 20% batter left. The A7s batteries died constantly and we had to carry around plenty of spares and were constantly running back to put them on charge.

Essentially the excellent battery life is a real bonus on top of the already great run-and-gun ergonomic features you mentioned. I got my c100 used on ebay, though it felt nearly new, for $2800 after shipping. Deal Pixel AF, etc, and don't regret it for an instance.

October 14, 2015 at 11:08AM

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This is something I'm battling with too. I really don't think there is ever a "right" answer when it comes to purchases like this. At this point, I'm trying to sell all of my gear (except for my Zeiss EF glass), and then see where the market is.

As much as I would love buying a C100 MK II, it might make sense to wait for NAB to pass in April and see what happens (new releases, price drops). In the meantime, I am going to be renting. This, of course, assumes that the project will have room for renting gear in the budget. Just another route to consider before buying a new camera.

October 14, 2015 at 12:22PM

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Gabe Reuben
Director of Photography
137

Wait, why not look at the BMD Ursa Mini???

October 14, 2015 at 12:55PM

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As a former A7s owner, I beg you to go with the C100. I purchased the A7s because of slightly better dynamic range and higher frame rates. I found that while the frame rates were nice, neither they nor the slight boost in DR were worth the hassle of the camera itself. I have used the C100 on several occasions, and even though I now own a Scarlet, I constantly find myself scanning Craigslist and eBay for a good deal on a C100. That camera is just so easy to use. Especially if you are doing documentary work, I cannot recommend the C100 enough. For $3000 it's a killer deal, and you're very likely to find one for cheaper used.

October 14, 2015 at 6:16PM

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Kenneth Merrill
Director
1072

Forgot to mention, I don't think that 4K is enough to tip the scales in favor of the A7s II. It will still be just as frustrating to operate. I would much rather have ease of use than 4K. You would be surprised the difference it makes under the pressure of shooting.

October 14, 2015 at 6:17PM, Edited October 14, 6:17PM

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Kenneth Merrill
Director
1072

I own A7s and I worked with C100 ii. I don't know about first C100, but second one is noticeably losing in image quality to A7s.
I shoot a lot of documentary work on A7s and each time I wish I have build NDs, XLRs and enough 1/4 inch threads on camera to mount accessories. Yes, I have cage (300$), sound recorder with xlr (250$), a set of ND filters (150$), remote control (80$) (record button on A7s is terrible), and some other small details (like fucking heavy counter weight for shoulder rig) to make this camera usable for documentary work. You can avoid all of this spending just buying a "video" camera like C100. And what more important you can avoid spending these crucial minutes during a shoot to assemble this equipment every time, and of course disassemble everything after work. And time in documentary work is very important! With C100 you can just grab camera from your bag and start shooting.

The camera you should buy depends on your type of work. If you have a lot of time for your shots and a few extra hundreds $ for accessories you can go with A7s ii for better image quality. If your documentary content is much more important than the image quality you should go with C100. Both of these cameras are not perfect, but it's possible to create great videos with both of them. I'm personally going to buy FS5 and I'll keep a7s as B camera.
Also you can thing about mini URSA, it's in your price range and it should be a better camera than A7s and c100 for a this type of work.

October 14, 2015 at 9:14PM

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Yura Makarov
Cinematographer
140

Adding a Ninja to the C100 really helps getting better footage, btw. The compression tends to be pretty heavy sometimes.

October 15, 2015 at 11:52AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8877

I'm considering that combo.. C100 MK II with Ninja. You would recommend it?

It's tough to see the FS7 priced so fairly compared to Canon products. Not sure I can commit to Sony as I have never loved their cameras.

October 15, 2015 at 12:20PM

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Gabe Reuben
Director of Photography
137

Yes, it definitely helps since built-in codes are poor. But still, it's a heavy thing especially with two sony batteries on it. C100 with Ninja on it become a bit bulky and awkward camera. It's still good on a tripod but no more handheld, because it's unbalanced and heavy. And the reason why I like C100 is not actual any more, because you have to put 2 pound ninja on the camera all the time on camera and disassemble it after a shot (except if you have really big case or bag).

October 16, 2015 at 3:43AM

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Yura Makarov
Cinematographer
140

Thank you for your feedback and replies everyone.

I think I will go with the C100, and if the reviews back from the A7s ii are reliable over the next nine months, I will look at selling the C100 and changing (unless I earn enough money to move up into the FS5/7 territory!).

I don't need to shoot 4K yet, it'd be a hassle to deal with, it was only for the future - and I will make that change when I need at that future time.

October 15, 2015 at 7:06PM, Edited October 15, 7:06PM

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Tom Goulding
Documentary film-maker & video journalist
87

The C100 looks like a great call. My only hesitation is no 60fps 1080p. Is it worth the extra couple grand for the MK II? That's my question.

October 15, 2015 at 10:34PM

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Gabe Reuben
Director of Photography
137

Yeah I went through this dilemma too and ended up finding a good deal on a c100 mk2 here in the UK and just bit the bullet. I can't say I'm regretting it in any way. I also have a BMPCC and a GH3 and have used many other cams but I'm so happy with the c100 mk2 for its usability. The fact that is does 60p is nice but I have to admit I've used it on like 3 jobs, which isn't make or break.

I use a Ninja when I'm doing tripod work, interviews etc but handheld just go with the internal and have been pleasantly surprised. The two will cut together with very little difference in most cases. You could probably get away without it. I just haven't used a camera that produces such a nice consistent image before. Most other cams I'm worried about how everything will turn out but with my c100 I just kind of KNOW how it'll turn out, which for me trumps everything.

I agree on Sony cameras I just very rarely like the image, which is such a shame given the specs. But if someone tried to sell you an ice cream that was 10 flavours in one and may or may not fly off the cone at any point, you'd probably choose vanilla instead because you know it's good, and it's difficult to get it wrong.

October 16, 2015 at 5:45AM

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Liam Martin
DP, editor, part time director
532

If however you do music video, I'd go with the mk2 for 60p...

October 16, 2015 at 5:46AM

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Liam Martin
DP, editor, part time director
532

To address the question how important is 4k? Look at the studies where people cannot tell the difference between 4k and 1080k,
I would say it is not important.
Then consider how people view their video, on tv, tablet, cell phones, really unimportant,
then even when projected, very few in the theater benefit except in certain seating positions.
The only benefit I can see in 4k is in editing where you can crop without noise and in pulling stills off the video.
The real issue is how gullible are you?
Who buys on basis on megapixels anymore?
4k is todays advertising gimmick to get you to give up perfectly good cameras to purchase new cameras with 4k.
Yet 4 yrs ago people will argue vehemently that so and so camera has more megapixels so it has to be better.
The megapixel war was an advertising gimmick and it fooled many.
It is unlikely that you will benefit from a 4k workflow in the foreseeable future.
Yet the downside of capturing in 4k is considerable and the cost of 4k considerable.
High definition over standard definition was a big jump in quality,
4k as it stands today is a disadvantage for most audiences today
and in the near future.

October 16, 2015 at 4:50PM, Edited October 16, 4:54PM

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Hmm, really? Question: have you ever shot in 4K?

4K workflow is not that different from working with 2K, except for the extra processing power and storage space required. (which is cheap nowadays) Considerable downside of capturing in 4K? I don't see it. Cost of 4K? Memory is cheap, 4K is hardly more expensive than 2K. Usuable 4K video cameras starts at 700 USD. (G7). No need to get scared about 4K people. IMHO it has more advantages than disadvantages. But if you insist, yeah, you can stick with 2K.

October 16, 2015 at 6:38PM

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Erwin Hartsuiker
CineVideo-NL videographer
435

I output in 1080p, if I captured in 4k I would still final output to same or 720p. Most people cannot tell the difference and many studies prove this. Story is still king. Altho I have fast ethernet, it is obvious to me most of my content is still standard definition or at best 720p. It is not about being scared, it is about that any benefit to 4k or even 2k is negated by how people view. For any of us commercial projection of our films are nil, too many Hollywood films to compete with limited number of screens and at best an occasional film festival screening. I am not saying to avoid 4k, there is just no benefit to it now or in the near future. Commercial theaters are just now 2k. Story is still King. We don't have to avoid 4k in cameras, it just isn't an advantage and unless you are going for a hyper-reality video look, can be disadvantageous.

October 16, 2015 at 10:47PM

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I would get the C100, you'll have a better experience when shooting footage for your documentaries and I have always felt it's easy to build a rig for the C100 then any other DSLR.

October 17, 2015 at 12:00PM

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Yash Mori
Director / DP / FIlmmaker
88

Having posted twice, consider that I am responding to the OP, but others may find a use or value 4k right now. For me dynamic range is important, internal stabilization is important, I would value slow motion. Having an anamorphic solution like the slr magic lens add ons or lenses would make a difference, low light would be helpful, but would mostly be nice but I can work around. These things are important to me in a next camera purchase, but 4k for you or for me, will not change a nit in how the majority of people view our video or will they see a difference for the general audience and if they do see a difference, it is because the story is not compelling.

October 17, 2015 at 12:01PM

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Does that Ninja really add much to the quality? Does that little bit of extra color space make much of a difference? I never really seem to notice

October 19, 2015 at 5:24PM

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Filmdudezero
Director
361

I used the c100 mk1 every day for a few months at my job last year, and I was blown away by how horribly brittle the compression was.

As directed by many, I shot in one of the c-log picture styles for super flat color profiling. What was crazy to me was that the avchd codec has such low flexibility that when adding even enough contrast and saturation to the c-log footage to get a normal looking image, it would introduce noticeably noisy, blocky artifacts.

The footage looked really nice, but it was always really frustrating that even at a low iso in daylight, that terrible codec made working with the final look pretty difficult. We immediately wanted to get the nijna for prores. I strongly believe that with the high flexibility prores offers, the picture quality of the c100 would be really great.

Unless I misunderstood though, I thought I read that the mkll shoots internal prores as an option, in which case that would be amazing and work getting the mkll over the mk1.

October 19, 2015 at 6:10PM

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Austin page
Videographer
1

Hmm, grading never seems much of a problem to me. Wonder how much of a difference the ninja will make then, will try it out sometime

October 20, 2015 at 3:40AM

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Filmdudezero
Director
361

I've been using my A7s for the past year, and just invested in the Rx10 2 as a B-Camera. It will do what it needs to do, as any camera will. But I'm finding I really miss the eloquent simplicity and reliability of the C100. The image was so effortless. I'm now considering selling my Sony stuff and picking up a C100 on the cheap. I rarely actually need slow motion. I'm renting an A7r ii this week to see if the colors have improved. Otherwise I may move back into Canon cinema territory.

October 19, 2015 at 5:30PM

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Steven Bailey
Writer/Director/Composer
755

Just shot a full length feature movie with my C-100 and recently had a screening in a movie theatre with a large screen. The film looked perfect. I shot it with a Ninja and L lenses. Some of the shots were in a bedroom only lit by candles. Looked great. Shot in cLog, grading was a breeze, even the AF footage and green screen turned out well. Using a top boom mike, sound was very simple and studio quality. Last week I got my camera back from Canon and $500 later I now have AF. The camera is now even better. Definitely a one man professional set up. Tom I'm not familiar with the A7 other then what I've read and I think 4K is still three years away for general production. 4K tvs have come down in price but the product is still not readily available. Once again, if you put 1080 and 4K up on a screen one after another, the audience will most likely not know the difference. It's the writing and content that makes your film/product a winner, not screen resolution. I'd get a used C-100 if money is tight and put the balance into good lens if you don't have them. And-- you don't need cinema lenses no matter what some may say. At the bottom of this website is a scene I shot with no light... just a campfire. http://houseonrodeogulch.com (Campfire scene) Good luck!

October 19, 2015 at 7:53PM, Edited October 19, 8:04PM

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William Scherer
Producer, Writer, Director, Aerial Photography
106

When 4k becomes necessary, go into premiere, change your timeline to 4k, hit scale to fit frame size and use a wee bit of sharpening. Then deliver a 4k image. I would love to see a blind test where general consumers are told to pick which one is the "true" 4k image and which is upscaled.

October 21, 2015 at 4:25PM

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Derek Olson
Directomatographeditor
374

I recently bought a used c300 to compliment my c100, I use atomos recorders with both of them, I have shot plenty of material without the atomos recorders, but for the best quality during a grade use the recorders. I was thinking of 4k, but decided to hold off for another 1-2 years as all my work is for broadcast and Web. I have seen HD projected and it's just fine. I like to think I make films, not resolution test charts!

Total data load is a concern, 4k is 400% more data than hd, I often shoot 2-3 cameras, so shooting 4k becomes very expensive, very quickly, and I'm not shooting raw either.

4k cameras use very expensive internal media. I like to have 6 hours a day of recording time, cost prohibitive with 4k and multiple cameras. If you are making 5 minute short films, shoot 4k raw, it won't matter. I shoot 100-200 hours, multi-cam, so good compressed, non raw is the only affordable option now.

October 20, 2015 at 12:14PM

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Malcolm Matusky
Producer
176

My take: Sony has a lot (A LOT) of work to do before they can compete with Canon's ease of use. In run and gun situations the C100 is clutch because Canon designs a smart user interface. Sony's menus are a mess! That said...
I am currently on assignment in Brazil documenting a global immersion course. I am working alone, shooting video and stills. I chose to leave the C100 behind and opt for the A7Sii as I wanted a camera that would draw less attention. I figured the built in stabilizer would allow me to run hand-held more often as well, which is not recommended with the C100. AND it shoots stills, so I can leave my DSLR at home (no stills with C100).
So far I've really enjoyed the size and weight of the Sony. I'm using a Zeiss 24-70 stabilized lens, which couples nicely with the built in stabilizer. It's not as smooth as a MOVI or Ronin, but hell, it practically fits in my pocket!
I only carry one filter, a circular polo, and I adjust my ISO to taste as needed. I have a hot shoe mounted micro rode mic that is good enough for my needs. Sit down interviews are captured with a wireless lav into my zoom. I brought a $200 MePhoto travel tripod. Far too light for the C100 but works fine for the A7S. Overall the setup is brilliant because it is so damn tiny. However, I have yet to master quickly switching between stills and video, mainly because of how clunky the UX is organized.
In Conclusion: Test them both. I shoot with both and prefer each camera for completely different reasons. Because I'm alone on this trip, the A7Sii has been a real savior. It kills inside a vehicle (C100 sucks in cars, too bulky) and it is bananas to have such a decently stabilized unit that's lighter than any canon DSLR. Lucky for me I'm not shooting loads of interviews or I would be hauling out the zoom (same size as the camera!) and wishing I had my C100. The ability to capture stills is nice but I do not prefer this camera to my 5Dmarkiii for still photography. And everyone is peeing in their pants about the low light capability of the Sony. I personally don't see the appeal, it gets very noisy quicker than you'd expect. Turn the lights on, it's much more efficient!

Side Note: I got to play with the FS5 recently. This one is legit. Super light weight and feels great to hold while shooting. A contender for sure! Canon had better start innovating.

March 22, 2016 at 2:23AM

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Once you've set your custom buttons, functions and programs with the A7S II it's a beast with such a low profile. Picture quality, low light and in body stabilization is top notch.

February 2, 2017 at 12:16PM

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