Best Cameras of 2017
From Cinema RAW to Mirrorless MFT, let's close the year with your best new camera options.
Snap, crackle, camera goodness! It’s almost time to flip the calendar year, but before we do, let’s take a look at some of the gear greatness that was announced or hit the shelves over the last twelve months.
There was a metric ton of announcements from the usual tradeshow suspects like NAB, IBC, Cine Gear Expo, blah-blah-blah—and there’s no doubt many of you have bought, talked about or geeked out on the gear we’ve splashed on the pages of this site during those weeks. However, we’re all forgetful, so let’s hand out some “Best-Ofs” in the camera department.
Before you start scrolling down to the picks in bold to agree or disagree, we’re going to lay one simple ground rule: The equipment needed to be revealed or initially released in 2017. Here are our picks, alphabetized by manufacturer, for your reading pleasure.
Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro
The URSA Mini made our "Best Of" last year but what we like about the URSA Mini Pro is its interchangeable lens mount that can be switched from EF, PL and B4. The Super 35mm 4.6K sensor (4608 x 2592) provides 15 stops of dynamic range capable of recording RAW CinemaDNG files to CFast 2.0 cards up to 60 fps. Compressed CinemaDNG RAW files are available at 4:1, 3:1 and if ProRes is your go-to, it's selectable up to 4444 XQ. Built-in ND filters (2, 4, 6), timeclock, LCD screen, metadata support and friendly workflow with DaVinci Resolve makes it hard to pass up as such a low price point.
Holy crap, did this camera cause an uproar. Its curtain revealed during Cine Gear Expo, the cleverly named C200 sits between the C100 and C300 Mark II, sharing the same sensor as the latter. This Frankenstein pulls the ‘best’ specs from the aforementioned to make a balanced middle sister without adding too much insult to those touting a C300 Mark II.
The 8.85 megapixel Super 35mm 16:9 CMOS sensor records internal RAW and 4K DCI at max res of 4096 x 2160, oversamples for 2K/HD and is equipped with the Dual Pixel CMOS Auto Focus system which many shooters enjoy having in their arsenal.
Canon also gives us—for the first time—Cinema RAW Light, its version of a compressed RAW so it can record to internal CFast 2.0 cards. 4K UHD/HD are supported in a compressed MP4 format to SD cards. Doing this allowed Canon to offer internal RAW recording at a sub-10K price tag. Good for them.
But it was the lack of internal recording codecs, especially at 10-bit, that raised some eyebrows. Currently, there’s 4:2:0 8-bit MP4 and Cinema RAW Light. Nothing in between.
A software update is expected in 2018 but that’s only supposed to include XF-AVC YCbCr 4:2:0 8-bit UHD/HD 160/45 Mb/s recorded to SD.
So how did the C200 make the list? Well, we’re not saying the 8-bit MP4 images it’s producing are shite; we’re more saying, good on Canon for making a compressed internal RAW option for shooters.
Canon C200 $7,500 via B&H.
After shooting on RCA VHS camcorders growing up, college introduced me to Super 8, Super 16, Beta cameras and then the Sony DSR PD-150, Canon XL1 and Panasonic AG-DVX100. The latter being my favorite camera to this day— ah, nostalgia. It’s even how Jarred Land over at RED got his start by creating the DVXuser forums. So it would be hard not to mention Panasonic’s latest in this year’s “Best Of.”
While the EVA1 is definitely late to the game with similar specs found in the Sony FS5, FS7, Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro and the Canon C300/200, Panasonic stepped into the sub-10K market in a big way. The EVA1 can record 4:2:2 10-bit at 4K DCI, UHD, 2K and HD formats on internal V60-rated SD cards. And yes, it has dual card slots for continuous or simultaneous recording.
Other notable features being the Super 35 CMOS sensor (24.60mm x 12.97mm), 14 stops of dynamic range, a dual native ISO (800/2500) and a future update to record 5.7K (5720 x 3016) as a RAW output.
While early footage served up mixed reviews, the camera started shipping in November giving way for a ton of tests and projects that are searchable online.
Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5
The hype was real. Upgraded with features and a new design, Panasonic gave low-budget users much more without much of a price jump. The 20.3MP Digital Live MOS Sensor and enhanced Venus Engine processor packs enough power for 4K 60p and 4K UHD 4:2:2 10-bit internal at 24/30p with no crop. Jenga.
And with a recent firmware update, 6K anamorphic (4,992x 3,744) 10-bit resolution video is an actuality (records Long GOP HEVC at 200 MB/s) along with a slew of new ALL-Intra frame rates in 400 MB/s and 200 MB/s and 4K 60p limited to 150 MB/s at 4:2:0 8bit Long GOP.
The GH5 is a powerful camera at this price point and has a lot to offer: Dual UHS-II SD slots, 225 autofocus areas, OLED viewfinder, I.S. Lock for handshake correction, 6K and 4K photos, joystick control, and HDMI output for 4:2:2 10-bit recording, undercranking/overcranking settings—a.k.a. endless awesomeness.
Sony Alpha a7R III
Can the Sony a9 and a7R III be any closer and yet at the same time be any further apart from each other? If we are strictly speaking video, which No Film School generally does, the a7R III stands out because of its S-Log2 and S-Log3 gamma curves, as well as the new HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) profile for HDR workflow and HDR TV monitors. The camera also features XAVC-S Proxy if you want to quickly edit your video at a lower resolution.
These are things the a9 doesn’t simply have yet as it was targeted toward sports/wildlife photographers. Sony has said the a9 will receive Log profiles in a future update. Knowing that, the a9 is worth considering. It does have a slightly better sensor, higher ISO, an electronic shutter that reaches 1/32000 compared to the A7r III’s 1/8000s, anti-distortion technology, better buffering depth and more autofocus detection points. The full frame camera records 4K UHD up to 30fps and 100mbps with the XAVC S codec.
Similarly, the a7R III can shoot 4K video across the width of the full frame sensor and Super 35mm with full pixel readout without pixel binning for 5K worth of data, oversampling the 4K footage. Both use a MP4 wrapper with 4:2:0 8-bit sampling and tout a 4:2:2 8-bit clean HDMI output.
Should we call it a tie?
After years of writing about Sony’s Alpha line, which features full-frame sensors, it’s odd that VENICE is Sony’s first digital motion picture full-frame camera—not that Super35 isn’t some visually sexy stuff. And while it’s obvious we’re not comparing apples to apples when it comes to the mirrorless cousins, the newest CineAlta monster is promising 6K (6048 x 4032) 3:2 mode 16-bit RAW/X-OCN files to a AXS-R7 recorder, 10-bit XAVC workflows, 15 stops of latitude, a new color management system that exceeds Rec. 2020 (S-Log3, Ultra-Wide included) all on an interchangeable 36x24mm sensor. Remove four screws and it’s gone.
VENICE will have imager modes that can natively support 5.7K, 4K DCI, Super 35 4 – perf, Super 35 3 – perf, and Super 35 Anamorphic modes. While the sensor is not built on a global shutter, Sony says, “the high-speed readout sensor will minimize the jello effects that are typical in CMOS sensors.” There will also be a servo-controlled 8-step mechanical ND filter built into the camera chassis—a world’s first. A PL mount can be changed to support E-mount lenses as well.
While VENICE was announced this year, it won’t make its debut until 2018. So we may see end up seeing this one again. More food for thought: it will be interesting to see if cinematographers starting picking up a Sony over the favored ARRI for features. Not to say they haven’t already. It’s just that Alexa truly cemented an early foot in the ground during the digital revolution with a camera whose ergonomics were familiar with guys shooting film. We’re creatures of habit and it took players like RED to reshape how we think a camera should be designed. Now it’s come full circle we’re manufacturers are piggy-backing off each other to get a bigger piece of the pie.
If you’re interested in seeing VENICE footage, we highlighted some of Sony’s visual storytelling in a previous article where cinematographer Claudio Miranda and director Joseph Kosinski shot The Dig.
What makes a camera a camera? The ergonomics of its design? Its recording ability? The lens mount? At the heart of image capture is the sensor, and while it’s not a traditional camera by itself, the RED Monstro when paired with a body like the Weapon is a camera that we can hold.
Just as we were getting acquainted with Helium 8K S35, RED released the long-rumored Monstro, a 35.4 Megapixel CMOS 8K VV full frame sensor. This is RED’s jump into full frame, delivering 8192 × 4320 effective pixels on a 40.96mm x 21.60mm sensor. Monstro muscles 17 stops of dynamic range, uses IPP2, data rates up to 300 MB/s with all the features we’re accustomed from the company – REDCODE, Apple ProRes and DNxHR at variable resolutions and frame rates.
Other than the announcement, product page the Iron Horse footage on YouTube, this noise comparison, we haven’t heard much about it. Maybe it’s the $80,000 price tag? We’re sure someone from REDUSER will be able to fill us in on its awesomeness in the comments below.
There are dozens of budget-friendly 360 cameras out there. From the 8K Insta360 Pro, Rylo and Detu Twin to the Samsung 360 and Garmin VIRB 360, they all do a really good job, but the GoPro Fusion has eked out as a frontrunner for us due to its capture optics and sound quality.
While the mobile OverCapture feature won’t be available until 2018—it allows you to use the phone’s gyroscope to select the frame you want to be the focal point and pop it out—you can still do so in Fusion Studios and Adobe Premiere Pro.
Let us know in the comments if we missed any as cameras can be just as subjective as the visual art they create.
UPDATE: Since some of our readers did not understand/grasp the fun/humor behind the categories each camera represented we removed them.