May 11, 2015 at 9:42AM


If you had $5k...

If you had $5k to buy a camera with a complete rig, what would you buy? I am looking to purchase a new camera this summer and want to get everyone's thoughts on what looks good in this price ranger. Would you trick out a BMPCC or a gh4? Go with the upcoming URSA Mini 4k and have just enough for a rig, power, and storage? C100 MK1? Sony FS100? Let me know what you think.


I've been in this business for nearly 30 years, and for where the tech is now compared to my first Sony M7 or Betacam SP, I can't stress enough that none of these cameras are bad.

That said, some are better for certain applications than others.

To your question; I love the images I can get on the BMPCC, however, it is far from ergonomic, and it's biggest selling point is shooting raw, short of shooting raw, I would go another direction. If you choose the BMPCC, be aware that it takes fast cards for raw, and it will chew through a 32GB in under five minutes. Beautiful footage, but massive storage and poor ergonomics, that back screen is really not great for pulling critical focus. If you do go this route in particular, have a good DIT procedure ready so you don't lose critical footage. I use and recommend the IPDA guidelines myself.

I have a C100 Mk I, and I love the images, the ergonomics and the low light capability (especially when paired with a nice T1.5 or T2.0 lens). This thing is my current workhorse, I live near Minneapolis and this little beast has traveled with me from Dallas to Beijing and all in between. Great color science, the internal chip is 4k which down rezzes to 1080p on output for high quality images, and when rigged with an Atomos Ninja II recorder, I get footage that rivals C300's and C500's. It has its quirks, but all that and built in ND, is hard to beat in the 1080p crowd. Stripped down to bare basics, I walked it into China's Forbidden City where soldiers told me when I first approached that professional cameras are not allowed - three minutes later the Ninja, matte box and rails were stashed in the backpack and I entered through another checkpoint with not even a glance from the soldiers. Fully rigged on rails with a matte box and the Ninja, and I would stack it up against just about anything out there. We just finished filming the Fourth of July in Duluth and travel footage along the North Shore and the C100 reminds me how lucky I am to be a DP with today's tools.

So if you are looking for a "right now" pick off your list, the C100 Mk I, especially after price drops is a cinematic beast of a machine.

In two weeks, I'm flying out to New Jersey to film an interview, and the timing and budget means my usual partner in crime won't be there with a second camera angle. It also means that instead of splitting the B-roll list between us, I will need to fly in to Newark, meet the producer, set and film the interview, grab the B-roll and then get back on the plane and come home. Fully rigged and shooting with prime lenses, my C100 gets gorgeous footage, but it isn't as fast and easy as a true ENG camera is. This shoot will be fast and leaves zero room for error.

I tell you this because I'm considering not taking my C100 because it is not as quick draw as an ENG camera, even as streamlined as my C100 rig is, it feels like a Franken rig compared to my partner's shoulder mount ENG camera. She opens the case, powers up, white balances, checks focus (on a par focal lens, which my Canon 24-105 definitely is not, another reason to add to the long list of "why I love primes"), and she is filming. I'm still attaching the rails, sliding on the mate box and attaching the Ninja II. I arguably get better quality shots than her smaller sensor, but she has me beat on speed to film.

The other consideration is that with only one camera, and one shot at the interview, a 4k camera will give me a chance to shoot a wide AND a close at the same time. I also expect that good 4k down rezzed to 1080p will provide Uber sharp imagery. I really considered the GH4, and also cameras like the BMPC 4k, but I always come back to having a tangle of fragile wires coming out of a Franken rig. I'll say this; if you have time to set your shots, and possibly a crew to help ensure the camera and audio connections are all good, then almost any camera (sensor) can be used. People shoot feature films on iPhones tricked out with lenses and external audio recorders, for goodness sake. Imagine telling someone ten years ago that you would shoot your feature film on a camera phone and it would win critical acclaim!

To wrap up this rather long post, if you have the time to setup a rig and need gorgeous 1080p, you can't go wrong with the C100. The viewfinder is terrible because of light leak, but there are cheap solutions, I pulled the rubber eye cup of one of my old Sony broadcast cameras and it worked a charm.

If you need 4k and won't be doing too much run and gun and have planned shots with time to rig up and check your rig, the GH4 is amazing for the price. The images can be very, very nice when shot with care.

The BMPCC is an amazing camera, but have ten or twelve spare batteries and twelve 32GB chips for every hour you want to capture. That means for a day that yields six hours of footage, you would need seventy two 32GB chips. You will also need a far better viewfinder, the Zacuto Gratical HD is perfect for this, but when the EVF costs three times the cost of the camera.....

I have no experience with the FS100, but I will say this; my next camera just might be an FS7. It's quite a bit more expensive than your price range (unless you rent), but internal 4k, a super 35 sensor, serous slow motion chops, a real EVF (and it works great with the Zacuto EVF), and best of all, all the best of a well balanced ENG camera - just pull it out of the case, power up, put it on your shoulder and shoot.

I know this is long, but so is the agonizing process we all go through trying to choose our next amazing tool, so I hope this helps you as you make your choice.

As always, it's not an amazing camera that makes an amazing film or documentary, it's the cinematographer / DP behind the lens. An amazing DP can make a film on an antique VHS camcorder or the worst cell phone camera. The most expensive and fantastic camera in the world won't make a poor talent one bit better. The great news is that almost anyone who learns the craft and practices, practices, practices can become good, or even great. A great tool in the right hands just makes things better, but remember that it's always you, behind whatever lens you rent, scrounge, borrow or buy that makes the film great. Don't wait for a tool that will define you - define whatever tool you happen to have. Good luck and happy filming!

July 7, 2015 at 11:19PM

H Robert Petersen
Producer, Director, Cinematographer

If I had $5k I would hire a great DP for a day with some goals in mind and get mentored by the DP. I would fly out to NYC and hire Walter Graff to teach me lighting for a day or two. I would still have some money left, but the result is likely that no matter camera I have, it likely will look better than buying some camera for $5k because quality is more about how you use a camera, than buying some expensive camera, if you suck at lighting or composition, you will also suck at lighting and composition and story telling with the more expensive camera. Then with the way people will see your movie, no one can tell if it were shot on a $5k camera or a $180 used Canon eos-m.

January 10, 2016 at 11:10PM, Edited January 10, 11:11PM


Personally, for the stuff I shoot, I'd look at a second hand fs700, there's a lot of them floating around these days and some rokinnon glass. I'd go with a decent a tripod and if the budget was there a ntg2 shotgun mic, I'd buy all the periphials like batteries etc on the cheap. Don't forget a good bag/case too.

You get high frame rates, a decent codec, a future proof camera with the 4k addition at a later date if you so desire, its a real value for money camera.

Alternatively could go wild a get a a7sii with more glass, tripod, cage and filters. But the first option is what I've got, and I'm content.

February 3, 2016 at 6:29AM

Laurence S
Creative Content

C100 Mk 2 ($4500, and right now you get a great package deal with an atomos ninja 2 recorder) and the $500 V2 Zacuto Recoil. You'll come in just over $5000 with that combo but you'll have an awesome and easy to use shooting package. I guess you'd need a viewfinder or monitor too with that setup. I already have one so I didn't count it in but you can get decent monitors under $500 all day long. Or get the c100 Mk 1 and some sweet zeiss glass or something.

February 3, 2016 at 3:47PM, Edited February 3, 3:47PM

Steven Bailey

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