June 2, 2015 at 1:32PM


Seeking Strategic New Video Camera (+Lenses) Advice: The Next Level

Hi, I currently use a GH4 for video (shoot 4K, deliver 1080p) with a JuicedLink XLR audio adapter and a Fhugen cage. For audio, I use either a Rode NTG-2 shotgun or 1-2 Sennheiser wireless lavs. For lenses, I have a variety of native Micro Four Thirds lenses from both Panasonic and Voigtlander. Most of the video work I do is corporate/training videos shot on location in (typically) dimly lit offices with employees (or occasionally actors), employee/manager interviews, or recording presenters against either an infinite white or green screen background (I key and composite myself in post). I also do a number of events for local schools - performances, dances, occasional sports, etc., and other local/family events such as charity walk/runs, birthday parties, holiday parties, etc. I also shoot my own personal travel videos simply because I enjoy doing so. 

While the GH4 has been (and is) a wonderful camera, it has been very difficult at times for "getting the shot" with it at event-based shoots. Having the audio as a separate unit (the JuicedLink) that I must constantly remember to switch on separately (and also keep an eye on the battery level for separately) while running around with my cage setup, performance in low light and/or rapidly changing lighting due to weather/time of day due to the smaller sensor, and fast-paced events (the GH4's autofocus doesn't always nail it smoothly enough on occasions when I've used it) makes it somewhat less than ideal for these types of shoots. And for the corporate shoots, it sometimes doesn't do as well in some of the low light situations I'm asked to shoot in. Although I have some 4- and 6-bank fluoros and a three-point LED light kit, I’m sometimes only allowed into a room to shoot for literally just a few minutes due to the very limited availability of the room/facility, and have to shoot in it as-is or with minimal lighting. And although most of the time I’m shooting fully manual, for events/sports, an easy-to access-and-flip-on more accurate autofocus option would be nice to have.

In terms of post, I edit in FCPX on a Mac Pro and also use After Effects a lot. Most projects are destined for internet/web delivery, although some are projected on to large screens at events/conferences.

I should note that while I’ve been shooting professionally for paying clients for about 2-3 years now, video production currently makes up about 20-25% of my overall business. The other 75% of what I currently do is interactive media development, animation/motion graphics and editing, however I’m looking to grow and expand the video production side of my business aggressively over the next 2-3 years because I truly enjoy it a lot and because it’s becoming more essential to my business as whole. In addition, I’m looking to take on more higher-end "glossy" types of projects and shooting, including commercial, marketing and fashion/beauty types of shoots while also improving the current quality of my event and low light shooting. I’d also like to “raise the bar" wherever I can on all of the stuff I currently do (green screen/training/corporate/interviews), as well as be able to do more color grading on certain types of projects.

As a result, I've been looking at adding a new, higher-end video camera to my arsenal with a budget of $5,000-$8500 (body only, I have $3500 budgeted separately for some new lenses since the only lenses I currently have are all M4/3) that will allow me to continue to do the types of client work I do now (hopefully even better/easier in some situations), while also allowing me to "stretch" into even higher-end types of projects I'd like to expand into working on, but I'm not sure which “ticks the most boxes" in terms of meeting the needs of the diverse types of projects I currently work on as well as the higher-end ones that I plan to work on in the future. Additionally, I really, really love a well-used slow-motion aesthetic, and I often see it used to great effect in sports, fashion/beauty and other types of commercial videos and I also like a nice shallow DOF used for beauty shots of people (or products) and interviews. I fully intend to keep my GH4, as it's a great camera, and I'll continue to use it in specific situations and client projects (such as portable jib and slider shots) that I feel it will continue to work really well for and for my own personal travel/events stuff. I do not live anywhere close to any rental houses or pro gear stores so renting is not a viable option for me most of the time. I intend to be an owner-operator with this next video camera/set of lenses.

Speaking of lenses, it seems that in many ways (and perhaps even more importantly) than trying to decide what video camera to get next is also deciding what lens system to invest in, since the only lenses I currently have are native M4/3 lenses (outside of one Nikon kit lens I have that came with a D90). So any advice that speaks to this aspect of things is much appreciated as well.

With all that said, I've been exploring and considering several different camera options:

The new Canon C100 Mark II (fast dual-pixel autofocus, built-in XLR audio and ND filters, very nice image quality from what I've seen, seems very decent in low light, Canon lens ecosystem), however it lacks pretty bad vs.competition in terms of its slow motion shooting capabilities (vs. GH4, Sony FS7, FS700, BlackMagic URSA/URSA Mini), and doesn't do 4K either, which I like shooting in due to the added flexibility in post for 1080p projects, but even more so for future-proofing reasons at this point since I need this next purchase to last a good 4-5 years minimum. Finally, at least internally, the codec/bit rate isn't as strong for keying and color grading purposes, although I suppose I could add an Atomos for the green screen stuff.

Another candidate I'm looking at is the SONY FS7 (the priciest option on my list), but I'm concerned about its suitability for events/sports due to what I’ve read about it having slow/poor autofocusing, a limited choice in terms of native E mount lenses, issues I've read about concerning using it with other types of lenses via adapters (Metabones with Canon glass, for example), and the post workflow (XAVC) with FCPX. It definitely seems the very best option for slow-motion (180fps), shoots 4K internally with a robust codec, 10-bit 4:2:2 (for the green screen work I do), has a fantastic form factor/weight for events, and has pretty much all of the other conveniences of a “true” video camera (things like ND filters, XLR inputs, etc.) vs. a DSLR/mirrorless. It also seems very "future-proof" for the next few years due to its capabilities and feature set. But the lens/slowness issues concern me.

A third candidate is the new Blackmagic URSA mini (4.6K) EF mount, which seems to offer a LOT of great features for the money - compressed RAW and ProRes (great for green screen shooting and for editing in FCPX), nice form factor/weight, great flip out monitor and I could add the new OLED EVF they have for it as well. This seems to be the ideal camera in many ways for much of the corporate/training stuff I do, but not so much for quick setup/event stuff - no built-in ND filters, low light capabilities may not be nearly as strong as C100 Mk II or FS7, and media costs for longform events might be crazy expensive (although the FS7 suffers from the same issue here). In terms of slow motion (120fps), this seems to be the second best choice (behind the FS7), although as I understand it, it crops in on the sensor for slow motion.

Related to the URSA mini would be the original URSA (the big one) which would provide even higher frame rates for slow-motion than the mini, but the weight of it is a non-starter for events, and it would be way too heavy for the portable jib, sliders and support gear I currently have as well.

Someone I was recently discussing all this with suggested I look into the Kinefinity cameras - the MAX and/or Kinemini, but I know very little about them or the company that makes them. Any thoughts on the Kine cameras?

A final option might be something like the Sony PXW-X200 or perhaps the new Panasonic video camera (AG-DVX200 4K 4/3) announced at this year’s NAB, however I really love the flexibility of interchangeable lenses, and the PXW-X200 doesn't do 4K or offer the high frame rates. I'm also not sure how well it would provide a shallow DOF look (compared to C100 Mk II, URSA mini, or FS7) for the interviews I shoot, or if it's as strong in low light as the FS7 or C100 Mk II. And the AG-DVX200 is a totally unknown quantity to me at this point, since it won't even be released for several months yet and I haven't seen any footage from it yet, either. It would be really nice to have a powerful servo zoom again, though.

Obviously, no one model of video camera handles every shooting situation equally as well, and different types of video cameras are often best suited for certain types of shooting situations, so I know I'm asking a for a unicorn, but if I'm going to spend $5,000-$8500 on a new video camera plus up to another possible $3500 on lenses to go with whatever I choose, then I really want to make a purchase (or purchases) that cover/s as many of the bases that I need/want as much as possible for the next 4-5 years. Is there a particular model of camera or maybe some sort of combination of cameras (either from my list or other ones) that any of you might recommend as being the best all-around solution given the budget?

Any suggestions, advice, insight or other considerations anyone can provide is much appreciated in advance!

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