Have you considered leaving the mirrorless or DSLR world behind and opting for a dedicated cinema camera? You're not alone.
Let's say you're shooting an independent feature or starting up a production company, and instead of renting a camera, you want to buy something that's ready out of the box. This means a camera that can be integrated seamlessly into a professional set environment without needing to overly modify or adapt the body for timecode or audio inputs. Or worse, worry about it overheating. If your budget is under $10K, there's a competitive marketplace of cameras with rock-solid features and specs.
While it can be a great option, for the sake of brevity, we're going to rule out buying used. Let's also assume you want to deliver 4K images as your final deliverable. The big players—Blackmagic, Canon, Panasonic, RED, and Sony—all have cameras to consider. With the release of the C70, Canon has created a stepping stone to jump from its mirrorless cameras to a dedicated cinema camera that looks to be more advantageous than the EOS C100 first introduced in 2012. Let's take a look at how it compares to similar cameras on the market.
The URSA Mini Pro 12K squeaks in under the $10,000 budget, so it's worth considering here. There's been plenty of ink out there about how well the Pocket Cinema Camera 6K and 4K cameras perform, but they do leave much...or at least some... to be desired. The standout feature on the URSA Mini Pro 12K is its new sensor pattern. Instead of using the standard Bayer pattern, Blackmagic developed its own proprietary layout for its 12,000 photosites. With 6K "clear' sensils that captures black and white information along with 2K red, 2K green, and 2K blue sensils. That combination, recorded in their own flavor of RAW and processed in Resolve, has shown some truly stunning imaging results in early tests.
The C70 is establishing a new space for Canon. It's closer to a DSLR in size than a cinema camera, but it's pursuing full cinema features, including XLR inputs, SDI outputs, and timcode all wrapped around a Dual Gain Output sensor that makes it an appealing option.
How many of you forgot about the Panasonic EVA-1? It's one of the older cameras on this list, but it's still a strong contender in many areas, especially when paired with something like a Shogun Inferno for recording RAW video. Capable of 5.9K RAW, with a dual native ISO sensor that allows for relatively low noise shooting, and a compact body that allows for easy stabilizer mounting, it's a camera that shouldn't be forgotten. At least for now.
The RED Komodo is still receiving its final touches, but we know a lot about it. The 6K Super 35 compact camera features a global shutter, 4K at 60fps, 2K at 120fps, REDCODE RAW, and eventually phase detection autofocus. It's also going to be the smallest RED camera in terms of body size and one of its less expensive cameras to date. One feature it does lack is an XLR input, but we're going to give that a pass since it's not part of RED's DNA.
While not officially available yet, the Sony FX6 is in an interesting position. The Sony FS5 and FS7 were both immensely popular 4K cameras, with the FS7 showing up everywhere from indie films, music videos, to corporate work in high volume. With the replacement of the FS7 with the FX9, we knew a replacement for the smaller body FS5 would come next. The FX9 is a great option but it jumps the $10K price point. Now that Sony has teased the FX6, we expect it to have a price tag around $5,000.
So how do you choose? Let's take a look at some notable features first.
One of the most fascinating aspects is that, with the exception of the FX6, all the cameras share the Super 35 sensor size format. While full-frame sensors have taken off in popularity in recent years, at this mid-range for cinema price point they are far from dominant.
While full-frame imagery does offer different benefits over Super 35, including potentially better low light performance and a different depth of field, sticking with Super 35 makes a lot of sense. The lens selection is incredibly robust and can be easily adapted from PL mount to just about any lens mount necessary, which will cover Super 35 with ease. It makes sense that Sony has been the first to push the larger sensor size into this price point, since Sony was also the company pushing hardest on that sensor size in the mirrorless market.
It's likely that in the next few years we'll see more competition at this price with full-frame, but even ARRI has announced its next camera will have a Super 35 sensor. Super 35 is by no means going anywhere, so just because a camera is not full-frame doesn't mean you should count it out.
While we continue to dream of the industry settling on a single one, there will remain a tremendous amount of variety in lens mounts for the years to come. The Canon C70 is R mount. The Sony is E mount. The Panasonic is EF mount. The RED Komodo and the Blackmagic are both switchable, with Blackmagic having PL, F, and EF options, and the Komodo having a native RF mount.
Regardless, everything here is a winner since it's so easily adaptable to other formats except for the Panasonic EF mount. While there are many lenses available in EF mount, the flange focal distance is deeper, which prevents the use of PL mount lenses via adapter. Thankfully, Panasonic allows you to swap out out the EF mount for PL altogether.
Komodo to get Phase Detection Autofocus
We didn't care about autofocus five years ago. Filmmakers turned it off and made decisions about focus themselves. However, autofocus has gotten to be pretty incredible and is starting to be a feature that shooters rely in on a variety of situations, whether it's keeping up with an interview subject that likes to lean forward and backward or doing a running scene outdoors. Autofocus can be tremendously helpful in getting the shot.
RAW and ProRes Recording
The Blackmagic and RED cameras both allow for internal recording of RAW video. With Panasonic, Canon, and Sony, you're going to need external accessories to enable RAW recording, if it's available. Interestingly, Komodo allows for internal ProRes recording which will make for a faster post process while the URSA Mini Pro 12K only allows RAW recording. Due to the nature of the new pixel layout, you can't shoot straight to ProRes in-camera.
URSA Mini Pro 12KHigh Frame Rates
Here, the Blackmagic, Sony, and Canon offer a slew of high frame rate options. RED and Panasonic are a bit behind with the Komodo and EVA-1 only offering 120fps at 2K. Slow motion isn't required for every job, but if you're doing action work, sports work, or want the flexibility of frequent over cranking, this is an area where Canon, Sony, and the Blackmagic cameras will shine.
There is always a little bit of personal opinion when it comes to color science. Folks who like the look of Sony are going to keep liking the look of the FX6. People who like the look of Canon are going to love the C70. And each camera can be graded to look like the other. The only real standouts for color science in this pack are the RED Komodo, which offers full 16-bit raw recording in the proprietary REDCODE format, and the Blackmagic with the innovative new sensor filter array.
What does this mean in practice? Well, the same as the discussion of RAW above, these cameras are likely to offer more flexibility when manipulated in post. The EVA-1, C70, and EF6 might look better straight from the camera, but if you have a shot slightly underexposed, or where the white balance isn't quite perfect, the Blackmagic and RED cameras are going to give you more room to work. That will also mean spending more time in post, which might not be a luxury you have on a job with a tight turnaround.
- Super 35 Dual Gain Output (DGO) Sensor
- 4K 120p and 2K CROP 180p
- 16+ Stops of Total Dynamic Range
- DIGIC DV 7 Image Processor
- Canon Log 2, 3, PQ, HLG Recording
- RF Mount
- 2x Built-in Mini-XLRs, Time Code Terminal, Built-in ND Filter
- Dual Pixel CMOS AF, EOS iTR AF X, Dual Pixel Focus Guide
- Electronic Image Stabilization with Combination IS
- Dual SD Card Slots with Various Recording Options
It's truly astounding that there are so many 4K+ resolution cameras with a full feature set available for under $10K. In the 90s, 3-CCD camcorders were going for $5K.
Depressingly, we have to admit that the EVA1 is already starting to feel a bit long in the tooth. This is a shame since this is a camera we loved when it launched, and still think it's the right camera for many jobs. Documentary filmmakers should still look at its features closely or even if you do narrative work. A modification of the lens mount to PL and you're in business.
The C70 and the FX6 are both going to be very competitive for shooters who go back and forth between narrative and corporate work or for those in the ENG world. RED and Blackmagic are going to be more appealing to shooters focused exclusively on higher-end music videos, commercial, and narrative work due to their more robust RAW workflows.
So where does that leave you? What compromises can you live with to get the most bang for your buck? Let us know in the comments section which camera you prefer out of the group.