ETHICS STATEMENT: I am not in the employ of any camera manufacturer. I have done jobs for Canon, Nikon, Panasonic and Sony but these are one-off paid jobs. No inside track, no buy out, no souls are sold!
I am independent and proud of that. My integrity is everything. For my full ethics statement please click here. Remember, these are just my opinions and should NEVER be taken as gospel. Read other people’s opinions and try before you buy if you can! I will never give you a black and white answer as to which camera to buy. Everyone has different needs and different budgets, so please don’t ask!
There are quiite a lot of ads and affiliate links to the cameras mentioned. I am sorry. A necessary evil am afraid as the amount of time and effort, not even mentioning costs of hosting this site, are huge. I have a fulltime job. I make films and I teach. All this is done for the benefit of the community and is not paid work. These affiliate links cost you nothing but give me a small percentage so I am able to take time off to make reviews, write posts and lots more for the site. So thanks so much if you use the links and thanks to for putting up with all the ones on this page. It’s a lot I know!
WARNING! THIS IS A VERY LONG POST!! DO NOT READ THIS WHILST DRIVING!!! SIT DOWN, G&T IN HAND, CAT ON LAP AND ENJOY!!
UPDATED: 24th February 2014
Cameras are essentially tools, tools to help you tell stories. Good tools make your job easier. They for the most part don’t make the story any better other than they might make it easier to tell the story if you aren’t fretting about your tool!! A badly functioning tool makes your results worse, actually this is sounding rather smutty…let me rephrase!
Deciding upon the right camera for what you do can only come down to you. We all do different work and it’s impossible to say “use this camera over this one.” Everyone is different and has different needs. I can only tell you what I like about them and why and what I don’t like and why.
So this is a rather long post talking about the pros and cons (as I see them, you will disagree in places!) of DSLRs and large sensor camcorders up to a a certain price bracket. The really expensive ones aren’t covered here. Well basically the F65 and Alexa! The Epic just about scrapes in if you buy minimal add ons. The whole F5 and F55 kind of blurred the lines here very much bridging the top end and the middle end. I only cover cameras which are actually out, so no Digital Bolex for now. Yes I do mention briefly the two new Blackmagic cameras but only briefly as they reflect a lot on the current cinema camera.
I also broadly rate them on where I see them fitting into, work wise…whether they are best for events, docs, fiction, fx etc and what I woulnd’t use them for. Remember it’s “WHAT I USE THEM FOR!” Not gospel. Just how they fit into my work.
So here we go…this is mostly rewritten from the original post that went up in last quarter of last year. It’s been updated and most of the text rewritten with new experiences and thoughts. There are also stacks of typos and maybe some repetition. I apologise. This will get copy checked I promise and hopefully minimised!
Which camera to buy…such a massive question and the problem is even as I write this the post has probably become outdated with another camera on the market! It’s almost got to that point, not quite, almost. I will have to make this post one that I update frequently, it’s just hard to update it constantly but I will try!
When I do update ths make sure you don’t bookmark the standard URL because when I update it the URL changes to the latest date. You need to bookmark the shorturl here: http://gopb.co/cameras
There are so many cameras out there or have been announced. If you base things purely on specs then you will be severly misled. Specs are not meaningless but they are misleading. A camera is far more than a list of what it does. It’s only with use of the camera can it really be assessed.
Some cameras make your life easier. They make it easier to shoot, easier to light, and easier to edit. They may not offer the same image quality as some other cameras, the same recording format or the same dynamic range. For certain jobs you must ask yourself “Should I just use a camera that will make things much quicker and easier or should I make my life painful and use a different camera that really is not designed for this type of work?”
I am going to give you an analogy. It may work, it may not. So if it totally fails I apologise!
You have a large room to paint and you are painting it white. There are some hairline cracks on the walls on top of the dirty walls. One coat of normal paint will cover most of it but not all, a second coat will be needed, but if you stand back and look you will mostly likely not be able to tell that not all the cracks are filled in. It looks great to the casual observer. Also, you have been hired to just give it a quick spruce up with one coat as that’s all the owner wants. It’s being sold, he doesn’t want a fortune spent on it. He just wants the job done quickly and efficiently. So what do you do?
You have available to you the following methods of painting the room but must select only one:
1: A roller with one-coat paint that fills in those hairline cracks
2: A large brush with one-coat paint same as above
3: A medium to small brush with one coat paint same as above
4: Light polyfilla to fill the cacks. Sanding paper. A small brush to be used with undercoat and normal paint that requires 2-3 coats on top of the undercoat
In an ideal world I would combine a roller using “Dulux one-coat” which gets the job done fast and the medium to small brush for those awkwards spots. This will get the job done brilliantly despite adequate being all that is required. I have no desire to do things that are just “good enough”, I want it to be as good as I can get it in the alloted time and 1+3 would do it for me.
But I have to choose one so I go with number 1 and i am just really careful on the edges to make them as close as possible. So be gentle on those bits and you will be ok….
Alternatively, you could go completely the other way and use number 4. Utter overkill for the job, making things really slow and painful. Probably taking 10 times longer to do and yes the end result is great but will only ever be viewed from a distance so totally waster as it looks no better than option 1, yet you put yourself through this thinking the most precise and controlled option is what is needed. It was not.
So that was my camera analogy. Did you like it? Can you see that being applied in the camera world?
If you didn’t then let’s say the paint job required is a corporate film or event film just for the web or persoanl use. Option number one is say an C100 or even a nice DSLR. Number 5 is something like a Blackmagic Cinema Camera shooting raw or a RED Scarlet, maybe even something even more fancy. There are times where option 4 is what you need for the job and for some of you all you do is jobs that need opton 4 and there are some of you who only ever need option 1. Options 2 and 3 could be C300s, F5s…that sort of camera. There are also times when the client wants you to use option 4 when all is needed is option 1. Sometimes there is nothing you can do about it and those times suck. Sorry but that is the reality of things!
There is so much choice. Whether you are someone looking to take their first basic steps into shooting, or someone who already has, say, a 5D MKII and wants something newer and better. Figuring it all out can be pretty hard and there is no black and white answer SO PLEASE DO NOT ASK ME “What shall I buy” I cannot tell you. Only you can decide but you can at least know the pros and cons of each and go from there. Listing what is important to you in a camera and then see what ticks the most boxes.
There seems to be a lot of confusion as to what the natural upgrade path should be from a DSLR…or even if you should stop using DSLRs.
Most of us can make pretty quick decisions when it comes to ordering a drink at a bar – clearly if you have taste it’s Hendricks Gin with Fever Tree tonic or Ciroc Vodka with the same! When your decision could cost you potentially thousands of dollars though a quick decision should never be made, your choice must be considered and thought through…thoroughly. Now with some incredibly powerful cameras costing between 2 and 3 thousand dollars, the choice isn’t as terrifying as for one that costs over $10,000 or more. If you make a mistake here and don’t buy the right one what do you end up with? A paperweight? No…you will still generally end up with a great tool that may never have been the best thing on the market but can easily help you do your work and do it well. As long as you don’t get camera envy too much. It is important to research thoroughly your purchase and this article should be just part of your research.
That is not always the case. There are times when the camera you choose is simply the only one you can afford, not the one you want. That’s fine! You build yourself up to that. If you suddenly find yourself with a client desperately in need of a Scarlet for example then just rent one. If they are asking for it, pass the costs onto them.
The age of the owner operator is well and truly upon us. This is great… but it can also be viewed as the most difficult and confusing time to be one! If you have a C300 for example, as mentioned above, you will always come across jobs where you need a different camera. Different jobs, different clients who demand an Epic or an Alexa. This happens. A lot.
Also a phrase that is bandied about by a lot people (including me) is ”it’s not the camera”…that is true to a point. There are times when you absolutely need an Epic or an Alexa or maybe a C300, and there are times when a Canon 550d (T2i) will do, maybe even your iphone! Why do you think Roger Deakins shot Skyfall on the Alexa and not say a Canon 60D from Walmart? Well it’s obvious, it’s a big movie, with big effects, big budget and to shoot it on a consumer DSLR would be beyond stupid! Why handicap yourself when you don’t need to and should’t?
If you have the budget, then damn well get a better camera than your T2i, because the times when you don’t have the budget are becoming more and more frequent. If someone gives you the chance to use a better camera, as long as you are skilled enough for it AND you have the backup staff if needed (a C500, Blackmagic, Epic, Alexa, F55 etc all need DIT on set, or you will be in for a world of pain!) then go for it…as long as it’s the right tool and not a tool that will make your life difficult! Remember the analogy.
If I am shooting purely for the web, I would probably still use my C300 which is really designed for broadcast work. It is the easiest camera to use that I own, shoots remarkable pictures, and is small and wonderfully ergonomic. I personally don’t consider the internet to be an inferior medium anymore. Youtube can play 4K, streaming on your connected TV, Apple TV, Boxee, XBOX 360 etc is the norm. I hardly ever watch internet films/ videos on my laptop anymore. That is why I always shoot on great cameras when I can, even for the web. The web is the platform of the future.
So what is the point of all this? I am getting so many questions about which camera to buy that it’s impossible to keep up with my replies. It’s understandable though as it’s very confusing now. This post is designed to answer those questions for you or at least give you a good solid source of information.
It is incredibly time consuming to review cameras properly. My shooting and workshops gigs always get in the way and editing is the biggest time consumer of them all. Getting hold of cameras can also be hard without actually buying them. I do my best, sometimes the reviews are well before release and somtimes, like the C100, they are well after release!
Before I get onto the actual cameras one important thing. I don’t cover the Magic Lantern Hacks or any other hacks as these are not official manufcaturer firmware so I am comparing like for like as they come out of the box. Yes these hacks improve their respective cameras so take that into consideration. The comparison needs to be fair and as the manufacturer sells them even if the hack makes the camera so much better. If you are interested in a camera then I am certain you will be aware of the hacks.
GOOD FOR: Low budget filmmakers (apart from the higher priced DSLRs like the 1DC and 1DX), documentary filmmakers who are well versed and confident with dual audio and need the tiny DSLR footprint for being discreent. Event fillmakers as you can get 3 decent DSLRs for the price of one S35 camcorder so you can have 3 shooters working at once.
BAD FOR: Anything that requires lots of in camera audio. Fast moving action due to the rolling shutter issues. Special FX work although some of the below cameras will give you 422 8 bit uncompressed output which is better for FX. Sports, again due to rolling shutter.
Well Canon started all this with the MKII. Have they captilised on this? Yes in a technology progression sense and with S35 camcorders, but not in across the board improvements with the latest DSLRs.
They were quick to bring out manual control…then a year or so later the 7d followed by 24p/25p. The consumer cameras then came out, the T2i, T3i etc etc…but all of these are generation 1. Their video quality has not improved in any of them. The 7D for example looks the same in video mode to the T2i…it’s a massively better camera though, build quality and for stills…but for video, much the same APART from a full HD (but not clean) output.
Earlier this year Canon, finally brought out generation 2. The 5DmkIII. After my initial reservations about the sharpness of the image, I found it was actually very easy to pull it out in post, as there were no visible moire and aliasing issues…something that plagues generation 1. We also had MUCH better low light, much better codec, a headphone jack, audio controls…still poor pre amps though. Full HD out but the LCD screen stills turns off, and it’s not clean, so no external recording. They have recently announced firmware to come in April 2013 that will give it clean output…we shall see!
The super pro body the 1DX is everything video-wise that the 5DmkIII should have been. The image is just gorgeous and lovely and sharp…but it’s almost twice the price. It’s actually fewer megapixels, which also means it is better in low light…for some reason though, they left the headphone jack off this…why?!?! I love this camera enormously. Check out my Safari mini doc below where everything bar the main interviews and slow motion (shot on the FS700) was shot on the 1DX, and the “Portrait of a projectionist” mini doc which was shot entirely on the 1DX.
This is my favourite DSLR. Easily. A confusing camera on paper that seemed to be having an identitiy crisis and a camera I didn’t initially see an obivous need for. That changed when I shot with one and now it goes everywhere with me.
I have shot so much on this. Most of it 4k stock footage, but also a music video, some mini docs and it has been b camera to my C300 as the S35 mode with C-Log matches my C300 really well!! It also is the only Canon DSLR to have 1080p slow motion. Initially I was dissapointed with the detail of it but just last week I shot slow motion with it and I was really really impressed.
It’s expensive for what it is but as it’s also unique on the market it has no competition. There is no stills camera, in fact no camera of this size that shoots 4k with a large sensor IN CAMERA. It’s pretty special and it paid for itself very quickly but it’s clearly not for everyone.
It’s quite possibly my favourite camera despite it still having many of the DSLR issues like rolling shutter, no proper connections, no peaking or other features we have on video cameras. The image though and the size plus the ease of operation combined with the 4K for stock and it’s ability to match my C300…this is why I love it. It’s so hard to explain until you have tried one!
I have not fully tested the 6D but I have shot with it and found it very dissapointing.
It’sa cheaper full frame camera than the 5DmkIII. It has the same codec options which are great, but it has the same image issues as the 5Dmk2 which is not great. There is also no headphone jack!
Such a shame. This camera should be so much better than it is. A missed opportunity video wise.
Canon really need to bring out a generation 2 cheaper camera. A T5i, The 70D is coming out soon. I have no idea what it is like. On paper it should be the first affordable generation 2 Canon without the image issues. I have one on order so will see! The 60D is my favourite of the budget DSLRs so I am looking forward to this camera.
With regards to full frame…do you need it? Personally I love the full frame look. Yes you can get shallower depth of field, but it’s the whole quality and aesthetic of the image that changes. Downside? Long lens shots mean very expensive lenses. Same with the good wide angles.
What on earth are Nikon doing? They had a wide open market for quite some time after the Canon MkII. I waited patiently. I even bought some, the Nikon D7000 and the 5100.I have now sold those. Both of these as video cameras were enormously disappointing. Weak codecs, lack of full manual on the 5100 in video mode, inability to change iris in live view and with both of these no exposure meter in live view.
It literally took until early summer this year for the Nikon D800 to come out…almost 4 years since the Canon 5DmkII came out before we had a decent DSLR for video from Nikon. I have one, and as a stills camera, it is exceptional. It has a 36mp sensor made by Sony that it crazy detailed…but how does it translate to 1080p video? Well, pretty damn well. A little bit of aliasing and moire is present, nowhere near as bad as their previous cameras or generation 1 Canons, but definitely worse than the Canon 5D MkIII and 1DX.
Dynamic range is impressive. I had heard figures stating 12 stops. I have not tested that myself, but side by side with the Canon, I can see more in the shadows and highlights (this is without technicolor, which by the way works way better on the generation 2 due to the superior codec and sensor). Sharpness is way better than the MkIII. It also has a crop mode to go from full frame FX to crop sensor DX…nice in principle, shame in practice as it becomes soft. Disappointing. Also the 720p 50p/60p aliases and moires like it is out and proud about it. Unusable with the mosaic engineering filter. A real shame.
It also has clean HDMI out giving you uncompressed 422 8bit video. Beware though you cannot record in camera at the same time if you record externally as it will drop the resolution.
For me, this is the only quality Nikon DSLR for video, the stills are incredibly too by the way but that’s not what we are talking about. The image is great, despite the issues and it’s flexibility is terrific. Why they don’t build upon what this does right into the lower models confuses me.
I tested the Nikon D4 and had enormous hopes for this. After all, with around a 16mp sensor this would kill in low light. It does, but the camera I tested was SOFT in FX mode. SOFTER in DX mode BUT sharp in 1:1 sampling, shame it’s around a 2.7x crop. I asked other people who had tested the D4 and was told they had the same results. Can this be fixed in firmware? Who knows…I doubt it, and have heard nothing about it. As a stills camera? Amazing, but the Canon 1DX kicks sand in its face like it’s a puny nerd on the beach vs Arnold Schwarzenegger (around Conan time!)
Both of these cameras are capable of 4:2:2 8 bit uncompressed output. These will not get past aliasing, moire or sharpness but will help compression issues. It also won’t help banding as this is 8 bit not 10 bit, so those sky shots will still band away! At least the camera can have an HDMI monitor plugged in and keep the back screen on, even if you don’t want to record a clean output.
AGAIN THOUGH…if you do use something like a Ninja 2 DO NOT EVER HIT RECORD ON THE CAMERA!! If you do this when set to external recording, it drops down to 720p. So just hit record on your recorder. Yes, that means NO in-camera back up. Poo.
A camera I have also not reviewed is the D600. It’s Nikon’s 6D equivalent. I haven’t seen it or seen any proper video from it yet BUT it also does have a clean output, although I hear it crops slightly…it also has an issue with Nikon lenses that you cannot change iris whilst in video mode. You have to have a truly manual lens with the contact disconnected or go out of live view and change it.
I tried the D7100. I liked the image but again the lack of iris control in live view is bewildering.
There is only one camera that people want right now, and that is the GH3. I was lucky enough to shoot a short film recently on a very early pre-production camera. Lots of issues with it as it was unfinished but I did buy a production model
Even the one I had bettered the GH2 in every way. Stronger construction. Better low light, detail, dynamic range, sound handling, clean output, great crop mode, immensely improved codec. Better than a hacked GH2? Yes in most areas. The hacked GH2 gives it a much less compressed codec but doesn’t fix all the other issues. I own 2 GH2s, one hacked and one not. The GH3 is simply much better.
I have one and although I have not a done a full review and am unlikely to due to time, I have found it to be seriously impressive. All the problems in my preproduction one have gone and it really is a great step up. There is a touch more aliasing unfortunately but that’s a small price to pay for the superior build quality, codec, sensitivity and features.
This is a marvellous camera. As long as you don’t mind the micro four thirds sensor size which is half that of a full frame…so if you are used to the 5D aesthetic this may come as a bit of shock to you. That and all your lenses doubling in field of view!
Sony DSLRs have amazing innovations. OLED viewfinders, translucent mirrors. 1080p slow motion. The problem for me is simple. I bought a Sony A77. Loved these features then realised the flange distance (the distance from the sensor to the lens mount) was further than both the Nikons and the Canons, which meant I was stuck with Alpha or Minolta legacy lenses. Sorry, but I don’t want to buy new glass! I bought a fairly expensive Nikon to Alpha adaptor that has a focusing piece of glass in it so the lens can focus on the sensor correctly. Unfortunately way too soft. I put my super sharp 35mm F1.4 Zeiss ZF on it. SOFT! So I unfortunately returned it. The Sony A99 is the full frame version. Many similar features and lovely clean output AND you can record in-camera at the same time as a Ninja 2…problem is it’s the same flange distance. One really cool thing is Sony have brought out a proper XLR module for the camera with proper pre-amps in it and controls. Excellent. Now please can we remove that Alpha mount? I have not reviewed this camera.
But I have shot with it. The viewfinder is spectacular and the 1080p is really nice. The 1080p 50p is great to have but when you conform down to 25p the 28mb/s becomes 14 mb/s and falls apart really easier which is a real shame. It simply needs a better codec and the camera will be much better. You can though get 422 8 bit uncompresed out of the camera which will give you a much better codec of course at the sacrifice of form factor. The camera with no rig against your eye? Fantastic!
Now their mirrorless cameras are very interesting. They use the E-Mount system which is also on their FS100 and FS700 camcorders. This means we can put on pretty much any lens we want with the right adaptor. The problem is all but the consumer VG900 have APS-C/ S35 sensors. There are no professional E-mount full frame cameras and there needs to be. The E-mount is a great mount, not because of the glass available for it but because the flange distance is so small and the opening big enough for full frame lenses to cover that full frame sensor. It needs to be used in more cameras!
E-Mount lenses therefore are not designed for full frame cameras anyway…very annoying and I touch on thsi a bit later on. What is clever though and wonderful to have is the Metabones Speed Booster. Read more about it here. It effectively turns your super 35mm/ APS-C camera into a full frame camera. I kid you not.
There are loads of these cameras out there now. I actually own 3 of them…don’t ask! I have the NEX5N, the NEX 7 (which I have not reviewed properly) and for a reason I cannot fathom I got the NEX 6 (again this has not been reviewed). Below is a short I shot in Marrakech, just an atmos piece, on the NEX7. As you can see the image is great. It’s just that same issues at the A99. The 1080p 50p is great to have but it’s only 28mb/s so it’s hard to grade it when conformed to 25p as it falls apart so easily!
I really enjoyed the little NEX5N and it was better in low light than the NEX 7 but the 7 has way better controls and a built in amazing OLED viewfinder, much like the 6. They also have 1080p slow motion but these are region locked. Not world cameras like the DSLRs. So it’s 24p or 25p and 60p or 50p…This mini doc below is shot on the little NEX5N.
The codec is AVCHD…it’s ok..as I have said it’s not very robust. I do like these cameras but can’t see me currently replacing a Canon or Nikon D800 with one…not yet.
So, there are other stills cameras out there that shoot video, Olympus, the new Lecia M 240 and a myriad of others but these are the main contenders. Which one for you? Well it’s tough. The innovations are coming in slowly…It’s the video camera market that is moving forward fast and aggressively.
LARGE SENSOR CAMCORDERS
THE BLACKMAGIC CINEMA CAMERA:-
Special FX work where raw or ProRes HQ would be so important. Small indie dramas but remember the cost of data acquisition and storagel DIT NEEDED! Commercials. Controlled broadcast work. Not docs. Also controlled studio shoots. Well controlled everything really.
Events, weddings, documentary, most broadcast (with caveats of course!) Bascially anything where ease of use, intergrated audio are needed and anything with lots of footage as this camera EATS hard drives!
FANBOYS: Please do not jump on me for saying this camera is not perfect. I love it but know it’s limitations and issues. Never be blinkered by obsession.
This will be the longest written part of the blog post, for the same reason the video review is the longest one I have done. It’s a camera of contradictions and a lot of people want it. As of the 19th November 2012, it still has not properly shipped. So frustrating for many.
So why contradictions? Well, for what it does this is really cheap but it’s at a cost …it will simply cost potentially a fair old whack! I will explain further…
Clearly this camera is being targeted at Canon users looking to move up a notch. With an EF mount as standard (a passive MTF mount which makes more sense is in the works) they told me that was their target.
The problem is this is a world away from the ease of a DSLR. If you don’t know what you are getting yourself into, you are in for a world of potential pain…you must be prepared for a whole new way of shooting and post work. If you understand what you are getting into, then you will be prepared…best advice I can give is watch my review below…
So…what is the good and the bad?
THIS CAMERA SHOOTS RAW!! Yes raw, and for a camera retailing at around $2000, thanks a recent massive price cut, that is astonishing. What is raw? Well if you don’t know look it up. Ideally it’s how we would shoot everything. It’s the only way to shoot stills. No baked in codecs, we can have enormous options in post to change your exposure and much more. It’s lovely. BUT it’s also HUNGRY…it reminds me of the show/ movie “Little Shop Of Horrors!”…”feed me Seymour, feed me!” as man is it hungry on SSDs…
The raw is uncompressed Cinema DNG. Yes you can have compressed raw. Red have it, Cineform has it. Uncompressed raw on paper sounds ideal but in practice is far too time consuming and far too expensive. In uncompressed raw, 30 minutes of footage will fill up a 240GB SSD. Yep…240GB. You can record in ProRes HQ or Avid DNXHD which is way more efficient BUT it’s not raw so the options that raw give us are gone. You have to make decisions in-camera and adjust lighting to compensate. For my mini doc below “Ponte Tower” I used up close to 600GB of data for around around 1 hour and ten minutes of rushes. On a Mk3 this would be around 48gb in its ALL-I 90mb/s codec. So archiving is incredibly expensive, time consuming. You don’t offload to one hard drive, ideally you offload to 3 maybe 4…that will add up! It takes longer to offload from this camera than the Red Epic as the Epic uses compressed raw.
Blackmagic needs to license or invent its own compressed raw codec.
The sensor is also too small for an EF mount. The size of sensor compared to the flange distance means so much is lost of the Canon lens…it’s a crop of around 2.3x so your 50mm with give you an angle of view of around 115mm…telephoto…GREAT for long lens shots but sucks for wide angles. Also you are only using the centre of the lens, not all of it, so optically not great either. EF mount for this is simply the wrong mount in my opinion…you can make it work, but MFT really makes more sense as I said earlier. I bought an average quality lens to get my much-needed wide and it works, the Sigma 8-16mm….non fish eye but quite slow and with the crop giving me a field of view of around 18.4mm…so, wide but not wide wide. It’s pretty good and is used a lot in the above mini doc…Anything that looks wide…that’s the Sigma! I just really need a fast 35mm equivalent…like a 14mm F1.4…pretty hard to find that!
EDIT: You can now see my review of the MFT camera below…it’s better in some ways…not all. Check it out below!
Form factor is not good either. It’s big and heavy with a big reflective touch screen on it. The software is still very much a work in progress. The Canon lens can be controlled via the camera on-screen controls but no f-stop is displayed (IS is supported by the way). Also audio is via quarter inch jacks, balanced, but no phantom power. There is a headphone jack but with no meters on the screen currently, I have yet to record sound in camera properly on a job.
Yes, it has a 90 minute internal battery. Not ideal but to be honest, due to its form factor you simply MUST have a rig and it’s damn front heavy as it is, so a nice chunky V-lock or Anton Bauer will run this puppy for many hours, and when it runs out and you swap batteries the Blackmagic stays on due to its internal battery being there. So not all bad.
So I used this for a documentary. For me, this is not a documentary camera (unless we are talking just talking heads and reconstructions, not an evolving, actuality doc). Ponte Tower was all tripod… Handheld is so tricky with this, a really good rig is essential and it does have poor rolling shutter issues. It’s rated as 800 ISO but doesn’t like being pushed much more than a couple of stops..at 3200 ISO it can be quite noisy, but the noise is actually quite pleasing. One thing I found though is the noise is so fine, compressing for H264 for vimeo was really really hard in the noisy shots…
So what can this camera be used for? Weddings? Please don’t! Or events unless you own G-Tech or Seagate! The raw is incredibly powerful and the image is gorgeous, detailed and rather filmic. This is a special effect camera, a camera for commercials…a low budget fiction camera? Sure…you just need DIT for all of these! It’s not great in low light, so it’s a camera that really needs lighting. Not a problem for most genres that I have mentioned above but not for documentaries where often you have to go with available light, which is what I did for “Ponte Tower”.
For a first camera, this is mind blowing. Having raw, prores HQ, Avid DNxHD and a dynamic range (in raw) of around 13 stops, this is mightily impressive. With firmware tweaks this will be much more usable. BUT, this is simply not a step up from a DSLR, it’s a totally different tool and as long as you go into this with open eyes, you will have a great time! I would say this is a hand saw whilst the MK3 is an jigsaw…do you get my analogy? Both do the same job, but one is way more efficient and damn faster than the other, but with the other one you can be really careful and slow, getting it perfect. I have one and will use it for certain jobs. I adore the image and I love mucking about with the raw in the included DaVinci Resolve. It’s so powerful and eye opening.
This is generation one. I am certain what Blackmagic show us next will blow our socks off and probably our trousers and probably our underwear which would be very embarrassing if they did this at NAB 2012 at a presser!!
Sorry for all the detail on this camera, but it really is damn tricky one and I need people to understand what owning one and shooting with one entails.
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The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and the 4K production camera were announced at NAB this year. I have not laid eyes on either or have shot on either. I really want to get my hands on one soon but I am having no joy at securing a demo unit. The pocket camera is apparantly shipping but I don’t know anyone who has received one.
On paper they both have terrific specs and great prices but as has been said before, it’s not just specs and price. It’s how the camera atually performs and how it is to use both on location and in post.
I really hope to be able to review these cameras. I have them on order myself but if I have to wait until then it could be quite some time as the Cinema Camera has shown with it’s massive delays.
GOOD FOR: Movies…this is what it shines with. Also larger budget commercials, music videos. Most things that want 4k and have the budget for. High end corporates
BAD FOR: HD. It can shoot in 2K but with a heavy crop so it needs to all be done in post or use an external recorder which means losing the raw. Low budget work as post is more extensive and needs an up to date infrastructure. Most forms of documentaries as it needs a lot of media, with it’s current sensor is not great for any low light filming and it is also quite an intimidating camera. Really not good for events at all.
EDIT: Since this post was originally done we now the new sensor called the Dragon sensor. There is an upgrade path, an expensive one but still cheaper than buying a new camera
Red suddenly dropped the prices of all their cameras at the same time as Sony announced their new F5 and F55….R&D had been covered and now they could drop prices. Great for new customers. Sucks for older customers who had bought one two or more months previously.
I like the Scarlet, a lot…it’s a cheaper version of the Epic but without most of the cool features, but retains the 4k in-camera recording in compressed raw R3D. Much better than Cinema DNG and a lovely codec to work with. It’s not cheap, even with the price cuts as it needs a fair bit of stuff to kit it out properly…but still it’s an amazing camera and would I like one? Sure…but again this is a Cinema Camera. Can it be used in docs? Of course, like the Blackmagic one, but I would not chose this due to its official native ISO of 320 ISO so it is a camera that needs lighting…not a problem for most fiction gigs. Not ideal for docs. With the Dragon sensor though the sensitiy will be boosted a fair amount making this camera more attractive to many and it keeps up with the competiiton.
I owned an EPIC for a while. My favourite camera ever I have ever owned. But due to a series of unfortunate events that I have gone into previously, I don’t have it anymore. In a way with the price drop I feel lucky. But the image out of that camera is mind blowing. The detail…wow! The slow motion. Wonderful. It’s an amazing movie camera. Prometheus, Hobbit and countless others are shot on it. It’s just not the camera for me, right now. It’s a big movie camera that needs a decent support network, mine went wrong on 6 consecutive shoots and as an owner operator I was kind of screwed. A rental one makes way more sense. Also with the new Sony F cameras coming out with insane sensitivity, they have a real challenge on their hands. If they can get that Dragon sensor in the camera soon, the fight will be on. Let’s hope Jim and the team don’t take too long!! The camera really is Epic and I hope Red, who really have been at the forefront of digital cinema since the Red One, keep on pushing and don’t let the giants take over. We all love competition. It simply makes the cameras better for all of us.
Where are you, Panasonic? HELLO!? Almsot 3 years since the I reviewed the AF101 and nothing. What is going on? Is there something amazing in the works? For a company that ruled the indie scene for years with the DVX100 and HVX200, the lack of anything is very odd. The AF100is fine. It’s totally usable put utterly surpassed by the competition. A shame as ergonomics and feature wise it’s actually pretty damn good! COME ON CHAPS!
They did bring out the AF100a. It’s the same camera with better audio, digital punch in for focus and now 422 10 bit external out put…after two years and seeing what the others have done, this is not enough.
CANON CINEMA CAMERAS:-
GOOD FOR: (Not talking C500 here!) Broadcast work, documentaries, events, commericals, corporates, low to medium budget fiction.
BAD FOR: Heavy special effects work. Anything needing really good slow motion.
Canon entered the serious camcorder market with the Canon C300. Am not talking about the 1/3” sensor cameras which are great but not what we are talking about here. The C300 on paper when announced last year was met with lots of disinterest….BUT as soon as I got my hands on it, I fell in love with it. A form factor that worked straight out of the box…no rigs. That records a codec that HD broadcasters accept out of the box. With fantastic sensitivity, amazing detail, amazing handling, terrific battery life…I simply love this camera. It is my number one go-to camera these days. YES it is not cheap but you don’t need to spend money on loads of stuff to make it work. No rigs, works with CF cards, takes Canon lenses (or PL NOT both, which to be honest SUCKS!) and no external recorders needed for HD broadcaster.
It has a 12 stop dynamic range and a lovely log mode. Not Alexa or F3 dynamic range but pretty damn good.
This camera is enormously in demand in the industry and rightly so. Its biggest let down? 720p slow motion?! Come on Canon! It’s 2012!!! Below is my music documentary shot on the C300 (with a few FS700 lens whacking shots).
A camera I have not reviewed is the C500 and I am unlikey to. This is the big 4k outputting brother of the C300…it’s actually the same camera apart from the side grip has gone (WHAT?! that grip is amazing) and replaced with lots of connectors. Now, 4K, is it the future? Yes but it’s not the present. Certainly not for me outside of stock footage, and as the camera needs a beast of an external recorder to get this 4k and it’s incredibly data hungry, then it’s cetainly not for me. I will stick with my lovely C300 thanks!
In fact the cameras thinder has been completley stolen by the new Sony F5 and F55. More on that later. These camera really have effectively pushed the C500 out of the door even before it has entered!
The C100! On paper? Sigh…utterly underwhelming but in use is pretty damn good. It’s way cheaper than the C300, has the lovely C-Log mode but loses the quite wonderful EVF from the C300, has lost the SDI, the screen isn’t as good and the codec is just AVCHD…also it has NO slow motion ability (although there is a way of getting there, check out the video review). WHAT!?! A shame, as this camera is small and lovely…but without the EVF the no-rig advantage has been scuppered. It needs a Zacuto EVF. I hope to get my hands on it at some point to see what it is like to use and if it better than its specs suggest…
GOOD FOR (Sony F5 and F55) : With the F55 it’s a fantastic movie camera or fiction camera. Also high end documentaries where stealth is not needed. Can you shoot events with it? Sure but it’s utter overkill. Great for commericals, music videos, effects work. Just about anything really. The F5 is the same just with a few less features.
BAD FOR: Anything that is overkill! Other than that…very little!
GOOD FOR (Sony FS100, 700): Anyone wanting great features for a low price. Super slow motion with the FS700 so great for sports, lower budget commercials. Usable for events and weddings with rigs. Corporates. Low budget feaures (with an external recorder) Documentaries with rig and better EVF/ monitor
A camera I have not yet reviewed but have played with briefly is the Sony NEX-VG900. It’s a full frame consumer camcorder. In fact the first full frame camcorder ever! It’s E-Mount (but using E-mount means Super 35 only) but with other lens mounts can be used full frame. Be careful with the Metabones it’s vignettes on version 1 and 2. 3 is fine. The speedbooster which is mentioed above can be used on this but it’s rather pointless. It creates a pseudo full frame image when just stick on the version 3 metabones and you have a full frame image!
It has proper audio inputs with the same add-on the A99 uses. The menus are a bit fiddly from first impression but it’s cheap…It is region locked so 24p or 25p…I wont be reviewing this either due to time. I would say the camera is OK. It’s an A99 i more of a video camera body with most of the same issues but lacking the killer A99 stills function.
The Sony F3 was their first large sensor affordable camcorder. A lovely camera based on the EX1, so records in XDCAM EX but can output 444 10 bit via the external outputs and an external box. The S-LOG gives it a native sensitivity of 1600 and a dynamic range of almost 14 stops. This is an amazing camera BUT needs to be used with an external box. The 35mb/s XDCAM EX codec is old and inefficient. The ergonomics suck. The EVF is useless… but just the image is one of the nicest images I have seen from any digital camcorder.
It needs a rig, an EVF, counterweight, external recorder…so it’s not small and I love small…
One of its coolest features (that I wish Canon had done with the C300 and its siblings) is a removable mount, not a fixed one. Nice.
The new Sony F series, the F5 and F55…these are amazing cameras but I have not reviewed them yet.
What do they do? Well they are modular cameras with quite a spec list that impresses even the most jaded DP. 4K, raw, 120 FPS 4K raw on the F5 with external recorder and 240 FPS with the F55 and raw recorder. 14 stops of latitude. The F55 even has no rolling shutter issues as it has a global shutter. Amazing!
Without their external recorder that costs a lot of dosh and connects to the back of the camera, you can record in SxS Pro+ which is 50MBS 422 and loads of others including SR codec, H264 (if you must!). Also the new XAVC codec they have is superb.
Both are beasts of a movie cameras…Price? Pretty good considering what they do. It’s so temptying to just save up an extra 3 or 4k and get the F55. It makes more sense. Both are modular, but by the time you build them up with one of their EVFs, large batteries, raw recorder, you have a big camera and a lot less money. It’s nothing like the svelte C300 but offers a crap load more for your money…it’s just a lot more money when you add on the bits you need. I think the F5 is too late to crack the C300 dominated broadcast world but the F55 I can see be picked up for high end stuff.
I shot with the F55 back in March. I still have not cut the piece which is shameful as it’s going to be great. Soon though I promise!!
Also, like the F3, it has swappable mounts.
Below are some frames from the short I need to cut called Venus.
The Sony FS100 is still the best bang for buck. Coming in around 1K less than the C100. It has a lovely Super 35mm sensor, a cheap price. Lovely detail, no moire or aliasing. Amazing low light sensitivity, proper audio inputs…it’s the first affordable Super 35mm camcorder.
It’s not without its faults…AWFUL ergonomics. No NDs (The C100, C300, FS700 and F cameras all have them) I really dislike the LCD screen as you can’t turn it to the side and tilt it…it’s utterly in the wrong place, and this causes issues with the loup…also the buttons are all over the place.
It needs a rig and an EVF BUT the image really is lovely. If you need a proper video camera and are moving up from a DSLR AND you are on a budget this should be your first port of call.
I just don’t like how it operates. So fiddly! I curse it every single time. BUT image fidelity is paramount, and this camera has a lovely image. If you are on a budget and want to move to a super 35mm camcorder…currently this should be your number one choice. Below is Portrait of a Boxer shot on the FS100,
The Sony FS700 has the same problems in operation. The same crappy screen and loup. The same poor ergonomics, slightly better but still fiddly buttons…
BUT it has NDs, SD and depending on whether you are shooting 24p or 25p can shoot amazing full quality super slow motion without losing resolution…25p can go up to 200 FPS, 24p up to 240 FPS. It can also record 4k with a paid firmware upgrade (which comes with the excellent S Log 2) and an external recorder. This makes it incredibly powerful . It does cost though and we are creeping closer to the F5 price and I know what I would rather have…mind you add on the 4K raw recorder to the F5 and it jumps ahead again in price.
For me I so prefer to record internally like a 1DC, Red or F55. The 4k raw recorder for the FS700 is the same one as the F5 and F55 just without the neat intergration. I hate big rigs and big external boxes.
It doesn’t have the dynamic range of the C300 or the log mode….but it is cheaper. Problem is internally it’s just 24mb/s so for any broadcast work you HAVE to have an external recorder.
So have I helped you? Maybe…there are so many options. Check out the pros and cons and look at the work you do. If you have the work that can pay, then get a camera that makes your life easy…after all they are just tools to help us tell stories!!
I am sure you are going to say “what about…” and “but you didn’t mention the..” There is of course no mention of the Digital Bolex. I am an investor and am still patiently waiting. STILL!!!!
Until I have seen and of course shot with a pre-production model, there is little to say about it…It is rather late now! Hope it comes soon. I haven’t mentioned any small chip cameras like the Sony PMW 200 or the Canon XF series. I have reviewed some of them on this site so do check them out…under camera reviews. There is a camera the excels for every different shot, finding that right one means knowing what each camera does and knowing your needs. For example if I had to shoot long speeches at a conference? Give me an XF300 or PMW 200 thanks very much…there no “perfect” camera.
Oh and if you asked me “if you could only have one camera and not any other” it would be my 1DC. Why? Great video (EVEN 4K!!)and amazing stills. I love both and this does both so well!