New 2012 Cinema Cameras
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I’m in the market for a new cinema camera in the $3,000 – $15,000 range. There are a lot of exciting things happening in the market this year. I tried to follow all the previews and reviews and speculation, but I didn’t see the information I wanted collected into one place. So here it is: a crib sheet for some current and upcoming cinema cameras of interest…
This is the year you can get anything you want…but not everything you want. The exciting features we’re seeing in this price range are
- 4K resolution
- 240 frames per second slow motion video
- RAW, ProRes, and DNxHD recording
- Intraframe recording
- EF live lens mounts built-in
- PL lens mount options
- SSD recording for speed, cost, and flexibility
- Super 35 size (or larger) sensor
- Under $5,000 price tag
Obviously, none of these cameras has all of these features, but it’s exciting that these options are coming down to this price point. Which way you go depends a lot on your needs.
The Blackmagic Cinema Camera is a disruptor. $3,000 with RAW and ProRes recording, EF electronic lens mount, free Da Vinci Resolve, SSD recording, and a decent monitor built in. It’s a shame the battery is built-in and the sensor will have a large crop factor. But apparently, the sensor’s performance is quite good. It may be an sCMOS, which is supposed to have an especially good dynamic range, and may boast other specs not immediately tapped in the initial release.
Canon’s updated 5D Mark III is a slight improvement over the Mark II, but still has many of the drawbacks of the DSLRs. Is it worth it? There are now large-image-sensor video cameras in this price range that have pro video features you would expect: waveform monitors, live autofocus, XLR inputs, HD-SDI ports and good heat management. Do you really need to suffer with DSLR drawbacks when you can have an actual video camera?
If you need 4K resolution, are you really going to buy this JVC camcorder with a 1/2.3″ sensor? While clever, I’m wary of JVC’s strategy of simultaneously recording 4 HD quadrants to 4 SD cards, and stitching the 4K video together in post. Although…the 4K samples I’ve seen are remarkably sharp and clean. Maybe it will be a good ENG and documentary camera. There’s something to say for 4K at prosumer prices. And you don’t always want a shallow depth of field.
Sony’s FS700 is just astounding. The slow motion test footage looks fantastic. You are stuck with AVCHD unless you use an external recorder, and the ergonomics are a little strange, but overall, it’s a solid contender with terrific specs. Get ready to be tired of slow motion.
The RED Scarlet is amazing, but a bit limited by its initial release firmware, plus it has overheating issues. Also, all of the RED accessories are premium priced, so expect the $10,000 price tag to double by the time you build up a useable machine.
Canon’s C300 produces gorgeous images, especially with those Cinema EOS lenses on it. But frankly, it’s out of my price range. And the new C500 is even pricier.
Life is a tradeoff. Which would you buy?
PREDICTIONS FOR THE NEXT GENERATION OF CAMERAS
My prediction is that in 2014, most new professional video cameras (like DSLR still cameras now) will have a RAW recording option, or at least a useful gamma setting like C-log or S-log. This will improve what you can get out of the sensor, although shooting that way requires color grading in post to get a useable image.
Getting 90 or 120 frames per second at HD resolution should not be a challenge for the next generation of affordable cameras.
I think 4K will be a little slower to come down in price because of the data rates, processing and storage requirements. Those are all subject to Moore’s Law, however, so it won’t be too long. I wouldn’t be surprised if a disruptive 4K video codec comes along soon, like HDV was for prosumer HD video.
EF lenses will continue to be an attractive option in terms of quality for the price, so more cameras will support electronic aperture control for your Canon lenses.
Large image sensors have settled into the APS-C/S35 range. Those can handle low light, HD and 4K, and provide plenty of depth of field control. Expect to see those dominate the market (if they haven’t already.)
It looks like most of those either/or options will probably be and/and in 18-24 months. Of course, there will be a new crop of features that everyone is clamoring for, but some of these current features (like RAW recording) are really fundamental, and are likely coming soon to most cameras.
My recommendation is to wait it out. Rent what you need for your specific projects and clients. If you must buy an everyday camera right now, you can pick up a used FS100 or 5D Mark II at a discount.
That being said…if I happened to find $8,000 of loose change in my sofa, I’d buy the Sony FS700. I’m a sucker for slow motion, and I’m not tired of it yet.
WHAT ABOUT THE GH3?
I’ve been hearing from a lot of people who are eagerly awaiting Panasonic’s update to the popular GH2 Micro Four Thirds DSLR. As soon as official specs are released for the GH3 and someone gets their hands on one for a good test, I’ll put it in the chart. Thanks for your enthusiasm!
I’m curious to know what kind of data rate and low light performance the new firmware will offer, since in the past, we had to wait for a hack to get the most out of the camera.