FIELD GUIDE / CAMERA MARKET OVERVIEW
LOW-BUDGET B C-CAMERAS
Sony's a6300/a6500 challenge the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera (BMPCC), and the new Micro CC for that matter, for it's entry level sweet spot regarding image quality. It offers a larger s35 sized 6k sensor, oversampling to a clean 4k, which leaves the HD-image of the Pocket way behind. It has greater low light performance, a tilting screen, 24 MPixel RAW photos and a sophisticated auto-focus. Drawbacks are the strong rolling shutter and missing headphone jack, requiring an external solution.
10bit 422 internal recording is the selling point of the new GH5, but limited dynamic range and low light capability are still the defining parameters of her image, in parts due to the small MFT 20MP sensor and high density of photosides. Again the mirrorless camera needs a paid upgrade to allow log recording. A firmware update announced for mid 2017 will increase recording bitrates significantly. Like the predecessor GH4 ergonomics is still the advantage over the BMPCC (no flip-out screen) and a6300/a6500 (no headphone jack).
The 3.5x more expensive Sony A7rII/sII on the other hand offer a 3.5mm headphone out. With it's latest generation back-illuminated full frame sensor the rII performs well in in low light, but not quite like the sister camera A7sII, which is still ISO-queen. In s35mm crop mode the rII delivers likely the highest resolution video of all mirrorless cameras, and in full frame mode with 42Mpixel the highest still image resolution in her class and beyond. Here is where the sII fails. Her 12 MPixel photos are not enough for quality production stills, which importance is often ignored. All three mentioned mirrorless cameras suffer from heavy rolling shutter. Handheld shots with analog prime lenses are improved by the sensor-stabilization of the pricier A7 models, but fast movement of camera or subject will skew the image.
A radically higher level of stabilization presents the DJI OSMO, a one-hand gimbal system that can carry the tiny new X5 & X5R cameras, equipped with a 4k MFT sensor and lens mount. It can be characterized as a cinema-compatible camera gliding on a steadicam that fits one hand. This setup might very well be the future of camera design.
Still, only the original Blackmagic sensors (Pocket, Micro, CC2.5k) give a film-like image character out of the box, like the Alexa sensor, with a smooth highlight rolloff and pleasant noise floor that looks more like grain than digital artifacts.
Since it's release in late 2014 the as a very light allmost-shoulder-camera designed FS7 replaced the C300 as the dominating camera in the mid-range market. Aside reliability issues, the FS7's logarithmic luma curves and wide gamuts offers access to higher production value and new creative possibilities, but also requires higher-end post-production.
The year later released C300 mkII rectifies its aged predecessors shortcomings and surpasses the FS7's capabilities. It brought back the superior canon color science, but at a higher price point. In July 2016 the price was lowered by 4k$.
The FS5 is a stripped down camcorder-style version of the FS7, with the same sensor and new variable ND-filter.
The Blackmagic Production Camera 4k might be one of the most undervalued cameras. If it's limited low light and dynamic range performances are respected: It is a 3k€ camera that can capture fine 35mm-film-like 4k RAW or prores images on fast, large and cheap 2.5" SSDs. The URSA mini 4k is equiped with the same sensor and shoulder-camera design.
The URSA Mini 4.6K competes spec-wise with much higher priced cameras. It is the first modern shoulder cinema camera under 10k€. The magenta cast issue seems not be resolved yet. At least in parts it might be a high sensitivity to IR pollution.
Panasonic's Varicam LT & Varicam 35 came late to the game. It competes with the reference cameras from Arri, the Amira and Alexas in the higher-end documentary, TV and feature market. The original Alexa ALEV III sensor was modeled after Kodak Vision film stock. The Varicams offer a revolutionary dual base ISO for greater low light performance than the Arri sensor and more Fujifilm colors.
Alexa mini brings the Alexa sensor into a smaller form factor for gimbal or drone usage.
Alexa 65 revived the 65mm format with a large format 6560 x 3100 sensor. It's only available through Arri Rental.
CAMERAS OMITTED FROM THE COMPARISON CHART
For low light or low budget applications the A7s is still a good choice, as the performance difference to the A7sII is small, but recording is limited to HD 50Mbit/s XAVC-S 4:2:0, 3200 ISO and slog2/sgamut. Also, it does not offer the new sensor-stabilization.
The C100 is still only acceptable with external recorder, due to its low bitrate. Same is true for the C100II. A bitrate of max. 35Mbit/s for a 4000€ camera is not competitive. Even Canon's own entry level camcorder XC10 offers 305Mbit/s 4k.
The C300 remains a viable option (same sensor as the C100) for sufficiently lit scenes. Specifically the canon-colors are still superior to the Sony's, but the in late 2011 announced camera fell behind in dynamic range, low light performance, bit depth and bitrates compared to it's newer competition, like the FS7, C300II or Ursa Mini 4.6k.
Blackmagic's original URSA is for most appropriate applications too large and too heavy. The same sensor can be found in the BMPC4k and UrsaMini4k.
RED did not make into the list, since price per image quality and functionality is (arguably) not on par with the competition. RED's color science improved over the years, but especially skin tones the highlight roll-off is still considered inferior to the competition. Also the non-standard sensor sizes are unpractical for cinematographers that work with different cameras. RED's advantage over any other camera manufacturers is it's RAW codec. The modern wavelet codec REDCodeRAW carries 5k and beyond at high bit depth and can easily be edited and manipulated in post like the standard offline codecs Prores or DNxHD, but with higher storage efficiency. Ideal cameras for projects that require high production value and fast turn-around times, like commercials.
F55's price is in the same ballpark as the Amira. While the wast majority of higher-end projects are shot on Alexa, Netflix's or Amazon's episodic formats use the F55 or RED cameras, to meet the 4k acquisition requirement regardless of image quality. Amazon seemed to have realized their error and moved away again from this doctrine.
F5's sensor can be found in the FS7 and their images look identical. The F5 has additional features, but more than twice the price is hard to justify.
The range of the Alexa cameras and the Alexa mini share the same sensor with the Amira at a higher price point, but with ARRIRAW recording option.
Fujifilm X-T2/x-pro2 both mirrorless foto-cameras with high bitrate, but only external log-recording. Aliasing seems fine with later pre-poduction models.
RED Raven is marketed against the FS7 and C300II with an entry price of 10k$. It's sub-s35mm sensor with a size between MFT and APS-C (crop factor: 1.87) will have 4.5k pixel, 5:1 RedCodeRAW compression @24fps and up to 120fps in 4k and 240fps in 2k.
Panavision Millennium DXL will be a large format digital cinema camera with an 8k RED sensor announced for 1. quarter of 2017. It's competition will be the Alexa 65.
LYTRO will bring the light field technology to cinema, offering almost total control over the focal plane in post-production and a new level of compositing without green screen:
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