While we have more options and more technology than ever before; buying a new camera has never been more difficult. It’s not just that there are dozens of cameras to choose from, it’s that each one offers something different, while at the same time sacrificing other desirable features. Before you consider any camera, you need to know about the features and options you’ll require.
To start, you’ll need to know what the final resolution of your video or film needs to be. If a 4K final product isn’t needed, you might not need it as a feature. In many places, like here in the United States, we don't broadcast anything in a higher resolution than HD on TV. Fortunately, shooting in a higher resolution like 4K should deliver a sharper final video when producing for HD delivery. It allows you to crop in and not lose resolution. In the best cases, the added flexibility to crop, zoom or pan a shot without resolution loss is be a big deal. In other situations, it can make shooters lazy, since they know it’s easier to fix problems in post. Higher resolutions also add to the size of the files and the resources needed to work with such footage in post-production.
As technology has progressed, we’re now also starting to see more sensors capable of higher than 4K resolutions, with the newest models offering recording modes of up to 8K. These higher resolutions amplify both the benefits and drawbacks of 4K shooting and will likely be used only in high-end productions, at least for now.
If you’re considering a 4K capable camera, you should be aware that there are two flavors of 4K: UHD and DCI 4K. DCI has 256 more horizontal pixels than UHD. DCI is the cinema standard, whereas UHD is the consumer standard, and the most prolific.
Generally speaking, most cameras are priced based on their sensor size. The smaller the sensor, the more likely that the camera housing will be affordable. This is because the sensor is one of the most expensive parts of a camera.
Sensor size is most apparent in the way it affects the field-of-view of a shot. Smaller sensors come with a crop factor, which is used to figure a lens’ effective focal length when used with that sensor. The effective focal length of a lens is based on the standard of 35mm photo film. A full frame sensor is considered full-frame because it’s the same size as actual 35mm film. Full frame sensors, therefore, do not have a crop factor. The focal length listed on lenses is based on that 35mm standard, so it will correlate to the actual field of view captured by the lens when paired with a full frame sensor.
Cameras using full frame sensors will generally be more expensive, but there are several other common sensor sizes that you might encounter. The first is Micro Four Thirds. This is one of the smallest sensors offered on interchangeable-lens cameras. Its crop factor is 2x. With that crop, a 24 millimeter (mm) lens will have an effective focal length of 48mm, meaning shooters will have a narrower field of view and will have to back the camera further away from the subject to achieve the same framing.
The next sensor size to understand is APS-C. It has a 1.6x or 1.5x crop factor depending on the manufacturer. With a 24mm lens, you have an effective focal length of about 38mm when factoring in the crop.
A very similar sensor size to APS-C is Super 35. Super 35 has a crop factor of 1.4x to 1.5x crop, again depending on the manufacturer. A 24mm lens would have an effective focal length of 36mm using a Super 35 sensor. Super 35 is the most common sensor size in high-end digital cinema cameras and emulates Super 35 motion picture film. If you want to achieve the closest possible look to a Hollywood film, this is the sensor size for you.
When looking at cameras with different sensor sizes, focus on whether your work and the lenses you use are compatible with the crop factor.
When looking at cameras with different sensor sizes, focus on whether your work and the lenses you use are compatible with the crop factor. For example, imagine you’re shooting an interview with your subject in a medium shot. You’re in a small room and shooting with a Micro Four Thirds camera. If you’re using a 50 millimeter lens, you’ll struggle to be able to get the shot because the effective focal length of that lens is 100 millimeters when used with a Micro Four Thirds sensor. You’ll have to back the camera up so far that you may not be able to fit everything you want to within your field-of-view.
Lens mount is also important. This is typically tied to the sensor size. The larger the sensor, the larger the glass in the lens needs to be. The lens needs to be able to cover the whole sensor with light. That’s why a full-frame lens can work with an adapter on a smaller sensor, but a small sensor lens will not work on a full-frame camera regardless of the adapter, because it won't cast enough light to cover the whole sensor. If you already have a lens collection, consider lens-mount compatibility before you end-up having to put your old lenses on Craigslist.
If you want professional quality video, you need good audio. Look for what types of audio inputs a camera has. Does it have XLR or eighth-inch inputs? How many audio inputs does it have?
To properly monitor your audio, an independent headphone jack is essential. Some cameras offer only a combined audio-in/headphone-out jack — similar to what’s probably on your phone. This makes monitoring live audio impossible. Cameras under $1,000 dollars tend to only offer a combined jack.
Frame Rate Options
The term overcrank refers to the ability to shoot more frames per second in order to slow down footage for slow motion. If you want to achieve glass-smooth slow motion, be sure to check what max frame rate the camera offers. The more frames per second it shoots, the slower the footage will look when played back at normal frame rates. Everything faster than 60 frames per second (fps) is considered good for cinematic slow mo. Some cameras offer the ability to conform faster frame rates in camera. This gives you the ability to playback your slow motion footage within the camera without needing post-processing to see the slow motion effect. Other cameras need their footage to be digitally interpreted to a lower frame rate in the edit suite, which tends to be hit or miss.
Additionally, often, not all frame rates are available in every resolution. Make sure you know your final delivery resolution so you can make sure you’ll be able to shoot in the frame rate you want at the resolution you require.
Bitrate: File Size, Image Quality and Efficiency
One important feature that’s not often advertised is bitrate. Bitrate is best described as the amount of data in every second of video — it determines the size of the files the camera creates. Low bitrate usually means a high amount of compression. This means you’ll get artifacting or tearing when there is lots of movement in your shot. Shoot with a high bitrate when you don’t need it and your files will be larger than they need to be.
Bit depth is sometimes confused with bitrate, but they are not the same thing. Bit depth is expressed as 8-bit or 10-bit — sometimes higher on professional cinema cameras. A camera capable of recording at a higher bit-depth will be able to reproduce more colors leading to fewer issues with color banding and more flexibility in post production
Chroma subsampling involves the compression of color information. It’s expressed as a ratio of the pixel width of a sampling region compared to the number of pixels sampled from each row in that sampling region. When the chroma information is reduced due to chroma subsampling, dynamic color grading can reveal digital artifacts in footage. That’s why a camera supporting codecs with 4:4:4 chroma subsampling are more desirable than those using 4:2:2 or 4:2:0, which store less color information.
Dynamic Range, HDR and Log Shooting
The dynamic range of a camera determines how well it can capture details in both dark and light sections of the same image. A camera with a small dynamic range will force you to compromise in your exposure when shooting in mixed light intensity, while cameras with a larger dynamic range will give you more latitude. High-end cameras offer as much as 15 or more stops of dynamic range. The result is a more cinematic image that comes closer to the capabilities of film.
To get the most dynamic range from a given sensor, it’s now common for professional and prosumer cameras to offer a logarithmic picture profile, usually abbreviated to log. Log shooting uses a logarithmic curve, rather than a linear curve, to calculate exposure values. This allows for a larger number of gradations in some areas of the spectrum. Log captures more of these gradations and lets you assign what they’ll be in post using lookup tables, or LUTs. The end result is a more flexible image with more dynamic range.
An extension of this desire to capture more detail in shadows and highlights is High Dynamic Range (HDR), a feature we expect to see more frequently as new cameras are released. Shooting in HDR results in a brighter overall image with more details in both the shadows and the highlights. There are a few different standards, including HDR10, Dolby Vision and Hybrid Log Gamma, or HLG. HLG is probably the format you’ll encounter most often since, unlike other formats, viewing it does not require an HDR enabled monitor.
Low Light Performance
Low light performance is also something video producers should be aware of when choosing a camera. Because video shooter are usually locked into a single shutter speed and limited to the maximum aperture of their lens, ISO is one of the few controls we have to compensate for poor lighting. However, with each increase in ISO, the analog signal from the sensor must be amplified, introducing more noise into the picture. At a high enough ISO, the noise in the image will become too distracting, making the image unsuitable for professional use. At that point, the only solution is to add more light to your scene — which is not always possible, depending on the situation.
If you’re concerned about low light performance, look for a camera with a large ISO range and seek out test footage showing how the camera performs in a variety of shooting situations. The Panasonic GH5s, EVA1 and Varicam line cameras attempt to mitigate the effects of boosting ISO with their Dual Native ISO technology. The native ISO of a camera is the highest ISO a camera can shoot at before the signal must be amplified. Dual Native ISO uses two circuits set at different sensitivities to reduce noise at higher ISOs without sacrificing quality at lower ISO levels. Even so, no camera currently on the market can beat the Sony a7S II when it comes to seeing in the dark.
Though good low light performance is certainly desirable, unless you’re planning a lot of shooting in a dark or in uncontrolled environments, there are definitely other factors that should have more influence on your purchasing decision.
Shot Assist Tools and Extras
Some cameras include nice extras like image stabilization, autofocus and shot assist tools. These features will be more or less important depending on your shooting style and existing gear.
In-body image stabilization is good for times when you’ll be shooting hand-held or even with a minimal rig. Usually, you’ll find either 3-axis or 5-axis systems rated in stops of shake reduction. Look for cameras that advertise optical image stabilization or sensor stabilization — not digital stabilization, which will degrade the quality of the image.
Autofocus is another feature that will be more valuable to some than to others. Because focus is so critical to a video’s perceived image quality, we usually recommend pulling focus manually, but sometimes autofocus is just easier or more effective. Each manufacturer has a slightly different naming convention for their autofocus systems, but in general, they will all be some version of phase detection (faster), contrast detection (more accurate) or a combination of the two in the case of hybrid systems. Look for cameras with faster autofocus systems and more focus points if you think you’ll want to use autofocus frequently.
Shot assist tools like focus peaking, zebras stripes and waveform monitors are useful for any video producer, though some will get used more than others and none are strictly necessary to achieve the shot you’re going after. Still, these tools do make it much easier to get proper exposure and focus. So, cameras with these features should be considered more strongly than cameras without them. These tools are also built into most external monitors, so that’s an option to consider as well.
The type of of monitoring a camera has can affect your ability to see your shot good enough to get proper exposure and focus. Find out if the LCD screen has any articulation. If so, will it fit your type of shooting? If you vlog or shoot selfies, being able to see yourself while shooting is a must, so choose a monitor that flips out and rotates 180 degrees. Some monitors are highly reflective, so you might require a tilting screen to be able to suppress any unwanted glare.
Outside of the monitor connected to the camera, you might need to use an external monitor. It’s best to know if the camera has an HDMI output, and if so, what size it is.
There’s a wide range of weights an interchangeable lens camera can be. Smaller mirrorless cameras tend to be lightweight and don’t require a heavy duty tripod. However, if your camera is heavier than five pounds, making sure your tripod and other supports can handle the weight will be key. This will allow you to operate the support as it was designed. Many different support systems will not function or will improperly function if they are over-weighted. Tripods capable of holding heavy cameras tend to come with big price tags.
Gear and Workflow Considerations
The last thing you must consider is the equipment you already have. Is the equipment you already have compatible with what you are looking to buy? Don't forget all of the accessories that are required to get the best shot. Accessories like cables, lenses, tripods, batteries and media can get expensive. Don’t be the person that buys a new camera but can’t use it because they don't have all of the additional products you need to operate it.
Time to Choose
Now that you know how to choose an interchangeable lens camera, here are our recommendations broken into three price ranges. It should be obvious that the more money you spend, the greater your expectations should be. If you have Spielbergian dreams but a meager budget, you’ll need to change your expectations.
It is extremely hard not to get caught up pursuing every camera announced during the latest camera craze. However, if you’re always chasing the best and latest you will never learn to make better videos. The perfect camera for you is the one you can afford and know how to use. Every camera on this list can be used to tell stories in a spectacular way. Sure, a RED will probably look slightly better and you may not have to work as hard to get the image where you want it, but if you are solid in your trade and know how to tell a story, that does not matter. We are slaves to the story, not our cameras. With that said, here’s our list.
Entry Level but Still Killing it.
Our entry level list has some impressive contenders, all of which can yield very professional cinematic works. Not only can you use these as your A-camera if you’re just starting out, but some of these have been used as solid B-cams on high-end productions.
Canon EOS M50 – $780
The Canon EOS M50 sports a 24.1-megapixel APS-C sensor with an ISO range of 100-25,600, expandable to 51,200. Canon credits their new DIGIC 8 image processor for the M50’s improved low light performance compared to previous models. The DIGIC 8 also allows the M50 to capture 4K video at 24fps, 1080p video at 60fps, and 720p video at 120fps.
While one of the big features for the M50 is its 4K capabilities, it comes with a 1.6X crop. That’s an additional crop to the already in place 1.6X APS-C crop factor. The M50 uses Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF and a new “eye detection AF” that automatically locks focus to a subject’s eyes, but you can’t the use phase-detection Dual Pixel AF in 4K. The feature is only usable in 1080p video or lower, with contrast-detection AF available in 4K.
The M50 has built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC connectivity, and there’s a vari-angle, flippable touchscreen, a new silent-shooting mode, an external 3.5mm microphone input, an HDMI output and a micro-USB port.
Nikon D7500 – $1,250
Though it’s clear Nikon is still catering most directly to photographers, features like 4K UHD video recording, separate headphone and mic jacks, as well as zebra stripes for monitoring exposure make the D7500 a more-than-viable option for video-focused producers.
The D7500 uses a 20.9 megapixel DX format sensor to capture 4K UHD video at up to 30 frames per second or 1080 HD at up to 60 frames per second with an ISO range of 100-51,200. The 23.5mm x 15.6mm DX sensor give a 1.5x crop factor, increasing to 2.2x in 4K. The camera is also capable of continuous still image shooting at speeds up to 8 frames per second. Nikon promises image quality and processing to rival the award-winning Nikon D500.
Other features that make the D7500 appealing to video shooters is the camera’s 3-axis built-in e-VR image stabilization and the ability to output simultaneously to both the internal SD card and uncompressed 4:2:2 and 4K via HDMI. The camera also supports power aperture for smooth exposure and depth of field control. The Nikon D7500 features a 3.2-inch tilting touch-sensitive display and includes built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Sony a6500 – $1,500
The Sony a6500 is an affordable alternative to models on the higher end of the Sony’s alpha line while offering more functionality than the very similar a6300. It uses a 24.2 megapixel APS-C sensor and a BIONZ X image processor to shoot up to UHD 4K. Slow and Quick mode allow for shooting up to 120 frames per second in full HD. The ISO range is 100-25600, extending to 51200. The camera also features S-Log3 and 5-axis image stabilization along with a touch-enabled rear display. There is also a stereo mic input for external audio recording.
The a6500 is also a fantastic B-camera if you already have another Sony camera. The image is spectacular and the camera is easy to use. One thing you do sacrifice for the price is buttons. The a6500 has a lot fewer physical buttons than its big brothers. Also, like with other Sony cameras, the battery life is limited to a bit over an hour when shooting video and the camera is prone to overheating in warm environments or direct sun.
Panasonic G9 – $1,700
The Panasonic G9 offers 5-axis mechanical image stabilization just like its big brother, the GH5, and it’s got the same 20.3-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor. The G9 and the GH5 also use the same image processor, though it’s reported that Panasonic made improvements to the sensor’s AF speeds since the GH5, allowing the G9 to autofocus in 0.04 seconds in certain conditions. The Panasonic G9 is capable of 4K recording at 60 fps, but it unfortunately can’t do 10-bit with up to a million colors like the GH5 can. It can instead do 4:2:0 8-bit at a 150Mbps data rate. The G9 is geared more to photographers than the GH5, making it a good hybrid-shooter's camera.
Fujifilm X-H1- $1,900
The Fujifilm X-H1 uses a 23-megapixel APS-C X-Trans III sensor to shoot upto DCI 4K, 24fps video and 4K UHD at up to 30p, with a maximum bit rate of 200 Mbps. It has an ISO range of 200-128000, extendable to 100-51200. The X-H1 also features a 325-point intelligent hybrid AF system. Also notable is a 120fps mode in 1080, F-log, SD card recording, a 12-stop dynamic range setting, a new internal microphone, and a flicker reduction mode that Fujifilm claims eliminates strobing and banding under fluorescent and mercury lighting. Additionally, there’s a new mode called ETERNA that aims to emulate the look of film.
The body of the X-H1 is dust and water resistant and has two dual-dials that allow you to control its shutter speed, ISO and shooting and focus modes, eliminating a lot of menu navigation. It also has a top LCD that displays information like shutter speed, f-stop, ISO and shooting modes. The X-H1 features a 3.5mm stereo mic input, but sadly, there’s no built-in headphone jack.
Professional but Economical
The camera list for this section is pretty lengthy, yet we didn’t even cover a quarter of what was available. Every month, it seems some company is releasing a new camera. The cameras on this list were chosen in part due to their quality and features and well as notable mentions for quality brands that are often overlooked.
Olympus Om-D E-M1 – $2000
The Olympus Om-D E-M1 is the first 4K camera under the Olympus name and it deserves a close look. Yes, it is Micro Four Thirds with a 2x crop, which is very uncool, but it records full DCI 4K at 237 megabits per second with image stabilization on the sensor — very cool. Priced at just under $2,000, it’s a real bargain.
Panasonic Lumix GH5 – $2,000
Tied with the Sony a7S II is Panasonic’s follow up to the equally legendary GH4, the Lumix GH5. It’s currently priced just shy of $2,000, and for that you get DCI 4K at 10-bit 4:2:2, 150 megabits per second at 12 stops of dynamic range. For just $100 dollars more you can add V-log, Panasonic’s log format. You want high speed? The GH5 can record up to 180 frames per second in HD. Pus, this bad boy is the only one in its class to be able able to record anamorphic 4K.
There’s a reason the GH5 isn’t the obvious choice for number one: Panasonic is sticking with Micro Four Thirds, which means you have a 2x crop. This isn’t the end of the world however — when accompanied with a Metabones Speed Booster, much of this crop can be diminished. Whether you choose the Sony a7S II or the Panasonic GH5 you’ll have the ability to record breathtaking images that are as cinematic as cameras priced much much higher.
Panasonic Lumix GH5s – $2,500
With a new 10.2-megapixel Digital MOS sensor, Dual Native ISO and a Venus Engine 10, the Panasonic LUMIX GH5s aims to correct one of our only issues with the GH5: its performance in low light. Though the two cameras share many similarities, Dual Native ISO technology borrowed from Panasonic’s VariCam line helps the GH5s shoot at higher ISOs with less noise than was possible with the GH5.
The GH5s is the first mirrorless camera to offer 4K 60p video recording in Cinema 4K — a pretty big milestone. And thankfully, just like the GH5, there shouldn’t be any record time limit for either FullHD or 4K recording on the GH5s. In addition to 10-bit video recording, photo shooting in 14-bit RAW format is also possible.
As for slow-mo, the GH5S shoots video in 4K at 60 fps, for a maximum 2.5x slow-mo, and in FHD at 240 fps, for a maximum 10x slow-mo. The camera will allow users to shoot time-lapse, as well. Absent from the GH5s, however, is the 5-axis in-body stabilization of the GH5. If you’re choosing between the GH5 and the GH5s, you’ll be confronting a trade-off between low-light performance and image stabilization.
JVC GY-LS300 – $2,500
If you are an event photographer, news producer or documentarian this is a camera you should consider. While it doesn’t produce a very cinematic image, the Super 35 sensor gives you that beautiful shallow depth of field, though the Micro Four Thirds lens mount can make it difficult to find a lot of lenses to cover that large sensor without adapters. For only about $2,500, you get UHD at 150 megabits per second in h.264 or, impressively, you can record HD in 4:2:2 internally. This is a camera that has all the standard video camera features many have learned to live without, such real XLR inputs and SD HD outputs. If you are shooting a documentary this is a great camera to use.
Sony a7S II – $2,700
The Sony a7S II, the glorious 4K follow up to the legendary a7S. This camera rocks. For about $2,700 dollars, you get a full frame UHD camera with 12 stops of dynamic range that can record in S-log2 and S-log3. Oh, and you can overcrank up to 120 frames per second, though when doing so, there’s a 2.2x crop. The image out of this animal is spectacular, and this is all without mentioning its most impressive trick. The a7S II can basically see in the dark. No camera at any price point comes close to the low light performance of the a7S II. None. It uses Sony E mount but can be adapted to take almost any lens.
Canon 5D Mark IV – $3,500
No sub-$4,000 dollar camera list would be complete without mentioning the newest version of the camera that started it all. The Canon 5D series has been a staple in the filmmaking world since the very beginning. While Canon has been reluctant to add new video features to this series, they remain a strong contender.
Very few cameras reproduce colors quite as pleasingly as a Canon camera. The Canon 5D Mark IV will run you a whopping $3,500, which is admittedly a lot for what you get when compared to the next two cameras on this list. The 5D Mark IV has a full frame sensor that produces one of the best images in its class and can impressively record DCI 4K at 500 megabits per second. Unfortunately ( and this is a biggie for many users), when recording 4K, the sensor crops 1.64x. This is seriously uncool, not to mention the Canon is still missing focus peaking and punch in focus while recording. Plus, some kind of log format would be great. Still though, there are 5D die hards out there, and they aren’t wrong. It’s got a beautiful image and is a world-class stills camera.
Nikon D850 – $3,300
The D850 is a lot like the 5D Mark IV, but when you look that their full-frame sensors, that’s when they begin to separate. Nikon’s D850 is a full-frame DSLR camera, like Canon’s 5D Mark IV, but the D850 doesn’t have a crop factor when shooting 4K. That's one of the very few differences between the two, but it's a major one. It could help the D850 surpass the 5D Mark IV as a video-friendly DSLR.
To add to its versatility, Nikon also promises impressive low-light abilities for shooting events like weddings, and touts the camera’s capabilities in landscape photography, and, possibly most important, to video creators who want 4K UHD flexibility. The camera’s ISO is ranged from 64 – 25,600 and is expandable down to ISO 32 and up to 102,400. Nikon says that the D850 is capable of shooting up to 7 still frames per second continuously at full resolution with full AF/AE.
The D850’s FC BSI CMOS sensor allows for 4K UHD output at a full-frame width at 16:9. The camera also allows filmmakers to capture slow motion footage at Full HD 1080p at 120 frames per second and features an onboard stereo microphone, inputs for headphones and microphone and a audio attenuator meant to regulate sound levels.
The Big Guns
Almost all the cameras in this section were designed to be cinematic video cameras first. All will have your basic video features such as proper audio and video inputs and outputs, focus peaking, zebra stripes and other helpful shot assist tools.
Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 4.6K – $6,000
With loads of external buttons and knobs for more tactile control, the URSA Mini Pro 4.6K brings ENG functionality to the URSA Mini form factor. With built-in neutral density filters covering two, four and six stops, XLR audio inputs and external controls for ISO, shutter, white balance and other frequently accessed settings, the URSA Mini Pro 4.6K is made to appeal to broadcast shooters as well as cinematographers.
With the 4.6K sensor, you can capture resolutions greater than DCI 4K at up to 60 frames per second with up to 15 stops of dynamic range. You can also record in 12-bit CinemaDNG RAW, giving you lots of flexibility to get the look you want in post-production.
The camera also features SD card compatibility along with C-Fast 2.0 media. New codecs including Apple ProRes 4444 XQ and ProRes 4444 QuickTime have also been added with this model, along with a lens control connector for servo-zoom lens control. Like other URSA models, the URSA Mini Pro will offer interchangeable lens mounts including EF, PL and B4.
Panasonic EVA1 – $7,500
The EVA1 is equipped with a newly developed 5.7K Super35 sensor capable of capturing more color information than 4K sensors. The new sensor promises sharper and more accurate images at 4K resolutions all the way down to 720p. Dual Native ISO, also found in the Varicam line and now the GH5s, gives the EVA1 the flexibility needed to work in a variety of lighting situations.
Continuing Panasonic’s emphasis on flexibility and image quality, the EVA1 includes V-Log and V-Gamut along with the same colorimetry of the VariCam line. Additionally, the EVA1 is capable of recording 4:2:2 10-bit 4K video at up to 60 frames per second. Frame rates of up to 240 frames per second are possible in 2K. The EVA1 records at up to 400 megabits per second to SD cards and includes HDMI and SDI 4K video outputs.
Panasonic promises 5.7K Raw output to external recorders in a future update.
The camera uses the EF lens mount and features Electronic Image Stabilization to compensate for shake or blurring from shooting handheld. In addition to an integrated ND filter covering 2, 4 and 6 stops, the camera will also allow for the IR Cut filter to be moved out of the image path to achieve unique effects and night vision imagery. For audio recording, the EVA1 includes dual balanced XLR inputs.
Canon EOS C200 – $7,500
The Canon EOS C200 features two 4K video formats and Canon’s new Cinema RAW Light. The camera use a 8.85 megapixel CMOS sensor and newly developed dual DIGIC DV6 image processing system to capture video in full HD, 2K and both 4K UHD and 4K DCI video. Cinema RAW Light is available in 4K at up to 60p at 10-bit and 30p at 12-bit. Frame rates up to 120 frames per second are available in 1080p for slow motion recording.
The new Cinema RAW Light format is designed to shrink file sizes down to between one-third and one-fifth the size of a Cinema RAW file without losing flexibility in post-production. 4K Cinema RAW Light footage is recorded internally to a CFast card while proxy MP4 video can be recorded simultaneously to an SD card. 8-bit 4K video at up to 60p can also be exported to SD in the MP4 format.
Other notable features include oversampling HD processing, wide DR gamma, an ISO range of 100-102400 with 54db gain, an improved grip and support for Canon CINE-SERVO and EF Cinema lenses. Handy for run-and-gun shooters–the camera also has a built-in ND filter.
Also available, the C200B is a pared down version, missing the LCD monitor, LCD attachment, camera grip, handle unit and 1.77 million dot OLED Electronic View Finder (EVF) that are packaged with the C200. This makes the C200B a good option for gimbal and drone use while the C200 is built for more traditional cinema, documentary and event production.
Sony FS7 II – $9,000
The Super 35 FS7 II records up to 12-bit DCI 4K Raw or 10-bit 4:2:2 in UHD. You can shoot up to 60 frames per second in 4K and up to 180 frames per second in HD. S-log 3 recording is also available. The FS7 II does not discontinue its predecessor the FS7 but rather offers a few more bells and whistles at a higher price point.
The Sony FS7 II comes with the new electronic variable ND filter, much like the one on the FS5, along with a new robust lever lock type E-mount system to protect against accidental lens drops and to alleviate the need for more support when the lens is heavy or when lens adapters are used. There are a few changes to the physical body of the camera compared to the original F7S, with a newly refined mechanical design offering an expanded 10 programmable buttons. With an overall design prioritizing ergonomics, you cannot beat this camera for handheld work.
RED Raven – $12,600
The Raven brain alone is priced at only $6,950 dollars, but to be able to shoot anything you will need tons of proprietary RED hardware to get going. The base package needed comes in at $5,643 dollars, putting this camera (without lenses) at about $12,600 bucks. That is a whopping $4,100 dollars more than the next most expensive camera in this category.
RED is famous for its impressive cinematic image and this camera does not disappoint. At 16.5 stops the Raven has far more dynamic range than anything on this list with a codec that is also superior to its competition. You can record up to 120 frames per second in DCI 4K, 150 in 3K and a whopping 240 in 2K! This camera is right at home on large productions but its form factor doesn’t make it a great choice for run and gun or single shooter situations.
The Raven is an incredible camera, even for the money, but is it a better choice than the less pricey cameras on this list? This is a personal question. There is no doubt that you can get high-end professional results with any of the cameras listed here. What you have to ask yourself is, “What kind of shooting will I be doing?” If this camera lives on set, with a crew and you have a large budget, then the Raven is the obvious choice. On the other hand, if you are running and gunning or working in small teams — or just don’t have a crazy sum of money to spend — then there are other cameras that may be a better choice.
It is extremely hard not to get caught up in the latest camera craze. Much like J Thaddeus Toad, I have been overcome by the mania, consumed by the thought of the latest technology on the newest camera, but like Mr. Toad this story never ends in satisfaction. If you are always chasing the best and latest you will never learn to make better films. The perfect camera for you is the one you can afford. Every camera on this list can be used to tell stories in a spectacular fashion. Sure, a Red will probably look slightly better and you may not have to work as hard to get the image where you want it, but if you are solid in your trade and know how to tell a story, that does not matter. We are slaves to the story not our cameras.
Jason Miller is a Senior Marketing Producer, editor and visual effects artist whose work has been seen in feature films and national marketing campaigns. Chris Monlux is Videomaker’s Multimedia Editor.