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Upgrading to a Real Video Camera

Michael Maher

These video cameras have been used by television studios, independent filmmakers, and major studios alike. Here are the most popular options to upgrade to from a DSLR or mirrorless.

Top image via Michael Maher/PremiumBeat

Let me begin this piece but stating the obvious. Yes, I do know that not everyone has a large enough budget for a true video production camera. The intent of this piece is to shine a light on the many options that are quite frankly much better than using a DSLR or mirrorless camera.


The Benefits of Using Video Cameras Over a DSLR and Mirrorless

There has been a very odd shift in the industry that has ruled out video cameras as a go-to option for video production. During the DSLR boom, filmmakers realized they could get amazing footage — even though the sound was atrocious. Users adapted a traditional cinema technique of running a completely separate audio setup. While this helped produce quality content, so many videos were produced by a single producer. One person shot with the camera, recorded the audio, and then would edit and upload their projects.

If you’re already doing the workload of ten people, why go through so many steps to make things even more difficult? You can simplify the process by using an actual video camera — one built to capture cinematic footage and quality audio at the same time.

Upgrading to a Real Video Camera: Sony FS5
Image via Michael Maher/PremiumBeat

I, like many of the readers here, come from a DSLR background. Back in film school, I jumped on the Canon 5D MKII and 7D bandwagon. The cameras were affordable and offered a great image. Classmates stuck using gear reserved for freshmen were producing content on cameras already a decade old. With a DSLR, I could also get photos and video. One of the best things was the size of the camera. It wasn’t intimidating to the subjects I was shooting, and people were much more comfortable around the camera.

Now I rarely shoot photos, and just focus on video. The more documentary work I do, the more of a hassle the DSLR and mirrorless cameras have become. I’ve gone through such great lengths to add support gear to my DSLR, when I should have just upgraded to a production camera in the first place.

Upgrading to a Real Video Camera: Sony FS5 Setup
Image via Michael Maher/PremiumBeat

Video cameras are so much smaller and lighter than in years past. I recently got my hands on the Sony FS5, and I have to admit — I fell in love. An added benefit: much of the lightweight support gear I bought over the years still works with these new lightweight video cameras. Another great feature: a freaking handgrip. Do you know how much easier life is with a handgrip? Also, the variable ND was a treat. Now, the camera did have its faults; no camera is perfect. I don’t much care for the menu interface, which isn’t really an issue when it comes down to image quality. The FS5 is a broadcast beast that also allows you to capture a true cinematic look.

The FS5 inspired me to write this post for any others looking to upgrade their camera package and turn their DSLR or mirrorless into your B camera.


Types of Video Cameras

The following manufacturers and cameras are some of the most common production cameras you’ll see on set. The list includes cameras in the medium price range for documentary and independent filmmakers, as well as some high-end cinema cameras you may see when working on bigger productions.

While this certainly isn’t an all-inclusive list, these cameras will give you an excellent cinematic look. We’ll start with some of the medium-budget cameras and work up to the major production camera bodies.

Sony

Sony offers an array of professional cameras in the XDCAM lineup and the CineAlta line for major motion pictures. They are used by countless television studios, news productions, documentary filmmakers, as well as sports teams like the Dallas Stars.

Sony PXW-FS5

Upgrading to a Real Video Camera: Sony FS5 Body Only
Image via Michael Maher/PremiumBeat

The Sony FS5 is one of the new cameras on this list, having come out in Q4 of 2015. The camera is popular among news shooters and documentary filmmakers like Philip Bloom. The body alone is incredibly lightweight at 1.8 lbs.

Specs:

  • Super 35-Sized CMOS Sensor
  • Sony E-Mount
  • UHD at 24/30 FPS, HD up to 240 FPS
  • XAVC Long, AVCHD Recording Codecs
  • 2 x SD Media Card Slots
  • HD/3G-SDI & HDMI Output
  • Native ISO 3200 (S-Log3 Gamma)
  • 14 Stops of Dynamic Range
  • Built-in ND filter from 1/4ND to 1/128ND
  • Ergonomic Handgrip with Camera Controls

Price: $5,599 (Body Only)

Sony PXW-FS7

Upgrading to a Real Video Camera: Sony fS7

The Sony FS7 is the big brother to the FS5. The camera is slightly larger and has been used on independent films like the 2016 SXSW film Donald Cried.

Specs:

  • Super 35 Sized CMOS Sensor
  • Sony E-Mount
  • DCI 4K (4096 x 2160) up to 60p via External Recorder
  • UHD up to 60 FPS, HD up to 180 FPS
  • Native ISO 2000 (S-Log3 Gamma)
  • XAVC-I, XAVC-L, MPEG-2
  • XAVC-I Up to 600 Mb/s
  • Dual XQD Memory Card Slots
  • Dual HD/3G-SDI & HDMI Output
  • Built-in ND filter from 1/4ND to 1/128ND
  • Ergonomic Handgrip with Camera Controls

Price: $7,999 (Body Only)

Sony PMW-F55

Upgrading to a Real Video Camera: Sony f55

The Sony F55 comes from the CineAlta line and is one of the premier Sony cameras designed for major motion pictures and television. It was recently used on the Oscar-winning film Ex Machina and the 2016 SXSW film Slash. Other major motion pictures include The Wedding Ringer, A Million Ways to Die in the West, and Tomorrowland. On television, the camera was used on Vinyl, The Blacklist, and the Netflix series Marco Polo.

Specs:

  • 8.9MP Super 35mm CMOS Image Sensor
  • Internal 4K/2K/HD Recording
  • 14 Stops Dynamic Range
  • Electronic Global Shutter
  • Up 240 fps 2K with Optional AXS-R5
  • Native FZ-Mount and PL-Mount Adapter
  • SxS Pro+ Media Cards

Price: $28,999 (Body Only)


Canon

Canon video cameras are very popular in the advertising and independent film worlds. They are frequently used in national ad campaigns and will sometimes serve as B cameras on major motion pictures.

Canon EOS C100 MK II

Upgrading to a Real Video Camera: Canon c100

The Canon C100 MK II is the manufacturer’s entry-level pro video camera. It’s most used on weddings, documentaries, and short films, and is a great stepping stone for those coming from the Canon DSLR lineup. The C100 was recently used on the Sundance short film The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere, which earned a nomination for the Short Film Grand Jury Prize.

Specs:

  • Super 35mm CMOS Sensor
  • Canon EF Mount
  • 1920x1080p 59.94/50/29.97/25/23.98
  • AVCHD + MP4 Recording
  • Dual SDHC/SDXC Media Card Slots
  • HDMI Output with Timecode & Canon Log
  • ISO 320 to 102,400
  • Canon Log and Wide DR Gamma
  • Two XLR Audio Connectors

Price: $4,499 (Body Only)

Canon C300 MK II

Upgrading to a Real Video Camera: Canon C300

The Canon C300 MK II is the middle-level pro video camera. It’s frequently used on full-length documentary films and as a B camera on major motion pictures. It was used in the documentaries Cartel Land, Sonic Highways, and 20 Feet from Stardom. The camera is also used on the VICE documentary shorts for HBO. The C300 was used on independent features like Blue is the Warmest Color and television shows like Deadliest Catch. In Hollywood, the camera has been used for stunts and b-roll on Rush and Her.

Specs:

  • Super 35mm CMOS Sensor
  • 4K, 1920×1080 60/50i, 23.98/25p/24p
  • Available with EF or PL Mount
  • Canon XF AVC H.264 Codec
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF Technology
  • Rotating 4″ LCD Monitor
  • 2x 3G-SDI Output
  • 2x XLR Inputs
  • 2x CFast Card Slots
  • Canon Log 2 Gamma

Price: $15,999 (Body Only)

Canon C500

Upgrading to a Real Video Camera: Canon C500

The Canon C500 was just marked down as we await news of the C500 MK II at NAB 2016. The C500 was the B camera used on the Oscar-nominated film The Big Short. The camera was used for stunts on major motion pictures like Avengers: Age of UltronNeed for Speed, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and After Earth.

Specs:

  • Super 35mm-Size CMOS Sensor
  • Available with EF or PL Mount
  • 4K RAW (4096 x 2160) Output
  • 2K, Quad HD & Full HD
  • 2x 3G-SDI Outputs
  • 50 Mb/s Proxy HD Recording to CF Card
  • 10-Bit 4K RAW at Up to 60p
  • 10-Bit 4K Half RAW at Up to 120p
  • 12-Bit 2K 4:4:4 Signal at Up to 60p
  • Canon Log Gamma

Price: $9,999 (Body Only)
Mark II: $TBA  ~$30,000 NAB 2016


Blackmagic

Blackmagic has gained a lot of traction in documentary and movie stunts. The company just finally started shipping the much-anticipated Ursa Mini 4K and 4.6K cameras. Their most popular camera is the Pocket Cinema Camera, which has become a go-to stunt camera.

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera

Upgrading to a Real Video Camera: Pocket Cinema Camera

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is a tiny camera, not much larger than a regular point-and-shoot. It has become a go-to stunt camera, recently used on the Oscar-winning Mad Max: Fury Road, the blockbusters Avengers: Age of Ultron and The Expendables 3, as well as the television show Mythbusters. It was the primary camera for the Sundance fake documentary Operation Avalanche, which was shot to look like 16mm film. Unfortunately, this camera isn’t the best for audio. I’ve listed it solely for its image quality and price point.

Specs:

  • Super 16mm-Sized Image Sensor
  • 1920 x 1080 Native Resolution
  • Micro Four Thirds Lens Mount
  • 13 Stops of Dynamic Range
  • Records ProRes 422 HQ and CinemaDNG RAW
  • Portable Design (5″ Long and 12.5 oz)
  • 3.5″ LCD Display with 800×480 Resolution
  • HDMI, LANC, 3.5mm Audio Input and Output

Price: $1,095 (Body Only)

Blackmagic Ursa Mini

Upgrading to a Real Video Camera: Blackmagic Ursa Mini

The Blackmagic Ursa Mini is the newest camera on this list, with the 4.6K version having only shipped in the past few weeks. The camera is available in four different options at either 4K or 4.6K.

  • Super 35 Sensor
  • Four Options – 4K EF Mount, 4K PL Mount, 4.6K EF Mount, 4.6K PL Mount
  • 4.6K Uncompressed Video Recording/4608 x 2592 – Depending on Camera Model
  • 4K Uncompressed Video Recording/4096 x 2304/4608 x 1920/4000 x 2160
  • UltraHD Apple ProRes/3840 x 2160
  • 3K Anamorphic/3072 x 2560
  • 2K/2048 x 1152
  • HD Apple ProRes/1920 x 1080
  • 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94, 60 fps
  • 15 Stops
  • 5″ Fold Out Monitor
  • Dual CFast – Nonstop Recording
  • Includes Full DaVinci Resolve Suite

Price: $2,999 – $5495 (Body Only)


RED

RED has become the go-to camera in nearly every type of video production. RED cameras are used in advertising campaigns by companies like Red Bull and are prominently used in commercials and film. Some major motion pictures will use RED cameras as the A camera, as well as a B camera. A quick aside — don’t let these brain only prices fool you. These cameras require a ton of very expensive support gear.

RED RAVEN

Upgrading to a Real Video Camera: Red Raven

The RED RAVEN is the base model from RED. Yes, everything is pretty much always listed in all caps. This camera is most popular on independent films and medium-scale commercial productions.

  • 9.9 Megapixel CMOS Sensor
  • 16.5+ Stops
  • Up to 120 fps 4.5K, Up to 300 fps 2K
  • 4.5K 2.1:1 (4608 × 2160), 2.4:1 (4608 × 1944)
  • 4K Full Frame (4096 × 2160), 2:1 (4096 × 2048), 2.4:1 (4096 × 1728), UHD/16:9 (3840 × 2160)
  • 3K Full Frame (3072 × 1620), 2:1 (3072 × 1536), 2.4:1 (3072 × 1296), 16:9 (2880 × 1620), 3:2 (2880 × 1920)
  • 2K Full Frame (2048 × 1080), 2:1 (2048 × 1024), 2.4:1 (2048 × 864), 16:9 (1920 × 1080), 3:2 (1920 × 1280)
  • Integrated dual channel digital stereo microphones, uncompressed, 24-bit 48 kHz

Price: Starting at $5,950 (Brain Only)

RED SCARLET-W

Upgrading to a Real Video Camera: RED SCARLET

The RED SCARLET-W is one of the newest cameras from RED, updating the prior SCARLET DRAGON. The prior model was popular on independent film sets like Drinking Buddies and was most recently used on the SXSW film Claire in Motion. It also captured the intense action of The Raid 2 and was a stunt camera on The Expendables 3.

Here are the specs on the newly updated SCARLET-W:

  • 13.8 MP Super 35mm CMOS
  • 16.5+ Stops
  • Up to 60 fps 5K, Up to 300 fps 2K
  • 5K Full Frame (5120 × 2700), 2:1, 2.4:1, 16:9, 6:5, 4:1, 8:1, and Ana 2x, 1.3x
  • 4.5K Full Frame (4608 × 2412), 2:1, 2.4:1, 16:9, 3:2, 4:1, 8:1, and Ana 2x, 1.3x
  • 4K Full Frame (4096 × 2160), 2:1, 2.4:1, 16:9, 3:2, 4:3, 5:4, 6:5, 4:1, 8:1, and Ana 2x, 1.3x
  • 3K Full Frame (3072 × 1620), 2:1, 2.4:1, 16:9, 3:2, 4:3, 5:4, 6:5, 4:1, 8:1, and Ana 2x, 1.3x
  • 2K Full Frame (2048 × 1080), 2:1, 2.4:1, 16:9, 3:2, 4:3, 5:4, 6:5, 4:1, 8:1, and Ana 2x, 1.3x
  • Integrated dual channel digital stereo microphones, uncompressed, 24-bit 48 kHz

Price: Starting at $9,950 (Brain Only)

RED EPIC DRAGON

Upgrading to a Real Video Camera: RED EPIC DRAGON

The RED EPIC DRAGON was just used as an A camera on the Oscar-nominated films The Martian, Room, Gone Girl and The Danish Girl. It was also used for a few scenes by three-time Best Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki in The Revenant. It was the camera of choice for 10 Cloverfield Lane, Straight Outta ComptonThe Walk, and the television series Better Call Saul It was was used as a B camera on The Birth of a NationSteve Jobs, Furious 7, Spectre, Magic Mike XXL.

  • 19.4 Megapixel CMOS Sensor
  • 16.5+ stops
  • Up to 75 fps 6K, up to 300 fps 2K
  • 6K Full Frame (6144 × 3160), 2:1, 2.4:1, 16:9, 3:2, 6:5, 4:1, 8:1, and Ana 2x, 1.3x
  • 5K Full Frame (5120 × 2700), 2:1, 2.4:1, 16:9, 6:5, 4:1, 8:1, and Ana 2x, 1.3x
  • 4.5K Full Frame (4608 × 2412), 2:1, 2.4:1, 16:9, 3:2, 4:1, 8:1, and Ana 2x, 1.3x
  • 4K Full Frame (4096 × 2160), 2:1, 2.4:1, 16:9, 3:2, 4:3, 5:4, 6:5, 4:1, 8:1, and Ana 2x, 1.3x
  • 3K Full Frame (3072 × 1620), 2:1, 2.4:1, 16:9, 3:2, 4:3, 5:4, 6:5, 4:1, 8:1, and Ana 2x, 1.3x
  • 2K Full Frame (2048 × 1080), 2:1, 2.4:1, 16:9, 3:2, 4:3, 5:4, 6:5, 4:1, 8:1, and Ana 2x, 1.3x
  • 2 channel, uncompressed, 24-bit 48 kHz. Optional 4 channel, and AES/EBU digital audio

Price: Starting at $24,000 (Brain Only)

RED WEAPON

Upgrading to a Real Video Camera: RED WEAPON

The RED WEAPON is currently available to consumers with a 6K DRAGON sensor, though an 8K Vista Vision camera is currently being tested on the set of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

  • 19.4 Megapixel CMOS Sensor
  • 16.5+ Stops
  • Up to 100 fps 6K, Up to 300 fps 2K
  • 6K Full Frame (6144 x 3160), 2:1, 2.4:1, 16:9, 3:2, 6:5, 4:1, 8:1, and Ana 2x, 1.3x 
  • 5K Full Frame (5120 x 2700), 2:1, 2.4:1, 16:9, 6:5, 4:1, 8:1, and Ana 2x, 1.3x 
  • 4.5K Full Frame (4608 x 2412), 2:1, 2.4:1, 16:9, 3:2, 4:1, 8:1, and Ana 2x, 1.3x 
  • 4K Full Frame (4096 x 2160), 2:1, 2.4:1, 16:9, 3:2, 4:3, 5:4, 6:5, 4:1, 8:1, and Ana 2x, 1.3x 
  • 3K Full Frame (3072 x 1620), 2:1, 2.4:1, 16:9, 3:2, 4:3, 5:4, 6:5, 4:1, 8:1, and Ana 2x, 1.3x 
  • 2K Full Frame (2048 x 1080), 2:1, 2.4:1, 16:9, 3:2, 4:3, 5:4, 6:5, 4:1, 8:1, and Ana 2x, 1.3x
  • Integrated dual channel digital stereo microphones, uncompressed, 24-bit 48 kHz 

Price: Starting at $29,500 (Brain Only)


Are you looking to upgrade to a new camera? What camera are you most interested in buying? Let us know in the comments below.