Heading out to shoot video on the run for an e-magazine, streaming site, documentary, or narrative film, and your HD camcorder doesn’t have the professional look and utility that you need? It is probably time for a professional mobile setup with cinema-quality features. Though you may imagine a bit of sticker shock, not to worry, because digital cinema cameras are much more affordable now and most offer 4K quality video with high-resolution color and recording formats.
Digital Cinema Cameras
What makes a professional cinema camera a “cinema camera,” especially one suitable for run-and-gun productions? A few important points when looking for a quality digital cinema camera include:
Choice of cinema lenses for soft bokeh and compatible with cinema gear and filters
Large sensor such as Super35/APS-C or Full Frame
Resolutions of 4K/2K and higher
Log and LUT support for applying color grading in post production
Fast media support
Wide 13-16 stop dynamic range to pick up high detail in low light and bright settings
Wide-range ISO settings with little to no image noise
Support for 10-bit color depth so colors remain accurate when video is compressed
A good run-and-gun cinema camera needs some specific qualities as well:
Modular to add accessories for complete production setup
Pro audio recording either built in or for high-quality backup/sync
Internal stabilization or support for IS lenses with stabilization to minimize shake
Autofocus and auto-ISO settings for changing light environments
Available inexpensive media-recording options
Fairly small and lightweight so even with accessories it is still portable
Let’s look at a few options in low, mid, and higher price range cinema cameras that can fit right into your run-and-gun bag.
Lower to Mid Budget Cinema
If you’re just starting out producing a small documentary or indie film and looking for an ultra-portable camera, these cameras fit the budget and the spec level:
The tiny Sony Alpha 6700 mirrorless digital camera offers a 26MP APS-C sensor and shoots up to UHD 4K120 video oversampled from 6K. It features support for Log Gamma at 10-bit 4:2:2 and can reach an impressive 240 frame rate at FHD. Other features include image AI-powered autofocus, image stabilization, S-Cinetone, micro-HDMI output, 3.5mm audio in and out, and even wireless control over Wi-Fi. Its Sony E lens mount supports a variety of E-mount cinema lenses.
Advantages: Very lightweight and compact, shoots high-quality stills, 4K120 recording, Wi-Fi control
Disadvantages: Limited audio input options, smaller cine sensor than most cine cams, no timecode
The compact Panasonic Lumix GH6 features a 25.2MP MOS sensor and a Micro Four Thirds lens mount. It can record up to 5.7K60, 4K120, and a hair-raising 300 fps at FHD. Capable of V-Log and 10-bit 4:2:2, it also boasts 5-axis image stabilization.
Advantages: Very lightweight and compact, shoots high-quality stills, 5.7K60 recording, Wi-Fi control
Disadvantages: Limited audio input options, MFT lens limits frame size, limited ISO range for video of 12,800
The Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro features a 21.2MP 6K Super35 CMOS sensor and a Canon EF mount to accommodate a wide range of cinema lenses. Other features include a dual-native ISO output of 400 and 3200 with a maximum ISO sensitivity of 25,600, Blackmagic RAW recording, custom 3D LUT support, internal ND filters, CFast and UHS-II card slots, dual mini-XLR inputs, 5" tiltable HDR touchscreen with a brightness of 1500 nits, and it is external SSD recording compatible. The Pocket Cinema Camera 4K is also a quality option if your budget is limited, with a 4/3" sensor that records up to 4K-resolution video.
Advantages: LUT support, Dual XLR audio input, 6K recording, RAW format support, external SSD recording, internal ND filters, big and bright HDR screen
Disadvantages: Limited ISO range, limited frame rate range, limited recording format types, no internal stabilization
The Panasonic BGH1 box cinema camera has a tiny form factor that is highly modular, accepting a wide variety of accessories. It features a 10.2MP 4/3" sensor, a wide 13-stop dynamic range, Log support, MFT lens mount, high data rate recording, custom 3D LUT support, and variable frame rates up to 1080p240 for ultra-slow-motion recording. It also features USB tethering and PoE+ (Power-over-Ethernet) to power the camera using its Ethernet port.
Advantages: Ultra-slow-motion recording, PoE+ power, wide dynamic range, numerous recording/output formats
Disadvantages: Requires numerous accessory purchases, MFT lens limits frame size, no internal stabilization
Mid to Higher Budget Cinema
If you’re able to make a bigger investment for a larger sensor and more features and options, these cameras make the main option list:
The Sony FX3 provides the same great photo settings as the others in the alpha line, but it adds internal 5-axis stabilization that keeps your video rock steady when you’re on the move. It features a 12MP sensor, 16-bit RAW output, recording up to UHD 4K120 video, fast hybrid AF, support for both CFexpress Type A and SD UHS-II memory cards, tally lights, XLR adapter handle with two XLR-¼" TRS combo audio inputs.
Advantages: Very lightweight and compact, shoots high-quality stills, wide dynamic range, stabilization, exceptional low-light performance
Disadvantages: No viewfinder, need to use handle to gain access to XLR ports
The Canon EOS C70 cinema camera, which has a DSLR/cinema camera combination form factor. The C70 features include a Super35 DGO (Dual Gain Output) sensor with an impressive 16+ stops of dynamic range, timecode and genlock support, Super 16 crop factor, recording up to 180 fps, auto-ISO, and a touchscreen LCD screen. The C70 also features the newest Canon RF lens mount that supports lightweight, low-profile cinema RF lenses, or you can use a lens adapter to use your own EF-mount lenses. It’s also a great second camera for a C300 Mark III.
Advantages: RF lens mount, wide dynamic range, stabilization, modular
Disadvantages: Heavier than tiny mirrorless, mini-XLR audio inputs rather than full-size
The Z CAM E2-F6 is boxy and is available in an EF or PL mount model for an enormous range of lens choices. Its Full-Frame CMOS sensor can record up to 6K60 resolution. It also has 10-bit 4:2:2 color support, up to 12-bit when ZRAW recording is used, 15 stops of dynamic range, LUT and Log support, and remote LAN, Wi-Fi, or app control. It features an HDMI 2.0 output and professional 24-bit 48KHz audio support.
Advantages: Lens mount choices, 6K60 resolution, full-size HDMI output, LAN control, aluminum body great for strength and heat dissipation
Disadvantages: Requires numerous accessory purchases, limited recording formats
RED’s newest venture is the super-compact KOMODO-X 6K that is specifically designed for run-and-gun production. There are numerous accessories for the KOMODO because it is tiny and modular, and it features a 19.9MP Super35 Global Shutter CMOS 6K sensor with 16.5+ stops of dynamic range for superior low-light performance. It records REDCODE RAW, supports CFexpress Type B, and can record up to 6K80 and 4K120.
Advantages: 6K60 resolution, RF lens mount, wide dynamic range, RAW recording capabilities, global shutter
Disadvantages: Requires numerous accessory purchases
The Sony FX6 is an incredibly compact cinema camera with a vast array of features tailored for run-and-gun shooting. It boasts an effective 10.2MP Full-Frame CMOS sensor, 15+ stops of dynamic range, 4K DCI 60P, UHD 120P, FHD 240P, 10-bit 4:2:2 XAVC-I recording, 16-bit RAW external output, Dual CFexpress Type A/SDXC Card slots, 2-7 stops of electronic NDs, and a dual base ISO of 800 and 12,800 with a dark-busting maximum ISO sensitivity of 409,600.
Advantages: Internal Electronic NDs, super low-light performance, S-Log & S-Cinetone capabilities, multiple recording formats, body tailored for quick access to important functions, doesn’t require much accessorizing
Disadvantages: No Internal Body Image Stabilization, no mic inputs directly on body, handle required for XLR support.
While price point may be one deciding factor in a purchase, the main points to focus on for run-and-gun will be portability, accessory compatibility, and lens versatility.
Which of these cinema cameras is right for you? Share your thoughts in the Comments section, below.