Choosing a Run-and-Gun Cinema Camera on a Budget

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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
  • Timecode support

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 a6600 mirrorless digital camera offers a 24.2MP APS-C sensor and shoots up to UHD 4K30 video with support for Log gamma. It also shoots slow-motion video and has a built-in, fold-out LCD, autofocus, image stabilization, 3.5mm audio input, and HDMI output. It even features Wi-Fi for wireless control. Its Sony E lens mount supports a variety of E-mount cinema lenses.

Advantages: Very lightweight and compact, shoots high-quality stills, 4K30 recording, Wi-Fi control

Disadvantages: Limited audio input options, smaller cine sensor than most cine cams, no timecode

Sony Alpha a6600

The compact Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5 features a 20.3MP MOS sensor and an MFT lens mount. It can record up to DCI 4K60 4:2:2 video with 10-bit color and an ISO range up to 25,600. It has a built-in OLED viewfinder and records to dual, fast UHS-2 SD card slots.

Advantages: Very lightweight and compact, shoots high-quality stills, 4K60 recording, Wi-Fi control

Disadvantages: Limited audio input options, MFT lens limits frame size, limited ISO range

Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5

The Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K is Blackmagic’s newest compact cinema entry, and it features a 6K Super35 sensor and a Canon EF mount that fits a wide range of cinema lenses. Other key features include a dual-native ISO to 25,600, CFast 2.0 and UHS-II SD card slots, Blackmagic RAW recording, custom 3D LUT support, 13 stops of dynamic range, a full-size HDMI output, a professional mini-XLR input, and a large, built-in 5" touchscreen LCD. It is ultra lightweight, thanks to its carbon fiber polycarbonate body. 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, XLR audio input, 6K recording, wide dynamic range, RAW format support

Disadvantages: Limited ISO range, limited frame rate range, limited recording format types, no internal stabilization

Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K

Finally, the new 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

Panasonic LUMIX BGH1
Click to Enlarge

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 Alpha a7S III 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, and support for both CFexpress Type A or SD UHS-II memory cards.

Advantages: Very lightweight and compact, shoots high-quality stills, wide dynamic range, stabilization

Disadvantages: Limited audio input options

Sony Alpha a7S III

If you’re looking for an upgrade for your Canon EOS C100 to higher resolution with full cinema camera features and a smaller form factor, take a look at the new 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

Canon EOS C70

The Z CAM E2 S6 has a boxy form factor and comes in an EF, MFT, or PL mount model for an enormous range of lens choices. Its Super35 sensor can record up to 6K60 resolution, and it has 10-bit 4:2:2 color support, 14 stops of dynamic range, ZRAW recording, LUT and Log support, and remote LAN, Wi-Fi, or app control; it also 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

Disadvantages: Requires numerous accessory purchases, limited recording formats

Z CAM E2-S6 Super 35 6K

RED’s newest venture is the super-compact KOMODO 6K that is specifically designed for run-and-gun production and comes in at a much lower price point than its RED siblings. There are numerous accessories for the KOMODO because it is tiny and modular, and it features a 19.9MP Super35 CMOS 6K sensor with 16+ stops of dynamic range for superior low-light performance. It records in REDCODE RAW, supports CFast 2.0 media, and can record up to 6K40 and in 2K up to 120 fps. Like the Canon C70, it comes with a Canon RF lens mount for compact RF cinema lenses, but also supports an EF to RF adapter.

Advantages: 6K40 resolution, RF lens mount, wide dynamic range, RAW output

Disadvantages: Requires numerous accessory purchases

RED DIGITAL CINEMA KOMODO 6K

Keep your eye out for the upcoming Sony FX6 camera that was teased by Sony but releases in late November. The camera looks like it will be super portable and will feature a 4K resolution, a Sony E lens mount, and built-in ND filters.

    Click to Enlarge

Conclusion

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.

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