Full-Frame Cinema: the Next Frontier

0Share

Remember the Canon 5D Mark II? Feels like ages ago in the world of technology. When it was released, it boasted an at-the-time-unheard-of capability of recording full-frame Full HD video at 30 fps. Jump forward a decade and full-frame 4K video is now an expected function of DSLRs and mirrorless. Cinema cameras were fairly content with their Super 35 sensors—after all, most existing lenses were built around the format. The past couple of years have seen a substantial shift, however, as RED, ARRI, Canon, and Sony released new top-tier digital cinema cameras sporting full-frame sensors. Most recently, this high-end tech started to make its way downstream, while mirrorless manufacturers have begun to push their full-frame models upstream in the video world.

Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K
Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K

Is Full Frame the Future?

Yes, it looks like full frame will become more and more normal for video production. This isn't solely because bigger sensors are "better." There are many other advantages to going with larger, higher-resolution sensors for video. Among the easiest to understand is versatility. Users will have access to full-frame, Super 35, or smaller crops to achieve different looks, perspectives, or even frame rates. Full-frame makes a single camera much more capable and gives filmmakers more control over how they want their image to look.

Full-frame technology is also getting cheaper. We already had quite affordable options ever since the 5D Mark II delivered our first taste of full-frame digital video, but now all the major brands are bringing out professional digital cinema cameras packing full-frame in more affordable packages. The added versatility is an outstanding option for many shooters, and having a bit more resolution or improved low-light performance is a nice bonus. Similar to how Super 35 slowly became more affordable and mainstream, I expect full-frame to be the next “big” thing.

What's Out There?

There is something for everyone in full-frame video and digital cinema. Assuming many will want a serious camera option that would be available to independent operators, we should start with the latest releases from Canon and Sony, both of which exemplify the market's shift to full-frame sensors.

Canon unleashed its EOS C500 Mark II and surprised many with its revival of the series and the implementation of a 5.9K full-frame CMOS with Dual Pixel AF. It has a familiar form factor and remains a portable option for shooters who just want to pack this up in a bag and have it ready for immediate shooting. Speaking of the versatility of the format, the C500 Mark II offers full-frame, Super 35, and Super 16 crop modes. An awesome capability of this model is the ability to record in Canon Cinema RAW Light in 12- or 10-bit at 5.9K and it'll capture over 15 stops of dynamic range. Optional interchangeable lens mounts are available for using Canon EF, a locking Canon EF, or PL mount. Learn more about the C500 Mark II by reading the announcement.

Canon EOS C500 Mark II 5.9K Full-Frame Camera Body
Canon EOS C500 Mark II 5.9K Full-Frame Camera Body

Shortly following Canon's launch was Sony with its PXW-FX9 XDCAM. Borrowing heavily from the beloved FS series, this camera is set up to be used however you see fit. It can find a home just as easily for ENG work as it will on a film set. Using an E mount and 6K Exmor R CMOS sensor, the FX9 will deliver high-quality UHD 4K video at up to 60p. It also benefits from an electronic ND filter and Fast Hybrid AF to deliver incredible images in any condition. Go more in depth on this release by reading this article.

Sony PXW-FX9 XDCAM 6K Full-Frame Camera System
Sony PXW-FX9 XDCAM 6K Full-Frame Camera System

The kings of digital cinema have their own options, obviously. I'm talking about the ALEXA Mini LF from ARRI and, while RED DIGITAL CINEMA has many full-frame options, let's go with the MONSTRO 8K VV chip. Both take their respective systems up a notch and are considered some of the best cinema cameras currently available, though they have a price to match that description. These are intended for high-end productions when the choice to go full-frame is a considered need or desire. Find out more about the ALEXMA Mini LF in this article or RED's latest in this piece.

ARRI ALEXA Mini LF and Lens Mount Set
ARRI ALEXA Mini LF and Lens Mount Set

Alongside the ARRI and RED sit Sony and Canon, who both have high-end full-frame cinema cameras already on the market. Sony is sitting quite well with its VENICE Digital Cinema Camera and its continuing firmware updates that add more and more functionality over time. Highlights includes up to 6K full-frame recording at 60 fps, more than 15 stops of dynamic range, and user-changeable mount system with a lot more you should read about. Canon's competitor in this space is the EOS C700 Full-Frame Cinema Camera. Advantages of the 5.9K Canon choice are advanced Dual Pixel CMOS AF, raw recording support, and 15 stops of dynamic range. Read more about the camera on B&H Explora.

Sony VENICE 6K Digital Motion Picture Camera
Sony VENICE 6K Digital Motion Picture Camera

Now, while some of these options are approaching affordable (I'm looking at you Canon C500 Mark II and Sony FX9), none are quite ready for beginners or advanced amateurs to take a spin. That's where full-frame mirrorless comes in handy. Practically every major manufacturer now offers full-frame video in some capacity on their mirrorless cameras. This includes the Nikon Z series, Sony's latest a7 and a9 lineup, Panasonic's S Series, and more.

Currently leading the pack is the Panasonic Lumix S1H. Imagine the GH Series, but full-frame, and you have the S1H. Using a 24.2MP full-frame CMOS sensor, the S1H can record up to 6K (3:2) video at 24 fps as well as 5.9K at 30 fps and 4K at up to 60 fps. It has internal 10-bit recording, as well, for excellent latitude in post-production. It's a versatile and compact video recording option for users looking for affordable full-frame video. There's plenty more packed inside you can read about here.

Panasonic Lumix DC-S1H Mirrorless Digital Camera
Panasonic Lumix DC-S1H Mirrorless Digital Camera

If you are looking for something a bit less stills camera and more production camera, then there is the Z CAM E2-F6. A little less conventional than your usual cinema camera, this boxy and compact option from Z CAM offers numerous features that make it appealing to filmmakers. It's relatively simple design also means that it is well suited to being built up with custom rigs to make it perfect for your needs. At its heart is a full-frame sensor capable of 15 stops of dynamic range and up to 6K at 60 fps. A ZRAW format is available, too, and there is an 8K version that was announced alongside the 6K model.

Z CAM E2-F6 Full-Frame 6K Cinema Camera
Z CAM E2-F6 Full-Frame 6K Cinema Camera

Finally, while not full-frame, I feel I should mention the medium-format FUJIFILM GFX 100. This exciting mirrorless release uses a larger 44 x 33mm CMOS sensor that is, in fact, capable of recording 4K 10-bit video. Quite insane for medium format and is another option if you want a “larger than full-frame” look for your next film. It is decidedly a stills camera, however, so be aware this likely won't replace a dedicated video camera for everyday work.

FUJIFILM GFX 100 Medium Format Mirrorless Camera
FUJIFILM GFX 100 Medium Format Mirrorless Camera

Oh yeah, don't forget to make sure your lenses are full-frame compatible.

Are you on the hunt for a new cinema camera? Thinking full-frame may be your next choice? Or do you want to stick with Super 35 and other tried-and-true formats? Sound off with your thoughts in the Comments section, below.

Close

Close

Close