Gear Round Up: 8 High-Powered Video Cameras for Your Next Film
August 31, 2015
Blackmagic Design Ursa Mini
“When digital SLRs started shooting video, photographers became filmmakers and filmmakers became real filmmakers.” That was “real” filmmaker Stu Maschwitz’s quip, overheard at a Red Giant panel discussion at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) trade show. He was talking about how the DSLR video revolution had spurred everyone in the business of creating video to step up their game. The same goes for video camera companies, who have responded to the rise of DSLR video by delivering cameras with wider dynamic ranges, faster frame rates and ever-higher-resolution sensors. Here are a few that recently caught our eye.
AJA’s CION is a 4K cinema camera sporting an APS-C-sized image sensor with a global shutter. It delivers 12 stops of dynamic range and records 12-bit 4K (4096×2160 pixels) video in the ProRes 4444 format at up to 30 frames per second. Slightly more compressed 422 footage can be captured internally to AJA’s SSD-based PAK Media cards at up to 60 fps. RAW footage output through an SDI connection can be delivered at up to 120 fps. The CION features a removable PL lens mount, giving users the option to install other lens mounts if desired.
At the NAB show, AJA rolled out several new firmware upgrades for the CION. Among the improvements is white balance control; overexposed portions of an image are less prone to color shifts. The firmware also delivers more gamma and color correction options for 800- and 1000-exposure index values.
If you’re curious about the CION but don’t want to commit without some serious hands-on time, the company is making 100 models available to filmmakers in the U.S. and Canada for free trials. When describing the program during the company’s press conference at NAB, AJA president Nick Rashby said the likely candidate was probably not so much a film student as a more “experienced DP.” Interested parties can apply at the AJA website. The promotion will expire at the end of the summer. To sweeten the deal, AJA is also shaving $4,000 off the CION’s $8,995 retail price throughout the summer.
Arri Alexa Mini
The popularity of drone and gimbal-based video recording is ushering in the age of the square cinema camera. Arri’s new Mini not only has the Alexa’s cinematic pedigree, but the price tag to match. The Mini features a carbon fiber camera body optimized for use with brushless gimbals, drones and other run-and-gun applications. The Mini weighs in at a svelte 5 pounds (body and PL lens mount) and measures 7.3 x 4.9 x 5.5 inches. It boasts a full-frame format Arri ALEV III CMOS sensor with an electronic shutter and 14 stops of dynamic range. It’s capable of 4K ProRes 4444 XQ recording (3840×2160) at up to 120 fps, or uncompressed ArriRAW format video at 2.8K at up to 30 fps to CFast 2.0 memory cards. Frame rates can hit 200 fps when recording internally at 2K in ProRes 4444. The active sensor area is switchable from a 4:3 aspect ratio to 16:9.
The Mini sports an interchangeable lens mount and is compatible with EF, PL or B4 lens mounts. The camera can be remotely controlled using either Arri’s Electronic Control System or Wi-Fi. It features a built-in motorized ND filter and offers a pair of HD-SDI outputs (1.5G and 3G) plus an SDI-6G output for use with Arri’s CODEX external recorder.
Blackmagic Design Ursa Mini
We were impressed with the Ursa when we reviewed it in the April issue, but one beef we had was the size and weight—the word “tank” sprang readily to mind when handling the substantial Ursa. With the Mini, Blackmagic has taken pity on the shoulders and forearms of filmmakers everywhere with a camera that retains many of the valuable features of the original but at a little more than 1/3 the weight (Don’t worry Ursa fans, the original isn’t going anywhere.) The new Mini weighs just 5 pounds, though it has to shed the Ursa’s three monitors to get there. Instead, you’ll have a single, 5-inch HD touchscreen monitor for framing and focus confirmation. The Mini records 4K footage to a pair of CFast 2.0 cards in Apple ProRes (up to 4444 XQ) or Cinema DNG 12-bit RAW. It has dual XLR inputs with phantom power, a built-in stereo mic and a 12G-SDI connection.
The Ursa Mini is sold with either Blackmagic’s new 4.6K Super 35mm-sized image sensor or an updated 4K sensor with slightly less resolution and 12 stops of dynamic range. The 4.6K (4608×2592) sensor boasts 15 stops of dynamic range and delivers 4K recording at 60 fps with a rolling shutter, or 4K at 30 fps with a global shutter. If you opt for the less-expensive Ursa Mini with the 4K sensor, you’ll enjoy 4K frame rates of 60 fps with a global shutter. Both versions of the Mini clock in at a motion-slowing 120 fps when shooting at 1920×1080 resolution.
While the world waits for Canon to add 4K to its DSLRs, the company has taken a step toward the future with a new video camera. The XC10 delivers 3840×2160 (8-bit, 422) recording via a 1-inch, 13-megapixel CMOS sensor. Footage is saved internally to a CFast 2.0 memory card using a newly developed Canon codec dubbed XF-AVC. As the name implies, the codec is derived from H.264 and uses intra-frame compression to deliver a maximum bit rate of 305Mbps. You can also output a 4K Canon Log file at 30 fps with 12-stops of dynamic range to an external recorder via HDMI. HD video, plus 12-megapixel still photos, can be saved to an SD card. The XC10 strikes a boxy figure, the better for mounting on gimbals, but its rotating hand grip also gives run-and-gunners something to hang onto. And the XC10 is definitely easy to carry, measuring in at 4.9 x 4 x 4.8 inches and weighing a scant 2.3 pounds with battery and memory cards loaded.
There’s a built-in 10x zoom lens with a full-frame equivalent focal length of 27.3–273mm for video and 24.1–241mm for stills. The lens features a three-mode (dynamic, standard and powered) optical stabilizer to combat camera shake during a variety of uses. It features a maximum aperture of f/2.8 when shooting wide and stops down to f/5.6 at full telephoto. There’s a three-step ND filter built in, plus dedicated zoom and focus rings for manual operation. You’ll enjoy a native sensitivity range of ISO 160–20,000 and a 3-inch vari-angle display for framing your scene.
Price: $2,499 (64GB SanDisk CFast 2.0 card and reader included)
The flagship of JVC’s new 4KCAM video lineup, the LS300 boasts a Super 35mm-sized 4K sensor and an active Micro Four Thirds lens mount. The sensor is capable of capturing 3840x2160p30 video with a bitrate up to 150Mbps and 12-stops of dynamic range. Footage is saved internally to a pair of SD cards in the H.264 codec (MOV files). While the LS300 can’t output a 4K signal for external recording, it does support 4K monitoring via HDMI and will downconvert 4K footage to HD for recording out of the HDMI or SDI connection.
If you just need to shoot HD, the camera supports 1920x1080p60 recording (422) at 50Mbps. There are two SD card slots with relay recording and hot-swapping capability so you can pull out memory cards while the LS300 is still recording. You’ll find a three-position ND filter and a two-channel XLR input with phantom power. The LS300 is very customizable, with 10 function buttons on the exterior that you can program to your heart’s desire. You frame your scene with a 3.5-inch display or a 0.24-inch viewfinder. Depending on where you purchase your LS300, it will come with either a free Rokinon prime lens or a Metabones lens adapter, so shop around. A shotgun mic is also included with the purchase.
It seems like there are almost no cameras rolling out of Panasonic’s factories these days that don’t offer 4K video recording. The newest, the AG-DVX200, aims to bring the feel of the company’s cinematic VariCam lineup into a design and budget that’s more approachable. It’s a fixed-lens camcorder with a newly designed Four Thirds CMOS image sensor capable of 12 stops of dynamic range. According to Panasonic, the DVX200 offers the same tonality, log-curve and colorimetry as the company’s professional VariCam lineup.
The camera will record 4K (4096×2160) video at 24 fps as well as UHD (3840?2160) at up to 60 fps and Full HD up to 120 fps. Footage can be saved internally to a pair of SD cards in either MP4 or MOV file formats with options to record files to both cards simultaneously for backup or use a second card as overflow capacity. On the optics front, you’ll find a built-in 13x Leica Dicomar f/2.8–4.5 zoom lens with three manual rings for focus, iris and zoom and a 72mm front filter. The lens uses a five-axis hybrid image stabilizer to keep footage blur-free. Additional features include time-code in/out, 3G HD-SDI and HDMI 2.0 (4K) video outputs.
Red Weapon Dragon
The RED Weapon Dragon packs a 6K (6144×3160) Red Dragon sensor into a redesigned camera body (or “brain” in RED-speak) that offers several new features, including built-in dual channel audio recording and Wi-Fi for remote operation. Another major brain boost is improved data transfer speeds to RED’s Mini-Mag removable SSD memory. Thanks to the speed bump, the Weapon Dragon can record 6K Redcode RAW video up to 100 fps internally while also simultaneously saving 2K ProRes format video up to 120 fps in 4444 XQ quality. The Weapon also delivers 16.5 stops of dynamic, automatic sensor calibration, and internal timecode recording.
The Weapon Dragon will be sold in two versions, a magnesium brain and a slightly lighter (though much costlier) carbon fiber brain. The carbon fiber Weapon Dragon has more processing power, enabling simultaneous 2K ProRes recording at 120fps whereas the magnesium Weapon will top out at 60 fps.
If 6K sounds far too antiquated for your needs, RED will sell a Weapon Dragon brain with an 8K sensor (that’s 8192×4320 for you pixel-peepers) later this year for an extra $20,000.
At this year’s NAB trade show, Sony reaffirmed its commitment to roll out a continuous stream of firmware updates for existing hardware rather than simply churn out new models. To that end, the company’s PXW-X200—introduced in the fall of last year—has had a fresh firmware upgrade that enables streaming video over wired and wireless LANs, as well as over 3G and 4G mobile networks using an optional wireless module. The new firmware also saves GPS data to metadata when recording in Sony’s XAVC-I/L codec and supports simultaneous video recording to two SxS media cards.
Outside of the firmware upgrades, the X200 sports a fixed 17x optical zoom lens (29.3–499mm full-frame equivalent) and three, 1/2-inch CMOS sensors. It can record HD video at 422/10-bit using the XAVC codec with bit rates topping off at 112Mbps using intra-frame compression. The lens has three manual rings for focus, zoom and iris control. You’ll find a 3G-SDI interface for outputting a 1920x1080p60 signal, cinema-friendly picture profiles, time code in/out and focus assist. You’ll frame your scene through a 3.5-inch LCD display or a 0.45-inch LCD viewfinder.