WHAT CAMERA SHOULD YOU BUY NEXT? STICK OR TWIST?
If you’re anything like me, you’ll have been keeping nicely up to speed with all the various developments in new large sensor cameras trying to gauge which one to plump for next. After all, DSLRs are a long way from perfect and it’d be nice to have a proper video camera after all. Or would it? Sadly the whole damn situation is desperately complicated and it’s actually not at all obvious which of the new cameras would make the most sensible upgrade. I only started looking into this because my beloved 5Dmk2 was stolen at NAB and I’m now going to be shooting somewhere in the region of 65 videos over the next 12 months, all over the world. I have to buy a camera now to replace the one that was stolen but which one? Clearly, whichever one you buy should be an improvement on the old one. Duh. The only thing is, that doesn’t seem to be possible. You sacrifice form for functionality for cost, and there’s very little room to manoeuvre. I have a stack of Canon lenses, a bunch of support gear, and everything else I need. I just need the box with the sensor…
THE CONTENDERS FOR YOUR BUCK
TWIST: Moving on…
Sony PMWF3: Philip Bloom’s got one. He’s also got every other camera ever made so what does that tell you!? I’ve used the F3 and it’s a big bulky beast. Stick lenses on it and it becomes incredibly nose heavy. For DSLR users it’s really not a camera you’ll enjoy, it’s happiest when it’s being treated like a movie camera, on sticks, with crew to tend to it. The BBC have jumped on it and with good reason, it’s a really solid drama camera for big productions and it’s really not that expensive. With the S-LOG 4:4:4 upgrade it’s a mighty proposition. For around £20k ($32k) you can have one with a set of CP2′s. Who has that kind of money right now? If I were a DOP and could get a finance package then I’d get one, no question about that. You’d make it back in rental in about 18 months. Easy. For now though, I’ll pass. Too big. Too expensive. But. A very good investment should you have the cash. Doesn’t take stills. Price: $13,960.00 (cam only)
Panasonic AF101: No thanks. Plasticky, awful highlight handling. It’s a knee-jerk camera that came out too quickly. Micro 4/3rds chip, all my lenses are wasted on it. I hate the way the footage looks. On the flip, you can tack on a Blackmagic Hyperdeck Shuttle and get an 8bit uncompressed to play with. But, really? It’s not that expensive but I just don’t like it. Doesn’t take stills. Price: $4,795 (cam only)
Ikonoscop Acam D3: Look at it! Look at it!!!!! It’s the weirdest looking thing. Sadly it’s a non-starter. Despite the RAW recording system. It’s a 16mm sized chip and that kills it for me. The form factor looks very peculiar and I’d be annoyed by the post workflow. Still. I’ve put it in here just because it deserves its place. Not that expensive and it would certainly give you a very different kind of look. Price: €6,950 ($10,053)
Sony FS101: Mick Jones loves it. It’s a Sony. It’s small, it’s got a similar chip to the F3, you can pull an 8bit signal out of the HDMI, opening the door to Atomos Ninja or Hyperdeck Shuttle or Ki Pro Mini fun. Every encounter I’ve had with it has left me with questions. The XLR inputs have had to be put into slightly awkward places. The viewfinder looks really cheap and plasticky, and it doesn’t appear to be very ergonomically designed. Another camera more at home on sticks? Probably. Build it up like a DSLR rig and you’ll probably have something you can work with though monitoring with the onboard screen will be problematic due to its being placed on top of the camera. I looked long and hard at this one, genuinely. It’s pretty affordable, nice and compact, and it ticks a lot of boxes. But then we hit a snag. Lenses. The stock lens appears to be okay, slow, but versatile. But what I really want is the Birger mount that will allow me to control my Canon glass. There’s also no built in ND for the FS100 which is going to be a problem since I’ll be out in bright sunshine a lot for the work I’m doing. I’ll be honest, it’s very very tempting. But there’s just one more problem. It doesn’t take stills. And that’s when you realise just what an astonishing value proposition a DSLR film kit actually is. The one you should get? Think long and hard. If the Birger mount was out and working then I would probably have gone for it. Doesn’t take stills. Price: $5,599
TWIST: Holding on for something better…
Canon 5DMk3: I started out with a 7D but after shooting with its big brother I couldn’t go back. Even if that meant giving up slow mo, the superior stills, and video of the 5D made that a pretty easy decision. However, there appears to be no sign of a Mk3 yet and it’s likely to be 2012 before we see one. Sony and Panasonic leapt out of the gate with their large chip camcorders but Canon’s silence has been thoroughly surprising. The 5DMk2 is still the best video-shooting DSLR but it’s long in the gills. I’d actually put up with the rolling shutter if I could do away with aliasing, have some slow mo options and record audio at higher quality in camera. So, stick or twist, hold on till a 5Dmk3 comes out? Well, it doesn’t exist yet, we’ve no idea what it’ll be, or even if such a thing will even exist. So, for now, there’s no point worrying about it. If you have a 5DMk2, I’d suggest holding onto it for another 6 months, and just sticking for now.
Red Scarlet: Where is it? Well it was at NAB. I saw it on the RED stand and, well, I wasn’t that impressed. The 2/3″ sensor gives it a really TV look. That’s fine. I’d say, for doco work it’ll probably be a great little camera and the way RED has rethought the functionality of this line of cameras is really interesting. I just don’t think it’s really what I want and for many people going back to that small a sensor after larging it with APS-C and beyond, well… Having said all that, when you look at what you can do with 120fps with the damn thing, then there’s still a reason to at least consider it, if and when it ever makes it into production.
Epic-S: The Epic-S is the camera that the Scarlet S35mm was originally intended to be. Probably somewhere in the region of $12k it’s the most interesting camera of all the ones I’ve discussed here. Essentially the Epic-S is a lightened, stripped down version of the bigger Epics. It’s destined to shoot 5K, its form factor is very close to that of a DSLR and the claim that you can pull stills from every frame of video you ever shoot, means RED’s promise of DMSC (stills and motion from the same unit) might well have come true. Opinions are split over test footage from the Epic-M. I’ve seen stuff that looks great and I’ve seen stuff that looks flat and personality free, too clean and TV like. This short film is supposed to show off the camera’s strengths, but I’m not sure they’ve accomplished that here, but as always, it’s a matter of taste. The Epic-S is the camera I want. If I’m going to trade up from a 5DMk2, I want a camera that does everything I need, in the same way the DSLR did it, with that same kind of form factor. But, as with the Mk3, there’s no word on when the Epic-S will be coming out. So…
I went through the options exhaustively, looking into financing options, investing in kit, selling kit on, lens options, but in the end it all boiled down to a simple criterium. I need a camera that can shoot stills and video and I can’t be taking two cameras with me on my travels. So, to replace my stolen 5DMk2, I bought…. another 5DMk2. Astonishing. I felt sure I was going to jump in with the FS100, but it just didn’t stack up. Go figure.