As you know I’ve been making my little films now for three years and for most of that time I’ve used a Canon 550D/T2i as my main camera. There are two support cameras – a Canon IXUS and a Polaroid bullet cam, but the problem is mainly with the 550. I’m becoming increasingly aware of the limitations of this camera as time goes on, but it’s so light and easy to use (especially now I’m running Magic Lantern) that it’s simply the relatively poor image quality that makes me want to move on.
Poor dynamic range is my principal gripe – crushed blacks combined with blown highlights. DSLRs do not come with built in ND filters which would help this in bright conditions, but under the overcast skies of England most of the time I need the range at the bottom end, not the top. ND Grads could help with this but adds to size, weight and complexity of shooting, although I am giving this some serious thought. Given that I would like to start making films commercially in the near future, a better camera seems a sensible place to start.
I should point out that for the list below you’ll notice a Canon EF mount bias* due to the money I have tied up in compatible glass.
Option 1: Canon 5D mk 3
Another DSLR. Bigger, but with that delicious full-frame sensor for photography and recently given uncompressed HDMI out. This camera is also superb in low-light. At around £2k it isn’t cheap but is the most familiar option, and would hold value reasonably well. To get the best from this I’d need to combine with an Atomos Ninja 2 on a cage, making it bulky. This camera would reduce the moire and aliasing I get in main shots. It will also cost more for memory cards if I capture in-camera.
Option 2: BlackMagic Design (Various)
The BMD Pocket Cinema camera is around £850. This has 13 stops of dynamic range (great!) but reportedly eats batteries like Cookie Monster does biscuits, and uses MFT lenses. Handily, the PCC records straight into ProRes, ideal for use with FCPX. The bigger sisters, 2.5k and 4k are twice and three times as expensive respectively. I hear good things about both – if only supply weren’t so much of an issue. All in all very tempting but too beta for me.
Option 3: Canon C100
I’m torn on this one. Around £4k to pay and you still don’t get 4:2:2 – like the 5D this would need an Atomos. I do, however, love the form-factor, the larger batteries and from what I’ve seen the picture is pretty good too. Like the 5D, a monster for low light – and the Super 35mm sensor is basically APS-C. Sorely tempting but… AvCHD? Seriously? Loathe the packaging of those files and I do intend still to shoot in camera for a fair amount of B-roll. Ugh.
Option 4: Canon EOS M
Eh? Didn’t I just say I’m fed up with the picture from the 550D? Didn’t I just dismiss the Pocket CC for poor battery life? Yes. But I could get two full kits of the EOS M for less money than one PCC. This would give me consistent images across multicam shots and ultimately make my life easier, even if there’s no improvement in image quality.
Option 5: Panasonic GH3
Popular. Clean HDMI out. Can record high-bitrates and in-camera full HD 40% slow-motion. Full time autofocus if required. Impressive, but MFT. Also, I can’t help wondering if it will be replaced in the new year. I’ve heard the image, compared with the 5D3 is noisy. £1200 ish for a kit with lens. Probably not for me, since it too would require an Atomos to get the best out of it and I’d be starting again with glass.
Option 6: Sony Alpha 7/7R
I don’t know enough about this yet to draw any conclusions but I’m hearing good things. Uses e – mount lenses, so again a pain in the pocket. The “base” model 7 is comparable in price to the GH3 / BMD CC 2.5k but of course isn’t an SLR. Like the GH3 it’s a CSC but this time boasting a full frame sensor. I’ll update when I know more.
Now, I’m not unaware of adaptors for lenses. These can be a real boon but always a compromise, especially when trying to get a wide angle shot since adaptors tend to lend magnification and often lose infinity focus. I’d rather stick with dedicated EF mounts if possible.
What should I do? I’m not sure. I’ll be thinking this over during Dec/Jan and will probably go hunting bargains at The Photography Show at the NEC in March. Whatever happens, you’ll see the results right here on shortsightfilms.com.
*Amro, thanks for pointing this out! This edit corrects that.