With our 4K shootout due to mosey into town any day now (well, on 23rd July), we thought it was time to take a closer look at four of the cameras you’ll be able to get hands-on with on the day. Take notes, prepare questions, mentally pick out lenses: anything to ensure you’re not overwhelmed when you get the chance to shoot with all four of them side by side.
First up, the Sony PXW-FS7. As we’ve said before, this Super 35mm 4K handheld takes everything we loved about the FS700, ratchets it up to 11 and then marries it to one of the most ergonomic designs we’ve seen in a long time.
The FS7 is the most flexible workhorse of the bunch, well built enough to function as an excellent ENG and documentary camera. The built-in hand grip serves the dual function of making the camera lighter and easier to balance during long shoots, and means that you don’t have to rig the camera to the extent that you expect in order to get the shots that you want – both big pluses for run and gun shooting.
However, that’s not to discount the quality of images you can get from this camera – it’s capable of shooting beautiful footage, and its support for S-Log3 effectively gives you 1.5 extra stops of dynamic range compared to its predecessor, the FS700, and, as S-Log3 is pretty close to Cineon log, the footage you get is easier to grade and you’ve got more chance of achieving a classic ‘filmic’ look.
Sensor-wise, the PXW-FS7 boasts a Super 35mm CMOS image sensor with 11.6 million pixels in a 4352 x 2662 configuration, including 8.9 million effective pixels. The sensor’s high readout speed means the FS7 can support super slow motion 4K shooting, and its full pixel readout capability and lack of pixel binning mean that jaggies and noir are minimised.
While it’s natively E-mount, an A-mount adaptor is available if you want access to a wider pool of lenses. Plus, Sony are so confident about the quality of their hardware that they’re offering an extended warranty on it, which is always reassuring.
AJA are known for their sturdy, unfussy designs, and the CION follows that pattern exactly: its traditional form factor and lightweight body make it an ergonomic choice for longer shoots. There’s also the usual (but highly practical) fact that it can be stored away while fully rigged, so if you need to shoot with no notice, you can just take it out of its case and go.
Design considerations aside, the CION is able to output 4K raw data at up to 120fps via 4x 3G-SDI outputs (you can shoot directly to edit-ready Apple ProRes 4444 at up to 4K 30fps over Thunderbolt, ProRes 422 at up to 4K 60fps, or output AJA Raw at up to 4K 120fps), and records directly to AJA Pak SSD media at up to 60 frames per second. Its APS-C sized CMOS sensor is backed by great internal processing, meaning your end image is noise-free under most conditions, and it packs in an electronic global shutter and 12 stops of dynamic range.
Given the range of codecs and lens options available to you, the CION is a great choice for anyone who’s looking to achieve a cinematic look under a range of circumstances and workflows. AJA’s hardware is typically built like a tank and rarely goes EOL, so we’re willing to bet the CION will be kept current for a good few years – it’s already had some interesting firmware upgrades – making it a safe investment for anyone who needs their camera to last far longer than it should at its price point.
As we’ve said before, of all this group, the URSA is most suited to multiple operators; you can even split the on-camera controls so that one side of the camera controls audio while the other handles image settings, and can check separate scopes on all three of the URSA’s on-board monitors.
The corollary to this is that the URSA really needs to be rigged on a tripod, being, as it is, one of the heaviest cameras we’ve ever encountered. You’ll also need a good stock of V-lock batteries, as the URSA’s massive internal processing power translates to a constant thirst for power, so grab some batteries and a VTC plate along with the camera body if you’re thinking of buying.
However, it can shoot incredibly flexibly, supports high frame rate and delivers what are team our calling “pretty hardcore” image quality, so if you want 180fps ProRes now, no questions asked, this is the camera to set your sights on.
Not often mentioned in the same breath as the other three, but we think the LS300 has a lot more to offer than most people assume. First off, this is a Super 35mm 4K camera for under £3K ex VAT, which is extremely good value. And the fact that it supports a wide range of interchangeable lenses means that you can probably save again by reusing your existing still camera lenses to shoot video. Then of course there’s the fact that it shoots 4K Ultra HD, full HD with 4:2:2 sampling, SD and web-friendly proxy files, so you’re not going to need to replace or add to it for some time, meaning you’ll get great ROI.
It also has some very nifty hidden features and, because it has a full frame sensor and lets you scale down the crop factor by percentage, offers you ultimate lens flexibility. If you want to capture a micro 4/3″ or 2/3″ size image, you simply need to scale to the correct size, then carry on shooting as if you were on a smaller sensor camera. And even if you’re attaching the smallest lenses in your collection, you’ll still be able to pull HD images off the camera – in some cases, even 4K.
It also has XLR inputs, so you have plenty of high quality micing options, and will support auto-focus and zoom rocker use on any lenses that have those features enabled, meaning that with the right accessories the LS300 can become a really interesting run and gun camera, perfect for live events and ENG-style shooting – especially given its live streaming and FTP capabilities.
Drop by our Soho office on 23rd July to get hands on with these guys and put your questions to the team – we’ll also have Varicam, DSLRs like the A7S and GH4, the URSA Mini and the XC-10, as well as Zeiss glass, a 4K lighting setup from Cirrolight (and a tutorial on lighting for 4K with cinematographer John Harrison).