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Digital Camera Technologies

There are a variety of digital cinema cameras to choose from, each having it’s own pros and cons.  Because the camera and recording choices will effect workflow, sometimes the DIT will consult with DP to select the best camera for the job.

Arri Alexa

The Alexa is the camera that finally pushed film production into the world of digital.  With it’s unique and film-like look, it convinced many cinematographers that digital could look as good as film. The Alexa and it’s new models, the 4:3 and XT, have proven to be reliable and flexible offering on-board recording of Log-C in ready-to-edit ProRes files or RAW sensor data either on-board (XT) or using an external recorder.  Like most modern digital cinema cameras, the Super 35mm size sensor allows the use a huge variety of lenses.

Sony F55/F5

These cameras are Sony answer to the Alexa, with more features and a better price.  The F5 and F55 are almost identical but the F55 has a global shutter and some technical similarities to the F65, whereas the F5 is closer to the F3.  Both cameras are 4k which captures an image twice the size of HD, in a variety of formats on-board using SxS cards (F5 only records 2k on SxS) or Sony’s AXS on-board RAW recorder.  Images can be recorded with LUTs loaded into the camera or in S-Log format which requires a LUT be applied.

Canon C300 / C500

After filmmakers started using Canon’s 5D and 7D still cameras to record HD video, Canon developed these cameras to provide the functionality of a real digital cinema camera.  Lightweight and easy to use, the C300/C500 captures on-board in Canon’s own super efficient codec. External recorders can be used to capture with less compression.  Like the other cameras it can record in C-Log which requires a look be applied later.  In addition to being able to use traditional PL mount cinema lenses, the C300/C500 can also use Canon’s EF still camera lenses which opens access to a large assortment of affordable glass.  The biggest downside of this camera is that it is only 8-bit.

Red Epic / Dragon

The Red One started the digital cinema when it was announced with specs and a delivery date that were hard to believe.  But they delivered big with the first widely adopted 4k cinema camera.  They have followed it up with the Epic, Scarlett and now the new Dragon 6k sensor. While Red has it’s own unique technical considerations, knowledgable DITs can mollify it’s idiosyncrasies to deliver stunning images.

Sony F65

The F65 is Sony’s top of the line camera and represents the first 8k digital cinema camera system.  It can record RAW on it’s SR-memory cards to create stunning images from it’s 20 megapixel sensor.  This camera is not for every production as it is very expensive and the tremendous amount of data it generates creates unique workflow considerations.

Blackmagic 4k and Others

It’s seems that every few months there is a new digital camera coming out that’s pushing things further and faster. Blackmagic, makers of DaVInci Resolve and a host of video hardware, have released a 4K cinema camera and have studio variations on the way.  Aja has announced the Cion and Panasonic is delivering a new 4K camera called the Varicam35.  Additionally the GoPro and a variety of still cameras, including the iPhone are now being used to capture video on large and small productions.  A good DIT must be able to use and manage footage from any number of sources and integrate it seamlessly into a production’s workflow.