This guide covers our four most commonly requested digital cinema cameras:  Sony PMW-55, Canon C300, Sony NEX-FS700 and Canon 5D cameras. Each has its place – depending on your budget and your project. 

The cameras are listed in order of the hire or purchase price you would pay from the highest to the lowest price. The old premise – you get what you pay for – applies. In other words, expect the best results from the most expensive camera with some compromises as you go down the list. That said, all deliver superb quality for the price and you can expect excellent images from all of these cameras.

You will notice the Red Epic and Arri Alexa are not on the list. We don’t carry Reds because there were too many issues with them when they were first used in Dubai. This seems to have changed but we still have not entered this market. The Arri Alexa is primarily used for TV commercials and feature films. We occasionally work on TVCs but the Alexa has rarely been requested by the broadcast/corporate market we generally serve.

 Sony PMW-F55

We consider the F55 a fantastic alternative to the considerably more expensive Red Epic. In our view, it is easier to work with and more reliable. It is also a great alternative to the Arri Alexa and, unlike the Alexa, it can shoot 4K RAW.

The F55 offers a range of recording formats in HD, 2K and 4K – 11 options in all. A huge benefit is the camera can record 240 frames per second at 2K resolution. This gives you extremely high quality slow motion images. If you need to record slow motion in 4K, it can manage that at up to 60 frames per second.

An important point – to record in 2K or 4K, you have to use a Sony AXS-R5 recorder. This is an external recorder that bolts directly onto the F55 body. If you’re recording in HD, the F55’s internal recorder can handle a full range of HD formats, including extremely high quality 1080 with 4:4:4 colour sampling (giving the most colour information of the HD formats), using SxS-1, SxS Pro or SxS Pro+ memory cards.

This camera is, in our view, the best option for higher-end broadcast and corporate work and, as I said above, is a fantastic alternative to the Red Epic or Arri Alexa.

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Canon C300

This was the number one hire camera in the UK according to a survey published by Televisual magazine in February 2014. It is also our most popular Digital Cinema camcorder. 

The C300 was released in early 2012 and has become popular for many reasons. The camera was developed in response to the huge success of the Canon 5D digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera – a stills camera that could take HD video. The C300 has taken the film qualities of the 5D – a large sensor and shallow depth of field – and added on convenient features of HD video cameras such as XLR audio inputs, zebra lines to display highlights, BNC outputs for easier external monitoring and higher quality (50 mbps, 4:2:2) recording. The result is a camera that is easy to work with and delivers superb, broadcast quality images.

The C300 sensor isn’t as large as the 5D sensor – it’s a Super 35mm chip compared to the full frame 35mm sensor on a 5D – but it still offers a very shallow depth of field and a “filmic” look.

With the addition of a shoulder mount rig and an external viewfinder, the C300 offers the ergonomics of a high definition video camera. You can also record high quality audio in camera with ease thanks to two XLR inputs. And if you’re shooting for broadcast, the C300 delivers the minimum HD standard of 50mbps at 4:2:2 (these are measures of how much information is sent to the camera’s recorder) set by the European Broadcasting Union.

The C300 also has a straightforward work flow. It records onto Compact Flash cards and the material is easy to transfer. We expect this camera to remain popular for some time despite the frequent release of new cameras.

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Sony NEX-FS700
The FS700 as its commonly known has created a lot of interest because of the high quality slow motion images it can produce and because it can generate 4K images – two very attractive features for a relatively low budget camera. The only thing is if you want to record in 4K, the hire and purchase costs go up because you have to use an external interface unit and an external recorder.

If you don’t need to record in 4K, the camera can record full HD images – 1920 x 1080 lines – at full HD resolution at 240 frames per second.

When set at HD, the FS700 records at 24-28mbps so does not meet EBU HD broadcast quality standards but it still produces outstanding pictures. The camera is also best used with a support rig – this is true for all Digital Cinema cameras.

This camera is a great choice if you need high quality slow motion or 4K images on a budget.

Canon 5D MkIII
The Canon 5D MkIII is an upgrade of the MkII and follows the incredible – and apparently unexpected – success of the 5D with filmmakers looking for low budget solutions to shooting their projects. The upgrade is considerable. It has largely eliminated the aliasing and moire pattern issues (for anyone not familiar with these terms consider them digital glitches) the MkII had and produces even better images. Like its predecessor, it has a full frame 35mm sensor.

The 5D is great camera for lower budget shoots where you want a filmic look. And if you’re after a really shallow depth of field, with its full frame 35mm sensor, this camera delivers.

The 5D has ardent fans – and cameramen who really don’t like using it. Especially video cameramen who are used to cameras loaded with features that make them easy to use. The large sensor and shallow depth of field mean you have to be extremely attentive when focusing, the 5D offers no forgiveness on this front. Recording audio is more of a hassle than on video-style cameras and many of the features that just come with video-style cameras are not on offer: quick white balancing, time code, BNC outputs to name a few.

But every camera has its place – and its budget – and 5Ds are constantly used to deliver excellent results.

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The above is a brief overview. The first question in deciding which camera to go for is what is your budget. The next question is what resolution do you need: HD (broadcast quality?), 2K or 4K? Finally, what features do you want the camera to offer? Once you’ve answered these questions, your choice should be clear.

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