Ulitmate 2015 Cinematic Lens Kit Recommendations


For the last five years I've been researching lenses, trying to determine the best combination of glass to build a kit of cinematic primes.  Comparing lenses and all their nuances is a difficult task and having changed camera systems several times I've yet to accomplish my goal.  I've also made decisions to go in a certain direction because I thought there were certain features in lenses that I needed only to be disappointed.  Most recently this was true with the Schneider Kreuznach Xenon FF-Prime 35mm.  I thought I really needed true cinema primes in my arsenal, only to find that the image quality from this lens was really behind much more inexpensive lenses.

Finally, I believe, I have found a true winning combination.  My decisions are based on quite a few factors and about five years of research, including image quality, cinematic feel of the image, build quality, price, and usability.  This kit is designed for a Super 35 sensor (a.k.a. the upcoming Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6K) with the intent of covering from approximately 15mm to 85mm (the full frame equivalent of about 24mm to 135mm).  Also, it is my intent to have the lenses be of the same line if possible to achieve a similar look at each focal length.

Deciding on the Brand

Basically my options for lenses that cover a Super 35 sensor and are compatible with an EF mount Ursa Mini boiled down to the following:
  • Canon L Primes
  • Canon CN-E Cine Primes
  • Zeiss ZF Primes
  • Zeiss CP.2 Primes
  • Zeiss Otus Primes (supplemented by other Zeiss ZF primes until the Otus line is complete)
  • Sigma Art Primes (supplemented by Zeiss ZF rimes until the Art line is complete)
  • Schneider Kreuznach Xenon FF-Primes
I like the look of Canon L glass for stills, but I don't care for the warmer image for video and the L lenses have just about the worst usability on the list above.  The are mostly plastic, have a very short focus throw, and no hard stops at minimum or infinity focus.  Canon L glass is good and produces great skin tones, but I just don't think it's good enough to justify the hugely inflated price of the rehoused Canon CN-E cine primes.

Zeiss lenses have a very cinematic feel to them, with their excellent contrast and slightly cool temperature.  Build quality is solid and focus is smooth with a decent focus rotation distance.  The ZF lenses are mostly good, but not great, and the lineup is very inconsistent.  The 50mm is fairly soft compared to other lenses in the set and not so great until stopped down until about ƒ/2.8.  Some of the  lenses in the set are outstanding, some are just mediocre, and maximum apertures are quite inconsistent, especially once you get wider than 35mm.  Thus, ZF's would be a great choice, but still not perfect with too many holes in the set.  The 15mm is just decent, the 25mm is great, but is only ƒ/2.0, the 35mm is above average, the 50mm leaves something to be desired, and the 85mm is pretty good.  The ZF's are closer to what I was after, but still not quite the right fit.  CP.2's are basically just rehoused ZF's with different coatings, thus the same weaknesses still exist, just for 4-5 times the price and with better ergonomics. 

The Sigma Art lenses are excellent, but are far from full set at this point in time (only 24mm, 35mm, and 50mm) and lack that little extra something the Zeiss lenses add to the cinematic quality of the image.  Also, the focus ring is almost as bad as the Canon L series.

After considering the above, I was all but settled on the Schneider Xenon FF-Primes.  I bought the 35mm to start building my set, but, as you can see from my review of that lens, the chromatic aberration really makes the lens almost unusable below T/4.0 or T/5.6 in many situations without horrible purple and green fringing at any high contrast area.  Despite excellent build quality, the optics are just much too poor to warrant the price.

The Zeiss Otus 55mm and 85mm are considered almost unanimously to be the best full-frame still lenses on the market.  Sharp and contrasty even wide open with the Zeiss look and pretty great focus rotation for a stills lens, the Otus lenses are an interesting option albeit the furthest of all options from being a complete set.

With these considerations in mind, I decided to go for the Otus option.  Until the entire line is completed, however, I need to supplement my kit with lenses that match well with the Otus lenses.  Canon lenses produce too warm of an image to match Zeiss's cooler image, so they are not an option. Schneider Xenons actually match pretty well, but the chromatic aberration is just too much of a deal-breaking in my opinion.  Luckily, both the ZF's and Sigma Art lenses match the Otus lenses quite well.

Sigma Art 18-35mm ƒ/1.8

I had always intended to have only primes in my kit, but the Sigma 18-35 is truly an amazing zoom.  Looking at comparisons, the Sigma is sharper than the Zeiss 15mm and one and a third stops faster.  Being just 3mm longer than the Zeiss, it makes more sense to have this lens in my arsenal.  Incidentally, it also performs quite admirably against other ZF and Sigma Art primes in this range.  Considering it's less than a third of the price of just a ZF 15mm, this lens really makes a lot of sense in any kit.

Zeiss ZF 25mm ƒ/2.0

This one was a close call between the new Sigma Art 24mm ƒ/1.4 and the ZF 25mm.  Although the Sigma is a stop faster, the Zeiss ZF 25mm is one of the best lenses in the ZF lineup and a bit sharper than the Sigma.  With image quality fairly close, I'd choose the Zeiss due to the better build quality and better focus ring, even for about twice the cost.

Sigma Art 35mm ƒ/1.4

Here, the Sigma is considerably sharper than the ZF 35mm ƒ/1.4 or ƒ/2.0 models and exhibits less chromatic aberration.  Even though the Sigma is more difficult to focus with only a 90° focus throw, I think the added sharpness and the fact that I feel Sigma glass matches the Zeiss look well, this lens is the best fit for the price.

Zeiss Otus 55mm ƒ/1.4

The Otus 55mm has been compared by some to the Zeiss Master Primes for a fraction of the cost.  For the price of a Schneider Xenon-FF Prime, you get optical quality that tops just about any glass available for any camera system except very high end professional cine glass, in a package that is better than most still lenses, almost reaching the ergonomics of true cine lenses; the focus throw is 248°, so not too shabby, and the ZF model has an aperture ring (not declicked, unfortunately).  The only thing that could make it better is a few more aperture blades (it has 9).

Aside from being one of the sharpest lenses on the market, the main drawing point is its performance wide open.  Looking at some test charts at http://the-digital-picture.com, The is as sharp across the frame wide open as a Zeiss ZF 50mm at ƒ/4.0,  the Zeiss ZF 50mm Makro at ƒ/2.8, a Sigma Art 50mm at ƒ/2.0, and the Canon 50mm L at ƒ/5.6.

Zeiss Otus 85mm ƒ/1.4

The rationale behind the Otus 85mm is the same as with the Otus 55, and this lens is even sharper with even less CA.  Compared to other lenses, the Otus 85mm is as sharp wide open as a Zeiss ZF 85mm at ƒ/4.0, a Sigma 85mm at ƒ/5.6, and a Canon 85mm L II at ƒ/2.8.  This kind of performance really opens up low light possibilities.

Zeiss ZF 135mm ƒ/2.0

Finally, my lineup would be completed by the Zeiss ZF 135mm.  With sharpness and chromatic aberration control rivaling the Otus lenses and not much competition from other brands, this one is a no-brainer. 


Schneider Xenon FF-Prime 35mm: A Review


The Schneider Kreuznach line of Xenon full frame cinema primes are truly a very interesting set of lenses.  Essentially, they're marketed as entry-level cinema lenses, primarily competing with Canon's CN-E Cine Primes and Zeiss CP.2 lenses.  While Canon and Zeiss's offerings are rehoused versions of their respective L and ZE/ZF still lens lines, Schneider touts their Xenon primes as being built from the ground up for cinema.  Coming in at roughly 70-80% of the price of CN-E's or CP.2's, it is easy to see why I say these are very interesting lenses.  Do they, however, live up to what looks like a slam-dunk on paper?  I'll examine the 35mm member of the Xenon FF-Prime lineup.


Like most of the lenses in this line, the 35mm Xenon features a maximum aperture of only T/2.1 (roughly ƒ/2.0), a full stop slower than most other competing cine lenses and essentially all premium still lenses.  The Xenon line boasts a fairly complete set of lenses with the 25mm, 35mm, 50mm, 75mm, and 100mm currently available and 18mm (this one is T/2.4) and 135mm coming soon.  All the lenses in the set are color matched and the same physical size (unlike some of the competition).  The Xenons also support a 95mm screw-on front filter, thus enabling the use of ND filters without a matte box.    

Build Quality

Upon unboxing the 35mm Xenon FF-Prime, one sees that this is a "real deal" cinema lens.  It is sizable, but not much longer than a high-end still lens, such as the Sigma Art 50mm, and fairly heavy.    This lens is built like a tank: all metal and very solid feeling.  It has a clickless aperture ring, with decent spacing between stops and a focus ring with 300° rotation.  Focusing is very smooth, although I find the Zeiss ZF lenses to be every-so-slightly more smooth and "buttery."  The long focus throw on the Xenon really aids in precise focusing.  The lens cap is a simple plastic cover that slides over the front of the lens, but is actually quick and functional.  

Image Quality

In my evaluation of the Xenon 35mm FF-Prime, I mainly pitted it against the other lenses I currently have on hand, the Sigma Art 50mm ƒ/1.4 and the Zeiss ZF 50mm ƒ/1.4.  My tests were conducted on a Panasonic GH4.  While I believe such a crop factor does embellish some of the imperfections of lenses designed for larger sensors, it also serves lens comparisons well to help point out weaknesses.  Hopefully Blackmagic will ship the Ursa Mini 4.6K on time so I can test it on a S35 sensor.


From my tests, I'd say the Schneider is just a bit sharper than the Zeiss, which is a bit alarming since the ZF 50 ƒ/1.4 is by far the worst performer of any Zeiss ZF and is simply destroyed by any Sigma Art or Zeiss Otus offering (take a look at the table below).  Although the Sigma was more difficult to nail focus with, due to it's very short focus throw, it is much sharper than the Xenon, even wide open at ƒ/1.4 versus T/2.1 on the Xenon.  The Sigma simply wipes the floor with the other two lenses when examining the amount of detail resolved.

DxO Sharpness
Zeiss ZF 15
Zeiss ZF 25
Zeiss ZF 35
Zeiss ZF 50
Zeiss ZF 50 Makro
Zeiss ZF 85
Zeiss Otus 55
Zeiss Otus 85
Sigma Art 35
Sigma Art 50*
Sigma Art 24*
Sigma Art 
Table 1: Various lenses and their DxOMark sharpness score (higher is better) when mounted on a Nikon D800E.
*These lenses were not tested on the D800E. Extrapolated from comparisons with other lens on a Canon 5D Mark III and adjusted.  
**This lens does not cover a full frame sensor. Extrapolated from comparisons with other lens on a Canon 7D Mark II and adjusted.  


One of the things you'll hear about the Schneider Xenon's is their excellent, creamy bokeh.  I do find the bokeh to be the most pleasing out of these three lenses (likely due in part to the 14 aperture blades versus 9 blades on the Zeiss and Sigma), but only by a very slim margin and only in some shots.  The out of focus highlights are almost perfectly round with the Schneider, but can get just a bit pointy when stopped down on the other 2 lenses.  In many instances, bokeh is very similar among the three and in the next sections I'll discuss some of the factors that almost ruin this excellent bokeh on the Xenon.

Maximum Aperture

This is where things start to get a bit problematic for the Xenon; it's a full stop slower than the Sigma or Zeiss.  Other longer lenses in the set are even one and a third stops slower than what's available from Canon.  At first, I thought that this wouldn't be a problem.  On many other lenses ƒ/1.4 doesn't produce a very usable image anyway.  If this lens performed wide-open like a $4000 lens should, losing the one stop of low-light performance would be a sacrifice, but potentially worth it.  This turned out to unexpected be a very big "if."

Chromatic Aberration 

Without pixel peeping or examining 1:1 crops, chromatic aberration has never really been a huge issue for me.  Generally stopping the lens down just a bit solves any really issues with this.  As can be seen in Table 2, the Zeiss ZF 50mm ƒ/1.4 is pretty bad when it comes to CA, but I've never had many problems. By ƒ/2.0, it's generally a non-issue.

Before getting the Xenon, I had read that CA could be an issue, but for a $4K cinema lens, I thought this was probably just internet forum dwellers whining because it wasn't as good a $20K Zeiss Master Prime.  CA is where the Xenon really falls apart.  At T/2.1 the Xenon exhibits far worse CA than the Zeiss at ƒ/1.4.  In fact, the Xenon is still worse at T/2.8 and at T/4.0 only marginally better than the Zeiss still at ƒ/1.4.  The Sigma shows just a bit of CA wide open, but is imperceivable at ƒ/2.0.  CA is not completely absent from the Xenon until T/5.6.

From my testing it seems if you really want to eliminate chromatic aberration and still shoot as open as possible, you'd need to shoot at two and a half stops slower than the Zeiss (pretty bad if you consider that this lens is a poor performer with respect to CA) and three to three and a half stops slower than the Sigma.

To make matters worse, the Xenon generally presents purple AND green fringing in most of my tests whereas the Zeiss only produced the green fringing in addition to purple in a few instances and the Sigma never showed green fringing in any of my tests.  In my opinion, trying to correct two different color fringes in post is even more of a hassle, and green can be more difficult to to correct especially in outdoor shots.

Worse still, the fringing can ruin the Xenon's wonderful bokeh.  Any contrasty bokeh is riddled with purple and green.  Often, circular out of focus highlights appear with purple and green rings around them.  Any reflective surfaces that give off an overexposed reflection have than highlight trimmed in purple.  At T/2.1, the Xenon is by no means a super low light lens and these CA issues tend to crop up even more when trying to shoot in low light at apertures wider than T/4.0 or T/5.6.

On the Xenon 35mm CA forces you to stop the lens down, which also makes it more difficult to attain the creamy bokeh you may be looking for.

Zeiss ZF 15
Zeiss ZF 25
Zeiss ZF 35
Zeiss ZF 50
Zeiss ZF 50 Makro
Zeiss ZF 85
Zeiss Otus 55
Zeiss Otus 85
Sigma Art 35
Sigma Art 50
Sigma Art 24
Sigma Art 18-35*
Table 2: Various lenses and their DxOMark chromatic aberration score (in µm; lower is better) when mounted on DSLR with full frame sensor (either a Nikon D800E or Canon 5D Mark III).
*This lens does not cover full frame.  This score is extrapolated from testing on a Canon 7D Mark II and adjusted.
Note: If I had to estimate from my testing I would say the Schneider Xenon FF-Prime 35 would have a score of at least 18, if not even into the twenties.

Color Rendition/Contrast

Overall, all three lenses exhibit similar color rendition, with the Zeiss perhaps being just a bit cooler than the other two and also just a bit more contrasty.  There results are consistent with the general consensus of Zeiss lenses producing a cool and contrasty image.  The Schneider and Sigma are more neutral and have good contrast, just not as much as the Zeiss.  


I would not make a blanket statement advising against the purchase of the Xenon 35mm, but for the price it a fairly weak performer.  Physical design and build quality are definitely the main strengths of this lens.  If you need 300° focus rotation, clickless aperture, and consistent physical size across the lineup above all other features, then for roughly 25-30% less than the price of CN-E's or CP.2's, the Xenons may be a good fit.  If you correct for some of the big weaknesses of this lens, it can produce a very pleasing, cinematic image.

For me though, this lens simply does not pack enough punch to warrant its price tag.  The build quality does not make up for the fact that this lens costs over three times as much as a Zeiss ZF 35mm ƒ/1.4 and five times as much as the Sigma Art 35mm.  If the optics of this lens were in a Canon L housing, I would NEVER consider buying this lens.  Right off the top you lose one stop versus the competition and even then it is still not as sharp as some other lenses.  Even without its main weaknesses, I don't think the Xenon has good enough image quality to justify its price tag.

It is really the horrible, horrible chromatic aberration, fringing, and ugly purple and green bokeh circles that really plague this lens and destroy some of its best attributes.  If you really want to ensure that these abnormalities don't ruin your shot then this really becomes a T/4.0 lens at best.  

Verdict: Unless physical attributes of the lens trump all else for you, there are better, faster alternatives that produce better overall images at a much lower price point.

Don't miss my upcoming post with my Ulitmate 2015 Cinematic Lens Kit Recommendations, where I put my years of research to good use and suggest the best bang for the buck set of lenses for a complete S35 kit!  Coming very soon!


NAB 2015 Predictions

NAB is ready to kick into gear and here are my predictions based upon reasonable speculation and past offerings:


I think maybe Canon has shown their full hand for NAB already, announcing the C300 Mark II and XC10 (I'll be discussing those in a post very soon).  I really don't think we'll see a C500 update at the show.  It just doesn't make sense to wait a few days after announcing the C300 Mk II; why not just announce them together?


With the FS7 having just started shipping recently and the relative newness of the a7s, I doubt Sony will have any earth-shattering announcements.  


While we won't likely see any new products (at least in the consumer/enthusiast range), I think the major GH4 firmware update rumored to include external RAW recording is a strong possibility.  Introducing something like this for the GH4 mid-product cycle, is brilliant marketing.  I really don't think RAW would squeeze that much more out of the GH4's sensor as compared to what's already possible with 4K 10-bit 4:2:2 ProRes with the Shogun, so this likely wouldn't cannibalize any higher end Panasonic offerings.  The camera's fairly poor low light performance and mediocre dynamic range are really the limiting factors in its image quality and RAW probably wouldn't do a whole lot to remedy these issues, but It would create a low of buzz, as this would be the only camera under $10K (even with the needed accessories for RAW recording) other than the Blackmagic Production Camera to shoot 4K RAW.  Perhaps the update would also include a true LOG picture profile, which may help the DR a bit.


I think Blackmagic really has the opportunity to steal the show.  It's been two years since we've seen a new sensor in their cameras, and with the new URSA firmware update, it seems almost certain that they will be introducing a new sensor.  A new 4K camera with better ergonomics, better lowlight performance, and slightly better dynamic range could prove to be another game changer.  I also wouldn't count out the possibility of a 6K camera.

DaVinci Resolve 12 is a certainty, with new audio finishing features.  Could this mean the new Blackmagic Cameras will finally have proper XLR inputs with phantom power and better control over levels to go along with this new focus on audio?


Atomos Shogun (with GH4) First Look

Take a look at most Atomos Shogun "tests" and they will conclude that, except in very few situations, it provides very little improvement in image quality when paired with the Panasonic GH4.  Before I delve into my first experiences with the Shogun, I need to dispel these tests as essentially "junk science."

Alright, I'll preface this by saying that if you don't intend to grade/color correct your final product at all, the results of these comparisons are correct, you won't see much, if any difference.  Why not?  H.264 is an excellent delivery codec.  Most of what we watch on television, Netflix, Blu-ray, etc. is highly compressed 8-bit 4:2:0.  If we have an image where we want it and encode it as H.264, whether it's RAW from a RED Epic or Alexa, 10-bit Prores HQ from a Shogun, or high bitrate AVCHD from an FS7, it's going to look pretty similar, as that's the intent of the codec.  Concluding that the Shogun irrelevant based on the comparison of ungraded footage is like encoding the highest quality 12-bit RAW from RED Epic Dragon to H.264, seeing little difference between the two, and saying that the need for 12-bit RAW is unnecessary.  The entire point of higher bit-depths and 4:2:2 is for grading; the final product is almost always going to be 8-bit 4:2:0.  Thus, we need to talk about how the Shogun improves grading GH4 footage and not how it improves out-of-camera image quality.

The improvements the Shogun offers are real, but subtle.  With the modern deluge of excellent cameras upon us, though, often the differences between mid and high end cameras are subtle as well. It's these subtle improvements that move us closer and closer to Hollywood quality cinematic images.   The first thing I noticed is that straight out of the camera, the 10-bit 4:2:2 Prores HQ from the Shogun looks a little cleaner.  You really have to pixel peep a bit, but there is no sign of digital artifacts or any macro-blocking.  I also feel that the already excellent noise structure of the GH4 is improved a bit with this encoding.  I also think that the all I frame nature of Prores improves the motion rendering a bit as well.  I know the finished product ends up as IPB, but I think software like DaVinci Resolve and FCP X do a better job than in camera encoding with this respect.

As for grading, the Shogun footage grades better than almost anything I've ever corrected.  You can definitely push the image further than with the 100 Mbps AVCHD, while retaining excellent color gradients and hi-light rolloff.  In Resolve (at least on the OS X version), the Prores, despite using much more data, seems to tax the computer less as Resolve seems to stay more responsive throughout grading versus the more compressed footage straight out of the camera.  Like I said, the differences are subtle, but there's an indescribable quality about the Prores footage that brings the GH4 one tiny step closer to higher end cameras like the Scarlet.

Aside from the Prores, which really produces a much nicer graded product in my opinion, the large, hi-res screen of the Shogun really helps nail focus, leading to a sharper image, and XLR inputs are a very welcome addition.  With other excellent Shogun features like waveforms, it is almost a must-have for GH4 owners looking to bring their image quality to a more cinematic level.


2014: A Year in Camera Reviews

2014 was a big year in camera releases for those interested in low-budget narrative filmmaking as we saw 4K make its way into some prosumer cameras.  The Blackmagic Production camera finally saw the light of day, then the Panasonic GH4 was the first DSLR-style camera with internal 4K recording, and the Sony a7s getting 4K external recording just before the end of the year with the release of the Atomos Shogun recorder.  Are these cameras the best tools on the market or just a marketing gimmick?

4K was obviously the big marketing buzzword in 2014, but in all honesty most of these "4K" cameras   actually produce quite poor 4K video.  Take a look at a 1080p crop and the quality is much worse than any decent 1080p camera from 2013.  Pixel for pixel, the 2.5K Blackmagic Cinema Camera or GH3 or C100 are just as good, if not better.  It's when the 4K image is downscaled to 1080p that they really shine as good cameras.  

  • GH4 - Internal 4K recording at 100Mbps produces small file sizes and grades pretty well.  Footage is sharp, especially when downscaled to 1080p.  Tons menu options to tweak video settings. Cinema 4K (4096 x 2160 resolution).
  • a7s- Perhaps the best performer ever in super low light.  Excellent dynamic range.
  • Blackmagic Production Camera - Prores and RAW 4K recording.  Global shutter.
  • GH4 - Produces a somewhat "video-ish" look.  Suffers quite a bit from micro-jitters.  Small sensor/needs a Speedbooster to really shine.  
  • a7s - SLOG is difficult to grade and its native ISO is 3200.  4K only with external recorder. Worst new camera for rolling shutter.  With Atomos Shogun, it's by far the most expensive of these three cameras. 
  • Blackmagic Production Camera - Poor low light performance.  Dynamic range is not as good as other cameras. Extremely low battery life/requires an external battery solution. Problem with fixed-pattern vertical noise bands even at low ISO.  Huge file sizes.  
Older Cameras that may still be better options
  • Canon 1DC - Produces perhaps the most cinematic image for under $10,000 with its Cinema 4K resolution 500Mbps Motion JPEG.  It does suffer a bit from banding and no focus-peaking could be the deal-breaker, but overall this could be the best camera overall for under $10K that's still in a DSLR package.
  • Canon C100 - Sure, the C100 Mark II is technically a new camera, it's basically just the old Mark I with a new image processor and a better screen and viewfinder.  For the price the C100 might just hit the sweet spot of ergonomics, usability, and image quality.
  • Blackmagic 2.5K - If it were not for the issues with battery life, poor functionality, and poor form factor, this camera could still be the top dog.  With it's excellent dynamic range it produces a cinematic image on par with some of the best cameras in the industry, even at higher price points.  If Blackmagic re-released the internals of this camera in a C100 or GH4 style package with a few new firmware features like auto white balance, this would be a real winner in my book.


Why I Bought and Returned the SLR Magic Anamorphot: A Review

For the past five years or so I've been quite interested in shooting anamorphic.  Purported gains in image quality, wider aspect ratios that I like so much without losing data to cropping, anamorphic flare, oval bokeh; all of these things really piqued my interest.  The rarity and price of anamorphic adapters as well as the poor compatibility with taking lenses kept anamorphic shooting as not much more than a curiosity for me.

Enter the SLR Magic Anamorphot 1.33X anamorphic adapter.  Finally, the ability to purchase an anamorphic adapter new and more affordably than vintage ones on eBay!  The specs also looked great: fairly wide compatibility with taking lenses, a decent maximum aperture that got even better when using SLR Magic's diopters, and purposefully engineered anamorphic flare.  The adapter squeezes 33% more horizontally onto the sensor, thus giving roughly a 2.36:1 aspect ratio in post when shooting 16:9. I was excited that I could frame my shot on my GH4's screen (albeit squeezed horizontally) without worrying about cropping the top and bottom in post to achieve the aspect ratio I desired.

Out of the box, the build quality of the adapter is only so-so.  It feels well constructed and solid, but there is much to be desired regarding the mechanical operation of it.  First, the step down rings, which allow it to be attached to lenses with varying filter thread diameters are quite cheap feeling.  The front filter threads of the adapter, which allows attachment of the diopters, is quite poor.  It is very difficult to get the diopters on and far to easy to get them cross-threaded.  Also, the Normal/Near focus ring is extremely difficult to turn.  Even with two hands, sometimes it is so tight you almost unscrew the adapter from the lens rather than turn the focus ring.

The kit comes with +0.33 and +1.33 diopters, which supposedly reduce chromatic aberration and increase sharpness at closer focus distances.  Aside from the treading issues, their build quality is good.

Attaching the adapter is easy, but finicky.  Simply screw it onto a lens with a 62mm filter threading like any lens filter or select the proper sized step-down ring first.  After attaching the adapter, it needs to be aligned properly so that the images is squeezed perfectly horizontally.  For the most part you can eyeball this, but to get it exact you need to shine a bright light, such as the iPhone flashlight, into the lens, creating a flare.  Then you must rotate the adapter until the flare is horizontal.  To lock this in you must then tighten one of three screws on the size of the adapter.  It's kind of difficult to use a tiny screwdriver to tighten the screw without rotating the adapter out of the desired position.  It shouldn't be overtightened, but has to be tight enough to ensure that it doesn't move when your adjusting the Normal/Near focus ring, which, as I already said, is very difficult to turn.  Unfortunately, this process needs to be performed every time you switch taking lenses.  The adapter is heavy, especially with diopters attached.  This wasn't a problem on a Zeiss ZF lens, but the focus ring of a Canon 50mm wouldn't make then lens focus with the added weight.

If all the rigamarole of attaching the adapter wasn't annoying enough, using the adapter is just about as unpleasant.  Sometimes achieving focus is as simple as focusing your taking lens.  Sometimes you need to adjust that damn Normal/Near ring on the adapter (did I mention yet that it's like trying to open a pickle jar?).  Sometimes you need to also add a diopter (the +1.33 for focusing under 3 feet and the +033 for under 10 feet). But sometimes, not matter what you do you just can't seem to get focus.  I've found that sometimes the only solution is to change you focal distance or stop down the aperture even more.

Another caveat with focusing is that focus peaking seems to be fooled by the squeezed image, sometimes giving focus confirmation, when in fact it is not.  Always use the magnification feature to ensure that the image is actually in focus even if peaking says it is.  Conversely, I've never had a problem with the GH4's focus peaking without the anamorphic adapter.

Now, let's talk about aperture.  SLR Magic claims the adapter works well with maximum apertures of:
• f/2.8 for 20 to 50 mm
• f/4 for 55 to 85 mm
• f/5.6 for 90 to 135 mm
With a diopter attached, SLR Magic claims you can get another stop out of it. I tested the adapter with the Zeiss ZF 50mm f/1.4 and Canon 50mm f/1.4, assuming I could shoot at f/2.8 without or f/2 with a diopter.  Even with a diopter, I found images basically unusable under f/4 as there was so much chromatic aberration and the image was very soft.  Not until f/5.6 with the diopter did the image really look decent.  I wish I would have had an 85 mm lens to test it with to see if the aperture had to be stopped down even further at that focal length.

The only thing easy about the anamorphic workflow is post-production.  Simply change the pixel aspect ratio or stretch the image 33% and you're set.

So using the lens is tough and you have to make sacrifices with respect to maximum aperture, but this pays off in the end, right?  Honestly, not so much.  Let's look piece by piece at how the SLR Magic Anamorphic performed with respect to the touted benefits of shooting anamorphic:

•  Better Image Quality.  The poor performance of the adapter seemed to negate any benefits of preserving the vertical resolution of the image; similarly framed scenes were more detailed without the adapter.  The adapter also leads to noisier images since you have to bump up the ISO to compensate for stopping down to f/5.6.

Oval Bokeh.  From my testing I couldn't see any discernible difference in the quality or shape of the bokeh with or without the adapter.  Since the adapter requires you to shoot at smaller apertures, you definitely get less out of focus backgrounds as well.

Flare.  The lens does produce a pleasing, blue, classic-looking anamorphic flare when shooting at a very bright light source (I was only able to get the lens to flare when shooting an LED flashlight and my iPhone's flash).  It's an excellent novelty, but not worth the $1099 price tag of this kit.  

Aspect Ratio.  You do indeed get a 2.36:1 aspect ratio from the adapter when shooting 16:9 or an even wider 2.52:1 when shooting in the GH4's Cinema 4K mode.  The adapter gives you a 33% wider field of view horizontally.

Style.  I see very little unique style imparted on the image by the Anamorphot.  Some lenses give a certain unreproducible aesthetic to an image, but I find no such qualities here, unless you really like chromatic aberration or an unusable soft image.

Overall, the only reason to buy this lens is if you absolutely need anamorphic lens flare and you're willing to pay $1099 for it.  Otherwise the adapter is nothing more than an (at best) f/4 lens that's 33% wider horizontally than your taking lens.  Simply substitute you 50mm for a 35mm lens and crop it to 2.35:1 and you will end up essentially the same shot.  I tried this and I can't see any benefits from the anamorphic adapter over this.  The results of this method yield a much better image with the freedom of using any aperture you want, without the hassles of the adapter.

I simply cannot recommend purchasing the SLR Magic Anamorphot.  I'll take the simplicity of focusing a buttery smooth Zeiss ZF lens any day over the tedious process of getting a shot in focus with the Anamorphot, let alone needing to attach it to the lens and align it first.  I'll shoot at f/1.4 if I really need to, with better results than f/4 on the anamorphic adapter.  I'll get the same bokeh (and actually get bokeh) without the adapter.  I'll shoot with a wider lens and crop in post and still achieve an almost identically framed shot.  That $1099 could go toward something a lot more useful.  Needless to say, I returned the adapter after only 3 days.


C100 and GH4 Review, A7S First Look, and Summer 2014 Camera Comparisons


For the past year and a half the C100 has been and idealistic camera in my mind that represented the perfect balance of image quality and usability.  I finally got a my hands on a C100 for a weekend and had the opportunity to really put it through its paces.  The built in ND filters, XLR inputs, and ergonomics are what really drew me to the C100, but it was the image that kept me away for so long.

ND Filters

The built-in ND filters are really great, filtering two, four, or six stops or light.  Under most lighting conditions this puts another too in one's arsenal to adjust exposure, without have to lug around more gear or change a variable ND when changing lenses.  I took both C100 and GH4 to shoot outdoors.  I didn't have an ND for the GH4, so it became virtually useless as I had to jack the shutter to ridiculously high speeds in order to shoot at even ƒ/11.  Having ND filtration right in the C100 body was great in this case, however (and this is a big however), the six stops was still not enough in some circumstances.  Even at the lowest ISO available I was still only able to get as wide as ƒ/8 and still maintain the 180º shutter.  At least the ND's put me into a situation where I could still get useable footage, but sadly, for outdoor shooting additional ND filters would be needed if you really want a more shallow DOF.

XLR inputs

The XLR inputs with phantom power are a nice feature on the C100, something that no other DSLR style camera or Blackmagic Cameras have.  My Røde NTG2 sounded good and the levels were easy to maintain with a knob near the input.  My only complaint would be that the XLR input is on the removable top handle, which for the most part I find otherwise useless.  The handle adds noticeable weight to the camera and is really akin to having some sort of XLR adapter (like a JuicedLink Riggy Micro) on the camera.  It is a shame since the camera without the top handle is a much better weight and feels better balanced when using it handheld.  


This is really where the C100 shines.  It feels wonderful in your hands and allows for some good shots even handheld.  Like I said, I wish the top handle wasn't necessary for XLR because it's better without it, but it still blows everything else I've ever shot with away.

Image Quality

This is what would make or break the C100 in my opinion.  Prior to using it I'd seen some great C100 footage and a lot of really bad C100 footage;  I'd seen very little that really made me feel that the C100 should properly be called a "cinema camera" as per its Cinema EOS moniker.  After using it for a weekend, I still feel essentially the same.  The image straight from the camera is decent.  It's detailed and noise is generally minimal even above ISO 1000.  Higher ISOs are clean-ish compared to most other cameras.  The noise, though, is much more digital looking that something you'd see from a Blackmagic camera or 4K footage downscaled to 1080p from a GH4.  Dynamic range is also fairly good in Wide DR or Clog gamma.

The image straight out of the camera does have a very "video" look to it I feel.  Even though dynamic range seems to be decent, highlights tend to have a very abrupt rolloff, digital-looking noise and macro-blocking does creep up quite often, and the way the camera renders motion just looks off, even though it's really difficult to explain why.

The footage definitely needs some heavy-handed grading if you want to achieve a cinematic look.  The 24 Mbps codec grades better than expected, even compared to higher bitrate 5D III or hacked GH2 footage, but leaves something to be desired after grading RAW, Prores, or even GH4 footage.  Even slight adjustments or applying a Clog LUT makes the macro-blocking more apparent and banding begins to show up.  These deleterious effects are less noticeable at a normal viewing distance, but beautiful out of camera image quickly starts to look more and more like older DSLR footage when graded, but perhaps a bit sharper and more detailed.  The 8-bit 4:2:0 image just can't stack up to RAW or Prores when going for a more saturated, contrasty, cinematic look.


The C100 is a great camera, don't get me wrong. If I were to choose a camera solely for run-and-gun, weddings, or documentary use, this would be it.  Ergonomics are wonderful and NDs are helpful in a pinch.  The fact that additional ND filtration may be needed and the XLR input is essentially the same as an add-on adapter, mitigates some of the killer features of this camera for me.  Even so, I think these features could still put the C100 ahead of other DSLRs (even ones shooting 4K), as I think the image quality still holds its own against these.  The choice of C100 vs. GH4 vs. A7S would really come down to price vs. having great ergonomics and extra features built in.

Once again, the real deciding factor is image quality.  Like I said, I really think it holds its own against other, newer 8-bit cameras, but the gap between it and the Blackmagic cameras is larger than I would have previously guessed.  C100 footage just looks so video-ish compared to RAW.  Just a light grade of BMCC footage starts to look cinematic while the C100 requires heavy grading to get to that point while attempting not to break the codec.  

A cinema camera the C100 is not.  Perhaps Canon should consider a name change of the line to Wedding EOS?


The GH4 packs a lot of punch for a little guy.  The ability to record 4K internally is awesome, but in reality this is necessary just to achieve downscaled 1080p image quality that can be comparable to the C100 or BMCC.  As far as physical features of the camera, there's not too much to discuss as it is a fairly standard DSLR package with standard buttons and controls for the most part. 


With the GH4, there's not much to talk about aside from image quality.  I'll start by saying that 1080p mode doesn't look good.  Plain and simple, shoot in 4K and downscale. In 4K mode, there is a significant crop, however.  I find that even though it's about the same as the BMCC the increased DOF makes the GH4 image look more like video even compared the BMCC.  Not sure if it's due to a more detailed slightly out of focus background due to the extra pixels, but I find the SpeedBooster a necessity for a more cinematic look.  Proper ND filters also becomes a necessity due to the extra stop of light the SpeedBooster yields.  

The 4K image looks nice, sharp, and detailed, with a fine noise grain below ISO 800 (above ISO 800 noise starts to take on a much more digital look and therefore in low light the C100 and A7S easily destroy this camera and the BMCC even looks better).  Downscaled to 1080p I'd say the C100 actually edges it out in overall quality, though the GH4 image does grade a bit better.  Dynamic range is so-so and Cinelike D does leave something to be desired as far a a flat profile goes.  

Is the GH4 cinematic?  With some grading I think it can look more cinematic than most DSLRs, but I find the colors are more difficult to get right than with other cameras, even older ones and, again, I find the finished product to leave something to be desired versus RAW or Prores.  Even with in-camera sharpening as low as it goes, I still find the image to be too artificially sharp and plastic-looking compared to other cameras, even the C100.  As far as motion rendition, I'd put it as better than the C100, but still short of other cameras, even a hacked GH2.  

The GH4 is a great camera for the price and may be the best bet overall when it comes to 8-bit cameras.  Unfortunately, the image can still leave something to be desired as far as useable dynamic range, color, and a less artificially sharp image.


I have yet to use the A7S, but I think at this point it is a one-trick pony.  In case you haven't heard, it's great in low light.  That's all people seem to be talking about and that's all this camera really seems to do well versus other cameras on the market.  Aside from astounding low-light performance, I've yet to see anything that really blows me away.  Yes, it has excellent dynamic range in Slog mode, but this requires a minimum ISO of 3200!  Try shooting that outdoors, where I think such wide DR is the most useful, even with ND's.  You'll need 4-stops just to get back to a normal camera without and ND filter.  Without talking about dynamic range or low light, I don't see much else that I really like from this camera.  It's still 8 bit 4:2:0, albeit a higher bitrate codec.  Nothing about the images I've seen from it particularly scream that this is a next-gen camera.  Grading Slog requires quite a bit of work, at which point you may as well shoot RAW.  

The A7 series of cameras are tiny, so this camera, more than just about any other we might consider for cinematic shooting, needs a proper rig.  I have an A7R and shooting video with it handheld is plain awful.  For Slog, it likely requires ND filters even indoors to shoot wide open.  Plus add on the cost of an XLR adapter, and external recorder if you want 4K and the price of ownership of this tiny camera skyrockets.  

For me I guess the jury is still out.  I haven't shot on it and it is still new, so maybe it's true potential has yet to be unlocked.  For now, I'd say this is just another DSLR with some fancy party tricks, not a true cinema camera competitor, but who knows, maybe next month I'll think it's the best thing since sliced bread (that's what everyone else seems to think).

Summer 2014 Image Quality Rankings

So again, let's look at how I think things stand up when it comes to "affordable" cinematic cameras, now considering new footage I've seen and my own use of the cameras.

  1. Red Scarlet - Still expensive, requires a lot of add-ons, and probably the most difficult to use, but likely the best image achievable for a (somewhat) affordable camera
  2. BMCC - This camera still looks unbelievably cinematic and despite its shortcomings is still hard to touch when it comes to the final product.
  3. Blackmagic 4K Production Camera - This camera has moved up significantly from last time.  I've seen some new footage from this camera and I'm impressed.  I don't think the noise issue is as problematic as I previously thought.  This is my next camera to rent, perhaps then it will overtake the 2.5K camera?
  4. C100 - From my use of it, I think the C100 just edges out the GH4 and A7S when it comes to a cinematic picture despite its shortcomings.
  5. GH4 and A7S (tie) - I can't decide which camera looks better right now.  The GH4 has internal 4K, the A7S has better DR and is better in low light.  Both seem to grade pretty well, but both can have a slightly video look.  The jury is still out on this one.
  6. FS700 - I still think this camera is overrated and too expensive for what you get, especially now with the much cheaper A7S.


Panasonic GH4 and Speed Booster Review

[Note: All aspects of this review refer only to the video capabilities of the GH4.

I have to admit that I was skeptical about how good the GH4 is and whether it could truly achieve a cinematic look with all the lackluster, overly sharp videos floating around.  I don't proclaim to be a great cinematographer, but 99% of the GH4 videos of seen online are frankly utter garbage and do nothing to show off the camera's full potential.

There really is a ton to say about the GH4, maybe more than any camera I've review, and it's difficult to even begin to review it, so I'll start at the beginning.  After watching a plethora of GH4 videos I was thoroughly convinced that the GH4 could not produce a cinematic image.  Everything I saw looked too sharp or had clipped highlights or the colors just looked off.  I conceded that if I wanted to enter the realm of 4K, I'd need to pony up for a RED Scarlet or deal with all the shortcomings of the Blackmagic Production Camera.  Nick Driftwood's Le Cas, especially the scene in the restaurant, was the first glimmer of hope that the GH4 had cinematic potential.  I tried grading some of the scenes in Le Cas and watched it on my TV.  I was impressed.  The footage graded extremely well despite being only 100 Mbps and looked great on TV; it was quite cinematic looking.

So why take a chance on a camera based in a large part on a single scene?  The short answer is that the alternatives in the 4K market are either much, much more expensive or impractical to use.

In order to overcome some of my dislikes of the Micro Four Thirds system I mounted a Nikon to BMCC Speed Booster (yes, the BMCC Speed Booster does work fine if you disable the mechanical shutter).  This decreases the crop in Cinema 4K mode from 2.2X to around 1.4X over full frame, which is comparable to a Super 35 crop.  It also increases the speed of lenses by 1 and 1/3 stops, thus making the maximum aperture of an f/1.4 lens effectively f/0.9.  This boost halves the ISO you need to shoot at while the small M43 sensor maintains a shallow, but manageable DOF when shooting in the vicinity of a wide open aperture.  Also, the adapter lets me use some nice Zeiss glass rather than the overly clinical Panasonic lenses or overpriced, yet somewhat underperforming SLR Magic and Noktor lenses.  With the Zeiss ZF 50 f/1.4, the GH4 with Speed Booster performs very well.  With the added light from the Speed Booster, I rarely find myself shooting above ISO 640, thereby keeping noise in check.

With all of that out of the way, let me actually talk about the GH4.  If you have one or get one, please don't bother with 1080p24 or 1080p30; the lower bit rate 4K blows the 1080p out of the water even when downscaled to 1080p.  I haven't messed with 1080p96 much yet.  From what I've seen it looks fine enough, but what I'm really interested in with the GH4 is, obviously, 4K.  I prefer the added width of the 4096x2160 Cinema 4K mode (only available in 24p) over the 3840x2160 UHD mode (available in 23.98, 24, and 30 fps) as I like to crop to 2.33:1, but this is really just personal preference.

The 4K GH4 footage grades extremely well, nothing like any other DSLR footage I've ever used.  Aside from the inability to recover some highlight data and easily adjust white balance, I'd say that it grades almost as well as BMCC RAW for most situations.  Dynamic range definitely is not quite as wide as with the BMCC 2.5K and highlights can blow out quite easily.  Other than that, the footage is excellent, although it does require quite a bit of grading to look "cinematic."

The ergonomics and usability of the camera are amazing in my opinion.  The GH4 is light, but does require some type of stabilizer (or possibly a stabilized lens) for handheld shooting.  Best of all is the battery life, which simply destroys the BMCC, and the battery is swappable.  I haven't tested an exact amount of time from a charge, but I feel like it's probably around 45 minutes of setting up shots and shooting on a charge, maybe even more.

Settings seem to be quite important on this camera if you're going for a cinematic look.  Based loosely on James Miller's settings,  I've been shooting in Cinelike D with Sharpness -5 and Saturation -5.  I prefer Noise Reduction at only -1 as I find it does a good job at suppressing noise without much image degradation as may be true on other cameras.  Some recommend a Master Pedestal of +15, but I've had better results with only +5.  iDynamic at Standard, also gives good results.

The GH4 is not a perfect camera and the image is perhaps not as cinematic out of camera as may be the case with the BMCC, but it is much more useable than the BMCC, without the need of external power.  For 4K, the GH4 doesn't have the horrible fixed pattern noise issues and extremely short batter life of the BMPC and is about a tenth of the cost of a functioning Scarlet.


NAB 2014: What Camera to Buy This Year

NAB: A Look Back
In recent years NAB has provided much excitement to the budget filmmaker.  Two years ago Blackmagic Design surprised all with its cinema camera, the first affordable RAW-shooting camera within the grasp of consumers.  Although it took a year to reach consumers and had (and still has) some big flaws, the image quality surely didn't disappoint.  Last year Blackmagic shocked everyone again announcing a pocket version of the cinema camera and a 4K production camera, before its original camera was even widely available.

With Panasonic already announcing the GH4, perhaps something new up Blackmagic's sleeve, and hopes that Canon and Sony would serve up some juicy new 4K cameras, NAB 2014 looked to be the most exciting show in years.

Where We Were Before NAB
When we talk about high-end, budget digital cinema the choice of cameras is somewhat limited, especially if we demand more than what most DSLRs have to offer.  Up until NAB, here's what we had to choose from:

• Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K:  With pricing now under $2,000 the BMCC is still one of the top choices for a truly cinematic image. It's the 13 stops of dynamic range and 12-bit RAW that really makes this camera shine despite it's ergonomic issues, crop sensor, mediocre low-light ability and poor sound options.  For a cheap Alexa-like image this camera is still tough to beat.

• Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera:  Priced at under $1000, this camera has essentially all of the same advantages and disadvantages as its bigger brother but in a smaller package and with a sensor with an even higher crop factor.  It's image, though, is very similar to the BMCC 2.5K.

•Blackmagic Production Camera 4K:  At $3000, this camera, announced last year at NAB and promised last July, has just started shipping.  Nothing else on the market can shoot RAW 4K for less money.  Well, in reality this camera still doesn't show RAW; it's been promised, but the firmware update still hasn't come.  I was very excited about this camera when it was announced. With a Super 35 sensor, global shutter, and 4K, this seemed like a huge upgrade from the BMCC on paper.  I'm just not that impressed with the image.  Sure, it captures detail marginally better, but it is even worse in low light, has fixed pattern noise, loses a stop of dynamic range, and still has the same terrible ergonomics as the original.  By the time this camera even gets RAW, it'll probably be obsolete.  Sadly I think the original still retains the image quality crown in the Blackmagic family.

• Canon C100:  Costing over twice as much as the BMCC 2.5K, the C100 provides a very crisp 1080p image captured from a 4K sensor, performs well in low light, and trounces any Blackmagic offering when it comes to ergonomics and sound.  The codec just doesn't hold up to RAW and the image doesn't look nearly as cinematic as what any of the Blackmagic cameras can produce.  Even the much more expensive C300 is only slight more cinematic thanks to its more robust codec.

• Sony FS700:  Even more expensive than the C100 the FS700 can capture RAW 4K (with prohibitively expensive add-ons), but I feel that the image is the most "digital-looking" of any of the competition.  Honestly, I think the C100's 24Mbps AVCHD looks more like film than 4K on the FS700.

• Panasonic GH4:  Announced before NAB, but still not shipping, the $1600, 4K-shooting GH4 looks to be quite impressive.  Forget 1080p mode on this camera as downscaled 4K blows it away.  The GH4 captures 4:2:0 4K, which downscales to 4:2:2 1080p.  So far what I've seen looks great and it seems to perform well in low light, but I think dynamic range is lacking a bit.  I'm not a big fan of the MFT sensor, but if an EF to MFT SpeedBooster is actually ever announced, it would surely make this camera much more enticing to me, especially with its uncompressed 4:2:2 10-bit 4K over HDMI and the newly announced Atomos Shogun 4K recorder.

• RED Scarlet X:  With add-ons necessary to even use this camera, it is much more expensive than the competition, but perhaps still at the very high end of what we can call low-budget cinema.  It's Mysterium X sensor is the same used in the RED Epic, a camera which has shot quite a few Hollywood blockbusters.  The RED Scarlet's image is quite impressive and detailed and it's sensor's "Hollywood pedigree" it's hard to say that it doesn't look damn cinematic.  In reality, only the Alexa can produce a more cinematic image in my opinion.

Now with NAB in full swing, the waters of this in-between consumer and high-end professional camera market have become more murky, with no clear standouts emerging as in previous years.  So far, I haven't been wowed.

• Sony a7s:  On paper this camera sounds pretty amazing.  A 12-megapixel sensor with 1:1 4K readout and no pixel-binning (leading to huge pixels for unbelievable low light performance and minimal moire/aliasing), self-proclaimed excellent dynamic range (no actual number of stops given yet), and full-frame sensor are some pretty impressive specs.  Some of the drawbacks though are that it only records 1080p internally.  A 4K HDMI recorder like the Atomos Shogun is required for 4K capture.  And the 4K out is only 8-bit unlike the GH4, which is 10-bit.  I love full-frame for photos, but I think it is overkill for video.  Super 35 allows for wide enough shots with the range of great lenses currently available without too-shallow of a depth of field.  Trying to keep things in focus a large apertures on a full frame camera while trying to capture all the detail of 4K is much more difficult as compared to the 1.6X crap factor of Super 35.  Only a couple same videos from this camera have been released thus far and to my eyes the results are very digital, much more so than even the FS700.  This will be a great, perhaps legendary, camera for documentaries or travel videos, but not for cinematic narrative.

 • Kinefinity KineMini:  Spec-wise, this camera is similar to the BMPC 4K and priced similarly.  Nothing about the image from this camera blows me away or provides any real advantage over Blackmagic's offerings and it needs even more accessories to begin shooting.

• AJA Cion 4K:  I have yet to see any images from this $9,000 camera that seems again to have similar specs to the BMPC 4K.  It's unclear yet if it will record RAW and some have speculated that it's the same sensor as the BMPC 4K (it's certainly the exact same specs), plus it's only PL mount.  This camera is not really on my radar.

• Blackmagic URSA and Studio Camera:  The URSA is a more expensive BMPC 4K in a large, unwieldy package, aimed at larger film crews.  It has some audio features that would have been nice in the older Blackmagic cameras, but other than that it's useless for the indie filmmaker.  The Studio Cameras are for, as the name implies, for studio use...nothing I'm interested in as they are essentially the older cameras repackaged in a form-factor for something like a news program.

Sadly this year I haven't seen anything exciting or anything that can really blow two year old cameras like the BMCC or RED Scarlet out of the water.  The BMCC 2.5K would still be the ideal camera, in my opinion, but 4K is the future.  The BMCC produces an excellent image, but I wish it were a little more future-proof and that I could grab up some of that additional detail found in 4K.

Here's my current ranking for cinematic "budget" cameras if you're looking for the best film-like image quality (I'll update this article if anything new is announced during NAB):

1. RED Scarlet: + 4K, RAW, great dynamic range.  - Expensive, but the real deal.
2. BMCC 2.5K:  + RAW, great dynamic range. - All the flaws listed above, annoying crop factor, no 4K.
3. BM Pocket Cam: + RAW, great dynamic range. - All the flaws of the BMCC plus even greater crop factor, poor active EF lens compatibility.
4. GH4: + 10-bit 4:2:2 options, 4K, decent low-light. - Crop factor, mediocre dynamic range, poor active EF lens compatibility.
5. C100: + Built in ND, Super 35 senor, great in low light. - Mediocre dynamic range, digital-looking image, poor codec.
6. BMPC 4K: + 4K, RAW (sometime), Super 35 sensor. - Very poor in low light, fixed pattern noise, all the drawback of BMCC form-factor.
7. Sony a7s: + 4K option, 4:2:2 option, great in low light. - Very digital-looking image, no 10-bit color, full-frame
8. FS700: + 4K option, RAW option. - Too expensive for what you get, digital-looking image


2014: The Year of Budget Cinema Cameras

When discussing cinema cameras on a budget it's extremely difficult to dispute that the Blackmagic Cinema Camera and Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera the leaders of the pack.  Nothing comes close in terms of shear image quality until you step up into a camera package costing over $10k.  Will  new 4K offerings from Panasonic and Blackmagic raise the bar?

Panasonic recently announced its GH4, successor to the GH3 and highly esteemed GH2.  The camera, rumored to come in just under the original BMCC at around $1700, can record up to 200 Mbps 1080p and 100 Mbps 4K internally.  Although internal recording is limited to 4:2:0, 4:2:0 4K apparently downscales to 4:4:4 1080p.  While it's nice to finally get something other than 4:2:0 in a DSLR-style camera, I just don't see the advantage when RAW and ProRes is already so readily available at this price point in Blackmagic cameras, which also boast greater dynamic range.  From the single sample video on YouTube it's much too early to tell just how good the GH4's video quality is.  To really reap the benefits from this camera you'd need the $2000 add-on box (the YAGH), which features XLR inputs and 4:2:2 4K over SDI (hence requiring an expensive SDI recorder).  The GH4's specs have met much fanfare, and I agree that it is a huge improvement over the specs of the GH2 and GH3, but I think it is a bit too little too late.  18 months ago, this camera would have seemed too good to be true, but there is just far too much competition that is nearly as capable or more capable.

In my opinion the Blackmagic 4K Production Camera is much more capable than the GH4 (even with the YAGH) at just $3000.  The only sacrifice over the GH4 is ergonomics and size as neither camera natively feature XLR inputs with phantom power or ND filters.  Blackmagic's entry into the world of 4K can record 4K ProRes (and soon with a firmware update) RAW internally.  The BMPC also features a global shutter, finally ending the dreaded rolling shutter, and producing stunning film-like motion.  Some early footage looks promising although I have noticed that BMPC footage does suffer from a bit of reduced dynamic range and more noise than the BMCC, the latter becoming less noticeable when watching from a normal viewing distance.  Also, the BMPC footage can be very sharp...sometimes even too sharp, looking a bit unnatural, like something that was over sharpened in post.  Perhaps the GH4 may prove better in low light, but when it comes to the final image I think the BMPC will be hard to beat when it comes to the budget 4K cinema camera showdown.

From what I've see so far I still prefer the image of the original 2.5K BMCC.  I'll stick with the increased dynamic range over global shutter, some slightly better ergonomics, or 4K (which will for the next few years still be viewed by the vast majority downscaled to 1080p).