PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHERS dipping a toe into the world of filmmaking is nothing new, and it’s a process that’s accelerated in recent years as the big guns have launched a series of ever more sophisticated hybrid cameras that come with the ability to not only deliver awesomely good still images but with high-end pro-spec video functionality included as an essential part of the mix.

And we’re not just talking a basic video offering here. The set of motion tools that a mirrorless hybrid model such as the Canon EOS R5 or the Sony A7S III has on board, for example, would be enough to satisfy all but the most demanding of filmmakers, so surely a camera of this ilk has to be considered the natural tool of choice for those that have a foot in both the still and motion camps?

In many cases that would indeed be the logical way to go, but there are some serious choices to be made and some definite pros and cons to consider before you make your purchase decision, and it’s not necessarily just down to cost. The video-focused Canon EOS R5 C mirrorless hybrid and the EOS C70 cinema model, for example, carry similar price points, while there’s only around a £200 differential between the Sony a7 III mirrorless camera and its movie-orientated sibling the FX3, and yet in both cases what the cameras are designed to do is radically different.

For those who are maybe just beginning to move more seriously into film production it’s not especially an issue, since the ability to shoot stills – which neither the C70 or the FX3 are designed to do – makes the choice of a hybrid something of a no-brainer. Move further up the motion ladder, however, and there will start to be compelling reasons why a dedicated filmmaking camera could be a better choice, and this is the time where it pays to visit a specialist retailer such as CVP, where you’ll benefit from some expert brandagnostic advice that will steer you towards the solution that’s best for your business.

SHARED DNA

So what are the features that a filmmaking model will offer you over a hybrid camera, and have you yet reached a stage where your need for what a dedicated model can offer is compelling enough for you to take that step, and to move on up to a camera that is unashamedly motion-only? To help us find the answer, we caught up yet again with CVP’s Technical Marketing Manager
Jake Ratcliffe to find out more and to get his feedback on which route to go down.

“There are distinct reasons for choosing to go either way,” says, “but if you do go for the dedicated filmmaking model you won’t find that it’s a completely different experience to what you might be used to, since cameras such as the A7S III and FX3 will share a good chunk of their DNA. For a start they both have at their heart the same 12.9MP 35.6 x 23.8mm full frame sensor, and likewise both offer 15+ stops of dynamic range.

“They both also have pretty much the same chipsets, so the images they produce should be practically identical. Also common are such things as the recording resolutions, codecs and frame rates, internally and externally. They have the same inputs and outputs across their bodies, the same media options and a similar core menu system.

However, just at the moment the FX3 has some advantages over the A7S III, thanks to the recent Sony V2 Firmware update, which added a bunch of new features that the Alpha camera doesn’t currently have.”

These new features include such things as Log Shooting Mode, which offers three different modes to work in when shooting in SL3. These are Cine EI, which allows you to shoot with two base ISO settings for maximum DR and suppressed noise, Cine EI Quick, which enables automatic switching of base ISO according to the adjusted EI value, and Flexible ISO, a setting that lets you record S-Log with adjustable ISO sensitivity. Other benefits of the recent upgrade include a new layout for the main menu, which allows fast access to key video menu items.

All of these things will, of course, probably work their way into the A7S III in the fullness of time, but there are way more things to consider than just the latest feature set when weighing up which model to go for. The fact that the FX3 is fundamentally designed to do a specific job and nothing else comes through loud and clear as you take a closer look, but then again there are areas where the mirrorless model has a clear advantage.

For example, the A7S III features an excellent EVF, whereas the FX3 only has filmmakers, however, an important uptick for the FX3 is the fact that it features a bunch of quarter inch threads across its body to enable easy mounting and rigging. Its form factor makes it perfect for really strippeddown configurations, such as for being attached to a car for filming.

FOCUS ON FILMMAKING

This is where you start to experience the real advantage of a camera designed from the ground up for filming work, in that there is no requirement for compromise and everything is on board for the smoothest possible user experience. It’s entirely possible, of course, to work with the A7S III inside a compatible cage, but then again it’s another accessory to have to think about, involving more expense plus the time you’ll take to set it all up.

Other features you’ll notice with the FX3 include an internal fan to allow longer shooting periods without the need to worry about overheating issues, plus there’s a top handle included in the kit, which features an audio module. “This is essentially Sony’s XLR-K3M Adaptor kit,” says Jake, “which as a standalone accessory would fit the A7S III, but the cost of this is around £500, so for it to be included as part of the FX3 outfit is pretty awesome.”

So, which camera might be the better choice for the professional who’s invested in filmmaking? “Given the relative similarity in price I would say there are probably only two reasons to go for the A7S III,” says Jake. “That’s if you really want to work with the better EVF, and also if you’re someone from a photographic background perhaps who might prefer the more traditional Alpha shooting experience. Otherwise, if it’s video that you’re looking to produce, then the FX3 is probably the better option.”

There’s a similar choice to make when considering to invest in either the Canon EOS R5 or R5C or the dedicated cinema model, the EOS C70. It’s interesting that, with the R5, Canon has chosen to adapt a model that already offered an impressive set of filmmaking features, including 8K footage. One of the big differences with the C Model is the inclusion of a cooling fan, to enable unlimited filming times, something that’s a standard feature of Cinema EOS cameras, while there’s no in-body stabilisation mechanism on board.

It means that you would be unlikely to opt for the R5C unless filmmaking is your primary objective but, then again, the camera is still capable of delivering very high quality still images, unlike the C70, which has no capability at all in this department.

“Because of the different jobs they’re intended to do there are a lot of design differences,” says Jake. “With the sensors, for example, the one in the R5C is full frame, similar to that in the R5, but improved processing has resulted in a better video performance. The C70 meanwhile has at its heart a very capable Super 35 4K sensor, which was first seen in the Canon C300 Mark III. The R5C also features a dual native ISO sensor, which the C70 doesn’t have, and this results in cleaner imagery if you happen to be filming at higher ISO speeds.

“The footage we were able to capture with the R5C when we tested it out was incredible, really detailed, with great Canon colours and a decent dynamic range. In short, it’s a really good sensor for both still and video acquisition, and if you want to soften up the image you can always dial down the sharpness in camera or post.

“We’ve also shot a lot with the EOS C70, and really love the image quality it can produce, and it’s the perfect tool for capturing a wide range of different filming jobs. Comparing results from the two, I would say that the R5C does offer more detail, thanks to its increased resolution, but it has less dynamic range and latitude than the C70.

“Really though the footage you can achieve with both of these cameras is excellent, and it will be up to the individual to make a call on which result they feel best suits their needs. Where there is a difference, however, is that the C70 comes with built-in ND filters, which is a big advantage. It allows you to quickly go from a clear filter to 10 stops of ND in two stop increments, which is an awesome performance, and one that’s particularly useful if you happen to be a single shooter. The R5C, by comparison, would require you to work with front mounted ND filters or an ND RF adaptor, which is fiddly and could end up being rather annoying.”

Another area where the two cameras differ is in recording media, with the slightly older C70 featuring dual SD slots, while the R5S comes with a single SD slot and one for a CFexpress Type B Card, which would be needed if working with some of the larger data rate recoding formats. These cards are naturally more expensive but, then again, they’re faster and more robust and, with a compatible reader, you’ll be able to upload your footage much quicker.

The list of differences between the two cameras goes on, with the R5C winning out in some departments, such as the fact that it has a far more robust rear LCD, while the C70 comes out on top in areas such as mounting points for accessories and a top handle.

“One of the biggest drawbacks in my eyes for the R5C has to be the battery life,” says Jake. “Because of what the camera can do internally it needs a lot of power and this means that a single LP-E6NH won’t give you much recording time at all. It does depend on what frame rate and recording format you choose, but they can last for as little as half an-hour. It means that you’ll either have to carry a lot of spares, or work from some kind of external battery, and there are plenty of third-party options available.”

The C70 by comparison features a much lower battery draw and, consequently, can work much longer with its BPA battery, when compared to an LP6. “I’ve shot for an entire day while only having to change the battery once with the C70,” says Jake, “and that definitely wouldn’t be the case with the R5C.”

As with the Sony pair, audio is a consideration with the two Canons, with the R5C needing an adaptor, such as the one offered by Tascam, to accept XLR mics, while the C70 features Mini XLR inputs, meaning that XLR mics can be adapted to work directly with the camera. It’s another sign of the more video-orientated feature set of cinema cameras, but again it’s something that can be overcome with the right accessory, although, for extra robustness, Jake’s preference would always be to have the audio module built into the camera.

“Finding the right package to recommend is difficult,” says Jake, “as what each person needs for their work will differ slightly. There’s also the fact that, although the two cameras are close in price, if you invest £500 in the XLR unit for the R5C and perhaps another £400 for the Canon ND EF adaptor, then the differential goes up considerably. You’ll also need more batteries because of the greater power draw.”

So, the question comes down to whether a professional might still need that ability to shoot stills on occasion, in which case a hybrid is the way to go, or whether they might have a separate stills camera and can see the benefit of a dedicated cinema model for their filmmaking requirements.

“For most video orientated professionals the C70 is going to be the model that wins out,” says Jake. “There are no compromises in its physical design and feature set, and the built-in ND filters and mini XLR inputs make it capable of being used straight out of the box without the need for extra accessories. I also think the 4K files straight out of camera look fantastic.

“However, a dedicated cinema camera isn’t for everyone and the suggestion, as always, is that someone who wants to find out more should book an appointment to come in and have a demonstration of comparable hybrid and video-only cameras. We’ll always be very happy to offer an impartial assessment of what the best kit might be for their needs.”

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