The Case For Cinema

If you’re running a hybrid business then it would appear to be something of a no brainer that you need to be considering kit that can straddle both your stills and motion requirements. A closer look at some of the options launched from the likes of Canon, Panasonic, Nikon and Sony over the past year or so would appear to confirm that there is plenty of choice at the moment in this department, so is there any point in looking further when you’re considering what kit you should be investing in? Depending on how seriously you’re going to venture down the filmmaking path there is, in fact, a very strong argument for at least considering what cinema cameras might be able to offer you by way of an alternative. Because they’re not designed to do anything other than shoot video there are no compromises and you’ll find you have a lengthy line-up of options and features at your fingertips that the hybrids will struggle to match. There are many other advantages as well, and CVP’s Technical Marketing Manager Jake Ratcliffe has been taking a closer look to compare camera types and to offer some thoughts regarding the job that each of them has been set up to do.

“The first thing to remember is that DSLRs and mirrorless cameras were never designed primarily to shoot video,” says Jake, “and this becomes obvious when you first pick one up. Their lightweight nature, which can be seen as a pro or a con, means that footage will have much more shake to it than a heavier camera package. Built-in image stabilisation, which is less commonly found on cinema cameras, can help with this, but it’s still a fact that mirrorless models can be a bit of a pain to get working nicely on the shoulder, whereas most cinema cameras will behave well in this configuration with a couple of accessories.

Canon C70

“Most mirrorless cameras will also come with a lack of buttons, which makes changing settings on the fly while shooting much slower and more cumbersome. If you compare the Canon EOS R series to the C70 and the C 300 Mark III, you can quickly see that there are a lack of easy-to-access controls for key settings that you may need to reach quickly while shooting, and this is quite common. Video cameras also feature at least one dedicated record button, which means you’ll be able to roll easily no matter how you’re operating the camera.”

Canon C300 Mark III

Most stills cameras will also have reduced levels of inputs and outputs when compared to a video model, such things as video outputs, like HDMI, or SDI, timecode or BNC ports, as well as power outputs and other connectivity options. This is because they aren’t designed to be part of a professional video workflow, where you may need more options at your fingertips. “Audio is another area that’s handled much better with dedicated cinema cameras,” says Jake, “as audio is often an afterthought when it comes to still models. First off, you will normally have better audio inputs, such as the mini XLRs on the EOS C70 and full size XLRs on the EOS C300 Mark III. This in turn allows you to use more professional audio sources as well as multiple different sources, which will be great for a huge range of productions. “These will be accompanied by physical audio controls on the body, which are much faster and easier to get access to rather than having to go through the menu system. The quality of the preamps inside cinema cameras is also much better than those found in stills cameras, so the quality of your audio will be far better.”

Cinema cameras also carry a considerable advantage is in terms of battery life. Once again it’s the smaller form factor of mirrorless cameras that makes the big difference in this department, since batteries for these cameras will naturally also be much smaller, which obviously is going to impact on the length of video run times. You’re also likely to be limited regarding what accessories, such as a monitor or wireless video system, you can power from these models. Also consider such things as recording limits: for mirrorless models these are often set at 30 minutes, potentially a serious problem if you’re filming a live event or a long interview, but professional video cameras don’t come with this restriction. ›


Of course, it’s not all one-way traffic when you start to compare camera types. Hybrid mirrorless and DSLR cameras do offer a string of advantages over cinema models as well, which is something that Jake acknowledges and is quick to point out. “One of the huge plus points, of course, is that they can take really high-quality stills,” he says, “which makes them highly versatile. And, as mentioned, they are really compact compared to a cinema camera, which makes them easy to carry and more inconspicuous than larger systems. “This also means you can get them onto smaller gimbals as well, and I know plenty of owner/operators who are working in this way.

A lot of mirrorless cameras will also feature better weather sealing than cinema models, though you can get around this by working with a rain cover. Mirrorless cameras will also feature an EVF which, for some, will be their preferred way of shooting. If you’re working with a more video-centric camera that doesn’t have this facility then it will cost a decent chunk to buy one as an accessory: a good EVF, such as the Zacuto Gratical Eye (CVP price £1373.68) doesn’t come cheap. “Then you need to consider autofocus, and here the systems inside mirrorless cameras still definitely have the edge. The EOS R3 and R5 feature some of the best autofocus in any camera, but Canon’s cinema cameras are lagging behind slightly. I’m really hoping they can include this new system in the next generation of Cinema EOS Cameras coming along.”

Zacuto Gratical Eye

Comparing the two systems there are also considerations that don’t relate to the performance or ergonomics of particular cameras. Client perception when you walk on to a job, for example, is also crucial, and there’s no doubt that a larger cinema camera will ultimately give the impression that it’s a more professional model, even though no-one would seriously question the capability of mirrorless cameras to work to the highest of standards. When it comes to rigging your camera, this is an area where cinema models most definitely have the edge. “These cameras are just much nicer to rig than stills cameras,” comments Jake.

“They require fewer parts and accessories to get to the same point, and this means a cinema model will be more reliable when you pull it out of a bag on the job since there will be less add- ons bolted on that could go wrong. “With the improved ergonomics that comes from being designed solely for video acquisition there’s also commonly an improvement in mounting points for third party accessories. This allows you to support devices such as an external monitor or recorder, something that’s more difficult with a mirrorless camera since they are so compact it tends to limit the positions where you can actually mount things.”

Hotting up

There have been some high-profile cases recently of mirrorless cameras becoming too hot during a long session of filming and, although the issue is not widespread, cinema cameras definitely do have advantages in this department.

“Cooling the internals of a camera is really important,” says Jake, “and some of the most popular cinema cameras on the market use massive heat sinks to make sure everything internally is cooled adequately, usually by some form of active fan cooling, for optimum performance. Stills cameras, meanwhile, will mainly be passively cooled using just a heat sink and the body, so overall cinema cameras will perform much better on longer recording sessions.” Digging deeper, a lot of cinema cameras will feature an internal ND system, which can be incredibly handy to have. It’s always possible, of course, to use an adapter with an ND built in or to use a separate ND filter, but it’s all using up time and the built-in versions are very quick and easy to use. Similarly, an anti-aliasing filter, designed to prevent moiré, is common on a cinema camera but less so on a mirrorless model.

“More often than not stills cameras will have a limited view of formats and codecs versus dedicated video cameras,” Jake points out. “This can be a mix of the actual compression method, container data rates as well as bit depth and colour subsampling. DCI formats are also normally reserved for cameras made specifically for video too, though that’s no longer always the case.”

So, there are lots of pros and a few cons if you’re thinking of moving over to a cinema model, but if you were to take things further what models might you consider? One of the best entry points would be the Canon EOS C70 (CVP price £4798), which features a form factor not dissimilar to a DSLR or mirrorless model, so its size and weight won’t come as a shock to a photographer. It also means you can put the C70 onto lighter weight support systems, like smaller gimbals and tripods as well as shoot handheld with a much more compact set up. It features the same 4K Super 35mm DGO sensor as the C300 Mark III, which means that image quality is superb, although its internal video formats aren’t quite up to the same level. “The C70 was the first Canon Cinema EOS camera to feature an RF mount,” says Jake, “which means you’ll be able to use any of the fantastic Canon RF mount lenses, as well as a range of adapters for a massive range of existing EF lenses.

This includes Canon’s own Focal Reducer, which allows you to achieve full frame filter views. “Beyond there you could look at the Canon EOS C300 Mark III (CVP price £10,434), which is the C70’s slightly more professional and better built older brother. There are a few key improvements such as body design, which is so much larger and features a more familiar cinema EOS series style form factor. This means it’s fantastic to use across a range of different configurations, whether on the shoulder, hand held or on sticks. It also features a more comprehensive set of inputs and outputs than the C70, such as SDI and full size XLR inputs, and it has a modular design for different production needs.”

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