you will think this is another „which camera should I buy“ thread… and it is, but bear with me, it might get better. My personal finance minister agreed to me throwing money at my problems so here we go. To make it a bit more legible I’ll segment my extra-long wall of text.
My motivation to revamp my equipment:
Due to logistical reasons I’m standing in front of the task to minimize AND optimize my equipment. I’m normally travelling once every 1 to 2 months for work and/or private pleasure and used to shoot a lot of pictures in my spare time on these trips, but since a while I’m doing more and more video things. I have already shot photography with a lot of different camera systems, currently I’m using Nikon with the D750 and it fulfills every photography dream I could have BUT the video side isn’t satisfying the gearhead in me (there I said it, it’s not really a NEED but a WANT) since I tried the movie recording of the Samsung NX1.
Seeing how we have at least 3 interesting trips lined up for the next 6 months I’d like to get my stuff together so I can actually finalize and if necessary “learn” the equipment before we fly to Spain in March.
What do I want shoot:
Directly up front: I have no ambitions to ever get anything broadcasted or cinema or whatever, it is web-delivery only and therefore the quality horizon is 1080p delivery via VIMEO / YouTube. It’s mainly travel / landscape / urban lifestyle imagery so it’s shooting the landscape while traveling a country, exotic beaches, cultural sightseeing like temples in Thailand, night market type of things, etc. Due to the nature of business trips, a lot of the things happen in the evening and obviously it’s more of a travel documentary type shooting, i.e. I won’t be able to light anything and have to rely on practical lighting.
Thanks to travel limitations on luggage I will be limited to roughly one system (or two really compact systems) with ~2-4 lenses, external monitor, tripod/monopod with head and the regular accessories like NDs, Grad NDs. I wouldn’t mind spending on a small gimbal stabilizer once the compact ones like the Beholder, Nebula, etc. had their kinks ironed out, compensating for the fact that I probably will never be able to lug a slider, jib, etc around. This also makes 4k a nice to have as it lets me fake slider moves (granted, without the desirable parallax effects), punch in from medium to light tele, etc.
In addition we do quite some food photography which we would like to extend towards shooting short clips for our Instagram feed (stop laughing!) and blog. Obviously nearly every camera would be ok for this as we can light and repeat to our hearts’ desire so this is only a side comment and I have the slow motion for that covered with the NX1.
What cameras did I consider:
I’ve tried hands-on with some cameras (D750, D5300, NX1, 5D II, 5D III, G7) and did hours over hours of VIMEO research but man is a lot of stuff badly graded, getting away from the computer you’re suddenly shocked our world isn’t actually all Osiris M31 teal-orangey or FilmConvert grainy, soft paleness. I also graded some test footage I found online but that was of varying quality and some had botched white balance, etc.
I love the Samsung NX1; I clearly appreciate its image, it’s super easy to get nice colors and skin tones out of it. It’s modern, pleasing and sharp which I personally feel suits this kind of footage well. BUT there are multiple reasons why I’d rather not stick with it which are the limited low light capabilities in combination with no speedbooster availability, the fact that it doesn’t work with my field monitor (SmallHD can’t say if firmware incompatibility will ever be fixed [I have that one already], VideoDevices can’t even say if the PIX-e are compatible at all and it seems no one else makes a 5” that stacks up to those two) and to a very minor point the fact that the system can’t cover the autofocus lenses I’d like to use for photography. I might keep it as a B-cam seeing how cheap I got it, especially how it could cover 120fps easily, but I’d rather have another main system.
I’ve seen clips made with the BMPCC like the ones from Jonathan Haring (https://vimeo.com/99501007 or https://vimeo.com/98293797 ) with really good sharpness and nice colors but most of clips out there are just too soft for my taste, I have the feeling so much footage of the BMPCC is over the top soft because it’s “cinematic” and intentionally looking retro in a low quality kind of way. While the BMPCC is no low light beast, the combination of f/1.4 lenses plus speedbooster and malleable files would make it easily work I think. I’d replace it or mate it with a BMMCC as soon as that would be available for the 60p and global shutter. My main concern is that the 1080p Super16 bayer sensor doesn’t actually give me better resolution and inherent sharpness than the current D750, the colors are obviously top. Obviously these aren’t hybrid systems so I would add something compact on the side like a Fuji X-T1 with a 35mm f/1.4 or perhaps even just stick with my X100s.
Of course nothing leads around considering Sony A-series when looking for a hybrid system at the moment. I’m a bit surprise how the high frame rate capabilities lack so far behind the Samsung in regards to having to apply additional crop for the read out but on the other hand the low light capabilities are everything one might ever dream of. Good low light, respectable dynamic range. Quite pricey but there are enough advantages that I wouldn’t mind to spend the money. Probably the worst offender when it comes to awful grading on VIMEO, it seems most of the really pleasing (e.g. Nomads of Mongolia) and well done footage isn’t actually done in S-LOG and therefore already gives away a lot of dynamic range again (which most viewers anyway don’t seem to actually pay attention to). I’d probably give the A7r II the advantage over the A7s II because the only thing the A7s II does better is even more extreme low light above ISO 12800 while the A7r II has the two crops for 4k, PDAF and higher resolution stills.
For this kind of shooting I ruled out the Canon 5D III with Magic Lantern because I can’t repeat moments, it has only the mediocre LCD screen and it’s just too expensive for what it does in my opinion (still nearly 2000€ used here) even though the colors are beautiful. I’d prefer to not have to tinker around with the system.
I know that the Panasonic GH4 is theoretically a strong contender, especially with speedbooster or the Voigtländer f/0.95 lenses, but I just don’t know. I feel no magic around that system. G7 is out because of the HDMI limitations.
Last but not least I’ve of course considered the Canon C100 II or Sony FS5 but I feel like they’re not ideal for my plans as they’re already a bit bigger than the other systems while needing a separate photography equipment. They’re also less stealthy as they’re easier recognized as camcorders while directly stretching the budget thin without giving.
I’ve tried to separate what I want (everything!) into what I need and what I just would like to have.
Need to have:
- detailed and sharp 1080p (as end result)
- Good internal recording, I don’t want to go extern and then mix external & internal in post
- small form factor (C100/FS5 would stretch it already)
- clean 1080p out over HDMI for field monitor
- acceptable low light quality (light level equivalent to f/1.4 with 1/50 at ISO1600 is minimum necessity, clean higher ISO is better)
Nice to have:
- Shoots pictures so I can stick to one system
- cheapo underwater housing / EWA-marine for snorkeling available
I feel like the Sony A7r II would actually be my best bet. It does 4k 8bit 4:2:0 internally, has IBIS, is acceptable until ISO6400/12800, can use a speedbooster in APS-C mode to get another stop of light, I can use the SmallHD501 with sidefinder on a cage as EVF for better stability (cradling camera against body), with the monitor straight on the tripod or go bare body for even less attention. It does amazing stills to replace even the D750 and thanks to the FF & APS-C 4k modes I could cover 4 field of view with only 2 lenses (e.g. FF 35mm & 85mm, APS-C 55mm & 125mm).
I have the feeling it’s the reading too many forums that makes me think the 4k 8bit is insufficient and I need the BMPCC’s grading latitude and the Sonys are abominations when it comes to color.
I need a lightweight system for videos and photography on documentary style traveling clips: BMPCC, A7sII/A7rII or something completely different?
Renting is out of the picture, I want to own the system.