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Some thoughts after using Z CAM the first time


aaa123jc

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So I’ve bought the Z CAM-S6, hoping it would be useful for some upcoming projects. However, I planned to sell it after finishing those projects, unless I find myself in love with this camera. 

Anyway, I took the camera with some friends and shot a little video. We didn’t plan beforehand because this was meant to be more of a feeling out process and a camera test. I’ve tried very hard to make it a more coherent story, though I must admit it is still very confusing. 

1. Modular design is fantastic because you can build it up the way you wanted, however the cost adds up very quickly. 
2. Very well built, but the metal body makes it a little bit heavy, despite the size. 
3. A lot of codec and resolution options. It’s always nice to have internal ProRes recording and H265 is very efficient indeed. 
4. Image Quality is detailed and organic, and you can always shoot in 6K. 
5. Battery life is quite good, especially if you use a bigger battery.
6. Control needs time to get used to, and it’s still slower than a proper video camera like the C200 and FS5. 
7. CFast 2.0 Card is VERY EXPENSIVE. This forces me to use H265, which sometimes requires transcoding.  
8. AF is just as bad as, if not worse than, EVA1. Normally, this won’t be an issue but…
9. The HDMI Output is very soft, for some reason. Maybe this is due to user error. The image is so soft that even using a 6 inch monitor, it is still hard to judge focus sometimes. This is my biggest problem by far. 
10. Playback is in LOW resolution. Clients may not like feel confident about the footage you just captured.

The whole video is shot in 6K 2.4:1 mode, 23.976 FPS ,with Z-Log2 and in H265. All is shot handheld. I’ve mainly used the Sigma 18-35 1.8 and for one shot the Canon 85 1.4. 

Thank you.

PS. I'm not sure should I make a topic like this. I apologize first if it violates the rules.  

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Once all the custom buttons are set I find the controls efficient. For focus I have one of the custom buttons set to punch in and I usually use that. But yeah the HDMI signal isn't very sharp. 

The best solution for media is a Cfast to SSD module. ZITAY CCtech makes them for around $100. The SSD's used are about $100 for 1tb. You can also record through the USB-C but its less reliable as the port is more finicky. I find the Cfast to SSD module foolproof as there is no point of contact where it could come loose and mess up the recording. Although Z-cam now has built in software to require currupt files so USB-C probably wouldn't be an issue either.

Definitely not a camera to use AF with, at least not for now. I do think Z-cam will continue to update all their cameras if they continue to develop their AF tech. 

Building up a Z-cam can be expensive but all you really need to shoot with is a side handle and monitor which can be had for $250. I think the remote clutch grip is probably worth getting at $350, along with a cage $100, a good monitor $300, SSD module $200. So you are looking at $950 plus batteries. But to be fair rigging up anything costs $$$$ and it certainly can be done for much cheaper. 

I think Z-cam is an exciting company though. They just put prores proxy 4k 100fps into the camera. I think they are working on getting 422.

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Looks great! I think your color is spot on. I actually disagree on rigging expenses--particularly if you use a tripod or gimbal. I don't rig my M4 at all, and my 2nd hand iphone monitor was free. 3rd party NPF batteries are very cheap. You can add simple side handles for next to nothing as well. You can position an iphone above the handle and still have easy access to all controls as well. CFast is very expensive, that's my only complaint in terms of accessory cost. I have a single 32GB CFast card, and I'll probably get another before doing a long shoot. It would be nice if they had an SD slot as well, even if it could only do H265, or 4k60.

Do you have HDMI set to 1080p or 720p? 1080p is of course sharper, but has very bad latency I found.

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The HDMI output is by far my biggest gripe with this camera. It seems to change from mode to mode, but when shooting HFR Prores it is limited to 720p and is so soft that the peaking on my monitor won't even engage.

AF is not something I even considered when I bought this cam and it was only after 6 months that I even realised it was there last week. I did a full music video shoot on a gimbal (Zhiyun Crane 3s) two weeks ago and it might have been nice to use then. I just tried to work with deeper focus instead but I'll have to do some tests to see if the AF can actually be used in that situation. I wouldn't trust it for a 1-time event like a bride walking down the aisle (not that I shoot weddings), but for a music video or fashion video where you just need to pick out a few moments from each take it should be ok.

CFAST cards are expensive but that's true for just about any camera shooting 10-bit 4K. Even the SD cards needed for the flagship mirrorless cameras these days are pretty darn expensive - though I guess with those cameras you can usually choose to use cheaper cards if you don't mind being limited to lower bitrates. With ZCam you don't really have the option of buying cheaper CFAST cards to shoot h.265 because cheap CFAST cards don't really exist.

The buttons & controls are annoying but once you remember what is what it gets a bit easier. I'm planning to get the Rvlvr Clutch handle which should make controls a lot more convenient, but it would be nice if the camera itself at least had one rotating dial on it.

Image wise though, it's fantastic. I cannot fault it. I can't ever imagine a situation where any aspect of the image quality or codec is going to be the limiting factor for me or my work.

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5 hours ago, TomTheDP said:

Once all the custom buttons are set I find the controls efficient. For focus I have one of the custom buttons set to punch in and I usually use that. But yeah the HDMI signal isn't very sharp. 

The best solution for media is a Cfast to SSD module. ZITAY CCtech makes them for around $100. The SSD's used are about $100 for 1tb. You can also record through the USB-C but its less reliable as the port is more finicky. I find the Cfast to SSD module foolproof as there is no point of contact where it could come loose and mess up the recording. Although Z-cam now has built in software to require currupt files so USB-C probably wouldn't be an issue either.

Definitely not a camera to use AF with, at least not for now. I do think Z-cam will continue to update all their cameras if they continue to develop their AF tech. 

Building up a Z-cam can be expensive but all you really need to shoot with is a side handle and monitor which can be had for $250. I think the remote clutch grip is probably worth getting at $350, along with a cage $100, a good monitor $300, SSD module $200. So you are looking at $950 plus batteries. But to be fair rigging up anything costs $$$$ and it certainly can be done for much cheaper. 

I think Z-cam is an exciting company though. They just put prores proxy 4k 100fps into the camera. I think they are working on getting 422.

Thanks. 

I guess I need to do more customization for the control. But still, I think a dial would be great. I actually considered using SSD with the USB-C port but it's just not very secured. Therefore, the Cfast to SSD module sounds very interesting. What about the speed? 

Yes. Z CAM is very exciting as a company. The offerings bring so much features and options at such a low price. 

4 hours ago, KnightsFan said:

Looks great! I think your color is spot on. I actually disagree on rigging expenses--particularly if you use a tripod or gimbal. I don't rig my M4 at all, and my 2nd hand iphone monitor was free. 3rd party NPF batteries are very cheap. You can add simple side handles for next to nothing as well. You can position an iphone above the handle and still have easy access to all controls as well. CFast is very expensive, that's my only complaint in terms of accessory cost. I have a single 32GB CFast card, and I'll probably get another before doing a long shoot. It would be nice if they had an SD slot as well, even if it could only do H265, or 4k60.

Do you have HDMI set to 1080p or 720p? 1080p is of course sharper, but has very bad latency I found.

Thank you.

For the color, I only did some minor color corrections, but in my opinion, it already looked quite nice. 

I set the HDMI to 1080P and it's still not very sharp. The latency is fine, at least for now. The extra cost for rigging is actually not an issue for me personally because I've already own some, handle, monitors... etc, but I know some friends who prefer a more standalone package that one can grab and start shooting without much rigging, such as a C100 and FS5. 

4 hours ago, barefoot_dp said:

The HDMI output is by far my biggest gripe with this camera. It seems to change from mode to mode, but when shooting HFR Prores it is limited to 720p and is so soft that the peaking on my monitor won't even engage.

AF is not something I even considered when I bought this cam and it was only after 6 months that I even realised it was there last week. I did a full music video shoot on a gimbal (Zhiyun Crane 3s) two weeks ago and it might have been nice to use then. I just tried to work with deeper focus instead but I'll have to do some tests to see if the AF can actually be used in that situation. I wouldn't trust it for a 1-time event like a bride walking down the aisle (not that I shoot weddings), but for a music video or fashion video where you just need to pick out a few moments from each take it should be ok.

CFAST cards are expensive but that's true for just about any camera shooting 10-bit 4K. Even the SD cards needed for the flagship mirrorless cameras these days are pretty darn expensive - though I guess with those cameras you can usually choose to use cheaper cards if you don't mind being limited to lower bitrates. With ZCam you don't really have the option of buying cheaper CFAST cards to shoot h.265 because cheap CFAST cards don't really exist.

The buttons & controls are annoying but once you remember what is what it gets a bit easier. I'm planning to get the Rvlvr Clutch handle which should make controls a lot more convenient, but it would be nice if the camera itself at least had one rotating dial on it.

Image wise though, it's fantastic. I cannot fault it. I can't ever imagine a situation where any aspect of the image quality or codec is going to be the limiting factor for me or my work.

Thanks.

Yeah, the HDMI output is my biggest complaint. The low res playback doesn't help too. I find myself doing more takes than I do normally, because I'm afraid the footages will be all out of focus. 

The Rvlvr Clutch handle looks very nice and useful. I'm not sure it will ship to Hong Kong though. I agree with having at least one rotating dial on the body completely. If the body has it, it will be much easier to handle. 

And yeah, the image quality and codec options are very good, almost too good to have for me. I used to shoot 1080P a lot, and now I'm jumping to 6K. 😅 

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37 minutes ago, aaa123jc said:

I set the HDMI to 1080P and it's still not very sharp. The latency is fine, at least for now.

Interesting. I use a phone as a monitor so I'm not sure. I'd expect it to be as sharp as the internal 1080p, for external recording, so I wonder if there's a setting somewhere?

The Clutch is nice. I got one essentially for free as I bought a large package deal, then sold it all individually except the Clutch and came out about even. The more customizable dials and buttons the better, particularly for run'n'gun (which I virtually never do, hence no rigging).

It would be cool if there was a thin, fixed handle that you could bolt on for extreme low-profile handheld shooting with a few ergonomic dials and buttons on it. I wouldn't buy it, but it might appeal to people coming from photo cameras.

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19 hours ago, KnightsFan said:

Interesting. I use a phone as a monitor so I'm not sure. I'd expect it to be as sharp as the internal 1080p, for external recording, so I wonder if there's a setting somewhere?

The Clutch is nice. I got one essentially for free as I bought a large package deal, then sold it all individually except the Clutch and came out about even. The more customizable dials and buttons the better, particularly for run'n'gun (which I virtually never do, hence no rigging).

It would be cool if there was a thin, fixed handle that you could bolt on for extreme low-profile handheld shooting with a few ergonomic dials and buttons on it. I wouldn't buy it, but it might appeal to people coming from photo cameras.

Maybe I should try using the phone as monitor then. I will no doubt buy the clutch if not for the price and that it may not ship to Hong Kong. The remote grip of Portkeys is interesting except for the look. My girlfriend fins it kind of ugly. 

13 hours ago, zerocool22 said:

That looks great! Makes me want to buy one. (But im going for a hybrid solution for now)

I used to own a Sony A7M3 when I have about 50% still job and 50% video works, but now it's mostly video. If only the Sony A7S3 has better still capability I may save up more money to get it instead. 😅

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30 minutes ago, aaa123jc said:

Maybe I should try using the phone as monitor then. I will no doubt buy the clutch if not for the price and that it may not ship to Hong Kong. The remote grip of Portkeys is interesting except for the look. My girlfriend fins it kind of ugly. 

I used to own a Sony A7M3 when I have about 50% still job and 50% video works, but now it's mostly video. If only the Sony A7S3 has better still capability I may save up more money to get it instead. 😅

RVLVR Labs also makes a grip, maybe its more to your taste. 

I think the A7s3 is close to being a perfect camera and best hybrid. The reason I wouldn't get one for video is the noise reduction. It can't be turned off all the way which leaves you with a very digital looking image IMO. I guess film grain could help with it and I suppose after youtube compression any quality we are chasing is lost anyways. 

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On 11/26/2020 at 8:33 AM, TomTheDP said:

RVLVR Labs also makes a grip, maybe its more to your taste. 

I think the A7s3 is close to being a perfect camera and best hybrid. The reason I wouldn't get one for video is the noise reduction. It can't be turned off all the way which leaves you with a very digital looking image IMO. I guess film grain could help with it and I suppose after youtube compression any quality we are chasing is lost anyways. 

I don't know about the noise reduction thing. Is it really this bad? I may have to look at it. This definitely can be a deal breaker for many. 

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