Pro Tips, Reviews

3 Quality 4K Camera Systems That Won’t Break the Bank


The 4K revolution has arrived more like a slow boat than a bullet train, but arrived it has. Back in 2003, The Dalsa Origin was the first commercially available digital cinema camera to capture at 4K resolution, the emerging quality standard for feature-film content. It recorded at an impressive 16-bit depth, and was about as heavy as a 35mm film camera with a 400′ magazine.

Fast forward 13 years, and there are 4K displays, cameras, and workflows that are both affordable and ubiquitous. With so much to choose from, it’s an embarrassment of resolution. From the $40K ARRI ALEXA MINI and $20K RED Weapons to sub-$1,000 Panasonics and Sonys, there’s a 4K camera out there for everyone. It all depends on your priorities and budget.

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In terms of what’s realistic for for most of us, we don’t want to sacrifice quality by getting a small sensor, cheap lens, and fewer options, and lots of us can’t afford to buy high-end ALEXAs, which, with proprietary peripherals, can cost more than a new car. To find the middle ground, below are three production cameras that can be outfitted to be field-ready and recording 4K for about $10K.

And, of course, sensor size can’t be emphasized enough. My personal preference is for a minimum size of Super 35mm with a strong preference for Full Frame. You’ll get more depth of field, better ISO performance and signal to noise, and no crop factor with the larger sensors. If you’re accustomed to shooting on crop sensors, you might not mind doing so, and of course you can get great images from them, but having started shooting on a 5D Mark II myself, sensor size has become the most important feature for me in choosing a camera.

The Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K

Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6K

Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K EF Mount – CinemaDNG Raw @ 4608 x 2592
Sensor Size: 25.34 x 14.25 mm (Super-35)
Shutter Type: Rolling
Frame Rates: 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94, 60 fps
Battery: V mount plate, 2 Juicebox batteries and charger – $493
Memory: CF
Monitor: 5″ onboard
Base Price: $4,995

This is a very polarizing camera. Because Blackmagic is relatively new on the camera scene, its interface, features, and limitations are constantly being discovered, experienced, and judged by new users, and this is why you’ve got a lot of lovers and a lot of haters alike. Fifteen stops of latitude is incredible, but poor low-light performance and form factor are big drawbacks. Nice to have the 5″ onboard monitor, though, and internal 4K recording is how it should be done. It’s a bit cheaper, with higher specs than the competitors, but the ergonomics are not ideal. Learn more »

The Sony PXW-FS7


Sony FS7 – UHD 3840 x 2160 10-bit OR XAVC-I 4K 4096 x 2160 12-bit RAW via external recorder
Sensor Size: Super 35mm
Shutter Type: Rolling
Frame Rates: 59.94p, 50p, 29.97p, 23.98p, and 25p, and up to 180fps in 1080P
Battery: $265
Memory: XQD
Monitor: 3.5″ onboard
Base Price: $7,999

Pushing the price limit, this camera provides excellent images with its S-log3 gamma setting. The 180 fps in 1080 is a great bonus, as well. It’s best paired with an Odyssey monitor to get that 12-bit RAW 4K option. Learn more »

The Canon EOS C500

Canon EOS C500

Canon EOS C500 – 4K RAW 10bit 4096×1080 (via external recorder)
Sensor Size: Super 35mm
Shutter Type: Rolling
Frame Rates: 59.94p, 50p, 29.97p, 23.98p, 24p, and 25p
Extra battery: $149
Memory: CF
Monitor: none
Base Price: $6,999

Canon has a legendary color gamut, consistently achieves nice latitude, and, with a native ISO of 850 and minimal grain even at 6400, low light is not a problem. The C500 is a great camera for the field or in the studio, and the price has plummeted since its introduction in 2012, going from $30K to $17K to $10K, and now just $7K. This price drop is unprecedented, but necessary given the competitive industry landscape. My thought is that external 4K recording is about to go the way of the dodo and Canon is trying to sell as many of these as possible as quickly as possible. The C700, which records 4K internally, was just announced and will be available in December at an introductory price of $28,000. Learn more »

Personally, I’m waiting for a camera with a full-frame sensor and internal 12-bit 4k at 240 fps in the $10k range. Of course, I could be waiting a long time.

What other mid-range 4K camera solutions have you looked into or adopted? Let us know in the comments!

Top image: Still from ‘The Making of Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K