2021 has been a beehive of activity by camera makers in a race to offer the most innovation and features for far less money than just a few years ago. Cameras in this category offer an almost unbelievable amount of sophisticated features that just a few years ago cost a lot more if the features were even available then.
Let’s be frank with each other. We all experienced it. Since the pandemic rocked the world in the spring of 2020, paid production work was at a premium. There was simply an entire industry of production people, content producers, videographers and cinematographers out of work. Yet, because of the delays needed to design a new camera, test it, modify it, obtain user input and then actually produce it for sale, almost inexplicably, we saw a flood of new cameras hitting the market. Out of all of those new cameras, we decided to take a look at what seem to be the three hottest cameras on the market.
After almost a year of little to no work for many, users are eager to upgrade to these innovative and interesting new cameras, and the hottest segment is the $6,000 and under price range. A few years ago, the hottest camera segment for growth was the $10,000 and under range, so it makes sense that in 2021, the relentless downward pressure to make better, more capable cameras for lower prices has resulted in a crop of new offerings that are simply amazing for the money. Here’s a look at the year’s top three hybrid/digital cinema cameras under $6,000.
Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema 6K Pro – $2,495
Unveiled in February of 2021, utilizing the same S35 sensor as its predecessor, the Pocket 6K Pro updates what was already a good camera into a great one. Kind of a halfway point between a mirrorless hybrid form factor and a real digital cinema camera, most of the complaints I had when I reviewed the original Pocket 6K were directly addressed by Blackmagic in this product update. My number one complaint was the extremely short run times provided by the small, Canon LPE6 batteries used in the original. The Pocket 6K Pro now utilizes Sony NP-F570 batteries for longer recording and standby times and if you add the optional $145 battery grip, you can triple the camera’s recording and standby time.
The screen on the original Pocket 6K was good quality but basically useless in direct sunlight at about 350 nits in brightness. The screen was also fixed at the back of the camera body, rendering it difficult to use when the camera was positioned anywhere other than eye height. The Pocket 6K Pro adds a tilting screen to better view it when shooting at height or lower angles, and at 1500 nits, the screen is actually viewable in direct daylight.
Blackmagic also offers an optional EVF at $495. Not everyone wants or needs an EVF, but I find them indispensable for documentary-style run-and-gun shooting. The Pocket 6K Pro still isn’t a perfect camera; being made of polycarbonate, it feels a bit fragile compared to a metal body. The camera can still die without warning when batteries are low. The Pocket 6K Pro has AF but only the most basic single take AF, rendering it useless for moving subjects. Despite these limitations, the images and sound rendered by the Pocket 6K Pro can be amazing if you have the chops. An incredibly capable pro-level digital cinema camera that can shoot 6K RAW or 4K and smaller ProRes with dual XLR audio inputs for a mere $2,495? Yes, please.
Sony Alpha a7S III Mirrorless Hybrid camera – $3,498
If you aren’t averse to the mirrorless hybrid form factor, the Sony a7S III is the mirrorless hybrid that the world has been waiting for. For years. The Sony Alpha series cameras have had solid video capability since their introduction, but the a7S III is the video-centric version that many have been wanting for a long time. Almost all of the previous Alpha a7 series bodies were limited to 100Mbps recording at 8-bit codecs. While these specs were okay during the a7 heyday of a few years ago, in 2020, those specs were beginning to be laughable when the competition had all moved onto much higher data rates, recorded at 10-bit.
The early a7 variants also suffered from overheating issues when doing long takes or shooting in hot conditions. The a7S III remedies all of these issues with a more sophisticated internal cooling system, as well as the ability to record in 4:2:2 10-bit UHD at up to 280Mb/s! On top of that, the a7S III features Sony’s latest generation AF technology, the 759-Point Fast Hybrid AF, and having tested it, is quite amazing. This camera has the opposite of the Pocket 6K Pro, incredibly capable AF that locks onto a subject and tracks beautifully, even if the subject turns away from camera or leaves frame and re-enters.
If your needs are more for an event-based camera (weddings, events, documentary for instance?) that’s capable of tracking subjects with accuracy and almost infinite adjustability, the a7S III should be on your list. Its full-frame 24x36mm sensor allows for cleaner images in low or available lighting conditions as well as the unique FF field of view. The a7S III has definitely been the hottest mirrorless camera of the past year.
Canon EOS Cinema C70 – $5,499
Much like Blackmagic Design has created a category-busting camera with the Pocket 6K Pro, it’s not a mirrorless hybrid camera, but its form factor is closer to a mirrorless hybrid than a traditional video camera, so Canon has done in their own way with the EOS Cinema C70. The most apt description of the C70 is a mirrorless camera on steroids that grew into a digital cinema camera.
What’s most notable about the C70 is that for a mere $5,499, you’re ending up with the same sensor that Canon puts into their much higher end and twice as expensive C300 Mark III. This S35 sensor uses a dual gain output structure (aka as DGO) to bring super clean, detailed high dynamic range images to the party, making the C70 not only a great camera on its own but the perfect B or C camera if you shoot with Canon’s much more costly C300 Mark III or C500 Mark II.
The C70 is also the first EOS Cinema Canon to utilize Canon’s “soon to be the standard” RF lineup of lenses. Production has been stopped on a significant portion of Canon’s EF lens line and although they’re the most popular lenses in the world by volume sold, the future for Canon is clearly their RF lens lineup. The great thing about the RF mount, besides the lenses themselves, is the ability for the RF mount to easily adapt PL and other lens mounts, owing to its much shallower flange depth than the EF mount. Canon also offers a 0.71x convertor for EF lenses, making their FOV wider and adding a stop of speed along the way.
While the C70 lacks some professional features, namely full-sized XLR audio inputs (it has dual mini XLR connections), no SDI outputs (although it does feature an SDI TC input!), no EVF or RAW recording and no easy ability to be shoulder mounted, for many users, the great sensor, full feature list, RF mount and overall great image quality outweigh these missing features. The C70 has been a hot seller since its introduction.
Check the price and availability of the Canon C70 at B&H.
We anticipate that the sub $6,000 market will continue to be a hotbed of innovation with manufacturers raising the bar continually, trying to outdo each other. As buyers, we all benefit from the added competition.