2020 may be looked back upon in the near future as the year that everything changed. This is a still from the last production I shot pre-quarantine, just a week before the stay at home order was issued.
Heading into 2020 from 2019 saw a lot of excitement in the professional video/mirrorless hybrid/digital cinema camera space. We saw several new cameras introduced to the market in late 2019 and a few in 2020. There have been firmware updates to existing models and RAW recording ability added to some. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Supply chains have been interrupted. Manufacturing in most countries, but especially in China, was shut down for months and in some instances is still closed. I’ve engaged in several conversations with fellow DPs and video users online, and I thought it would be worthwhile to consider the current state of the pro video camera market and how the pandemic has affected it and continues to affect it.
As you’re probably aware, mirrorless hybrid cameras were the hottest growth and sales segment for 2019. With the introduction of cameras like the Panasonic Lumix S1H, which redefined what a mirrorless hybrid was capable of from a video spec and performance standpoint, mirrorless sales seem to have largely supplanted and, in some cases, replaced low-end, single sensor digital cinema “video” cameras. Since the Panasonic S1H has hit, Fujifilm has introduced the X-T4, which is very similar to the existing X-T3 but adds some exciting new features like IBIS and a larger battery for increased recording times. Canon has just released specs for its new R5, the first EOS R camera to be aimed at video professionals rather than high-end hobbyists as the existing EOS R and RS seem to have been. Sony has been conspicuously absent the from higher end mirrorless party with no news of the camera all Sony A7 fans have been waiting for—a new video-oriented A7 SIII.
Digital Cinema/Video Cameras
This is sort of a catchall category as I’m not sure if cameras like Sony’s new PXW-FX9 are truly considered digital cinema cameras? In the loosest sense of the term, the FX9 is a digital cinema camera in that it has a full frame 35mm sensor, a locking E-mount interchangeable lens mount and other more cinema-oriented features. I see few films being shot with the FX9 though; it seems to be more in the realm of a mid-level video camera much more commonly found at live events, corporate shoots, etc., than on narrative films projects. I reviewed the FX9 a couple of months ago and it’s an impressive, easy-to-use camera for the money.
Around the same time, Canon introduced the new EOS Cinema C500 MKII, a higher end digital cinema camera that shoots Canon’s internal Cinema RAW Light and features a 6K full frame sensor. Since then, Canon recently released specs and a shipping date for the EOS Cinema C300 MKIII. The camera shares the body and much of its feature set with the C500 MKII, but it retails for the same price as the FX9. The C300 MKIII has a S35 4K sensor though. It’s not full frame but it does shoot Canon’s excellent Cinema RAW Light format and has a brand-new sensor and DR technology.
Not to be outdone, Chinese manufacturer Z CAM announced and has begun shipping their new Z CAM E2-S6 (6K S35 sensor), E2-F6 (6K FF sensor) andE2-F8 (8K FF) cameras. The Z CAMs have an amazing feature set for their prices, which are very reasonable, ranging from their M43 sensor E2C at $799 all of the way up to that top-of-the-line E2-F8, which sells for a modest $5,995. In a similar space but a higher feature and spec level, Chinese manufacturer Kinefinity just introduced their MAVO Edge, a $11,999 8K digital cinema camera that can shoot up to 8K at 75fps. The camera boasts many innovative features at its price point, including internal ProRes RAW recording and an internal variable ND filter system.
While not a mirrorless hybrid, the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K is a relatively new 6K camera that looks like a mirrorless hybrid but isn’t one. It’s an amazingly capable small digital cinema camera that sells for $2,495. Oh, but wait, that was before they announced a $500 price drop, resulting in a $1,995 6K internal RAW capable S35 sensor camera with a Canon EF lens mount that’s also capable of functioning as part of a live streaming system with the newly announced Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro, a four-channel live stream switcher that can also act as a CCU and paintbox for the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K and 6K models.
The Camera Market For The Remainder Of 2020
My primary purpose of this up-to-date camera market status check wasn’t to just go through a recap of camera releases for the past six months. We’re in the midst of an unprecedented worldwide pandemic. The world economy has taken a huge hit that we haven’t even felt the effects of yet. Video and film production has essentially ground to a halt in almost every area of the globe. Unfortunately, for many of the most recently introduced cameras like the Canon EOS C300 MKIII and the Fujifilm X-T4, it’s potentially one of the worst times to bring a new camera to market in decades.
Development and manufacturing have a long lead time though, so I don’t blame companies for proceeding with new camera introductions that were slated for NAB 2020 and Cine Gear. I don’t profess to know what even the near future holds as far as the video and digital cinema business; things are just too chaotic and unknown. It’s a bit ironic that as this latest crop of cameras has standardized with amazing features like 6K RAW recording, full-frame sensors are quickly becoming, if not the defacto standard then a much-desired specification for anyone shopping for a new video or digital cinema camera, yet few of us have a true need for a new camera, at least at the moment.
Internal RAW recording, Sony’s variable electronic ND filter system, Blackmagic Designs new integration of their Pocket Cinema cameras into live streaming production—we’re experiencing some of the most innovative new features, specifications and ideas around camera designs than we’ve seen in many years. For me, personally, as someone who has a chance to test, review and experience what the latest and greatest production technology has to offer, It’s too bad that much of this new excitement is coming to the market in a time when most us can’t do much shooting beyond our living room or backyard.
This event makes me wonder what kind of long-term effect this could have on the future development of new camera technology. We’ve been in a new model, new feature, innovation bonanza with cameras and this technology for a long time. Might this pandemic slow down what has been a past decade of furious innovation? If you take a look at where we’ve come with cameras since 2010, it makes me ponder where we’ll be with camera technology in 2030, a decade from now. I don’t have the answer on what the new normal might be, but even of we take a breather in the sensor size, raster size race, we have new tools available and shipping soon that should be able to keep us at the cutting edge for years.