The Great Camera Divide Is Growing

New cameras like the Blackmagic Design Ursa Mini Pro 12K that boast innovative new sensor technology as well as the highest resolution available for less than $10,000? It must be the Great Camera Divide of 2021!

Have you noticed it yet? The great camera divide. What exactly do I mean by the term, “the great camera divide”? It’s simple. Have you noticed that really almost all of the action in the video and digital cinema camera market has been in the sub $10,000 price point the past couple of years? Think about. Since the pandemic began almost a year ago in March of 2020, how many new cameras have hit the market that cost more than $10,000?

  • Canon C500 MKII – $15,999
  • Canon C300 MKIII – $10,999
  • Sony FX9 – $10,998
The Canon C70 utilizes the same sensor used in the twice as expensive C300 MKIII as well as a plethora of innovative and useful features and codecs that allow 4:2:2 10-bit internal recording, all for under $5,500.

I may be forgetting some others, but these cameras are the big three new cameras from the two largest manufacturers. Let’s compare and contrast that with the new crop of professional cinema and mirrorless cameras in the sub- $10,000 budget range that have been introduced since Covid-19 changed the world as we know it:

  • Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro – $2,495.
  • Blackmagic Design Ursa Mini Pro 12K – $9,995.
  • Canon EOS C70 – $5,499.
  • Canon EOS R5 – $3,899.
  • Canon EOS R6 – $2,499.
  • Fujifilm X-T4 Mirrorless Digital Camera – $1,699.
  • Panasonic Lumix BGH1 Cinema 4K Box Camera – $1,997.
  • Panasonic Lumix DC-S5 Mirrorless Digital Camera – $1,997.
  • RED Komodo 6K Digital Cinema Cameras – $5,995.
  • Sony FX6 – $5,998.
  • Sony Alpha 1 Mirrorless Digital Camera – $6,498.
  • Sony Alpha A7 SIII Mirrorless Digital Camera – $3,498.
  • Sony FX3 Mirrorless Digital Camera – $3,898.
  • ZCAM E2-M4 Professional 4K Cinema Camera – $1,499.
Long-awaited as the successor to Sony’s popular FS5, the FX6 features a full-frame sensor, Sony’s S-Cinetone gamma and 10-bit 4:2:2 XAVC-I recording for less than $6,000.

By an informal count (I’m sure I’m probably missing some other cameras released, but the cameras I listed were definitely the big ones), I count three new cameras that cost more than $10,000. By the same count, I can think of 14 new cameras introduced since March of 2020 that are in the sub-$10,000 price range.

What conclusions can we draw from the introduction of so many new “reasonably” priced cameras in both the digital cinema and mirrorless space? I tried to only include mirrorless cameras that seem to be more oriented toward video shooting.

While the global pandemic has continued to rage throughout 2020 and well into 2021, production at all levels, from Hollywood projects that cost hundreds of millions down to small local projects that cost a few thousand dollars, has all taken a huge hit over the past year.

If we take a step back from just thinking about cameras, the world of production has been torn apart by the pandemic. I personally had over $30,000 in booked projects that simply canceled and disappeared in March and April of 2020, never to return. I’m in the Los Angeles market and since the outbreak of Covid, the amount of television and film production that has started has been very small compared to normal years. Lower-end work like weddings, events, video and film production has ground to a halt as people are still not permitted to gather in large numbers, so weddings and live events have gone virtual, but live streaming is a very different type of business than normal video and film production. Has the radical curtailment of so much production been the main culprit in the transformation of the pricing structure of the pro camera market?

I, for one, don’t buy that. The design cycle for pro video and digital cinema cameras is so long that most of the cameras in the lists above were designed anywhere from one to three years ago. That’s the lead time for professional cameras—they usually take longer than six months to conceive, design, prototype, assemble, test, revise, manufacture and ship. So, few—if any—of the cameras above were thought of and designed during the pandemic. There must be other factors at play here and I believe that.

The hottest high-end digital cinema camera remains the Arri Alexa Mini LF for a variety of reasons. Typically, cameras like this are used on projects where the overall budget is in the millions, although there are obviously plenty of music videos and commercials that also use it. But the Arri Alexa Mini LF remains the weapon of choice for features and episodic TV in 2021.

Here’s a way to think about the great camera divide—the differences between sub-$10,000 cameras and cameras that cost considerably more. Prosumer used to be a term for high-end consumer electronics that borrowed some features from and veered toward pro-level products but still cost far less than true professional products. In 2021, the differences between pro-level products and consumer has blurred a tremendous amount and term “Prosumer” has become largely irrelevant.

In the highest-end production of feature films and episodic TV, the weapons of choice have largely been Arri and RED with a few projects shot on high-end Sonys like the Venice or the Panasonic Varicam 35. The same for high-end broadcast sports and events, Sony owns a huge chunk of that market for 2/3” three-chip cameras, and a good portion of those cameras are in a similar price range as the aforementioned digital cinema cameras.

The Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema 6K Pro improves on some of the complaints and opportunities of its predecessor by adding an option EVF, built-in ND filters, a 1,500 nit tiltable screen and more robust battery/powering options.

Once you drop below the level of features, episodic TV, high-end broadcast sports and events though, the market that a large portion of us are in offers little reason to buy a camera that costs more than $10,000 in the past couple of years. If you want resolution, the highest resolution camera on the market—the Blackmagic Design Ursa Mini 12k—costs less than $10,000. If you want a highly capable mirrorless hybrid, the Canon R5 and the Sony Alpha 1 are both top-end still cameras that can also shoot 8K video. If you want an affordable but incredibly capable mini digital cinema camera, the new Blackmagic Design Pocket 6k Pro ticks a lot of boxes for high-end features at a very low-end price. If you’ve always wanted a RED but couldn’t afford one, the new RED Komodo is an excellent digital cinema camera with RED lineage and image quality for less than $6,000.

The RED Komodo is an excellent, small, light and inexpensive addition to the RED lineup. It features a 19.9 MP Super35 Global Shutter CMOS sensor, Canon RF lens mount and weighs only 2.1 pounds.

When it gets down to it, more and more higher-end work is getting done using cameras that cost less than $10,000 and often even less than $5,000. If you’re working in a level of production where millions of dollars are on the line, you’re likely still going to want to use an Arri, Panavision or Venice. But for those of us who exist in the less rarefied world of corporate work, events, weddings, documentaries and low-budget features where having a certain camera isn’t often required by the client, sub-$10,000 puts you on the good side of the great camera divide.

This is what has been the silver lining of the pandemic cloud the past year—the cameras that are coming out that sell for under $10,000 are amazingly capable and high quality. All of the caveats about good lighting, excellent camera support and spending money on high-quality glass still apply, but as for the cameras themselves, I think we’re just at the beginning of the curve for sub-$10,000 cameras. In the coming years, these cameras will become more sophisticated with better, more impressive, useful features for less money. I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s coming next.