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DSLR Upgrades Blog

In this post I explain why your DSLR, in my case the Canon 6D, can’t cut it to shoot video, what the best the choices for a pro camcorder upgrade are, and what I ultimately chose.

Canon 6D wide

I bought the Canon 6D nearly 4 years ago, and I have to say it has served me well and I have grown to love it.

The 6D is obviously geared up as a high end DSLR, and using it for video takes a lot of work arounds, as I have explained previously in this blog:

How to Setup a Canon 6D DSLR Camera for Video

It has always been a fiddly beast when it comes to shooting video.

I originally bought it for a job following a group of cyclists across the Alps, hoping to get some stunning looking footage that would do them and the locations justice.

Looking back I think I it turned out as well as could be expected. It meant for a lot of extra effort I could achieve a high quality of video at an affordable price.

The more I used it the more I realised how much extra effort it takes, and with one (big) outlay of money each and every shoot could be so much easier. I put a lot of time and thought into this, after all its my livelihood and my life. And I feel it’s something beneficial to share.

 

So what exactly is my DSLR not doing that it should?

The following were ultimately insurmountable issues with the DSLR. Which, if you are serious, eventually call for an upgrade.

mic input 6D

Recording Audio

There’s only a mini jack audio in. I have covered this previously, and for any pro that is a nail in the coffin. I would have to record audio to another device, and then sync it up. Mini jack audio can be used, you can get mini jack radio mics (e.g. Rodelink Filmmaker), and directional mics (e.g. Rode Videomic, again). But the quality will never be there, it’s not physically secured well. But worst of all… monitoring it on the 6D is a nightmare.

Audio Monitoring

Monitoring audio will never work properly on the Canon 6D. There’s no headphone jack and the AV output workaround requires all manner of wires and a separate battery. (Though the 5D has a headphone jack.) Verdict: Whole world of pain.

Form Factor

It’s just not built to get a steady handheld video shot. It’s built for portability, to shoot from the hip to snap great stills. It is fine off the tripod, it has to be said. But handheld video needs something bigger, that you can get both hands round or lock into your shoulder to help stabilise the continuos handheld shots.

Tiffen ND Filter

ND Filters

What a pain having to screw the variable ND filter on and off as you go in and outside. How to suck the life out of any shoot.

You need a camcorder with built in HDs. What a difference it is to be able to just click them up and down as you roll.

Lack of HD High Speed (Slow Motion) Shooting Option

The Canon 6D can achieve 50fps at 720p. Which is OK for the odd shot if necessary, but not a long term solution. So many clients require it, and even if they don’t know they do, it can bring so many dull shots to life, inject beauty into the rowdiest, ugliest scenes, and give many a shoot that Wow factor. You’ve got to be able to shoot HD at high speed.

 

The Electronic View FinderCanon 6D EVF on  Canon 6D with eye piece EVF Eye piece

The 6D has a flat, immovable EVF, and no eye cup.

It requires an additional bit of kit to enable the screen to be seen in bright sun light

Just another thing to pack, and click on and off throughout the shoot. Which falls off about as often as you put it on. And being able to angle the EVF ‘opens the door’ to a whole range of different shooting angles.

Moire

The 6D suffered fairly badly here, and I need something with reduced effects of this.

 

So all of this meant that I was to destined to consign my DSLR to a B camera role. Great for second angles, on the odd occasion on which it is needed.

 

So what camera, or camcorder, is best as an upgrade from a DSLR like the Canon 6D to shoot video?

I thought about it long and hard, as of course there are a lot of options.

In my specific circumstance I need a video camera for corporate video production. I’ll have the Canon 6D DSLR as a backup, but I need something that addresses all the points above, gives a great look, has a good form factor for shooting video, and will work at low light if I don’t have the luxury of lighting a scene properly.

I am ruling out the standard documentary cameras such as the Sony PMW 300 and PMW 200 as they’re not going to give the ‘big budget’ look, I want something with interchangeable lenses.

I am not bothered about 4k as I produce predominantly for the web and I don’t envisage viewers on anything that will require 4k. If I do come across such a project I will hire a 4k camera, but there’s no need to pay for that luxury up front.

Here are the cameras I considered, in no particular order, with the factors which mattered most to me:

#01

Blackmagic Design URSA Mini 4k Digital Cinema Camera (EF-Mount)Ursa Mini

Bringing all the Blackmagic high spec low cost, customisability to the form factor of a movie camera.

Media recording: 2 x CFast cards

Audio input: 2 x XLR

Max Resolution: 4.6k

Lens Mount: EF Mount

Maximum Frame Rate: 60fps at 4k

Sensor Size: 22mm x 11.88mm. Called ‘Super35′ but that’s more the size of APS-C

Sensor Size Chart

CODEC: Apple Pro Res / Cinema DNG RAW

Global Shutter – pretty much unheard of at this price point, and who wouldn’t want that? I’d love to get rid of rolling shutter effects (see below pic). To my mind that ‘jello’ effect on a quickly moving object has no artistic merit.

Rolling Shutter

Price at time of this blog post: £2,600 inc VAT / USD $3,000

Pros: Blackmagic cameras are going to give you a lot of bang for your buck. It will look great. For me EF mount lens means I don’t have a big lens investment. Global shutter is fantastic, but not a deal sealer or breaker.

Cons: No internal ND. Not great at low light with a native ISO of 400 and max of 800.

Verdict: The quality is undeniable, but will it work as your sole corporate film production camera? I’m not convinced it’s flexible enough.

 

#02

Blackmagic Design URSA Mini 4.6k Digital Cinema Camera (EF-Mount)

Same camera as above in a 4.6k version.

Media recording: 2 x CFast

Audio input: 2 x XLR

Max Resolution: 4k

Lens Mount: EF Mount

Maximum Frame Rate: 120p in 2k resolution

Sensor Size: 25.34mm x 14.25mm (Super35)

CODEC: Apple Pro Res / Cinema DNG RAW

Global Shutter

Price at time of this blog post: £4,200 inc VAT / USD $5000

Pros: Again, a really, really nice camera. Bigger sensor (true Super 35), slightly higher resolution.

Cons:  No internal NDs. This model seems to add a lot of expense for a small increment in quality. Still poor in low light.

 

#03

Blackmagic Production CameraBlackmagic Production Camera

The 4k version of the Blackmagic flagship Cinema Camera.

Media recording: 2.5″ SSD

Audio input: 2 x 1/4” jacks

Max Resolution: 4k

Lens Mount: EF lens compatible

Maximum Frame Rate: 30fps

Sensor Size: 22mm x 11.88mm. ‘Super 35′, again more like APS-C in my book

CODEC: Apple Pro Res / Cinema DNG RAW

Global Shutter

Price at time of this blog post: £2.600 inc VAT / USD $3,000

Pros: Portable. Great value for money. High capacity to add third party hardware.

Cons: No NDs. Bad low light capability. Max ISO of 1600 results in high grain. Still suffers from moire as per the DSLR. No decent built in mic and no internal audio monitoring. The form factor of a DSLR is not much good for handheld or run and gun style. No high speed frame rates.

Verdict: For me the low light vulnerability and lack of a high speed frame option are the killers. All good if all I did was films or sit down interviews. And for this price I struggle to see why I’d not just opt for the Ursa which has a far better form factor, better audio inputs, 60fps, and for me a more convenient and cheaper media format of CFast.

 

#04

AJA CionAJA cion

Another beautifully spec’d and looking camera, that really had me thinking on its release.

Media recording: Pak Media (approx. £600 for a 256GB drive), Pak-Adapt-CFast (£100 for the adaptor).

Audio input: 2 x XLR

Max Resolution: 4k

Lens Mount: PL, with third party EF adaptors available

Maximum Frame Rate: 120 fps (4k, AJA RAW)

Sensor Size: 22.5mm x 11.9mm (APS-C )

CODEC:Apple Pro Res, AJA RAW

Global Shutter

Price at time of this blog post: £4,700 / USD $5,000

Pros: Supreme quality. I love the idea of this camera. Super high speed, global shutter,

Cons: Price is going up, but you do get a lot for it. But still no ND filter! PL lens mount not EF. Bad dynamic range (poor performance in low light) similar to the Blackmagic Production Camera. Media is expensive (or requires an adaptor).

Verdict: Great for film, but not suitable if it’s your only camera to cover all corporate video work with it’s low light issues and lack of NDs. Same as the Blackmagic range.

 

#05

Panasonic AF101Panasonic AF101

Fairly old now, but a well respected all rounder at the time.

Media recording: 2 x SD card slots

Audio input: 2 x XLRs

Max Resolution: 1080p HD

Lens Mount: Interchangeable (including EF) with the correct adaptor

Maximum Frame Rate: 60fps at HD

Sensor Size: 18.8 x 10.6 micro 4/3 rds

CODEC: AVCHD @ 21 Mbs

Rolling Shutter

Price at time of this blog post: £2,100 inc VAT / USD $2,600

Pros: Internal ND filter. Good at low light, good built in metres, good depth of field, right form factor, does do high speed. Low moire, few rolling shutter artefacts. Cheap, and compatible with EF lenses.

Cons: Going to need an Atomos to up the recording date rate which is the lowest here. Specs are just too out of date now (circa 2010), only records at HD and the picture quality is good but not up there with the Canon HD shooters. Sensor size is the smallest here.

Verdict: Great 5 years ago, but out of date. Still, at a price only just above the DSLRs it’d be a very advisable first camcorder instead of a DSLR. Do I wish I had done this instead of buying the Canon 6D? There’s a part of me that does, yes. But then I’ve learnt a lot about photography with that thing.

 

#06

Sony NEX-FS700Sony NEX-FS700

Mid range, yet well spec’d model. The ‘4k’ bit some mentioned is just the sensor, it doesn’t record 4k natively.

Media recording: Memory Stick Pro Duo / SD Card x 1

Audio input: 2 x XLR

Max Resolution: HD (4k can be achieved by buying an Odyssey 7Q at around £2000. An expensive and rather unwieldy addition)

Lens Mount: Sony E Mount. EF adaptor available (around £100)

Maximum Frame Rate: 60fps

Sensor Size: 24.9 x 18.7 Super 35 CMOS

CODEC: AVCHD @ 28 Mbs

Rolling Shutter

Price at time of this blog post: £4,500 inc VAT / USD $4,600

Pros: Built in NDs. Big sensor. Mid range slow motion. Cheap media.

Cons: Needs an Atomos to up the data rate – which can’t process the high speed, so you’re limited to the internal AVCHD rate for that. Sony E Mount. Pushing my price limit.

Verdict: There are better things available for in this price range, I’d push another £800 up and get the FS5.

 

#07

Sony PXW-FS7Sony PXW-FS7

Big cousin to the FS700. To be honest it’s too pricey for this comparison, but it’s such a popular camera it’s worth knowing what it can do and what it takes to afford those extra features.

Media recording: XQD card x 2, SD x 1

Audio input: 2 x XLR

Max Resolution: 4k

Lens Mount: Sony E mount

Maximum Frame Rate: 180 fps continuously @ HD / 60 fps 4k

Sensor Size: 24.9 x 18.7 Super 35 CMOS

CODEC: Apple Pro Res

Rolling Shutter

Price at time of this blog post: £7,300 inc VAT / USD $8,500

Pros: Fantastic set of specs including 4k. ND filters. Great high speed options. Great picture quality. Good form factor.

Cons: Way out of my price range. Sony E mount always feels a bit flimsy, or use an adaptor for EF. Very specific media card type.

Verdict: This is practically the dream spec of camera for me (except for the E Mount lenses), but not at an achievable price. Fantastic high speed frame rates, but be wary as these are still with a rolling shutter, so careful what you shoot with that super high speed as it will still be prone to the ‘jello’ roll.

 

#08

Sony PXW-FS5Sony PXW-FS5

Younger brother of the FS7.

Media recording: SDXC x 2

Audio input: 2 x XLR

Max Resolution: Ultra HD

Lens Mount: Sony E mount

Maximum Frame Rate: 240 fps @ HD with 8sec buffer

Sensor Size: 24.9 x 18.7 Super 35 CMOS

CODEC: MPEG-4 AVC @ 100 Mbs Long-GOP

Rolling Shutter

Price at time of this blog post: £5,300 inc VAT / USD $5,750

Pros: Also has a fantastic set of specs, still at 4k (give or take). ND filters. High speed options (albeit at HD only). Not as expensive as the FS7. Media type is more preferable to that of the FS7.

Cons: Still just out of my price range. Sony E mount lenses not ideal.

Verdict: Trumps the FS7 for me. What you lose spec-wise is minimal, but there’s a £2k price difference.

 

#09

Sony PMW-F3LSony PMW-F3L

Fairly out of date camera now. But offers all the standard HD features in a fairly cheap package.

Media recording: 2 x SxS Card

Audio input: 2 x XLR

Max Resolution: 1080p HD

Lens Mount: PL or FZ Mount

Maximum Frame Rate: 30fps

Sensor Size: 24.9 x 18.7 Super 35 CMOS

CODEC: M-PEG2 @ 35Mbps

Rolling Shutter

Price at time of this blog post: £3,000 inc VAT / USD $3,750

Pros: Great run and gun form factor. Large sensor size. Relatively cheap.

Cons: No high speed. 35 Mbs still too low, it needs to be at least 50 Mbs. So this will also require an Atomos card. SxS media is very expensive and not going to be much use for any other kit.

Verdict: Very dated camera. At this price range the C100 mark ii offers a lot more for only £500 more.

 

#10

Canon C100 mark iiCanon C300 mark ii

Media recording: 2 x SD Card

Audio input: 2 x XLR

Max Resolution: 1080p HD

Lens Mount: Canon EF

Maximum Frame Rate: 60fps

Sensor Size: 24.9 x 18.7 Super 35 CMOS

CODEC: AVCHD @ 28 Mbs

Rolling Shutter

Price at time of this blog post: £3,700 inc VAT / USD $4,000

Pros: Very high ISO setting (102,400) so excellent for low light. The mark ii has a moveable EVF and eye cup (unlike the mark i). It also has lightning quick dual pixel continuous AF autofocus. Uses Canon EF lenses. C-Log recording capability.

Cons: Requires the Atomos card yet again to get a decent data rate so you can grade the footage properly.

Verdict: The low light capability, the auto focus, slow motion (albeit it can’t be exported to the Atomos for Pro Res CODEC recording), low cost SD media, pro audio inputs, C-Log recoding option are mouth wateringly good. All at a very decent price point. And personally I love the way Canon designs its cameras: all very  intuitive and easy to use.

 

#11

Canon C100ii

Canon C300 mark ii

Media recording: 2 x CFast 2.0 and 1x SD

Audio input: 2 x XLR

Max Resolution: 4k

Lens Mount: Canon EF mount

Maximum Frame Rate: 120fps (cropped at 2k)

Sensor Size: 24.9 x 18.7 Super 35 CMOS

CODEC: MPEG-4 AVC @ 50 Mbs Long-GOP

Rolling Shutter

Price at time of this blog post: £11,000 inc VAT / USD $12,000

Pros: It has the lot, built in, ready to go.

Cons: Massively expensive. New Canon battery format so you have yet another expense. Still rolling shutter.

Verdict: This is only on the list as it is an ideal video camera. It requires no third party hardware, and gives a great image at a high data rate natively, and at high speed. But it’s 3 times the price which I can afford! It is (just) preferable to the FS7 (and stalwart FS5), but it’s very hard to justify doubling their price.

 

What camcorder did I ultimately chose as my DSLR upgrade to get better video?

Canon C100ii

The Canon C100 mark ii.

That’s what fitted budget – the mid range of these options.

I needed to save as much hassle and achieve as much as possible for as little layout as possible.

It requires the bolted on Atomos (Ninja, CFast recording) to achieve a decent data rate.

But my ultimate camera for cost, the Sony FS5, is still out of my league.

I don’t need ultra HD, and the extra slow motion can come project by project and the right camera can be hired in.

Why the Canon C100 ii?

• Good built-in features: Slow motion (at 60fps or 50fps Pal), ND filters, on board mic, moveable EVF with eye cup

C100-features

Max ISO on the C100ii

• Great auto focus, and good low light ability

• Media (Sd cards) I have already bought for the DSLR can be re-used in the camcorder

• The one drawback is the data rate of 28 Mbs in AVCHD. But that can be overcome using an HDMI out to the Atomos Ninja (around £300) recording to a CFast card.

It means making sure batteries for that device are charged, a couple more wires hanging around, and it’s a one off extra step to the setup.

But these things I can live with, they are surmountable, not such an ongoing pain in the backside as no NDs or no practically audio recording for example.Atomos on the C100ii

As for the lack of 4k, for me it is not an issue and clients are not asking for that. If they ever will need it for the internet who knows, but I can’t see how it’s necessary unless people start sitting a long way from their monitors.

• Cost. At £3.5k it’s one of the more affordable cameras.

The Ursa mini comes close, and is even cheaper at a mere £2.6k. But its struggle in low light and lack of NDs mean it’s just not practical for me.

The Sony FS5 at £5.3k ticks all the boxes, but that’s an extra £1500 on the price (allowing for the Ninja), and I opted to save money and pay the price of a little extra hassle. Which is really the same philosophy that lead me (and others) to getting a DSLR originally – low price (around £1500) yet high quality, achieved by a few workarounds.

So I opted for something that avoided most of the DSLR workarounds, just not quite all. But it upped the game of my primary camera to a level I am more than happy with.

Realistically it’s all about these baby steps, some people may opt to save longer and make a bigger jump, but I wanted to get on with the next stage ASAP. Of course it’s still leaving room for improvement, and where to go after this? Slow motion and high data rate are the next prerequisites for me. Would I go to the FS5 next? Maybe, but I think it’d be a slightly bigger leap than that, and a lot of other equipment is before it in the queue. At the moment I’d go C300ii or the FS7 depending on budget…and of course it all ultimately revolves around that.

Canon C100ii

But I for one am happy to sit back, shoot with my Canon C100 mark ii, and watch what wonders appear over the horizon over next few years.

________________________

I  hope you got a lot out of my list, and I’ve enjoyed creating it and checking out all the wonderful camera gear we have access to these days.

If you would like to provide feedback or even get a quote for a video production job, feel free to get in touch.

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