A few years ago when large sensor camcorders like the Canon C300 and Sony FS100 first hit the market, many of us thought the DSLR revolution was going to die. After all, why would people keep shooting video on DSLRs when they could now achieve the same quality level on a cameras with better ergonomics? As it turned out though, there was room in the market for both – which is why DSLRs/Mirrorless cameras are as relevant today as ever before.
Today, filmmakers and content creators have a lot of choice when it comes to camera gear. And while many productions may prefer to shoot with cameras that offer a more traditional form factor, DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras continue to offer benefits that simply can not be ignored.
For one, they afford us the ability to be conspicuous. Filmmakers that need to shoot guerrilla style simply don’t have the luxury of walking around with an Arri Alexa on their shoulder – even if they can afford one. DSLRs are literally everywhere, and for shooters that need to keep a low profile, there is arguably no better way than by shooting on a camera that will literally blend into the background.
But it’s not just about what you can get away with when shooting on a DSLR. It’s also about the usability… Assuming you are shooting on a DSLR/Mirrorless camera that isn’t fully rigged up with loads of accessories, it’s footprint is going to be very small. This means it will be physically lighter, easier to travel with, easier to mount/rig, and more accessible at a moments notice. It will never offer all of the features of a true cinema camera, but it will offer a level of convenience and accessibility that is unmatched by almost any other type of camera on the market.
Not to mention, DSLRs/Mirrorless cameras come with the added benefit of excellent still photo capabilities, which is certainly an asset for many filmmakers. Whether the camera is being used to gather production stills, promo material, reference shots, or anything else for that matter, there is something to be said about having the ability to capture incredible stills with the same tool that you’re using to capture your video content. And while it may technically be possible to pull high-res stills from your 4K digital cinema camera, the workflow and ergonomics that go along with doing so are less than ideal.
These are just a couple of the reasons why the DSLR/Mirrorless market for video is still thriving today. At the same time, the market is also more confusing than ever. There are more choices now than ever before, and where some cameras excel, others seem to fall by the wayside.
For that reason, I decided to put together a list of my top 4 DSLRs or Mirrorless cameras for 2017.
As you read through the list, please take into account a few things:
First off, this list is simply based on my own opinion as a filmmaker… One that mainly shoots narrative and commercial content. Just because a certain camera isn’t on this list, doesn’t mean it’s not good. There are literally dozens of great cameras that could have easily made it on this list too, but didn’t make the cut for one or two specific reasons.
This list may change or evolve as the year goes on, since some of these cameras have yet to hit the shelves, and other new cameras will emerge as the months go on.
With that in mind, here are my top 4:
Sensor size: Super 35 (APS-C)
Maximum Resolution: 3840 x 2160 (UHD)
Maximum Frame Rates: 30 @ UHD, 60 @ HD
Price: $1599 at B & H
Fuji have been a serious contender in the stills world for quite some time now, but they haven’t been able to make much of a dent in the video world… At least until now.
Not long ago, the excellent Fuji X-T2 was released and for the first time many filmmakers started to consider Fuji a real competitor in the video space. This was the case for a number of reasons:
First off, the X-T2 came out of the gate offering a lot of the critical features that filmmakers have come to expect in today’s market – most notably it’s ability to shoot in 4K. But more importantly, the Fuji X-T2 is packed with features that go above and beyond the competition, such as it’s Log profile (which still isn’t common in most prosumer cameras today), and other features that are completely unique to the Fuji brand.
One of the reasons photographers have been drawn to Fuji’s stills cameras for years now, is due to their built in film emulation modes. The X-T2 harnesses this technology, giving video shooters the ability to add extremely realistic film looks to their shots, right in the camera.
The X-T2 also offers a true Super 35mm (APS-C) sized sensor, which I personally think is a huge asset… Especially today, when the vast majority of DSLRs/Mirrorless cameras that excel with video either have Full Frame or Micro Four Thirds sensors.
All sensor sizes have their advantages. But Super 35mm sensors are arguably the most well rounded and versatile in terms of their ability to adapt lenses while still delivering very shallow DOF, and offering a field of view that is on-par with true motion picture cameras.
Pros: F-Log picture profile, built in film emulation, Super 35mm sensor, low price.
Cons: No DCI 4K option (just UHD)
Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds
Maximum Resolution: 4K / 6K Photo Mode
Maximum Frame Rates: 60 @ 4K
The GH-line from Panasonic/Lumix has been legendary ever since the release of the GH2, which took the indie film world by storm. With each new release, Panasonic seems to be pushing the boundaries and limits of their flagship mirrorless cameras further and further, and the GH5 looks like it will be no different.
The GH5 has not yet hit the market, and not all of it’s specs and features are known at this point. Even still, the little that we do know about the camera already sets it apart from many of it’s competitors, which is why it was a very easy choice for this list.
Unlike almost all other DSLRs/Mirrorless cameras, the GH5 is capable of recording 4K video at 60 frames per second. This is practically unheard of in this market segment, and Panasonic is clearly setting the bar high with this feature alone. Other standout specs include internal 10 bit recording in 4K (up to 30fps), and a 6K photo mode – both of which are groundbreaking achievements in their own right.
Like it’s predecessors, the GH5 will utilize a Micro Four Thirds sensor, which can be a positive or negative depending on who you ask. For shooters that prefer a Full Frame look, this will of course be a drawback. But for those that are willing to use a Speed Booster to achieve a field of view similar to Super 35mm, and enjoy the added benefit of being able to adapt almost any lens to their camera, the MFT system is an excellent option.
Pros: 60p at 4K, internal 10bit recording, 6K photo mode.
Cons: Small-ish (MFT) sensor.
OLYMPUS E-M1 MARK II
Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds
Maximum Resolution: 4096/2160 (DCI 4K)
Maximum Frame Rates: 24 @ 4K DCI, 30 @ UHD, 60 @ HD
Price: $1999 at B & H
Olympus has been stepping up their game substantially over the last few years in both the photo and video realms. Some of their recent offerings including the M5 Mark II and the original E-M1 have been enticing to filmmakers, but neither have taken off in the way that their competitors (namely Panasonic and Sony), have been able to.
All of that might change this year though, with the release of their new flagship camera, the E-M1 Mark II. Like it’s predecessor the E-M1 Mark II will offer in-body 5 axis stabilization, which in and of itself is likely to separate this camera from the rest of the pack. While many other cameras offer some form of in-body stabilization, Olympus have been trailblazers in this department. As stabilization continues to evolve into a must have feature, the E-M1 MK II is certainly going to have an edge with filmmakers – especially those that need to shoot on the fly with minimal kit.
The camera also offers 4K recording with a 237 Mbit codec, which is far beyond the average 100 Mbits that many DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras are currently maxing out at. Like the GH5, this camera will come equipped with a MFT sized sensor, which again can be a benefit or a drawback, depending on how you like to shoot.
While this camera also hasn’t hit the street just yet, it will undoubtably do some serious damage once it does… Not just in the video world, but the photo world too. Olympus is known for delivering incredible stills quality on their cameras, so for shooters that are looking for a best of both worlds camera (and don’t need full frame), the E-M1 Mark II is going to be an excellent option.
Pros: 5-axis sensor stabilization, high bit rate codec, excellent stills capabilities.
Cons: No Log recording option, Small-ish (MFT) sensor.
CANON 5D MARK IV
Sensor size: Full Frame (Super 35 crop in 4K mode)
Maximum Resolution: 4096 x 2160 (DCI 4K)
Maximum Frame Rates: 30/24 @ 4K, 60 @ HD
Price: $3499 at B & H
You might find it surprising that I’ve included the 5D Mark IV on this list, as from a technical perspective it underwhelmed a lot of filmmakers when it was first announced. The biggest complaints were it’s MJPEG Codec, the Super 35mm crop when shooting in 4K, and the camera’s lack of a Log picture profile.
As I outlined previously in this blog post however, many of these issues really shouldn’t be deal breakers for the vast majority of filmmakers. And while the 5D Mark IV certainly is not perfect, it does have a whole lot to offer above and beyond it’s competition, especially in the color department.
As someone that has never been a huge fan of their brand, I still have to give credit where credit is due – Canon offers arguably the best color science of any DSLR/Mirrorless camera manufacturer out there right now. This is the number one reason the 5D Mark IV is on this list. The images it produces are absolutely gorgeous, largely thanks to it’s ability to render vivid and accurate colors.
Not to mention, Canon’s cameras almost always produce images that are far stronger than what you might expect based on their spec sheets alone. So while the 5D Mark IV may not have nearly as many bells and whistles as some of it’s competitors, it can run laps around many of them when it comes to straight up image quality.
And for shooters that also take stills – the 5D Mark IV is a no brainer, as it is undeniably one of the best stills cameras on the market. It’s also worth noting that this is the only true DSLR camera on the list, a definite sign of the times.
Pros: Excellent color science, beautiful overall image quality, incredible stills.
Cons: Super 35mm crop in 4K mode, no Log picture profile, outdated MJPEG codec.
That completes the list!
However I will leave you with one more camera that deserves an honorable mention:
SONY A7S II
Sensor size: Full Frame
Maximum Resolution: 3840 x 2160 (UHD)
Maximum Frame Rates: 30/24 @ UHD, 120/60 @ HD
Price: $2998 at B & H
I know some of you may be surprised that I didn’t place any of Sony’s cameras on this list (despite the fact that I do believe the A7S II deserves a mention!). Here is my rationale:
There is no question that Sony have all the right intentions when it comes to Mirrorless video technology, and in many respects they are leading the pack in terms of specs and performance on their cameras. The A7S II is a massive achievement and countless filmmakers are using this camera today for good reason.
The A7S II offers incredible low light performance, internal UHD recording, a Full Frame sensor, Log recording, in body sensor stabilization, and much more. As someone that previously owned an A7S II, I am very well aware of why this camera is so popular. But at the same time I’m also well aware of many of it’s drawbacks… One of which in particular led me to sell the camera – it’s color science.
For the very reason that the Canon 5D Mark IV made my list, the Sony A7S II did not. Like many of Sony’s other cameras, it suffers from very poor color science, which for me is a major deal breaker. While I very much appreciate Sony’s willingness to cram as many features and specs into their cameras as possible, I am someone that chooses my cameras based on the images they deliver, not the specs they offer on paper.
I’ve shot numerous projects on the A7S II, and in some cases I was able to color grade the footage to a point where I was relatively happy… But it always took a lot of heavy lifting. Not to mention, in each of these instances I felt that I could have achieved better color results if I had used a different camera. Every filmmaker’s priorities are different, and for me color is at the very top of my list, right up there with dynamic range.
For many others, Sony’s color issues may not be a deal breaker. Particularly those that shoot documentary content and may benefit from the low light capabilities of the A7S II. But for those like myself that recognize the achilles heel of the A7S II, it’s lackluster color performance might just be a deal breaker.
Pros: Excellent in low light, Full Frame, 2 Log recording options.
Cons: Poor color science, substantial rolling shutter artifacts.
No camera is ever going to meet every single filmmaker’s needs, but I believe the ones listed above offer the best performance and overall quality for those seeking out a DSLR/Mirrorless camera in today’s market.
For filmmakers that want the ultimate all-rounder, the Fuji X-T2 is arguably the best bet on this list. It’s Super 35mm sensor and extensive feature set makes it ideal for both stills and video, not to mention the fact that it’s price is highly competitive.
Those of us that are looking for the most power under the hood are likely going to turn to the Lumix GH5, as it offers a ton of boundary pushing features, like internal 10-bit and 6o fps recording in 4K. For those that plan to do more heavy post production (specifically color grading/speed ramping in 4K), the GH5 is going to have an edge over the competition.
And for shooters that have an equal preference for stills and video, the Olympus E-M1 Mark II and Canon 5D MK IV are going to offer great solutions for the MFT and Full Frame markets respectively. This is of course because they both excel as stills cameras, as much (or more so) than they do as video cameras.
I know it’s a cliche, but as always I like to remind my readers at the end of these posts that it isn’t the tool that matters, it’s your skill. There is no substitute for great framing, lighting, and creative direction. But when you can find a tool that lines up with your creative intentions and allows you to work in the most effective way possible, it can be a match made in heaven. That’s why I still create these lists!
I hope this has helped give you some clarity on your options in the 2017 DSLR/Mirrorless camera market, and I look forward to sharing some updates, reviews, and more input on these cameras and more in the near future.
UPDATE: For those of you looking for some more cinematic tools, be sure to check out my 6 brand new Cinematic LUT packs, all of which have been carefully designed to help you achieve an organic, filmic look while keeping post-production time to a minimum. Click here to learn more!