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Picking The Right Camera For The Right Job: C300/GH4/5D/BMCC/EPIC/ALEXA

Over the years I have gone through a lot of cameras. My first semi-professional camera was the infamous DVX100 which I later sold when I needed to upgrade to an HD camera, and the endless cycle of buying and selling cameras continued from there. As I started freelancing as a DP, I quickly realized that in order to do my job well I needed access to multiple cameras, as no single camera would work best for every situation.

I’m often asked by the readers of my blog, “which camera should I buy?”, which is a tough question to answer. So much of it depends on your needs as a filmmaker as well as your budget, but regardless today I am going to share some insight on some of the cameras that I own or use regularly, to help put camera choice in perspective. It’s worth noting that if you are just getting started, you don’t necessarily need more than one camera. There is a lot that can be done with a single camera, especially if you buy one that is versatile, but there is always the option of renting a camera as well if you feel the need to. Below are a few of the cameras I shoot with regularly and what I use them for:

Canon C100/C300

canon-c300

For a long while I didn’t want to touch the Canon C100/C300 cameras with a ten foot pole. They just seemed so overpriced given the specs, but I later came around to them after having the opportunity to shoot with a C300 on a lifestyle show. Both the C100 and C300 are cameras that deliver incredible images that look and feel much more impressive than you would expect based on their spec sheets. I like to use these cameras if I’m shooting in a run and gun situation (lifestyle/reality shooting, event coverage, documentary, etc.), while still maintaining a relatively high production value, as the image is gorgeous and the camera is very easy to shoot with. It is set up like a traditional video camera which makes using it optimal in many situations. It can also work well in a narrative environment, although it wouldn’t be my first choice. Below is a review video I did on the C100 which also compares it to one of the other cameras on this list, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera.

Lumix GH4

Lumic GH4

The GH4 is an amazingly versatile tool with one of the best images I have ever seen out of a DSLR. It shoots 4K and has just about every video feature you could ask for, and if it just had built in ND filters and a slightly different body, it would render my C100 obsolete. But because of the form factor and the nature of the MFT format, this camera is still a tool that I often end up using on my personal projects or on smaller freelance jobs where I can have my pick of camera. I did a video review on the GH4 that you can watch below, but in a nutshell I think this is an absolutely incredible tool for narrative filmmaking (especially when shooting guerrilla), as a possible B-Cam to a RED Epic or MX, and excellent for documentary work as well.

5D MKIII

5D MKIII

The trusty old 5D is still a camera that I would consider using from time to time. The image quality is the worst out of all of the cameras on this list, however it can shoot unbelievable stills (one of the best stills cameras on the planet right now), and it is still an industry standard video camera, even though the quality isn’t the absolute best. If I had to shoot a project that I might normally use my GH4 or BMCC for, but that also required stills, I would certainly consider the 5D. That choice would primarily be made based on the necessity of still photos, but with all that said the image quality coming from the MK III is actually still pretty good (all things considered). It may not be the best DSLR for video, but it’s still up there and capable of producing nice images, while also doubling as a fantastic stills camera if your project has those unique requirements. Out of all the cameras on this list, I would choose it last to shoot with in most situations, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad camera – just personal preferance!

Blackmagic Cinema Camera (2.5K)

blackmagiccinemacamera

The original Blackmagic Cinema Camera was really such a game changer. I jumped on the bandwagon right away and am still using the original 2.5K version as I prefer the image to both the 4K version as well as the Pocket Camera – even though both of those cameras are great tools as well. In my opinion this camera really should only be used for cinematic work as that is where it really shines, but it has been successfully used in documentary projects as well. Below is a teaser for my short film, shot on the BMCC last year:

I wouldn’t ever consider using the BMCC on a job that required a quick turnaround or a fast pace on set, as it is a camera that demands to be treated like a true cinema camera. Just like a RED or an Alexa, you need to take your time with it, build it out just the way you want it, and be conscious of the amount of data the camera is consuming. For certain freelance jobs (such as music videos or films) I will use the BMCC, but I mainly use it for my personal work as many outside projects require a camera that can be used more quickly and efficiently on set. Or in cases where a project does allow for a more substantial setup time during production/post, there is usually enough budget to use cameras like the following two.

RED EPIC/DRAGON

RED EPIC DRAGON

The Red is an excellent camera. I have never purchased one myself as I am not completely sold on RED. They make incredible cameras that are capable of capturing beautiful images, but there are lots of quirks and small issues with them that get under my skin. I particularly don’t like the fact that you need to use so much proprietary RED gear with the EPIC such as the RED MAGS which are extremely costly. Also, many other cameras (such as the BMCC and even the GH4) under the right conditions can produce an image that comes close to RED quality at a much lower price point. Is the RED a better camera? Yes, and it better be for the price! It will produce better images, it can shoot higher frame rates, and it is a more professional tool, but other cameras that are far less expensive do come very close. I will typically rent a RED when needed for a narrative film that requires 4K, slow-motion, and has a proper budget, or a higher budget commercial/music video project with those same requirements.

Arri Alexa

ALEXA-XT-

The Arri Alexa is hands down my favorite camera. The image quality is just perfect, the dynamic range is fantastic, and ergonomically the camera couldn’t be designed better. Unfortunately it has a steep price tag, even to rent, so this is a camera that is reserved for projects that have a substantial budget and can afford the large rental costs associated with this camera. That said, if money is not an issue, this camera would always be my number one choice to shoot a narrative film with as the image is the closest to 35mm film that I’ve ever seen. It’s no surprise that nearly every major Hollywood motion picture that is shot digitally is now shot on the Alexa, with the exception of a handful that are shot on the RED EPIC or other digital cinema cameras. If nothing else, the Alexa is the gold standard to which all other digital cinema cameras should be compared to in my opinion, and the camera that should be used for the highest level digital projects.

Final Thoughts

Any camera can be extremely powerful in the right hands. Lighting, composition, camera movement, lenses, and other variables all play a much bigger role in the final image than the camera itself. That said, it is still ideal to shoot with the best camera for the job to ensure that all of the legwork put into designing the image is captured in the best way possible. If you can only buy one camera – look at something like the C100 or GH4 as they are tools that can do it all, even if they can’t do everything perfectly. Otherwise, if you have more specific needs, some of the other cameras on this list might be your best bet, even if they are somewhat limited in their applications for other formats.

Be sure to leave a comment if you’re looking for advice on a camera that’s not on this list!

Also, if you’re looking for a quote on my DP rates (with or without gear), be sure to e-mail me any time at info@noamkroll.com

About Author

Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!

11 Comments

  • Satya
    October 21, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    Finally plz do tell me that A7S or black magic or c300 which is best for small budget film ? It’s narrative and realistic ! Budget is small so don’t want spend lot money in lighting ! Thank you

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      October 28, 2015 at 5:11 pm

      It really depends on the look you’re after! If you just want the most purely cinematic aesthetic, I would have to go Blackmagic. But if ease of use and low light are considerations, than the C300/A7S are great alternatives. Choosing between those two will come down to which form factor you prefer…

      Reply
  • Ryan
    July 4, 2014 at 4:00 am

    In addition if you were buying a new camera now what would you choose between the two. Thanks

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      July 6, 2014 at 5:59 pm

      The camera choice would really depend on the project. For instance, if everything was very planned and we were sticking closely to the script, I would likely go with the BMCC. Alternatively if I wanted to shoot more improv between the actors and be more flexible in the moment, the GH4 would be ideal. Both cameras can produce gorgeous images – The BMCC is more filmic right out of the box, but the GH4 can look very cinematic as well in the right hands.

      Reply
  • Ryan
    July 4, 2014 at 3:54 am

    So if you were doing narrative work would you go with the gh4 or bmcc. Which has a better image? thanks

    Reply
  • heri
    July 2, 2014 at 3:05 am

    Panasonic needs to take GH4’s sensor and image processing in the AF-100 body. Would solve a lot of headaches, on how do you use the GH4 on real practical work.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      July 4, 2014 at 12:56 am

      That would be nice! I would wager that next year at NAB we will see something along those lines…

      Reply
  • Paul
    July 2, 2014 at 12:51 am

    I can’t say I disagree with any of this. Very good post. I myself own a C300, C100, and GH4 (the 5D3 and possibly C100 is going away – mostly because I tend to hire shooters and produce/direct and edit now. But it’s nice to have good cameras to have for productions, and these three fit the bill extremely well. The GH4 in particular blows me away. With fast glass (say a F1.2 Noctitron vs a F4 24-105) the GH4 can actually shoot in lower light, usably, than the C100. Of course that’s a bunch of stops difference, but choose your glass and it is possible.

    All of that said, the build, heft, and IQ of the C300 and C100 will keep them as A and B cameras (running and gunning handheld with the GH4 tends to be a rolling shutter mess, whereas the C300 and C100 can pull it off easily), but the GH4 can easily shoot stock or be a superb B camera if needed. And someone on a low budget can certainly make it an awesome A camera if they can live within it’s limitations.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      July 4, 2014 at 12:56 am

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Paul! You make a very good point about the low light ability of MFT cameras… Many people forget that it’s much easier and more affordable to get extremely fast lenses for the MFT format, which definitely helps when it comes to the low light argument.

      Reply
  • Juan Dias
    July 1, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    Nice post!

    After 2 days i finally finished read your blog (all of it).
    A lot of useful informations here, thank you so much for that!

    I’ve missed some information about the new Sony A7s. I’ll would like to know your opinion about it when it comes to buy only one camera. Do you think it’s comparable to the C100 or GH4?

    Thanks for everything, Noam!
    Have a great week.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      July 4, 2014 at 12:54 am

      Thanks Juan – and wow that’s a lot of reading! Glad you enjoyed it. I haven’t used the A7S yet, but it looks really fantastic, especially for low light. I definitely think it is comparable in quality to both the C100 and GH4 but will probably be more of a competitor to the Gh4 since the form factor is similar. Will be sure to update with a review once I get my hands on one!

      Reply

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