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October 2017
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  • The Facilities 50
    Jon Creamer launches Televisual's 30th exclusive annual Facilities 50 survey featuring the top post production houses in the UK and 52 pages of analysis of the sector
  • Interview: Grant Mansfield
    Hiring top talent and investing heavily in development have been key to growing his Bristol indie Plimsoll Productions, says founder Grant Mansfield
  • The clear view: lenses
    What ever genre you work in, you need to be lens savvy. Here three DoPs guide us through the lens market, picking out the models they like to use in drama and factual
  • Over the top
    The growth of Netflix and Amazon is proving a boon for UK indies, but broadcasters are starting to panic. Tim Dams reports
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    The producers of Blue Planet II tell Tim Dams how tech advances and military planning helped them capture the secrets of the deep
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Which Camera? Back to Reports & survey Listing

Televisual reveals the most used cameras in each of the creative industry’s key production genres and asks why particular camera models reign supreme. David Wood reports

The camera market has been undergoing a process of constant transformation over the last few years. The agents of change are technological innovations such as 4K, file-based media and the entry of new players who have challenged the more established manufacturers.

The aim of Which Camera? is to point to the most readily used cameras in the major genres of production and to discuss why these models have risen to the top.

In some instances cameras such as the Arri Alexa and Canon C300 dominate the market. In other areas market leaders are much harder to pick out, with a much wider range of cameras proving popular.

Which Camera? will be the first in a series of reports in Televisual which will take a closer look at the technology which is most widely used in media production, with the spotlight falling on lenses and lighting in future issues. Our thanks to Procam, Shooting Partners, Alias Hire, DV Talent, S+O Media, Visual Impact, WTS Broadcast, Onsight, VMI, No Drama Ltd and Decode who helped compile the report. Hires rates are expressed as day rates.

Drama
There are no prizes for guessing the camera which holds sway in the world of film and high end TV drama. The Arri Alexa’s dominance shows no sign of changing, with sources suggesting that over 95% of TV drama is shot using one or other version of the Alexa camera.

Red has a significant market share in film and is particularly well regarded in the USA. It’s the camera of choice for vfx heavy features and for those who really care about pixel counts, with the Red Dragon capable of 6K images. But the Alexa’s position is not impregnable. One cloud on the horizon is the growing popularity of 4K. The Sony F65 was one of the first 4K cameras but was too big, bulky and expensive, but Arri faces increasing competition from Sony’s F55, a geniune 4K camera which costs much less. In response Arri has launched its own higher resolution Alexa SXT series, although purists would contend this is not a true 4K camera.

The big question is to what extent that matters. Many DPs seem less interested in 4K than the men in white coats with pens in their top pockets and spend much of their time downgrading 4K output from high end cameras with softer lenses, filters and grades.

Arguably Arri’s biggest achievement has been that with the Alexa it has set the bench mark, creating a camera which produces an image which DPs 
compare all other cameras against. 

Factual
The Canon C300 remains the big crowd pleaser across a huge swathe of factual programming. It serves a broad range of television from reality TV to factual entertainment to documentary.

Procam’s Jon Brennan explains: “It’s easy to use, is small in size and packs a big punch image wise – they are always out on hire.” One reason for its success is the entry of a new generation into the industry who have graduated from DSLRs to professional cameras with interchangeable lenses. Alias Hire’s Mark Wilson points to a culture shift in factual production where cameras have become more modular, either stripped down to the basics or beefed up with monitors, viewfinders, follow focus and matte boxes as required. 

Other cameras which are strong in factual include the Sony PMW-500 (now PXW-X500) and F800, often used on big fast-turnaround factual shows where the simplicity of XDCAM disc workflows and storage is appreciated. There is also the Sony PMW-200 and wireless PXW-X200 – both good in low light.

The most serious competition for Canon is set to come from the Sony PXW-FS7 – unofficially billed as “Sony’s C300 killer”, designed to win back the market that Sony enjoyed a few years back with its EX series camcorders. One issue for Sony is that the demand for this camera is outstripping supply with producers responding strongly to its offer of a Super 35mm sensor, 4K capability and interchangeable lenses.


Entertainment
As the clear dividing lines between factual and entertainment have broken down over the last decade so have the dividing lines between the cameras most widely used in these genres. Shows which could be classed as entertainment use a very wide range of cameras, from the C300 to the F55, F5, to older models such as the PDW-700 or F800 (now discontinued) to newer cameras including the Arri Amira and Sony FS7 – which is fast developing into a very solid all round performer in entertainment.

S+O’s Jim McLean explains: “If budgets allow, cameras such as the F55, F5 and the Arri Amira are being used for shows that want a slightly higher production value, but the FS7 has primarily taken a seat as a solid B camera on mid level productions and is being used heavily as an A-camera on productions that want access to a wide range of EF lenses, and easily accessible high frame rate options.”

The danger for Sony’s F5 is that with so many of its features now also catered for with the FS7, the likelihood is that demand for the F5 will be hit.

The Canon C300 MK II is another camera which could be a future performer in entertainment.  WTS’s Duncan Payne notes that several clients have chosen to switch from smaller handheld 2/3-inch cameras and are now taking the plunge with Super 35 sensor cameras that are frankly trickier in terms of focusing and operating.

Commercials
In commercials if resolution and vfx is your ultimate ambition then Red Dragon dominates, plus it offers the option of reframing images. For beauty-based commercials where skin tones are all important Alexa is the ticket.

No Drama’s James Jones cites the two front runners as the Arri Alexa XT and Red Dragon for one simple reason. Says Jones: “In commercials the name of the game is getting as much data as possible to take back to post. It’s as simple as that.”

Within the Alexa family the Alexa XT is best regarded, allowing you to shoot raw onto onboard cards instead of ProRes or DNx codecs. The only other contender would be the 4K Sony F55. The same rules hold fast in corporate production, although at the budget end of the market the FS7 has made its mark, with the market responding to its offer of cost effective 4K, interchangeable lenses and speed options.

Documentary
At the top end of documentary (natural history and features) the look is all important, placing cameras such as the Arri Alexa, Arri Amira and Red Epic and red Dragon at the top. 

S+O’s Jim McLean tips the Amira to gain ground. “With the release of the Canon CN7 Cine Servo Lens the Amira has been able to break into the genre.” Other new entrants expected to do well include the Panasonic 4K Varicam 35. For single shooter run-and-gun style shooting the XF305 is still the front runner. “It’s cost effective and everybody knows how to use it,” says The Kit Room’s Rosemary Hill.

Its nearest rival is the PMW-200 and PXW-X200 with good low light performance and similar focal range as the XF305. With the widespread availability of cheap CF media, the XF305’s stranglehold on the lower end of documentary will be hard to break.

Minicams
The recent explosion in the development of new, lower cost gimbals and drones has injected new life into the smaller camera market. There are so many possible configurations of drone and minicam that no real winners have yet emerged although in the hire market the popular Sony Alpha 7S and Panasonic’s mirrorless GH4 have made their mark. Early reports of Canon’s XC10 are also positive with 4K in-camera recording in Canon’s XF-AVC codec in 8bit 422. At over £23K the Alexa Mini is the blue chip option.

One of the most popular fixed rig cameras is the comparatively low cost Panasonic AW-HE60 pan tilt zoom HD robotic camera – as used on 24 Hours in A&E . Shows such as Gogglebox, which have to be constantly rigged and derigged prefer the larger, more expensive, higher spec Sony H900. Other regular fixed rig contenders widely used in live events are Camera Corps Q-Ball remote cameras.

Outside broadcast
The outside broadcast market has been dominated by two companies – Sony and Grass Valley – for years. The leading camera is the Sony HDC 2500, Sony’s replacement for the HDC 1500.

But the OB market is set for a lot of change with NAB seeing the launch of a range of B4 mount 4K cameras, despite there being no 4K broadcast yet.

Says WTS’s Duncan Payne: “With the Sony HDC 4300 the Sony has ‘borrowed’ the Grass Valley concept of offering temporary licences to make the 4300 scalable. Ease of integration with existing workflows and familiarity (the 4300 utilises the same control surfaces as the HDC-2000 series) will be a big attraction. Grass Valley has a strikingly similar LDX 86 Universe solution. It can start out life as a 1080P HD camera and can be upgraded with licences right up to 4K and 6x speed.”


 
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