For the 6 months I’ve wanted to buy a new camera. I’ve been using DSLRs at college for 2 years and feel it’s time I made the change from a video camera to a DSLR. I’ve been learning on Canon 550D and 600D’s. I’ve also used a 5D Mk2 for a couple of projects. I feel I’ve outgrown the smaller, cropped sensor cameras now, there are limitations with them that restrict what I’d want to do with my own camera.
I’ll be using it mainly for video but still taking the odd picture every now and again. The videos I shoot are mainly action sports, so lots of fast action and camera movement. I also want to be able to capture decent sound. I also really want to go full-frame because I just love the look. I’ve been looking at three main cameras. This is no way a review of any of them, this is just what I’ve found from research on the internet, watching video reviews and videos shot on the respective cameras. I have only scratched the surface of each of them and have only mentioned the features that I’m interested in on each. Make of it what you will.
Canon 5D Mk3
The 5D was what I always had in mind as the camera I’d probably buy for my first full-frame. I’ve used the Mk2 and loved it and the Mk3 is an improved version with extra features for video. It has a headphone jack for monitoring sound and levels on the screen which you can change while you’re recording. It shoots 1080p at 24, 25 and 30fps but only shoots 50 and 60fps in 720p, a bit of a downer for me as I’d want decent slomo capabilities. The low-light abilities are significantly improved over the Mk2. There isn’t any focus peaking and you can’t press the focus check button while recording. There is a HDMI port which you can get clean HDMI from via a firmware update. It’s priced at £1896 body only.
The GH4 can shoot in 4k internally. That is one of a few reasons I’m attracted to it. In 4k it shoots upto 24fps, UHD upto 30fps. It can also shoot full 1080p HD at upto 96fps, which is great for sweet looking slomo. It can output 4.2.2 10bit via the HDMI port. It has focus peaking, zebras and waveforms, all really useful tools. Out of the 3 cameras, it has the poorest low-light capabilities. Philip Bloom doesn’t recommend going above 1600 ISO. The GH4 also has an add on module called the ‘YAGH’ which gives you 2 x XLR inputs, 48v phantom power, an audio level monitor, 4 x SDI out for 4.2.2 10bit 4k and HD output upto 60p with timecode plus timecode in and a 4 pin 12VDC XLR power input. This all comes at a price though, unless you buy it in a bundle with the camera itself, the YAGH actually costs more than the GH4 alone. The biggest kick in the balls with this camera is that it’s not full frame. It has a micro four thirds sensor, which is almost half the size of full frame. The field of view is massively reduced on a MFT sensor compared to full frame, which would be rubbish for getting nice wide riding shots. The depth of field also suffers when compared to a full frame sensor. There is a way round this, I can buy a Metabones Speedbooster which allows you to use full frame glass. The speedbooster focusses all the light coming through the lens onto the MFT sensor which gives you the same field of view. Due to the extra light hitting the sensor you also gain an f stop. Of course this is an added cost but the GH4 is the cheapest, coming in at £1296 body only.
When I first looked up the A7S, I was blown away by the image quality. It shoots stunning video. The party trick of the Sony is its low-light capabilities. It can go upto 409600 ISO! Obviously at that high sensitivity there is quite a bit of noise, but I was impressed at how usable 102400 ISO is. It’s full frame and shoots full 1080p HD upto 60p. It can also shoot at 4k but only externally via the HDMI port, which is a bit disappointing. It can shoot 100 and 120fps but that’s at 720p. The big downside to this camera for me is the bad rolling shutter. It’s by far the worst out of the three and with the amount of action films I shoot, it’s almost enough to rule out the Sony altogether. I say almost, you can switch the A7S into APS-c mode and use a speedbooster to bring your field of view back to that of full frame and the rolling shutter is reduced massively. Again, that adds some extra cost. The Sony is the newest of the three cameras, priced at £2000 body only.
So, I still have a massive problem about which one to choose. Whichever I end up going for, I’ll be buying a field monitor, at least two lenses, a nice tripod, bag to hold it all, new memory cards and a few batteries. It’s a lot of money to spend so I want to make the right decision. At the moment I’m leaning towards the GH4, although I do love the footage that the Sony shoots. The 5D seems like the ‘safe’ option, if a little boring. My order of preference at this moment in time is GH4, A7S then 5D. That will probably change in an hour or so though. Grrr, why is choosing a new camera so difficult!?