Photos by Mark Forman
I’ve been shooting several assignments in the last month and my focus has literally been on my work. Consequently, I have not been blogging. But discovering and reviewing new equipment always brings me back to the blog. The recent buzz among photographers and videographers is the upcoming large chip video cameras. It was bound to happen eventually; video cameras that use the large chips found in Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras have entered the market. I was fortunate enough to view some video from one of these cameras and it was stunning.
Panasonic started shipping it’s AF100 camera that uses a four thirds sensor at the end of 2010 and a few days ago, Sony announced that the NEX-FS100U NXCAM Super35 camera which uses the larger APS-C sensor will ship at the end of June. This is the same sensor found in the Sony F3 video camera; the camera that tops videographers’ wish lists. The Sony F3 camera sells for around $15,000, while the new Sony FS100U will sell for under $7000 with an 18-200mm lens (27-300 equivalent). I look for Panasonic and Canon to announce their own cameras in this category at the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) convention in Las Vegas in April. Will these new cameras mean the end of video for DSLRs? Probably not the end, but certainly a change for many people.
When Canon DSLRs first added video capability I found the ergonomics awkward. Although the video they produced looked great, these cameras were difficult to handle unless you were willing to spend thousands of dollars on rails, monitors, and other accessories that would turn your little, hand held digital still camera into a monster. Adding this equipment however never corrected the inherent sound problems of shooting with a DSLR. You still needed a separate sound recording device. Because of these limitation I never felt comfortable making anything less than simple films with my DSLR equipment.
The footage I viewed came from the Sony NEX-FS100U. It was shot by my friend Mark Forman, a New York City cinematographer who was testing a prototype of the Sony camera. Mark, who had been producing videos during the past few years with his Canon cameras explained some of the great features of the Sony. He told me the native ISO for the camera is 800 and the night footage that I saw which he shot at 2400 ISO, had very little noise. Even though Canon cameras produced low noise when used for still images, he cautioned that they do show noise when they are used for video capture at the higher ISOs. Mark still loves his Canons, but says “they are a tool designed for stills that shoot video”. The Sony is a true video camera with a monitor and good sound capabilities. It also accepts professional cables. Mark noted the NEX-FS100U has less color aliasing and moiré than the Canons in the video mode. He prefers the Sony’s codec (video compression signal) because it simplifies the video editing workflow as opposed to the codec in the DSLRs which adds an extra step. Additionally, the new Sony allows you to record directly into an external recorder with a much less compressed digital. The Sony’s E mount for lenses and adapters gives you the added option to use most still and motion picture lenses on the camera.
The bottom line is if you are traveling light and on a limited budget, you can make simple films with your DSLR. But if your desire is to make narrative films or documentaries, this new generation of lower priced, large chip video cameras is the way to go. I asked Mark if he would continue to use his Canons for video, he smiled and said “sure, when I need a crash camera”. Here is the test footage Mark shot with the prototype camera.