In Part One we compared the basic features, sensor, lens options, codec and media requirements. In this part we’ll cover everything else.
Comparison of audio features
Here’s a look at the audio features:
|Camera||3.5mm TRS headphone jack||Microphone inputs||Audio Specs||Audio levels|
|URSA Mini 4.6K||1||2 x XLR analog switchable between mic and line levels. Phantom power support*.||LPCM 2 channels 48 kHz and 24 bit||Yes|
|PXW-FS7||1||2 x XLR (line and mic) with Phantom power||LPCM 24 bits, 48 kHz, 4 channels (Recording/Playback 2 channels)||Yes|
|GY-LS300||1||XLR x2 with Phantom power||LPCM 2 channels 48 kHz and 16 bit||Yes|
|AG-DVX200||n/a||2 x XLR (Phantom unknown)||n/a||n/a|
|CION||1||XLR x2 with Phantom power||LPCM 2 channels 48 kHz and 24 bit||Yes|
|PXW-Z100||1||XLR x2 with Phantom power, RCA||LPCM 2 channels 48 kHz and 24 bit||Yes|
*I’m not sure this is available yet on the older URSA 4K.
The LS300 has a lower bit depth, but that doesn’t really matter much for voice recording. There’s no clear winner here, all of them can take XLR inputs and deliver Phantom power.
This does not mean the inner preamps are equally good, though with my experience it’s very hard to tell the difference unless you are a seasoned audio professional. And that brings me to cinematic audio. If you really want world-class audio, you’ll need to hire a production sound mixer (sound recordist) who will also carry separate audio mixers/recorders and microphones.
Two XLR inputs are best for simple audio work – you either put two lapel mics or shotgun mics into each, or put one lav and one shotgun into each. If you have more than two people in the frame talking, then you’ll be forced to use shotguns or use a mixer to get more XLR inputs, etc. Of course, you can also use pocket recorders and the like, but by now we’re way beyond the scope of this article.
Tie. Or in other words, there are no fails.
The little things
The little things make all the difference. In addition to the little things, there are the ‘littler’ things – the stuff you only learn about after having used a camera for a while. At this stage the littler things will have to wait, and we’ll focus on the little things, which are:
- Ergonomics, toughness and usability
- Video ports
- Size and Weight
- Timecode and Genlock
- Quality and size of the Monitor
Here’s how these cameras compare on ergonomics and usability:
|Camera||Shoulder-mounted||Camcorder mode||Size and Volume||Weight|
|URSA Mini 4.6K||No, but the URSA 4.6K does||Yes, but handle is extra||7.6″ x 8.2″ x 5.8″ (360*)||2.27kg|
|PXW-FS7||Yes||Yes||6.14″ x 9.41″ x 9.72″ (562)||4.4kg**|
|GY-LS300||No||Yes||5.3″ x 7.5″ x 10.7″ (426)||1.6kg|
|PXW-Z100||No||Yes||7.4″ x 7.6″ x 14.3″ (804)||2.91 kg^|
- * The Mini is about half the volume of the URSA 4.6K
- **Including viewfinder, remote control and SELP28135G lens.
- ***Includes top handle
- ^Includes everything
The larger URSA weighs 7.5kg as-is, and is already outside most carry-on limits. All of these cameras shouldn’t be a problem. Fully rigged up, they should weigh about 5-6 kg, though the LS300 is pretty light all things considered.
On the usability front, the ability to shoulder-mount a camera without purchasing additional accessories (and bulking up) is important. In this regard, the FS7 and CION comes out on top. However, I will give this one to the FS7, because the only lenses you can use with the CION are PL-mounted glass, with almost no autofocus or image stabilization options, if at all.
Let’s move on to more little things:
|Camera||Video Ports Out||Viewfinder||Quality and size of the Monitor||Exposure and focus aids*|
|URSA Mini 4.6K||12G-SDI 10-bit 4:2:2||No, extra purchase||5″ 1080p touchscreen||H, FP, Z|
|PXW-FS7||3G-SDI x 2, HDMI 2.0||Yes||3.5″ LCD (520K pixels)||H, S, FP, Z|
|GY-LS300||1x SDI and 1x HDMI||Yes||3.5″ LCD (307K pixels)||Z|
|CION||3G-SDI x 4, 3G-SDI x 2, HDMI x 2||No||77K pixels LCD||H|
|PXW-Z100||1 x HD-SDI, 1 x HDMI 1.4, Type A, 1 Composite||Yes||3.5″ LCD (408K pixels)||FP, Z|
*Key: H – histogram, FP – focus peaking, Z – Zebras, S – Waveform and Vectorscopes
Scopes are extremely important when exposing video for Rec. 709, so it’s inexcusable that some cameras don’t have them. You could connect an external monitor via HDMI, but that solution never beats a built-in scope.
The important aid is a Zebra, and it’s strange that the AJA CION has neither scopes nor zebras nor focus peaking. It also doesn’t have an LCD so you’re 100% dependent on an external monitor.
With all of Blackmagic Design’s experience with monitors and scopes, it is shocking why they haven’t included it in the URSA. A 5″ monitor is better at pulling focus, but it won’t help you expose correctly without the right tools.
This one goes to the FS7.
This last set of little things are not mandatory for cinematic documentaries, but are important features of the broadcast world:
|Camera||Timecode||Genlock||Remote Control*||Wireless Video|
|URSA Mini 4.6K||Yes||No||2x LANC||No|
|PXW-FS7||No, only with Extension Unit||LANC||No|
|CION||Yes||No||Ethernet, 2x LANC||No|
*LANC or 2.5mm jack, whatever the protocol used
The LS300 comes with built-in wireless streaming, though that’s not of much use in a cinematic camera. Timecode features are great, but the implementation is key (It’s one of the littler things). Genlock is useful when working with multiple cameras and/or audio recorders. For those who need it, the FS7 offers both as an additional purchase, with the XDCA-FS7 Extension Unit.
Battery life and Power
All the features in the world are useless if you have to hire a donkey to carry your batteries:
|Camera||Battery life^||Cost of one battery||Cost per hour battery life||Connectors*|
|URSA Mini 4.6K||1.4 hours||$165***||$117/hr||XLR, Molex, O|
|CION||2 hours||$165***||$82.5/hr||XLR, O|
- * DC means you can use an AC adapter. O means the camera can output power to an external device
- **Estimate based on other JVC cameras. This could be totally wrong.
- ***Cost of cheap V-mount battery
- ^All are estimates, and could be totally wrong
- #You could buy cheaper/fake batteries
The CION offers a surprisingly low power draw, but then you must remember there’s no LCD monitor. All in all, the URSA Mini definitely has the best options. Not only can you use V-mount batteries, but you also have the ability to output to external devices.
The only negative with large batteries is that you also add extra weight. However, even the batteries for the FS7 are not that light.
Which is cheaper to own?
Let’s just add up the basics: Initial price, media cost per hour of footage and battery cost per hour:
|Camera||Price||Media per hour||Battery per hour||Total (Rounded)|
|URSA Mini 4.6K||$4,995||$2,417||$117||$7,529|
If you’re really strapped for money, you could make a case for the LS300. JVC always makes low-maintenance and dependable gear. But if you were going to purchase this kit for that all-important documentary, would you be better off renting a higher-end camera for the same expenditure? That’s when you start weighing the gains in quality and usability over a little bit of money – and the future of your project.
From whatever videos I’ve seen so far from these cameras, I would rate image quality on this scale (dynamic range and color):
In my personal opinion I would only consider the first two to be a real evolution in image quality from previous generation sensors. And, to be fair to the last two, they don’t pretend to be cinema cameras, though the LS300 is very good value for money as a general documentary camera.
Time to declare the results.
Who wins? Here’s a recap:
|Sensor and ISO||FS7|
|Codecs and Color||none|
|Ports and Monitoring||FS7|
|Most value for money||LS300 and DVX200|
As an overall package, it’s hard to beat the Sony FS7. It is the camera that probably gives you almost everything you’ll ever need. Let’s compare it to our original demands for a cinematic documentary camera:
|Requirement||How the FS7 performs|
|Large sensor that can deliver a shallow DOF||Yes|
|XLR inputs for audio||Yes|
|Ability to interface with a waveform monitor and vectorscope||Yes, built-in|
|Ability to record in both PAL and NTSC frame rates||Yes|
|Ability to record in higher frame rates||Up to 60p|
|Shoot with a broadcast-approved codec and format||Yes|
|Have good lenses||Yes|
|Have good low light ability||Yes|
|Be easy to setup, pack, and dismantle – must have good ergonomics, especially for shoulder mounting||Yes|
|Be easy to transport||Yes|
|Have a rugged construction to withstand some abuse||I’m skeptical, but it’s okay|
|Simplify filmmaking to its bare essentials – plug and play – does not need any accessory to perform any of these functions||The camera itself is simple, but Sony loves to complicate things!|
|Have low data rates and an easy straight-to-edit workflow||Yes|
|4K or UHD – It’s the future, there’s no point making cinematic documentaries today without it||Yes, it can shoot both Log and RAW*|
|Good battery life||Yes|
|Built-in ND filters||Yes|
|Long duration shooting||Yes|
- *RAW with an external recorder
The choice is simple:
- Want the best 4K cinematic documentary under $10,000? Answer: Sony FS7
- Want 4K but can’t afford the FS7? Answer: Rent the Sony FS7!
What do you think? Is the Sony FS7 the best low budget cinematic documentary camera available today?