A Comparison of Seven Cheap RAW Cameras for Video

We looked at cheap 4K cameras in this comparison between the Scarlet, F5, C300 and Canon 1DC. We are now faced with the prospect of RAW being available on cameras that cost below $10,000. The hype is deafening, and my purpose is to take a holistic view of what each camera delivers.

This article will compare cameras that cost less than $10,000 that claim to shoot RAW video. The goal is to compare features to price, to estimate true value for money. This will give us a better understanding of what we’re getting into before we make that decisive purchase.

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For reference, use the following table (click to enlarge):

Comparison of cheap RAW Cameras

*Assumption – the lack of details and emails from Kinefinity make this camera a very risky proposition.

**This resolution is in full sensor mode. Resolutions of up to 2880 x 1320 have been achieved in 1:1 crop mode. In this mode, only the sensor area corresponding to that resolution is used (the 5D Mark III is a 22 MP camera). This is approximately equal to 18mm x 8mm, with a horizontal crop factor of 2.

Prices, figures and specifications aren’t guaranteed to be accurate. Check the manufacturer’s specifications for exact values.

Some notes:

  • Pricing for camera body and media is approximate only.
  • The second-last row, i.e. Media Cost/hr x 3 is an approximation of a real-world scenario where you’ll need a redundant copy of this media (RAID 1 minimum) and a separate backup at a different location. You’d be crazy to keep just one copy of your footage. Read more about my backup strategy in the Chapter on Data Management in the Comprehensive Guide. Cost assumed is $0.10/GB (In practice, it is quite a bit more). If you’re shooting a movie or documentary, then you might have 10 hours or more of data, and this figure isn’t negligible.
  • The price of camera media is only for one hour, not more. If your projects don’t need an hour’s worth of data in your media, then you can get by with a lower media card/drive size. I’ve also included an approx. media cost/GB for easy calculation.
  • For a detailed comparison of the Blackmagic Cinema Cameras, click here.
  • Each camera body comes with many missing accessories to complete a well-rounded kit. At a bare minimum, I’ve assumed a camera needs a recording device or module, and a lens mount.
  • Battery options for cameras can get complicated. In a professional scenario, I only prefer bricks from Anton/Bauer. You might be right at home with cheaper batteries, but that’s your call and headache.
  • Each lens mount has its own set of available lens options. PL mounts have the most expensive options available. These are a matter of taste and budget. If you don’t have the money, you don’t have the money.

Here are the cameras in order of least preferred to most preferred, along with notes:

Hold on: Just because I find a camera better or worse is no indication of the camera’s true merit. If you’re happy with the specs, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use any or all of these cameras. Like all things in life, you will get what you deserve.

7. Ikonoskop A-cam

One shouldn’t underestimate the capabilities of this camera. It does what it does very well, and the hundreds of testimonials on the web reinforce this. It is last in my last for one simple reason: It is too expensive for what it gives in return.

6. Canon 5D Mark III RAW-mode 

I’m not a fan of DSLRs in general, as I’ve mentioned earlier in You First Video Camera. The 5D Mark III is definitely worthy of serious consideration now that it is capable of RAW shooting. But let’s not kid ourselves. Using the camera in this way voids the warranty, and it is the height of unprofessionalism to use a camera that cannot guarantee results day in and day out.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the Canon 5D Raw mode becomes fully stabilized, and is totally reliable for professional use. Would its position in this list change? No. It has many other serious shortcomings, like the lack of audio options and price (when compared to what the others lower down in this list can do). I would seriously advise anyone against purchasing a Canon 5D Mark III for the purposes of RAW video.

5. Kinefinity Mini 

Great concept, very poor PR and marketing, and a horrible site with a specifications page unworthy of a professional camera company. I’m assuming the camera works as advertised, and if it does, it belongs at number five. Would I buy or recommend it? No, unless you have a few thousands to throw around. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve imported stuff from China before, but never from a site that can’t tell me everything I needed to know to feel comfortable with the purchase.

If Kinefinity can get its act together, it can move up two notches.

4. Digital Bolex

Brilliant concept…but will they deliver? At this point, it’s too early to say. If they do, I’m quite prepared to move them up one slot.

3. Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K

What’s not to like about this camera (except its shipment)? The sensor is small, but not that small. It’s bigger than Super16mm. It has professional connections, and it comes with free professional software. It also comes in two lens mounts. Why is it in number three, then? Simple. The next two cameras are even better value for money.

2. Red Scarlet-X

At first glance the Red Scarlet is expensive compared to the others. But of all the cameras before it, who can claim to do what it can? Don’t forget, the Scarlet can be upgraded to an Epic or a Dragon if and when you find the funds for it. Its modules, batteries, media and everything else are expensive, and probably prohibitive. But I’ve recommended it for a somewhat-budget filmmaker for good reason. It delivers in a tough professional environment, with data rates that aren’t as bad as the others.

1. Blackmagic Cinema Camera 4K

This camera is my favorite camera for any kind of video…but on paper. It is up to Blackmagic Design to deliver a camera that performs as it promises.

Look at what it promises: 4K lossless RAW, with professional connections, without proprietary media or battery requirements, and with the ability to also record to Prores…in a Super35mm sensor…at this price point – who can top that?

What do you think? Is the BMCC 4K the best cheap 4K (or even non-4K) RAW camera at this time?

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free swipe file on how to shoot night scenes well (PDF file optimized for mobiles and tablets).

5 replies on “A Comparison of Seven Cheap RAW Cameras for Video”

  1. 5DmkIII:
    – max fps 30, not 24 (in reduced resolution possible up to 60 fps raw)
    – file format – DNG+Cinema DNG (and worflow for Cineform RAW)
    – battery – a lot of external solutions (there is also Switronix battery same as for BMCC)
    – file size per frame – 3.4 mb, not 4mb
    – 300 gb per hour, not 346 gb
    – media cost/GB – Komputerbay 1000x CF cards confirmed 1920×1080 24p continuosly (internal chips same as Lexar 1000x), price is  $114 for 64 GB = 1.8$ per 1 GB, not 5$.
    – 1 hour media cost is 540$, not 1728$
    – total price is = 3300$ + 540$ = 3840$, not 5130$.
    BMPCC 4K:
    RAW Compressed: it is not lossless, it is visually lossless but mathematically lossy (lossless RAW in BMPC)
    Red Scarlet:
    Shutter: not global, but rolling
    Audio: there are 2x 3.5mm TRS inputs, not requires external interface
    Addition: there is lack of
    ISOs. BMPCC 4? requires a lot of light because of global shutter and native ISO 640. 5D3 requires much less (ISO 3200 is acceptable). Powerful light is expensive.
    >> But let’s not kid ourselves. Using the camera in this way voids the warranty
    ML RAW don’t voids warranty – confirmed by Canon.
    >> many other serious shortcomings, like the lack of audio options and price (when compared to what the others lower down in this list can do)
    Price: check calculations above – it is cheaper than BMPCC 4K and in same price as BMCC 2.5K (for real you can buy just 2x64GB to save more money and it will be fine – just switch card when it is full and copy data to notebook while continue filming with fresh card).
    Audio: for real – no matter for available inputs – BMPCC 4K requires external audio interface for advanced audio recording, just like 5D3.

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