This article is a comparison of the specifications of the following low budget 4K cameras under $2,500 that shoots 60 fps or more:
- Blackmagic Design Pocket Camera 4K (Amazon, B&H)
- Panasonic GH5 (Amazon, B&H) and GH5s (Amazon, B&H), and the
- Z CAM E2 (Amazon, B&H)
Let’s start with the camera bodies:
|Camera||Price of body||What you get||Notes|
|GH5||$1,498||Battery, charger, cable holder||Could have added V-Log|
|GH5s||$1,998||Battery, charger, cable holder, BNC cable||N/A|
|BMPCC 4K||$1,295||DaVinci Resolve Studio ($299), AC Power supply||Could have added a battery|
|Z CAM E2||$1,999||LEMO Power Cable with D-Tap Plug, AC Power Adapter||Huge price jump from the E1|
But we’re just getting started.
Comparison of sensors
Here’s how the camera sensors compare:
|Camera||Sensor Size||Max Resolution||ISO Range||Notes|
|GH5||17.3 x 13 mm||4992 x 3744||200-25600||5K mode|
|GH5s||17.3 x 13 mm||4096 x 2160||160-51200 (Dual Native)||Best low light|
|BMPCC 4K||18.96 x 10 mm||4096 x 2160||Up to 25600 (Dual Native)||UHD is cropped to 17.7 mm|
|Z CAM E2||19 x 13 mm||4096 x 2160||160-25600 (Dual Native)||N/A|
The Pocket Camera 4K is slightly wider, which is good. On the other hand, the other cameras have a native 4:3 sensor so it gives you extra options.
The GH5S (Amazon, B&H) has great low light ability, which is its USP. The Pocket Camera 4K has dual native ISO, though it isn’t the same sensor as the GH5 or GH5S. The noise comparison tests I’ve done show the difference is negligible:
The Z CAM E2 has similar performance, with one special advantage. It has 120 fps at 4K, which is extremely interesting:
|Camera||Max fps at 4K||Max fps at 1080p||Claimed Dynamic Range||Shutter|
|GH5||60 fps||180 fps||12 stops||Rolling|
|GH5s||60 fps||240 fps||12 stops||Rolling|
|BMPCC 4K||60 fps||120 fps||13 stops||Rolling|
|Z CAM E2||120 fps||240 fps||13 stops||Rolling (Global*)|
*The Global shutter variant is a different camera Z CAM E2G, and only goes up to 4K 30 fps.
All cameras attain the maximum dynamic range in log profiles.
The Z CAM E2 attains 120 fps and 240 fps in H.265 only. The maximum frame rate in Prores is 60p.
Comparison of video features
What kind of 4K do you get anyway? First, let’s look at the frame rates, dynamic range, color and so on:
|Camera||Best Internal Codec||Max. Internal Data Rate*||Color|
|GH5||All-I H.264||50 MB/s||10:bit 4:2:2|
|GH5s||All-I H.264||50 MB/s||10:bit 4:2:2|
|BMPCC 4K||Blackmagic RAW||135 MB/s||RAW|
|Z CAM E2||ZRAW^, Prores HQ||110 MB/s||RAW|
*At 30 fps
^ZRAW comes with firmware update 0.88, and is currently limited to 4K 30 fps. It will be available to up to 60 fps in a future firmware update.
ZRAW requires ZRAW VideoSuite to open and process, so there’s no point recording it at the moment because you cannot directly work with it in any editing application. Blackmagic RAW is only usable in DaVinci Resolve.
The Z CAM E2 is fine as well, and I hope ZRAW gains traction in the market. If it isn’t adopted by some of the major NLEs like Premiere Pro, FCP-X or Resolve, it’s dead in the water.
Next let’s talk about media:
|Camera||Dual Card Slots?||Media for 4K||Price per GB||Price per hour of 4K|
|BMPCC 4K||No||CFAST 2.0, SSD via USB-C||$2.65 ($0.19 for SSD)||$90|
|Z CAM E2||No||CFAST 2.0, SSD via USB-C||$2.65 ($0.19 for SSD)||$75*|
*With the BMPCC 4K, I’m assuming you are shooting in 3:1 RAW on SSDs. On the ZCAM E2, we are recording Prores HQ.
CFast 2.0 is not a lot more expensive than SDXC UHS-II. But, with larger data rates you have to spend a whole lot more for the same hours of footage. It’s better to use the USB-C option to a Samsung T5 SSD (Amazon, B&H).
Comparison of audio features
Here’s a look at the audio features:
|Camera||3.5mm TRS headphone jack||Microphone inputs|
|BMPCC 4K||Yes||Min XLR, TRS|
|Z CAM E2||Yes||TRS|
The Pocket Camera 4K definitely looks good here, with its Mini XLR input with Phantom Power. You do need an adapter (B&H) to convert to XLR but it’s a small expense.
The little things
The little things make all the difference:
- Ergonomics, toughness and usability
- Video ports
- Viewfinder and Monitor
- Size and Weight
- Focus and Exposure tools
Here’s how these cameras compare on ergonomics:
|Camera||Volume cubic inches||Weight (body only)||Mounting Points|
|BMPCC 4K||89.2||723g||One 1/4-20|
|Z CAM E2||43.5||757g||Several 1/4-20|
The BMPCC 4K is larger in volume and the Z CAM E2 is heavier. The size is more high-end DSLR territory.
With the Z CAM E2, you also need a monitor to control the unit, like a PORTKEYS BM5 5″. That adds to the cost and weight of the rig.
That’s not all:
|Camera||HDMI||Viewfinder||Monitor||Exposure and focus aids|
|GH5||Type A||Yes||3.2″||Peaking, Histogram, 3D LUTs, Waveform, Vectorscope, Zebras|
|GH5s||Type A||Yes||3.2″||Peaking, Histogram, 3D LUTs, Waveform, Vectorscope, Zebras|
|BMPCC 4K||Type A||No||5″||Peaking, Histogram, 3D LUTs, False Color, Zebras|
|Z CAM E2||Type A||No||No||Meter|
The Z CAM E2 has no monitor or viewfinder. The Pocket Camera has a large LCD screen, but no viewfinder. The GH5 and GH5S have both, and they can be flipped.
I’ve found the swivel screen to be very useful in the field. Sometimes you need to get low or high, and you don’t want to worry about tethering a monitor just to see your shot.
Also, the GH5 and GH5S has a better app:
|Camera||Control via App||LANC||Sync|
|BMPCC 4K||iPad only||No||No|
|Z CAM E2||iOS only||2.5mm||10-pin LEMO|
Most cameras have apps. The advantage for the GH5 and GH5S is the apps are for both iOS and Android. The Pocket Camera 4K needs an iPad, which goes against it in the “pocket” department. It’s not very practical.
The Panasonic app is really useful, especially if you have an iPhone. I’ve used the app to see my footage when the LCD isn’t readable, like on the beach on a sunny day.
The Z CAM E2 is more designed for a broadcast-type environment. With Genlock, Ethernet and LANC it is designed to be operated remotely over networks – almost like a security camera or reality TV camera. It is probably the best camera in this lot for live streaming, with an optional SDI adapter.
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 Type||Battery life^||Cost of one battery||Cost per 4 hours of battery life||External connector|
|BMPCC 4K||Canon LP-E6||30 minutes||$45||$270||12V LEMO|
|Z CAM E2||SONY NP-F||120 minutes||$126||$252||12V LEMO|
Things are mostly even here, except for the low battery life of the Pocket Camera 4K. You’ll be carrying more batteries (again anti-“pocket”!). There is a 12V adapter but that’s more for a fully rigged setup.
You can use larger battery bricks with the BMPCC 4K and the Z CAM E2, but they are more expensive overall.
Which is cheaper to own?
Let’s just add up the basics: Initial price, media cost per hour of footage and battery cost per 8 hours:
|Camera||Price||Media per hour||Battery for 8 hrs||Portkeys LCD + Battery**||Side Grip**||Total (Rounded)|
|Z CAM E2||$1,999||$75||$504||$560||$50||$3,188|
**I added the monitor and side grip so it would even things out.
When you consider the costs for media and a monitor, etc., the Z CAM E2 surges ahead in terms of price, well over the $2,500 price barrier we have for this article.
The Pocket Camera 4K still beats out the rest in terms of cost, but only if you shoot with SSDs and use multiple cheap batteries. If you’re going to use CFast 2.0 cards, things will get expensive real fast. You also need a reader for CFast 2.0. And, if you are charging multiple batteries overnight everyday, it gets tiring and impractical very fast.
First, here’s a recap:
|Sensor and ISO||Panasonic GH5 and GH5S|
|Video features||Blackmagic Design Pocket Camera 4K|
|Codecs and Color||Blackmagic Design Pocket Camera 4K|
|Lenses||Panasonic GH5 with IBIS|
|Media||Blackmagic Design Pocket Camera 4K|
|Audio||Blackmagic Design Pocket Camera 4K|
|Ergonomics||Panasonic GH5 and GH5S|
|Ports and Monitoring||Z CAM E2|
|Broadcast Features||Z CAM E2|
|Power||Panasonic GH5 and GH5S|
|Most value for money||Blackmagic Design Pocket Camera 4K|
Before we take our final decision, we’ll let the cameras tell us what they offer that the others don’t:
|GH5||Anamorphic mode, 5K video, flip LCD, IBIS, accurate colors||Not as good highlight performance|
|GH5s||Low Light, flip LCD, accurate colors||No IBIS, not as good highlight performance|
|BMPCC 4K||RAW and Prores, XLR input, Filmic images||Fixed LCD, Extremely poor battery life|
|Z CAM E2||4K at 120 fps, Modular, broadcast features||Expensive, you need a monitor|
I’m going to discount the Z CAM E2. If I wanted 120 fps in 4K, I’ll choose a Red camera, which is what I do. I also get a larger sensor and an established workflow.
The GH5S was never attractive to me. For just low light performance I miss out on all the other goodies the Panasonic GH5 (Amazon, B&H) has. And the price is too high. I really don’t see the value. I can get the job done with the GH5, and if you want to learn more about my guide for the GH5 check this out.
On the other hand, if cameras are race horses, they might look good on paper, but the horse still needs to race. You still need to go through the grind of shooting over many days with the camera, and usability matters a lot. The Panasonic GH5 (Amazon, B&H) clearly has the better tools and is more equipped for actual production work:
- Flip screen
- Viewfinder and LCD
- 4:3 mode, 5K anamorphic shooting if you want
- All the important exposure tools
- Autofocus in video
- 400 Mbps 10-bit 4:2:2 codec which can be graded
- Great stills camera
Here are some great reasons to pick the GH5 over the BMPCC 4K:
The only way the Blackmagic Design Pocket Camera 4K (Amazon, B&H) beats the GH5 is in terms of sheer image quality. Here’s a comprehensive real-world comparison of cameras for image quality. You’ll be surprised by the results: