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)
Important: Some of the information is unverified. Some are just rumors. Therefore, don’t take this comparison seriously. Don’t take the prices or the specifications seriously either. For accurate information please consult manufacturers’ websites and data. Don’t take any decisions based on this comparison.
Let’s start with the camera bodies:
|Camera||Price of body||What you get||Warranty||Notes|
|GH5||$1,998||Battery, charger, body cap, USB cable, shoulder strap, cable holder||12||Could have added V-Log|
|GH5s||$2,498||Battery, charger, body cap, USB cable, shoulder strap, cable holder, BNC cable||12||N/A|
|Pocket Camera 4K||$1,295||DaVinci Resolve Studio ($299), AC Power supply, dust cap||12||Could have added a battery|
|Z CAM E2||$1,999||Unknown||12||Huge price jump from the E1|
The Blackmagic Design Pocket Camera 4K (Amazon, B&H) is definitely looking good here. Not only is it the cheapest, but you also get the full version of Davinci Resolve ($299). But we’re just getting started.
Comparison of sensors
Here’s how the camera sensors compare:
|Camera||Sensor Size (mm)||Native Aspect Ratio||Maximum Resolution||ISO Range||Notes|
|GH5||17.3 x 13 mm||4:3||4992 x 3744||200-25600||18% larger sensor|
|GH5s||4:3||4096 x 2160||160-51200 (Dual Native)||Best low light|
|Pocket Camera 4K||18.96 x 10 mm||1.89:1||4096 x 2160||Up to 25600 (Dual Native)||UHD might be cropped to 17.7 x 10mm|
|Z CAM E2||17.3 x 13 mm||4:3||4096 x 2160||100-6400|
The Pocket Camera 4K is slightly wider, which is good. But on the other hand, the other cameras have a native 4:3 sensor so it gives you extra options. With the GH5, you can almost shoot in 5K in 4:3 mode, which is a great advantage.
The GH5S has great low light ability, which is its USP. The Pocket Camera 4K also has dual native ISO, though it isn’t the same sensor as the GH5 or GH5S.
The Z CAM E2 has the lowest ISO range, so might not be as good as the others in low light. However, it has 120 fps at 4K, which is extremely interesting:
|Camera||Maximum frame rate at 4K||Maximum frame rate at 1080p||Claimed Dynamic Range||Shutter|
|GH5||60 fps||180 fps||12 stops||Rolling|
|GH5s||60 fps||240 fps||12 stops||Rolling|
|Pocket Camera 4K||60 fps||120 fps||13 stops||Rolling|
|Z CAM E2||120 fps||240 fps||13.5 stops||Rolling (Global coming)|
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 Recording Formats (4K)||Max. Internal Data Rate (non-RAW)||Max. RAW Data Rate||Color information|
|GH5||H.264/H.265||50 MB/s||N/A||10:bit 4:2:2|
|GH5s||H.264/H.265||50 MB/s||N/A||10:bit 4:2:2|
|Pocket Camera 4K||CinemaDNG RAW Compressed and Uncompressed||110 MB/s (Prores 422 HQ)**||270 MB/s*||RAW|
|Z CAM E2||H.264/H.265||221 MB/s||N/A||10-bit^|
*At 30 fps
^No word on whether it’s 4:2:2 or 4:2:0, though it would be strange if it were the latter
The Blackmagic Design Pocket Camera 4K (Amazon, B&H) definitely as the most versatile codecs – both RAW (compressed and uncompressed), and Prores. However, the 10-bit 4:2:2 from the GH5 and GH5S is great as well.
The Z CAM E2 I don’t understand, because the data rates are too high for H.264/5. I’ve written down what’s in the specs, but it doesn’t make sense.
Next let’s talk about media:
|Camera||Dual Card Slots?||Media for 4K||Market price per GB (128 GB/250 GB SSD)||Price per hour of 4K* @30p 3:1 Compressed RAW||Notes|
|Pocket Camera 4K||One of each||CFAST 2.0, SSD via USB-C||$2.65 ($0.5 for SSD)||$1,193 ($225)||Not cheap to shoot RAW, SSDs are cheaper, but unwieldy. USB-C isn’t a strong connector. Whole idea of pocket camera goes away with SSD.|
|Z CAM E2||No||CFAST 2.0||$2.65||$2,059.47||Not sure if we can reduce data rates|
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.
The Pocket Camera 4K can record directly on to an SSD via USB-C, and so can the Z CAM E2 (to be confirmed). However, the Pocket Camera 4K no longer becomes a pocket camera, if it ever was that. Is there an elegant solution to rig an external SSD like the Samsung T5 250 GB (Amazon,B&H)? I don’t know. It doesn’t seem pretty.
Comparison of audio features
Here’s a look at the audio features:
|Camera||3.5mm TRS headphone jack||Microphone inputs||Channels||Audio levels||Notes|
|Pocket Camera 4K||Yes||Min XLR, TRS||N/A||N/A||You need an adapter for XLR|
|Z CAM E2||Yes||TRS||2ch||N/A|
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. 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
- 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||Notes|
|Pocket Camera 4K||89.2||N/A||One 1/4-20||No longer a pocket camera|
|Z CAM E2||43.5||N/A||Several 1/4-20||No grip of VF|
The Pocket Camera 4K is larger in volume than all the other cameras. I don’t expect the weight to be lighter either, due to extra ports and a 5″ screen. The size is more high-end DSLR territory.
The Z CAM E2 is just a box. You need a cage or a grip attached to the 1/4-20″ threads to hold it. That’s not all:
|Camera||SDI||HDMI||Viewfinder||Monitor||Exposure and focus aids|
|GH5||No||HDMI Type A||Yes||3.2″||Peaking, Histogram, 3D LUTs, Waveform, Vectorscope, Zebras|
|GH5s||No||HDMI Type A||Yes||3.2″|
|Pocket Camera 4K||No||HDMI Type A||No||5″||Peaking, Histogram, 3D LUTs|
|Z CAM E2||No||HDMI Type A (SDI adapter coming soon)||No||No||Meter, others unknown|
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.
Also, the GH5 and GH5S has all the important focus and exposure tools.
|Camera||Control via App||Data Transfer||Ethernet||LANC||Sync|
|Pocket Camera 4K||iPad only||USB-C||No||No||No|
|Z CAM E2||iOS only||USB-C||1 Gbps||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.
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 coming soon as well.
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|
|Pocket Camera 4K||Canon LP-E6||60 minutes||$64.00||$256.00||12V LEMO|
|Z CAM E2||SONY NP-F||N/A||$78.00||N/A||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.
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 hours||SmallHD LCD 5″ + Battery**||Side Grip**||Total (Rounded)|
|Pocket Camera 4K||$1,295||$1,193 ($225)||$512.00||$0||$0||$1,807|
|Z CAM E2||$1,999||$2,059.47||N/A||$560||$50||$4,058|
**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. The Pocket Camera 4K still beats out the rest in terms of cost, but only if you shoot with SSDs. 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.
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||Tie|
|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||$2,571||4:3 Anamorphic mode, 5K video, Exposure Tools, Flip LCD, IBIS, Higher Resolution Still Photographs||Compressed codec|
|GH5s||$3,071||Low Light||Compressed codec, Too expensive|
|Pocket Camera 4K||$1,807||Cheapest, RAW recording, Prores, XLR input||No Flip LCD, Poor battery life, not a pocket camera|
|Z CAM E2||$4,058||4K at 120 fps, Modular, mounting points||Not a low budget option, brand unknown, H.264/H.264 codec at high bit rates|
I’m going to discount the Z CAM E2. I don’t know the brand, and I can’t risk it. I’m speaking for myself, of course. If I wanted 120 fps in 4K, I’ll choose a Red camera, which is what I did on a shoot last month. 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.
Which brings us to the Blackmagic Design Pocket Camera 4K (Amazon, B&H). It definitely seems like a great camera on paper. With RAW you definitely get better color science and that counts for image quality. There’s also the great price point to consider.
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
The only way the Blackmagic Design Pocket Camera 4K (Amazon, B&H) can beat the GH5 is in terms of sheer image quality – dynamic range and color science. I’ve pre-ordered one and hopefully I should get it by the end of the year (but if past shipment dates are any indicator I’ll probably only be seeing it in January or February 2019. By then, if the a7S III comes out who knows?
To be honest, I would have preferred a 1080p Pocket Camera in roughly the same form factor as the original one, but with 15 stops of DR and up to 240 fps in full sensor mode. That would have been something.