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|
|Sony a7S II||1||3.5mm TRS||LPCM 2 channels 48 kHz and 16 bit||Yes|
|Sony a7R II||1||3.5mm TRS||LPCM 2 channels 48 kHz and 16 bit||Yes|
|Red Raven||0||None||LPCM 2 channels 48 kHz and 24 bit||??|
*I’m not sure this is available yet on the older URSA 4K.
There’s no clear winner here, both the URSA Mini and FS7 can take XLR inputs and deliver Phantom power. However, the Red Raven definitely comes last, because you need an external recorder or Base Expander for audio, even it if it’s just for monitoring.
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.
Tie between the URSA Mini and FS7.
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**|
|Sony a7S II||No||No||4.6 x 2.7 x 1.5″ (19)||627g|
|Sony a7R II||No||No||4.6 x 2.7 x 1.5″ (19)||640g|
- * The Mini is about half the volume of the URSA 4.6K
- **Including viewfinder, remote control and SELP28135G lens.
- ***With media bay and lens mount only.
The larger URSA weighs 7.5kg as-is, and is already outside most carry-on limits. Fully rigged up, all of these cameras should weigh about 5-8 kg, though the a7S II and a7R II are clear winners here. However, the low weight is a moot point if you can’t operate the camera in a shoulder or camcorder mounted configuration. This means you must add a cage and a rig, and it raises the weight to the levels of the others.
On the usability front, the FS7 comes out on top. For feature-length shoots, having a shoulder-mount/camcorder configuration is not always an advantage. You need a system that is modular and can fit into any rig you design for it. No clear winner here, though for sturdy construction I think the Raven, a7R II and a7S II are probably the best.
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|
|Sony a7S II||HDMI||Yes**||3″ LCD (409K pixels)||Z, FP|
|Sony a7R II||HDMI||Yes**||3″ LCD (409K pixels)||Z, FP|
|Red Raven||None^||No^||n/a^||Not published yet|
- *Key: H – histogram, FP – focus peaking, Z – Zebras, S – Waveform and Vectorscopes
- **Not really useful for cinema work.
- ^You should be able to connect a Red LCD directly via the LCD cable. You need an additional Base Expander I/O module to get monitoring ports.
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. Zebra is important too.
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.
Finally, you might want the Base Expander module to go with the Raven, and you need an external monitor just to get it to be on par with the rest (or to see what you’re doing!). The costs of a basic and cheap system are:
- LCD Cable ($220) or DSMC2 Base Expander ($1,750), or maybe the Jet Expander can be used for HDMI ($950)
- Red Touch 4.7″ LCD – $1,450
- You could get a cheaper LCD via HDMI for about $250
- Mounting plate – $100
This last set of little things are not mandatory:
|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|
|Sony a7S II||Yes||No||USB||No|
|Sony a7R II||Yes||No||USB||No|
- *LANC or 2.5mm jack or USB, whatever the protocol used
- ^All of these cameras can have wireless connectivity (I’m not sure about the URSA Mini), but wireless video streaming is a different matter
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.
Regarding the Raven, the PRO I/O Module (which gives genlock) is not listed as supported with the Raven.
This one goes to the FS7.
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|
|Sony a7S II||30 min||$50||$100/hr||Dummy/USB|
|Sony a7R II||30 min||$50||$100/hr||Dummy/USB|
|Red Raven||2.5 hours^^||$450^^||$180/hr||Quickplate ($1,050)#|
- * DC means you can use an AC adapter. O means the camera can output power to an external device
- **Cost of cheap V-mount battery
- ^All are estimates, and could be totally wrong
- ^^Based on the Scarlet power draw for a 153Wh brick. The Raven specs don’t mention power right now, but do recommend bricks with their kits.
- #This is the backpack quickplate that allows you to mount a brick directly to the brain.
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. The most expensive is Red. Not only are the batteries expensive, they also need a module to get them to mount on the brain. You would need the following to mount a brick (pick your poison):
- Quickplate ($1,050) + 153Wh brick ($450) + Charger ($550), or
- Redvolt Module ($1,150) + Redvolt XL 89Wh ($350) + Quad Charger ($595)
I chose the “cheaper” and more versatile solution for the Raven.
Ultimately though, the a7S II and a7R II wins. With the same brick you can run it for longer, even with an external recorder.
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 EF||$4,995||$3,955 +$50*||$117 +$183^^||$9,300|
|Sony a7S II||$2,998||$29||$100`||$3,127|
|Sony a7R II||$3,198||$29||$100`||$3,327|
|Red Raven||$5,950 +$1,945#||$3,445 +$195*||$180 +$1,050^ +$550^^||$13,315|
|Red Raven Base I/O Kit||$9,950 +100**||$2,550+$195*||$180 +$1,050^ +$550^^||$14,575##|
- *You need a Red Station to offload the drives, CFast and XQD Readers for the rest. SD cards are supported on laptops (which you’ll most likely have on set) and Macs. Even so, readers can be had for peanuts.
- ^You need a quickplate to attach the battery to the brain.
- #LCD Cable, Mounting plate, sliding top handle (assuming it’s compatible) and Monitor Note: You might not need the Base Expander but if you want audio you might want to include it.
- **You get a handle, LCD, 120 GB mini-mag, and Base Expander, but no mounting plate or battery solutions.
- ##If you add the Base Expander to the piecemeal kit, you will end up paying about $490 more, so buying the kit saves you that much money and time.
- `You can increase the price if you use a brick and charger, but it won’t affect the final price by much.
It isn’t a revelation to see the a7S II and a7R II cameras the cheapest. It could be argued you could add an external recorder they become even better, and that costs about $1,300-1,995 depending on which you pick. Plus the media for these are also more expensive, and you need further battery solutions as well. The costs do add up quickly.
Yet, if all you needed was a straight-to-edit workflow with minimal color grading, you could buy both a7S II and a7R II and still be cheaper than the rest. In some cases, you get a free SD card as well (like I did) for each camera.
The real question is, do the higher prices of the other cameras give you something important as far as cinema-work is concerned?
Let’s start with Red. Obviously you might be spending close to $15,000 to get a Red Raven ready for hard production, even if it’s in your own back woods. At that price point you can start thinking about comparing it with a Canon C300 Mark II or Sony F5.
Finally, you can see how the ‘cheaper’ URSA Mini really catches up with the FS7 when you add the essentials. Also, if you want the PL version, you’ll be paying even more. On the other hand, the FS7 can take any lens with a cheap adapter.
Time to declare the results.
First, here’s a recap:
|Sensor and ISO||a7R II|
|Video features||Red Raven|
|Codecs and Color||FS7|
|Ports and Monitoring||FS7|
|Power||a7R II a7S II|
|Most value for money||a7R II a7S II|
Before we take our final decision, we’ll let the cameras tell us what they offer that the others don’t:
|URSA Mini 4.6K EF||$9,300||Global shutter, Crop, includes Resolve|
|PXW-FS7||$9,395||Mount any lens, built-in ND, ergonomics, waveform, genlock|
|Sony a7S II||$3,127||Low light champion of the world, FF|
|Sony a7R II||$3,327||FF plus APS-C mode, 42 MP stills|
|Red Raven||$14,575||4K at 120p, HDRx, Crop|
Here’s the thing: Should you pay a $15K minus $9K = 6K premium just for 120p? Let’s say there are a few days when you need that, why not rent? Add to that the Raven does not have audio, does not have a firm delivery time, is hard to buy in some countries, etc., and you come to the conclusion it might not be worth the asking price for cash-starved filmmakers. The low budget indie filmmaker can save money that is critically required elsewhere. And by the way, you don’t need HDRx when you already have 16.5 stops of DR.
Question is: Should you apply the same logic when it comes to the Sony FS7 and URSA Mini? You get important advantages over the a7R II and a7S II:
- 4K at 60p, and
- Better codec and color for grading
- Better rolling shutter performance
- 3D LUTs, Genlock, ND Filter (FS7 only)
- Resolve (URSA Mini only)
If you don’t need these features, the a7R II and a7S II look better:
- 4K up to 30p
- Small ergonomics for tight spots, run-and-gun work, gimbal work, etc.
- Weather-resistant and tough
- Good enough codec for projects that don’t require extensive grading
- Rolling shutter isn’t a problem for normal use
- With an XLR module and external recorder like the PIX-E 5″ ($1,395) you get a lot of the functionality the others provide.
Here’s a case where both solutions offer advantages but neither offer something compelling unless you need it. Let me ask you a question: If both the URSA Mini and FS7 couldn’t shoot 4K at 60p, would these cameras still be worth your while? I think this is the most important question.
I believe most filmmakers shooting features or shorts don’t need 60p. Like I said earlier, you could apply the same argument you had with the Raven here. When you need HFR, rent a camera for a few hundred dollars. You’re almost saving $5,000 or so (depending on accessories) by choosing the a7S II or a7R II.
You can rig them up just the way you want it, but you can’t de-rig an FS7 or URSA Mini!
As an overall package, in today’s world, it’s hard to beat the Sony a7S II and a7R II for low-budget filmmaking. If you can learn to shoot log, and plan your shoots so you don’t have to do extensive grading later, then there’s little these cameras can’t do. As I mentioned in my a7S II review, I’d pick the Sony a7R II as the single-most bang-for-your-buck camera.
|Requirement||Which one shines|
|Large sensor that can deliver a shallow DOF||Sony a7R II|
|XLR inputs for audio||Tie|
|Ability to interface with a waveform monitor and vectorscope||Tie|
|Ability to record in higher frame rates||FS7|
|Shoot with a broadcast-approved codec and format||FS7|
|Have good lenses||Tie|
|Have good low light ability||Tie|
|Be easy to setup, pack, and dismantle||Tie|
|Be easy to transport||Tie|
|Have a rugged construction to withstand some abuse||Sony a7R II|
|Simplify filmmaking to its bare essentials – plug and play||Tie! Sony loves to complicate things, and they’re both Sony cameras!|
|Have low data rates and an easy straight-to-edit workflow||Sony a7R II|
|Cheap media||Sony a7R II|
|Good battery life||Tie|
|Built-in ND filters||FS7|
|Long duration shooting||FS7|
A tie? What you can see is a clear distinction between the two cameras:
- When you need to make a career out of your camera – broadcast approved codec, long duration shooting, ND filters, scopes, 60p, etc., the Sony FS7 (B&H, Amazon) is the best value for money. Simply because the extra investment will earn you more rewards if you’re a DP/rental house.
- When you just need to make your low-budget movie and can’t see past that, the Sony a7R II (B&H, Amazon) wins.
But I promised there will be only one winner in this comparison, and that winner is the Sony a7R II!! Why?? For one simple reason:
- You can rent a Sony FS7 for about $500/week. If you’re shooting for 30 days, that’s $2,000 (but you could still bring the price down for long rentals). Even with added accessories, your total expenditure isn’t more than $3,000.
- Using the same logic, the a7R II can be rented for $135/week. If you’re shooting for 30 days, that’s $540. Add accessories, and the expenditure isn’t more than $1,000. You can save $2,000 + accessories by not buying.
- You can rent both the a7R II and a7S II for a multi-cam shoot so you can wrap up production quickly.
- Low budget filmmakers looking to save money, here’s the best advice I can give you – stop looking at the camera you need, and start putting money in locations, actors, costumes, logistics and lighting first. Your camera should be your last priority.
Bottom line, for theatrical release and 4K cinema:
- DP looking to make career with cinema camera: Sony FS7 (B&H, Amazon) – you can work on more kinds of projects and meet most demands with this camera.
- Filmmaker looking to make feature film: Rent the a7R II (B&H, Amazon) – you’ll get cinema quality and savings for which you’ll thank me for later, when the smoke clears.