Is Now the Right Time to Buy a Video Camera?

Is Now the Right Time to Buy a Video Camera?

There’s nothing quite so frustrating to anyone in the business, as having your camera become outdated in less than a year. When I look at the current line up of camcorders, I’m beginning to think that they’re about to be replaced by the cameras that should have been released in the first place. The camcorder market is falling behind.

Where am I getting this from? I’m seeing a disparity between the available tech, and what we’re being offered. If the major players in this space could easily update these cameras, then what’s to stop them doing that by the time NAB rolls around? Really it’s a case of building your dream camera, in your head, and then realizing that nobody is offering it yet. To show this, I’ll go through the features that I would like to see in a dream camcorder setup.

My Dream Camera

  • Built-in 5-axis Stabilization.
  • Killer low light performance (think Sony’s a7S range).
  • 10-bit 4k 24p; 8-bit 4k 60p (or 10-bit if at all possible); 8-bit 2k 120p.
  • Record to V60/V90 SD cards.
  • Time-lapse functionality.
  • Compatible with LUTs, with the option to enable/disable for HDMI output.
  • Custom buttons and easy to dial in settings, like Kelvin/tint instead of presets.
  • Built-in ND filters.
  • Reliable, continuous auto-focus.
  • Full audio control, with at least two XLR inputs.
  • Mounting points for radio/shotgun microphones.

Sure, different brands have different qualities that we all love. I’m not saying that Canon’s skin tone reproduction isn’t top notch, and nor am I suggesting that Sony’s love of XQD/SxS/Memory Stick formats is something that should be negative. However, when the tech is available to consumers, you might wonder why these manufacturers aren’t trying to make their camcorders meet the standards elsewhere in the industry. Notice that I’m not talking about DSLRs here. It seems that the mirrorless market has leapt ahead of the camcorder market.

No camcorder has 5-axis stabilization right now, like the Panasonic/Sony mirrorless offerings. Plenty of camcorders neglect high frame rate recording, especially in 4K. They often use expensive media (which is understandable). Sometimes they lack basic functionality though – like needing to add rigging to the URSA Mini Pro in order to mount two radio mics or the Canon C200’s choice between underperforming MP4 recording and overkill raw recording.

What Could Have Been

We frequently feature the Panasonic GH5’s video capabilities at Fstoppers, and I personally love how much they’ve managed to cram so much into such a small body. Unfortunately, it suffers from many of the issues that a small SLR shaped camera comes with – like a lack of real audio control or the form factor for holding a video camera over long periods. We can’t complain though, it’s Panasonic’s latest and greatest. The GH5 punches above its weight more than most available competitors. Notably, it has an EVF and built-in 5-axis stabilization.

You’d think that when Panasonic shook the industry with its EVA1 camcorder, it would have included these two features. It’s definitely a highly anticipated camera and jam-packed with amazing features. However, I can’t help but feel it further highlights how the EVA-1 was developed by a separate Panasonic wing than the GH5 was developed in. Companies steal ideas from one another every year, but Panasonic wouldn't bring their own mirrorless tech over to a camcorder? I would really like to see built in stabilization on the EVA1’s sensor, making it a near perfect camera for me. The camera was released with digital stabilization, which isn’t half as good when moving the camera in my opinion.

Maybe that’s why there’s a number in the title because they’re already getting ready for the EVA2. I wouldn’t put it past Panasonic, who released the GH5 with a $100 optional upgrade for S-LOG. The “sell now and fix later” mentality might extend to every part of the organization. In fact, they’ve already released an update to fix bugs. If Sony were able to stabilize a large sensor in their mirrorless line up, then why shouldn’t the EVA1, FS5, C200, or others include this? You might not think it’s necessary, and you’d be right to say that it’s a near perfect camera. However, if I wanted a camera to last as long as possible, wouldn’t I want these kinds of cutting-edge features included if at all possible?

The Promise

It seems like the top tier cameras have one feature but then lose another. You might disagree with me, and feel that manufacturers are giving us the best that they can (and you’d have a strong argument). However, it’s at least not impossible to believe after Canon created, and subsequently failed to capitalize on, the HDSLR revolution. In fact, Canon’s new C200 is getting torn apart by the EVA1 specs – unless you love working with raw video. You might turn to their C700, but I’d compare that to an Arri Amira (a camera you might not be inclined to buy). I’m not sure it’s fair to compare this generation of pro-camcorders with higher end cinema cameras, even if they can both shoot documentaries, events and live content.

Panasonic makes a beefier camcorder, outpacing its own GH5, but fails to bring over some of the best GH5 features. Sony brought out the FS7 II, but the stellar low light from the a7S is nowhere to be seen. Of course, I’m oversimplifying the use cases of the FS7 against the a7S, as well as the codecs, native ISOs, and media that they record onto. But low light capability is just that, and spec for spec there are times you’d rather the a7S to the FS7. Why not consolidate the best of both?

What’s Next?

What would it take for a camera built today, to last for the next decade? Hell, even five years. It would need to be compact enough to fit on gimbals, have built-in audio controls and XLR inputs, and basically be the answer to the problems I’ve been talking about. Imagine an FS5/EVA1 sized body, without any compromises.

I don’t find it that hard to imagine at all. That’s why I’m concerned that while we’ve seen some groundbreaking cameras released this fall already, they’ve all failed to reach that point of no compromise. I would seriously hesitate to invest $10k in a setup that could be obsolete faster than the next generation will be. In hindsight, would you have preferred to buy an iPhone 3GS or waited and picked up an iPhone 4?

Stephen Kampff's picture

Working in broadcasting and digital media, Stephen Kampff brings key advice to shoots and works hard to stay on top of what's going to be important to the industry.

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I call this problem "Analysis Paralysis". You want to get the camera with the best features, but if you look at the rumors sites, they say "Wait! There will be a new version with these features." I ran into that problem when I was researching a DSLR to buy in 2013. Canon Rumors didn't help any. It took my wife asking "You want this camera?"

If you can make money with it right now then buy it. I recently sold my FS7 and bought a used FS5 because I could get lots of the features the author is looking for (plus RAW) by partnering the FS5 with the RAW upgrade and Shogun Inferno. I can always swap the camera out at a minimal loss, but it punches WAY above it's cost for higher end features while still giving me SD card recording for events and meeting.

Right now, the FS7 is still the best choice for professional cause of the codec you have in the camera and the ENG lens 18-110.

I was just shooting Victoria Secret fashion show last week in Shanghai.
80 % were FS7, few C300 with canon prime, one Alexa... Nothing happens by mistake.

There are so many FS7s at Fashion Events – more than I've ever seen elsewhere for some reason! I rather like the color/AF on a C300 but after a long week it's sort of nice to have a smaller camera (FS5 for example) even if you give up features.

I'm wondering if we'll start to see the EVA1 creep in on this ENG territory now.

Just rent.