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The Most Popular Cinema Cameras

The Most Popular Cinema Cameras

The camera is an important component in cinematography. It dictates the medium and influences the look and capabilities of how footage is recorded.

In this article, I will talk about some of the most popular film cameras used in the film and commercials industry. I will examine different types of cameras in different formats and also go over their ergonomics as well as the look which each can produce.

1. Sony Venice

The Most Popular Cinema Cameras

At the other end of the spectrum in terms of the negative side, is the large format digital Sony Venice, which comes with a full-frame sensor. The camera was released in 2018. In the last couple of years, large format digital has seen a dramatic rise in popularity amongst DPs looking for an alternative to the standard 35mm digital look.

The sony venice is flexible in that you can shoot natively in Super35, as well as with full full-frame sensor coverage.
Venice’s ability to capture images at up to 6K resolution has made it a popular choice for Netflix productions which requires original programming to be shot at a minimum 4k resolution - something the Alexa Mini is unable to do.

The camera comes with great codecs - from RAW to XAVC - which captures lots of information, especially in the shadows, but is much lighter on storage than its contemporaries. A unique feature of Venice is that it comes with the option of using a cabled extension system. This is where the front sensor block can be separated from the body of the camera and then re-attached to the camera via a tethered cable.

The body at the other end of the cable acts as the brain which records the footage and holds the batteries. In this form factor, the camera becomes tiny and light to operate or to place in tight areas such as car interiors. One problem I did run into however when using this build is that the camera isn’t able to send many amps of power to the front unit ports through the cable without shutting down.

This means that there may be insufficient power from the ports to use multiple accessories such as a follow focus and a monitor - without the use of extra batteries. The camera supports high frame rates of up to 120 frames at 4k and comes with an incredible 8 different stops of internal ND filters from ND0.3 to ND2.4.

This makes the use of changing out physical ND filters in front of the lens unnecessary and is a big time saver. Another selling point of Venice is its dual ISO bases of 500 and 2500. Shooting it at 2500 ASA is ideal for low-light situations, such as outdoors at night.

I did find however that when using this base ISO it’s important to remain at exactly 2500. If the ISO deviates from this base then the amount of noise increases significantly.

The Venice is therefore chosen by cinematographers for productions that need a 4K Netflix workflow, or a full-frame look, for setups in tight spaces and its ability to shoot dark scenes at 2500 ASA using only minimal light.

2. Arri Alexa Mini

The Most Popular Cinema Cameras

When talking about modern cinema cameras, probably the most popular format would have to be 35mm film-style digital cameras. In this category, the Alexa Mini from Arri has been the most dominant since its release in 2015. The Mini is so popular that I’d say that in the last 5 years or so, it has been the camera of choice on the shoots I’ve worked on around 80% of the time.

Interestingly,  Arry did not initially intend to make it the default digital cinema camera. The Mini was initially released in a compact, lightweight form factor intended to be used for drones, gimbals, and lightweight setups only. Other Arri models, such as the Alexa XT, which came with the same Alev sensor as the Mini but in a more traditional 35mm style studio body were released as the default camera.

However, cinematographers were instantly drawn to the Mini due to its small, more modular form factor. It can quickly be reconfigured as needed for almost any cinema setup, from Steadicam to drone to traditional studio in just a few minutes.

It’s also designed to be compatible with existing 35mm traditional cinema components from Arri, such as PL lenses, SDI ports, follow focus systems, baseplates, or batteries with 12 or 24V power. This functionality makes it an effective single-A camera for many productions.

Along with its form factor it is also valued for its durability (I’ve worked with it in the desert for extended periods without any issues) and, perhaps most importantly, its image. The Mini also offers an Alev III Cmos Bayer sensor, which has the same height and width as a 35mm film frame with 3.4K photosites.

The sensor reproduces beautiful skin tones with low noise and around 14 stops of dynamic range, the difference between the darkest and lightest part of the image. It can capture in Arriraw, to retain the maximum color information, or in Prores at LogC up to 4444XQ. The sensor can record in 16:9 for spherical lenses or 4:3 for anamorphic lenses.

It has 3 internal ND filters at 0.6, 1.2, and 2.1 strengths and can record up to 200 frames per second. The ISO range of the camera is 160 to 3200, with the native or base being at 800. I’ve seen some DPs push the camera by shooting at 1600 to deliberately introduce more noise.

Rating the camera higher than 1600 however is unusual as the noise will then become extremely prominent. The camera has a few flaws, but a notable one is the annoying card slot placement on the back of the camera, where the battery and accessories lock it up and slow down camera recharges.

This card slot placement has however been rectified on the new Mini LF body. Overall the Mini is popular for its trademark Arri look with beautiful color reproduction, solid durability, and lightweight, flexible form factor.

3. Arriflex 416

The Most Popular Cinema Cameras

Moving onto another format, that of 16mm film, let's take a look at the Arriflex 416, introduced by Arri in 2006. The Arriflex 416 is designed for the Super 16 format, with a wider picture area than the regular 16mm and a wider aspect ratio, at 1.66: 1, which can be easily cropped to the standard 1.85: 1 theatrical aspect ratio.

The lightweight camera was designed as an upgrade to the SR3 to accommodate newer lenses.

In terms of the design, the 416 pulls heavily from Arri’s line of 35mm cameras and is compatible with their accessories such as PL mount lenses, follow focus units, baseplates, and more. The video tap system, which allows the crew to get an SDI video feed to a monitor so that they can view an approximation of what the camera will see, is the same system used in the modern 35mm Arricam models.

This flexibility built with its modern design has made the 416 the Super 16 camera of choice. The camera runs at a low noise level below 20 decibels which makes recording sync sound possible. It’s capable of recording up to 75 frames per second, while the 416 Plus HS allows for increased slow-motion capture at up to 150 frames per second.

As of course, the camera records to 16mm rather than a sensor, its look is determined by the cinematographer's choice of film stock. The camera can be paired with 16mm lenses such as zooms from Canon or Angenieux or the Zeiss Ultra Prime or Super Speed primes.

The range of options for 16mm lenses is limited, the fact that the camera can be paired with 35mm PL lenses is also an added bonus. Hence, Arriflex 416 stands out for its versatility as a Super ''16mm'' camera combined with its modern design and ease of use.

4. Red Komodo

The Most Popular Cinema Cameras

Finally, for something a little different, the Komodo is the newest offering from Red. It comes with a standard Super35 CMOS sensor, so what makes this camera different: well, that would be its miniature form factor and attractive price point. The Komodo’s tiny size means that it is great for specialized rigs where a small form factor is needed, such as for little FPV drones or inside tight spaces.

The camera comes with a global shutter which allows it to capture fast-moving action without video-Esque curved motion blur. This is an important feature for a camera that is well suited to capturing action. The camera can record in Redcode RAW at up to 6K resolution with a reported 16 stops of dynamic range or in ProRes at up to 4K.

It’s capable of shooting slow motion up to 120 frames per second. The camera comes with Canon’s new RF mount, which provides compatibility with various lenses through using mount adapters. The Red Komodo can be built into a small shape using Canon BP batteries and stills lenses, or it can be fully expanded to a studio mode setup with a monitor, V-lock battery, matte box, and base plate with mounting bars.

Although it’s mainly been used as a specialty camera for specific shots, the Komodo was used by director Steven Soderbergh as the primary camera on a recent feature. (It is extremely small but has a full-size sensor. You can narrow it down to absolutely nothing and it's really quite small and lightweight.

The lens is bigger and heavier than the body.) (It was small enough that I could place it anywhere I wanted very quickly, but large enough to give me the aesthetics and practicality that a "normal" camera would give me.)

The Komodo has therefore been utilized by DPs for its tiny form factor, which is necessary for ultra-lightweight cinema rigs, combined with the solid image quality from its high resolution, RAW codec.

Last words

So that brings us to the end of this cinema camera breakdown article. Also, check out the most popular cinema lenses. If you found this article interesting then let me know in the comment section and share it with your friends or on social media. If you have any comments about what other formats or cameras you’d like to see featured please let me know below.

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