The 4K Production Camera is a camera that has been on the radar of many a camera owners mind since it was announced last year. Amongst the promises were 4K resolution, naturally, and a global shutter. All for the price of a couple of decent DSLR lenses.
A recent price reduction has pricked the ears of many more potential buyers who are now eager to find out what the camera can do for them. So what do you really get for your £2,000?
The camera body is the obvious inclusion, along with a full version of DaVinci Resolve, a charger, a shoulder strap, a screen sunshade, and... well that’s it really.
What struck me most when I took the camera out of the box was its size and weight. The Production Camera certainly can’t be accused of being shoddily built! It is made of metal, and it is built to last. There are three screw attachment holes on the top of the body, a standard tripod plate hole on the base, and various ports on the side covering audio input, 6G-SDI out, Thunderbolt out, headphones, and power input.
Once you attach a lens to the camera there is one thing that stands out more than anything else. This is a camera that is designed to be used within a cage and with other accessories bolted to it. It is initially inexpensive because you are effectively purchasing a sensor block in a box. At the very least you will need to budget for a cage, an external battery power system, a decent EVF, and an XLR audio input box. You may also need a new lens system, but more about that later. If you already own such accessories then the purchase decision will be made a lot easier.
The styling is a bit of a love/hate affair for me. On the one hand it is beautiful in its simplicity. It could have been designed by Braun. On the other it is a bit, well, retro! The front of the body has a single big red button to start and stop recording, which adds the to the 70’s feel of it. Without a cage it looks a very odd beast indeed.
The large touchscreen LCD on the back of the camera is large, bright, and responsive. In strong sunlight it is difficult to view, but you need to remember that this is not really the primary way you should be framing your shots. A double tap zooms the image to allow critical focusing. A single tap brings up the metadata screen allowing very fast and convenient input of shot descriptions etc.
Good for focusing
A thin strip at the bottom of the screen displays f/stop, ASA rating, shutter angle, timecode, and other data. A button at the top right of the screen allows toggling of a coloured focus assist peaking, which works out very well. The screen is actually very good for focusing, and I found it to be accurate for the purpose.
Several buttons line the underneath of the screen allowing playback of clips, entry to the setup menu, and the all important power switch. They are all big and responsive.
I won’t go into the full scope of the setup menus, but there are three important settings. The recording modes, the screen display mode, and the ASA rating.
You have the option of recording in “Film” mode or “Video” mode. The RAW recording option is not available just yet,and will be added with a firmware update at a later date. “Film” mode records to Apple Prores using a LOG gamma, resulting in a wider latitude quantised into the 10-bit range of the codec for better grading options.
“Video” mode records to the REC709 standard. This will reduce post adjustment options but would be used where working fast is more important than going through a grading process.
The review camera was supplied with a couple of high quality Sigma DSLR lenses. The system was designed with EF mount lenses in mind, and so it seemed logical to try it with these first.
It is at this point that you will most probably make the realisation that using such glass isn’t the best of ideas. The camera has no way of riding the iris smoothly with such lenses. There is one button that sets the exposure automatically. In Video mode pressing this will set the exposure based upon the average light in the shot, while in Film mode it will expose for the brightest highlights and let the shadows take care of themselves.
It is possible to set the exposure manually yourself by using the shuttle buttons below the LCD display, however this still means that riding the iris smoothly is not an option. This issue was soon solved by swapping out the modern glass for some older high quality primes with a manual iris control on the barrel.