Video Production – Contra reviews the F55 VS Amira VS Red Epic Dragon John Ford - Head of Film by John Ford, Head of Film

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Part 1: The advantages and disadvantages of the c300 for video production

For the last 3 years our video production team have been enjoying making some pretty wonderful films with our Canon c300.

John and camera video production

It was a big deal when this camera came out. It’s predecessor the 5Dmkii was a bit of a game changer for a great many london production companies offering a sweet, sweet look, a very affordable price tag and an incredibly lightweight form factor. This meant a shift in approach to production techniques – camera sliders, gimbal stabilisers, timelapse shots – so much was opened up to us and it transformed a great many video production companies portfolios! But… it was a right pain to use and had more than a few issues (moire, rolling shutter, bad audio, rubbish HDMI port and so on…)

5d video production

What to like about the c300:

But the c300 addressed a great many of these gripes! We had wonderful latitude, decent audio, we could use our lovely canon lens set – including our C-NE primes. It had the same lightweight benefits so we could sling it around the world in all kinds of tough locations. It was robust and could handle shoots in up to 50 degrees (Dubai…), ridiculously humid climates (Bangladesh…) or crazy dusty environments (Burundi…!) and with handy features like its waveform monitor you knew you could trust that what you were filming was gonna look great!

Camera at sunset video production

What not to like:

It’s true, in my humble opinion, that our portfolio has never looked so beautiful. However… it’s been 3 years and things have moved on. I’ve found myself feeling limited by it’s modest 8bit 50mbps codec. The fact that we bought the EF mount version now means that every time I want to use stunning PL glass (such as the Leica summicron C or the lovely Cooke S4i set) I need to hire in something else.

Not being able to get decent slow motion at full HD. Not being able to shoot at higher resolutions if I wanted to.

c300 video production

These issues became increasingly frustrating and it’s clear that the c300 isn’t trying to be all things to all people. It’s a very good HD broadcast camera that is great in low light and gives a lovely image. My understanding is that it is the most rented camera in 2014 ( and 3 years on is still very popular amoung a great many corporate and commercial production companies. I think the BBC are taking to it for a great many of their shoots and has served us well when working for them:

But for us it was time for a change here at Contra. We didn’t want to be using the same camera as most of our competition, we wanted to be better! We wanted to keep up with the newest tech, the latest image capturing toys – the next big thing. There are now a HUGE amount of options!

Our search for a replacement began…

So I started my journey to find my new camera. I started off with cameras that were quite affordable – like the Blackmagic Production camera.

Blackmagic Production Camera video production

Bleagh… I found its form factor to be very annoying for our day to day video production.

We looked at options like the Blackmagic Ursa, the AJA Cion even the new Sony FS7. We then weighed up the slightly more pricey cameras such as the c500, the F5 and having used the Red Scarlet a fair few times that was also an option.

What is undeniable is that all of these cameras are very interesting products and all offered technical improvements that, on paper at least, would give us more options to play with than our trusty c300.

However… they all had big problems that I couldn’t live with. For example, the Blackmagic has the annoying fixed pattern noise or the black dot issue.

Dot issue video production

The Cion seems to only be PL mount so I couldn’t use my EF glass (correct me if I’m wrong!). The c500 only seemed to be an improvement if we slapped recorders to the outside and spent a fair amount of money pimping it out.

What did Sony have to offer?

The F5 and the FS7? ya know what – this is what it really comes down to – I just didn’t feel excited by the images it created. I know… I know… this is down to the quality of the camera op as well as the camera/lighting/subject matter etc… and I’m not particularly an expert on colour science so not great at articulating why something looks better than something else! I just know what I like. I just have to feel excited by the images the camera gives me and that then pushes me. The images I’ve seen from the Cion and the Ursa also seem very clean, natural and nice but…

I dunno. They just don’t blow me away.

So we ended up with a shortlist of 3 cameras. We needed to go up a gear. We needed to take a step up to the cameras that did seem like a tangible improvement and that would give us a noticeable lift in perceived if not technical image quality.

And then there were 3…

It came down to the Sony F55, the Amira and the new Red Epic Dragon.

Red_Image video production

Three beasts. Three heavy weight, hard hitting, punch packing BEAUTIES of cameras. This suite of articles represents my decision making process. Also the impact these cameras might have on our in house video production team and workflow.

It’s worth noting that my thoughts are not particularly scientific nor necessarily that educated so if I’m wrong or inaccurate or you just disagree… that’s totally cool! Feel free to leave a note at the bottom and I welcome the discussion!


John Ford - Head of Film by John Ford, Head of Film
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