Movie Making Manual/Cinematography/Large sensor digital film cameras

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This Module is part of the Cinematography section of the Movie Making Manual

This page will focus on affordable large sensor digital film cameras (GH1, Scarlet, 5DmkII etc). If you want shallow depth of field without using a DoF adapter (or 35mm film) then these cameras might be what you need. This page is not meant to give complete specs for each camera. Instead, this page should give a broad overview.

What counts as "large sensor"? For the sake of argument, let's define "large sensor" as 2/3" or larger.

Released cameras

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  • Price (body only): $17,500
  • Sensor: 24.4mm x 13.7mm, native resolution: 4k bayer photosites
  • lens: interchangeable, many different mounts available
  • Recording options
    • Records RED RAW (compressed RAW bayer)
    • Records to compact flash / HDD / RED RAM
  • pro audio inputs
  • no autofocus
  • Manufacturer's website

Silicon Imaging SI-2k

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  • Sensor: 2/3" CMOS, native resolution: 2048x1152, 11 stops of dynamic range, bayer
  • lens: interchangeable, PL-mount
  • Records 10-bit CineForm RAW (compressed RAW bayer)
  • pro audio inputs
  • no autofocus
  • Manufacturer's website

Panasonic GH1

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  • Release date: April/May/June 2009
  • Price (body plus kit lens): £1200
  • Sensor
    • size: 18 x 13.5mm
    • native resolution: 12.1 megapixels
    • design: Live MOS
  • lens
    • interchangeable, micro four thirds mount (adapters available for many different types of lenses including Canon, Nikon, C-mount)
  • Recording options:
    • frame rate options are 24 and 60 (NTSC countries) or 25 and 50 (PAL countries). The higher frame rates are only available in 720p mode.
    • AVCHD: 1920 x 1080; 1280 x 720
    • Motion JPEG 1280 x 720 30fps; 848 x 480 30fps; 640 x 480 30fps; 320 x 240 30fps
    • records to SD card
  • autofocus and face tracking are active during movie recording
  • input for external mics but auto gain cannot be deactivated
  • full manual control during movie recording
  • flip-out vari-angle LCD
  • no video outputs during movie recording
  • no headphone output

Canon 5D mark II

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  • Price (body only): $2699 (list)
  • Sensor: full frame 35mm stills (36 x 24 mm CMOS sensor, RGB Color Filter Array, self-cleaning unit, 22.0 million total pixels, 21.1 million effective pixels)
  • Lens: Canon EF lens mount (does not support EF-S lenses), interchangeable. Adapters are available for other mounts.
  • Recording options:
    • 1920 x 1080 (16:9) up to 12 mins (Quicktime 1080p H.264; 38.6 Mbits/sec)
    • 640 x 480 (4:3) up to 24 mins (Quicktime 480p H.264; 17.3 Mbits/sec)
    • Max file size 4 GB, Quicktime MOV format (H.264 video, PCM sound), 29.97 fps (the file headers say 30 fps, but this is supposedly false)
    • Compact flash
  • excellent performance in low light
  • external mic input (no control over the auto gain)
  • no headphone jack
  • firmware update provides manual control over ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed

Long and detailed discussion of the 5D mk II versus the GH1:

Nikon D90 & Nikon D5000

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  • Release date: Oct 2008
  • Price (body only):
  • Sensor: 23.6 x 15.8 mm CMOS (DX format), 12.3 million effective pixels
  • Lens: interchangeable, Nikon mount
  • Recording: 1280x720, 24.00fps, M-JPEG to SD card, limited to 5-mins per shot, 8-bit, ~23 megabits per second
  • no audio inputs
  • no manual control during movie mode
  • serious rolling shutter issues ("jello cam")

Pentax K-7

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Upcoming cameras which have been announced by their manufacturer

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RED Scarlet and Epic

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A wide variety of modular bodies ("brains") and other modules

  • Release dates: late-2009/2010
  • Lenses: the lowest cost Scarlets will probably have a fixed lens; all other brains will have interchangeable lenses
  • Recording options:
    • RED RAW

Ikonoskop A-Cam DII

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  • price: 6,950 euros
  • current status (as of 19th May 2009): currently taking pre-orders
  • sensor: 10.6mm x 6mm (super-16mm) CCD
  • recording: 1920x1080 12-bit RAW DNG
  • Manufacturer website:


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(Updated May 2nd 2011)

  • 1920x1080 24/25/30p uncompressed 12bit RAW (75Mbyte/sec for 24p).
  • Sensor options: 2/3" Kodak CCD, 2/3" Sony CCD, 2/3" CMOSIS Global Shutter CMOS.
  • Compatible with affordable hard disk or solid state recording.
  • No vendor-specific storage, monitoring and sound input technologies.
  • Generic SATA/eSATA storage, 1,000GB 2.5" RAID0 included for 3 hours or 24p recording.
  • Generic VGA 800x600 monitoring with touchscreen user interface.
  • Generic USB sound card and mixer compatibility.
  • Single video file per take with embedded sync sound.
  • Non-destructive metadata.
  • Direct proxy and full quality output supporting many video formats and resolutions.
  • Film emulation technology.
  • Compatibility with GigE vision camera heads.
  • Advanced sensor calibration technology.
  • High quality OLPF.
  • B&W, Color and IR editions.

The system comes in two versions:

  1. A Drama deck with integrated storage and Anton Bauer battery mount.
  2. An open hardware version that uses a laptop instead of the Drama deck.

The estimated cost is:

  1. 8,000 euro for 2/3" Kodak CCD camera head and a Drama deck.
  2. 5,000 euro for 2/3" Kodak CCD camera head and a license of Drama software that operates on a dual core 2.8ghz laptop.


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  • Release: 2011
  • Price: 2,499 Euros
  • Sensor
    • CCD
    • Size: 2/3"
    • 1920x1080p
  • Recording options
    • DNG RAW - 12 bits
    • ProRes 4:4:4 - 12 bits
    • ProRes 4:2:2 - 10 bits
    • MOV 4:4:4 RAW - 10 bits
    • MOV 4:2:2 - 10 bits
  • Style of Camera
    • Single cinema camera body
    • Monoblock stereoscopic version
  • Wide variety of lens mounts
    • C-Mount
    • PL
    • B4
    • EOS
    • Nikon
  • Outs
    • YPbPr 10 bits 4:2:2
    • HD-SDI (SMPTE 292M)
    • HD 3G-SDI (SMPTE 424M)
  • Storage Optional
    • SSD (Nonproprietary system)

APERTUS - Open Source Cinema

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  • An open-source hardware and software camera project based on the Elpel cameras
  • Aptina CMOS bayer-pattern sensor with an optical format of 1/2.5" (5.70mm x 4.28mm) and a resolution of 2592x1944 (5 Megapixels).
  • It allows a maximum frame rate of around 15 fps @ full resolution, 30fps @ Full HD (1920x1080) or 60 fps @ HD (1280x720).
  • 12 bit ADC and supports: region of interest, on-chip binning and decimation.
  • Aptina claims that the chip has 70db of dynamic range at full resolution and 76db when using 1/2 binning.
  • Lens Mount: The camera has a standard C-mount but ships with an adapter ring that allows to mount CS-lenses as well.
  • Camera has a SATA and Ethernet connectors and can write RAW and color video files


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Nikon D400 / D750

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Canon pro video camera with APS-C sized sensor

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  • It's a pretty sketchy rumour
  • Release: mid 2010??? Some rumours that the camera will announced late-2009.
  • 12.1 megapixel APS-C (between 20.7×13.8 mm and 28.7×19.1 mm) CMOS sensor similar to the one in the Rebel XSi
  • look similar to the XL H1
  • support for EF and EF-S lenses, sport fully manual controls as well as autofocus
  • shoot 720p/30/60 and 1080p/24/30/60 to 56Mbit/s MPEG-4.
  • price: $8,000
  • Dual ASIC Components for real time 12MP Scaling to 1080p 60-30-24 4:2:2 color space with uncompressed 4:4:4 over optional attachment module.
  • Spec shows CMOS sensor capable of windowed mode for use with large 20x video zooms. 1/3 windowed mode will yield 1080p without binning.
  • Overcrank will be limited to 60p, nothing higher [sic] with a 48p option.
  • No global shutter for the CMOS. It will offer better performance than any competing product.
  • Timelapse feature recorded 4:4:4 12.1MP on JPEG sequences to SD card. Programmable from one frame a minute to one hour.
  • Programmable settings can be transferred on SD card for several cameras.
  • Cinema, WB and K options can be set by SD also.
  • Quicktime Wrapper format like that in the 5D Mark II.
  • Sensitivity down to 1.5 lux with excellent noise performance. Still in testing!
  • Dual phantom power XLR 48khz 24bit inputs. 4 XLR with optional module.
  • Work is being done simultaneously on a portable 2/3 fixed lens version. Sensor will be smaller to accommodate a 14x zoom.

Panasonic pro video camera with large sensor

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  • There have been a few rumours about a "pro" Panasonic video camera with a large camera. This would make sense in the light of some of the features on the GH1 which appear to have been deliberately "disabled" (e.g. the lack of audio level controls, no video output while recording etc).

Sony Alpha A1000

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Rumoured to be released sometime before 2011, possibly as early as NAB 2010.

Useful links

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