Mid-range cameras don’t mean compromise

At VMI we’ve noticed a recent trend among filmmakers and wondered if you agree? We’ve spotted that a significant number of productions are ‘trading down’ from using traditional top of the range cine-cameras like ARRI Alexa Mini/LF or Sony Venice to instead using mid-range cameras, like Sony FX-6, FX-9, Canon C300 Mk III and Canon C500 Mk II etc.

Sony FX9 Bebob Hero Left
Sony FX9 – has almost totally replaced FS7 II bookings and many Alexa Mini bookings too. The FX-6 is its smaller brother and does most of what the FX9 does.

The reason? We think producers (or rather DPs) have realised that they can achieve similar production values by using mid-range cameras whilst saving budget on camera hire.

There’s science behind this too since Sony’s FX-6 and FX-9 actually share the same sensors as their cine-camera’s big sister, Sony Venice and the result is that the quality of all mid-range cameras has become incredibly good.  Many of these can now shoot 4K+ quality of 12/14 stops+ of latitude in log format, so professionals would be hard-pressed to be able to discern which camera was used from shot images alone.

 Yet even when using the less expensive mid-range cameras, many productions choose not to compromise on the lenses used and continue to hire the same premium lenses from Zeiss, Leitz, Cooke, Angenieux and ARRI as they did before.

C500 Mk II Body-OLED-Back-Lens Front 3-2 (2)
Canon C500 II – with the optional OLED finder and Expansion II back, this becomes a fully functional camcorder capable of FF, S-35, anamorphic and includes onboard RAW capture. Another go-to camera for many productions in FF. The Canon C300 III is an identical camera for S-35 capture.

That’s because clients continue to be discerning about creating a look by choosing from the increasing range of lenses now available. They can decide to shoot either spherical or anamorphic, as many FF cameras have anamorphic capability.  Atlas anamorphics, for example, introduces a modern blue anamorphic flare to images and have become a popular choice as a lower cost alternative to more expensive Cooke anamorphics.

Modern or classic?

There’s a choice between ‘modern’ and ‘vintage’ to shoot clean images or to introduce ‘character’ – a catch-all term which is hugely subjective but immensely important to programme makers. 

The Canon K35s continue to be really popular but are exceptionally expensive as a consequence of their vintage look and rarity value. However, lenses like Sigma Classic Primes, Canon Sumire and Celere primes are able to create a lot of character which many clients value but for much less money – an important quality.

Man Vs Bee, shot with Zeiss Supreme Radiance primes. These lenses are also popular with mid-range cameras like FX9 and C500 II.

What surprised me most was seeing how many productions chose to shoot with Sony FX-9 cameras in combination with premium lenses like Zeiss Supreme Radiance primes (they were used in the Netflix drama series, Man Vs Bee with a double Venice package). Because programme makers have so much choice it is clear that they are embracing this too!

Flexible mount options

…but that isn’t all.  With the increase in performance and functionality of cameras being offered with Sony and Canon mounts, many filmmakers now also choose to use Sony G-Master and Canon/Sigma lenses which incorporate native E and EF mounts in preference to traditional film lenses with PL mounts. They are using them to shoot commercials and other quality productions – but why?

The reason for this is clear – many E and EF mount lenses (though not all) have auto-focus capability and while autofocus used to be a swear word in production circles, many operators now use it as a focussing aid to ensure that their focus is pin sharp, which can be tricky with full frame sensors.

Sigma Prime Lenses Full Lineup 3-2
Sigma High Speed Primes are really popular lenses and are available in EF and PL mount. PL mount versions with Cooke /i data compatibility are also available from VMI

It is interesting to also note that recent entrants to the film lens market, such as Sigma, whose High Speed primes were recently used to shoot Top Gun 2: Maverick (by Claudio Miranda ASC, who apparently insisted that he would only use these lenses if Sigma integrated Cooke i/data compatibility, which is why they now do!), have found great favour amongst our clients.  These lenses offer premium quality at an affordable rate and we now offer many sets in both EF and PL mounts. [Read VMI article: Sigma Lenses – all you need to know]

Coated or uncoated?

Cinematographers can also choose between using either coated and uncoated lenses to craft their look (uncoated lenses flare easily) but these no longer need to break the budget. Choose from traditional choices such as uncoated Zeiss Superspeeds, or instead consider using modern alternatives such as uncoated Cooke Mini S4is (which are being used to shoot the latest series of Endeavour). 

Cooke Mini S4/i uncoated lenses are lightweight and flare easily

Unusually, there also now is a budget choice available, though this is only available from VMI.  Uncoated Zeiss ZF uncoated Distagon/Planar primes were manufactured in-house by VMI to offer an uncoated look using DSLR lenses and whilst they remain in their original DSLR lens housings, they are nevertheless fully manual lenses which are fitted with external follow focus.

S-35 or FF?

Producers still face the same creative decisions about whether to shoot in S-35 or Full-Frame.  For fans of Full-Frame and there is now enormous choice at every budget level and for those who still champion S-35 – well, there are thousands of S-35 lenses in circulation and if it is good enough for ARRI to release a brand-new Alexa-35 camera to market, then it continues to be relevant today.

Red Komodo 6K camera from RED with extremely small compact body with surprising level of specification including global shutter. EF or PL mount

We need to factor-in that the medium camera range continues to be extended with the release of the RED Komodo (finding a home as a B-cam on productions like The Matrix Resurrections; Jurassic World: Dominion and Indiana Jones 5) which joins the RED Helium and Gemini; then also the Sony FX-9, FX-6 and Sony FS7 II as well as the Canon C300 III and FF Canon C500 II – and these are only the most popular models. 

It doesn’t end there of course: Other potential options include the Sony A7S III and Panasonic S1H which are built into really small camera bodies alongside the Canon C-70 and Sony FS5.  All are really interesting and have their own USPs, though defining real distinctions between them can become quite difficult.

All the choice, none of the confusion

Z CAM E2-F6 Full Frame 6K Camera
Z Cam E2 F6 FF camera with 14 stops of dynamic range and featuring of 4K capture including ZRAW and ProRes codecs. It’s great value too!

Essentially, using a mid-range camera doesn’t have to mean mid-range quality and the DP no longer has to compromise creating a distinctive look imposed due to a tight budget.

So how about the latest ZCAM camera? Users may not be too familiar with the ZCAM E2-F6 Full-Frame unit but this latest version offers digital cinema specifications at a real budget rental price.  A Full Frame CMOS 6K sensor offers anamorphic capability, 14 stops of dynamic range and 4K (with RAW) capture up to 120fps in 2.40:1 aspect ratio with native PL or EF mounts to cover all bases.

Or the Blackmagic Pocket 6K Pro which VMI now stock? A 6K compact camera capable of shooting 13 stops of latitude of up to 120fps with on-board RAW capture and native EF mount? 

Hey – and don’t forget the Ronin 4D, which is a 6K FF camera with a built-in 4-axis gimbal, which can shoot that nothing else can in a camera body never seen before

These are three more cameras to add to a crowded marketplace but each have their own USPs and fans.


In short, it’s clear that filmmakers have discovered an abundance of options to achieve great quality on lower budgets than previously and are changing their production choices as a result.

We are responding too by increasing both the quantity and range of these great cameras that our clients love to use and look forward to the arrival next month of the arrival of the RED 8K Raptor to join our fleet and the Alexa-35 shortly after (when ARRI can finally supply this camera – we have after all been waiting 4-years for it to arrive…!)

You may be interested to learn that we are designing a ‘Shooting Kit Wizard’ module for our website in order to make it easier for web visitors to understand every (compatible) permutation of camera, lens and accessory in order to reflect the huge range of options at your disposal and then be able to offer solutions at every budget too.  We are hoping for a summer release of this function.

With double-digit inflation busting our budgets, it is great to recognise that clients now have more options in their armoury to avoid having to make hard choices which compromise the production values of their programmes.


List correct as of July 2022. Note that these are not formal categories!


ARRI Alexa Mini (S35)

4K Anamorphic, Full Frame & S-35 capability in a small compact modular body. 4K isn’t universally accepted by all broadcasters. PL/EF mount.

ARRI Alexa Mini

ARRI Amira (S35)

4K S-35 capability in a small compact body. 4K isn’t universally accepted by all broadcasters. PL/EF mount.

ARRI-35 (S35)

Brand new 4K S-35 camera from ARRI with new generation sensor. Anamorphic, Full Frame & S-35 capability in a small compact body. Expected Autumn 2022. LPL/PL mount with EF option.


ARRI’s extremely successful 4K Full Frame camera. Needs to shoot Full Frame in order to tick the 4K box. LPL/PL mount with EF option.

RED 8K V-Raptor (FF)

Brand new 8K FF camera from RED with yet another new sensor. Anamorphic, Full Frame & S-35 capability in a new DSMC3 series body. Expected immanently. EF or PL mount

RED Helium (S35)

6K camera from RED with Helium sensor. S-35 capability in a small compact body (DSMC2). EF or PL mount

RED Gemini left

RED Gemini (S35)

5K camera from RED with Gemini sensor which has enhanced low-light capability on the Gemini. S-35 capability in a small compact body (DSMC2). EF or PL mount

RED Gemini left


RED Komodo (S35)

6K camera from RED with extremely small compact body. EF or PL mount

Canon C300 Mk II (S35)

4K camera with S-35 capture in very small compact body with popular Canon workflow. Native EF mount. EF Mount

Canon C300 MK II

Canon C300 Mk III (S35)

4K camera with newly developed 4K Super 35mm sensor, which can shoot 120P Slow motion at 4K, High Dynamic Range and Dual Pixel CMOS AF into the same shell as the EOS C500 Mark II. EF or PL mount

Canon C500 Mk II

Canon C500 Mk II (FF)

5.9K camera with FF sensor and anamorphic compatibility. Both C300 III and C500 II can be supplied with touch screen LED, OLED EVF and/or Expansion II module to provide 4 x audio channels. EF or PL mount

C500 Mk II Body-OLED-Back-Lens Front 3-2 (2)

Sony FX-9 (FF)

4K Full Frame camera which has become to automatic go-to for Sony FS-7 productions. Can be supplied with XDCA FX9 extender which offers 16-bit RAW record outputs. Can also shoot 4K in S-35 mode too. Native E mount with EF and PL compatibility.

Sony FX9 Expansion Pack

Sony FX-6 (FF)

4K Full Frame camera which is essentially the compact version of the FX9, though doesn’t allow S-35 recording in 4K (just HD). Native E mount with EF and PL compatibility.

Sony FX6 Camera”


The highest spec Z Cam camera featuring a Full Frame CMOS 6K sensor with 14 stops of dynamic range and featuring of 4K capture up to 120fps in 2.40:1 aspect ratio supplied in either PL or EF mount and also offers anamorphic capability too. Small, lightweight with dual native ISO, the Z-Cam E6 captures internal 12 bit capture of MOV and MP4 using ProRes codecs and also 10 H.265 codec using ZRAW and ProRes codecs.

Oh yeah – and its really great value! EF/PL mount

Z CAM E2-F6 Full Frame 6K Camera


Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 6K (FF)

A surprisingly high specification 6K S-35 sensor with 13 stops of latitude, built in NDs, high brightness 1500 nit 5″ LCD monitor in a really small camera body with RAW capture to internal CF2 cards.

Blackmagic Pocket 6K Pro

Panasonic S1H DSLR (FF)

Incredibly compact DSLR camera with dual native ISO and Full Frame size sensor. Includes 10 bit, 4K, 4:2:2 onboard record capability, recording internally to SD cards at up to 60fps. Native L Mount/MFT Mount, PL/EF options

Panasonic S1H Front Hero


Incredibly compact DSLR camera to replace Mk II version with 12 Megapixel sensor, capable of shooting 25p video 4K on board in impressive 10 bit 4:2:2 and is also capable of recording up to 120p in 4K also at 10 bit 4:2:2.  Note that like the A7S MkII, this camera will only capture in Full Frame and will vignette if used with S-35 coverage lenses. Sony E mount with EF/PL options.

Sony A7S Mk II 3-2 (left)

Canon C200 (S35)

An interesting 4K alternative camera to the Canon C300 II in EOS mount, as it has a smaller footprint to the C300 II and is able to record internally to RAW (Cinema RAW Light), 4K UHD/50P MP4, 4K DCI RAW and up to 120fps in full HD without crop onto CFast 2 cards whilst retaining Canon’s excellent dual pixel auto focus system.  However, it doesn’t record Prores, for which you still require to use the C300 Mk I or Mk II. EF Mount

Canon C200 Camera

Sony FS5 (S35)

The Sony FS5 shares the same sensor sensor as the existing FS7 and F5 cameras and allows shooting HD and UHD in XAVC-L to more budget-friendly SD media.

Similar to the now-discontinued FS700, slow motion bursts of up to 100, 200, 400 & 800 frames per second slow motion functionality is possible in HD. Sony E mount with EF/PL options.

Sony FS5 Camera

Canon C70 (S35)

Extremely compact and lightweight cinema EOS camera with RF or EF mount, though we prefer to send it out with EF mount. Makes a great second unit to C300 III or C500 II.

Sigma FP (FF)

Marketed by Sigmas as the world’s smallest and lightest full-frame mirrorless camera, VMI’s modified version becomes a digital native PL-Mount compact Director’s Viewfinder which covers Full Frame and S-35 and can also shoot 4K video too! It is also compatible with Full Frame spherical and Open Gate & Full Frame anamorphic too. PL mount only

Sigma Viewfinder Left Facing

Panasonic GH5 (MFT 4/3″)

This camera is suitable for both stills and video applications and the GH5 includes 10 bit, 4K, 4:2:2 onboard record capability in MFT format recording internally to SD cards at up to 30fps.  Note however that the Speedbooster adapters supplied will allow Canon EF mount lenses and effectively increase the sensor size and aspect ratio to APSC/S-35 format. MFT/EF options

Panasonic GH5 Left 3-2


Ronin 4D (FF)

Integrated 4-Axis Gimbal with built-in 6K Cinema Camera with onboard RAW capture. This is an entirely new concept camera that DJI promises will revolutionise camera production methodology.  Native DL mount which is only compatible with DJI lenses presently.

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