You’ve probably heard the saying you get what you pay for many times. This expression is especially true when investing in filmmaking gear and a professional cinema camera in particular. While these products can range in prices, the general rule of thumb is that the more you pay, the more you can play, since prices and camera features correlate with one another.
Although when you look at the technical specifications of a $2,000 camera such as the Panasonic GH5 and a $20,000 camera like the Red Scarlet-W with all the bells and whistles on board the differences might not seem that apparent. However, the real-world performance is a whole different story. Camera equipment rental company LensProToGo and Caleb Wojick of DIY Video Guy partnered up to demonstrate exactly what gives an expensive camera like the Red Scarlet-W its hefty price tag over the widely-loved GH5.
Arguably, the most significant advantages of the $20,000 camera over the $2,000 counterpart included in this comparison is the sensor size. The Panasonic GH5 comes with a micro four-thirds sensor, which is considerably smaller than the more expensive Red Scarlet-W that sports a Super 35mm chip. Due to the smaller sensor size, the GH5 has a crop factor of around 2x, meaning that whatever lens you use, the image is cropped in at about double the size.
For instance, if you’re using a 50mm lens on the GH5, the image out of the camera appears as it’s been shot with a 100mm sensor. This makes getting wide shots a bit more of a challenge. As opposed to that, the Red Scarlet-W with its 35mm sensor can create an image that is much closer to the focal distance of the lens’ original design (albeit this varies with shooting resolution and frame rate settings). Another essential consideration is the depth of field which is also directly affected by the sensor size as well as the overall visual aesthetics you’ll be able to capture.
Besides the larger sensor size, more expensive cameras give you expanded recording options. Sure, a medium to a high priced camera like the GH5 can let you shoot into more codecs with an external recorder, but the RED Scarlet-W can do it all internally. With the RED cinema cameras, you have shooting options such as REDCODE Raw (R3D), Apple ProRes, Avid DNxHD, or even record to two codecs simultaneously.
High frame rate shooting is also a significant upside when you have a professional camera. While you can achieve shooting at high frame rates (180 fps) on the less expensive Panasonic GH5, you’re limited to a resolution of 1080p. In contrast, the budget-breaking beast Red Scarlet-W can record 120fps at a stunning full-4K resolution. The fact that the high-end cinema camera provides increased shooting options regarding frame rates means you’re not having to sacrifice quality to get the specific style you want in the shot (in this case, referring to high-speed slow-motion shooting situations).
A highly praised feature of the more expensive rival includes the ability to shoot with a higher dynamic range as well. In this case, the Red Scarlet-W has a much higher dynamic range that can go up to 16 stops when utilizing the camera’s High Dynamic Range setting in comparison to the modest 12 stops of the Panasonic GH5. Having a higher dynamic range allows your shot to look visually balanced, and also means that even if you slightly overexpose or underexpose your image, you have a better chance of salvaging the footage.
Lastly, a major discrepancy between the $2,000 and $20,000 camera is the expandability options. Yes, you can build around the camera body of the GH5 by adding multiple accessories such as cages, rigs, and whatnot to expand its capabilities. The RED Scarlet-W, on the other hand, allows you to customize your modular camera system to your exact shooting situation.
Want to film on a drone? Just remove the camera handle, monitor, and any other unnecessary accessories. Want to expand the number of SDI outputs or maybe even add a few XLR ports? There are modules built by RED and other third-party manufacturers who can help fulfill your shooting needs, and so on and so forth.
In conclusion, you do indeed get more if you’re willing to pay for more. While this may be the case, it’s important to remember that you can still make a great film without a $20,000 camera. After all, not everyone can afford to get into the RED ecosystem right away. Nonetheless, it’s not impossible to achieve the same aesthetics of a RED camera when you’ve only got a tool like the Panasonic GH5.
It may just take a lot more time and effort to get the shot right when you’re not shooting on RED or ARRI. An essential part of being a filmmaker is understanding your tools and learning how to get around the little qualms you may find with them.