Buying a sub £10k Cinema Camera

Buying a sub £10k Cinema Camera

Director: Written by Arran Busk

When asking whether the perfect sub £10k go-to camera camera is out there, the Frank answer is “no”.

It seems strange at first when you think if a company brought to market a cinema camera with a high dynamic range, variable framerates, RAW capabilites and an image comparable to high-end, and much more expensive cine camera’s, such as Arri's Alexa or Red's Dragon, yet could maybe handle on board sound monitoring like the less expensive Sony Fs7 or Canon C300 mkII, then it would sell like hot cakes on a cold winter’s day.

Well as I sit here it is a cold English winter’s day, and short of hotcakes I feel as though I’ve found a warming comfort in something else, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Recently we’ve been working on a documentary teaser that’s funded by a limited development budget. As is often the case with these early stage projects, we found ourselves spending money that perhaps we’d never see again. What had started off as a 5 min profile film being shot on Arri’s Alexa plus 4:3 (paired with a set of Cooke’s sexy S4i’s) had now become a possible feature doc that we simply couldn’t afford to carry on shooting without having a very supportive rental house or biting the bullet and owning something ourselves. We switched to renting the Canon C300 MkII for a couple of shoots from our good friends at Quinpix Digital and chose to soften our own Zeiss Cine modded ZF’s with some diffusion to try and somewhat replicate the Cooke look! The image suited the doc but even with their favorable rates we still couldn’t afford to keep renting.

We set a budget… and rang the bank.

The truth is there will most likely never be the perfect cinema camera. There will always be popular choices, but even if budget is no object - personal preference, features, ergonomics – or just whether the camera’s suitable for the job, will be.

So having done a lot of reading, testing and watching various reviews online, the Canon C500 reared it’s not-so-ugly head. A camera that when released in 2012 was almost $30k! And that’s before you unlocked it’s RAW capabilities, high framerate possibilties or ProRes options with an onboard recorder, which at the time was another $10k.

A little background check on the camera revealed some detailed tests by Shane Hurlbut ASC, who used the camera over the Alexa for the bulk of Need for Speed’s night shots, and as a well used by Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, AMC for the aerial shots on Wolf of Wall street. The C500 often finds itself being used as a B Cam to various film cameras, or as an alternative to the Alexa, especially in Lowlight scenarios. The test’s can be seen here on Shane Hurlbut's blog https://thehurlblog.com/film-education-arri-alexa-vs-canon-c500


With Shane’s camera test aside, I was hardpushed to find much info on the elusive C500. It seemed most searches came back with rental houses who stocked it – I guess they were the only ones willing to pay/afford the original high pricetag.

The versatile Monitor/Recorder from Convergent Design, the Odyssey 7Q+, was the best partner for the C500 at the pricetag and usability. For those that don’t know much about this I won’t go into too much detail but you can find out here on Convergent’s website https://convergent-design.com/plus


In a nutshell it’s both a very good professional monitoring tool and a recording device that records to SSD’s. More importantly with the purchase of an additional license you can unlock the C500’s “beastmode” where it’ll kick out a gorgeous 4K image at up to 60p and a 4K half Raw image up to 120fps. It’ll also do up to 60fps at 10bit 2k Prores HQ 422 and up to 30fps at 2k 12bit Prores 4444.


I checked with a few of the UK’s best Canon resellers and managed to get a quote for the Canon C500 Cinema EOS (EF) at under £5k + VAT. I decided to take the plunge and buy. With the addition of an Odyssey 7Q+, 4 x 512GB Samsung SSD’s, 4 x 64GB CF CARDS, a SmallRig replacement top handle (the one that comes in the box feels cheap and plastic-like), a few spare Canon batteries and we had ourselves a fairly decent package.


So why the C500? I’ve been impressed by Canon’s image since I first began using the C300 MKI. I love the warm skin tones and how it emulates film to some degree. The colour science in my opinion easily beats Sony’s Fs7 and in the grade it effortlessly colour matches an Alexa, when used alongside it.


I mean yes, I could have bought a second hand Red Epic for a similar price, but for me the C500 is more versatile and suitable to most of the work we’re doing, especially the run ‘n’ gun type doc work. You can rig it up with all the necessary accessories when shooting a short film, commercial or music promo yet you can also strip it right down for documentary work, Gimble work or stick it on a tripod for a corporate gig. The RAW 4k files are massive but it’s not too dissimilar to dealing with R3D’s or ARRIRAW. For the price, this is an incredible bang for the buck which I think has been overlooked by many because of it’s original cost. We’ll be shooting many of our upcoming projects on this camera so keep a look out for the results by following us on instagram, twitter, or facebook. Or see our next News entry on our trip to Dungeness! (link)






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