6 Things to Consider When Picking a ¡°B¡± Camera for Filmmaking

For many video shooters, a single camera is often enough. If you¡¯re one of those people who finds this to be true then, by all means, feel free to skip this article. But if you¡¯re someone who works with multi-cam setups or is thinking about picking up a second (or third) camera to supplement your main camera, then please keep reading. There are many things to consider when selecting a ¡°B¡± camera, and while you could easily just purchase an identical model to your main camera, this isn¡¯t always affordable, nor does it give you the opportunity to complement its feature set. Before making the plunge and purchasing a second camera, here are six aspects worth considering.
1. Go smaller
Add versatility to your camera package by selecting a smaller form-factor camera. A more compact camera can fit into places and capture shots that your larger main camera cannot. If you¡¯re an owner of a professional camcorder or digital cinema camera, such as the Sony FS7, then this could be a DSLR, mirrorless camera, or an advanced ¡°bridge camera¡± with an integrated zoom lens like the Sony RX10. In addition to being smaller, these cameras are also lighter, making them better suited for use with motorized gimbal stabilizer systems from Freefly and other brands, letting you add capture smooth, free-floating camera footage. Filmmaker and blogger Philip Bloom, for instance, used the Sony a7S and Freefly MoVI M5 as part of his camera package when shooting season 1 of CNN¡¯s The Wonder List, while using the Sony F55 as the main camera.

Going smaller still, picking up a GoPro or other high-quality action camera is a great way to add dynamic shots. With a seemingly endless array of mounting accessories available, a GoPro can be body-mounted for dynamic POV shots, attached directly to an instrument or other object, or hidden virtually anywhere on set. They¡¯re also particularly well suited to, not surprisingly, action sequences where you may not want to risk a larger, more expensive camera. You¡¯ll even see some GoPro footage sneak in to Hollywood films, such as the barrel chase sequence in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
2. File formats and uncompressed output
With most editing software capable of accepting a wide range of formats¡ªoften on the same timeline¡ªwithout transcoding, having cameras that shoot in the same video format may not be as important as it once was. This doesn¡¯t mean that it should be overlooked, though, especially if you¡¯re handing files off to an editor after a shoot¡ªreceiving a deluge of file types/formats probably won¡¯t make them very happy.
For optimal quality, you¡¯ll also want to look for cameras that offer higher bitrate internal recording, such as the Panasonic GH4, or cameras that support uncompressed video output over HDMI or SDI, if you don¡¯t mind adding an external recorder to your setup. Pay particular attention to cameras that give additional image quality enhancements via the video output, compared to internal recording, such as 10-bit color depth or higher video resolution.

3. Same brand, similar look
While color grading can help you closely match footage from different cameras, having cameras that capture images with a similar aesthetic and color rendering certainly makes this process easier. This is particularly important when you¡¯re creating your ¡°look¡± in-camera rather than in post, and when your B camera is going to be used extensively on multi-camera event shoots and interviews. Generally speaking, looking for a B camera from the same manufacturer as your main camera is a pretty safe bet. Canon cinema cameras, such as the EOS C100 Mark II, even offer color profiles to produce footage that better matches their DSLR offerings, making a Canon DSLR a great B camera for Cinema EOS owners.

4. Log gamma for a cinematic aesthetic
If you¡¯re shooting log gamma footage with your main camera for optimal dynamic range and post-production flexibility, then it makes sense to pick a B camera that can do the same. An experienced colorist should be able to craft similar looks with different log footage, and can pre-make custom LUTs to streamline the process. One of the most compact and cost-effective cinema cameras that offers log gamma, as well as raw recording, is the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. Featuring a Super-16-sized sensor and capable of capturing truly cinematic images, footage from this camera was used alongside the ARRI Alexa for select shots in Marvel¡¯s The Avengers: Age of Ultron. In this case, the Pocket Camera served as almost a cinema-quality action/crash cam.

If you¡¯re less experienced with color grading or are handing your footage off to a separate editor and/or colorist, you can make things easier for yourself by following point number 3, above, and look for a B camera from the same manufacturer as your main camera. By doing so, you¡¯ll be more likely to find similar, manufacturer-specific log gamma options. For example, the Sony a7S II offers both S-Log2 and S-Log3, which are both found on the company¡¯s top-of-the-line F5 and F55 cinema cameras, as well as the FS7 and FS5.
5. Lens compatibility
For those looking for an interchangeable¨Clens B, it behooves you to select a camera that will accept your current line of lenses. Not only does this save you from having to invest in a new line of lenses, but it keeps your gear bag smaller¡ªor at least less crowded. For example, if you own Canon EF lenses, then you should find a B camera that can accept these lenses. This can be a Canon DSLR, or a camera with a highly adaptable lens mount, like Sony E or Micro Four Thirds. These mounts, which originated on mirrorless cameras, have short flange-focal distances that make them easily adaptable to virtually any modern or vintage lens when paired with the appropriate lens-mount adapter. There are even options available that offer aperture control for DSLR lenses that lack manual iris rings.

It may go without saying, but you¡¯ll want to make sure that the sensor size of the B camera you select isn¡¯t too large for your lenses. If you have a collection of APS-C or Super 35 lenses, then they obviously won¡¯t be able to cover the full-frame sensor of a Canon 5D Mark III, Sony NEX-VG900 camcorder, or Sony a7S II. An alternative choice would be the Sony a7R II, which provides peak video quality in its Super 35 crop mode. In general, having cameras with matching sensor sizes is beneficial because lenses will produce the same angle of view on both bodies. You could also consider a camera with a smaller-format sensor, such as Four Thirds or Super 16, to get some extra reach out of your telephoto lenses, with the compromise being on the wide end of the spectrum.
6. Expand your feature set
Lastly, consider what features your main camera lacks and look to fill those voids. If your camera shoots 4K video, but only at 24 or 30 fps, then finding a B camera that offers high-frame-rate recording, even if it¡¯s only at 2K/1080p resolution, would be a useful addition for when you need a super slow-motion shot. A camera that performs better in low light is also a great option if you often find yourself filming in dimly lit environments using only practicals or natural light. These are just two examples, but each shows a shooter gaining a specific benefit that they previously lacked. Maybe your main camera can do it all but, if possible, try to follow suit so your B camera isn¡¯t just a second body, but rather an integral part of your gear bag¡ªeven on mostly single-camera shoots.