Last year saw the release of several high profile flagship upgrades, including the Nikon D5, Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 III, Fuji X-Pro 2, and the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E. Well, there was no slowing down in 2017! It was actually pretty hard to narrow it down so, in addition to the list below, please check out our Best of 2017 and our Everything from 2017 gear pages (note, a few items on these pages were technically released in late 2016 but didn’t ship until 2017). Have your say – what was your favorite release in 2017? Let us know in the poll at the end of this list!
Here are 10 of our favorite cameras and lenses from 2017:
It’s hard for one camera to have it all – but the a7R III is as close as they come. It combines a very high MP sensor with a fast shooting speed of 10 FPS. Usually, you have to choose between speed and resolution but with the a7R III, you don’t have to. While this most certainly does not make other cameras in this line obsolete, Sony is starting to blur the lines a little between their photo-centric “R” subseries and their video-centric “S” subseries with an updated processor for 4K shooting at 30 FPS with oversampling to 5K in Super35 mode. However, the a7S II still remains the low light king and better handles moiré and aliasing.
Sony Learns from Past Mistakes
Sony purportedly spent some time pouring over user recommendations after the initial releases of the Sony a7, a7R, and a7S cameras. You can find these benefits in the a7R III: dual SD card slots (though only one of them is UHS-II – which will be your primary slot for shooting video or burst stills), a repositioned recording button, an AF joystick (as well as a touchscreen rear LCD for AF control), and USB C.
As of this writing, though, Sony opted to not include a built-in intervalometer – so have an external one on hand if you rent this for time lapse! This might change with a future firmware release. Also note that, like many recent cameras, the a7R III lacks an optical low-pass (anti-aliasing) filter. Under normal shooting circumstances, the optical low-pass filter prevents the instance of moiré patterns from showing up in your images of tight-patterned objects, such as fabrics. The benefit of removing this filter is maximum sharpness for RAW files, optimized for landscape or simply extreme detail-style shooting.
Aside from the sheer number of megapixels as well as the swift shooting speed and 4K abilities, this camera boasts an incredible improvement in the AF system. It sports 399 phase-detection points with double the tracking performance of predecessors. This is surpassed only by Sony’s own a9 with 693 phase-detection points and also by Sony’s APS-C sensor a6500/a6300 cameras, which rock 425 points. However, the a7R III also has 425 contrast-detection points.
Is the a7R III the Right Camera for You?
I could go on but we have to move on. In short, the a7R III incorporates a lot of the best features of the a9 with a few sacrifices: the a7R III, while quick, still only boasts half the number of frames per second as the a9. The a9 also has better light sensitivity, a bigger buffer, and maintains the anti-aliasing filter (for those who need that intact). As mentioned before, the lines are blurring as to which camera is suitable for which kind of shooter but my simplified recommendation would be to use the a9 for sports, events, and wildlife, the a7S II for video (especially when using mostly ambient lighting), and the a7R III for landscapes and portraits. Fortunately, Sony is making it so that we really don’t have to choose.
Fuji MK50-135mm T2.9 ($200 for 7 Day Rental) and Fuji MK18-55mm T2.9 ($193 for 7 Day Rental) E Mount Lenses
As the imaging world gives more and more attention to Sony, other manufacturers are lining up to please. Fuji created their versatile, lightweight (~2 lbs), and extremely high-quality E mount lenses for a growing independent market of filmmakers who want to own their own professional zoom lenses that are parfocal without completely breaking the bank. Helping to keep costs down, these lenses are designed specifically for Super35-sized sensors (the 18mm flange allows for a lighter, smaller design), making them a perfect pairing for the Sony FS5, FS7, FS7 II, FS100, and FS700 cinema cameras (or any in the a7 series when in crop sensor mode). They, indeed, maintain focus throughout the zoom range and exhibit no discernible breathing. This is a boon to shooters of sports, fast-paced documentary scenes, and action sequences.
Essential Features of Fuji’s New Cinema Lenses
These two zooms have consistent focus and iris placement as well as pretty good light transmission ability for a zoom – maximum T2.9. These lenses have a 200° focus rotation (90° for zoom and 60° for iris). They are color matched and both sport a macro mode (which doesn’t replace a true macro lens but is great in a pinch). With the standard 0.8 MOD gearing, you can easily add follow focus units for hands-off control but note that these lenses do not have auto/servo controls. These are mechanical-zoom lenses with no electronic controls – fully manual focusing, zooming, and iris changes. They are so petite, however, that the focus, iris, and zoom gears are all within very easy reach with one hand. With the feel and design of lenses typically thousands of dollars more, Fuji has produced a formidable product to go with the swelling enthusiasm for Sony’s cameras. They’ve borrowed from their own high-end broadcast lenses and adapted to the needs of current documentary and run-and-gun style shooting. Need a workhorse lens to cover almost every subject on a lean set? You’ll definitely want to try one of these.
I was the first in the BL office at the time to preorder the Nikon D800. I felt very cutting edge – now look where we are! I’m still very smitten with the performance of my camera but here are a few things I am missing out on that the D850 boasts…
D850 Stats at a Glance
• Expanded ISO (102,400 expanded vs 51,200 expanded on the D810 and 25,600 expanded on the D800)
• Increased resolution (45.7 vs 36.3)
• Faster processor
• Much bigger buffer
• Faster FPS
• Better exposure metering
• Big boost in AF points
• 4K video recording at 30p (vs just 1080p) + some bells and whistles, like electronic vibration reduction in 1080p, slow-motion HD, and a tilting touch LCD for AF in Live View
One Major D850 Drawback
But there is one area where I have a personal gripe: Wireless Radio Flash Control. To use it, you have to have a separate WR-A10/R10 transceiver. With the omission of the popup flash, you can no longer rely on optical triggering for your Speedlights. While radio triggers are my go-to anyway, it was always reassuring to have that built-in optical lighting system as a backup. So, that’s a shame. But if you never used that system to begin with (or, like me, you now consistently use radio triggers and strobes anyway), then the benefits of the D850 outweigh this disadvantage. Plus, leaving out the flash does improve the weather resistance of the body.
The D850 was released alongside an updated Film Digitizing Adapter. While advertised with the D850, it’s actually compatible with any Nikon DSLR – it’s just that the D850’s massive resolution, plus a feature to automatically store negatives as positives, makes it a particularly good mate for the D850.
Other Key Features of the D850
This camera is quite simply a beast. It is equipped with the same AF system as Nikon’s flagship D5 and hosts a number of other fun features: silent built-in interval timer, a unique auto AF fine-tuning function that is specific to each lens you mount, and a USH-II compliant SD memory card slot (plus a XQD Slot – I think I would have rather had a normal CF slot but XQD does offer blazingly fast read/write speeds). Like the a7R III, this camera lacks the optical low-pass filter. If you’ve been using the D800E or D810, then you’re already used to that. The D850 has been one of our most popular rentals this year.
Like with the D800, some of you out there are probably like, “Awww, I remember getting my C100.” Well, again, now look where we are! As with Sony, Canon purportedly listened to their users and made some important changes inside and out. Sony and Canon are vying for the love and trust of their videographer constituents and this competition benefits us all!
The biggest benefit of the C200 is that it offers internal 4K shooting at up to 59.94 FPS in the MP4 codec (8-bit 4:2:0) directly to affordable SD cards. Canon is also promising a future firmware update that will deliver lower-compression codecs to SD, matching the higher-quality codecs found in the C300 Mark II. Stay tuned for that. Enjoy simultaneous recording: 4K video to a CFast 2.0 card and 2K proxy video to an SD card for easier editing.
Cinema RAW Light and Storage
You have four card slots to work with – two for CFast 2.0 when shooting Cinema RAW Light and two for SD cards when shooting MP4. Cinema RAW Light, so Canon claims, gives you the best this Super35 sensor has to offer, including more color depth and flexibility post-production – all in about half the size of shooting DCI 4K in CinemaDNG RAW. That’s not to say you won’t still need a ton of CFast memory cards. Some users have reported their 128GB card filling up in as little as 15 minutes with 4K Cinema RAW Light. Because of this, some folks are saying this is the ideal camera for small production crews mostly working on commercials – in other words, projects with shorter takes. However, the sensor does so well in low light that it makes for a very powerful system for documentaries and weddings as well. Overall, this kind of internal recording is currently difficult to find in cameras at this price point.
As for ergonomics, the XLR ports moved to the body so the handle more optional. It offers both HDMI and SDI out and you can apply LUTs to individual outputs. The monitor is adjustable for left or right-eye shooting and is generally in a much better position compared to its predecessor. Plus, the touchscreen ability pairs very well with Canon’s industry-leading Dual Pixel AF technology. You can now do touchscreen AF mid-take and get pretty decent results. The back of the camera is now the home of the joystick and audio controls. Built-in ND filters are maintained and carried over from previous C-line cameras.
There is much more to say about this camera, so please check out our hands-on Canon C200 review.
In line with their world domination efforts, Sony has been expanding their G Master Series FE line of lenses. These E mount lenses are designed specifically for full frame sensors. But you can also use these lenses on your a6500 or a6300 – you just have to consider your crop factor. Two other notable GM lens releases this year includes the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS and the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM. But there is something that makes this 100mm GM unique: the inclusion of apodization (APD) element.
The 100mm’s Apodization Element
This isn’t brand new, but it’s also not common. Introduced in 1999 with the Minolta/Sony Smooth Trans Focus 135mm f/2.8, apodization in lenses can produce very pleasing bokeh, or out of focus areas in the resulting image. It helps reduce distortion in your bokeh, essential – so much so that some people have complained it’s almost too smooth, but that’s just a matter of personal preference. In Sony’s 100mm, the filter is near the aperture and looks a little like a graduated neutral density filter, only concentric. Here is an illustration from Sony:
What to Expect from APD
The highest light transmission is at its center but there is a catch: you lose overall light transmission with this filter without losing the bokeh quality. In other words, this lens gives you the bokeh of f/2.8 but otherwise behaves much more like a maximum f/5.6 lens. This might be a bummer for folks who do a lot of low light shooting.
This lens is not quite a macro lens (the reproduction ratio is 1:4 and not 1:1) but there is a macro switching ring. Macro work tends to be light-hungry anyway on account of needing to be shot with the largest possible depth of field (i.e. high aperture number). So this two stop loss might not be a big deal for those kinds of shooters (by the way, this two stop loss ends at f/8 and so does the STF effect).
Who this Lens is For
To me, this lens seems really well suited for outdoor portraits. It’s a great opportunity to shoot in super bright sunlight wide open without having to entirely compensate by cranking your shutter speed sky high or using a variable ND filter. For those who are shooting in low light, this lens sports Optical Steady Shot for a 4-stop advantage when shooting at low shutter speeds. It offers a little something for videographers as well: a de-clickable aperture ring.
The Direct Drive Super Sonic wave Motor system provides quick, quiet, and smooth autofocus performance. This lens seems like a great solution for controlling scenes with busy backgrounds in an artful way. The T-stop designation that replaces f/2.8-5.6 is familiar to videographers.
Competing with the C200 for your love and affection this year is the Panasonic EVA1. Isn’t it nice to have so many suitors in this space? With huge codec offerings and a 5.7K sensor, this EF mount cinema camera nestles itself between the high-end Panasonic Varicam LT 4K S35 Digital Cinema Camera and the GH5.
Dual Native ISO
Like the Varicam, the EVA1 offers dual native ISO (800 and 2500 vs the Varicam’s 800 and 5000), allowing for high framerate, clean footage in lower light. Instead of dialing up the gain to get more sensitivity, the EVA1’s second base ISO of 2500 will supposedly have no more noise than at 800. One of the use cases of this feature is that you can go into high-speed mode without having to change your lighting. Another little benefit of this is you can opt to use a convenient zoom lens that might be a bit slower than your usual array of primes or take advantage of lower-cost, lower-powered lighting (not to mention easier capturing of beautiful ambient lighting).
The 5.7K Sensor
The EVA1 starts with more – a 5.7K Super35mm sensor – and resolves down to a true 4K up to 60p. Since the sensor is larger than the output, you get the added benefit of impressive in-camera Electronic Image Stabilization. The extra sensor space will digitally stabilize your shots without losing resolution.
There is also a 4/3 crop mode that ends up being slightly larger than Micro Four Thirds where you can shoot up to 240 FPS in 2K. You also get more color information with this setup (its colorimetry is imported from the Varicam). A future firmware update will give you full sensor 5.7K at 400Mbps to an external recorder and ALL Intra compression internally. Currently, you can record to dual SD cards up to 4K.
Other features include XLR inputs, 4K out over HDMI and SDI, and built-in ND filters. Uniquely, the EVA1 includes an infrared filter that can be removed electronically. This is a neat feature for creating fantasy-like footage. Note that there is no built-in viewfinder! If you like using an EVF, you’ll need to rent one separately. Otherwise you, of course, have the built-in 3.5” touchscreen LCD at your disposal (or your own preferred external monitor workflow).
Check out our real-world review of the EVA1 in Panasonic EVA1 Review: Loves and Loathes from a Humble Filmmaker.
Using similar optical elements as the Sigma Art series of lenses designed with photographers in mind, Sigma has introduced their high-speed primes for filmmakers. Welcome to the party, filmmakers! The Art series is among my top favorite releases of recent years and I am sure this set of primes will similarly impress shooters of projects large and small.
Key Features of Sigma Cinema Lenses
These metal-cased, 0.8M geared, full frame primes have a 180° focus throw (iris rotational angle is 60°) and are available in Sony E, Canon EF, and Arri PL mount. They deliver clean, sharp, distortion-free results thanks to meticulous testing – Sigma analyzes each lens using a proprietary MTF measuring system and a 46MP Foveon direct image sensor.
According to Sigma, “Even previously undetectable high-frequency details are now within the scope of our quality control inspections.” As more and more DSLR and mirrorless bodies reach that 40+ megapixel spec, this level of testing will need to become the norm, rather than the exception, for competitive makers of affordable(ish) cinema lenses.
Physical Features of Sigma Cinema Lenses
While technically released in 2016, this line of primes was expanded in 2017 to cover a complete range from 14mm to 135mm. The 14mm and the 20mm are the only ones in the set that cannot accommodate a front screw-on style filter. All offer a maximum T1.5 (f/2, approximately speaking) light gathering ability and weigh anywhere between 3.3 and 3.6 lbs – not the lightest primes out there (each comes with its own support foot). They are weather resistant and sport luminous paint in key areas to make lens changes in the dark easier.
These lenses are a great gateway lens for photographers getting into filmmaking – plus, they are color-matched to the Art series so that you can mix and match on the same project, saving yourself a bit of money if you already own some Art lenses.
Sigma also released a line of cinema zooms this year that are consistent with the overall style, quality, and build of the primes, providing maximum lens choice within the same ecosystem.
The a9 was a little eclipsed toward the end of this year by the a7R III but its release was vastly anticipated (and long-rumored under the name “a9 Pro”). Among the family of Sony full-frame mirrorless cameras, it does feel like their parallel to a pro-body flagship like Canon’s 1D X Mark II and Nikon’s D5. Its incredible speed of 20 FPS, silent electronic shutter (taking you up to 1/32000th of a second), built-in IS, massive number of AF points across nearly 100% of the frame, high expanded ISO, and 4K recording up to 30 FPS (slow motion up to 120 FPS at 1080p) makes this camera well suited for wedding, event, and sports shooters.
Sony a9 vs Sony a7R III
The 24.4MP sensor leaves strict portrait and landscape photographers wanting but Sony really is working toward blending speed and high resolutions (see the a7R III with its perfectly-respectable 10 FPS paired with its practically-indecent 42.4MP sensor). Both tick the “best of both worlds” box for me, personally, it’s just that you do have to decide if massive speed or massive resolution is more important to you for that added edge (influencing buyers and renters, also, is the >$1,000 price difference in the a7R III’s favor).
For landscape and outdoor sports shooters, weather sealing is a mild issue with this camera. There are seals mostly everywhere but are lacking around the dual SD card covers and external connection covers. But the overall design and build are maintained from prior models, so while the a9 bears the moniker of “pro body”, it’s extremely lightweight and svelte, unlike the DSLR world’s pro-level form factor.
Sony a9 and Video
For video shooters, as with the a7R III, you’d be giving up incredible light sensitivity if you jumped ship from the a7S II. The a9 is no slouch but it’s currently hard to beat the a7S II’s extended maximum ISO of 409,600. Both the a7S II and the a9 capture internal 4K video, can shoot 1080p slow motion, and support clean HDMI-out but the a9 leaves out S Log 2 and S Log 3 profiles as well as the new Hybrid Log-Gamma profile. Is this to save room for an a9S or a7S III? Note that the a7R III is equipped with all of these profiles.
Rolling Shutter Issues
Sony’s innovative Exmor RS stacked sensor and its fast sensor readout is designed for distortion-free shooting with little-to-no rolling shutter effects. The time taken to read each pixel line is greatly reduced thanks to memory and processing being tacked directly onto the CMOS sensor – essentially photodiodes with lots of RAM. This technology was first introduced in smartphones and the RX100 IV but now we’re enjoying it in full frame.
There is no shortage of new cinema lenses thanks to 2017. There were so many more releases this year than we could fit into this list (see them here). Zeiss Compact Primes hold a special place in my heart because they were the first cinema lenses I was ever exposed to when I started working at BorrowLenses in 2010. We held them like dragon eggs – completely overwhelmed by their beauty. Zeiss claims that the CP.2s were the “most successful product in cinema lens history.” Not sure by what rubric but I’d believe it. Now, nearly a decade later, we get an upgrade.
New Features to Expect from Zeiss’ Updated Lenses
The CP.3s are now even more compact and sport a 95mm front diameter vs the prior’s 114mm. The new sizing makes these lenses much more suitable for drone and gimbal setups. They are also lighter and more consistently built (the prior set had four different build sizes – this set has two), with exactly-matched focus rings with less torque in the motors for smoother operation. The glass in both sets is actually the same (with the exception of a few completely redone focal lengths, like the 18mm). But the coatings and the mechanics are new.
Cooke’s /i Technology
All ten lenses in the set cover full frame sensors and are available in 5 mount choices: E, EF, PL, F, and Micro Four Thirds. They include Cooke’s /i Technology, which is an open standard equipped with many cinema cameras that talks directly to /i lenses via contacts in the mount. This means no writing down your settings – focal length, T-Stop, DOF, and more are all recorded in the metadata of your footage.
Zeiss offers a second version of the CP.3s with a LEMO port built into the barrel that provides even more information (they call this set their CP.3 XDs, for “eXtended Data”), like lens distortion and shading characteristics, with even more information being provided in future firmware updates. We’re not renting those out partly because the LEMO-free set is so much more affordable and the eXtended Data is kind of a specialty thing. Customer demand might change our minds, though.
Panasonic has been leading the hybrid pack for five generations now with their top-of-the-line GH series. But while they’ve always marketed to both photographers and videographers, the specs have always been much more impressive on the video side. With the GH4, you could record 4K internally with an 8-bit 2:2:0 signal or output clean 4K 4:2:2 10-bit signal via HDMI and the GH5 ups the ante with internal 4K 4:2:2 10-bit at 30p (60p to an external recorder).
This is a big deal because it’s the first camera of this size and form factor to record 10-bit 4:2:2 4K internally, giving people huge flexibility in post-production without having to bust out an external recorder. It’s main competitors (such as the a7 series) still need external recorders to do that.
GH5 vs GH4
For photographers, the GH4’s relatively low 16.5MP resolution and paltry 49 AF points weren’t ultra attractive. The GH5 is a little more well-rounded for motion and stills, with a 20.3MP sensor and 225 focus points (though still contrast detection AF only). “One-foot-in-both-worlds”-style benefits include 4K Photo Mode. 4K Photo Mode is now joined by a 6K Photo Mode (6K is a bit of a misnomer), which extracts an 18MP stills from short, 30 FPS recordings. You can now also shoot 4K Photo Mode up to 60 FPS (previously limited to only 30 FPS).
How Panasonic Continues to Innovate
The GH4 was the first mirrorless camera to provide internal 4K recording. Panasonic breaks the mold again with some very notable upgrades. For one, it uses the full sensor on the GH5. See, the GH4 “windows”: it shoots 4K footage at 2.3x crop (2.2x for Cinema 4K) instead of the 2x you find normally with Micro Four Thirds sized sensors. The sensor of the GH4 provides 4608 x 3456 pixels but you only need 4096 x 2160 for Cinema 4K, so Panasonic windowed for the center of the sensor instead of resizing the footage processor-side, which helps prevent aliasing while allowing the camera to process footage faster.
The GH5 uses the entire width of its sensor for a full 5184 x 3888 (5.1K) sensor readout to downscale to 4K – the advancements in Panasonic’s processors can better handle it. This results in increased sharpness and less artifacting. Plus, the downscaling allows you to still use normal media, like SD cards, for internal recording.
The new processor also benefits photographers with a decently-sized buffer – at 10 FPS you can capture about 65 RAW frames before experiencing lag. Along for the ride with this new processor are a few new algorithms for better overall image quality: Multipixel Luminance Generation, Intelligent Detail Processing, Three-Dimensional Color Control, and High-Precision Multi-Process NR which cover high-frequency detail gathering, less haloing, better noise reduction, and more accurate color, respectively.
Physical Features and Other Benefits
The built-in microphone has been improved, though most users of this camera will go for an external microphone via the 3.5mm port or use the handy Panasonic DMW-XLR1 XLR Microphone Adapter, which allows you to use up to two XLR mics. Weatherproofing has also improved, thanks in part to the removal of the popup flash unit. Sensor-shift stabilization is a welcomed addition and will pair nicely with stabilized Lumix lenses.
There is also an interesting Rack Focus Transition mode where you can set up three focus points and a focusing speed ahead of time, tap your points on the touchscreen LCD when needed, and the effects supposedly mimic the smooth effects of a follow focus unit. I somehow doubt that but it’s a neat feature in a pinch for folks doing quick hand-held shoots or who are just starting out in videography. For slow motion, 1080p is available at up to 180 FPS.
USB-C port for fast tethering, dual UHS-II SD slots, a tactile joystick, a super bright EVF…we could go on. But it’s time to close out the year.
What is Your Favorite?
There are so many other releases we simply didn’t get to (the omission of the Fuji GFX from this list weighs heavy on my mind). Please explore some of our posts from earlier in the year and check out all of our favorites available to rent from 2017.
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