2020 Was the Year of the Camera. Let's Rank Them
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Let's take a look back at some of the cameras released this year.

Aside from the pandemic, there were a surprising number of new cameras in 2020. It reminded us a lot of 2015 when it looked like every manufacturer would be bringing out an APS-C Full HD camera until the Sony a7S II hit the market in October. When it comes to hybrid technology, 4K-UHD is standard among other desired specifications, including internal 10-bit 4: 2: 2 full screen, log or RAW recording, two card slots, autofocus and image stabilization in the body. Frame rates vary, but 4K 60p is what users want alongside options for 120p and even 240p.

And it wasn't just the mirrorless market that caused a sensation. We saw Sony, Canon, RED, Panasonic and Blackmagic release special video cameras that also caught our attention. So let's put them in order.

But before we do that, let's make it clear. Every camera on this list that we'd love to own. You really can't go wrong with the image quality. Some may have a slight advantage with autofocus, while others work well in low light. Some have slightly better dynamic range. Others will do better stills. But we are talking about nominal differences. Especially when it comes to mirrorless cameras. Much of what is available depends on your personal preferences and the lenses you already own.

However, we have not only classified them on the basis of the specifications, but also considered the innovation behind them.

In other words, how far has the company left its comfort zone, for better or for worse? Did you do something else? Did you play it safe? All of these types of ideas contributed to how we ranked them. But above all, we looked at them using their video functions. We love our fellow shooters, but we focus on the film image at No Film School. If video is your thing, this is the page to read.

One final note when it's not obvious. This ranking is not a dogma. No ranking is an absolute fact. Apart from the fact that Michael Jordan is THE GOAT, everything else is up for discussion.

But you know that already. This list is just a cognitive (and fun) way to look back and see which cameras we liked the most, and most importantly, start a conversation with you, the reader, about which cameras caught your attention.

Let's dive in.

When GoPro released the HERO9 Black, it was a bit of a surprise as they released the HERO8 not that long ago. But if you haven't updated your HERO7 yet, you're in luck because the HERO9 added 5K video at 30 / 24fps, 4K UHD at 60p, and 2.7K at 120fps. The action cam company is known to be making a splash with its new products, and that is exactly what the HERO9 did.

What does the HEROX bring? Wait a couple of months to find out.

While not a traditional video camera, the DJI Pocket 2 offers a surprising breakdown. The improved sensor from the original bag can record 4K UHD videos at up to 60 frames per second with its fixed 20 mm F1.8 lens. The lens is mounted on a 3-axis gimbal frame to keep the footage smooth. It also offers an 8x zoom option in 64 megapixel mode or lossless 4x zoom recording at 1080p.

The auto focus has been redesigned to use DJI's Hybrid 2.0 AF, which captures subjects pretty quickly. It also has four microphones for better audio and new sound-fused features. Directional audio allows you to record sound from specific microphones. SoundTrack adjusts the audio to match the position of the camera, and Audio Zoom narrows the sound field as you zoom in. HDR video will be available in Pocket 2 in the future.

What we like the most about the device is that you can toss it in a waterproof case and take it underwater. When it comes to price, it's better to ruin a more expensive camera.

If you're a vlogger, several compact cameras have been released this year, including the Panasonic G100, but the Sony ZV-1 is a must-have because of its fast autofocus – a must-have when vlogging. The sensor uses 315 phase-detection focus points across 65% of the screen area to quickly switch between subjects without chasing. When you take a selfie, the camera can toggle focus from your face to the background and back again with just a touch, making getting sharp and precise focus easy.

The compact camera is based on a 20.1 megapixel sensor that can record 4K HD. What's even more surprising is that it can rival S-Log2 and S-Log3 for less than $ 800.

Last year, Z Cam introduced two full screen models, the E2-F6 and the E2-F8 6K. Both are solid but require a rig to get them to work. This year, Z Cam redesigned the Micro Four Third sensor in the E2-M4. As a twist on the original E2, it has many of the features video shooters want and removes multi-cam synchronization. Because of this, it costs about $ 500 less.

The MFT sensor offers 10/12 bit color support and the option of recording 4K DCI and UHD with up to 160 fps and HD with up to 240 fps. When used with a compatible recorder, the camera can also record externally ZRAW via Partial Debayer or ProRes RAW. There's not much in innovation, but it's nice that Z Cam was able to cut costs by removing a feature that few people use.

Fujifilm doesn't get much attention from videographers, but it should, especially if you like APS-C. The X-T4 has excellent color science straight out of the camera, offers solid autofocus and respectable image stabilization in the body. The biggest improvement over the X-T3 is eye detection and subject tracking. When it comes to video, it records 4K UHD at 4: 2: 0 10-bit and offers Full HD at 240 fps. Both All-I and GOP are supported. Depending on the resolution and the frame rate, the internal bit rate is a maximum of 400 Mbit / s.

We're not sure if Fujifilm will ever jump into full screen mode, but if it does, this is something you should keep an eye on. The GFX 100 medium format camera has many video features that we like.

Nikon didn't make too many headlines with its new full-frame mirrorless cameras, the Z7 II and Z6 II. Much of the update went into a new processor that improved auto focus and added 4K 60p. The Z7 II is a slightly better option as it gives you more megapixels, but both cameras can capture external RAW, including ProRes RAW and Blackmagic RAW.

At the moment there aren't many cameras that offer both RAW formats in addition to Sigma fp. Hopefully more manufacturers are working with Blackmagic to include BRAW. It's hard to beat a program like DaVinci Resolve when it's free. For RAW alone, we like where Nikon is heading.

Similar to the Nikon update, Leica cameras are more aimed at photographers, but the SL2-S has some better video capabilities. It is based on a 24.6 MP CMOS-BSI sensor with a pixel pitch of 5.94 μm and oversamples 6072 x 4056 pixels to generate its 4K images. The camera can record 4: 2: 2 10-bit videos with the L-LOG gamma profile from Leica at frame rates of up to 60 frames per second. However, there are some limitations. Depending on the frame rate, the camera either uses the entire width of the sensor or cuts off to APS-C. It outperforms 4K DCI 30p 4: 2: 2 10-bit in full screen mode – which is still very nice.

In such a crazy year, it's hard to remember that the EOS-1D X Mark III was released in January. The lineup is the go-to place for many professional still photographers, but the video capabilities have been vastly improved with this model. The heart of the camera is a brand new DIGIC X image processor that generates finely detailed images thanks to a low-pass filter.

What stood out on the video side was the 5.5K 12-bit RAW capture option. Not only could it record the format internally on one CFexpress card, but it could also record a high quality 4K MP4 video on a second CFexpress card at the same time. We'll see cameras with 12-bit color depth and 4: 4: 4 chroma sampling next year. The EOS-1D X Mark III is expensive, but already on this route.

Micro Four Thirds is still alive. And we'll likely see another Panasonic GH6 soon. The BGH1, now approved by Netflix, was a completely new step in this direction for Panasonic. The box-style form factor is very RED and great for gimbals, sliders, and drones as the body alone weighs less than 2 pounds. Under the hood, it can accommodate 4K DCI with 10 bit 4: 2: 2 and has a V-Log L option with a very respectable dynamic range. The camera also has an L-mount so that it can be used with any Sigma, Panasonic or Leica lens. This makes it a great setup when paired with a Sigma Cine lens.

It was only a matter of time when Kinefinity would drive 5 miles. This happened with the release of the MAVO Edge. However, what we noticed the most was the ability to record 8K ProRes RAW internally. It's one of the few cameras on the market that can record the format without the Atomos Ninja V, and the only camera that can do it at 8K. It doesn't skimp on other specifications either, including oversampling, dual native ISO, and dual SSD media slots. Not interested in RAW? It can also accommodate ProRes 4444 XQ.

Sony caused a sensation with the FX6, a special video camera that is now part of a newly branded cinema line. It is the full screen version of the FS5 MK II with a newer sensor, better autofocus and external RAW. It offers several codecs including RAW, RAW and XAVC-I, XAVC-I and XAVC-L, with options in full screen or Super 35.

The FX6 can record 4K DCI up to 60p and has Slow & Quick modes that offer up to 4K UHD at 120p. If you record faster frame rates in full screen mode like 4K 120p, a slight 10% cropping is achieved. S-Log3 and external ProRes RAW give the FX6 a nice boost for those looking for more leeway. In addition to switching to a full-frame sensor, Sony played it safe on the technical side as this is a stepping stone for the FX9.

It is interesting to see how the Cinema Line will develop in the future. It looks like users will see a mix of Alpha and Cinema Line features in their cameras in the future.

Without the recent firmware update that added 5.9K ProRes RAW as a recording option, the S5 would have been classified differently.

The S5 is based on a 24.2 MP 35 mm full-frame CMOS sensor and can record internal 4K 4: 2: 2 10-bit video with 30p / 25p and 4K 4: 2: 0 10-bit with 4K 60p / 50p record. The only limitation is that there is a 30 minute time limit on recording in these formats. This is a major difference compared to the S1H. However, when it comes to recording 4K 4: 2: 0 8-bit at 30p, Panasonic promises there aren't any. Outside of documents and wedding videographers, many of us would be fine to hit the record button again when the time runs out.

What we like about Panasonic is that they are constantly updating their cameras through firmware with great new features. This goes back to the GH series and we absolutely love it. They don't make you buy a box, they give you what you want in the form of a free firmware update. If the S5 had better autofocus, we would choose the next camera based on the price alone.

Alpha Shooters had to wait five long years for the a7S II update, and many were very pleased. Under the hood, Sony added larger photo pages for even better low-light performance, reorganized the menu, improved image quality, added 4K 12op and made two card slots available to us. Speaking of Type A CFexpress cards which Sony has adopted, they are fantastic as they share the same slot as the SD card.

If that ranking were the best mirrorless camera of 2020, the a7S III would be at the top. Sony played it safe when it came to innovation, and that's perfectly fine for many of us.

When we saw the first picture of the C70, our first reaction was: "What the …?" The Super 35 4K EOS C70 is part of Canon's Cinema EOS product line, which includes the C300 Mark III, C500 Mark II and C700 FF, but takes on a completely different body type. It is essentially a larger mirrorless camera housing with the internals of a special cinema camera.

Under the hood there is a DGO sensor (Dual Gain Output), a new DIGIC DV 7 image processor and 16 dynamic ranges. It can take up 4K DCI, 4K UHD, 2K DCI and HD with frame rates of up to 180p. There is also a Super 16 crop mode that supports XF-AVC in both Intra and Long GOP with an MXF file format. Essentially everything a 4K shooter would want today, but something is missing: RAW. Instead, the C70 has Canon Log 2, Log 3, PQ and HLG recording options. If Canon RAW were to specifically incorporate, the camera would be a breeze.

The interesting thing about it is the footprint. The C70 is practically a stepping stone into their Cinema EOS line, but if someone who's getting to the C70 from the Canon EOS R line doesn't like it, they may not even consider the C series later. It is a gamble. And at NFS, we like when companies take risks to see how users react.

When we first heard the rumors that Komodo would cost $ 6,000, we jokingly wondered if this was just the pre-order price. It turned out that it wasn't. With Komodo, RED broke new ground and developed its first autofocus system. It's not easy. They also opted for the HF mount and showed that the future of Canon cinema will draw its mirrorless line in the years to come.

Under the hood, Komodo is a 6K Super 35 camera with a delicious global shutter that should soon be available for compact cameras. Why we like Komodo more than, for example, the Sony a7S III for this particular ranking is what the future holds. The $ 6,000 price tag puts REDCODE RAW in the hands of more filmmakers, which is a very good thing. But it also stokes competition. It will be interesting to see what ARRI, Sony, Canon and Panasonic have to offer next in terms of cinema cameras.

If this helps bring down not only the price of cinema cameras, but also keep the price of mirrorless cameras down, everyone benefits.

The R5 was the most talked about and discussed camera of the year. Do we have to say more?

The URSA Mini Pro 12K was very unexpected. Blackmagic are known for being very familiar with their product developments, but we were pleasantly surprised when they made a big leap forward. Apart from the resolution, we are more fascinated by the sensor design of the URSA Mini Pro 12K.

The 79MP sensor took three years to manufacture and is not a Bayer sensor. Instead, it uses a brand new custom filter array that contains the same number of red, green, and blue photo pages, as well as clear or white photo pages. Instead of a Bayer 2×2 grid of green-red-blue-green (GRBG) it has a 6×6 grid. That means six green, six blue, six red and 18 white. In a way, the sensor is like two 6K sensors lying on top of each other. It combines roughly 2K red, 2K blue, and 2K green pixels required to create the color image, with roughly 6K white or clear pixels that let all of the light through without going through a color filter.

The sensor also has a very small pixel pitch of 2.2. Micrometer. One of the main difficulties in increasing resolution is the loss of poor photosensitivity. The smaller the photo page is on the sensor, the more light you will need to get details. By removing the color filter from half the pixels, Blackmagic can have a sensor that will still work well in low light. This is because some light is lost to the filters in the CFA. Since the clear pixels have no filters, less light is required to generate a signal.

Sensor tech aside, we love that another company besides RED (and now Canon) is pushing resolution. While resolution isn't everything when it comes to an image, having more pixels offers a ton of benefits, including reframing and oversampling. Plus, you can get it all for $ 10,000.

What do you think of our rankings? Let us know in the comments.


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