Well, the quick answer is, it depends on how big your wallet is. Here’s a list of high end cinema cameras down to the prosumer cameras:
The main question to ask yourself before you consider a camera is this: “Where is this film going to end up? On the big screen, or straight to blu-ray?”
Many indie films are shot on the Epic or Red One. Most filmmakers will shoot in 4K but edit in 2K, and deliver to the local movie theaters in 2K or blu-ray. The films that are good enough, will then make it nationally and then eventually worldwide. These cameras are only a few thousand per week to rent, depending on what lens kit you go with, but require a decent camera team to run it. Without a 1st AC or Camera Assist, shooting with the RED or Alexa would be difficult. Definitely not for a “one man band!” The cost of a new Epic camera rig would be around $60K – $70K. The Alexa starts around $100K.
A lot of people ask, “Is the only difference between the RED and a DSLR just the resolution?” Simple answer again is no. The RED’s sensor captures so much more information, along with the expensive glass (lenses), there’s much more information being gathered and stored then there would be on a DSLR.
To give you something to compare it to. We can record 44 minutes of DSLR footage (H.264 codec, 1920x1080p @ 48Mbps) on a 16GB card, where as the RED can only record 4 minutes on 16GB. This is gigabits per second of information. So not only is the resolution higher, the optics phenomenal, but the color/data range is so much broader due to the insane amount of data the Epic captures. With higher resolution cameras like the RED and Alexa, the storage and editing of the footage can cost significantly more then that of a DSLR. Bottom line, the RED, Alexa or other high end cinema cameras are expensive all the way around compared to your DSLRs.
As a lot of you already know, RED came out with the Epic’s baby sister, Scarlet-X. She will shoot and capture at 4K, and has a lot more processing limitations, but is much more ideal for those smaller film budgets. The cost to have a functioning camera rig would be around $20K-25K.
The next step down from the Scarlet-X would be a 5D Mark II or 7D with some PL mount cinema lenses. The camera body for the 5D Mark II starts around $2K and the 7D around $1.4K. These cameras are extremely light (around 5 lbs. loaded vs. 30-40 lbs. for the Epic and Alexa) and can very easily be shot and focused by one camera op. These cameras seem to be the best for 1080p cinematic footage. The 5D Mark II has the full frame 35mm sensor and with some decent cinema lenses, can capture an awesome “film like” image. The main down fall is the limited color/data range, due to the data bandwidth, 48Mbps. However, there are several ways to shoot your footage “flat” which preserves a lot of color range within your raw footage and will significantly help with color correction in post, while maintaining more overall image quality. Another option would be to bypass the camera body’s data compression by attaching a SSD (Solid State Drive) recording deck via the HDMI output of the camera. This can capture as high as 1.5Gbps… basically 10 bit uncompressed HD video. Black Magic Design made a “Hyper Deck” that can handle this.
The other prosumer cameras with DOF adapters like the Letus or Red Rock adapters are the last option. The major downfall to these rigs are their weight, and quality loss from needing to shoot through tons of glass, mirrors and smaller sensors. These cameras require a lot more light and can require more sensitive handling to ensure the DOF adapter and camera remain connected and configured correctly. More headaches to worry about.
If you’re just getting into film making, start with a Canon DSLR. The 60D or 7D is a great starter camera.
If you have some extra coin and have a few years of filming experience, by all means, go for the Scarlet-X.
Lastly, if you’re film is going on the “big screen,” then you’ll need the 2K or more resolution to maintain the proper quality for the digital projectors. So if you have the budget to rent the RED or Alexa and can hire an experienced camera crew, go for the Epic or Alexa.