Lens Options for 360 Degree Virtual Reality Camera Rigs? And other thoughts on cameras.

Sony 360 Degree Virtual Reality Camera Rig

I’m a long way from upgrading my multiple (from six to a dozen cameras at once!) action cameras 360 Degree Virtual Reality Rig (thus I don’t need to worry about interchangeable lens options on this rig), but when I do I am thinking to go with Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera. Even though high resolution is very important for 360VR.

If you do go with 4K cameras then the Panasonic GH4 is a very popular 4K option (such as these guys using GH4 cameras for 360VR: http://shinichi-works.info/project_gh4.html). Also there is the Sony a7R mk2 / a7S mk2 options (but costs skyrocket, after all you’re not buying just one camera but many!) or Sony A6300 (which has overheating issues, an especially troubling issue if you have six of these operating all cramped up close together to each other! As then they’ll overheat even faster). Also Blackmagic Design has their Micro Studio Camera, but that requires an external 4K recorder, which introduces significant size/power/cost issues. Samsung NX1 is also very much worth a look (& NX500, but in 4K it has a harsh crop factor), but it is a dying system and ever since the NX1 hack came out the secondhand prices of the NX1 have been staying high.

Thus in the end I’d prefer the BlackMagic Micro Cinema Camera (BMMCC), because I’d prefer the dynamic range, bit depth, and color space of the BMMCC. And while the Panasonic GH4 / G7 does a max of 30p @ 4K, you are gaining resolution but giving up frame rate and I’d rather keep it at 60fps (as arguably high frame rates are nearly just as important for Virtual Reality as resolution is. Least you give the viewer motion sickness. And you can get higher resolution by using more cameras!). Presumably the GH5 will give 4K 60fps, but that will probably cost US$2K or more per camera (and you need many multiple ones of them of course for complete 360 degree coverage!), and it hasn’t even been announced yet so who knows.

Though given the likely length of time until I’ll be upgrading, we’ll surely see a Panasonic G7 sale by then which might make that option too cheap to resist vs going with BlackMagic Micro Cinema Cameras.

Anyway, I have still been putting a lot of thought & research this year into the various options for the future, and I decided I’d at last put the metaphorical pen to paper and share a few of my thoughts on this particular aspect of lens choices. We can broadly speaking split it into three groups:

  • a) native mount (i.e. MFT lens, or E mount lenses if a person was using A6300/A7 series instead), but then this can severely limit a person a couple of years down the track if they change bodies. It would be a lot smoother / cheaper if only the bodies need to be swapped out and not lenses as well. I’d like to have some degree of versatility with this rig.
  • b) full frame UWA lenses (in Nikon F mount of course, as I’ve explained in other blog posts), but not an option as you can’t then go truly wide if using them on APS-C or smaller bodies. And A7r mk2 / A7s mk2 are the only truly interesting options to consider here for use that are full frame. Maybe with the one exception of the Rokinon 14mm f2.8 lens, which does almost hit the sweet spot for price & focal length even when used on APS-C. Or the Rokinon 12mm F2.8, but then you have to deal with fisheye distortion.
  • c) APS-C UWA lens, this appears to hit the sweet spot of maximum versatility plus maximum FoV.


    APS-C lens options:
  • Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6, max FoV but I’d be concerned about the slow f-stop, as then you’d start to be losing one of the key gains of ditching GoPros with their poor lowlight ability.
  • Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (or the newer Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8, but that costs more so no), this is the lens I own myself and is in my eyes the “best” UWA lens for normal filmmaking, but does that mean it is for 360VR too?? Hmm
  • Rokinon 10mm f/2.8, is lighter/cheaper/wider (all 3 keys points for a 360VR rig) than the Tokina but is a fixed focal length (probably not a disadvantage though at all! As you absolutely don’t want that focal length to change once you’ve set it, thus why people will tape down zoom lenses if using them on a 360VR rig). However the Rokinon 10mm f/2.8 isn’t cheaper than Tokina when you consider the older Tokina models can easily be picked up secondhand, but the Rokinon can’t be so easily found at all secondhand as it is a newer lens.
  • Rokinon 16mm f/2, the fastest option but by this point at 16mm it is only barely UWA at all.

Outside these options listed, I can’t think of any good UWA lenses, or am I missing something? Everything else that comes to mind seems that they’d all be a worse compromise somewhere in price/FoV/speed/etc than these four that I listed.

Keen to hear in the comments your views on my thought process and each of the options I reached at!

Brainstorming a future US$3,000 Samsung cinema camera.

Samsung NX1


This is a shame because the NX1 and NX500 are best in class for video performance and features, in some ways for stills too. Perhaps Samsung should consider building a professional $3000 cinema camera based around the Super 35mm sensor in the NX1 which plays on their astounding technological strengths

Andrew Reid suggested Samsung should make a cinema camera, and thought that is such a great idea it deserves its own detailed response thus this blog post . (waves to Samsung reps! Hopes they’re reading…. one can but hope!)

I don’t think it would take much more to get there (well…. it would be a significant sized project for Samsung for sure, but easily well within their grasp to pull off). Because the Samsung NX1 is already such a fantastic video camera! The best at its price point, and arguably the best stills camera for filming with at *any* price point! Even over a year later since the Samsung NX1 was announced. (yes, I’m even including the new Sony A7s mk2 in this comparison! Though what is “best” at this point can at times get to be highly subjective, depending on what you place more or less weight on as being important) Thus we could easily imagine how great a pro version of the NX1 focused on filming (rather than photo stills) could be….

All Samsung need to do is increase the size of the NX1 body the minimum amount needed so it can do this (perhaps C100/C300 shape/size? Although, I’d much much rather have the ergonomics of an FS5/FS7! But even if, g-d forbid, it has the shape of an FS100/FS700 then I’d still be “ok” with that that!):

  1. Make space for dual mSATA slots, perhaps mSATA already in their own simple plastic casing like what Atomos does with SSDs (I think Sound Devices made a good choice going mSATA on their small PIX-E5 recorder, and in a small camera it makes even more sense over the large SSDs). Dual slots are needed so you can write a proxy to the 2nd slot, or just simply if you need the extra bandwidth when doing 6.5K raw at high speed. Can’t stick with SD cards, as they won’t handle 4K ProRes HQ, which leads me onto my next point….
  2. Add DNxHR / ProRes, whichever licensing of DNxHR or ProRes is easiest for them to get. Though having ProRes HQ would be preferable I suspect over DNxHR (just because ProRes is more commonly recognised by the market, thanks to BMD and others widely using them), plus ProRes 444 or even raw would be dreamy! (but maybe a little unrealistic in a $3k camera?!)
  3. Add two XLR inputs.
  4. Make its HDMI port a full sized HDMI port.
  5. Add two SDI outputs (important to have two, what happens if one breaks? You’ll have a nearly useless camera for many people, as SDI is for them *essential*. Plus is very common to run more than one monitor in a production environment, thus got to have two)

I think if Samsung did this (and nothing else, just the five points listed above: mSATA + DNxHR/ProRes + XLR + full HDMI + SDI inputs) for US$3,000 then they’d have a huge huge indy cinema camera hit on their hands! The next DVX100 or 5Dmk2 of our generation??

Even if it came out at US$5k I reckon it could maybe still be rather successful, although it would be up against the URSA Mini 4.6K, Sony FS5, and Canon C100 mk2, all at a similar price point. (plus whatever else comes out in the next 6 months)

For bonus points Samsung could do:

  1. Camera mount: just before, I’m assuming they’re sticking with the Samsung NX mount that the NX1 has, and only making the body a little bit bigger. As Andrew mentioned perhaps their mount held back sales of the NX1, maybe this cinema camera should have a different mount? Ideally I’d like to see them use the Sony FZ mount (as this would mark it out as a true cinema camera, able to be used with the best of the best cinema lenses, yet also allowing tremendous flexibility with this mount!), next best choice would be using the Sony E mount, 3rd best is Micro Four Thirds (like the JVC LS300). Branding/marketing/licensing issues mean I expect sadly all of these are out of the question. Thus I feel the best Samsung can realistically do is create their own open cinema mount, which has similar features to the Sony FZ mount. But make it completely open and easy for anybody else to adapt. Thus Samsung will start off by selling their Samsung Cinema Camera with the high prestige PL Mount, but in a blink of an eye we’ll see third party manufacturers offering adapters for everything you can possibly imagine (like they do now for the Sony FZ mount!).
  2. High Speed Options: apparently their engineers managed 6.5K 240fps in testing, maybe we could at least get this cinema camera to give us 1080p 240fps or 4K 60fps?
  3. High than 4K resolutions: give us all 6.5K resolution from the sensor!! 😮
  4. Raw: need I say any more? This could hit it out of the park!

What are your thoughts? Write a comment below! Remember, it should be based on the existing underlying NX1 technology (so not too much more R&D is needed for Samsung to get it to market. As even this limited list would take a huge effort on Samsung’s part to make happen) or using commonplace readily available tech (such as mSATA, or SDI connections) and hit a US$3k price point or at least not more than a couple thousand over that.

Where is Fujifilm’s fast standard zoom??

Partially because of the release of the newly announced Fujifilm X-T10, I went and checked out the range of Fujifilm lenses out of curiosity. (because hey, they suck for video now, but maybe one day they’ll catch up? Always good to keep informed in advance)

To my surprise they appear to be lacking the most essential of pro lenses, a fast standard range zoom! The closest to it is the Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4, but that slows down to f/4 at the long end.

Which is strange, as I have kept on hearing that the lenses are Fujifilm’s strong point for going with their system over the others. Yet it appears Panasonic, Olympus, and Samsung are the only mirrorless systems which have the basics covered (wide angle, fast standard zoom, fast tele zoom, wide prime, standard prime, portrait prime). Sony is still lacking with their refusal to make f/2.8 zooms because they want to keep size down (so your only left with f/4 from their zooms).

Looking at those three which do have the basics covered:
1) Olympus and Panasonic, as the oldest system it isn’t surprising they’ve got all the core bases covered. And as they share the same mount, Micro Four Third users truly are spoilt for choice! Able to pick from either brand.
2) Samsung is the kinda surprising one here out of the three, as they’re a very new entrant and up until lately just made lower end cameras (NX3000/NX300/NX30) but with the completion of their core lens range and the amazing Samsung NX1 I reckon it shows Samsung is here to fight and how seriously they’re taking it. They’re the one to watch!

Update #1:
Well… a few minutes after I published this I discovered I got the main premise of this blog post wrong! Ah my bad… there is a Fujifilm 16-55mm f/2.8 But it appears the 16-55mm f/2.8 only just came out this year however (and even the 50-150mm f/2.8 didn’t come out until late last year), guess that is why I missed it. And also it didn’t come out until a year after Samsung’s 16-50mm f/2.8 (and 50-150mm f/2.8), thus meaning the broad point of my post remains the same (Olympus/Panasonic are first, Samsung second, in covering the basics for lenses).

Update #2:
While looking at the specs for the new Fujifilm X-T10 I see is a world camera with 25fps & 30fps! (and 24fps too of course) Gee, why can’t Panasonic do the same with their G7 which was just announced yesterday?? Such a disappointment.

How to pick a camera when buying more than one?

When buying multiple cameras there are two key ways to look at it:

Complementary cameras or matching cameras.

In some cases you want your cameras to be “matching cameras”, such as when doing multi camera coverage of wedding ceremony or doing an interview. Such as 2x GH4 to cover the wide of the interview and the close up, or one to cover the interviewer himself and another on the person being interviewed.

But in most cases you want your cameras to be complementary instead. As you need to view each camera body as merely one kind of tool in your box of tricks. So when you go out on a shoot, you can pick the best tool for the job.

Thus for cameras to be complementary, you want one camera to cover the weaknesses of the other, and in the reverse too.

For instance GH4 + BMPCC:

96fps vs 30fps
Compressed vs raw
Photos vs n/a
4K vs 1080

Or A7s vs BMPCC:

FF vs S16
Amazing low light vs so so low light
Compress vs raw

You can see how in each case, one does well in covering some of the weaknesses of the other camera.

Thus you can see how for many people getting a BMCC and BMPCC makes no sense at all really, as they’re two very similar cameras.
So this BMCC + BMPCC combo only makes sense if you’re looking for two “matching cameras” rather than two “complementary cameras”, or if you already have a BMCC and you want the BMPCC to just cover for the big weakness of the BMCC: its bulky size.

I really wouldn’t recommend the BMPC4K at the moment, URSA Mini 4K is just around the corner for the same price and is better in every way.

What I’d suggest is getting a Samsung NX1 right now (or any one of the currently top three hybrid cameras: Samsung NX1 / Sony A7s / Panasonic GH4. But I reckon the NX1 is the best of the 3 at the moment) and a set of Nikon F mount lenses. Then when the USRA Mini ships (and “if” it gets the favorable reviews we’re all expecting) get that as well. You’ll have a killer combo of two cameras able to cover a wide range of needs. Don’t worry that the URSA Mini is still a few months away from shipping, as having the Samsung NX1 to start with is still a phenomenal camera, and when you’re just starting out your equipment really isn’t your limiting factor just yet. As gear has got so good and so affordable.

If you lean towards doing a lot more multi camera work (such as weddings) than single camera, then I’d suggest instead starting out with a Panasonic GH4 for you, plus Panasonic G7 for your second shooter (your second shooter might supply their own camera, but even if they do, it is best if their camera matches well with your own. Makes life easier in post), and 3x Panasonic GH1 bodies (which go for merely US$150 on eBay, and still are quite damn fine cameras! Does miles better than any Canon Rebel series DSLR shoots) to cover the multiple extra angles during the ceremony and speeches. Then once they ship, pick up a BMMCC and BMD VA for your single camera work (music videos / adverts / short films / etc). Or get a BMPCC if you simply can’t wait for that.

I wrote this post in response to this thread on bmcuser, and felt like sharing it as a blog post too because my response is length yet generic enough it might be helpful for others too looking at getting more than one camera.