TL;DR

  •  RED Scarlet X is one of the cheapest options for a 4K camera.
  • 4K cameras are capable of resolutions of 4096 x 3072 resulting in a total pixel count of over 12 million
  • Other cheap 4K camera options include the Canon C500 and the NAB BlackMagic which retails at around £2,600

For top end video production for business and film, high-quality 4K resolution has become a new standard even if the eventual output is the standard 1920×1080, starting out with a 4096×3072 resolution enables for more post-production options, this is particularly important for big budget pictures that consist of blending live action cinematography with CGI.  We have previously discussed the Flea 3 being the cheapest 4K camera, but as it essentially a webcam that records a 21fps it’s no use at a professional level. So here we will focus on the cheapest options for a professional 4K camera., starting with the RED Scarlet X.

The cheapest product from the king of 4k cameras that is RED. It is the latest edition to the DSMC range, able to snap 5K stills and record 4K video at up to 30fps with a dynamic range of 13.5. This aluminum 5lb body certainly gives some boot for its size. However, although it is technically the cheapest professional 4K camera on the market, this price accounts for only the body, or in RED terms “the brain” – In order to have the Scarlet X shoot ready you need a few more accessories, RED also offer packages with the Scarlet such as the TI Canon Mount Collection and the TI PL Mount Collection for £10,650. These packages include a DSMC side handle, RED touch 5″ LCD, 2x REDVOLT (batteries), 64GB REDMAG SSD, RED station REDMAG, Travel Charger and a lens mount in either PL or Canon on top of the Scarlet X body.

Whilst it is the cheapest 4k camera, there is a catch. So how about an alternative?

Canon have jumped into the Cine 4K market with the introduction of their C500 which comes in both PL and EF mount. This camera outputs 4k resolution to an external recorder as a 10-bit uncompressed RAW data stream as well as 50mgb MPEG-2 MXF to CF cards. Not forgetting the brilliant Canon CMOS 35mm sensor that produces the stunning depth of field that launched the 5D craze. Although this 4K is fairly cheap it’s still almost double the price of the RED Scarlet X packages.

But this isn’t the only professional 4K camera from Canon, lets the forget the 4K video DSLR that is the Canon 1D C

Again homing the CMOS full frame sensor this DSLR records 4K video at 24fps straight to CF card in an MPEG 4:2:2 format. At £10,000 perhaps this is the cheapest 4K camera on the market? But is it the cheapest professional 4K camera? With the traditionally poor audio solutions and need for additional accessories its likely to creep above the RED Scarlet £10,650 package price. And with all of the additional parts is it worth the hassle, if you’re going to require all the add ons it may even be worth going straight in at £19,000 with the more practical C500. It’s probably not the most suitable for professional and high end video production but it still falls into the cheap professional 4K bracket.

UPDATE: 11/04/13

NAB 2013 Blackmagic released thier first 4K camera, the Production Camera…

4k blackmagic production camera

… At £2,600 this 4K professional camera smashes the record for the cheapest 4K camera and is guaranteed to revolutionise the production values that corporate film will be able to offer at affordable rates. Recording via its Super 35mm sensor in either Cinema DNG 12bit RAW or Apple ProRes directly onto SSD at 3840×2160. It also has 50fps and 60fps ability at 1920x1080i. It’s not just the price factor that makes this camera stand out amoungst its 4K competitors, operated using it’s 5″ touchscreen display with tap and double tap features it certainly looks and feels more like a Satnav… With an EF mount this is an ideal camera for professionals considering an upgrade from DSLR. Be sure to check out the full Blackmagic 4K camera overview.

For more camera updates and equipment reviews check out our other equipment blogs.