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Forget the Red Komodo: This cinematic camera is just as good for half the cost

If you're looking up your video production and can't afford the price of a Red, Z Cam might have just what you're looking for.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
The Z Cam E2-F6 camera body and Smallrig cage.

My Z Cam E2-F6 is housed in a Smallrig cage for protection and expansion.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

I've hinted, here and there, of developing a sitcom. I've written the first two episodes and filmed some test footage for the piece. At first, I was using the same Sony A7 III camera to film the sitcom but very soon ran into the limitations of that camera. 

Yes, the Sony is a brilliant choice for vloggers and smaller projects but when you start getting serious about it, you're going to want a camera that is better suited for the never-ending work you'll put into your creative darlings.

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I spent a good amount of time researching cameras. At first, I was aiming for a Red Komodo but realized I didn't want to spend that much money on a camera for a project that might never get too far off the ground. That research led me to a small company called Z Cam and its E2-F6 full-frame camera. The reviews of this little boxy camera impressed me -- so I made the purchase.

View at Bhphotovideo

As soon as the camera (and the lenses I bought) arrived, I did a quick test and was absolutely blown away by the results.

Now, before I get too far into this, I'm going to warn you: This camera (like most cinematic cameras) is not for the faint of heart. It's not easy to use, has serious requirements to get the best results, and will cause you to spend more time than you can imagine getting things right. But when it's done right, it will blow you away.

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The Z Cam E2-F6 required a lot of work to get the look and feel I wanted but once it was locked in, the results were a thing of beauty. But (again) I'll warn you…I spent weeks tweaking things until I hit that sweet spot.

But then the pandemic hit and put a halt to the work. I've yet to pick up the mantle of producer/actor/director/writer again but know that time is coming very soon. Until then…the camera.

The specs

Here's the shortlist of specs for the Z Cam E2-F6 full-frame camera:

  • 12-Bit ProRes RAW recording over HDMI (requires a Ninja V 5" HDR monitor recorder for this),
  • 6K @60fps* & 4K @120fps* max, 10-bit color
  • Full Frame CMOS sensor
  • EF mount (with optional M, MFT, and PL mount accessories)
  • Gigabit Ethernet for data, control & live preview
  • H.265 (10-bit color) internal recording on CFast 2.0 cards
  • 4K60, 10-bit 4:2:2 video output through HDMI 2.0 is supported
  • Ethernet port for live view, control, and file transfer
  • LANC port for remote control including power on/off
  • Cost - $2,999 on B&H Photo

This is a professional-grade camera that is affordable enough for weekend warriors looking to film their dream project or to get into filmmaking without having to spend upwards of $50k for a camera body. Yes, you will also have to purchase a lot of other bits and pieces to make this work (lenses, batteries, monitors, lights, etc) but the ability to purchase a cinematic camera body that performs as well as the Z Cam for under $3,000 is pretty remarkable. And for those who believe they'll get the same results from the camera on their phone…think again. 

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Sure, anyone can film a short movie with a phone and create some spectacular results. But if you want a true cinema look and feel, you'll need to pay the price. The nice thing about the price of the Z Cam is that you're not going to have to take out a second mortgage which means if your project doesn't get off the ground right away, you won't have to worry about getting evicted in the process.

The caveats

As I've already mentioned, it takes a lot of work to get the look and feel you want. You'll spend a good amount of time figuring out the best settings for your project (such as resolution, frame rate, dynamic range, and so much more). I promise you at first it will be overwhelming. But the longer you spend testing and trying, the more you'll get the hang of it. 

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It'll also help if you have someone who understands the industry and what's expected and required. I went about this with little knowledge, so I had a lot of hurdles to overcome.

Another issue you'll face with a camera like this is the physical act of shooting. This isn't a point-and-shoot camera with an ergonomic body that you can hold in your hand. You'll need a cage, so you can add things like handles and other peripherals. You might even wind up with a Steadicam to make your footage even more professional.

The top view of the Z Cam E2-F6 camera.

Because of the tiny display, an external field monitor is a must.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Ultimately, what you need will be dedicated to the project. You might be using the Z Cam for interviews, at which point you can slap it on a tripod and go

As well, batteries will be a priority. This camera works with the Sony NP-F series batteries (including NP-F970/770/550), so you'll want to stock up on those as well. The camera can only accept one battery at a time. For longer shoots, you might invest in a third-party battery plate so you can attach two batteries to accommodate your shots.

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It sounds daunting, right? That's because it is. Even so, the Z Cam is a great option for those just getting into filming. Although you'll spend a good amount of time getting up to speed with this baby, the results are worth every second. 

And even though I've not really had the chance to complete a project with my E2-F6, I know that time is coming soon and I'm glad I have the hardware at my disposal. I've not regretted this purchase for one second and will soon get back to filming my pet project.

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