Find the Best B Camera for Your A Camera

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In a way-back-when era, I had just purchased my Sony XDCAM PMW-EX1R for corporate and documentary projects and was getting lots of work with matching EX1 productions, since it was a pretty popular camera. So, it amused me when I saw the 2009 feature film, Public Enemies, and learned that the PMW-EX1 gen 1 was used as a B camera to the production's Sony F23 main camera for a few action scenes and close-quarter interiors. As I started to do more of my own productions, I needed to choose which B camera I was going to use for my events and interviews without having to shell out as much cash as I did for my primary camera. Since I'd be mobile, I also needed to save space as a one-person crew. With DSLR, mirrorless, camcorder, and action cameras all stepping up to 1080p, 2K, and 4K these days, the decision process has only become more complex.

Public Enemies, 2009, Relativity Media. Photo via shotonwhat.com

Lensing and Lens Adapters

Choosing a B camera depends primarily on your endgame—what you're attempting to achieve with your production. Public Enemies used the EX1 with a Letus35 cinema lens adapter, which allowed them to match similar or the same Cooke cinema lenses as their A camera, but some budgets may not have that much flexibility. If you can afford to add a camera that uses the same lenses as your main camera, that will not only allow you to match color and style more easily, you'll be able to use the same set of lenses for both cameras. For example, if you're shooting a two-camera talking head interview for two different frames, using the same line of lenses is imperative for lighting and color matching.

Sticking with the same manufacturer, such as the F23/EX1 combo, or my subsequent decision to shoot certain projects with both the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and III, is a great advantage to your wallet and your ending look. I eventually updated my own setup to the Canon EOS C100/5D Mark III for various documentary projects, which worked out well for a compact, mobile setup and lens choice. If your B camera is made by a different manufacturer and doesn't have the same mount but accepts a lens adapter, you can still match lenses with your A camera. Though be aware that the same functionality may not exist with many adapters, such as autofocus or other electronic lens control.

Canon EOS C500 Mark II
Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera
Canon EOS C500 Mark II & Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera

Try these combinations for lens matching as well as format and resolution matching:

A Cam: Canon C500 Mark II

B Cam: BMPCC 6K or Z CAM E2 6K (EF Mount)

For matching format, lens mount, and color, you can't lose with cameras by the same manufacturer:

A Cam: ARRI ALEXA LF or ALEXA Mini (with separately available LPL mount)

B Cam: ARRI ALEXA Mini LF (with separately available LPL mount)

A Cam: Sony PMW-FS5 or Sony PMW-FS7

B Cam: Sony a7S II

Sony PXW-FS5 XDCAM
Sony Alpha a7S II
Sony PXW-FS5 XDCAM & Sony Alpha a7S II

Shooting for Post-Production

If you're creating, for example, a run-and-gun video that intercuts different parts of a room with different color and lighting, making sure you use the same resolution, codec, and format may be more important to consider for post. If your end product needs to be a 1080p YouTube video, there are plenty of choices for 1080p as your second camera, even when you may be using a 4K A camera and down-convert. If you can, match cameras that support the same color space Log profile format such as S-Log for Sony, F-Log for Fujifilm, N-Log for Panasonic, V-Log for Panasonic, or C-Log for Canon cameras, which will make it easier to apply similar LUTs in your color correction software.

Also, I can't tell you how much alternate B camera footage I've gathered from various sources with odd and random formats that took hours of cross-converting to match my main footage. Having a similar recording format is helpful to speed up any conversion time in post and to retain quality, such as matching MP4, MOV, or raw formats, or else you may run into issues on your timeline and spend wasted hours converting footage.

Canon Cinema EOS C300 Mark II
Nikon D850 DSLR Camera
Canon Cinema EOS C300 Mark II & Nikon D850 DSLR Camera

Try these combinations to match color and look:

A Cam: Canon EOS C200 or Canon EOS C300 Mark II

B Cam: Canon EOS Mark IV or Nikon D850

A Cam: Blackmagic URSA Mini or URSA Mini Pro

B Cam: BMPCC 4K or Z CAM E2-S6 6K

Or when you mostly need similar resolution and file format:

A Cam: RED DSMC2 with GEMINI 5K or RED EPIC-W

B Cam: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 or Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5S

RED DSMC2 with GEMINI 5K
Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5S
RED DSMC2 with GEMINI 5K & Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5S

While you can certainly use an older RED camera version as your B camera, smaller camera options like 4K mirrorless or DSLR cameras can offer portability and budget advantages while also shooting at a resolution and 4:2:2 8-bit or 10-bit output you need.

Adding Motion and FX

Lighting, format, and color depth feature-matching may not be as important in motion situations for b-roll or a second (or third) wide-angle subject shot. As a videographer, I've searched endlessly for the small, quick, and light versions of whatever is out there, and I turned to the new wave of lightweight gimbals and gimbal cameras as a backup to my main camera. Some may have found me doubling-up as A and B camera operator, looking like a creepy cyborg as I simultaneously shot with a DJI Osmo or GoPro in one hand and an A camera in the other as I wander through a ship or trade show or warehouse. I've also been seen attaching a few GoPro HEROs or Osmo Action cameras to a moving car, bike, or boat to get those hard-to-reach angles while operating my main camera, which is likely a small documentary camera like a Canon EOS C100 or Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K/4K, a DSLR like a Canon EOS 5D Mark III/IV or Nikon D850, or a mirrorless camera like a Sony a7 or Panasonic GH5. There are myriad handheld gimbals that can mount your A or B or even a C camera to keep things steady and perform preset motions for added effect.

You also may want to consider value-added FX such as slow-motion, time-lapse, motion-lapse, or extreme low-light performance in your B camera to enhance your production. To complement your 4K or 1080p productions, these tiny, feature-rich, and durable cameras can add a number of effects that your main camera isn't built to perform. Another bonus when using a DSLR or mirrorless camera as your backup, you have a ready-made still photo camera if it's needed for those BTS (behind-the-scenes) shots.

These tiny cameras can add movement, effects, and high-quality footage to back up your production:

Insta360 ONE X and the Insta360 GO are really small and waterproof, they offer time-lapse, up to 5.7K and 1080p video, respectively, and the GO is so tiny it can be clipped to your lapel. Osmo Pocket handheld gimbal with integrated camera offers 4K video with various presets and FX functions. Sony DSC-RX0 II, DJI Osmo Action, and GoPro HERO8 Black all record UHD 4K video, they can easily down-res, they're waterproof, and they offer time-lapse, sport mode, and internal stabilization

Sony DSC-RX0 II
DJI Osmo Action
Sony DSC-RX0 II & DJI Osmo Action

You've got a plethora of quality choices, so when you already have the profile of your A camera, considering what you need out of your B camera is that much easier. Lenses, resolution, format, color, motion, and effects are the main criteria to consider. You may also want to consider size, media, and compatible accessories the cameras have in common. What is the best A and B camera combination that has worked for you in the field? Let us know in the Comments section, below. And be sure to visit the B&H Photo website for more B camera options and visit the B&H Photo SuperStore when you're in New York City.

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1 Comments

I would have to say that you missed the 'Z CAM E2-F6 6K' in your article, and that with it robust specs and full frame sensor, it can totally hold it's own as an 'A' Cam! :)

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