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6 Cameras That Film 4K 120fps for Capturing Slow Motion Sports

Let’s look at newly released technology that can elevate your slow-motion sports footage. Plus, learn more about the differences between popular frame rates.

The summer of 2021 has certainly been a summer of sport. With Wimbledon, the 2020 Euro Championship, the Tour de France, Copa América, and the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour already underway, our TVs and smart devices have been filled with top-tier competition, and soon our attention will turn to the Olympic games held in Japan.

One of my favorite visual elements of sporting events is the replays that are shown in slow-motion. Given that athletes often perform at incredible speeds, the slowed-down action allows you to see their elite athleticism in a manner that’s simply unnoticeable if watching in real-time. And, if you’re like me, once you see a visual element that interests you, you want to replicate the process.

Soccer Player
The beauty of slow-motion. Image by Vasyl Shulga.

However, a lot of these replays are filmed with specially designed broadcast cameras. For example, the FT-ONE-SS4K has been used in numerous Champion League games. These are 4K live broadcast cameras that can play back 4K video at up to 1,000 frames per second. There’s no memory card inserted into a PC, no rendering process in an NLE—the image is transmitted straight to the central station, ready for broadcast. So, when Ronaldo scores his next goal, you can see it in stunning slow-motion, only seconds after it happens.

TV Camera
The right camera for slow-motion can make all the difference in the world. Image by Fotosr52.

Of course, this will be out of reach for nearly everyone outside of broadcast institutions. And, while it’s possible to hire the likes of a Phantom camera (a camera that shoots in extreme slow-motion), they’re not exactly ideal for every circumstance. They also require additional offline storage, which will come at a significant expense. However, many cinema cameras are now offering 120fps at 4K, and this frame rate is slow enough to capture sports action in all its glory.

You might ask, “Well, what about 4K 60fps? My camera can shoot 60 frames-per-second!” While 60fps allows for a 2.5x reduction of speed (if filming at 24fps), it’s not slow enough to freeze the action like 120fps. In our tutorial below, we cover the differences between popular frame rates, and you can see a significant difference between 60fps and 120fps.

Additionally, you might be aware that many 4K 60fps cameras do house the function of shooting at 120fps, but that’s at 1080p. However, 1080p is starting to show its age. With 6K, 8K, and even 12K available as capture formats, if you’re making a cinema camera investment in 2021, you want 4K to be the foundation resolution. And, if you do acquire a camera with 4K 120fps, it’ll likely house 180fps and more at either 2K or 1080p.

Before we look at several recommendations, we have to talk about cost. Typically, mid-tier cameras on the lower-end of the price range lack a feature. This absent feature is what allows them to remain relatively inexpensive compared to the cameras near the top of the tier and beyond. For example, if the camera shoots 6K and RAW, it likely doesn’t have 120fps. If it shoots 4K and 120fps, it likely doesn’t have RAW. However, when we see all of these features included, it’ll reflect in the cost.

Therefore, if you want to shoot at 4K, 120fps, and with RAW, the camera’s entry point will be around $4,000 to $5,000. With that, let’s take a look at some of the newly-released technology that can aid you in capturing slow-motion sports footage.

1. Canon EOS R5 – $3,899

Canon EOS R5
The Canon EOS R5 camera. Image via Canon.

The Canon EOS R5 initially received negative feedback upon release due to overheating issues. Since launch, there have been numerous firmware updates to address this. And, while it’s still prone to overheating, it’s considerably less impactful.

While the EOS R5 isn’t a successor to any other camera, as it’s one of Canon’s first entries into full-frame mirrorless, many look at this camera as the spiritual successor to the 5D Mark IV, as it shares many similar (though improved upon) elements.

Key specs from the manufacturer:

  • 45MP full-frame CMOS sensor
  • DIGIC X image processor
  • 8K30 RAW and 4K 120fps 10-bit internal video
  • DCI 4K (4096 x 2160) at 120fps (119.88)
  • Sensor-shift 5-axis image stabilization
  • 12fps mechanical shutter, 20fps electronic shutter
  • Dual pixel CMOS AF II with 1053 points
  • 0.5″ 5.76m-dot OLED EVF
  • 3.2″ vari-angle touchscreen LCD
  • Subject tracking with deep learning
  • CFexpress & SD UHS-II memory card slots

2. Canon EOS C70 – $5,499

Canon EOS C70
The Canon EOS C70 camera. Image via Canon.

If you’re looking to make a sizable investment into a video tool and specifically want a camera with better video features, then the Canon EOS C70 is worth a look. It’s Canon’s system that meets halfway between the compact form factor of a mirrorless camera and the additional functionality of a cinema camera—such as dedicated XLR ports and function buttons for cinema camera-only operations.

Key specs from the manufacturer:

  • Super35 dual gain output (DGO) sensor
  • DCI 4K 60p, hi-speed UHD 4K 120p/2K 180p
  • Canon LOG 2, 3, PQ & HLG HDR recording
  • RF lens mount / EF mount with adapter
  • DIG!C DV7 image processor
  • 16+ stops of total dynamic range
  • Built-in ND filters / auto ISO & gain
  • Dual pixel CMOS AF & EOS iTR AF X
  • 1 BNC timecode / 2 mini-XLR audio inputs
  • Dual SD card slots, LUT/long GOP support

3. Z Cam E2 – $1,999

Z Cam E2
The Z Cam E2 4K cinema camera. Image via Z Cam.

I somewhat pride myself on having versed knowledge on the wide range of cameras available. However, as I’ve yet to get my hands on any of the Z Cam offerings, I can’t lend much knowledge about their systems. What I can tell you is that the Z Cam was one of the first cameras to kickstart the push for box format cine cameras.

Sized at just 91.2 x 99.2 x 89.1mm and weighing only 757g (without a lens and attachments, of course), the Z Cam might be more of a pocket cinema camera than the actual Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K. And, of course, unlike the 4K, the Z Cam E2 shoots 4K 120fps.

Key specs from the manufacturer:

  • DCI and UHD 4K up to 120 fps
  • 13-stop dynamic range (16 WDR enabled)
  • 10-bit color recording, supports ProRes
  • 4/3″ WDR CMOS sensor
  • Multi-camera synchronization
  • Gigabit ethernet for data
  • Live streaming via ethernet

4. Sony A7S III – $3,499

Sony A7S
Sony’s A7S III camera. Image via Sony.

The Sony A7S III was one of Sony’s most requested systems. The A7S II was launched in 2015, and despite seeing both the A7 and A7R receive successors (the hybrid and photo-centric models), the video-centric A7S line didn’t receive an update until 2020. Upon its long-awaited release, the A7S III instantly became a fan favorite thanks to its impressive specs, classic Sony form factor, and next-level autofocus.

Key specs from the manufacturer:

  • 12MP full-frame Exmor R BSI CMOS sensor
  • UHD 4K 120p video, 10-bit 4:2:2 internal
  • 16-bit RAW output, HLG & S-Cinetone
  • 759-point fast hybrid AF
  • 9.44m-dot QXGA OLED EVF
  • 3.0″ 1.44m-dot vari-angle touchscreen
  • 5-axis SteadyShot image stabilization
  • Extended ISO 40-409600, 10fps shooting
  • Dual CFexpress type A/SD card slots

5. Sony FX3 – $3,899

Sony FX3 Camera
Sony’s Alpha FX3 cinema line full-frame camera. Image via Sony.

Sony’s FX3 is essentially a turbocharged variation of the A7S III. This camera utilizes the same technology for the 12MP full-frame BSI-CMOS sensor as the A7S III, and the same UHD 4K functions, such as 60fps from a full-frame readout 120fps 4K crop. Additionally, the FX3’s build has been tweaked to be more filmmaker-friendly, with additional audio inputs, filmmaker-focused buttons, and 1/4 20″ threads around the body that allow users to connect accessories without a cage.

Key specs from the manufacturer:

  • Full-frame performance with high sensitivity and wide dynamic range
  • 35mm full-frame (35.6 x 23.8 mm), Exmor R CMOS sensor
  • High-performance BIONZ XR image-processing engine
  • S-Cinetone
  • External RAW recording with Atomos Ninja 5
  • 4K (QFHD) high frame rate 120fps2 recording
  • Cinematic color science with S-Cinetone™
  • 5-axis in-body stabilization
  • 15+ stops (claimed) of DR

6. Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 – $5,999

Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro 4.6 G2
Blackmagic Design’s URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 camera. Image via Blackmagic Design.

The Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2, which I will refer to as the URSA Mini G2, is arguably the largest camera on this list. If you’re looking to not only obtain a presence on location, but have additional ENG features at hand if you were to need them, the URSA Mini G2 is a smart choice.

It retails at $5,999 and, since its release, we’ve had a few new cameras from Blackmagic, including a new iteration of the URSA that houses a 12K sensor. As such, you may be able to pick up the G2 for significantly less on the aftermarket as owners look to acquire the 12K model.

Key specs from the manufacturer:

  • 4.6K Super 35 HDR CMOS sensor
  • 4.6K up to 120 fps, 300 fps at 1080p
  • 15 stops of dynamic range at 3200 ISO
  • USB-C expansion port for external disks
  • Blackmagic RAW & ProRes 444/422 support
  • Dual CFast 2.0 and SD memory card slots
  • 12G-SDI output, timecode, and REF input
  • 2 XLR audio inputs with phantom power
  • 2-/4-/6-stop ND filter, magnesium body
  • Interchangeable lens mount

At 4.6K (4608 x 2592), you obtain additional image height and width at 120fps, which puts the URSA Mini G2 significantly higher than other cameras on the list. And, of course, it houses the beautiful Blackmagic color science.

We’ve only just started to see 4K 120fps enter the $3,000-$5,000 market, so the range of cameras that house this feature is admittedly small. However, as time pushes forward, I’m sure we’ll start to see more consumer cinema cameras with this feature.

For more tips on capturing sports, check out these articles:

  • How to Shoot a Training Montage for a Sports Film
  • Royalty-Free Music to Power Your Sports Videos
  • Make Your Sports Athlete Highlight Film Standout
  • Choosing the Right Lens for Shooting Live Sports
  • 6 Photographers on Capturing Awesome Photos of Extreme Sports

Cover image by wavebreakmedia.

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