Z CAM E2 Flagship Cameras: An In-depth Look
Posted on Sep 18, 2019
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Three New Cameras: E2-S6, E2-F6, and E2-F8
The Z CAM flagship series is an exciting new batch of cameras in the E2 lineup. They feature 6K and 8K sensors and are available in PL, EF, and Micro 4/3 mounts (S6 only) . While the Z CAM website has a lot of technical information about these cameras, it doesn't get into the details of frame rates and resolutions. It's understandable that these details can be a deciding factor in your purchasing decision, so I will cover them here.
Who am I and how did I get access to these cameras?
First of all, let me explain who I am and how I got my hands on pre-production cameras. I am a self-described hobbyist or advanced amateur. I'm not a working professional - I don't work in the production industry. I'm someone is who is interested in cameras and technology and who spends a lot of time and money to learn about and play with these "toys". I'm an active member of many Facebook groups and I'm constantly researching, testing, and buying new equipment. I enjoy sharing what I have learned and helping others understand this complicated technology. Please allow this to influence your opinion of me and my reviews. If you expect me to know everything about a camera - how to shoot with it and grade the footage - I may disappoint you. I'm still learning and I'm not afraid of making mistakes for everyone to see. It's all a part of the learning process.
I was an early adopter of the Z CAM E2 - perhaps the 10th person in the world to own one. Mine was delivered in early October of 2018 and I began shooting and uploading videos right away. I believe my videos have helped bring awareness and knowledge of the E2 to a greater number of people. Through my activity in the Z CAM E2 Facebook Group I developed a relationship with the company. It's this relationship that has allowed me access to the pre-production cameras. Okay, now onto the details!
The E2-S6 and E2-F6 have a number of listed resolutions from HD to 6K open gate. While H.265 and ProRes are available in all of these resolutions, the flavor of ProRes changes as you increase in frame rate. Additionally, in 4K modes you'll get a crop of the sensor above certain frame rates. This is a notable difference from the E2 which always uses the full width of the sensor regardless of the frame rate or resolution.
Let's take a closer look at the E2-F6 resolutions and frame rates. Click on the image for a better view.
Looking at the chart, you can see that as you increase in resolution, the maximum frame rate drops. Additionally, as you go up in the quality of ProRes codec, the maximum frame rate drops. This is likely due to a few factors.
- sensor limitations
- processing limitations
- media limitations
As you increase either the frame rate or the resolution, the data rate also increases. This places a burden on the entire imaging pipeline: sensor, processor, and media. Z CAM can only control one of those - the processor. They don't manufacture their own sensors, nor media. They rely on third parties (mostly Sony) for sensors and have allowed for CFast 2.0 and external SSD drives for media. Outside of this is the cost factor. If they were to jump to a more capable sensor it would cost more. If they were to use a more powerful processor, that would also cost more and probably require more battery power. I trust that Z CAM has weighed all of these costs and made a wise choice to give us these three cameras.
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Looking at the resolution comparison graphic, there are a couple of interesting things to point out. The two 5K resolutions have slightly different vertical resolutions - 4040 vs 4032. They should both use the maximum vertical resolution of 4040, so why is 5K 4:3 short by 8 pixels? C6K and 6K also have slightly different vertical resolutions: 3196 vs 3240. I don't know if this is intentional or not, since they really should be the same. Another interesting point is the E2-S6 has a greater maximum pixel size of 6244 x 4168 against the E2-F6's 6064 x 4040.
Why Full Frame?
Here are some of the benefits of a full frame sensor over a smaller sensor like Super 35 or Micro 4/3:
- better noise performance
- greater resolution *
- shallower depth of focus
- wider field of view
If you are buying a full frame camera, you really should take advantage of the sensor size. This means you should record in one of the 6K, 5K, or supersampled 4K resolution modes. These modes use nearly all of the vertical or horizontal size of the sensor and give you the things I listed above. The trade-off in these modes is the high frame rate performance. You'll get a maximum of 60 fps in C6K 2.4:1, which has a short vertical height, and a maximum of 30 fps in 6K open gate. For comparison, the E2 with its Micro 4/3 sensor can record 4K up to 160 fps using the full sensor width.
The asterisk * next to "greater resolution" is because you don't always get a greater resolution compared to a smaller sensor. The E2-F6 sensor certainly has a greater resolution than the E2, but it actually has slightly less resolution than the E2-S6 (as I mentioned earlier). However, because each pixel is physically larger, you are still getting the benefit of better noise performance.
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Looking at the sensor size comparison graphic, you can get a good feel for the physical differences of the sensors. Each sensor is a noticeable step up in size. Micro 4/3 to super 35 is a 57% increase, and to full frame is 250%. Super 35 to full frame is a 123% increase. You might think that these numbers would translate into proportional improvements in noise performance, but it doesn't quite work like that. There are other factors beyond sensor size which affect noise performance.
If you compare 4K footage from the E2 against the cropped 4K from the E2-F6, you should still realize better noise performance. The E2-F6 has larger pixels than the E2, and larger pixels generally result in less noise. Since the E2-S6 actually has smaller pixels than the E2, you could argue that it has worse noise performance. That's an interesting thought! However, the difference is small, and advancements in sensor construction could still give the E2-S6 better noise performance. Only real-world tests will tell.
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The E2-S6 has the same modes as the F6, but with slightly different resolutions. It has a maximum resolution of 6244 x 4168, which is a higher megapixel count than the F6. The frame rates are nearly identical, with only a few that are different (C4K, 4k, and open gate).
You can learn more about the equipment I own and use here: https://kit.com/flannelninja