The large sensor digital cinema camera that we know and love today has followed an interesting history of evolution and convergence. By its very nature, it is digital video—it is not film, and even the term “digital film” doesn’t truly make a lot of sense. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to use the term “digital video” in an all-encompassing sense that should include broadcast and DSLR/mirrorless cameras as well as digital film/digital cinema cameras.
Understanding the history of the digital cinema camera is a helpful starting point in understanding why we have so many different cameras today, why they have converged on some fundamental similarities (a single super 35mm Bayer sensor for example) but also why there are so many differences.
Why do some cameras seem to prioritise internal compression, while others prioritise internal RAW?
Why do some feature a built-in ND filter wheel, and others don’t?
Why the difference in form factors and ergonomics?
For each different form and combination of features, there is a different corner of the market. Different cameras serve specific needs and function well for the demands of their owners. Therefore, there isn’t really any such thing as the “perfect” one-size-fits-all camera.
So what does this evolutionary tree look like?