There are a lot of ways to judge the quality of digital cinema cameras. One that has gained a lot of respect is inclusion on the “Netflix Approved” list. For many non-technical purchasers, it is a good way to know the chosen camera is among the best available on the market.
As all of us know, Netflix — as the largest streaming service — makes or oversees the creation of a lot of premium video content. When a camera is Netflix Approved, it means the streaming service has certified that it has the minimum specs required to ensure the expected quality of a Netflix Original production.
Netflix requires that 90 percent of a program’s final total runtime to be captured on approved cameras. This leaves room for non-approved specialty cameras to be used for special effects and other uses. For nonfiction content, the 90 percent threshold is more flexible.
Since the purchase of a digital cinema camera is a major investment, Netflix’s approval means a lot to perspective buyers or renters. The streaming network constantly tests cameras and updates its approved list regularly. The latest update was on Dec. 12, 2022.
Just because a camera meets Netflix’s minimum technical specs doesn’t mean it will be approved. The streaming service looks at the entire camera as a whole, including dynamic range, form factor, workflow and other issues. It is not a simple choice, and Netflix does a lot of in-house research to prepare the list.
What are Netflix’s standards for a digital cinema camera? The minimum requirements for approval are a true UHD 4K sensor with a minimum of 3,840 photosites across; high-quality capture format (such as raw or an intra-frame compressed codec); 16-bit linear or 10-bit log processing; and capture transfer function (e.g., S-Log3, Canon Log 2).
Also, capture color science (e.g., S-Gamut3.cine, RED Wide Gamut RGB); no looks or corrections baked into the original files; and files maintain all metadata (i.e., tape name, timecode, frame rate, ISO, etc).
Some of Netflix’s optional, operational requests include daily black balancing of the camera’s sensor; avoiding spanned clips (i.e., single takes spread out on multiple cards); extra resolution for anamorphic imaging and use of aspect ratios less than or equal to 2:1.
The above list are baseline specs. Having all of them still doesn’t mean the camera meets Netflix’s final cut. Sometimes all the capabilities can be added with third party accessories…sometimes not. Also, some specialty cameras not on Netflix’s approved list can be used on productions requiring them for special use. The rules are general, not hard.
What you can assume is that Netflix Approved cameras are have been thoroughly vetted to create high-quality images and make a good investment. Filmmakers who create content don’t want to find their camera isn’t approved by the largest streaming service. This is one reason the list is so important.
For non-technical producers, the Netflix Approved list simplifies the decision-making process of which camera to acquire. However, if a camera is not on the approved list, it is not necessarily a reason not to purchase it. Netflix often requires certain capabilities that not every producer needs for a production (like certain metadata requirements.)
Some types of productions — for example, YouTube distribution — don’t need Netflix Approved cameras. Nor do cameras for “B-Roll” need approval. Crash cameras like GoPros, which are not Netflix-approved, can still be used for specific types of action shots, even in Netflix films.
Among the current list of Netflix Approved cameras includes ARRI’s ALEXA Basic, Mini LF and 35; Blackmagic Designs URSA Mini Pro; Canon’s EOS C300 Mark II, EOS C500 Mark II, EOS C700 and EOS C70; and Panasonic’s AU-EVA1, VariCam LT 4K S35, Lumix BGH1, Lumix, BS1H, Varicam 35, Lumix S1H Mirrorless and AK-UC4000 studio camera.
Others include RED Digital DSMC2 with Gemini 5K S35 sensor, DSMC2 with Helium 8K S35 sensor, DSMC2 with Monstro 8K VV sensor, DSCC2 with Dragon-X sensor, Komodo 6K, RED Ranger with Helium 8K S35 sensor, RED Ranger with Monstro 8K VV sensor, RED Ranger with Gemini SK S5 sensor and the V-Raptor 8K VV DSMC3 camera.
Finally, Sony’s approved cameras include the Venice 6K, FX6, PXW-FX9 XDCAM 6K, Venice 2, PXW-Z450 4K UHD, PXW-Z750 4K, FX3 and the FR7 Cinema PTZ camera.
Check Netflix’s approved camera web page for the latest additions to its list.
Netflix Video: youtu.be/xhX55g0Ms7M