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[Behind the Lens] The Modular Camera Behind This Series

By Mark Mutti on August 19th '21, 9:07pm PT

The Behind the Lens series of blog entries will talk a bit about what life is like behind the camera: social logistics, data management, cameras, and more

Note: this article was updated in June '22 with minor edits, and a look-back one year in the making.

Gear is one of the independent filmmaker's most important resources. Without it, we would be unable to capture the moments we've determined are so important for us to share. Some people are accomplishing this successfully with iPhones, some use cinema or electronic news gathering (ENG) cameras. I am obsessed with my gear- definitely not the name brands or spending of money. When you're a one man band, which I am 80% of the time, things need to be reliable and efficient but also thorough, ready for any situation: indoor, outdoors, interviews, time-lapses, attaching cameras to things, hike-in destinations, capturing great audio, and so forth.

Enter: The Box Camera

The box camera's biggest strength: incredible modularity
Cameras in the form of a box, introduced as early as the year 1888 by Kodak, have made a comeback. The box camera form factor is very appealing to me because of the often silly number of things I need to accomplish with a single, familiar, budget-friendly camera. One day it might be stripped down for a motorized slider with a low weight limit. The next day on this project might be a full 8 hours requiring a huge battery and ergonomic help from a shoulder pad, handles, electronic focus knob, etc. The animated GIF shows some of the configurations I've enjoyed with this LEGO-style setup.

There are many box cameras on the market right now including the Panasonic LUMIX BGH1, RED Komodo, and all of Kinefinity's current cameras.

But one company has a whole line of box camera contenders: Z CAM. I'll jump straight to the point here, I am head over heels in love with this camera. I landed on their E2-S6 model. E2 is their current generation, the Flagship Series. And the S6 is their Super 35 (sensor size), 6K (resolution) body. The amount of value in this small form factor, for the price, boggles the mind. Here are my favorite features:

Optics and Codecs

A Super 35 sensor is perfect for a project like this. Practical in terms of price and lens compatibility, and powerful when it comes to shallow depth of field and low light. The E2-S6 also offers a fantastic combination of video codecs and color profiles, ideal for this HDR, 4K age we're living in. Rumor has it these use Sony sensors, but I've been unable to verify that.

Auto Modes & eND

Having automatic exposure modes is crucial. I rarely want the camera to make choices for me, but when I do, I really need it. Imagine trying to adjust exposure while following a subject from indoors to out as a one-man-band. Not a chance. A neutral density filter is like putting sunglasses on your camera, and the $400 Electronic Neutral Density (eND) option is a huge win. It slips right into the lens mount and you forget it's there when you don't need it. This feature is more common on much higher-end cameras, so having this as part of this compact setup is just incredible.

Form Factor & Build

Have I mentioned the box camera form factor yet?! In addition to the feature that brought me to consider this camera in the first place, the body is built well. Made of aluminum alloy, with high-quality buttons, the camera feels well made.

Incredible I/O

The input/output (I/O) on this camera is fantastic. There's a port for just about any way you might want to rig it: cinema camera, webcam, one of several live stream cameras, etc.


I already covered I/O, but want to emphasize the onboard ethernet jack, and (more importantly to me) Wi-Fi. Anything you can adjust through the camera's buttons and menus in-person, you can control via their app wirelessly or over a wired network or the internet, while monitoring a very low-latency video and audio feed.


$3,000 is a lot of money, the highest single expense I've had on this project so far. I hate blowing money like that, but the rich feature set and literal joy I feel when using this device, have softened the blow.
Z CAM E2-S6 on motorized slider The Z CAM E2-S6 on a motorized slider
Z CAM E2-S6 body in man's hand The magnesium alloy body is solid, light, and very compact
An August 2021 time-lapse done from the warmth of my car, Z-CAM wearing its rain cover to avoid the drizzle
I honestly didn't think I'd even use this feature, but sunrise and sunset time-lapse sequences present an interesting paradox: one has to make sure not to move the camera around, yet when doing them, the lighting changes dramatically so you need to adjust exposure. Being able to do this without touching the camera physically has been huge for me. You can definitely achieve this with various controllers (see: LANC Controllers), but doing this with a tool already in my pocket is a huge win, especially when hiking the gear in where every ounce counts.

I've also really enjoyed being able to sit down on a log or go back to the car and monitor from my phone, comfortably. After all, these sequences often run for 1-3 hours... for 1-3 minutes of footage that usually gets cut down to just a few seconds. :)

The Z CAM E2-S6 puts out a strong wireless signal, and I'll use different antennas depending on whether I need compactness or distance. Again, you can control any aspect of the camera over Wi-Fi or wired network. And with that, I leave you with a look at the iOS app, in portrait mode:

Z Cam iOS App

A Year Later: Thoughts

Ten months after publishing this blog entry (let's just call it a year), I've put in many more hours with this camera.

Still Love It

This camera has exceeded my expectations, performing flawlessly time and time again. I'm 100% satisfied with this purchase. We've worked together in 100F sunshine, and dark rainy days. The body even got wet through a rain cover at one point, but we don't talk about that.

I use the Wi-Fi functionality a lot. When hiking the camera in to places, I do so in a very minimal configuration and now trust the wireless connectivity enough to use my iPhone as a monitor/controller.

Required Accessories

There are some accessories that have made this box a dream to work with, including:
Side handle: a nice ergonomic handle with rosette mount, two rotaries (one at the index finger, one at the thumb) with two toggle-able modes each, and a record button
SmallRig Cage
A camera cage is a hollow device you put around a camera body to protect it, and to increase mounting options. This cage has been a great value, and I understand it's milled from a single piece of billet aluminum
NATO Rail Ecosystem
Quick releases on everything! The NATO rail system has turned out to be a great choice

Made in China

These days it seems like we are all concerned about our online privacy, and I feel that worth noting is that the Z CAM's mobile app phones home to China. There doesn't seem to be anything nefarious going on, just analytics data. It's just something I noticed that nobody seems to be talking about. The data in the request body could be used to identify a specific app installation, but in theory not a specific person or device. I am personally okay with this.

Using Charles Proxy on iOS, we can see what outbound requests the official Z CAM app is making: Z Cam iOS App

All three addresses shown are owned by Chinese corporations: = Huawei Cloud Service, Beijing (Source: WHOIS lookup) = Towngas Telecommunications, Hong Kong (Source: WHOIS lookup)      = China Mobile Communications Corporation (Source: WHOIS lookup)

A Gallery for Your Viewing Pleasure

Many of the things I've been shooting with the Z CAM remain unreleased as we work on two future episodes of this series. However, I do enjoy playing and have put together a little collection of sample footage:

I hope this blog entry has added some form of value to your life. Please drop me an email if you have any comments, or are looking to talk cameras.