Written by Juan Abad
Believe it or not, filmmaking is still considered a new art form; debuting over a century ago with celluloid film and cameras that were hand cranked. It was a strenuous process to shoot and edit. Not to mentioned, expensive. Today, we are given so many capable options, it’s really hard to choose a camera between 2016-2018 and not have it perform well for most people. More cameras are introducing features such as: 4K, high bit-rate recording, 4:2:2 color space, bigger sensors that produce shallow depth of field, and options to record in flat picture profiles for optimal shadow/highlight retention. Even cell phone cameras produce great images that are waiting to be shared with the world. Hands down, this is the golden age of video camera technology.
You might think, “well sure, but the Alexa Mini is more capable than the consumer stuff. Why would I shoot with anything less?” True, higher-end models still offer more in terms of image quality and technical functionality. But it’s more than a one-person job; requiring a crew of knowledgeable camera operators, focus pullers, and more to utilize that camera to its fullest potential. The point is that you don’t need an Alexa Mini or a RED or a Canon C700 to create great content. If anything, you could create better content and more of it with low to mid-range equipment. Even with what’s in your pocket! It’s just a matter of learning how and when to use it.
Just a note…
The point of this blog post is to show that camera tech has come a long
way from the film days. Just about anyone can create content and distribute it. This
post is also to motivate those who are stuck on that “I need the best
equipment to make the best film, commercial, music video, wedding
highlight reel” mentality. You don’t need that, you need to plan your
projects and execute. Then you need to get out there and shoot!
Take a look at what’s available in the $3,000 and under price range, cameras like the Panasonic GH5 or the Sony A7S MK II offer a surprising list of features that cameras used in Hollywood only possessed. High bit-rate 4K in a relatively small form factor being one of the stand out features for the GH5. The full frame sensor of the A7S MK II offers not only beautiful shadow depth of field, but outstanding low-light performance. There’s a reason why people refer to the A7S MK II as “the camera that can see in the dark”.
On the DSLR side, the Nikon D500 is a fantastic camera that offers 4K recording. A camera that’s perfect for short interviews and cinematic B-Roll footage. Not to mention a great selection of lens for artistic angles and depth of field.
Low-range Cameras are Surprising Good…
Even low-range cameras such as the Panasonic G7 (a camera I use for a lot of interviews and B-roll) and the Sony Cybershot RX-III produce good image quality if in the correct situations. (Don’t use the Panasonic G7 in low light situations, unless you have a fast lens.) In controlled environments that include: lighting, audio, etc, these cameras can produce cinematic images that will take people by surprise when you tell them what you shot it with.
It’s really in this $700 - $1,500 price range that someone could start practicing the ins and outs of video production. Eventually learning the craft and creating something to share with the world.
Point and Shoot
We then go down to the Point and Shoot cameras. While limited to the lens built in the camera, you can still capture good video for general use or small projects that don’t require too much set up. The Canon Powershot G9x is a good camera with internal stabilization (IS) and 1080p Full HD video. These cameras are usually good for vloggers who don’t want the Casey Neistat set up and need a camera they can take anywhere. Keep in mind, these cameras won’t work for every application. If you want better audio capture, higher resolutions, and manual control of exposure, you’ll need to purchase additional accessories; adding weight to your setup.
Your Phone is Your Camera
But as the title of Chase Jarvis’ book says, “the best camera is the one that’s with you”. The camera on your phone is a good option if you are on a small budget or if you don’t want to deal with a bulky setup. Most cell phone cameras shoot at high resolutions that look great on a small screen. What’s great about content shot on your phone is the option to use mobile editing apps wherever you are. Apps like Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut provide editing tools to get your project from start to finish. Some phones also offer image stabilization. But if you do want to trick out your phone with video accessories, there are many phone rigs, lenses, and audio solutions that will increase the value of your production.
There are also feature films shot exclusively on an iPhone! (see Tangerine). If someone can make a camera phone work for them, surely you can too! Another example is my friend Casey Driver, who does the majority of his shooting/editing on his iPhone alone. Fortunately for him, he shares a lot of his content on social media. So to capture and edit everything on his phone is a great work flow. Everyone should possess that attitude; don’t worry about what equipment you’re using and just create something!
It’s important to note that the camera is not the only part of video production: lighting, audio, set design, actors, crew and more are all essential to the process. Without that, your production value of a project goes down, your message is lost, and the illusion your project is trying to achieve falls flat.
Well, not always…
The Dogme 95 Movement
If you never seen or heard of a Dogme 95 film, it’s because the movement was considered a “anti-Hollywood” response to the studios. Dogme 95 was led by filmmakers Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterburg. The essence of the movement was to bring film back into its storytelling roots; striping away artificial lighting, high-end camera technology, special video effects, audio in post-production, and more. Leaving the actors, locations, and story as the center pieces of the film. This may sound odd for those who’ve grown accustom to the way Hollywood tells a story. But Dogme 95 was truly artistic expression in a real world application. It empowered those to create a film regardless of what tools were at their disposal. The point was to tell a compelling story.
This is by no means to discredit the big name camera companies. They are used on Hollywood productions for a reason. The thing with higher end cameras is that they require a crew of operators and a ton of preparation. All of this slows down your production and limits how much you can shoot. You could potential miss shots because you’ve ran out of time on set. Or worse, you’re shooting an event. Then you’ll miss A LOT of opportunities. And that translates to sub-par content.
But what do you think? Would you still buy a RED if you could? Or would you stick with you Canon 5D MK.III? Let me know, yo.