Choosing a Camera

*With our daily views at an all-time high, more people are tuning in to WatchMeMakeaMovie.com than ever. Thank you for your support! Speaking of support, check out the nifty new Kickstarter link on the side bar to the right. Please donate to our film today! If we don't meet our goal, there won't be any movie to watch me make! One of the most popular questions I'm asked in regards to making this movie is what type of camera we'll use to shoot it. Many filmmakers are often curious and anxious to know what type of camera will yield the most professional look, or the most classically cinematic, or boast the most current technology. So what camera do I think an independent filmmaker should use?

Short answer: Use the camera you have available.

Long answer: This will likely lead to an excuse for spending money on a better camera, so if anyone out there is embarking on making a movie, stop reading and use whatever camera you've got or can get for free!

There is such a wealth of amazing, low-cost movie cameras out there now. From iPhones to consumer-grade DSLRs, truly anyone can achieve an appealing aesthetic for not a whole lot of money. In many ways, these simple machines are just as good, if not better, than pro-grade equipment from even ten years ago. The trouble is that just as the low-end cameras got better, so did the high-end ones. As the high-end machines started integrating things like variable frame-rates, low-light capabilities,  and the ability to mix sound directly in-camera, filmmakers standards for what one needed to make a good movie changed... Or rather, was misguided.

It is absolutely true that these technical capabilities of the higher-end cameras make a world of difference in the production workflow and in the final picture. But, that only matters to a point. If the action on-screen is good, and the use of the camera is dynamic, people will enjoy your movie. If everything is in focus (which is actually harder to ensure with some cameras), then all people care about is what the actors are doing and what the camera is seeing.

So, if money is tight as it usually is in independent film. Make the camera choice based on economics. Now, those economics are not limited to the price of the camera package itself. If you get a 35mm anamorphic setup for free, you better budget tens of thousands of dollars for film, processing, dailies, labor, etc. Conversely, if you use a Canon 7D HDSLR because it retails for $1,700, be sure you budget for a phenomenal support rig, a worthy focus-puller, and a colorist that can really push the envelope in terms of aesthetic.

In deciding on what camera  to use, I first addressed my priorities. There was a few things to consider:

  • Cost
  • Picture Quality
  • Ease of mobility and manpower required
  • Post-production workflow (editing and color)

The Red One is a state-of-the-art digital camera with phenomenal image quality, light sensitivity, design, and function. Additionally, it records in a RAW format, which basically means there is a lot of latitude in post-production as far as tweaking the image's color and exposure. I used a Red to shoot my short, Pretty Happy. It was nothing short of awesome. As you may remember from an earlier post, I had a camera package donated to the project. It was a complete Red One Camera package with all the trimmings...and it was free. About two months later, that "camera angel" sold the camera. Poof! No more free camera!

My next and immediate thought was that I would shoot the film on an HDSLR. many successful low-budget films have been shooting on the Canon 5d and 7D with great success. These are still cameras with interchangeable lenses that can also record movies. They are lightweight, relatively inexpensive, and the picture looks pretty darn good.

Despite the reasonable alternative of shooting on an HDSLR, it turns out Passing Harold Blumenthal will be shot on a Red One camera after all. It just so happens that my Cinematographer has one in his closet. Convenient, right? What was lost is now found. What goes down must come up. With a little bit of luck and circumstance, the camera I have at my disposal just so happens to be the camera I wanted to use in the first place. Will it make my movie better? Probably not. But the way we use it will make it better, and the ease of using it will, too. Not that everyone will care. After all, Aaron Sorkin didn't win an Oscar because they shot The Social Network on a Red.

So, we are shooting Passing Harold Blumenthal on a Red. That's just how the cards fell. I wouldn't waste too much time agonizing over what you use. Grab the camera closest to you and go make your movie.