A few weeks back I shared the contents of my camera bag. I’ve been asked, why it seemed to be missing a pretty critcal tool for filmmaking… a camera!
I didn’t forget or neglect to include a camera on the list. To be perfectly honest, I personally only own the afore mentioned Nikon D60 (Stills ONLY) and an old Panasonic GH2 (3yrs old but still kick’in!).
For most projects, I will typically borrow/rent a camera package. Why? Aside from personal budgetary constraints (I’d rather spend my money on other stuff, like a trip to Hawaii, than gear), I feel that – 1) the most valuable thing I can offer to any project/team is my knowledge and experience, not what camera I own and 2) each project is different and unique, what may work for one project may not work for another.
To highlight these points, I would like to share with you my methodology when choosing an equipment package. Please note that without proper context (like an actual script or treatment), it is difficult to create accurate and detailed gear lists, thus please view lists below as generalizations.
[Note: Links to vendors/companies are not endorsements but are merely for illustrative purposes.]
For low-budget projects, I prefer shooting on a smaller formats like Super16 (S16)or Micro Four Thirds (M4/3)
The primary reason is that I can budget for better lenses and a proper lighting package, which I feel are far more important than a specific camera make/model.
Here’s a short list of what my low-budget package would typically consist of:
- BlackMagic Micro/Pocket Cinema Camera
- I love the images from this lil’ camera. It’s a S16 format and has ability to record high-quality HD footage in ProRes or RAW.
- If 4k is required by a client (though I am not personally a big fan of 4k … yet), I prefer the GH4, which incidentally is close to a S16 format when shooting in UHD, but unfortunately uses a more compressed recording format (Inter-frame/LongGop h.264).
- Canon 6.6 – 66mm T2.7 Super16 Zoom
- The key to using smaller formats is to have a nice wide-angle lens. This Canon has that, approx. 13/14- 132mm Super35 (S35) equivalent. For more range, there is also the Canon 11-138mm T2.5 (22-270mm S35 equivalent).
- Alternatively, a set of nice prime lenses would be good too, my preferred set being the Zeiss Distagon Super Speed lenses (though for projects where I have no AC, I prefer zooms for their versatility and convenience).
- The beauty of the Super16/M43 format is that you can pair them with almost any lens. So, if the options above are too high for the budget, I can use Stills/Photo or even cheap C-Mount lenses, provided they can be modified (Canon 15-150mm is a good cheap zoom, 30 – 300mm S35 equivelent).
Things like a tripod, filters, etc would be a given. However, below are some specific items I would also try to include:
- Fiilex P360EX Lighting Kit
- If I had to choose one light it would be a hard source, preferably Fresnel. Why? Because, “you can always soften a light but you can’t make it harder.”
- What makes the Fiilex P360 EX so appealing is that it is a hard source, Bi-Color, come’s in a three-head kit, can be operated off batteries, and includes stands and diffuser.
- California Sun-Swatter
- When filming outside, controlling the sun can be very tricky, especially with a smaller crew. I’ve found this item to be very useful (as a smaller topper or as a bounce) and economic. It can operated by a single person or rigged to a stand.
For me, what differentiates a low-level camera from a mid-level camera is not necessarily image quality. Cameras like the BlackMagic Micro/Pocket or the countless DSLR/Mirror-less Hybrid cameras (Gh4, A7s, 5D’s, etc), are all capable of producing amazing images. Where they fall short is:
- Ergonomics ( form factor, built-in ND filters, etc )
- Professional Input/Output (SDI, XLR, TimeCode/Genlock, etc)
- Higher-end recording formats (Intra-frame/Low Compression) such as ProRes, XAVC-I, and/or RAW.
Issues above may be circumvented, to some degree, by using external recorders and mic preamps. However, I prefer a camera system that doesn’t need to “bolted together”.
Here’s a short list of what my mid-level package would typically consist of:
- Sony FS7
- This has been may main “go-to” camera as of late!
- For mid-level projects I prefer to shoot on S35 format. This is a more typical format and the one I most accustomed too.
- There are quite a few choices in this range (Canon C100/300, Sony FS5/F5, etc), however, the reason I gravitate to the FS7 is that it is very versatile – HD or 4k, Slow Mo (up to 180fps), time-lapse, and wide Dynamic Range.
- Another option I have not personally tried, but looking forward to soon, is the BlackMagic Ursa Mini 4.6k Camera. In terms of image quality and cost, it may be a good bridge between mid and high level.
- Zeiss CP.2 Primes or Zooms
- I have been using these lenses for years. They are good, robust, and reliable!
If the budget allows, I will always try to include at least one of these:
- ARRI M18(formerly ARRISUN 1.2k)
- This is one of my favorite lights to use. It’s bright, day-light balanced, and can be plugged into a standard outlet!
I have not personally had too many opportunities to shoot high-end productions (maybe more like higher-end, mid-level productions), so this will be more theoretical than material (personal experience).
Here’s a brief break-down of what my high-end package could possibly include:
- ARRI Alexa MINI
- I consider myself to be camera agnostic but … I love ARRI cameras!!! Of all the available systems, I think the Alexa line has to most pleasing IQ.
- The ALEXA MINI gives you the same superb image quality of a full size ALEXA but in a smaller package, including 4:3 (for “true” 2.0x anamorphic photography) and Open Gate modes.
- Anamorphic Lenses (or high-end spherical lenses)
- I am a big fan of anamorphic imagery (see my post , “Optical Process – Spherical vs Anamorphic”), if the project calls for it.
- The nature of the project should dictate the tools needed, not the other way around!
- When spec’ing out an equipment package, don’t forget about good lenses and lighting/rigging gear. These will have a more direct impact on final product then a specific camera model.