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Let's Talk Film Equipment - Specifically Cameras (The 2013 Version)

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by Tambay A. Obenson
February 15, 2013 12:13 PM
15 Comments
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Long time readers will know that I do this once every year, right around this time. It serves several purposes, but, for me, your responses are very useful because I'm not I'm not one of those filmmakers who salivates at the thought of shooting with the newest, latest, greatest piece of video camera equipment. I know very little about what's current, and I'm perfectly OK with that.

So I rely on those of you who are gear-heads to keep me abreast of what the latest and the greatest are, especially as I embark on my own return to filmmaking for the first time in over 3 years. I'd like to know what's currently out there, because it seems every time I look up this stuff, there's something new coming out that filmmakers are excited about.

Suffice it to say that the technical aspects of filmmaking aren't my forte. When I need to shoot a film, I hire an experienced cinematographer, convey my wishes to them, and thus begins the conversation that continues throughout the production process.

Even though I've sung the praises of digital technology with regards to the production and consumption of film, I was trained with film cameras; thus, I'm much more comfortable with a wind-up Bolex in my hand than some prosumer Panasonic HDCam - even though I bought one last year (a Panasonic AG-HMC150), and have been toying with in my spare time, getting familiar with it.

There was some ambivalence on my part in purchasing it because of just how crowded the market appears to be! Tons of friggin' cameras to choose from that'll make a novice like myself's head spin. So, I'm curious to know what all you gear-heads out there are fiddling with these days - if it's changed year-over-year, or if you're still running with something you've been using for years. Are there any current, or upcoming cameras that really excite you, and that you can't wait to get your hands on, that the rest of us should be aware of.

Whether you're a dirtector, or a DP... school me! If you've already got a kit, tell me what's in your arsenal? Whether it costs $2,000 or $50,000 or more... or less. Maybe you're toting a RED around; Or you're rich, and you have one of those Arri Alexa digital cameras; Or maybe you're content shooting with the camera on your iPhone? Why not?

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15 Comments

  • K.C. | February 27, 2013 5:20 PMReply

    One comment I'll make specifically about the GH2 and GH3 (both I own) is that I chose them as a low budget documentary option because they specifically can shoot long interviews and get nice video (some of the interviews I like a somewhat shallow DOF). All other major DSLRs at the time could not shoot more than 15mins at a time without either overheating or reaching what I believe was a hardware limit on clip length. That was fine for narrative but not for long interviews of course. I was also shooting sync sound with a Zoom H4N recording unit. The GH2 was hacked to get a higher quality footage (the "Vanilla" hack they called it, more reliable). Never had a hitch except the occasional glitch with a SD card not being fast enough. The GH3 now has broadcast standard specs on it's highest resolution codec but I have only begun to play with it. I agree with pretty much all that was said. You don't sound like someone interested in hacking their camera so I might suggest the GH3 if you don't mind the ergonomics of shooting on a "DSLR - Like" camera (sync sound for best sound quality, no XLR inputs, handheld a little funkier, no zoom on most lenses except special Panasonic lenses with new zoom feature). In my mind if I was doing a low budget feature I might consider the Blackmagic Cinema. I like how they designed that and the software that comes with it is great. One more nice thing sometimes overlooked with the micro 4/3 format is the incredible flexibility of lens choice. Without the mirror box of a full size DSLR you can adapt many kinds of lenses to it (for use in manual only mode) with a cheap lens adapter. EOSHD.com is a good resource. Anything more expensive than these (for your type of described use) and you're better off renting I would think or hiring a DP with his own gear. Lot's of nice Sony cameras have come out recently but I'm sorely out of touch with what they have been putting out.

  • jpfilmz | February 17, 2013 1:14 PMReply

    Red is fine for a rental. It's very affordable and assessable. However the prices change up on those high end cameras that it's hard to justify a purchase. Red recently cut all their prices dramatically on their cameras. There is also the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, Panasonic GH2/GH3, the Canon C300/100, the Canon 1DC 4k dslr, the Canon 5D Mk3 and the Canon Ti lines. A good director can shoot fine video with all of the listed cameras and the audience more or less would not be able to tell a difference...provided you use the right glass. I'm currently using a Canon 7D modded with a Mosaic Engineering Anti Alias Filter. I am looking to upgrade, but with all the camera releases last year, I think I'll sit tight until the end of the year.

  • cinexa | February 16, 2013 4:34 PMReply

    Get what you can afford and start shooting. The world is wide open. The tools have been democratized. Remember its all about the story. I recently watched a webseries that was totally lame technically, but the story was such that I couldnt stop watching. We live in a world where good enough will get you to great. Dont believe the Hype! Crawl/Walk/Run...in that order.

  • pureego | February 16, 2013 1:10 AMReply

    I like my Canon T2i for now.

  • BluTopaz | February 16, 2013 6:27 AM

    Pureego, can I ask what you like about your camera? I have been considering the Canon T4i, I like the footage I've seen online but I don't know anyone personally who uses these cameras. I think Cybel Martin (sp) noted this Canon line in one of her posts, but I can't find it.

  • urbanauteur | February 15, 2013 2:58 PMReply

    In the final analysis, its NOT the camera BUT? whose behind it;-)

  • sergio | February 15, 2013 3:10 PM

    That is so true

  • sergio | February 15, 2013 2:42 PMReply

    I'm terribly still very old fashioned. I'll stick with 35MM

  • Justin W | February 15, 2013 2:49 PM

    Hahahahahaha

  • LeonRaymond | February 15, 2013 2:36 PMReply

    Arri Alexa then step down just a few very tiny inches and then it's the Red. Then step down a huge valley and it's all the others. Just talking from Experience !!

  • Barry | February 15, 2013 2:18 PMReply

    It's basically Alexa and RED EPIC and then everyone else in the also-ran category. If you specifically Tambay are going digital you may find yourself most comfortable with the Alexa, it's an emulsion camera in every way BUT the final capture medium, has the same heft and ergonomics that have been honed over decades of cinema camerawork. It renders textured tones and nuance in shadows that the RED doesn't match just yet, and is exemplary in post production when it comes to color grading and exposure latitude.

    This last part is important as its the one place the Alexa seems head and shoulders preferred over the RED EPIC, latitude. The EPIC gives you the advantage of having leeway in reframing shots in post, the image possible at 5K is more than we're capable of readily projecting, so you gain the ability to resize shots or even create dramatic zooms in post without much loss of image quality (and seemingly no loss compared to the Alexa's smaller max resolution, though this can be upped with an expensive add-on not likely on a smaller production). If you're on a run and gun shoot with the EPIC, a director with a solid pre-visualized plan could really get more bang for her buck if she knew ahead of time how she might augment the image in post: you can spend your time working with actors, on the blocking, then shooting 5K/24fps on the EPIC, make two camera placements where you might normally need four and, depending on what resolution you plan to finish at, 2K or 1080p, take a 50mm shot and from that single image create an 85mm close-up, a slight zoom from 50 to 85mm at a dramatic turning point in the scene (this works going wide to tight, not the other way around); if you're finishing 2:35, you could literally break the image in half, top to bottom, and do some interesting things with facial expressions versus body gestures on the bottom frame, etc.

    This is the quantum leap that digital imaging is ultimately going to make over emulsion, the resolution and lens technology becoming so vast that from a single image you can create multiple shots/angles with each falling within the threshold of a quality cinema image; this would be possible with film as well but the mechanical strain of filming and projecting anything beyond 70mm, which is difficult in and of itself, never proved feasible. Digital cameras, and the RED is a perfect example, are running along the same timeline as cell/smartphones: the day is coming when the "camera" will be nothing more than a chip affixed to the back of a lens (the quality of which seems finite, often lenses from the 60s and 70s prove the best match with these digital cameras), and how we light the image and what we do with it AFTER will be much more important than the camera used to acquire it.

    RED's resolution is only going to expand exponentially and while you trade off some things (the EPIC's over-cranking for one, as seen in House of Cards recently, pales in comparison to the smooth blur of the Alexa when shot at 48/120fps), the cost/quality ratio is unbelievably in favor of the filmmaker.

    All that said, you can make just about anything with these two cameras: everything Fincher and Soderbergh have done the last five years has been RED. DRIVE, MELANCHOLIA, ZERO DARK THIRTY, even SKYFALL were all Alexa.

    My personal opinion is that the Alexa is the better/best digital camera on the market, having used both extensively myself.

    Nothing wrong with having options though!

  • Darkan | February 15, 2013 5:19 PM

    Let's not forget that the dragon chip is gonna happen soon which will more than likely raise the bar!

  • Joe | February 15, 2013 2:12 PMReply

    BMC Magic Cam. No more H264 DSLR crap. See the user films: bmcuser.com/showthread.php?1981-Blackmagic-Showcase

  • Ben Je | February 15, 2013 1:36 PMReply

    Get a RED, period...

  • Darkan | February 15, 2013 1:50 PM

    Agreed BEN JE. Just shot my first feature. A cam was Epic and B cam was Scarlett. Movie looks like film. Glorious.

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