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Camera gear choice for a short film - James Milner-Smyth

Camera gear choice for a short film

I was asked the other day by a non-technical friend, a writer/actor starting out in directing,

“What camera gear should I use for making a short film?”

This is what I told them, trying to keep the technical chatter simple.

Who will shoot it?

You generally find the person/DOP you want to shoot your film first.

Then once they know how much money can be spared and what the vision/parameters are THEY should suggest what THEY think is best within your budget.

The days when there was a huge gulf between film and video are gone. Nearly all current cameras are capable of giving you enough of a decent image that you can grade in post to bring up to scratch.

But what you can’t rescue in post are framing, soft focus, movement, depth-of-field, lens characteristics (flare, aberrations), etc.

But to give you an idea ahead of that meeting, here are the sorts of parameters they will be looking at on the camera side.

What size screen is the best it will be seen?

(Internet only you can get away with absolutely anything. Cinema screen youd like to have 10 bit recording ideally. Bits being more important than resolution really. This sort of knocks out most DSLRs bar some)

Is 4K an actual requirement or a desire?

(The cameras regarded as the “best”- Arri – don’t actually achieve 4K currently on paper, but still look fabulous)

Do you need slow-motion/overcranking?

(Only some cameras can do that at the max resolution)

Is there a lot of action, movement, camera movement?

(DSLRs with large CMOS sensors mostly have a rolling shutter effect that can be distracting for fast movement action)

Do you need to shoot “guerilla style”?

(An Arri with accessories will need more than just a one-man crew and will stick out a mile.)

Will you be running around a lot on location and as a director do you still want to see what is being filmed?

(You will probably need wireless monitoring plus an extra person to look after that side of things as they are painful to set up and unreliable).

Do you want to be on a gimbal for fluid motion?

(A lightweight gimbal with a DSLR can be operated by 1 person but an Arri needs a bigger gimbal and then it’s too heavy to operate for long so you need an Easyrig etc)

Do you want to shoot Scope (Anamorphic)?

(The true filmic anamorphic look, as opposed to just cropping the image in letterbox, needs special lenses which are harder to use and tend to only work with mid to high cameras).

Do you need to shoot at night or in low-light environments with little additional lighting?

(The 4K cameras tend to be less sensitive, while bizarrely some new DSLRs are amazing at night)

What is your camera department budget per day?

  1. DSLR with lenses and accessories run from free with someone who owns them to up to £200 per day. The DSLRs currently being used are the Sony A7SMk2, the Panasonic GH4 and soon to be released GH5
  2. Midweight camera with OK lenses and accs £200 to £400 per day. Here I would put the Sony FS7 and the Blackmagic  Ursa Mini 4.6K. The chance to use classic PL lenses such as Cooke Speed Panchros though could push the budget into the upper end.
  3. Full Digital Cinema camera with cinema lenses can run from £400 to £2000 plus per day.  Here the Arri Alexas and the Red cameras, along with the Sony F55 are the ones. They also allow for using anamorphic lenses more easily, and will need skilled crew including camera assistants who can pull focus. You’d also need good insurance cover.

My personal view is that you could shoot something that looks unbelievably Epic with a Guerilla style setup like this:

1. Ronin-M gimbal

2. Sony A7s Mark 2 (using Cine gamma not S-log as it is only 8-bit recording)

3. Zeiss Batis Lenses for sharpness, or Canon FD lenses (with and adapter to E Mount) for more classic softness.

That would be less than 300 per day and lots of operators have that sort of kit anyway so you may be able to get them and their kit as a package. You’d probably need a wireless follow focus such as an RT Motion though and a focus puller when working with a large sensor camera on a gimbal, although I’ve been amazed at the autofocus on the Zeis Batis lenses.

And of course you could find all that kit across the uk for hire on MyKitPlace.com

Upwards of that kit you get diminishing returns.

 

LIGHTS

Unless you are going completely dogma/guerilla/au naturel you will need lighting, and this can go from some LED panels for £20 each upwards ad infinitum.

SOUND

Sound should be treated separately and if you have dialogue  I reckon it’s best to bite the bullet, get a soundie with their own kit and record separately and sync later. Soundies with kit are around £300 to £400 per day.

Of course it is totally possible to get a rifle mike, a boom and a Zoom recorder and get someone else to do it. But if the sound is poor it is WAAAY more noticeable than a dodgy picture. Our eyes get used to soft or grainy or scratchy images, but our ears don’t get used to poor sound.

 

Many may disagree with this camera gear choice but as of the beginning of 2017, that’s my advice.

 

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