October 11, 2014

does gear matter?
It seems that often there are two kinds of filmmaker: the purist story tellers who don’t care about equipment at all, and the gear obsessed pixel peepers who spend all their time researching cameras. What can gear do for us as filmmakers, and more importantly: What can’t it do?

 

We live in a consumerist society, and this definitely reflected in filmmaking – we watch behind the scenes of big productions, and see the high end gear, while the companies that make that equipment use all their marketing skills to make us think we need that stuff. It’s pretty hard to avoid, so while I don’t want to contribute to the gear-craze, I think it’s important to think about how important equipment is in relation to the other aspects of filmmaking.

Check out this week’s dslrguide:

Ryan from Filmriot shows some great ways to get some dolly shots on the cheap! Learn to get cinematic dolly shots using a car, or a whole variety of household objects. And if you havn’t heard of Filmriot, they’ve got tons of great stuff on their channel! This is the video I mentioned at the very end of the episode, and I really like his controversial mindset about filmmaking.
Hear Vincent Laforet speak about the Canon 5D ii when it first came out. Years before the magic lantern raw hack, notice how highly he speaks of a 1080p 8 bit camera! This video (shot on a T2i) is a great example of how you don’t need expensive gear to get a cinematic look.
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Simon Cade

Filmmaker, and host of DSLRguide. Since I was making my first film age 11, I have always been fascinated by the way films are produced, and the effect it can have on the audience.

  • JakeAntonyBrown

    This is a very controversial topic, but I think you did a very good job.

  • Tom P

    I am looking at getting a Canon to use for filmmaking. I have been recommended a 70D. What is the validity of the argument to look for older models (such as the 7D) to learn the trade in a more purist style rather than getting too hung up about special features. I am not fussed about buying used/second hand. Part of me doesn’t want to get caught up in the consumerism of having the latest gear, but I would like a camera body that does the job, is sturdy and versatile. I already have access to some good EF/EF-s glass. What do you think? Is the 7D a good camera for filmmaking? What would your suggestion be? Thanks and keep up the good work@

    • The way I see it, is that all of the crop sensor canons, from the T2i to 70D are extremely similar. The 70D is the most different from the others, but for the much larger price tag, it’s not different enough. I always recommend the T3i (600D) since it’s a well known fact that Canon have been releasing ‘new’ crop sensor cameras with minute differences, just a new name + price. To me, the flip out screen on the T3i makes it more valuable than the 7D. But mostly it’s just the amazingly low price of the T3i, especially since it’s so amazingly similar in terms of video to all the other Canons. I had a T3i, and then a few years later bought a second one since the upgrades weren’t worth the extra price. Use the money you saved for audio + lighting gear, which will make a much bigger difference!

    • I agree with Simon, I bought a T5i because it was the same price as the T3i. I’m loving the dual camera (I have a T2i) and with the use of Magic Lantern and the lights Simon recommends , the videos are great! The best part is that i have the same color / temp / etc… in all my shots. Before I was borrowing a 5Dii and you can instantly tell the difference. Hope this helps.

  • I know this discussion is 8 months old but I would like to add my 2 cents.

    Experienced cinematographers/filmmakers, I’m talking the award winning type tell us that above all the story is the most important aspect of filmmaking. Then that usually follows with lighting techniques and stabilization gear. They evangelize that the recording mechanisms are not as crucial.

    However, these same professionals continue to use top of the line industry standard filmmaking equipment for their biggest productions. I’m talking gear that goes into the thousands, even millions of dollars. Obviously, what they evangelize isn’t the entire truth.

    Some of the factors are due to manufacturer endorsements. Some or due to the equipment being a requirement from the producer/director of the film. And some are due to the level of picture quality and dynamic range that the top of the line gear produces. It’s amazing no doubt.

    So it’s completely true, you can create a stunning film with a compelling narrative on consumer/prosumer gear. But that doesn’t mean the professionals are doing that.

    Take Philip Bloom for example. He reviews all types of cameras, from entry level to big budget cinema rigs. He’s even shot a short on a Galaxy Note 3, which turned out beautiful.

    However, for his films, he’s not using a smartphone or even a 5d mark III. He’s using the “big boy” toys.

    So just because these pros evangelize that you CAN shoot a film on a smartphone:

    https://youtu.be/6cBJZHm7Yss

    doesn’t mean these same professionals ARE when it comes to their resumes. There’s a hidden truth that quality is a huge factor that they aren’t telling us. In most situations, that type of gear is unobtainable to the average person. That could be a very discouraging message.

    Personally, I’ve been around a lot of gear from smartphones rigs to Reds. NO camera is perfect. ALL camera systems have weaknesses and strengths. For example, the Sony A7s. Incredible ISO reach. There’s nothing else like it. Embarrassingly horrible AF for its price tier. You definitely have to have another operator pulling focus if you need to track a moving subject.

    The trick is to know your camera and learn to technically fashion your story in a way that will highlight your camera’s strengths and work around it’s limitations. I see too many novice films in which the camera operater is trying to push their camera where it is weak. Often without a bigger purpose.

    Smartphones, even entry to mid tier Canons are not going to have good low light performance. Small sensors perform in this manner. Accept it. And then adapt and make sure you invest in a lot of additional lighting gear, and understand how to properly meter for your particular camera. Personally, I would rather crush the blacks than blowout the whites. So understand you are not going to have a wide dynamic range. Sacrifice in the right areas that fit the tone of your story.

    And let’s not forget sound. It’s 50% of a quality film. In fact, your audience will forgive the quality of the image before they would ever forgive the quality of the sound.

    If you’re looking at the price tier and crop factor of the t5i, I would instead look at Panasonic Lumix GH4 and the Samsung NX1, which both offer internal 4k and are highly rated. There’s nothing wrong with Canon, but they are currently a bit behind the modern curve. They have some catch up to do. You may outdate yourself quickly with Canon. You have to look at the total investment and make sure it has some longevity.

    • I’m right with you Matt – there definitely seems to be a double standard here. My theory is that the people who realise that story is all that matters end up successful and therefore easily able to afford the pro equipment. There comes a point where the budget is enough that you’d be crazy to turn down pro gear which does make things easier + superficially ‘better’ if you know how to use it. And yet I still believe those people could make a film that is 99% as good without the tech. Martin Scorsese with an phone is going to make a far better film than me with a Alexa. Simple as that:)

      I’m strongly considering being the person who doesn’t use pro gear, even for pro work. It’s really tempting to upgrade, but I’m going to keep my T3i for the long haul.

      It’s definitely a discussion worth having, thanks for weighing in!

    • I’m right with you Matt – there definitely seems to be a double standard here. My theory is that the people who realise that story is all that matters end up successful and therefore easily able to afford the pro equipment. There comes a point where the budget is enough that you’d be crazy to turn down pro gear which does make things easier + superficially ‘better’ if you know how to use it. And yet I still believe those people could make a film that is 99% as good without the tech. Martin Scorsese with an phone is going to make a far better film than me with a Alexa. Simple as that:)

      I’m strongly considering being the person who doesn’t use pro gear, even for pro work. It’s really tempting to upgrade, but I’m going to keep my T3i for the long haul.

      It’s definitely a discussion worth having, thanks for weighing in!

  • Song Peter

    Hey Simon, you should recommend the canon 70d.
    It’s what i’m using right now.
    I’ve used the 600d before, but it has terrible auto focus. the 70d is a super fast autofocus machine.

  • Alan Berg

    Hi Simon,
    I’d like to add that warranties are a must when it come to film equipment.
    I’ve had plenty of bad experience with buying used and I’ve learned it’s sometime better to have a companies guaranty over saving a few bucks.
    My favorite place to shop for new film gear is http://www.diyfilmtool.com the reason is that there customer service is bang on and within the last few years of buying gear from them I’ve never had to send anything back.
    Great job and keep the posts coming, they are worth the read every time ;)