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May 3, 2013

1080P is Better Than 4K (Or Why I Chose the Canon C100) with Ryan E. Walters

This is a guest post by Cinematographer Ryan E. Walters.

After many years of owning a wide range of camera systems, including a RED ONE and an EPIC, I decided to sell it all and rent. So for the past three years I have been exclusively renting cameras on a per project basis, that is, until recently when I made the plunge and bought the Canon C100. Little did I know how many eyebrows and questions it would raise when I posted a picture on Facebook. Here is why I chose a 1080p, 4:2:0 camera over a 4k RAW camera.

Reason 1: It Is The Craftsperson, Not The Tool, That Matters

I am a firm believer that it is the talent behind the lens that matters most, not the camera. I want to surround myself with people and productions who value the craft more than the tech. When was the last time you hired a carpenter and asked what brand hammer he was using? Or what brush the painter used on the oil painting you bought? Or how about the contents of this blog -- does it matter if I am writing it on a Mac, PC, iPhone, or Android?

What matters most is the craft that goes into delivering results that are appropriate for the project at hand. The people who get that, and have those values, are the ones who I work with. I'm not a monkey pushing buttons on a camera.

The C100 is a tool that checks off enough of the boxes that are important to me in owning a camera system. It is far from perfect, but it is a capable camera system that will allow me to create the images I want.

Reason 2: I'm Not A Rental House

While I do rent equipment on the side to generate additional income, the tools I buy are the ones I use frequently. I am not interested in owning everything, nor am I interested in worrying about making a camera work every month in order to make it pay for itself. Instead, I would rather choose the appropriate tool for the job, and not force a camera onto a shoot just because I own it and need to make a payment. For example, last year I chose the Alexa, Epic, Canon C300, Sony FS100, and the Canon 5D MKII & MKIII to shoot different spots for Adidas. Each tool was appropriate for that specific application.

With the instant $1,000 rebate on the C100, I felt that it came in at a price point that allows me to own a camera system objectively without forcing me to choose it due to financial reasons. (Although at $5,500, I think the camera is still about $1,000 over priced for the features it offers...). But I can't complain too much. Within a week of buying it, it is already going out on rentals that it is a good fit for. And with no payments on it, that is a great feeling!

Yes there is a 5D in there somewhere...

Reason 3: Some Tools Are Easier To Use Than Others

A 4k camera for $4k sure does sound appealing; I can't deny that. However, the truth is that in order to get that camera to play nicely on an actual shoot it has to be outfitted with external batteries, audio adapters, and other accessories. So the cost is more than $4k. (The same can be said of DSLRs). As cameras get smaller and smaller, my frustrations with them grow.

The C100 comes in a form factor that works straight out of the box, with real professional, industry standard connections (1/4" is great for mics & guitars... XLR is for video), and even an included microphone. (Not that the on camera mic is good for anything other than natural sound/scratch track). I don't have to buy any accessories to make it work on a shoot if I don't want to. Instead, the accessories I buy will be for my own needs and style of working.

Reason 4: I'm Not Interested In Hype, I'm Interested In Reality

Reality check: 4k is not here, nor will it be for at least 5-10 years. Camera manufacturers and sales people love to play on our insecurities and want us to buy into their 4k and beyond hype machine. It is how they make their money -- selling us new technology. If you were at NAB this year, 4k was everywhere, just like 3D was everywhere last year. (And 3D was nowhere to be seen at NAB this year... but I doubt 4k will disappear like that).

However, I found it interesting that out of all of the booths displaying 4k content, NONE of them had it next to 1080p content for a side-by-side comparison. To me that is very telling. When we made the transition from SD to HD, the show floor was FULL of SD and HD comparisons and it was easy to tell the difference on the same sized screen. THX even states that most people will not see a benefit of 4k content on a 50" screen, which supports the claims of this chart: 1080p Does Matter, Here's When. So for the vast majority of end viewers and clients, all that 4k does is add overhead, expense, and complication without any real reward.

By the time the marketing machine has gotten us all to succumb to our insecurities and upgrade our tech to 4k, it will be light-years ahead of where it is today. And that will be the time to make the switch. Today's 4k+ cameras will not be able to compete with what is next. When 4k is a reality, I HIGHLY doubt that Adidas, Autodesk, or Nike will be wanting to have their 5+ year old commercial remastered in 4k. They will be on to new marketing campaigns shot with the newest cameras/tech available.

This is NOT to say that 4k doesn't matter; it does. Especially at origination of the recorded image. A 4k image down sampled to 1080p will have more detail in it than a straight 1080p image. This is where the brilliance of the C100 comes into play. The C100 has the SAME 4k sensor as the C500 and C300. So I am getting the same performance as their $26,000 camera at 1/5 the price without the added expense or complication that 4k brings with it on set or in post.

Reason 5: Protecting Vision Is Important

While I have to admit that I like working with RAW 4k images (I did own a Red after all), it is a double-edged sword. The proliferation of affordable camera tools and post tools means that a lot more people can play with and manipulate footage. This is GREAT when working with people who care about the quality of the finished image, and who work with you to get the most out of it.

This same power can be disastrous when people who think they know something start playing around with reframing and grading the images, destroying what I have worked hard to create. I have been burned on projects by people who have done just that -- poorly reframed images & poorly graded them.

In an industry where you are only as good as your last project, this can have a real negative impact on your career. Which is why I am now selective about whom I work with. (And I'm not alone, other cinematographers on CML have expressed facing these same problems).

The compressed footage, and the fact that the C100 only outputs a 1080p file means that there is a lot less that can be done in post to drastically change what was shot. Another upside of the compressed format is that it keeps me honest while shooting. I have to be much more precise in what I do as I have less flexibility in post if I screw up -- I HAVE to be on my A-Game at all times, and I like the discipline that it reinforces in my work.

Comparison of Dynamic Range Of Various Camera Systems

Reason 6: Dynamic Range In Over Exposure Latitude Is Important

The smaller the production's resources, the more important the overexposure latitude becomes in the camera choice. The smaller that range, the more work has to be done on set to protect the highlights by bringing up ambient levels on the set. (Or a compromise has to be made by letting them clip). That is one of the major reasons why the Alexa is my favorite cameras to shoot on. With ~7 stops of overexposure latitude, it is hard to clip highlights, and even when they do clip it is more pleasant than other camera systems.

The RED ONE MX and the EPIC-X*, on the other hand, have ~5 stops of overexposure latitude. While this is a lot better than previous cameras, the headroom is not the same, nor is the roll off as pleasant as the Alexa. (As demonstrated by my extreme test). The Blackmagic Cinema Camera also has a similar overexposure latitude, as does the C300 and C100 (and presumably the C500, but I haven't tested it). So if all of the cameras have the same overexposure latitude, then I do not see a reason to jump on the 4k+ bandwagon just to be cool. All I am gaining is additional expense/work on set and in post.

I wish that the C100 had more overexposure latitude, but at least it doesn't have less than the other "affordable" options out there.

*I realize that the EPIC-X has HDR-X. However, I have yet to see an implementation of it that I personally like. Furthermore, it adds extra hassle and potential for BIG problems in post. See Reason 5 above.

Reason 7: Low Light Performance Is Important

Cameras these days can see more in the dark than our eyes can. The ability to work with and shape existing light on an exterior night location should not be overlooked, especially when working with a small crew. When a camera performs well in low light, it becomes more about removing light than adding it. And that directly translates into smaller setups, smaller power requirements, smaller everything. (Side note: I'm really interested in testing out and working with the F5 & F55 for this very reason).

This is where the C100 really shines over the RED MX, EPIC-X, and the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. Coming from the pedigree of the C300 sensor, the C100 allows for astonishing clean imagery at EIs (A.K.A. ISOs) of more than 3200.

Yeah, but the C100 is only 8 bit 4:2:0...

Yep, it sure is. One of the huge takeaways I had from participating in Zacuto's Revenge Of The Great Shootout is that today's 8-bit 4:2:0 is not the same as when it first came onto the market. Now it doesn't come close to 16 bit 4:4:4 imagery, but if it is shot correctly, it can be graded well, delivering beautiful results. And, as a craftsperson, I should be skilled at choosing AND using tools that are appropriate for every job.

When I do find that I need a 4:2:2 color space (for green screen, or other VFX), then I can always add a Ninja 2. And if I find myself on a project that needs more than that -- then I can rent a better tool for the job. This is the beauty of owning an affordable camera system. See Reason 2. :)

Yeah, but the C100 only shoots up to 30p at 1080...

Correct. :) That is why I think this camera should be priced at $4,500. After all, even cameras like the AF100 can shoot in variable frame rates up to 60 fps in 1080p. This is a major oversight by Canon. I think they are working too hard at protecting their higher end cameras. The sensor is capable of 60 fps at 1080p. Why cripple it, other than to make more money?

This is when I have to realistically evaluate the work I do. While I would love to have 60 fps at 1080p, I don't shoot a lot of high-speed work. And when I do shoot high-speed work, it tends to be around 100-120 fps, which means I'm renting anyway. So while this is a downside for the camera, it isn't one that will impact me significantly.

The Bottom Line

Is the C100 the end all, be all camera? Not even close. I like it, and it will allow me to do what I need for the money I spent. If you haven't caught on by now, let me say it clearly -- I'm not interested in being a fan boy who is entrenched in one camera system or platform. The end all, be all camera doesn't exist. There isn't one camera system that fits every situation. It is about knowing the camera and using it effectively. After all it is just a tool.

What are your thoughts? Am I completely crazy, or only partially? ;) Why did you choose to buy the camera you have? Or have you chosen to continue to rent?

This post originally appeared on Ryan’s Blog.

Link: 1080p is better than 4k. (Or Why I Chose The Canon C100) -- Ryan E. Walters


Ryan E. Walters is an award-winning Oregon-based cinematographer. His work has allowed him the opportunity to travel worldwide in the pursuit of telling stories that are visually compelling. His experience includes feature films, documentaries, commercials, and shooting for Comcast, TLC, Oxygen, and the Discovery Channel.

Your Comment

320 Comments

He's got some great points. He actually sold me a little more on the C100 than I had been. Still, I am not running out to purchase it.

May 3, 2013

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Harry Pray IV

Thanks. :) A point of clarification- I'm NOT trying to sell the C100. It is only one choice of many capable tools that I use. I'm just sharing why I decided to buy one. :)

May 3, 2013

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I know. I don't mean literally sell. Though, if I were you, I'd have interjected the same disclaimer as well. Thanks for your tests and blog, Ryan. I know I'm listening intently to your posts and loved your BMCC, Red Epic, and Alexa comparson test. The IR part was particularly useful.

May 6, 2013

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Harry Pray IV

Great post, Ryan. I agree completely with Reason 1 - people have become obsessed with the tools sometimes to the detriment of the craft. You make a compelling case for the C100. I haven't used it yet, but I'll give it a whirl.

May 3, 2013

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Thanks. :) It is a nice tool that works well for a lot of projects. But not everything. :)

May 3, 2013

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Reality: Hollywood produces the most expensive crap nowadays. Great visuals but terrible acting, casting, storytelling etcetra.

The amount of crap in cinema today is mindboggling.

Just look at this scifi short movie. Made by 1 guy. Best scifi i've seen in years.
https://vimeo.com/57148705

Or this beautifully shot,edited,graded short docu/portrait on a Canon 550 D
https://vimeo.com/63626357

'A talented musician also will sound great on a old cheap guitar'

May 3, 2013

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Paul Jay

Great point Jay. :) And I think that fits along the line of what Steven Soderberg was touching on in his state of cinema speach: https://vimeo.com/65060864

May 3, 2013

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Sorry but I disagree regarding R'ah. Accomplished VFX but far too much expository dialogue ('show, don't tell') and anaemic CGI. That might be more taste but film, for me, is sets/locs, H&M, wardrobe, props, and talent. It's a collaborative process, and that's excluding the screenplay and crew. Certainly CGI has its place but it should always service the writing. Watching Toy Story, I'd forgotten within mins, because I was absorbed by the plot. Watching R'ah, I was acutely aware it was all CGI. As I said, it was a technical accomplishment. But as a film, it didn't hold me.

May 5, 2013

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Sasso Palmieri

That hammer analogy really doesn't apply to cameras. Technology matters. It's why there is such hype about these new low cost cameras with such great DR. If the camera didn't matter we'd all be shooting on camera phones. It will never matter more than story though!

I think a better argument might be: "Use the right tool for the job and for most of my day to day general use the C100 is the right tool, hence I bought it."

I do however agree that we shouldn't buy into the 4K hype. I recently finished a film on the Alexa (1080P Prores 422). 1080P from a decent camera is mind-blowing.

May 3, 2013

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MWL

That would be my thoughts, too.
We should stop thinking technology vs creativity. They just need to go hands in hands.
A better camera for a good story can support the story better than a lower-quality camera. So good quality will alway be better, even if you're after a special lo-fi look, but that's a specific case.

The thing we should probably balance more is all the other aspects of a camera aside image quality and resolution: form factor, portability, audio, monitoring accuracy, battery life, etc.
There are even situations where shooting with a RED would be impossible due to the reactions of people in the street, so a DSLR would be the only option...

May 3, 2013

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Yep- it is about choosing the best tool for each job, and not just choosing one tool because you own it, or buy into the hype around it. :)

May 3, 2013

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Fair enough. :) It is also why I backed up what I said with my real world example of shooting commercials for Adidas on 5 - 6 different camera systems. Some VERY high end, others not so much. :)

May 3, 2013

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You will never get me to pay again several thousands for a camera with block artefacts on film

May 3, 2013

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Eric

Cool. That's why there are choices, and why I LOVE options. :)

May 3, 2013

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I completely agree. I shoot with the C100 all of the time, because it's great for a lot of my work. Now the past two days I've been shooting with a rented Epic package because the job called for a camera with its capabilities and form factor. I think it's important to understand the technology that's available so you can make the best camera choice to suit the needs of the job.

May 3, 2013

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Nicely done. :) And to me that shows your professionalism- choosing the right tool for the right job. It's what we do. :)

May 3, 2013

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People own gear and tell everybody how great it is...nothing new.

May 3, 2013

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hansd

Perhaps they own the gear because it's great and it is not great simply because they own it.

May 3, 2013

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That is also a valid point. :) Although with all of the camera hype these days, I wonder how true that is ... I see a lot of people in my area buying cameras based off of hype rather then reality, and all it does it put them into massive debt and their work isn't any better ...

May 3, 2013

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But that is kind of the opposite of my points in this article. The C100 is only one camera, one choice among many. I like what it does for the money, but it doesn't force me into using it because I own it. Making a choice based purely on ownership is short sided in my opinion. :)

May 3, 2013

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lol.

Not a tech person but own every camera possible, and writing a whole article on why this gear is great.
And, by the way, you can be bot craftmen and techmen. Thinking you must one or another is a mistake.

If technology doesn't matter, keep shooting in DV, or in film ( wich is great, of course)
If every project is different and have differents needs, why did he come here to talk about this cam specifically.

Tool in cinema is important. The possibility in story telling comes also with the technology.

Rethink about that for agriculture.

May 3, 2013

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Awesome- congrats. Glad you have the business model to support owning every camera. :) That is a great place to be in. :)

You are correct- it is important to be both a technician and a craftsperson. :) See reason #3. And if you take a look at my blog, ( http://www.ryanewalters.com/Blog/blog.php ) you'll see a lot of highly technical articles. :)

But I think today, we focus on the tech to the detrement of the craft. Which is why my first two points are more about craft, and I end the article talking about craft. :)

May 3, 2013

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I like your post mate, the c100 is one of the most underrated cameras out there, I do agree however with the price needing to be 1K lower.

May 3, 2013

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Thanks. :) Yeah $4,500 feels about right for what this camera offers. (Or lacks ...)

May 3, 2013

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A used fs100 with a matte box and filters is a better deal than a c100 at the moment.

May 3, 2013

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No doubt. There are better deals to be had, and if that is your preference, jump on it. :) That was another camera I was considering, however two things turned me away from it and to the C100:

1. Built in ND. While 90% of the time I have a matte box and ND on me, having the option to go ultra small and still have ND control was important to me.

2. The bigger factor for me was color science. Straight out of the box, I like how the skin tones are on Canon cameras better then Sony cameras. (And I've own both.) This is purely a personal preference- both make great images. :)

May 3, 2013

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I agree that built in ND is defiantly a plus over the FS100, but I got it for half the price of a C100 and it does 60FPS.

May 3, 2013

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May 3, 2013

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Dan

Thanks for sharing that- great write up. :)

May 3, 2013

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I agree. I have similar reasons for having bought and stuck with the FS100.

May 3, 2013

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Tom

Awesome. :) Congrats on your purchase. :)

May 3, 2013

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Very interesting article. I also feel that there is no "One Cam Fits All" but without an unlimited budget I have found that I often have to work with what I have. I still often shoot with a Canon GL2 in SD as a backup because I still haven't found a camera as versatile for under 5k. It really must be replaced, however, and I have been searching for a suitable replacement.
I was thinking about moving into the 4k space with either a Black Magic Production Cam or JVC GY-HMQ10 but now I'm not so certain. So the search continues for a camera that will fit my needs.

May 3, 2013

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Good luck on your search- that is the tough part- finding something that will meet your needs at a price point you are willing to pay. :)

The Blackmagic Production camera will not come in under $5,000, unless you only plan on shooting with the internal battery, the monitor on the back, no audio adapter, and you already have the lenses. If that is your plan and it works for your needs Great! But if you are expecting it to function like the GL2, then you may be disapointed when it comes time to buy the accessories ...

May 3, 2013

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Yes, you are completely crazy. Placing value on the technical ability of a camera and good craft are not mutually exclusive.

May 3, 2013

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Ant

Glad to know I'm completely crazy. :)

You are correct, the two are not mutually exclusive. :) And that is why the first part & last part of my article is about the craft, and other parts focus on the tech. Obviously I could have done better to emphasize that point. :) (Check out the rest of my blog, as I have a lot of highly technical posts on there- tech matters ...)

However, I think we in the film industry, and especially us camera geeks, get too focused on the tech to the detriment of the craft.

May 3, 2013

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So then why are you even talking about 4k vs 1080?

May 3, 2013

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MD

I'm pretty sure that not everyone using a Red feels like a monkey pushing buttons. Just sayin.

But yeah, the c100 is less expensive and smaller, easier to handle, I'm sure. But better? If less expensive and smaller means better, then it is better. 'Better' is in the eye of the beholder.

I'd like to see the best 1080p from the c100 compared to this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYYYT48Iv_c

May 3, 2013

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Gene

But it's true, 1080p does look great. And for the money it's better. Just about anyone can afford 1080p. And 1080p is in its heyday now. But there's nothing to sustain that heyday, especially with the Sony 4k tv coming out in a couple weeks. Once people walking through Best Buy see the 4k picture they will be anxiously waiting for the day when 4k tvs come down in price and tv shows and movies are available in 4k.

4k cameras will eventually come down in price and be in a smaller, easier to handle unit, like the c100. No one will use 1080p then.

But for now, yeah, 1080p looks absolutely fantastic, even in the GoPro Black at 60fps:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPr32OYuEmo

May 3, 2013

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Gene

Opps, this was done in the HERO2, not the Black. This is a Black, 1080p, 60fps. I really like how the sun and shade looks on the dirt:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFTwaf3iBjU

May 3, 2013

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Gene

that video is boring

May 3, 2013

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Peter Kelly

The one in 4k from Jacob Schwarz? Did you click on "Original" in the quality button and wait for it to download?

May 3, 2013

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Gene

I did. Watched it in "original" on a 1440p monitor, and was completely underwhelmed.

May 3, 2013

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Brian

no because i dont have a 4k monitor, its pretty but its just flowers, the music is slow and dull, its too long. I turned off halfway through.

May 3, 2013

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Peter Kelly

From the other comments listed, it is easy to tell that there is more to our craft then just the tech. Great tech doesn't automatically make for a great end result. (I think the movies coming out these days are a great example of this ...)

Also, keep in mind what I said in Reason 4- 4k does help in the origination of the image. (A 4k image down sampled to 1080p is "better" (has more detail) then a straight 1080p image.)

May 3, 2013

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So you're just saying that because of cost, less cumbersome to use, and familiarity with the C100, are the reasons you're not going 4k at this time.

May 3, 2013

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Gene

I'm not going 4k due to all of the reasons I listed above in the article.

I have shot, and will shoot on camera systems that shoot at all kinds of resolutions depending on the needs of the production. It is about the story, the craft, and the needs of the production. I use it when appropriate, not just because it is "cool" or the hype of the tech ... in the end it all gets delivered to 1080p ...

May 3, 2013

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My point wasn't that people who shoot on Red are monkey's, (I know I don't feel like a monkey when I'm shooting on one.) you missed the point. My point was that it is the craft that matters- if it is ALL about the tech, then anyone behind a camera becomes just a monkey pressing buttons, and will be replaced. :)

May 3, 2013

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Um, did you even read the article? He said it was good for what he was normally shooting and if he had to do slow motion and intense color correction he would get a different camera for those shoots. Finding shots that a camera is not designed to make is pointless. This is like me complaining that my Gopro doesn't do good interviews.

May 3, 2013

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Kian

Wish you would have posted this one of Jason's instead Gene http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_okcNVZqqI

...mostly because I helped with it... :P

May 3, 2013

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Dan

Nice article!

The C100 is overpriced but it's fun to shoot with it. I can rent a package for about €100 a day. And yes, it can do slowmo. Check out my C100 slow motion test:

Youtube
http://youtu.be/mZp3_KVPCGg

Vimeo
http://vimeo.com/56285688

May 3, 2013

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Bryan Arnold

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