July 5, 2013

Different Camera for Every Project? DP Timur Civan on the Role Genre Plays in Choosing a Camera

Timur CivanEverything in life has its purists. There are Mac purists and PC purists -- vinyl purists and people who hate music (kidding.) In the filmmaking world, there are plenty of things to be a purist about, especially when it comes to cameras. (Canon and Nikon might as well be the Hatfields and McCoys.) But cameras, as well as almost every tool we use, have their advantages and disadvantages, and understanding which tools work best in certain situations is something that DP Timur Civan has learned to do. In a recent interview, Civan explains how making a decision on which camera to use depends less on prices or reviews, and more on the context of your material.

Timur Civan worked with Vincent Laforet on the intro video of the MōVI. The footage was jaw-dropping for 2 reasons: how smooth it was and the great cinematography. Civan is known for using experimental equipment, like when he used a 102 year old lens (1908 Wollensak Cine-Velostigmat f5) on a 5D MarkII to get some beautiful images, showing, at least to me, that the artist creates art, not the tools.

He recently sat down with Filmmaker Magazine and answered questions about the decisions he has made as a cinematographer, starting with his studies of sculpture and video at NYU and shooting projects on a little DVX100. The thing to take away from the interview, in my opinion, is Civan's openness to incorporate an array of new and different equipment into his projects -- treating cameras like stylistic options rather than a be-all and end-all in quality. Check out his cinematography reel below to get a feel for his style:

He mentions that since camera rentals are getting cheaper, your choice of camera isn't governed as much by what's least expensive. So, without money, or lack thereof, getting in the way, filmmakers may choose a camera based on what it itself brings to the table. Civan says he looks for flexibility, but that's not all. It depends on what his project calls for.

I own an Epic. The reason I bought it is that it’s very flexible, so it can accomplish pretty much everything. If I was shooting a science fiction film, I’d definitely use the Epic because it’s super sharp and clean. Prometheus and many other films have been shot on Red. But if I was to shoot a western or a dramatic piece or something period, I would possibly go with an Alexa for its nostalgic look. It just depends on the context of the material.

I may not be a camera purist, but I am in other areas of my life. For instance, there is no possible way for anyone to convince me that Zildjian doesn't make the greatest cymbals in the world. My K series splash sounded better than a thousand reincarnations of John Bonham drumming on Sabians made of Keith Moon's hopes and dreams. (Which is ironic because Bonham was a Paiste man -- and so was Moon for the most part.)

But the fact is, sometimes certain cymbals are better for a certain style of music, whether it's jazz, rock, or whatever. The same goes for film. Different cameras, lenses, and film capture subtleties that others don't. They capture their own mood or look. Being a purist about what you use only limits you as an artist. Civan says, "Sometimes a project needs a 5D, sometimes it needs an Alexa, sometimes it needs an Epic." I'd even say that sometimes it needs a dinky point and shoot. It all depends on what mood you're trying to set.

Not convinced? Check out the footage Civan captured with that ancient Wollensak lens. Can a lens be more outdated and obviously unequipped with the latest technological advances?

What are your thoughts on using different cameras in different genres?  Is there a camera that has never steered you wrong in any project? Are there cameras that you use specifically for different genres? Let us know in the comments.

Link: Which Camera for Which Genre? Five Questions for D.P. Timur Civan -- Filmmaker Magazine

Your Comment

19 Comments

This reminds me of Shane Hurlbut likening each camera and its sensor to a different film stock. I think he calls them his digital emulsions. That's a really excellent way to think about digital technology, as it forces us to stay grounded in the story and the various artistic elements of cinematography.

However, being camera agnostic is only a great way to work as long as you really understand the subtle differences between cameras and their individual aesthetics. For younger DP's this can be a daunting task since it's not only a technical question, but also a question of how well you've trained your eyes to notice the various technical aspects of digital cameras, such as the sensor size, color space, bit depth, compression etc. For folks who are just getting into the game, spending time thinking about how these various technical concepts effect the story they're trying to tell might be self-defeating, and I think that shooting with whatever camera is at their disposal would be most beneficial.

With that said, I'm glad that this train of thought is starting to catch on, because quite frankly the "camera wars" were (and still are) distracting people from artistic side of cinematography and filmmaking in general. I just hope that this philosophy keeps on keepin' on and gains traction with the younger generation of filmmakers.

July 6, 2013 at 12:28AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Robert Hardy
Founder of Filmmaker's Process
4306

Hurlbut actually has a long bit on a lens (regardless of the focal length) selection - some are softer, some are harsher, etc. Timur made vignetting, sun flares and bokeh look artistic. It's nice to have that skill. Harder than playing Meinl.

July 6, 2013 at 1:35AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Love Timur. He has the right idea, and one of the best of the 'next gen' DPs. I love him calling the Alexa 'a vintage look'. That is a diss I will reuse often.

July 6, 2013 at 1:41AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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marklondon

It's nice to see someone wholly not get the point of this article and retreat to being a fanboy within two sentences.

July 6, 2013 at 7:14AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Fanboy is a funny buzzword often used by celluloid fanboys or arri fanboys to bash everybody else.

July 6, 2013 at 9:57AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Natt

Alexa out of the box has that milky low contrast look. It's not exactly "vintage instagram" or some bullshit like that, just helps the midtones a bit.

July 6, 2013 at 9:55AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Natt

I mean vintage in the sense of a fine wine, not Instagram. :)

July 6, 2013 at 1:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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So if i want to shoot Woody, Alexa, and if I want to shoot Buzz Lightyear, Red. Got it :)

July 6, 2013 at 2:40AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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fernando

Hahahahaa!!

July 7, 2013 at 3:29AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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ninja masuku

nothing to do with grading then?

July 6, 2013 at 3:25AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Harry Monk

ofc grading is important. so is lighting, angles/composition, lens choices, set design and costume and makeup. Just a piece of the puzzle. what it comes down to for me i motion cadence. that cannot be fixed outside the camera.

July 6, 2013 at 8:14AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Hampus

I think the right camera with the right lens for the right story makes sense. However, I have a GH2 and a couple of cheap lenses, so I'll be using those on everything I shoot for now. I'll just frame and light differently based on the context of the story.

July 6, 2013 at 5:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Julian

I too have a GH2. Put on the driftwood 176mb hack, at times the images are Way to sharp for what I want to do.so I'm gonna get some crappy soft lenses borrowed. Love that little camera tho. Shorts and freestyle film look so beautiful

July 7, 2013 at 4:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Nigel Thompson

Good article! Great talant

July 6, 2013 at 5:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Ray? Is that you?

July 6, 2013 at 11:40AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Timur Civan

I traded some of my Zildjian's for some Paiste's and regretted it ever since. Nothing beats a Zildjian, I don't care what kind of music it is.

July 6, 2013 at 1:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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dixter

In the 16 or 17 years I've been drumming, I've only busted one cymbal. Guess what brand it WASN'T?

July 6, 2013 at 8:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

Wow, loved the wollensak footage...It goes to show style beats spec any day, brilliant work Timur. Great article.

July 6, 2013 at 9:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Anthony Marino

I have a chuckle when I see an ad for a music video. Need DP for music video and must have a RED camera. I have been asked what camera do you have? I do not own a camera for work. I look at what is needed and I will rent the camera that is best for the project.
Don't bring an elephant gun to a squirrel hunt.

July 15, 2013 at 7:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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