February 1, 2016
Sundance 2016

Cameras Used by Sundance 2016 Filmmakers & Why They Chose Them

From intimate character studies, to fake moon landings, to running from the law across the Chinese countryside, it was clear that the "perfect camera" completely depends on the production.

No Film School had a chance to talk to a plethora of different directors and cinematographers at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, and the following is a compilation of cameras that they used, and why!

BIRTH OF A NATION

Cinematographer Elliot Davis said this about about camera choice when he sat down for a No Film School podcast with Ryan Koo:

We carried two ARRI ALEXA XTs. The RED Dragon was used for our Steadicam and possibly third camera because of speed. I try to make it as easy as possible, since it's a lighter camera, because if you're doing a lot of it it's a strain on the operator, so we left it on the rig all the time. Shooting as fast as we could was one of the primary tasks of this movie.

NUTS!

Blackmagic Cinema Camera PL with Lens

Director Penny Lane:

I used the Black Magic Cinema Camera with a Lens Baby and some Canon lenses for my studio shoots. Shooting RAW allowed me to do some pretty cool stuff in post.

THE EYES OF MY MOTHER

 

Director Nick Pesce:

We shot on the RED DRAGON with anamorphic lenses...we were doing this intensely period piece but with contemporary technology. There was this awesome nostalgia that remained, but there was a new sort of slicker edge to it. My cinematographer and I talked a lot about not trying to make the movie look like we shot it in the 1970s, and utilizing the benefits of shooting digitally while making the same artistic choices that those older [1970s era] filmmakers made.

MILES AHEAD

Cinematographer Roberto Schaefer, ASC, AIC explained to NFS how he came up with multiple shooting formats for the film:

We decided to shoot just one period the 1950s and 1960s time period on Super16. The primary format was Alexa Arri raw — about two thirds of the film was shot on that. About a third was shot on Super16. I believe I had Arriflex 416s. There was a special section shot at night, a car chase, that was shot on the Canon C500...The concept of the film was that is was not a biopic. To me what came to mind was more of a Miles Davis fever dream. I didn’t know jazz before so I learned the modal term of jazz, different tempos and beats going on in Miles Davis' head. That's what is was about to Don Cheadle.

 

OPERATION AVALANCHE

Director Matt Johnson tells NFS how he created an outrageous fake documentary set in 1967 that involved converting digital to 16mm:

There was a range of them, but the big two that were used were the Black Magic Pocket Cam, whenever we shot things that were super super secretive, and we didn't want people to know we were shooting. Then we shot on REDS with really cool 1950s zoom lenses, when we were shooting normal story stuff that we didn't have to hide...then we had a film artist convert it to Super16 and then back. We spent a year, basically, experimenting with chemicals and lenses and light to get that exact 1960s "bad documentary" look.

CAMERAPERSON

 

Kirsten Johnson compiled around 30 years of documentary footage from such films as Citizenfour, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, and Fahrenheit 9/11. The movie is a testament to how much cameras may change, but the nuanced eye of the cinematographer remains. Her first camera? An old school U-matic.

HOOLIGAN SPARROW

The director Nanfu Wang used the small and inconspicuous Canon 60D to follow renegade activist Ye Hainan (aka 'Sparrow') across China on the run from government authorities.

EQUITY

Alexa 65

From Director Meera Menon:

Eric Lin [DP] and I agreed very early on that the ALEXA was the best camera because we were going to be spending so much time in these scenes with the characters. We were able to rely on the richness and depth that that camera provides on their faces for extended, prolonged periods of time. It’s a character driven and actor drive piece at the end of the day. Also, a prevailing schematic in the film was surveillance….We would approach a scene from an angle of surveillance to use as a punctuating mark in a scene, or to induce or emphasize that feeling of paranoia that built the overall thriller aspect of the film.

LOVESONG

Canon 7D Mark II 16-9 Crop

Director So Yong Kim employed a handful of cameras, the Canon 7D, Canon C300, and Arri AMIRA, to construct the film's impromptu road trip story.

BELGICA

RED SCARLET W with PL Mount

Director Felix Van Groeningen used the RED Scarlet and Epic to create the booze and drug filled nightlife atmosphere of the film.

CHRISTINE

Director Antonio Campos employed both the Arri ALEXA and 16mm to create the psychologically gripping world of 1970s TV reporter Christine Chubbuck.

SONAR

A CG virtual reality film, SONAR didn’t use a 360 camera rig to capture real stuff, but used ZBrush from Pixologic to sculpt aspects of the production from original source material. From co-director Philipp Maas:

We did use a normal camera though for some photogrammetry experiments. The face of one of the dead people is roughly based on own of our friends. We took a series of photos of him to reconstruct a 3D model and then used it as a starting point to sculpt on it. Also we used real surface features/elevation data from Mars, so that we could sculpt with real craters and dunes on the asteroid’s surface. For our upcoming GearVR app we also used real photos from the ESA Rosetta mission to create the landscape for our app menu.

THE SHINING STAR OF LOSERS EVERYWHERE

Canon C100 Mark II with Lens 1080p 60fps 50fps

While much of this film was delightfully animated, this is what director Mickey Duzyj said about the live action components:

We shot the film on 2 Canon cameras- the C100 and the 5D. Our DP felt comfortable using them and they were small enough to tote around Japan on our shoot.

VERBATIM

From cinematographer Bérénice aka "Bear" Eveno, on how she picked the cameras for all three films she had at Sundance, Verbatim, The Free World, and Soulmates:

All three films were completely different in terms of the tools. Soulmates was shot on the 5D, Verbatim was shot on the RED, The Free World was shot on the ALEXA. Also you’re looking at completely different budgets. You can make anything, any camera look beautiful. Tangerine proved it -- an iPhone can look gorgeous and really cool. Its all about how you use it, and if it serves the story. I would say don’t get hung up on tools, just see if it fits the story.

For more, see our complete coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance 2016 Blackmagic Design

No Film School's video and editorial coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by Blackmagic Design.      

Your Comment

18 Comments

I'm super excited to see the Canon 60D on this list! It's neat to see that while gear can improve the aesthetics of a film, in the end it is all about story.

February 1, 2016 at 10:29PM

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Liam Tangum
Director/Cinematographer/Editor/Writer
141

Damn straight, Liam.

February 1, 2016 at 11:27PM, Edited February 1, 11:27PM

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Oakley Anderson-Moore
Writer
Director/Shooter/Editor

The last one has me scratching my head... if any camera works... why not just shoot everything on a 5D?
I was kinda hoping for a more in depth reasoning of why people chose these cameras... but looks like it was a just because. I'd rather just pick a camera and use it for everything, but that's me.

February 1, 2016 at 10:55PM

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Benjamin Carroll
None
133

For bigger films such as Birth of a Nation which had a production budget of 10 million dollars - the cost of a rented Alexa is negligible - it would make sense to capture all that hard production design and work in the best possible format. The question becomes why not shoot on a Red or Alexa if the budget can easily afford it? Having extra exposure latitude/ lines of resolution/ actual 35mm imaging/ no aliasing or moire/ limited rolling shutter and easy PL support with support for good codecs also helps. Not saying everyone should shoot on an Alexa, but in today's day and age - shooting such high production films on a prosumer DSLR makes little to no sense. Plus, the whole DSLR fad has practically died out so its not even a gimmick anymore, I mean you don't see Noah Baumbach shooting Mistress America on a 5D like he did with Frances Ha. But I do agree with your point if it is a low budget film where the camera choice would be significant burden on the budget.

February 1, 2016 at 11:45PM

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Matt Nunn
Amateur
44

I don't think DSLR fad has died out. More like it has become so mainstream that it's now seen as normal. I'm surprise there's no A7S on this list. Hopefully we'll see more Sony cameras in the future.

February 2, 2016 at 1:21AM

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Victor Nguyen
Student
21

'More like it has become so mainstream that it's now seen as normal' - That's essentially a fad (an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived) - except everyone is using mirrorless systems now such as the A7s, Gh4 and super 35 sensor cameras such as the Canon C, Sony FS line. If you recall, there was a big DSLR craze - LaForet, Hulburt, Bloom - all major exponents for the 5D Mark II, lots of films were shot on them as well. Act of Valor, Like Crazy etc. Even an episode of House, it used to be a 'thing' to shoot professional productions on a DSLR (http://cpn.canon-europe.com/content/news/EOS_5D_mark_II_shoots_house.do) . People were obsessed to put it mildly - now don't tell me that that hasn't died out already. When was the last time Bloom did his typical montages with a DSLR? Yeah so what if some small films are still using them, if you remember the level of craze in the filmmaking world when Vincent LaForet first released 'Reverie', you'll know that it has definitely died out. Just check out this RedShark article written in May last year: http://www.redsharknews.com/production/item/2556-the-dslr-revolution-is-...

February 2, 2016 at 2:06AM

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Matt Nunn
Amateur
44

i know this is a commercial short film but it was shot by Amenabar last year on a sony A7s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yd5NuHrb_Ys&feature=youtu.be

February 4, 2016 at 5:02PM

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Arturo Dickson
WEAR ALL HATS
41

She's saying what every wise DP on the planet has said before her. See if it fits the story. If you're making a short from a shoe's perspective, obviously you're not going to be using an Alexa. Your camera team will triple in size like that. You'll need grip, you'll need massive rigging, etc. If you were to use a 5d, you can strap that to someone's leg.

Similarly if you're shooting a film all handheld, I'd rather use Alexa or preferably Amira over a RED or DSLR because of balance on the shoulder. It all depends on what/how/why you're shooting something, but within those boundaries I think a lot of DP's will choose what gives them the best image/flexibility.

February 2, 2016 at 6:22AM

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Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
578

Two reasons:
1. Raw
2. Image characteristics

Also, in most higher budget films there is a lot more technology involved, technology that most DSLR's don't support (timecode, LUT's, high grade codecs, specific metadata etc.)

February 2, 2016 at 7:18AM

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I'll try to be more in depth if I can. I choose to shoot "First Girl I Loved" on the Alexa for several reasons. First and foremost I choose Alexa because of the pixel's size and how that translates to texture/noise. We wanted the film to have energy, lots of seemingly nervous energy to reflect what its like to be young and in love. Pushing those slightly larger pixel's on the Alexa lends a very nice texture to the image (for my taste anyway). Secondly, skin tone was important for me. We deal with varying skin tones in the film and shoot quite a bit of close ups. Granted in color correction some of that could be accomplished on any camera system, but the Alexa really does resolve faces well and in my opinion is more gentile compared with other cameras with higher resolution. Finally, we went with the Alexa for the ergonomics of shooting handheld. While, the movie is split relatively evenly between sticks and my shoulder I just personally prefer the balance of the camera and the "weight" I feel it adds to handheld photography. Not sure I said anything revelatory here, but as you know, the camera is only a small part of what we as storytellers do.

February 3, 2016 at 12:45AM

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Ricardo Diaz
Cinematographer
74

I went to a documentary workshop with Kevin Knoblock last year and one of the things that struck me was how behind he was when he talked about cameras, and how for docs especially, he just didn't care about what camera was being used as long as it looked OK. I found that kind of inspiring (I'm currently shooting a doc) because it allowed me to try and forget all the anxiety about all the new cameras and the feeling that you should have this or that bit of gear. I'm not surprised at all to still see 60D's or 7D's on lists like this. Doesn't just go for docs either. A great story shot on a DSLR is going to be a lot more successful than a boring or badly acted story on RED or alexa.

February 2, 2016 at 3:14AM, Edited February 2, 3:14AM

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Liam Martin
Writer, director, editor.
578

What I really cannot understand is the lack of any Sony camera in the list...

February 2, 2016 at 7:08AM, Edited February 2, 7:08AM

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Sad to see no love for Lumix GH4 or GH3. Upstream Color looked great (on a GH2) and I'd love to see more of it out there.

February 2, 2016 at 12:18PM, Edited February 2, 12:18PM

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GH4 for the win!

February 8, 2016 at 8:34PM

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Christopher Evans
Video Artist
137

I went to a film festival and ended up at a video carnival...

February 2, 2016 at 9:02PM

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Nothing exclusively and entirely filmed with a Blackmagic cam. I wonder why?

February 3, 2016 at 7:49AM

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I like how they keep trying to convince us that Tangerine looked "beautiful".

February 3, 2016 at 8:08AM

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Don Way
Writer/Director of Photography
924

Everybody is Cinderella looking for a shoe that fits. If it fits, you're Cinderella and you will go to the ball.

February 3, 2016 at 11:50AM, Edited February 3, 12:01PM

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Jonathon Sendall
Stories
1044