October 20, 2009

The thing about light is...

First, Canon has announced a 24p/25p update to the Canon 5d Mark II; this is crucial and I will now be keeping the camera I purchased mere months ago. But I don't have much interesting to say about that, other than, "thank the lord."

There's some other news out of the Canon camp today, however, and that's what the title of this post is about. The thing about light is... when it comes to guerilla filmmaking, there's never enough of it.

Two months ago I wrote, in a post about the future of cinematography:

For decades, the most common observation for first-time cinematographers has likely been, “wow, this camera needs a lot more light than my eyes.”

First-time cinematographers from the year 2009 onward may not share this observation. The first film shot on a prototype Canon 1d Mark IV (the 1.3 crop, $5k pro model in Canon's DSLR lineup) shows that advances in low-light recording have gotten us to the point where cameras can not only see as well as the human eye in the dark, but better. NY Times photographer Vincent Laforet got his hands on a preproduction model and shot this film on the downtown streets of LA, unaided by any additional lighting:

(More behind-the-scenes on Laforet's blog).

The important thing to notice here is this: most of these images would look like a severely underexposed, mostly-black screen on any camera manufactured more than two years ago. You'd need a sizable crew and a raft of lights to shoot in these conditions, and only a certain subset of society has access to those things (and many of them live in LA).

The important thing about bringing visual fidelity (at levels of available lighting) to the masses is, it gives storytellers of all creeds the ability to make films, and in democratizing storytelling, camera technology is playing a larger role than I think any of us imagined even during the advent of DV. DSLRs are mass-produced cameras that find their way to all corner of the world. If I recall correctly, and this won't be cited because I don't have the exact numbers, the RED One sold 5,000 units in a year, while the Canon 5d Mark II sold 50,000 units in six months. The more inexpensive a camera is, the more people get their hands on one, and I'm not just talking about well-to-do first-worlders like myself (and, probably, most anyone reading this). This kind of advancement in camera tech (along with a lower price point) allows storytellers all around the world to tell their own story, without needing the financial backing of businessmen and/or studios. Combined with advances in digital distribution (the internet = free global dissemination), we'll see a substantial increase in meaningful documentaries and fiction films from the far corners of the world -- authored by locals instead of by foreigners. Instead of big, fallacious Hollywood films about kids in the Indian slums, hopefully we'll see small, authentic Indian films about kids in the Indian slums.

Your Comment


:O withOUT additional lights?!
This is amazing.

"not a brilliant piece of filmmaking"

October 20, 2009 at 6:42AM, Edited September 4, 10:22AM


thanks for this. I downloaded the full-res version from his site, and showed the clip to a buddy who's also a director. We both decided on the spot that that is the next camera we're buying.

October 20, 2009 at 12:20PM, Edited September 4, 10:22AM


This is great news- I have always loved low light conditions.

September 25, 2011 at 2:31PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM


"Instead of big, fallacious Hollywood films about kids in the Indian slums, hopefully we’ll see small, authentic Indian films about kids in the Indian slums."

Totally makes sense!

March 8, 2013 at 2:41AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Like filming in the dark?


Low Light Videos

June 26, 2013 at 7:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM