June 19, 2015

Let These World-Class DPs Tell You What to Look for in a Low Budget Camera

As no-budget filmmakers, we all have an idea of which cameras we'd buy for our projects, but what about world-class cinematographers who are used to using the big guns? What would they buy to shoot a low budget film?

Well, several of the DPs that are participating in this year's CineSummit event, including Nymphomaniac's Manuel Alberto Claro, Andrew Shulkind, Phil Briggs, and Matt Workman shared their answers in the video below:

Regardless of your level of professional experience or understanding of the technology, if you're going to make films, commercials, or YouTube videos, you're gonna need a camera. Period. And the questions you have to ask yourself are, "What are my needs," and, "How can I make up for the needs I can't afford to meet?" I'll just venture a guess here and say -- it has to be super affordable but powerful enough to give you not only beautiful images, but the latitude to work with them in post. (Of course, the less money you have to spend means forfeiting a few of the bells and whistles you might (think you) need.)

The DPs in the video mention several different cameras, like the Sony a7S, the C300, the RED EPIC, and Blackmagic's shooters as well. However, they talk less about specific cameras and more about important cinematographic concepts, like lighting and composition, as well technical aspects, like dynamic range and color space.

See, we have to remember that a camera alone doesn't make an image beautiful. A skilled cinematographer who knows how to shape light, how to compose their shot, and communicate the emotion of the scene to the audience is what makes an image beautiful. Like Phil Briggs says, a camera is just a tool to do that. Lighting is probably the biggest influence when it comes to a good or bad image.

So -- yeah -- the cameras named above are great for indie filmmakers who want to own their own gear and want to start making films right now (and whenever they want). They're pretty inexpensive and can get the job done both during production and in post. But as you're buying, unpacking, and playing with your shiny new camera, don't forget to bone up on your lighting and composition techniques, because it's there where the image is really made (or broken).

We have tons of tutorials and how-tos on both of those subjects. Peruse them at your leisure here and here. (Aaaand if you want to brush up on your aesthetic theory -- here.)     

Your Comment

28 Comments

Props to Aviv. He's always getting some top quality interviews.

June 19, 2015 at 10:10AM, Edited June 19, 10:10AM

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Thanks Aaron!
If you check out these guys' work - I think it's reason enough to listen to their input.

June 19, 2015 at 12:16PM

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Right. It's a nice change of pace to hear input from successful filmmakers and DPs, as opposed to bloggers.

June 19, 2015 at 12:48PM

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Great information. I was hoping for professional opinions on the MUCH lower end of the budget scale, but the 5D Mk III and A7s are pretty low in those regards compared to REDs and Alexa. I get that image "quality" depends on its shooter, not the camera, but I suppose there will always come a point when you get what you pay for too. Thanks for the share.

June 19, 2015 at 11:00AM

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As for getting what you pay for, suppose your name is Kiarostami and you're about to shoot a small film called '10' with a cheap digital camera. You consider for a moment getting a 'proper camera' that will surely improve your image. Trouble is, a proper camera might not allow you to shoot this little film. A proper camera draws attention and will probably take away money/resources that might be of better use in a different department. See how you're getting what you paid for?

Now, you are not Kiarostami, but you have a camera ten times better than he used to shoot '10'. Can you make a film ten times better than '10' ?

November 4, 2016 at 2:53AM

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Jeff Waweru
Photographer / Filmmaker / Designer
94

I'll shot my short this july. The camera of my choosing: 5d M3 ML 14 bit RGGB raw 12DR. But what called my attention is that I was contemplating the idea of shooting 4k, why? I don't know, The image I get out of the 5d3 raw is beautiful on a 64'' 4k TV, (without mention I can select any aspect ration I want if I happen to go for anamorphic at the last second) . But I'm really curious about what would be my 20 years from now. I know I'm overthinking about this, but I know you did as well.

June 19, 2015 at 1:46PM

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Edgar More
All
1232

Imagine if Kubrick, Kiarostami etc stopped to think about how their films look 20 years ahead

November 4, 2016 at 2:42AM

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Jeff Waweru
Photographer / Filmmaker / Designer
94

Pretty much everybody confirmed that lighting and composition are key to getting good shots, which is kind of what I expected.

As for specific cameras a lot will depend on your budget and whether you can wait for this year's crop of new cameras to arrive. Between now and the Fall we have the new Canon C300 Mk2 ( 15 stops of dynamic range ), the new Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6 ( 15 stops of dynamic range ), the Sony A7R II ( with 14+ stops of dynamic range ), along with the BM Micro and the Sony RX10 Mk2 which have 12+ stops of dynamic range. ( and some day V-Log for the GH4 will arrive with 12 stops of dynamic range ) So we will have tons of new choices available to us in a few months time.

June 19, 2015 at 2:24PM, Edited June 19, 2:25PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
31344

Thanks for sharing this V Renee. I always get a bit worried when people start asking DPs about cameras, but then I get a warm and fuzzy when they focus more on technique, lighting, composition, etc. Sure, I'd love to shoot on something higher end, but if I can keep pushing myself with lower budget cameras and still come out with an image I'm happy with, then it's just going to help me become a better DP in the end.

June 19, 2015 at 4:26PM

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Bryan Tosh
Director of Photography
558

"but then I get a warm and fuzzy when they focus more on technique, lighting, composition, etc"

Couldn't agree more!

June 21, 2015 at 7:09AM

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This article was of great help, I was particularly interested in the answer to getting a film look for a low budget camera. It was helpful that it was explained in terms of knowing the limitations of the camera, and the need to focus more on the lighting. Thanks Aviv.

June 20, 2015 at 8:05AM

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Oladapo Bamidele
Director/Writer
102

You're welcome Oladapo. I know I got a lot out of it as well . . .

June 21, 2015 at 7:08AM

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A Sony pj670 would do quite well in a pinch. We are taking for granted how good video tech is now. A $650.00 pj670 looks probably as good as what we saw on most tv and movies 10 years ago. But we are so spoiled that we are splitting hairs comparing cameras of today with other cameras of today.

June 20, 2015 at 2:58PM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
1525

"we are so spoiled" i love this point. It's so true. Once we get used to the awesomeness - we never wanna go back.

How often have we been sucked into a great film that was of low video quality because it was a good story? Tons! So even though we're talking camera talk, in the end, make sure you have all the makings of a good story and you can get away with a lot of $#!% visuals.

June 21, 2015 at 7:08AM

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I hear you an not wanting to go back. Once I saw 6K in Red and Kinfinity I was spoiled for anything less.

But I have to be realistic. I was very pleasantly surprised by the picture quality of the Sony pj670. I immediately got one for live streaming. It can be used to make BluRay quality dvd's too, if needed. It really looks better than what we saw on tv just 10 years ago. I have never shot a movie. But I really do think one could get by on a $650.00 pj670--at least for starters. A lot of people would be fooled by the picture, that it was not a far more expensive camera.

And speaking of great looking picture at a low price, Griffin Hammond shot "Sriracha" on a GH3. It looks great. Wonders have been worked with a $450.00 (body) GH2 Hacked, albeit due to great lighting set ups.

But dang, I'd love to have a Red 6k, or the soon to be available Red 8K.

June 21, 2015 at 6:20PM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
1525

Always a tone of great info on these summits.
Really looking forward!
Thanks to Aviv!

June 20, 2015 at 3:13PM

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Thanks Sasha,

There are some EPIC sessions this year for sure!

June 21, 2015 at 7:01AM

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While it is true that the lighting, composition and camera movement ARE the most important in making the image and telling the story, don't forget that the choice of camera influences the technique and the choice (and the cost) of the lighting equipment.

That is why it is always good to hear some advice/recommendation on the technical side of the job, with the reasoning for that particular choice to follow.

June 20, 2015 at 3:28PM

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Srdjan Bozinovic
Director of Photography, Head Cameraman
227

Really a great point!!

June 21, 2015 at 7:01AM, Edited June 21, 7:01AM

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Interesting to hear what they consider a low budget shoot--most of their solutions--if one didn't skimp on the number of days to a crew, lighting, and equipment package that would necessitate a budget in the mid six figures. The gentleman who really pushes for 14 bit raw files may not be the best advisor for a 15,000 micro feature. All in all nice perspectives but I draw the line at anyone--anyone recommending a 5D mk III in 2015--or even 2013. Sub 720p resolution and sub mediocre low light and line skipping and still strangely pricey... I couldn't listen to anything else that poor guy had to say after that.

June 20, 2015 at 6:32PM, Edited June 20, 6:32PM

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J Robbins
408

And yet he shoots for Apple all day and night and creates stunning images with his poor 5d3 all day long. That's exactly the point, if you hone your skills you'll be just fine with a 5D3 that can "only" give you clean 1600 iso and line skips.

June 21, 2015 at 7:05AM

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Then you would also be a poor advisor for aesthetics on any feature. . . Canon still brings in clients because they have excellent color science in their cameras, wide availability of lenses, great customer service for the pro community, and are reliable. The 5D is ubiquitous. The Mark 3 has hardly any aliasing, compared to the mark 2, does very well in low light (Perhaps not as well as the A7S, but better than any other DSLR at that price point), has great color and is pretty sharp. And it's still a DSLR form factor so it is much more portable than even its C100 older brother.

I'm not sure what you are comparing it to, but to dismiss it and anyone who uses it is childish. There's a lot more to a camera than specs.

June 21, 2015 at 8:39PM

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Joshua Bowen
Editor
693

I know a guy who is still happily shooting image films and sometimes tv documentaries on his 5d MkII. And they always look amazing and everyone is happy. The guy is just a very good cameraman and he doesn't like to spend money. It works really well for him and his films put a lot of people to shame who first laughed at him still sporting his 5d MkII!

June 25, 2015 at 5:23PM, Edited June 25, 5:24PM

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The part about "knowing the limitations of your equipment" is essential.

Every kind of technology or tool has drawbacks and falls short of perfection.
When shooting in film the presence of visible film grain is a limitation that, in the right circumstance, becomes expressive and can carry an emotional charge. It's no different with different digital cameras. The drawbacks can become a strength if they're creatively presented.

June 22, 2015 at 4:35PM, Edited June 22, 4:35PM

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Sean Bokenkamp
Animator
389

Right, a lot of people think that because they are creative, they don't need to know technical details about their cameras. Wrong! The best and most creative dps know EVERYTHING about the camera they are using. They don't obsess about technical details like some camera nerds do, but they know every little detail!

June 25, 2015 at 5:28PM

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Skilled lighting is the key. People spend way too much time obsessing over which camera to use.

June 26, 2015 at 2:51AM

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JAY T
213

"Searching For Sugar-man" shot on Super 8.

November 4, 2016 at 5:13AM

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