January 28, 2016 at 5:24AM

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Is it really the story that makes the short? Why not the gear?

So I don't totally believe that title, however I wanted to address something I noticed about myself and see if anyone else has the same tendencies.

For my last few jobs I've rented the A7s, GH4, Scarlet X, C100, 5Diii etc... The quality out of the camera is stunning and I love spending the time to create a great shot. But I find myself dropping stories when I'm just stuck with my T3i, or in other words I don't have the motivation to get out and shoot because when I get the footage back, the noise, low quality, high compression, and everything else distract me from the story I'm trying to make.

On the other hand when I rent gear and get the footage back it compliments my story and takes it to the next level, leaving any potential distraction flaws to come from the story (assuming I haven't screwed up the cinematography) rather than the gear (or lack thereof) behind it.

What do you think?

43 Comments

Are you sure you're getting the best possible quality out of your 3ti camera ?
( I am assuming that you're using Magic Lantern to get the most out of it )

Definitely some nice work here: https://vimeo.com/groups/550d/videos/

January 28, 2016 at 7:30AM, Edited January 28, 7:30AM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
32831

If something was available, I will have already tried it :'D

I did do magic lantern but it didn't open much up besides HDR which limited what I could shoot. RAW was cool but terrible resolution for a big screen. No clean HDMI to force the bitrate with a recorder. It was better but it still didn't work out.

There are some people who can get some crazy good stuff out of even an iPhone. But I find myself not motivated to spend 2 months in pre production only to shoot on a dslr and get back 1080p 4:2:0 noisy footage.

January 28, 2016 at 10:53AM

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Clark McCauley
Spaceman
2019

So it sounds like you are ready for an affordable upgrade, you just have to decide what you can live with.

I would love to be shooting with a Sony F5 but realistically it's way out of my budget, so I make do with what I have right now. ( Panasonic GH4 and GH3 cameras )

January 28, 2016 at 1:40PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
32831

It's all about using the right tools for the job. The Blair Witch project worked in part because the premise was based on the camcorder "evidence" found in the woods. Ditto Paranormal Activity. Ditto Super 8.

You don't want to start a production if you don't have the right actors for the job, or if you cannot make the actors right for the job. The same goes for sets and locations. And the same goes for the cameras and lenses. There are stories that can be told with low-end gear, but perhaps not the stories *you* want to tell. That's OK!

January 28, 2016 at 7:31AM

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I will admit I am overly concerned with my gear and need to just get out and shoot. I find myself saying I don't have Arri lights so I can't shoot this properly, or I don't have enough equipment to make this professional. I just need to start shooting.

Also getting a crew/actors and making time is a struggle.

January 28, 2016 at 8:24AM

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Alex Everingham
Video Editor
928

The camera is only 1 part of the equation.
Without enough light: yes, you will have more noise on a rebel.

It is easy: gear can't make a crappy story better.
It doesn't matter how you polish a tird, it is still shit. It might just look better :-p

However, like you said: gear can make a good story look better.
And if it helps to remove technical distractions for the viewer, the story ends up being more 'immersive', which is good.
Just never forget that gear is just tools. Some tools open new possibilities, but if the design is bad to start with, you'll just build an ugly house with fancy tools.

January 29, 2016 at 3:12AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
9469

Well said :)

January 29, 2016 at 9:01AM, Edited January 29, 9:01AM

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Clark McCauley
Spaceman
2019

It is all in your head, you don't need justification from me or any of the others posting to buy what ever expensive camera you want to buy. If your video with the T3i sucks, it is because you lack the skill and knowledge to use it.
Obviously there are plenty of people who use it very effectively.
The answer is also in your head, either learn to use a camera effectively or buy the more expensive camera and let the camera make the movie for you.

January 30, 2016 at 6:12AM

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And use the 'make-cool-movie-plugin' from NonexistentVaporware. :-p

January 30, 2016 at 8:44AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
9469

Thank you! That's what I thought too, I worked with that camera for 3 years and sucked out everything I possibly could. I had some projects with higher specs and rented better cameras only to find that it made the same work I had done in the past a million times better! I know there's no end to learning but I also have found that I can shoot with me T3i blindfolded and maybe it's time to move up a level. I was curious if other people also lacked some motivation with smaller cameras. Now if I got hired to do something heck I would shoot with an iPhone if they let me! But when I've spent half a year developing a complex story or amazing short, I didn't want to be limited by the gear I had in producing a great final product :)

January 30, 2016 at 8:58AM, Edited January 30, 8:59AM

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Clark McCauley
Spaceman
2019

Story is the fundamental of any film. The Gear is just one factor involved in bringing the story to life. There's also the production design, the costume, the acting etc. Having good gear helps, but I'm sorry to tell you that having all the gear or anything in the world won't save you when your story is bad. Just compare 28 Days Later (which was shot on a camera with a far lower quality than your T3i) and F4ntastic Four from last year... I will say this though, make sure you have good sound gear - the audience can put up with relatively poor video quality but if the sound is crap then that'll destroy your film. Good sound is critical - but story is the most important :)

Having competent people working on a film also helps

Now a list of good films shot on low quality cameras:

Inland Empire (Sony DSR-PD150)
Tangerine (Iphone)
Once (Sony HVR-Z1)
The Idiots (Sony DCR-VX1000)
The Celebration (Sony DCR-PC3) (search this one up on google, it's basically a pre-2000 consumer handycam)

Now if these films (which were shot in far lower quality than your T3i) could maintain their audiences attention for a feature running time, then I'm sure that it'll be even easier for you with your T3i and a short film running time.

It should also be noted that I find this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTAAsCNK7RA , far more entertaining and engaging than this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njLR6CLel7g - No offense to Mr. Bloom :)

January 31, 2016 at 8:56AM

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Matt Nunn
Amateur
512

I think for the OP it is a self fulfilling prophecy. When he hit a brick wall with the T3i instead of working on the lighting etc, chooses a more expensive camera which is his right and no matter what camera we have there is always a more expensive option.

The other option is to learn the camera you have more effectively and improve skills. Everything is a compromise and even more expensive cameras need more expensive accessories and more expensive work flow. Lots of people substitute a new purchase for skill. You get to brag about your equipment for about a year, and then your new purchase becomes the new pariah, since each year there are new kids on the block that make the older kids obsolete or so we are told. Why is it that some filmmakers use T3i cameras for excellent results and others have to "upgrade" and blame the camera for the faults of their video?
Story, lighting, composition, still trump camera choice and you don't need an excuse from me or anyone else to buy a more expensive camera, go ahead and buy it, you will be glad you did, but only a poor workman blames his tools. What ever you are missing in the T3i, you are still missing with the more expensive choice and this struggle is not just yours, but mine as well. I have the t3i and still finding better ways to use it and am frequently surprised, but no one will find if they don't look.

January 31, 2016 at 5:45PM

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Make the investment. Or at least fake it for a while.

And if your not motivated. Go travel that usually works for me.

February 1, 2016 at 4:07AM

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matthew
Youth Pastor
168

I think gear is important, too. DSLR's do take me away from the story.

I love cameras with at least 12 stops of dynamic range. The Blackmagic Cameras are perfect for low cost/cinematic image. I love them.

February 1, 2016 at 5:41PM

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"To make real work that people will pay money for, you need a Red or higher." Comments like this are the problem with younger filmmakers who become so insanely gear crazy that it blinds them -these are usually the same people who think 4k trumps a higher bitrate and wider dynamic range. If you can't shoot your story because you don't have enough money to shoot with top notch gear, then you need a better story, not a better camera.

February 1, 2016 at 8:22PM

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Stephen Herron
Writer/Director
1947

I totally agree, but I do know that my clients won't pay for their $20k commercial when I'm shooting on the T3i, and for that reason I find myself drawn to cameras that can flawlessly express my story.

February 2, 2016 at 7:45AM

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Clark McCauley
Spaceman
2019

Well yeah, if the budget allows for a better camera, go for it. I do agree renting is the way to go, especially with how quickly cameras come out these days.

February 3, 2016 at 8:47PM, Edited February 3, 8:47PM

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Stephen Herron
Writer/Director
1947

Only you know you. If having a higher end camera motivates you...see how far that road goes.

I do have a tip for you but it could be risky so...I have to post the following disclaimer:

"Do this at your own risk, I share this information trusting that if something DOES go wrong you won't come here blaming me"

This has been our strategy and it has worked every time, without fail, for 3-4 years. This strategy only applies to RED because it's what I have experience with. It might work for other companies, but I won't suggest it because I haven't seen it work personally:

Shop around on Reduser for the best deal you can find. Get a package and if you get accessories you don't need, sell them INDIVIDUALLY on Reduser. You always get more if you sell items individually.

Get the camera used and low. Get the accessories used and low. Look at it like it's a long term rental...don't worry about the condition or the number of hours. Just make sure it works.

Use it for a year and use it all the time. Shoot like crazy. Take as many jobs as you can. At the end of the year, sell the camera used on Reduser.

In our experience we have never come out "behind" with this scenario. We always make money. If you buy used and low you hardly lose anything on the camera. So you could almost buy it and just let it sit there and you wouldn't lose that much. The used market for RED cameras on Reduser is great. We've never had an issue selling.

The key is to use it like crazy though, this ensures that you'll come out well ahead either way. Also, don't hold onto it for too long because tech changes and the price of the camera could go way down. That's when you lose money on the camera. We have never had that happen (knocks on wood).

Charge it to a card. Take out a small business loan. Again, if you're working non stop...the camera should cover the loan payments/interest and then at the end you finish off the loan with the camera sale. If you get too nervous before then...sell at 6 months. It might sound risky until you just do it. Then you have a fire lit and you start making it happen. You have a back up plan in that you're sitting on a $20,000 camera. You have an asset.

Also...start smaller. Go for a used Epic X or Scarlet X first.

Ideally, you would find a place that offers no interest/payments in the first 6-12 months. Use the camera for 6 months and sell/pay off before interest kicks in. Then you've used a RED camera for free for 6 months.

Craziest thing of all...if you do it all right this actually gives you great credit :) Kind of risky but when you think about it on a bigger scale...not that risky. People do much crazier things.

February 1, 2016 at 8:42PM, Edited February 1, 8:46PM

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Luke Neumann
Cinematographer/Composer/Editor
3075

I have heard many success stories with this technique! It's super risky in my position and while I probably wouldn't go that route (yet ;) I will in the future.

February 2, 2016 at 7:48AM

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Clark McCauley
Spaceman
2019

I agree that the A7s, GH4 etc. are on a different level to the 600d, however with the right setup you can get some brilliant stuff from it (particularly if you use magic lantern)

Check out some of Simon Cade's stuff and you'll see what I mean...

February 2, 2016 at 10:19AM

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Sebi Schmidt
Director
100

The T3i can't handle much of the awesome features of magic lantern because of it's hardware limitations, such as clean HDMI, RAW, HDR etc...

February 2, 2016 at 12:47PM

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Clark McCauley
Spaceman
2019

I've worked with a variety of cameras over the last 15 years. from Digital 8, to Canon XL1's and 2's to Z1's to t3i's 60d's 5d's gh4's FS7's and PD500's. This next bit of advice is really important.. ready.. No one has ever thrown up after watching any one of thousands of videos i've made because of noise, rolling shutter or dynamic range.

Seriously. Not one. single. person. Sometimes, reading the internet, you would think that anyone watching something with a t3i or 'insert name of out of fashion camera' would make somebody throw up because they are so awful. But the secret is, clients don't care. They just want good movies.

The company I work with now is just about to buy an FS7K. But if you hire them to do a job they are just as likely to send someone with a Panasonic 101. Because it's the talent that makes the project, not the tools. Sure, bells and whistles are nice and obviously you wouldn't shoot a super bowl commercial on hi-8 camcorder. But in this day and age where you can literally shoot, edit & upload your video from an iPhone. Gear isn't everything.

If your a gear head and it motivates you, sure by all means. But personally, I realised a long time ago that i'd rather put the money for a new camera into the budget of my next personal project and shoot with what I have. 90% of people are going to watch it on their mobile anyway.

February 2, 2016 at 1:17PM, Edited February 2, 1:17PM

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Scenes
Shooter / Cutter
178

That is not an all encompassing sentiment though. While some clients don't care...many do.

For instance, if you want to be taken seriously by Netflix (which is the goal for many productions) finishing in 4K ups your chances. This is straight from the mouth of MANY a distributor. It's not the determining factor...it just helps distributors with the pitch. It opens up avenues and it gives them the most flexibility.

Are there avenues for SD and HD content? Absolutely. There are more if you shoot in 4K. Because 4K can be sold as HD and SD if needed. Not vice versa.

It all depends on who your client is and what your distributors tell you. There are arguments for both sides.

From a creative standpoint...it rarely matters. From a distribution/business standpoint...it usually does.

I don't think it hurts to maximize your options if it is within your power to do so. It doesn't have to affect your story, nor should it.

February 2, 2016 at 5:42PM, Edited February 2, 5:44PM

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Luke Neumann
Cinematographer/Composer/Editor
3075

I think we're coming at it from different angles. I was thinking more corporate films and you're clearly thinking more narrative film. I don't think the original poster stand, just suggest shorts? Which I guess could be either?

He mostly asked if better gear made for better films. You're kind of answering the question 'What should a narrative project looking for distribution shoot with" - which is fine. But I imagine most folk paying the bills are shooting corporate stuff - which inevitably ends up on youtube.

I should have probably *asterixed my answer with *anyone working in the business will care. Obviously if your job is working as camera on a film production they will care. Otherwise, not so much.

February 2, 2016 at 8:13PM

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Scenes
Shooter / Cutter
178

Yeah, that's kind of the problem. There are a lot of ways to make money doing video. Some that all of us know about, others that very few are aware of. The internet makes the possibilities nearly endless. You just have to be creative.

So, for some things it matters, for others it doesn't! The first thing is to figure out what you want to do and how you want to make money. It is why we have so many cameras to choose from. Varying budget levels and specs cater to the various jobs.

February 3, 2016 at 9:57AM

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Luke Neumann
Cinematographer/Composer/Editor
3075

I do think there are two trains of thought here. There are those who lack the skill to use a high quality, but inexpensive camera such as the T3i effectively and those that feel that skill and craft are the true answer. In fact both groups have their answer, for those that blame the camera, they need to buy a more expensive to compensate for their lack and the other group that seek to improve their skills, useing effectively and skillfully any camera that is available to them. Let everyone be fully convinced in their own mind.

February 3, 2016 at 3:42AM, Edited February 3, 3:44AM

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What a silly thing to say.

February 3, 2016 at 2:45PM

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Kenneth Merrill
Director
1499

Ninja monkey is a troll anyone in doubt just click on his name and read his other posts his agenda is clear.

February 3, 2016 at 10:58AM

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NinjaMonkey, I like your point of view which reflect knowledge through experience….
so I would like your help…..I am looking for an affordable documentary camera, which one would you recommend today?, I was thinking to get a C100 MK1 with a Ninja Star since no budget for the new models, but now I see sony releasing the new a6300 which can record 4K internally……and re-thinking about my first choice…..
What do you think will be a better camera for docs today and mid-term future?, canon C100 MK1 or new sony?, HD or 4K?, wait for NAB?

February 4, 2016 at 2:41AM, Edited February 4, 2:46AM

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I have not shot with any of Sony's 4K cameras, but I have used the C100 mark I a ton, and I love it. The C100 doesn't have slow motion or 4K, but here's what it does have:

-Built-in ND's
-Built-in XLR inputs with great preamps
-EVF (though it's definitely not the best)
-long-lasting battery (like, 3 hours!)
-better ergonomics out of the box than any DSLR
-great low-light
-relatively fast sensor read-out (less rolling shutter than most Sony cameras)

For documentary work, I would never use a DSLR or mirrorless camera. They are such a pain, and you have to spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to rig them out to do the job. The C100 could shoot a documentary right out of the box.

4K is helpful, but especially in the documentary world, it is not the end-all-be-all. The most popular documentary this year (Making a Murderer) was shot mostly in SD (that's 480p!!!). And it was distributed by Netflix, which usually has a strict 4K rule. The truth is, people care a lot less about what documentaries are shot on because it's less about the aesthetic and more about the story.

Get the C100. I promise you won't regret it. Don't get sucked into the 4K hype when you don't have to. For some people, it's better to have, but for many people it really doesn't matter. Documentaries and corporate videos are totally fine in 1080p.

AND the C100 sensor is actually a 4K sensor. The camera downscales the image to 1080p, which makes the 1080p super crisp and awesome without the hassle of 4K data rates.

February 4, 2016 at 9:08AM

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Kenneth Merrill
Director
1499

Yeah but Making a Murderer utilizes footage from a decade ago. If you're making a doc today, film in 4K so that you don't miss out on a chance for Netflix. That would be my advice.

February 4, 2016 at 9:52AM, Edited February 4, 9:52AM

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Luke Neumann
Cinematographer/Composer/Editor
3075

touche

February 4, 2016 at 3:25PM

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Kenneth Merrill
Director
1499

I don't anywhere in this document where it say anything about 4k as the recommended format for Netflix. Maybe you have so other documentation you care to share? There are PLENTY of movies that were shot in sd and hd quality that's on Netflix. Just pull up some of the old tv shows on there that was shot in 480p! Anywhom the documentation link is below:

https://www.gearslutz.com/board/attachments/post-production-forum/418939...

February 5, 2016 at 11:21PM

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Reggie Brown
Cinematographer
293

I don't anywhere in this document where it say anything about 4k as the recommended format for Netflix. Maybe you have so other documentation you care to share? There are PLENTY of movies that were shot in sd and hd quality that's on Netflix. Just pull up some of the old tv shows on there that was shot in 480p! Anywhom the documentation link is below:

https://www.gearslutz.com/board/attachments/post-production-forum/418939...

February 5, 2016 at 11:21PM, Edited February 5, 11:21PM

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Reggie Brown
Cinematographer
293

*Netflix Original

Sorry, should have clarified. Netflix will take anything but if all Netflix Original content (with the exception of a few like Making a Murderer) it's required to be shot in 4K. They are pretty strict about it.

February 6, 2016 at 4:49PM

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Luke Neumann
Cinematographer/Composer/Editor
3075

Here is my theory and let me preface this with a story. I play guitar as a hobby and I started to learn to play in my freshman year in high school. My parents were supportive and wanted to help me purchase a starter guitar but they didn't know a thing about guitars. My mother saw a guitar for under 100 bucks in a JC Penny catalog but was unsure about the purchase. She asked our family friend who taught guitar for advice. He immediately and sternly told my Mother "That's not good enough! He will never play it!" He then offered to shop for a starter guitar for my parents. He picked out a guitar for me and it was good value but great a sounding guitar and it did it's job. It was beautiful sounding enough that made me want to pick up and play it. I have since upgraded and now own a beautiful Taylor Guitar (a very high end acoustic guitar) and I love every time I play it. Did I need a Taylor? No but it makes me happy every time I pick it up and play it.

My theory and moral to this story is that first you need a good tool and second that tool needs to make you happy when you use it. Sure the skill of playing a guitar, or for our purposes making a film, is in the artists hands but if you don't have something that makes you happy when you use it you will lose motivation. Back to the guitar example, sure nobody I know cares or could tell the difference I play a taylor guitar but I know the difference and that difference makes me happy. I love the way it sounds when I play it.

I believe the real reason filmmakers choose certain cameras is because the image makes them happy. It speaks to them in the same way a beautifully made guitar sounds to a player. Not this mumbo jumbo about this is the right camera for the story. Rodger Deakins likes Alexa because he likes the image it produces. Quentin Tarantino likes film because he likes the image it produces. It's that simple! They like the way those tools sing to them. There are of course other reasons but that is the big reason.

If you feel like your T3i is pigeonholing you it is time to upgrade to something that you do like to shoot with. For me personally I have shot a ton of stuff on the Red Epic and it has a awesome image! but it doesn't make me happy. My little 1080p BMPCC makes me happy. I love the image it produces!

In this day and age with cameras you can't go to wrong if you do a little bit of research and testing and find the camera you like. It could be a Sony, Blackmagic, Panasonic, Canon, Alexa, RED, Nikon, and etc. If the tools are pleasing to work with and produce pleasing images, you will be more likely to shoot with it.

TL;DR
Find a good camera that makes you happy and shoot with it.

February 5, 2016 at 5:53PM, Edited February 5, 5:59PM

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Joseph Lindsay
Director of Photography/Motion Designer
267

Amen.

February 6, 2016 at 2:52PM

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Clark McCauley
Spaceman
2019

The key is shoot with your camera what ever that is, does story trump camera, why I think it does when you lump in lighting, colors, costume, set design, camera operation. A great story and set will work with just about any camera you use that does video. So, if you ask should I buy................................? camera? I say yes and be happy. If you think that a camera purchase substitutes for skill, I would say that any camera not used skillfully and to potential will result with crappy video and the best video cannot overcome a poor story and poor audio.

February 6, 2016 at 6:14PM, Edited February 6, 6:16PM

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God bless you Ninja Monkey, Jesus loves you so much!

February 7, 2016 at 3:48PM

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Peace be unto you Ninja Monkey, glad you have strong felt opinions. God bless you.

February 7, 2016 at 8:34PM

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I think your post is interesting. I feel like even though the story is important. A lot of people look at the quality of a shot and think "wow that's amazing" and it seems like the actual story only motivates a selected amount of everybody who watches it. I think that if you were to upgrade your camera, spend time making beautiful shots along with a beautiful story then you would truly have something amazing on both the technical and storytelling aspect of filmmaking.

February 8, 2016 at 4:08AM

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Daymian S. Mejia
Filmmaker
225

Thanks for everyone's input, I purchased a new camera last week after reading everyone's comments and have made a decision that makes sense for me. NFS community rocks <3

February 9, 2016 at 2:49PM

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Clark McCauley
Spaceman
2019

Which camera did you buy? I'm also wanting to upgrade from a T3i

February 17, 2016 at 9:36PM

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Talus McKill
Director, Videographer
325

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