April 12, 2016 at 9:18PM


Low light cinema camera recommendations for Horror film

I've been using a A7s with an Atomos Assassin. I love full frame and wish I could win the lottery and get an 8K Weapon, but that's not in the cards (yet). I'm planning for a $100k horror feature film. I'm not aware of anything as good in low light as the A7S/A7S II given the size of the photosites. I've been looking at Red, Sony F5, and the new Panasonic Varicam LT. When I saw the Evil Dead remake, I thought that the Sony camera resulted in a bit of video look (though maybe other factors like LUTs, grading, and film convert-type things can make a big difference). The Varicam LT is new so I don't know what it's like, but it seems more ENG-like so probably video-like. The Ursa Mini 4.6k seems promising but still not great in low light and quality is a concern. I've been focusing on the Red Scarlet W with the low light OLPF. I'm wondering if there's something, even an older camera, that someone could recommend that would provide at least 10-bit 422 ProRes, and ideally Raw. Size isn't so important, but cost under $20k would be nice. Thanks


A good film is never filmed in low light not even for the dark scenes!

A good dark scene should have ample lighting. The difference with a light scene is that in a dark scene the lighting is only focused on the important spots. This overall high contrast gives the perception of a dark scene.

Shooting a really dark scene without proper lighting even with the best camera will always look uninteresting.

April 12, 2016 at 10:46PM, Edited April 12, 10:48PM

Cary Knoop

Thank you. I've done a lot of night shooting with the A7s. You're right that contrast is important and a scene is never never really that low in light, so I agree. I do like deep blacks and want to have texture even in the shadows. So I'm curious if any one camera really stands out in this regard

Todd Takehana

April 13, 2016 at 9:22AM

I can confirm this, I asked 'Lights Out' director David F. Sandberg whether he would get the Sony A7s and sell his Black Magic since I said most of his films were in 'low light' but then he said that he just loves shooting raw and the stuff that he shoots is more 'contrasty than low light'. If anyone knows David F. Sandberg then they'll probably know he's pretty much the king of horror films on YouTube and actually directed the feature film adaptation of his own short film Lights Out!

Feel free to check the video on which my comment was posted so you guys know I'm not lying! :)


Matt Nunn

April 17, 2016 at 7:29PM

Exactly what Cary said. Here are some details as to how big-time films use literally a million watts of fill and another million watts of key lights to light their darkest scenes: http://www.theasc.com/site/blog/thefilmbook/lighting-spectre/ (see #6, London by Night).

April 13, 2016 at 4:29AM


Thanks for the excellent link. Truly amazing lighting setups. It's funny because I live in London and have been shooting some of the same locations along the Thames with my A7s rig, but using ambient light. Around St. Pauls cathedral is particularly good for that - amazing shadows from the big lights they have on nearby rooftops

Todd Takehana

April 13, 2016 at 10:15AM, Edited April 13, 10:15AM

The Panasonic Varicam LT would be a great fit considering it has two base ISO's of 800 & 5,000. Not sure you're going to find a camera like the Varicam with a base ISO even close to 5,000.

Although, the a7s/a7sii cameras can do amazing things.

Check out this documentary short shot in Joshua Tree on the a7s:

April 13, 2016 at 11:02AM

Adam Wright
Freelance Cinematographer

Super cool doc short. Thanks for the share.

Tony Adalbert

April 13, 2016 at 12:35PM

I've been eyeing the Varicam LT, but others have said that an FS7 at the same ISO (or higher) is less noisy than the Varicam LT at 5000. Might be worth renting for a weekend to check it out, but I suspect the Panasonic camera might be better suited for documentary work than narrative.

The short film is very nice. Having shot at night on my A7s with ambient light I know it can do some amazing things (e.g. the sky in the background has stars visible even though you can't see it with your own eyes!) . Shooting at night is tough, so I give them a lot of credit. I'm absolutely adore the full frame look and I love the sensitivity of the A7s. If only I could get raw or at least 10-bit, then I would use it on more projects.

Todd Takehana

April 15, 2016 at 1:03PM

It seems like you are looking at a high budget camera for your film. I don't know what position your in, but if I was making that choice I would buy a set of battery powered LED lights that run off of V-Mount batteries. That way you can move quickly and light minimally while still getting most of the benefits of low light shooting. I think this may be the first time that I have ever recommended a Canon, but their C series cameras always do well in low light. Maybe the C500 with an external recorder. That way you are getting great low light in an awesome 4k codec (canonraw) and you can easily and portably light your scenes. You could even use the V-Mount batteries to power your camera too. But in my opinion I think codec is going to be the key feature here on any low light camera. I know I would never shoot low light again without a very heavy duty codec, preferably RAW. I just think the colors get muddied and luminance gets compressed when I shoot anything else in low light. Again, just my two cents. Plus budget in your lenses as well, and remember, anamorphic sucks in low light. (Also, don't forget about marketing and art department in your budget).

April 14, 2016 at 10:43PM

Paul Goodyear
Director/ DP / Writer

Thanks Paul for the insights. You have a lot of good recommendations (including balancing production costs against marketing/distribution). I'll try renting a C500 and do some test shots. I don't have much experience with Canon cameras but I know that they have been a favorite among many filmmakers. I definitely would like to shoot raw (though I suspect ProRes 10-bit+ 4444 is good enough if the camera supports it). Raw would add extra flexibility even if Canon bakes in ISO/WB.

The idea of using a v-mount battery for powering LED lights is spot on. That's what I had been planning. As for glass, I have a fast Zeiss prime lens kit that I'm quite happy with. They're used and a bit worn, but the images they capture are great and their build is solid as a rock.

Todd Takehana

April 15, 2016 at 12:44PM

Great Todd! Glad I could help. Yeah, Canon's cinema line is some of the best low light professional cinema cameras. Canon RAW has been a pleasure to work with. Just budget about $1000 for media storage. Good luck with your feature!

Paul Goodyear

April 17, 2016 at 12:54PM

i'm vote Sony.
good work in low light.

January 2, 2018 at 8:42AM, Edited January 2, 8:42AM


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