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#1 Katie Hepfinger

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Posted 07 February 2010 - 06:28 PM

I'm making my first film this spring for a local film fest. I'm a newly decided cinema studies major and can't decide whether or not it's worth it to purchase a camera, or rent one. Regardless, what's a quality camera with good sound quality and light? Also, where would I rent one if I chose to rent?

Thanks! ;)
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#2 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 07 February 2010 - 09:04 PM

I'm making my first film this spring for a local film fest. I'm a newly decided cinema studies major and can't decide whether or not it's worth it to purchase a camera, or rent one. Regardless, what's a quality camera with good sound quality and light? Also, where would I rent one if I chose to rent?

Thanks! ;)


Hi Katie!

This question comes up a lot.


First, if you intend to become a professional Cameraman:

Apart from swimming through the alphabet soup that currently describes video cameras these days, :) you need to learn everything you can about the fundamentals of photography, lighting, and editing.

I highly recommend that you spend time learning the basics of photography with a STILL camera that enables you to manually adjust everything (shutter, aperture, film speed/ASA/ISO, focus, focal length). You need to fully understand how changing one thing affects others and your picture. You'll go from just pointing the camera to fully controlling the images that you shoot.

You'll also need to understand LIGHTING. All too often, the question that most aspiring Cameramen and Directors ask is "what camera should I buy?" Almost never do they also ask "what lighting equipment should I buy?" and that's a big mistake. Arguably, lighting is a larger part of the job than the camera is. Learning what lighting equipment to use and how to control the lights you turn on is vital to becoming a Cameraman and building a viable career.

There are many many photography and lighting books out there to help you with the basics. I also urge you to get out there and volunteer and/or get an internship with a working professional Cameraman. You can find them at or through local production companies and equipment rental houses. You'll be helping to carry cases and clean cases and just be around to help out with manual labor, but most established Cameramen will be more than happy and willing to bring you on and teach you throughout the days. You should do all the book learning on your own that you can so that you'll understand more of what you're watching your mentors do in real life situations. Since you're so young, you have time to find multiple people to shadow. Getting as much experience with as many people as possible will give you a better breadth of experience so that when you're out there on your own, you'll be able to draw on what you've experienced.

I also highly recommend that you invest time in EDITING. Shoot your own material and then edit it. Take the camera and gather a few people and just shoot without concern for lighting or anything else beyond putting shots together to tell a quick story. Then take those shots and cut them together. This is an exercise for you to concentrate on what types of shots you need and don't need and how better to shoot on set. Only when you sit down to edit will you see what works and what causes problems that you'd have to "cut around."



Now, if you intend to be a professional Director, you shouldn't be investing too much time or money into ANY equipment. Instead, you should concentrate on storytelling and writing. Of course you need to learn the fundamentals of how to make a movie, but your concentration needs to be on things like writing and research and communication skills (to talk to your cast and crew). When your project IS ready to go into production (you have a great script and many of the logistics are figured out), you can then go find a more qualified Cameraperson who has the specific interest in lighting and camera. That frees you up to direct and build a reputation that can contribute to making this a viable career.



But should you BUY a camera at all? I recommend "No." Why? Because each project you will work on will likely have different requirements necessitating different formats, lighting, and just about everything. I mean, imagine you go out today and buy something like a Sony EX3 or a film camera like an ARRI SR. So now you've got so much money invested in that particular gear that you'll start fashioning your projects around the stuff you own instead of letting the project determine the equipment you get.

As an aspiring Director, you'll can do some practice short movies with any type of camera as your emphasis won't be on how the image looks so much as things like blocking and working with Actors. When you are ready to do a serious project, THEN the camera and format become important.

When you DO need a camera, which one? Well, again, it depends on what your project calls for. Also be aware that some festivals and other distribution outlets have technical specs that you may have to adhere to, so those will guide your choice for camera and format. Sound quality is an issue for your Sound Mixer who, hopefully, will record on a separate recording device. Like the qualified Cameraman, find an experienced Sound Mixer who will know what gear is best (mics, mixer, recorder, cables, etc) and he'll know how to use it to obtain the best sound on set s that your post-production won't be more difficult than necessary.

As far as the types and models that are out there, the list is fairly extensive so tossing out recommendations at this stage would be completely random and not necessarily helpful to you at this point.
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#3 Katie Hepfinger

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Posted 08 February 2010 - 10:11 AM

You are amazing. That answer was everything I needed. :)

Fabulous. Btw, I'm trying to get into Cinematography (at least the basics) because I'm too cheap to hire anyone skilled enough to help me for my Independent Film. :( So I'm trying to learn all I can in order to cut back on my budget and what not.
Is this wise?
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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 08 February 2010 - 12:21 PM

Technical knowledge is not all that a DoP has. I'd recommend keeping one 'round to help you focus on the acting, for one, and for two to help you also create a new ideas and approaches you'd've never thought of. A lot of times when you have an awesome script and an interesting way of approaching it, you'll find many people willing to work on your film for as little money as they can afford. I can tell you I did a whole film just because I would be getting a camera package after-wards. Did I loose money on the deal? Of course, I'd've made more money just shooting the film for pay. But, the film itself presented me with opportunities and challenges that I, as a DoP, really enjoyed, and so long as I could pay my bills; why worry so much? Getting a 35mm package in the end was also a major plus.
So should you buy a camera? Probably not. If you do, I'd say get a cheap little miniDV camera so you can use it when you're scouting and interviewing actors to see how a location plays or the actor plays etc. Also you can experiment with some quick shooting projects and get a feel for editing. But you don't need a major expensive camera for that, but a used MiniDV camcorder would work wonderfully.
You'll need to decide, when you go to make a film, do you want to be a director, or a cinematographer. I don't personally believe you can do both jobs, at once, very well, unless you're very gifted. The problem always comes that you spend so much time working on the cameras and lights that you can't work with the actors on their performance, which is, of course, why everyone is there anyway. It's often the case that the DoP has shot a lot more than the director, and while a great DoP will never let that go to his/her head, it will mean that when you run into a problem, a proper DoP can unusually find a solution-- and you will run into problems.

For Renting, you can sometimes find DoPs who have their own camera systems, and there are myriad rental houses in most major metro areas. I see you're in Michigan, and I know for a fact there are camera/grip houses out there which'll have a good number of camera systems. And when you get to renting, you're really doing yourself a favor. For one, it's cheaper than buying a camera, and for two, if the camera doesn't work for some reason or other, the rental house will have backups. I always worry when I go out on a shoot with one of my packages and something happens to it. So far, nothing (major) has, but you need to then also worry about finding backups to cover yourself when/if things go wrong (the camera falls off a tripod and shatters or something like that).

Good luck!
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#5 Mike Lary

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Posted 08 February 2010 - 02:26 PM

Btw, I'm trying to get into Cinematography (at least the basics) because I'm too cheap to hire anyone skilled enough to help me for my Independent Film. So I'm trying to learn all I can in order to cut back on my budget and what not. Is this wise?

If you were a newly decided business major, would you open a restaurant by yourself and learn a little about cooking so you could avoid hiring a chef?
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#6 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 09 February 2010 - 12:41 AM

You are amazing. That answer was everything I needed. :)

Fabulous. Btw, I'm trying to get into Cinematography (at least the basics) because I'm too cheap to hire anyone skilled enough to help me for my Independent Film. :( So I'm trying to learn all I can in order to cut back on my budget and what not.
Is this wise?



You're welcome.

As far as doing it yourself because you don't feel like you could find someone qualified to help you, there's no need to go through that if your "passion" isn't in Cinematography. While you're not likely to get an ASC Cameraman/woman on board, there are likely a few eager and qualified Cameramen near you who would be more than willing to volunteer their time to make a short movie for their own reel. It's likely that someone like that will either have his/her own camera and lighting or they'll have access to it... much better gear than you're likely able to afford yourself.

You might have to pay a little for insurance, but that amount is still likely to be less than the cost of buying or renting your own gear.

The other benefit of finding a willing Cameraman is that typically, he'll already have other crew who he likes to work with so a lot of that leg-work for you goes away. Granted, you're not getting people who have oodles of experience because they're likely working for free, but, you'll get enthusiastic crew who want to work and learn and they are out to impress the Cameraman who brought them on board in hopes that he/she takes them to the next job and the next until they finally do get paid. Everyone wins!

So, going about it this way, you can potentially get quality gear and people who know how to use it so you get to concentrate on directing. And, if you find a really good DP, he/she will collaborate with you on shots so you'll be learning too. You get a great looking movie, the crew gets something to work on, everyone has something to show for it at the end.
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#7 Katie Hepfinger

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Posted 09 February 2010 - 05:19 PM

You're welcome.

As far as doing it yourself because you don't feel like you could find someone qualified to help you, there's no need to go through that if your "passion" isn't in Cinematography. While you're not likely to get an ASC Cameraman/woman on board, there are likely a few eager and qualified Cameramen near you who would be more than willing to volunteer their time to make a short movie for their own reel. It's likely that someone like that will either have his/her own camera and lighting or they'll have access to it... much better gear than you're likely able to afford yourself.

You might have to pay a little for insurance, but that amount is still likely to be less than the cost of buying or renting your own gear.

The other benefit of finding a willing Cameraman is that typically, he'll already have other crew who he likes to work with so a lot of that leg-work for you goes away. Granted, you're not getting people who have oodles of experience because they're likely working for free, but, you'll get enthusiastic crew who want to work and learn and they are out to impress the Cameraman who brought them on board in hopes that he/she takes them to the next job and the next until they finally do get paid. Everyone wins!

So, going about it this way, you can potentially get quality gear and people who know how to use it so you get to concentrate on directing. And, if you find a really good DP, he/she will collaborate with you on shots so you'll be learning too. You get a great looking movie, the crew gets something to work on, everyone has something to show for it at the end.


I guess if I had like a thousand arms, I could do it all by myself. lol
I need to hire someone, or find someone willing to do it for free. It's gonna be hard, but in the end you guys make a good point...It'll be worth it. ;)
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#8 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 09 February 2010 - 06:12 PM

Get me something interesting to shoot, a ticket, and enough to cover the rent ;)

Finding a DoP can be a lot easier than one would think. Finding the right DoP, well that's another story. Good luck.
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#9 Katie Hepfinger

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Posted 09 February 2010 - 06:35 PM

Get me something interesting to shoot, a ticket, and enough to cover the rent ;)

Finding a DoP can be a lot easier than one would think. Finding the right DoP, well that's another story. Good luck.


hahaha That's always possible! I'm looking into possible grants right now, hopefully I can get one and make this project with some quality people who I can pay as well.
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#10 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 09 February 2010 - 06:38 PM

Well if you're ever serious, I'd be delighted. I already did one shoot out in Detroit a few months back. I vividly remember enjoying the bar I wound up in somewhere.
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Aerial Filmworks

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The Slider

CineLab

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

rebotnix Technologies

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Rig Wheels Passport

Paralinx LLC

Technodolly