Jump to content




Photo

Why use more expensive cameras if one doesn't need to?

Camera Film Product/ion

  • Please log in to reply
12 replies to this topic

#1 Harry Weaks

Harry Weaks
  • Basic Members
  • PipPip
  • 21 posts
  • Other
  • New York

Posted 04 October 2015 - 10:00 PM

Why do filmmakers use Arri and Red cameras --for example-- to produce short/feature films, when they could possibly use cameras like the AJA cion, canon 1dc, and blackmagic pocket cinema camera --for instance-- to create a short/feature film of equal production value/image quality --or close enough-- as the more expensive cameras? As I've seen works made with less expensive ones, and they seemed similar enough in quality to me that I questioned why filmmakers would go for pricier cameras if it weren't necessarily needed. Is there a reason why those cameras are preferred in certain instances that I'm unaware of? Technical reasons? Others? The less expensive cameras seem less expensive to both rent and buy in my opinion.

  • 0




#2 David Mullen ASC

David Mullen ASC
  • Sustaining Members
  • 18788 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles

Posted 04 October 2015 - 11:00 PM

Some might question the "equal quality" or "close enough" statement for one thing -- I'm not saying anyone is right or wrong here, but for one person, 14-stops of dynamic range over 12-stops, let's say, means more to them and their project than to another person.

 

Second, most people aren't buying the highest-end cinema quality cameras to make one short film, they are usually renting or borrowing those sorts of cameras if the project is short in duration.  Sure, the rentals are higher as well for the top cameras compared to renting the small ones, but it may work out about the same to rent a top-end camera rather than buy the low-end camera and fully equip it.

 

Third, often the low-end cameras are actually harder to use for traditional cinema work on dollies with manual focus-pulling, etc.  Some simple functions that any broadcast video camcorder, let's say, would have can actually be harder to do on a tiny camera with fewer features/controls.

 

Fourth, often the high-end professional gear is more robust, more reliable, and easier to get serviced.  If you are going to be shooting in physically rough locations that are hard on gear, you might want to make sure your camera can take the abuse, not overheat with long takes, not get dust into the system easily, not lose frames or stop recording when there is too much vibration, etc.

 

While I would admit that some -- if not many -- of these small projects are only using the high-end gear for vanity's sake, for their ego, or because they really don't understand what all the cameras out there can do or not do, I'd disagree that there are no good reasons to use professional camera with high standards for image quality even if your budget is tight.

 

Back in the days when the choices for low-budget feature filmmaking was between Super-16 and 35mm, I'd say that many projects should have opted for Super-16 rather than spend the money on 35mm, but I'd also say that some types of projects, no matter what their budget, would benefit from the higher quality and resolution of 35mm.


  • 0

#3 Freya Black

Freya Black
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 4032 posts
  • Other
  • Right on the edge in London

Posted 05 October 2015 - 02:59 AM

I think the trick is to use the right camera for the job regardless of the price. Various  cameras have different strengths and weaknesses and people should play to that.

 

One huge advantage that cameras like the Alexa and Red have that you might not have considered, is that they have established workflows and that people may have used them a lot in the past and be very familiar with them and how to get the best out of that camera system.

 

Freya


  • 0

#4 Satsuki Murashige

Satsuki Murashige
  • Sustaining Members
  • 3081 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • San Francisco, CA

Posted 05 October 2015 - 03:48 AM

It's a judgement call, so if you just can't see the difference in your final output format or see any improvements in efficiency of your workflow then there is no reason to use a better camera. A lot of broadcast and corporate work that has a shelf life of a few months at best is shot in highly compressed 8-bit codecs and HD 1920x1080 resolution for exactly that reason. It would be silly to shoot that stuff in 65mm 15-perf IMAX, Alexa 65, or 8K Weapon Dragon - nobody would see the difference.

That said, the cameras that you mentioned including the AJA Cion and Blackmagic Pocket cameras have some major flaws that make them poor choices if you have the budget for something better. I know the latter has some fans here, but frankly no one would ever choose to use these cameras for narrative or commercial filmmaking if they could have 35mm, Alexa or Red Dragon instead and not have to give up production value in another department. The Cion in particular really is the one of the shittiest cameras I've had the misfortune of operating in the past few years, especially for natural light doc style shooting. Those guys should really just bite the bullet and pretend they never released it. I'd rather shoot on a potato than a Cion.
  • 0

#5 Robin R Probyn

Robin R Probyn
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1034 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Tokyo

Posted 05 October 2015 - 04:18 AM

Would that potato camera be multi chip..  :D


  • 0

#6 Satsuki Murashige

Satsuki Murashige
  • Sustaining Members
  • 3081 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • San Francisco, CA

Posted 05 October 2015 - 05:12 AM

image.jpeg
  • 0

#7 Phil Rhodes

Phil Rhodes
  • Sustaining Members
  • 11221 posts
  • Other

Posted 05 October 2015 - 05:21 AM

Don't be so miserable, that's my job.

 

Anyway, our correspondent's point is well taken in general. If we went to the set of a big-budget blockbuster and replaced their camera with a Blackmagic 4K, assuming they knew how to operate it, would they be able to produce something on it that looked like a big-budget blockbuster? Of course they would. They'd probably gripe and whine about the daft touchscreen and especially if it had EF lenses, but imaging-wise it is perfectly possible to shoot glossy-looking stuff on low cost cameras.

 

The devil is in the details of ergonomics and ease of use; the imaging performance of something like Alexa is, I suspect, in many cases, a safety net. There are technical reasons, but if we work it out as a sheer price-performance ratio, Arri's is far less favourable than Blackmagic's.

 

After all, many movies that made huge amounts of money were shot on cameras - early digital cinematography devices like Viper and F900 - which were far, far less capable, at least imaging-wise, than the low cost stuff now.

 

P


  • 0

#8 Tyler Purcell

Tyler Purcell
  • Sustaining Members
  • 2350 posts
  • Other
  • Los Angeles

Posted 05 October 2015 - 02:51 PM

Why do filmmakers use Arri and Red cameras --for example-- to produce short/feature films, when they could possibly use cameras like the AJA cion, canon 1dc, and blackmagic pocket cinema camera --for instance-- to create a short/feature film of equal production value/image quality --or close enough-- as the more expensive cameras?


The big question is; why would you want to hinder the potential of your final product? Buyers of content today want 4k DCP's and if you don't have one, that's a cost they may not want to deal with. So if you truly want your film to be purchased, you've gotta shoot or at least finish in 4k. This is part of the reason why we're seeing such a big shift towards 4k shooting, it's almost a pre-requisite.

Unlike film, where you can always extract more from the original elements, with digital cinema, what you shoot is the max resolution you'll ever get. So another reason people want to shoot 4k is an attempt to "future-proof" their product. This makes sense for bigger productions, but for smaller shows, it's kinda silly in my point of view. I can't afford to store 4k RAW material for a web video, it's just too costly. I'd rather shoot in a format that's easy to store, so in the future it won't be lost when drives go bad.

Honestly, the reason why Arri and Red cinema cameras are so popular is simply because they work. People understand them, workflows exist and they're more built for shooting cinema then their predecessors. Are my Blackmagic Pocket cameras really different? In my eyes, not really. Sure the Alexa has external menu's which are more intuitive for people who are use to shooting cinema, sure it has industry standard I/O, large imager and all the other professional bells and whistles. However, do they function the same way? Yea they really do. Throw some prime lenses on the pocket and there is really no reason someone who is use to shooting digital cinema, couldn't figure it out in a few seconds and get some amazing images. Plus, owning an inexpensive small cinema camera is an enabler, something the bigger cameras really struggle with.

With all that said, film is still better, in more ways then one! ;)
  • 0

#9 Robert Glenn

Robert Glenn
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 246 posts
  • Other

Posted 07 October 2015 - 01:16 PM

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that major productions go with Arri, Panavision, Sony, etc not just for the cameras, but for the support that they provide. They'll have lenses for the cameras, techs on call for problems, etc.

These companies (or divisions within) are as much a cinema solutions platform as they are camera-makers


  • 0

#10 Satsuki Murashige

Satsuki Murashige
  • Sustaining Members
  • 3081 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • San Francisco, CA

Posted 07 October 2015 - 04:03 PM

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that major productions go with Arri, Panavision, Sony, etc not just for the cameras, but for the support that they provide. They'll have lenses for the cameras, techs on call for problems, etc.
These companies (or divisions within) are as much a cinema solutions platform as they are camera-makers


Well, Panavision is a rental company that happens to make their own proprietary camera and lens systems so support and customer service is their main mission, but yes the other big camera manufacturers do also offer a lot of support to the big budget films. I don't think Peter Jackson or David Fincher would be shooting with Red cameras if they weren't given early access to the latest gear, firmware updates, on-set tech support, custom modules, etc. It would have been too much of a financial risk to use a new camera without that kind of support from the manufacturer.

According to the American Cinematographer article on 'The Social Network' Red made their first carbon fiber camera body for Fincher so he could mount the camera on a row boat without tipping it over. That's service!
  • 0

#11 Phil Rhodes

Phil Rhodes
  • Sustaining Members
  • 11221 posts
  • Other

Posted 07 October 2015 - 05:50 PM

The big question is; why would you want to hinder the potential of your final product?

 

The thing is, there are perfectly good answers to that question. Why might you use a lower-cost camera? Well, because it frees up money to do other things, perhaps even to the point of being able to do the show at all. Of course, the cost of a camera department to some very large movies is so trivial that they don't mind spending it, but that does raise a few rather uncomfortable questions.

 

Is there any real reason that high-end movies couldn't be shot on low-end equipment? No, not really.

 

Are companies wasting money on stuff they don't, strictly speaking, need? Sure.

 

Are the people involved in these decisions acting solely on rational grounds? Nope.

 

There's a lot of politics and confidence factors at work. Some of the highest-end crews are, in terms of their equipment familiarity, actually quite startlingly limited in their outlook, but whatever you have for a camera, you certainly need decent crew, so in some ways we're just pandering to the desires of people we need. People are doing what they know works, even though it's the case that other things might also work, and even though they might know about them.

 

The most important thing to realise is that people do things for reasons that are actually quite hard to justify as good. People don't always act rationally. Usually it doesn't matter very much, not that it shouldn't be contested.

 

P


  • 0

#12 Satsuki Murashige

Satsuki Murashige
  • Sustaining Members
  • 3081 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • San Francisco, CA

Posted 08 October 2015 - 03:17 PM

That is very well put Phil. I think the real disconnect we are seeing is between filmmakers who only work on either big budget or low budget productions. They really are two very different worlds. I feel lucky to have experienced both - knowing the 'right way' (i.e. the safest and most efficient way) to do things is important, and knowing where you can safely shave corners and still make something work is equally important. Of course on micro-budget productions, the most common risk is shaving too far and cutting off something important that can't be replaced...

That said, in your estimation what would be an example of wasted money on a recent big budget production? Because for every example I'm sure someone on the crew can give you a good reason for why that expenditure was made. Big budget projects are generally very efficient, despite what it may look like from the outside.
  • 0

#13 John E Clark

John E Clark
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 780 posts
  • Other
  • San Diego

Posted 09 October 2015 - 04:38 PM

That said, in your estimation what would be an example of wasted money on a recent big budget production? Because for every example I'm sure someone on the crew can give you a good reason for why that expenditure was made. Big budget projects are generally very efficient, despite what it may look like from the outside.

 

I think it has always been true that if the budget is such, that the camera+film is a small percentage of the budget, say less than 5%, heck less than 1%... there is no reason not to get the 'best' in the class of camera needed.

 

In the case of the recent "Mad Max" film, there was a 3-D camera designed in the pre-production phase... which got dumped in lieu of 2-D ARRI Alexa and several 'favored' brands of DSLRs and Blackmagic cameras.

 

Those were the 'best' relative to the DoP's and Director's agreed judgement.

 

On nolo budget films it is such a scramble to get anything, scratching one's way to any camera that is good enough is the goal...

 

I have the Blackmagic Pocket, and relative to other short films where a Canon 5D or C100 have been used, I'd say for the price the Pocket wins for those types of projects... because for the under $1K for the pocket (never mind renting...), I can rent a 'big', by my standards, light package... or heck enough beer to drown the production's collective sorrows...


Edited by John E Clark, 09 October 2015 - 04:39 PM.

  • 0


Glidecam

Abel Cine

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Paralinx LLC

Willys Widgets

Ritter Battery

Pro 8mm

The Slider

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Visual Products

CineTape

Tai Audio

Technodolly

Aerial Filmworks

rebotnix Technologies

Rig Wheels Passport

CineLab

Zylight

Zylight

Pro 8mm

rebotnix Technologies

Tai Audio

CineTape

Willys Widgets

CineLab

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Aerial Filmworks

The Slider

Paralinx LLC

Glidecam

Abel Cine

Technodolly

Ritter Battery

Visual Products

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Rig Wheels Passport