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What camera would you recommend to a film student?

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#1 Tim Ford

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Posted 14 June 2016 - 10:19 PM

I'm looking for a new camera. I'm ready to invest a bit of money so I was looking at the Sony alpha series. What do you think is there something I should consider? 


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#2 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 15 June 2016 - 01:10 AM

Welcome to the forum Tim.

This question plagues the forum on a weekly basis. Everyone wants to know what camera they should buy because there are so many options today, it's hard to know what direction to go with. Truthfully there are four price brackets; (Sub $999. $3000 - $9999. 10,000 - $20,000. and 20,000 +) Since you are probably like most people and can't afford a $3000+ camera body, to then add $5000 worth of glass to, it makes sense to discuss the sub $999 cameras.

In my experience, there are two types of cameras; swiss army knifes and single function.

The lower-end cameras (like the A7S&GH4) are almost entirely like swiss army knives. They do a lot of things, but nothing truly outstanding. Almost all of them are still cameras that happen to also record video. As a consequence, they have to compromise, which really sucks. They are not only missing key cinema features, but record in archaic 8 bit, 4:2:0 MPEG formats, which aren't editing friendly.

DSLR's fall under that same category unfortunately, as none of them have upgraded to the newer i-Frame style codec's and treat video as secondary to stills.

The only lower-end camera that is single function and only shoots moving images is the blackmagic pocket cinema camera. Sure, it's 1080p, sure it has a small imager (equivalent to Super 16), but everything else about the camera focuses on one priority; making excellent cinematic images.

As you learn how to work with cameras, there is certain terminology you will need to know and how that terminology effects your image. The Blackmagic cameras are the lowest price cameras which use the industry standard terminology. They have built-in histograms. They use shutter angle instead of shutter speed. ASA instead of ISO and have completely manual iris control. Plus, the cameras record in editing friendly Pro Res (10 bit 4:2:2) or (12 bit 4:4:4) Cinema DNG codec's, allowing a full 13 stops of dynamic range, which is impressive for a $998 camera retail. I also dig the cameras ability to use old school Super 16mm glass natively. It means you can score some great glass on ebay for not much money and get some excellent imagery, without resorting to modern glass, which can be overly sharp and have weak housings/bodies which are cheesy.

As a teacher of cinema, I can't recommend the Pocket Cinema camera enough. I think every young filmmaker should buy one, buy old school manual glass and go make movies. It's a great learning tool and what you learn will translate very nicely into bigger more professional cameras down the road. When you come on here and talk about your shooting, you'll be using terminology that we all understand because the camera is designed around the professional cinema shooting world.

Unfortunately, there isn't another camera on the market like it. Everyone feels the swiss army knife design is more important then a single task camera. Below is a little video I made about the pocket almost three years ago when it first came out. It needs a bit of updating (which I will do soon), but you'll get the point. :)


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#3 aapo lettinen

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Posted 15 June 2016 - 01:34 AM

do you have possibility to borrow good cameras from your school? if that's possible and you are not intending to do lots of professional gigs with you own camera, I would maybe invest on film shooting (not only for buying film equipment but choosing a basic film camera and investing to actually shoot film a lot so you get used to it and will learn a lot from the experience. it will help you learn lighting, composition, pre-production, post-production, communication, etc. much more efficiently than digital cameras and by shooting film you will actually understand better how the digital cameras work and how to handle them more efficiently in different situations.)  It may be difficult in your country because of the labs but otherwise it is highly recommended even if you don't shoot professional projects on it in the future


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#4 Jan Tore Soerensen

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Posted 17 June 2016 - 06:53 PM

Welcome to the forum Tim.

This question plagues the forum on a weekly basis. Everyone wants to know what camera they should buy because there are so many options today, it's hard to know what direction to go with. Truthfully there are four price brackets; (Sub $999. $3000 - $9999. 10,000 - $20,000. and 20,000 +) Since you are probably like most people and can't afford a $3000+ camera body, to then add $5000 worth of glass to, it makes sense to discuss the sub $999 cameras.

In my experience, there are two types of cameras; swiss army knifes and single function.

The lower-end cameras (like the A7S&GH4) are almost entirely like swiss army knives. They do a lot of things, but nothing truly outstanding. Almost all of them are still cameras that happen to also record video. As a consequence, they have to compromise, which really sucks. They are not only missing key cinema features, but record in archaic 8 bit, 4:2:0 MPEG formats, which aren't editing friendly.

DSLR's fall under that same category unfortunately, as none of them have upgraded to the newer i-Frame style codec's and treat video as secondary to stills.

The only lower-end camera that is single function and only shoots moving images is the blackmagic pocket cinema camera. Sure, it's 1080p, sure it has a small imager (equivalent to Super 16), but everything else about the camera focuses on one priority; making excellent cinematic images.

As you learn how to work with cameras, there is certain terminology you will need to know and how that terminology effects your image. The Blackmagic cameras are the lowest price cameras which use the industry standard terminology. They have built-in histograms. They use shutter angle instead of shutter speed. ASA instead of ISO and have completely manual iris control. Plus, the cameras record in editing friendly Pro Res (10 bit 4:2:2) or (12 bit 4:4:4) Cinema DNG codec's, allowing a full 13 stops of dynamic range, which is impressive for a $998 camera retail. I also dig the cameras ability to use old school Super 16mm glass natively. It means you can score some great glass on ebay for not much money and get some excellent imagery, without resorting to modern glass, which can be overly sharp and have weak housings/bodies which are cheesy.

As a teacher of cinema, I can't recommend the Pocket Cinema camera enough. I think every young filmmaker should buy one, buy old school manual glass and go make movies. It's a great learning tool and what you learn will translate very nicely into bigger more professional cameras down the road. When you come on here and talk about your shooting, you'll be using terminology that we all understand because the camera is designed around the professional cinema shooting world.

Unfortunately, there isn't another camera on the market like it. Everyone feels the swiss army knife design is more important then a single task camera. Below is a little video I made about the pocket almost three years ago when it first came out. It needs a bit of updating (which I will do soon), but you'll get the point. :)

I feel like the GH4 might be a more versatile camera for web though. With slowmo and good lens support.

 

Prores and 13 stops of DR is hard to beat, but internal 4k and 96fps is also really good, and I often miss slowmo on my BMC.


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#5 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 17 June 2016 - 08:15 PM

Prores and 13 stops of DR is hard to beat, but internal 4k and 96fps is also really good, and I often miss slowmo on my BMC.


Right, but whose editing, storing and distributing 4k? If you're shooting a feature that's destine for theatrical release, you wouldn't use any of these cameras anyway. So most of it is just having fun, playing around anyway. I say forget 4k, forget that horrible workflow and huge storage, just focus on shooting.
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#6 Jan Tore Soerensen

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Posted 17 June 2016 - 08:59 PM

Right, but whose editing, storing and distributing 4k? If you're shooting a feature that's destine for theatrical release, you wouldn't use any of these cameras anyway. So most of it is just having fun, playing around anyway. I say forget 4k, forget that horrible workflow and huge storage, just focus on shooting.

The main reason for shooting on Blackmagic atm, is entry-level RAW footage. But shooting raw is a pain in the ass workflow, and it takes up more space than internal 4k footage. If that wasn't enough, the second you start shooting ProRes instead of RAW, you lose around 1 stop of DR(dont quote me on this one).

 

Now, for paid projects, I have no problem with this. But for messing around, learning and shooting mostly in natural light, I don't see the point.

 

I can't make my mind up though. Because I love the flexibility of RAW; but I hate the workflow.


Edited by Jan Tore Soerensen, 17 June 2016 - 08:59 PM.

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#7 Shawn Sagady

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Posted 17 June 2016 - 09:55 PM

Having done quite a bit of shooting on the BMPCC I really dislike grading the ProRes files and always feel like its really inflexible compared to working Raw.  Really working with 1080 raw files is not bad at all, and even a modest computer can handle it.  Storage is much larger than prores but if I'm not shooting RAW on a digital camera I'd wrather be shooting film.


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#8 Chris Burke

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Posted 22 June 2016 - 03:19 PM

Do not buy a DSLR. You will just be one of the ten million other DP wanna-bees doing the same thing and your footage will look like all the rest. You want to stand out. Film is the best way to do that.


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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 June 2016 - 06:13 PM

Shoot whatever allows you to shoot as often as possible for as little money as possible, if you are getting a camera to learn. Something with manual controls similar to a professional camera.
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#10 Landon D. Parks

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Posted 22 June 2016 - 06:51 PM

I purchased my GH4 for less than $1,000 used off Amazon. Out of the box it is an okay camera and a great place to start. The advantage to the GH4 is that is does both high quality stills and high quality video. The primary advantage to the Gh4 over other DSLRs in general is that it can be 'upgraded to 10-bit 4:2:2 ProRes by buying an Atomos recorder. Because of this, I think the GH4 is the best value currently. It works good out of the box, but provides you plenty of upgrade options down the road to get it to a professional standard, and it's something you can build-on over time.

 

My issue with the pocket camera is that it shoots really good video - but no photo functionality. Trust me, you might not think you need it - but having the ability to take high quality stills is invaluable. Plus, the pocket has an off-sized sensor at 16mm, meaning the only native glass is super-16mm film glass - which will still set you back $2,000 for a descent zoom. Yes, you can throw MF3 lenses on it, but you'll have a substantial crop, which means you'll have a hard time getting super-wide shots.

 

Ultimately, it's what you can afford is what you should get. If you want something that is good now and can be made great via future upgrades, the GH4 is a good place to start. Start with the base and a good 14-45 lens - a kit that can be had for about $1,100 on Amazon right now. Save up $100 to upgrade to Vlog, and then save up to buy an Atomos recorder. Buy a iRig Pre ($40) preamp and a descent external mic like the AT875r. You'll have a little power house for video work.

 

Would I suggest it for the next cinematic blockbuster? No - but then again when you're at that point, the you won't be in Blackmagic or GH4 territory anyway.

 

Out of the camera, you have 8-bit 4:2:0, which is the standard for DVD, Bluray, and streaming... So it's not like having that extra 4-bits or better compression will result in a better end result anyway. In my opinion the only time anything above 4:2:0 8-bit helps is if you're doing chroma key or delivering for cinema. 

 

You could go with the pocket camera from black magic - but just keep in mind it has drawbacks. Namely, you'll only get 12-bit in RAW mode, which is hard to work with and has large file sizes (about double the size of a similar 4K GH4 file). Otherwise, if you record ProRes you're getting 10-bit, same as the GH4 with an external recorder. The pocket is also 1080p only - which is fine for now, but having that extra resolution for noise reduction, cropping, etc is useful in post. 

 

Ultimately, any of these cameras will produce good results. There really aren't any truly awful cameras on the modern market. Most shoot video about on par with the others, at least until you get to the higher end stuff in the $5,000-plus range.


Edited by Landon D. Parks, 22 June 2016 - 06:55 PM.

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#11 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 22 June 2016 - 09:47 PM

Again, the great thing about the Pocket is the ability to run any glass you want. Unlike a full-frame imager which can ONLY use full-frame glass, the Pocket can use literally anything from B4 mount TV zoom lenses, to a Bolex C mount prime. The imager size is almost identical to that of the Sony F900 and of course, the same size as S16mm. So we're not talking about something "unusual". If anything, S35mm imagers are FAR more unusual as there are only a hand-full of cameras with that size imager and coverage for such a format wasn't really a thing until the 90's. So older/wider glass, won't work well on such a big imager.

Modern glass, has a modern look. It's crisp and most of the affordable glass doesn't have external non-clicked F stop control, repeatable focus and zooms are RARELY Parfocal, which means they hold focus when you zoom in and out. I just did a shoot with a $2500 L series Canon zoom and when I zoomed in to get focus and zoom out, I had to re-focus. This is the same with almost all modern DSLR glass. By contrast my $1000 Super 16mm zoom IS completely manual, is a 12-120 (which is plenty wide/long enough) and is F2.4, which is faster then MOST modern DSLR glass of equal value. I'm always shocked to see DSLR zooms which start at F4, it's bonkers to think how cheap those lenses are. 

So your only choice with a S35mm imager is DSLR glass designed specifically for still cameras OR large-imager cinema glass, which is VERY expensive since the demand is high and the amount of DECENT inexpensive glass out there, is pretty low. Most rental houses are simply holding onto their softer/older glass because digital cameras are so sharp, many filmmakers have resorted to using older glass to smoothen things out.

To get a truly great cinematic image on a digital cinema camera, really requires not only a decent imager, but it also requires a piece of glass that just looks amazing.

The GH4 (or A7SMKII for that matter) don't offer RAW in any shape or form. So you are stuck with a standard REC709 output no matter what. Yes, both cameras can output a "log/flat" version of the image, but you are always going to work in REC709 color space, which is very limited. You don't NEED RAW for everything, just every once in a while. Shooting most of your footage using the built-in 10 bit 422 Pro Res encoder in flat/film mode, is what you'd do 90% of the time. Then for those specific shots you need RAW OR if you wish to learn about how to color using RAW files, that's when you make the switch. To me, RAW is a critical learning experience because it opens the cameras ability to capture higher dynamic range material 10 fold over a flat REC709 file.

Even if you forget about RAW and only shoot REC709, the GH4 and A7SMKII have an 8 bit processor. Yes, they both have outputs which are standard HDSDI which is a 10 bit 422 format. BUT, the internal processing is done in 8 bits, vs 12 bit with the Blackmagic Pocket camera. This is why the GH4 and A7SMKII can record high frame rates, because they're both recording FAR less data then the pocket camera which is running at it's max potential almost all the time. They also both have low-bandwidth Long GOP MPEG compression, which is atrocious. Adding an external recorder adds complexity, expense, weight, size and more importantly, doesn't "solve" any of the problems as both cameras are still internally, only 8 bit. It's the same with all of the small hand-held cameras on the market. Only Blackmagic have stepped away and said, hey lets do something totally different.

Now, these are all OK cameras. However, AS a professional cinematographer and AS someone who owns both 35mm and 16mm glass (and cameras for that matter), AS someone whose shot with almost every camera on the market today from the Arri Alexa and Red Dragon to the C300MKII and URSA mini 4.6k, I can attest to how flat-out MAGICAL the pocket camera is. It looks NOTHING like the Full-Frame imager cameras and for better or worse, thats what you want in reality. Separating your work from what everyone else is doing is one way to attract people to your work. You do need good glass though, that's the biggest factor in my view. 

It doesn't get much smaller/portable and FULLY MANUAL then this:

 

pocket_zoomlens.jpeg
 


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#12 Shawn Sagady

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Posted 23 June 2016 - 11:51 PM

If there is every ANY doubt about the performance and amazing color science of the BMPCC (my favorite digital camera that I use on everything) check out this video.

 

 

Happy to share some of my own if people need convincing as well.  But this camera is magic when combined with good glass and knowledge for lighting, framing and space.


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#13 Jan Tore Soerensen

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Posted 24 June 2016 - 02:27 PM


 

.. So it's not like having that extra 4-bits or better compression will result in a better end result anyway. In my opinion the only time anything above 4:2:0 8-bit helps is if you're doing chroma key or delivering for cinema. 

 

Really? Working with 12-bit footage vs DSLR footage is a huge difference. Also, the higher DR makes the whole image look a lot more cinematic. It's almost like going from a cell-phone to a DSLR.


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#14 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 24 June 2016 - 02:30 PM

I will say one more thing that I forgot to mention earlier.

I had been pushing the Rokinon's for quite a while because they looked pretty good on the pocket. However, when I switched to the Super 16 Optars (and zoom lens pictured above) all of a sudden the pocket camera came to life! All this time I never realized how BAD the Rokinon's were compared to REAL cinema glass.
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#15 Landon D. Parks

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Posted 24 June 2016 - 09:45 PM

Nothing like throwing lenses that cost thousands on a camera that costs $900. Personally, I'm sure most lenses can resolve the 2MP needed for the BMPCC. Besides that, only professionals generally care what lens you use. Most people cannot tell one lens from another. I posted a video back a month or two ago where this was basically proven that even many industry-insiders couldn't tell the DSLR kit lens from the $15,000 prime.

 

I have owned the BMPCC and the own the GH4. Shooting 10-bit on the BMPCC produces almost exactly the same image my GH4 spits out at 10-bit 4:2:2 from the Shogun. Sure, there might be 2 more stops of DR than the base GH4, though the GH4 now get around 12-stops with the VLOG update - so it's about on-par DR-wise with the BMPCC. Other than that, the BMPCC does produce a warmer image more associated with film - but then again a few clicks in resolve (which is a pre-set I made now) matches that with my GH4 in every case. Plus, I can get real wide-angle and a shallower DOF on my GH4. 

 

Basically, going back to the footage I shot with the BMPCC and comparing it to my GH4 VLOG, 10-bit 4:2:2 with the 12-stops of DR - and the additional of a few color tweaks in resolve - produces and image almost identical to the BMPCC, except with the option for a shallower dept of field. Plus I can shot 4K on the GH4 and down-sample to 2k in my Shogun to get essentially a 4x noise reduction in camera - without the need for 4k storage. 

 

Now of course it will cost you about $3,000 to get to that level compared to $1,000 with the pocket - but I'll take the additional shallow DOF, 4K, native lenses that don't cost what a new car costs, etc. 

 

To each their own.


Edited by Landon D. Parks, 24 June 2016 - 09:45 PM.

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#16 Mark Kenfield

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Posted 26 June 2016 - 10:00 AM

Is Blackmagic's update to the pocket (the 'Micro' I think it's called) available yet? That'd give you the vastly superior dynamic range and bit-depth that the Blackmagic's have over DSLRs, with the added benefit of 60fps (which makes the camera more suitable to a much larger range of projects).
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#17 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 26 June 2016 - 10:58 AM

The Blackmagic Micro Cinema camera is not an "update" to the pocket, it's an entirely different camera body, with identical electronics to the pocket, designed specifically for drone cinematography.

Why Blackmagic have delayed brining 60p to the pocket, is not clear since its the same camera head. But the micro has no viewfinder, so it's really not anything like the pocket in functionality.

Blackmagic also have a new 4k camera called the micro studio, which is the same form factor as the micro cinema, but has an all-new 4k imager. It has no recorder or viewfinder, so you'd have to add those things, but theoretically you could. But you'd be loosing the 12 bit RAW capability of the pocket and of course, loose the all-in-one form factor. If you're going to build a multi-thousand dollar rig to contain all the different components that makeup your "camera", might as well go with a different camera body. The whole point of the pocket is that it's self contained and doesn't need rigging to work.
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#18 Landon D. Parks

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Posted 26 June 2016 - 01:40 PM

designed specifically for drone cinematography.

 

It may have been designed for that, but that is certainly not it's only use. That is one thing I never understood about Blackmagic marketing... Yes, it's nice to make it known it's small and light and can fit on a drone... But why waste an entire market by marketing ONLY for drones. If you go on their website, the entire page for the Micro is about drones and drone photography; despite the fact that the Micro have basically the same sensors and electronics as the Pocket - only does 60p, which is an improvement.

 

This leads people to buying the less-feature heavy Pocket over the Mini, when the mini IS essentially an upgrade to the pocket - rather they want to call it that or not.

 

Yes, the Micro doesn't have a nice little 3" viewfinder, but then again I think 3" viewfinder are about as worthless as what they cost to make - which probably isn't much. Attach a standard Micro-HDMI monitor to it and it's basically the Pocket with 60p. 

 

Those tiny little DSLR 'viewfinders' (if you want to call it that) are worthless for video. Having used a pocket, the screen is way to tiny to check proper focus, and framing is hard as hell without taking your eyes off the action.


Edited by Landon D. Parks, 26 June 2016 - 01:43 PM.

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#19 Shawn Sagady

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Posted 26 June 2016 - 02:11 PM

Were not going to see 60p on the pockets due to the cooling issues with running the processors at higher rates to deal with the increase in data.  The reason they were able to expand to 60p on the Micro is the new body design which allowed for much improved cooling and airflow, and hence running the processors hotter and allowing the higher data rates needed for 60p.  

 

I also have to agree that 9/10 times I use the pocket, it is in a rig with an external monitor (unless the stupid micro hdmi port broke again) so I find the existence of the rear screen on the pocket somewhat redundant.  I typically have mine covered with a battery or other gak on the rig to keep things compact.  For my taste I would be happier with the Micro than the Pocket for a couple improved features, but the same sensor and a form factor that suits my shooting style much better.  


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#20 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 26 June 2016 - 02:12 PM

Dude, the mini has NO VIEWFINDER OR VIEWFINDER PROVISION!!!!!

I have yet to use any other viewfinder on my pocket, what's the point? It works great, it keeps the size/weight down and keeps the price in-line with it's value.

If you spend $2k "upgrading" your $1k camera, you're failing.
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