Media is all around you. There are many opportunities for work in the creation of digital media content spanning from TV and internet advertising and corporate training, to tentpole Hollywood feature films. These are enormous machines in the 21st century, costing millions of dollars and employing small populations of crew. Making good-looking video for any of these platforms used to require a lot of money and the differences between those who had it and who didn’t were severe. Cameras were pricey, required lots of expensive, hot lights, and accessory equipment was exclusive and far from affordable. The gear side of things, both for production and post has now become quite democratized. I’ve made some big claims about gear “democratization” and lauded the quality of modern, inexpensive cameras. It’s time to prove it to you. Access to high quality gear is no longer a barrier to entry.
I remember clearly the anticipation of seeing Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones in theaters. It was one of the first “films” to be shot digitally. That’s a big movie you’ve likely heard of. You’ve also likely heard of 4k or even 8k resolution currently being pushed in cameras and TVs. Let’s compare resolution alone. That Star Wars film was shot on a Sony CineAlta F900, an “HD” camera whose vertical resolution was letterboxed to give the film a wider aspect ratio (ratio of width to height of the frame). That ratio was likely somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.35 to 1, which gives you an approximate resolution of 1920×818 or 1.6 megapixels. The current consumer 4k standard contains 8.3 million pixels in the frame. That’s over 5 times the pixel count on your consumer 4k camera than this Star Wars movie was shot with.
Watch the camera shootout video below and see what you think. 19:06 shows the camera comparison which is the good part.
13:48 of the great camera shootout shows the clips and their associated camera names. Remember that the participants saw these theatrically projected before you give me your “it’s fine for web deliverable” speech. And look at the names of the participants before you start getting an inflated perspective of your own opinion. And then remember, Zacuto started doing these shootouts nearly a decade ago. The last ten years have seen enormous gains in image quality. If you still think that image quality is the primary determinant in camera choice, I cannot help you 🙂
Incidentally, if watching these shootouts tells you anything, don’t maintain saturation in highlights. There’s a premature color grading tip for you. Look how hard the Sony F65 got hit.
Here is another, slightly more recent test if you want to waste more of your life comparing cameras.
And if you next jump to the “but it’s the glass that really makes a difference” soap stool, take a look here. In all fairness, lens choice is probably more critical than the camera, but it’s often overstated by those without context looking to justify an expensive lens purchase. Cinema lenses have certain features which make using them on big shows and crews easier, but really, much of the difference is not one visual to an audience unless you get into something like anamorphics. Cheap lenses used to be decidedly inferior optically, but I’d say around 2010 or so we started to see a real evening out of some budget lenses really competing with their name-brand counterparts. As we’ll get into in the next section, only buy something you know will really make a difference in your production.
If you haven’t caught the drift, there are now other factors that matter more to image quality than camera choice. In my view, the biggest influencing factor for high quality modern video aesthetic now comes in how you, stage, light, film and then ‘develop’ your final image. Really, don’t forget how important what you put in front of the camera is. An audience couldn’t tell the difference between a cheap Panasonic GH2 and the big names. That’s why so much of the educational aspects of this site underplay gear and promote education of post production tools. We’ll have fun when we get into color. This is where, again, Blackmagic Resolve gets such high praise from me as its color capabilities rank amongst the industry’s best.
All-in-all the gear doesn’t make the difference people think it does. No one is lining up to buy the old F900 Star Wars cameras I referenced. It’s now the skills that count more than ever. Skills that make a narrative film beautiful will also make a documentary beautiful and modern documentary and commercial work looks more like the narrative Hollywood stuff than ever. “Cinematic” is the irritatingly-over-used buzz word of 21st century visuals. We’ll learn to emulate a lot of the aesthetic of narrative productions, and apply a lot of the concepts pertaining to that world on a much smaller scale.