Do Cameras Still Matter? December 05 2016, 0 Comments

Our previous blog post looked at the idea of whether movies still matter... read it here to see what we talked about (along with a great article from Wired Magazine).

So now in a similar sounding vein, but actually completely different - we wonder, do cameras still matter?

Before you say "of course they do, how else would you shoot a movie or TV show or music video or commercial"...

Let's be clear. We don't actually mean the physical act of shooting video/film with a camera - that definitely matters - and is actually hinting at a very important point that we'll get to in a bit.

No, we mean does what kind of camera you shoot on... what format you choose... what brand of camera you use... does it really matter?

We say, no. Especially not today.

Whaaaaaat you say??? But ARRI... but RED... but Canon.... But no.

Now before we go any further, we are not talking about Warner Bros. or Marvel Studios work when we say this. Yes, they use the highest-end gear available. Most of the time that is. They do sometimes use GoPro (see Ridley Scott's 'The Martian') or even iPhones (rumored that a few shots in 'The Avengers' were shot on phones). But typically speaking they use ARRI or RED in Hollywood (mostly ARRI Alexa). And it matters (typically).

We're talking about everyone else. Which is probably 95% of us working in the filmmaking world.  

Don't believe us? Well, we understand. Really we do. You're told pretty much everyday on Facebook and Twitter to buy this new camera or buy that new camera - and while new expensive gear is admittedly lots of fun - it's really not something you need to worry about. And, it definitely does NOT make your content (i.e. story you're telling) any better.

Can you tell in this video below which is the iPhone 7 footage and which is the RED Weapon footage?

Pretty impressive stuff!

We love the iPhone and how it has revolutionized the way people can easily shoot video and photos. So are we saying you should shoot your next commercial project on an iPhone? No. Although depending on the subject you definitely could.

As an aside, YouTube has a very interesting app called Director that walks people through shooting a small business video or commercial. It literally holds your hand by showing you how to frame shots, suggesting what shots to shoot, how long to shoot them and even what to say. It's really well thought out.

It's definitely geared towards novices or non-filmmakers, which there's a whole different debate about whether this is a good idea or not - but nonetheless the affordable and simple technology is here to stay - and that's a good thing. 

So back to the matter at hand... what are we saying then?

Hopefully you're figuring out that what we mean is that the person shooting the video is typically speaking more important than the camera you're using.

And truth be told, today cameras (including iPhones as shown in the above video) are all more or less high quality. Sure they all have different looks... the RED look... the Alexa look... the Sony look, etc. - and while all that is true - it really doesn't matter much in the end.

What matters the most is the skill and craft used to tell a good story.

The best cameras in the world won't help a poorly written story. But a great story over takes poor quality images any day. Although again, poor quality really isn't the point of this post as we've mentioned that almost all cameras today can look good.

Case in point: Another iPhone shot project (not meaning to focus on the iPhone, but it's valid here)...

We were very impressed by this project for a variety of reasons, but techinally speaking it was pretty amazing to see the iPhone used this way.

So while we do think (types of) cameras in general get way more credit than they deserve, there ARE times where shooting on an higher-end rig is not only warranted, it's required (pretty much anyway). We're primarily talking about visual effects and specifically composite shots using green or blue screen. 

For these scenarios cameras do matter, especially if you want to get great results. We always recommend shooting in at minimum a 4:2:2 color space and preferably 10 bit or higher - and in a good codec like ProRes or even RAW. 

That's not to say you can't shoot in 8 bit 4:2:0 (which is what most DSLR cameras shoot), but it does make keying more challenging.

Another aside... We were once involved in a sci-fi web series that was shot on two Canon 7D DSLRs and had tons of green screen work in post. It turned out okay, but the composites were very tricky (especially around frizzy hair) and some of them are less than stellar - HOWEVER, our story was engaging and the production value was good (for a low budget) and so audiences forgave the imperfections.

So we guess the camera really didn't matter then after all? :) See for yourself...

We love cameras. We love to watch YouTube videos about new cameras. We love to hear what new camera is arriving at the next NAB convention... 

But in the end cameras come and go, the work lasts forever (for better or worse). So worry more about the script, cast, director and the DP - than you do the camera.

No one ever asks what something was shot on - and by no one we mean general audiences NOT filmmakers (that's all they ask)... people ask what's it about or who's in it and if it's any good.

So concentrate on that and forget about the camera you can't afford.

What do you think?

Let us know in the comments below.