It wasn’t that long ago that furious debates raged in video forums about whether digital imaging would ever be able to replace film. “Not in our lifetimes,” claimed the film faithful whose motto was “If you want the film look, use film.”
I’ve meant to check back to see if they’re still alive because if a production uses film today it’s by choice, not necessity. Big budget films have been made without a foot of film of any type and camera manufacturers have stopped making new film cameras.
Also in those days the most common question new filmmakers would ask is what kind of camera to get. There would be endless agonizing and measurbating about the difference this camera and that one; 1/3 in chips vs 1/2 inch chips vs 2/3 inch chips on and on. Everyone using a myriad of post processing tricks to give their standard definition video the “film look”, whatever that was.
Today, I’m happy to report, the days of those gut-wrenching decisions are officially over. Today if you want to pick out a camera for a feature, I have the answer for you:
Any one of them.
That’s right, any decent camera on the market today can produce video good enough for the big screen. You don’t have to rent an Arri or RED but you’re certainly welcome to if you have the budget. No one is arguing this camera vs that one anymore. That’s over. Now you can pick the features that are most important to you like portability, XLR inputs, zebras, built-in ND filters, 60p if you’ll need slow motion, a 4:2:2 pulldown vs 4:2:0 and whether you want to work RAW or a specific file format. Perhaps you need one with all internal storage, or a camera that connects to an external recorder. Whether you’re shooting HD, 2K or 4K is really a matter if whether you need the extra frame real estate. I’ve seen HD through a digital projector on a movie theater size screen and, let me tell you, if it’s shot well and processed properly it’s as good as anything I’ve ever seen on the big screen.
Now you can pick the features, then find the camera that gives you what you want without the worry of the “film look” because the look you’ll get from almost any high end camera is now better than film. Sensor sizes are so big that the difference between one and another is really not that significant. Whether you’re shooting a Canon 7D with an APS-C sensor, a Canon 5D MK II or MK III, a Sony FS100 or Canon C100, they will all yield excellent video that will look great on the big screen.
Worry About Glass Instead
Now you can forget about cameras and fret over lenses. But even that isn’t such a major deal now. If you have money you can get some awesome lenses by Zeiss, if you’re on a budget you can get some really amazing budget lenses sold under the Bower, Rokinon and Samyang labels. If they’re not made for your particular camera mount, and most times they will be, there are a universe of adapters out there.
I once got some advice from Craig Brewer at a film festival in Memphis. We were talking about a myriad of production details and he stopped me mid-sentence and said, “Don’t get too hung up on the details. Just get out there and make your movie.”