Whether you want to make a documentary or a full-blown feature with blazing special effects, you’re no longer limited in that dream by the cost of the equipment. Your dream is also not limited by whether you shoot HD, 2K or 4K. None of that matters.
Let’s be realistic; your chances of getting distribution for your creation are infinitely close to zero. While that’s disappointing, letting go of the distribution pipedream frees you in many ways. You can make your feature or documentary exactly the way you want to without worrying about this or that scene tanking your distribution deal. Even the insanely lucky few who do manage to negotiate distribution deals ever got to the table to discover that, oh if you’d just shot this in 4K we could have shown it in theaters! That doesn’t happen.
In these days of digital projection HD looks awesome on a big screen. There may be technical reasons you want or need to shoot 4K, but you’re not doing it for distribution. So all the endless hype about 4K, forget it. Unless you want to shoot 4K, for reasons of your own, in which case go for it. Just don’t think it’s going to make the difference between selling your movie and not, because it’s likely not happening either way. All the endless bickering about AVCHD and ProRes 422 you can forget all that, too.
That means you can shoot with cameras like Sony’s HXR NX30 a palm size HD camcorder with built-in gyro stabilizer. You can shoot walking around with near steadicam quality and hardly anyone will notice. You can shoot your masterpiece with the new Sony A7S or Panasonic GH4 and have a great video camera that also takes great still pictures.
As recently as 2004 and 2005, if you had a $5,000 equipment budget you would be spending nearly that entire amount on one of several SD camcorders and agonizing endlessly over how to get the “film look” from your video. That was the video world when we started DFfreelancer. I remember people saying less than 10 years ago that movies would be shot and shown on film for the rest of our lifetimes. Now that film is dead and movie distribution has gone digital, I’m still waiting for the people who said film would not be replaced in our lifetimes to do the honorable thing at sunset.
Today that same $5,000 is a very decent equipment budget for a low-budget feature and will get you one or more of several decent HD camcorders, plus basic sound gear and lights. Or you can choose a more expensive DSLR, plus one or two fantastically good lenses, and have a device that’s perhaps slightly less good at video but also takes massively good still pictures and will give you versatile service for nearly a decade.
Today the endless measurbating that goes on in some video forums about HD vs 4K and codecs has never had less meaning than it does today anytime in the last decade. That’s not to say there’s no value in those discussions, I’m merely suggesting that, when it comes to you making a video or documentary, it doesn’t really matter that much anymore. So put your effort into the script, the story and the scenes confident that when the time comes to start shooting, that whatever equipment you can cobble together on your budget is going to be good enough.