Picking the perfect camera for your film can be confusing and scary if you’re unsure of what you’re doing.
As there are so many options out there. You need to make sure that you’re considering factors such as visual aesthetics, technical abilities, and budget range.
But how can choosing the wrong camera affect your film?
Let’s say you have an amazing experience filming with a camera in normal daylight situations.
Then, on your next project, you pick the same one, thinking it’ll perform the same as it did last time.
However, most of the scenes are at night and the camera doesn’t have great low-light capabilities.
You’ll then either have to buy or rent a different camera that would work well in these conditions, which could greatly affect your budget.
This could also force you to completely restart the project, as it might look completely different from a visual perspective.
Now, let’s talk about how you can avoid all of this and choose the perfect camera for your film!
Understanding Your Project Goals
Thinking about your project’s requirements and goals is a great way to start. You want to ask yourself questions like:
- What genre will I be filming?
- What visual aesthetic do I want to go for?
- How will I achieve this look?
- What is my budget?
Questions like these will help you determine what look and style you want to go for.
Once you have this figured out, the next step is to think about the features and specifications that you need.
Features and Specifications
The features and specifications to consider when choosing a camera include:
- Sensor size: you need to understand the advantages of different sensor sizes and how they can suit your filmmaking needs.
- Low-light performance: if you’re shooting at night you should choose a camera with good low-light capability as you don’t want your footage to look grainy.
- Frame rate: if there are scenes that you need to use slo-mo then frame rate is a great consideration.
- Lens compatibility: for example, if you want to use a Sony FX9, Sony E-mount lenses work perfectly as they have autofocus compatibility with the camera and other lenses don’t.
- Audio inputs: you should think about what kind of audio equipment you’ll use and also how many channels you need.
- Portability: if you’re shooting a run-and-gun documentary you should pick a camera that is easily portable and not too heavy.
- Power options: think about whether you need external or internal batteries to power the camera and how long the battery life is. If you’re rolling for hours, it might be better to find a camera that runs from a mains cable.
- Netflix compatibility: using Netflix-approved cameras ensures that you’re shooting at the minimum expected quality that Netflix allows.
One of the best ways to see whether a camera is right for your project is to test it yourself.
Most camera shops and rental houses will let you test a camera before you buy/hire it.
You should test out different models in similar situations that you’ll find yourself in whilst creating your film.
For instance, testing a camera in bright sunshine would be beneficial if you’re going to film outdoors and can’t choose when.
Also, try testing the camera’s compatibility with your preferred lenses and accessories as you may need to get an adapter or extra part to make it work.
The Best Films and Their Cameras
Below, you will find a list of the best films from each decade (according to IMDb) starting from the 1960s up to now, along with the camera choice and reasoning behind it.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) – Director Sergio Leone and cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli used Techniscope to achieve great wide shots and also the tightest of close-ups.
The Godfather (1972) – Cinematographer Gordon Willis used a Mitchell BNCR to shoot the Francis Ford Coppola film. This was the standard camera in Hollywood from the 1930s to the 1980s.
Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – Director Irvin Kershner and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky used the legendary “Empireflex” camera designed specifically for this film. This camera allowed the cinematographer to view the image through the lens instead of an old-tech viewfinder.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – Directed by Frank Darabont with cinematography by Roger Deakins, The Shawshank Redemption “used an Arri BL-4S for A-camera with an Arri head and a MovieCam Compact for B-camera/Steadicam.” The shots created by these cameras include long takes, close-ups, and slow zooms.
The Dark Knight (2008) – With cinematography from Wally Pfister, Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” used three MSM 9802s and one MKIII. The MSM was the lightest IMAX camera at the time and was used on a Steadicam rig, a Libra IV head, and a motorcycle rig.
Inception (2010) – Also directed by Christopher Nolan with cinematography by Wally Pfister, Inception was shot on film and digital using various cameras. One example is that they filmed Aerial scenes using VistaVision format. Pfister explained that it helps the images “jump off the screen, and give added clarity to shots with intricate details.”
Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022) – The film is shot on an Arri Alexa Mini, one of the most popular film cameras as of late. Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert with cinematography by Larkin Seiple, they chose the Alexa Mini as it combined perfectly with various lenses to emphasize the difference between parallel universes.
When creating a film, choosing a camera can be one of the most daunting yet impactful decisions during the process.
The process of picking the right camera for you includes looking at visual aesthetics, preferred budget, technical capabilities, and more.
You should take your time, research thoroughly and make an informed decision as it could make or break your project’s outcome.