It’s a pretty exciting time to be into photography and video production. Camera technology keeps getting better, with cameras like the Sony a6500 (an update of the successful a6300), Fuji XT-2, and Canon 5D Mark IV all new or very updated for Q4 2016. Why are these DSLRs and mirrorless cameras good news for filmmakers? Size, weight, and cost.
We all love high end cameras like the 65mm sensor-equipped ARRI Alexa 65, 8k Red WEAPON, and Sony’s CineaAlta lineup. But those cameras are all extremely expensive and most important of all- large. Depending on what you need it for, a DSLR or mirrorless camera may come a lot closer to these in picture quality than you may think. The other important part of that equation is that with drones and other action methods of shooting are very common, you sure don’t want to drop that $50,000 RED Epic. (I’ve had personal experience with it here in Miami in the dark- it’s not something to be taken lightly).
The big improvement is in picture quality- the latest breed of consumer level cameras can come remarkably close to the professional cinema cameras of a generation or two ago, as long as light is controlled well.
The Sony a6500, for example, retails for around $1400, and will shoot UHD 4K at up to 30 frames per second. While the dynamic range of most of these smaller sensor cameras isn’t quite what the pro cameras are- they can fit places where bigger ones don’t, and most importantly people are more at east with the smaller cameras than a huge production setup. They’re easier to carry, easier and less expensive to do multiple camera shoots with, and overall just lend flexibility to production.
The other issue many people don’t think about is post production requirements. The big cameras can record up to 10 gigabytes of data per minute- more in some cases- and the footage typically must be color graded in post production. With careful preparation, the lighter, smaller, cheaper cameras can lend themselves to certain situations by cutting down post production workflow. For a small shoot that in good light, there’s nothing wrong with a smaller camera.
While there will always be a place, look, and quality advantage to the larger cameras, sometimes the smaller camera is the perfect fit- and that’s not a bad thing. The magic behind cinematography is the smiling face behind the camera, and the camera is just a tool. Your director of photography is your key here- not necessarily that high dollar camera.