With so many affordable 4K options in the DSLR & Mirrorless market, why buy a cinema camera?
After years of contemplating what camera I should own, I decided to buy a cinema camera.
DSLR’s cameras have been an amazing low-budget option for aspiring filmmakers for the past decade. Especially with Technicolor’s FREE Cinestyle profile ‘hack’ that gives your Canon T3i more dynamic range for a film look. More recently, Sony has been killing it with their affordable mirrorless cameras like the Sony A6300, boasting specs like 4K video resolution and slow motion 120 fps in full 1080 HD quality. S-Log is also a flat profile similar to Technicolor’s cinestyle that allots more room for post-production color grading. All for under 1,000 dollars. So does this render cinema cameras like the $3500 dollar Canon C100 Mark II with only 1080 60/fps obsolete?
Specs aren’t everything.
Look. I’ve gotten my hands on plenty cameras. From as humble as an Olympus T-100. To the Canon C500. Especially the top-notch iPhone’s F/1.8 lens with 4K 60FPS and Slow motion at 1080p 240 FPS. Sound fancy right? Already better specs than the dusty old $20,000 dollar C500 that only lets you record n00b frame rates of 30fps and no 4K. Womp womp. But specs aren’t everything. There’s a lot more science to image quality than just resolution. The 4K craze has been a marketing ploy to sell everyday consumers things they don’t need. Worse than when people obsessed over megapixels in cheap digital cameras. I cringe standing in the middle of a Best Buy seeing people awed by these on-screen 4K vs 1080P comparisons on 50-inch televisions… and seeing that the major selling difference are things like saturation, HDR, sharpness, and a whole bunch of other things that aren’t even pixel resolution. Looking at 720p footage of your favorite movie shot on film will look infinitely better than if they shot it in 4K on an iPhone. For obvious reasons.
As an online-based video content creator, having a 4K camera is about as useful as a bachelor’s degree is to a magician. It looks better on paper than it does in practice.
I can zoom in 4x while editing without losing quality. That’s about my only noticeable perk when using a 4K camera vs a 1080p one. For big-time cinematographers that screen on IMAX, it makes a huge difference. But here’s the thing. Big budget productions just rent cameras anyway. Being a poor filmmaker means the choice to own a camera is a commitment you should take as much time as you would to decide to marry someone. Buying a camera body only to sell it for half the price in a year or two is not resourceful at all. Especially with the rapidly growing technology and planned obsolescence that encourages consumers to treat pieces of equipment like stale chewing gum. I’m young yet old school. I want something that will deliver for a long time that feels good.
Yes. The feel of a cinema camera does make a difference.
And size and weight of a cinema camera. The light, run-and-gun feel of DSLR’s are a game changer for small filmmakers. Especially when you don’t want to spend thousands on steadicam and gimbal stabilizing devices. Cranes. Sliders. Rigs. Gear is usually cheaper when it’s used to handle lighter cameras. But there is such a thing as too light.
If you’re a fan of the handheld look, you will have less control and more shakes when your camera’s body is the size of your palm. Things feel a bit flimsy and definitely sketchy when you rent heavier cine lenses or even telephoto lenses for Sony’s mirrorless cameras. In extreme weather conditions, I don’t want to feel like the wind is about to blow away my camera. And all the physical buttons on a cinema camera allow me to skip the hassle of touch-screen nonsense in the cold. Audio and video ports right on-camera just make life easier during both production and post for a one-man crew. Cinema cameras are built for video. As opposed to being photo cameras that just so happen to have great video menu settings. So of course the practical limitations of DSLR and mirrorless cameras tally up heavily.
Saying you have a cinema camera has a similar effect as saying you have a 4K television. It just sounds and looks better to clients when you are shooting professionally. I’ve seen astounding results delivered on a Sony A7S II and the Canon Mark III for both commercial and film. Sure. It’s about the sculptor. Not the tools he uses. But that doesn’t stop clients from asking, “What kind of camera do you use? Does it shoot 4K? Should we rent a RED?” And to be fair, there is a significantly more noticeable difference in Sony A7S II vs RED dragon footage than the difference between 4K and 1080p. Behind the scenes photos look way more impressive to the standard consumer’s eye when you’re selling yourself as a cameraman. It’s always about the look. Including the look of the person behind the camera.
Without a doubt, you can make a great film on an iPhone. You can make a great film on anything really. It’s the impact of your story on your audience that determines the greatness of the film. The gear is just there to make it easier for what you are trying to achieve as practically as possible.
It always boils down to your personal needs. The Canon C100 cinema camera is what I need. I can count how many times I would really use 120 FPS slow motion footage. And my target audience isn’t watching 4K footage on their smartphones on the train from work. But they can definitely tell the noticeable difference in dynamic range.