As you grow as a filmmaker and begin working with larger and larger budgets, it only make sense that you would also look at upgrading your equipment to fit the needs that come with such productions. But before you look at getting a cinema camera, it might be a good idea idea to upgrade everything else associated with the film making process. Now this might be on a case by case basis for each filmmaker, but this post is meant to be a in general kind of thing.
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Now that is out of the way, let’s start with one of the things that is responsible for actually shaping the image:
Light is an important (and sometimes overlooked) aspect to making films. It has been since the very beginning of cinema. Over the years, it has been discovered that light can be manipulated into various shapes in order to help create emotion or ad interest to a scene. In an era where some digital cameras can capture usable images with little light, it is easy to forget that light is still needed. Good light is needed for his endeavor. For an example of what I’m talking about. I suggest watching this short film by my friend, Pedro Pimentel, and pay attention to how the lights are used in order ad layers to the story he is telling.
Great lights can always be a bit of a problem on a micro budget level (Depending on the story you’re trying to tell) due it being expensive or impratical. High quailty lights might be cheap (ish) if you’re willing to buy (or rent) Tungsten lights due to the downsides of them being heavy and hot to the touch. But on the upside, they can be really bright (and dimmable) and have a high cri (Color Rendering Index). Upside to LED lights is that they are lighter and can be battery powered, but the ones with higher cri and are cheap and not that bright, while the ones that are a lot more expensive. You can go the DIY route in situations like this, but you also run into the problem of the lights having a lower cri. Along with other problems that the lights not being dimmable or flickering if you decide to shoot at certain frame rates or shutter speeds. So if you do go the DIY lighting route, do A LOT of research and A LOT of testing before taking it to set and finding out there is a major fault with them.
Now for the other category for what helps make or break the film.
Audio is one of those things where, it might have not been around since the start of cinema, but since it’s integration into films, it has become as important (if not MORE important) to the audiences experience as what you see in the frame. Now we’ve all seen that film where something might have felt off. An extreme example of this could be literally ANY scene from Birdemic: Shock and Terror where audio cuts out, spikes, sound effects not feeling like they belong. Like in this scene for example.
This is one of those categories where you can get good audio for a decent price. You can easily get a good mic for a little over $100 off of Amazon (Deity V-Mic D3), an versatile audio recorder for $190 (Zoom H4n), a 3.5mm Extension Cable, Electrical Tape, and any kind of extendable pole where the price will vary based on the length. Just make sure you have the mic pointed to the subject and as close as possible without it being in frame and you should be good to go.
But there are two big questions you should be asking yourself before you decide for your next production that you really want to use that Red or Arri or whatever cinema camera: “Will my computer be able to handle the workflow?” & “Do I have enough storage for not only the raw footage, but for the video masters and any proxies I make for my workflow?”
3.Your Editing Computer
This gets a little complicated depending on your workflow and if it’s just you or a team of people working on it together. At the moment, I only know what it’s like to do post production by myself using the free version of Davinci Resolve. So I’ll be approaching this topic from that perspective. If you’re working with compressed 1080p (or even 4K) footage from your phone, dslr or mirrorless camera for something like a short or even a feature film, you might not need that much storage or a powerful computer. But when you start working with cinema cameras, decide to do vfx for your film or both, that is where things can get costly. Currently, in my editing PC I run a Ryzen 1700 and a GTX 1050, which can get the job done for basic video editing and color grading. But when it comes to doing any kind of vfx work in Resolve, forget it. The system slows down to an extreme to the point where I’m scared that if I do any kind of vfx creation in Blender that the whole thing will crash on me. That or it’d take a month to render something as basic/complex to make as fire.
Not my creation, but I felt like I needed something here before I continue this section.
Then there is the matter of storage space. Yes, some cinema cameras can do a compressed version of raw and that can help with the storage sizes a bit. But if you’re shooting a feature on a cinema camera, prepare to also spend a good amount on the needed storage and back ups. But before you buy a bunch of external hard drives, you might also want to think about how it’s all going to be connected to your editing rig AND how it’s going to be accessed in the event you run out of ports on your computer or you resort to having to use multiple computers to render out any vfx shots. Something like a Network Attached Storage (or NAS for short) might make a lot on sense. I’m planning on setting one up myself when the time comes, along with upgrades to my current editing rig for when it comes time for me to start working with that kind of data or doing something VFX heavy. But that might not be for a long time. When I do, I plan on making a video about it. So be sure to subscribe to the Thorndike Productions Youtube Channel so you don’t miss it.
Now, if lights help shape the image, the lens is whats needed to capture it.
Now back to the fun stuff to talk about. Although, this can also be a little tricky because of how many options there are. Now, I know filmmakers that have only used their camera’s kit lens for their productions and admittingly, to the untrained eye, it can be hard to tell a difference between that and something more expensive. I remember seeing this video by Rocket Jump Film School doing real world lens tests. Here is the video if you want to watch it. Please do, it’s hilarious.
Anyways, upgrading from you kits lens is still a good idea even if you can’t see a difference when the lens is stopped down for a few reasons. Some lenses have certain characteristics that can be appealing depending on the situation,. For Example, the Helios 44-2 can create swirly bokeh when it’s wide open and the subject is a good distance away from the background. This photo is a perfect example of what I’m talking about:
Again, not mine.
Another thing is to bring in more light than what a kit lens can offer, which does effect how sharp the image is, but also how blurred out the “out of focus” areas of your image are. Cinema lenses are also designed to work with a follow focus, so you’re not touching the lens when you have to change focus. But they tend to be a little on the pricey side (aside from Rokinon Cine Lenses) so something that people have done is purchase follow focus gears that can be put on the lens so you can use a follow focus. Simply go on ebay, type the name of the lens followed by “follow focus” to see if someone is selling a follow focus ring for your lens. For example: Clicking here is show the results for when I type in on eEbay “Canon 50mm 1.4 Follow Focus”
If you’ve ever looked at behind the scenes photos or video of a higher budget film production, there tends to be more going on with the camera rig then just the camera and lens. Unless the film is being shot for only a few thousand, you’ll tend to see things on the camera rig that do serve a purpose. A follow focus so you can change focus without touching the lens, an external monitor for if you have someone else pulling focus OR your on camera monitor is so tiny you can’t tell if you have anything in focus or not. A matte box so you can use filters and have more control on how the light is hitting the lens. External batteries cause the higher end cameras are power hungry. Not only that, but if you have producers on set, they’re going to want their own monitors to watch stuff from, and that’s only for a one camera shoot.
Just put this here to keep things interesting. I need to get a Matte box and External Power for my A6400.
This might be stuff you feel you can do without, but they help make the production run smoother if you have the option to use then at all. Somethings you might be able to get away with not needing them, depending on the situation. If you want flares in your image? Maybe don’t use a matte box. Don’t have other people that also need/want to view the take? Great! Then maybe using an external monitor might not be needed. It is all going to vary from project to project and person to person. Just keep in mind, when working on bigger productions, some things like external batteries or follow focus are going to become needed to keep things smooth.
Only other thing you’d really need to keep in mind is if your tripod or any video rig you use would be able to handle the combined weight that comes with using the Camera, the lenses, and all the accessories when you attach them. I’d suggest you try to future proof those as well. But if you’re not sure about what camera your planning on upgrading to in the future, I’m planning on doing a blog post about how to decide what camera would be right for you depending on your needs; So stay tuned for that.