Camera Assessment Series – the Results

Since I didn’t actually produce the entire physical camera test itself, and the PGA/ASC aren’t releasing the entire thing online (which was THE primary reason I volunteered 3 years ago – was that when we were done, everything would be open and accessible to the world online; it’s unfortunate that’s not what happened); I figured it’s time to share the media I did produce, and to give my personal opinion of the test results.

Here’s a link to the Behind The Scenes media.

I was fortunate enough to have the time to spend in most of the original Digital Intermediate color-grading sessions at Laser Pacific, and I want to qualify this by stating that I am not a Cinematographer. I am a storyteller.

So as a storyteller, my take away from this entire experiment was USE WHATEVER CAMERA YOU WANT AND/OR HAVE ACCESS TO.

The simple fact is that if you do a little bit of testing with whatever you have, and you can control lighting and compose your shots in a way that elicit the emotion you want the scene to carry; you can create great media with pretty much any piece of equipment in the world.

However, there are cinemaphiles out there, just like there are audiophiles; a small segment of the population that cares a great deal about every nuance of an image. In that group of people, there were winners and losers in the camera test.

My personal favorite in the test was actually the Arri D-21 from an image standpoint, and the Panavision Genesis from a workflow standpoint.

While cinemaphiles can (and did) argue ad nauseum about the advantages and disadvantages of each camera system, the clearest take away was that whatever you happen to have to shoot with (for all of us out there are curious about these cameras not because we’re going to use them, but because we like dreaming about it); learn it’s latitude, and expose it properly.

Proper shot composition is a bonus, and I’ll send you a cookie in the mail if you skip that Dutch angle shot you were thinking about.

The cameras that were included in the test were included because they all recorded full 4:4:4 in 2k resolution or higher.

The bottom line really was that out of all these cameras, they were ALL completely competent to shoot anything you want to shoot. Some practical considerations must be made for the cameras that need to be tethered to a record deck (like you can’t really put that on a Steadicam very well), but in terms of picture rendition, there were all good.

I’d rather leave my opinion kind of open ended, because I’ve actually delivered and sold to market two films, both of which were originated on 3.9mb/s MiniDV. And we were still able to deliver a full set of standard deliverables for a non-theatrical release. Before that, I delivered one originated on MiniDV and filmed out, and it looked great.

It really, really, really depends on how good your DP is with the camera. How well they know the limits, and what kind of time/money and labor resources they have at their disposal to keep the camera within those limits.

As new cameras are introduced almost every week it seems, all I can say is this – if you decide to shoot something where the look is really important to you, test, test, test your cameras AND your post workflow before you begin shooting. That’s the only way you’ll find out if you can get what you want out of the tools you have.