Tuesday, 13 September 2011

What Camera?

Today I'd like to talk about cameras because obviously a film can't be made without one. I'm talking about live action films obviously since computer animation doesn't require a physical camera. Technology has improved vastly since the 80s when consumer camcorders started appearing on the market. A modern camera for a few hundred pounds can now record images in top quality and often in High Definition. The fact is, for £300 today you can get a camera that's better than a camera that cost £3000 a decade ago. So, for this post I have compiled a list of cameras which all have the potential to record films. Remember, it doesn't matter what camera you use. If you've got a great story to tell then potentially you can turn it into a great movie. The audience won't know what you used, they can't see the camera.


WEBCAM
Yeah seriously. It's still a camera isn't it? Probably not the best idea since you're restricted to where you use it but if it's good enough then why not? It'll record straight to your computer's hard-drive which means you don't have to worry about SD cards or tapes. Of course if you have to film outside then you may find it a bit hard to use.
Benefits: Cheap and it records video.
Negatives: Small, restrictive and doesn't paint a professional image.
Cost: £10 for a cheap one to £50 for a better one
Rating: 3/10. Unless you're making videos for YouTube or your vlog, don't bother.


MOBILE PHONES
Let's face it. Almost every modern mobile phone can record video. I remember back in 2003 I was amazed when someone had a mobile phone which could shoot video. And today we have iPhones which record in 720p HD. If you're interested in making films and have a mobile phone then why not start now. Practise with your phone's camera and then plan your movie. I've seen many YouTube videos where users have made films using what looked liked their mobile phone's camera. Regardless of their image quality, they entertained me more than most of the stuff I see on TV. Of course there is a downside and you should consider this when your filmmaking becomes a serious hobby. You have to remember that a mobile phone's primary purpose is to make phone calls so don't expect to be able to attach it to a tripod. You could always drive a large stick into the ground then gaffer tape your mobile phone to it (N. B. Gaffer tape is the second most important tool in your filmmaking arsenal. I'll be writing a gaffer tape article sometime soon.)
Benefits: If you've got a phone in your pocket then you probably have a video camera. Yay!
Negatives: You can't attach it to things and the microphone probably sounds like a paper bag.
Cost: Most phones are cheap these days.
Rating: 4/10. Good to start off with but won't be suitable in the long term.


CONSUMER CAMCORDERS
The best option for indie filmmakers is to use a modern consumer camcorder. I'm talking about Panasonic, Canon and Sony who all produce fine video cameras that cost less than a £1000. These modern cameras are small, lightweight and shoot in 1080 HD. Nowadays, you no longer have to worry about tapes because they all use SD cards which range from 4-32 gigabytes in size. I personally use a Panasonic HDC-SD9 and it has served me well for 3 years now. The size may put you off though because it may not look like it's up to the job.
Benefits: Great Image quality, High Definition and an easy to use format. Great for filmmakers.
Negatives: They seem to be getting smaller which means less space for attaching peripherals.
Cost: You probably won't have to spend more than £1000.
Rating: 7/10. If you don't mind the negatives then you should definitely consider this type.


DIGITAL PICTURE CAMERAS OR DIGITAL SLRs
Every digital picture camera has a video mode and if it doesn't then it shouldn't have been bought in the first place (unless you bought it in the 90s and it takes floppy discs). By turning that dial to movie mode you can capture excellent video and in high resolution. Still not convinced? Search for "Canon 7D" on YouTube and take a look at some of the films people have made with it. The 7D has a massive image sensor and the quality of video is comparable to film. Many filmmakers have actually stopped using their big bulky video cameras and switched to Digital SLRs for the aforementioned reasons. Since it's a dedicated camera, it'll have a threaded base for tripod mounting.
Benefits: Superb video quality, extensive manual control, High Definition, Removable lenses.
Negatives: If you shoot video handheld it may look odd and you'll definitely need an external mic.
Cost: From £100 for a simple digital camera all the way up to £1000 for a digital SLR.
Rating: 7/10. Definitely recommended.


PROSUMER VIDEO CAMERAS
Every indie filmmaker dreams of owning a high end camera made by Canon or Panasonic. These cameras are big, covered in buttons, dials and have a massive lens sticking out from the front. They look the business and anyone else who sees it will think the same. You can change the lens, plug in a microphone via XLR connector and there's so much manual control that it will confuse you for a long time. I have only ever used these cameras at university since I can't afford to buy one for myself.
Benefits: A lot of features, High Definition, Professional (and the list goes on...)
Negatives: The cost will put you off and you'll have to spend a lot of time getting used to it.
Cost: £3000 plus. If you can find one for cheaper then please let me know.
Rating: 8/10. It's safe to say that this is what you want and need.


FILM
In this age of modern digital technology what do you think they shoot films on? Yes, that's right. The Film Industry still use actual film and they'll continue to do so for many years to come. Currently, the quality of film is unmatched and they want to keep it that way. 35mm is the industry standard and that's the width of each film frame on a reel. The resolution is far greater than 1920x1080 HD and film handles very well in low light conditions which makes it perfect for directors to work with. So why can't people like myself use it? Well apart from a 35mm camera costing upward of £50,000 you'll have to pay a large amount of money for the film stock and for processing afterwards. Be prepared to waste a lot of film as well because you don't get to go back and see what you just recorded like you can with a video camera. Imagine having to do 5 takes for one shot because your actor kept forgetting his lines. For an average 90 minute movie you'll probably have to spend another £50,000 on film.
Benefits: Varies because it depends on how much money you've got.
Negatives: You'll get a lot of negatives out of using film because it needs processing before you can watch it. (bad joke, I know)
Cost: Probably £100,000 at the very least.
Rating: 10/10. If you can afford it or 1/10 if you're a low budget filmmaker like me.

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