We've recently discovered Craft Truck, a wonderful resource for behind-the-scenes information about filmmaking. In Craft Truck's free eBook, "6 Things to Do Before Buying a Digital Cinema Camera," they provide essential tips from some of the top cinematographers working today. In the eBook you'll learn what you need to consider when buying new lenses, what you must know when it comes to image quality, understanding how to budget for your purchase and more. You can download the free eBook here, but go ahead and check out 2 of the 6 things to do before buying a digital cinema camera:
1. Be Realistic in Pricing the Build
Anyone who has bought a prosumer model could write you the same advice on this concept: The price of the body is not the price you will pay. The price you will pay is what it takes to get every last little bit of that camera up and running in the realistic situations you will be using it in.
You might need a matte box, rails,support, hand-held rig or rigs, lenses, eyepieces, more eyepieces, filters, tripods, monitors, cables, caps, ends, bits, odds and sods, gook, and gak. And this costs a lot of money.
Don't lie to yourself. Don't stare at that spreadsheet your friend has done and say, "Ah, I can get away without that piece." Because you can't, and you won't, and you'll end up buying it anyway and the prices don't lie.
Does this mean that you shouldn't reach for that camera that's at the top of your range, after you've stretched your budget? No. Go ahead and reach. But it means more than that... It means that camera support and accessories and lenses may very well end up being more than the price of your camera, and that's okay.
This tip is about the realistic usage of a camera as opposed to believing that your results are contingent on the camera's specific sensor/electronics/compression system. You won't be staring at test charts. You'll be shooting people, in the field, and you have to operate the camera. By testing how it feels to use the camera and pricing out the actual build you need to make your real-world project(s), you may very well change your mind on what camera you wish to buy.
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2. Test the Camera in a Wide Variety of Settings
So this is what you really wanted. You wanted that great 4K, 8K, 15K image you've been dreaming about. You wanted that amazing 15 stops of dynamic range. You've been dreaming about the image you'll create after you put that perfect highlight on your lead actor's head, and now you and Bob Richardson are going to be sipping drinks at the Château Marmont, where he commends you for being the best digital cinematographer he's ever seen. But wait, does it actually look that way? The way you have in your head?
Don't stare at controlled test charts; they won't necessarily help you. There are many factors that lead to what image a camera's sensor, and subsequent electronics, will actually look like when you are using them in the field. This doesn't necessarily get revealed in the most controlled of circumstances. Or let's put it this way: tests on a test bench don't lie, but perhaps you do.
Perhaps you think you expose perfectly, but you tend to overexpose. Perhaps you underexpose. Perhaps you move the camera a lot and rolling shutter is a real problem. It's like doing up a budget for your annual expenses. Sure, you can claim that you spend x,y,z on your luxuries and food, but the easiest way to judge your real behavior is look at your bank account at the end of the year. That's what you actually tend to do.
So you need to test the camera in the way you will actually be using it, and look at the results.
No two cameras produce the same look. RED, Sony, Canon, and Blackmagic all make wonderful cameras, but they create different images. You have to see what happens when you push them in and out of the limits of their dynamic range, latitude, detail, motion and color.
Do you need a camera that has a great look at higher ISOs? What about one that's better (for you) outdoors? What about better under certain temperatures of light for reasons you can't quite seem to put a finger on?
What you'll eventually arrive at are qualitative differences between the different cameras you're considering, and that is exactly the point. It's not quantitative. You can only judge what you're looking at and see how it works when you use it. By testing out the various cameras in every way you can, you'll be achieving the look that you like best.
You can download the free e-book here.