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Sundance 2017: Here Are the Cameras Used to Shoot This Year’s Acclaimed Films

Filmmakers tell IndieWire what cameras they used to shoot their Sundance films and why they chose them.

Jonathan Olshefski

Jonathan Olshefski shooting “Quest”

courtesy of the filmmaker

IndieWire reached out to the filmmakers behind the feature-length narrative and documentary films premiering this week to find out what cameras they used and why they chose them. Here are their responses.

READ MORE: The 2017 IndieWire Sundance Bible – Every Review, Interview and News Item Posted During the Festival

Dramatic Competition & NEXT

Cory Finley, “Thoroughbred”
ARRI Alexa Mini. Panavision G-Series lenses.

The DP, Lyle Vincent, was very particular about getting a hold of both. They gave us flexibility in shooting and helped create the very precise, high-contrast, and slightly dreamy look we were going for.

Gillian Robespierre, “Landline”
ARRI Alexa with some vintage lenses

“Landline” takes place in 1990’s Manhattan. My DP Chris Teague and I talked a lot about what shooting a period movie from a recent period would look and feel like. Unfortunately, we were not able to shoot on film, and added a texture of LiveGrain during color correction that was designed to represent film stock, and it’s really quite extraordinary.

Geremy Jasper, “Patti Cake$”

Geremy Jasper, behind the scenes on“Patti Cake$”

Geremy Jasper, “Patti Cake$”
ARRI Alexa Mini

It was a very ambitious shoot, and we needed to be quick and nimble. Fede Cesca, my cinematographer, is a genius operator who likes to get up into the action. We wanted a lightweight camera that could give us the energetic dynamics of live performance and also the intimacy of our characters.

READ MORE: How ‘Patti Cake$’ Director Geremy Jasper Went from Indie Rocker to Breakout Filmmaker — Sundance 2017

Matt Ruskin, “Crown Heights”
ARRI Alexa.

We knew we were going to shoot digital and, aside from producing great images, the Alexa gives you the ability to shoot both ProRes and RAW. We shot ProRes when we could control the light and then we shot RAW in darker or more uncontrolled circumstances. This allowed us to keep the amount of data down and not burn through nearly as many hard drives.

Cate Shortland, “Berlin Syndrome”
ARRI Alexa

Kirsten Tan, “Pop Aye”
Arri Alexa XT

I chose to shoot anamorphic since “Pop Aye” is a road film that, naturally, comes with abundant scenery and landscapes. These landscapes would be done more justice with anamorphics not merely because of the wider aspect ratio but because to me, anamorphic lenses render distance in a more interesting way. I like the anamorphic look also because it often imbues a film with a certain classical and non-contemporary quality that I felt was suitable for a road movie with existential concerns. We went with the Alexa XT and that was perfect for it because it comes with a 4:3 sensor mode. In combination with the old 80s’ Hawk C-Series Anamorphic Prime lenses that we used, it gave the film’s texture a dreamy and other-worldly quality, fit for the film’s melancholic-surrealistic mood.

Kirsten Tan, "POP AYE"

Kirsten Tan, “Pop Aye”

Gerard McMurray, “Burning Sands”
ARRI Alexa Mini.

I originally wanted to shoot on 35mm film, but after talking to my Director of Photography Isiah Donté Lee, we decided the Alexa was the better choice. The Arri was perfect for the many night scenes of night scenes we needed to capture because of it’s superior perfomance in low light situations. We also shot in a lot of compact locations such as cars and dorm rooms so the smaller build of the Mini provided us more flexibility when creating our shots. Shooting digital also allowed us to move a bit faster on a very tight schedule.

Marti Noxon, “To The Bone”
ARRI Alexa.

It was absolutely the right tool. Almost every DP I spoke to said it was the only camera they like to shoot with now.

WATCH: Girl Talk Live: Female Cinematographers on How They Made Their Sundance Films — Watch

Joshua Z Weinstein, “Menashe”
Canon C300.

It’s an incredible lightweight camera that is great in low light and has a beautiful image.

Alex Ross Perry on set of "Golden Exits."

Alex Ross Perry on set of “Golden Exits.”

Don Stahl

Alex Ross Perry, “Golden Exits”
Aaton XTR Prod

It’s the same Super 16mm camera as for the last three films I made. I’ve talked a lot, perhaps too much, about my relationship with film as a medium for telling the stories I like telling and “Golden Exits” was no exception. It’s a warm movie of interiors and texture. As always, film is the only way to go.

Zoe Lister-Jones, “Band Aid”
ARRI Amira with vintage lenses.

I wanted more of a film feel, but with the mobility and ease of digital. My DP, Hillary Spera, suggested the Amira because of the way it handles natural light, its workflow, and how well it takes to handheld shooting. 

Michael J Larnell, “Roxanne Roxanne”
ARRI Alexa.

We were also able to shoot anamorphic, which meant we could fit more of the image into the frame, which was helpful for the small and tight spaces that we shot in, like the apartments within the Queensbridge Housing Projects.

Matt Spicer, “Ingrid Goes West”
ARRI Alexa Mini with Panavision C-Series Anamorphic lenses.

Shooting anamorphic can be tough on a budget because the lenses tend to be slower and require more light to achieve focus but shooting digitally allowed us to use more natural light and move a lot quicker. The small size of the camera also allowed us to maneuver into some tight spaces and get shots that we wouldn’t normally be able to get with such big lenses.

Janicza Bravo, “Lemon”
ARRI Alexa

Because it’s the nicest thing we had access to that wasn’t film.

Janicza Bravo shooting "Lemon"

Janicza Bravo shooting “Lemon”

Stefania Rosini

John Trengove, “The Wound”
ARRI Alexa Classic.

It had the sensitivity to allow us to shoot the film with only natural, available light, often in low light conditions. More importantly, though, was the lenses: Kowa anamorphics. The conditions we were shooting under were close to documentary, and the Kowas countered this by refining the visuals and creating something like an old-fashioned matte frame around the images.

Tarik Saleh, “The Nile Hilton Incident”
ARRI Alexa and Hawk Lite lenses

I knew when I wrote the film that it was anamorphic. My D.P Pierre Aïm is used to working with spherical lenses and I shot my last film on 35 stock with spherical lenses. Because we shot the film under difficult circumstances in four countries I knew had to shoot digital.

Alexandre Moors, “The Yellow Birds”
ARRI Alexa and Alexa mini.

I have yet to meet a producer who will tell me we can afford to shoot on film.

Alexandre Moors, "The Yellow Birds"

Alexandre Moors with DP Daniel Landin on “The Yellow Birds.”

Jun Geng, “Free and Easy”
ARRI Alexa Plus

The reason is that we were short of funding, yet we wanted to achieve the best visual effects. To my knowledge, ARRI has the highest degree of tolerance and color rendering, which could satisfy my requirements for the environment and lighting. Regarding the lens, we used UP group lens, which didn’t fully provide the sensitivity and stereoscopic vision, yet it was good enough to present the sense of realism and absurdity of this project. My cinematographer, Wang Weihua, did an excellent job, offering the best I could imagine.

Felipe Braganca, “Don`t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!”

During the preparations for the film, me and Glauco Firpo (the DP) shot several tests with different cameras. We needed something that work in very different light conditions, since we were filming everything in real locations far way from any big city, and we also needed a camera that would be easy to handle filming in boats, woods and other “adventurous” conditions. In the end, RED, was the best option.

Nana & Simon, “My Happy Family”
ARRI Alexa XT with Anamorphic lenses.

READ MORE: Sundance After Trump: How The Election Changed the Filmmakers and Their Films

Michelle Morgan, “L.A. Times”
The Arri Alexa.

I was very happy. My DP, Nico Wiesnet, is really into lenses. He got us some really beautiful anamorphics that just kind of really set the tone for us.

"L.A. Times," Michelle Morgan

“L.A. Times,” Michelle Morgan on set.

Mikey Piliero

Amman Abbasi, “Dayveon”
Red Epic with a Dragon sensor and shot at 5K.

There are some mixed media aspects of the film that we shot with camera phones. I do like Red and their pursuit to push the technologies of cameras forward but I am fairly agnostic to cameras. Whatever is right for the job. Red worked this case since 35mm didn’t work out. We wanted a camera that would capture maximum data to preserve the images of the south.

Mark Palansky, “Rememory”
Arri Alexa with special anamorphic lenses / Sony A7

I love the Alexa because, for me, it provides the warmth in the skin tones and an overall crisp, but smooth image that doesn’t feel digital or affected. We also shot close to 200 specific memories on the Sony A7. It actually provided a similar dynamic range to the Alexa, but was much more portable, and allowed us to get truly intimate with the subjects we were shooting for a more realistic “memory POV.”

Brett Haley, “The Hero”
Arri Amira/ The Alexa

The majority of the film was handheld and my DP (Rob Givens) wanted a lighter camera so that his operation work would not feel too choppy or shaky. We wanted a present and active camera style but not one that was distracting or over-stylized. The Amira was great for that. We also used the Alexa outfitted with anamorphic lenses for certain sequences in the film that were not handheld. I love shooting digitally. It gives you the maximum control over the image and — as the editor of the film — I was able to edit on nights and weekends on my laptop to make sure things were working as we shot. As amazing as it is to shoot on film, I came up in the digital world and am addicted to that workflow.

Macon Blair, “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore”
Alexa mini.

It’s fast and light and mainly because the DP Larkin Seiple had such a deep familiarity with it, he was able to use it to aim for a more filmic look.

Justin Chon, “Gook”
RED Dragon.

It was the right tool for us because of its weight. We had a lot of handheld shots.

Cristián Jiménez, “Family Life”
Sony FS7

We were going to have a small crew, so we needed a camera that could fit with that rationale and with the fact that we were mainly shooting interiors where there was not always going to be a lot of space. We brought three cameras to the location, shot some footage with different lenses, did grading and analyze the pros and cons with cristián petit-laurent, the DOP. We knew that movement was going to be a key element in terms of camera work and the results with the FS7 in that aspect made us go for it with no doubts.

"Family Life" behind the scenes

Shooting “Family Life”

Andrea Novoa


Joe Piscatella, “Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower”
Sony PMW-EX1, EX3, Sony Slog2 and Sony A7S.

Because footage was shot over a five-year span multiple cameras were used. Some of the cameras were chosen because they were easier to shoot on the fly during protest scenes where tear gas and pepper spray were being used.

READ MORE: Fox Searchlight Buys Documentary ‘Step’ For More Than $4 Million — Sundance 2017

Rory Kennedy, “TAKE EVERY WAVE: The Life Of Laird Hamilton”
RED, ARRI Amira, Cannon c300, Go pro’s.

We needed different cameras for a range of needs from shooting interviews, verite and capturing dramatic scenes on the water. Sound was also important to me, both on and off the water, so that was another challenge.

Feras Fayyad, “Last Men In Aleppo”
Canon 70D, canon 5D mark III and Sony A7S 4k

We are filming in the war very close to bombings, the small-sized cameras helped a lot to transfer the image with good accuracy and the ability to record for a long period of time.

Yance Ford, “Strong Island”
Canon C300 and 5D

Shooting "Strong Island"

Shooting “Strong Island”

Joslyn Barnes

Adam Sobel, “The Workers Cup”
Canon C300

Our primary camera was the Canon C300, which is very durable and excellent in low-light conditions.

Austin Peters, “Give Me Future”
ARRI Alexa Amira

We wanted to come back with the highest quality image with the most information possible. This is my first feature film and the Alexa is a movie camera. We knew we had to shoot digital because we would be shooting so much so to me it seemed like an obvious choice.

Ramona S. Diaz, “Motherland”
Canon C300

It was the right tool because my DP said it was the right tool. Because of the nature of the film — it’s a purely verite film, no voice overs, all sync (except for cutaways) — I needed my DP to be as comfortable with the gear as she could possibly be.


Courtesy of Sundance

Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau, “Trophy”
Canon C100, 5D, Sony FS7, F55

When we began production on this film three years ago we were using Canon C100 and Canon 5D’s. A little over a year ago we moved to the Sony FS7 and Sony FS5. We love the look of the Sony FS7 and Sony FS5, but we also love using Canon 5D cameras. They are light and versatile allowing us to be more discreet at times and not so invasive to the characters we are documenting. Carrying a lot of gear as a two-person crew was hard. Depending on the shoot, we had to figure out the logistics of charging batteries with limited electricity at hunting camps in the african bush. Also, some of the hunts were physically challenging and took a lot of endurance. We had to make sharp choices of what cameras and gear to use so we could walk with 15 miles a day, if needed.

Susan Froemke & John Hoffman, “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman
ARRI Amira

All three DPs shot on the Arri Amira, which gave them the dynamic range and large sensor to capture the beauty of these landscapes and adjust to whatever was thrown at them by production.

Jiuliang Wang,”Plastic China”
Panasonic AG-AF103A

READ MORE: ‘Quest’: How a Photo Essay Turned into a Documentary About 8 Years in the Life of a North Philly Family

Jonathan Olshefski, “QUEST”
DVX100, Canon 5D, Mark 2, Mark 3

Early on it was the DVX100, but I transitioned to the Canon 5D Mark 2 and later the Mark 3. I used both cameras because they are great in low light and most of the shooting situations were low light. The Canon 5D was cheap, but also had an amazingly cinematic image quality. The act of manually focusing everything probably was really good for my development as a cinematographer. It forced me to be constantly attentive.

Shooting "Step"

Shooting “Step”

Amanda Lipitz

Amanda Lipitz, “Step”
Canon C300, 5D

We used a combo of a Canon C300 and a 5D. The 5D was helpful for filming in the school because it was less conspicuous and invasive. The girls knew we were filming, but we could be a little more discreet. The C300 was our camera of choice for everything else — it was great for filming movement and effective in the homes, which were often under-lit. We would bring in lights at times, but it’s hard to get intimate verité moments when the house feels like a movie set, so we more often than not relied on our C300 to deliver a professional image in occasionally difficult circumstances.

Kyoko Miyake, “Tokyo Idols”
Sony FS7, Canon 5D Mark III

Pascale Lamche,”Winnie”
Sony FS7, Canon 5D

The budget was tight, so they were the best we could afford. The Sony did the beautiful shots in Johannesburg, Soweto and Transkei and was not too obtrusive in volatile situations. The 5D was handy, for moving fast, rigging to a Ronin and being more readily available in S.A for last minute access permissions.

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