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Which Camera Should We Shoot On?

You should never pick your DP based on what camera he or she owns or has access to or can get discounts on.

The decision on which DP to hire should be based on his or her talent (not just the reel but entire films – several of them), reputation, relationships, referrals, shared vision for the project, what he or she brings to the table and how enjoyable they might be to work with 14-hours a day!

As a Director who tries very hard to do her homework and respect everyone’s jobs (and let the DP pick the camera and lenses to achieve the look I’m trying to achieve) and as a Producer who does her darndest to raise sufficient money to pay cast and crew a fair wage and secure the highest and best value equipment the project warrants – commensurate with its likely market value, there are a few things I’ve learned:

*   A great DP can get beautiful shots with any camera.

*   The most state-of-the-art camera with all the bells and whistles in the world can’t be fully capitalized on unless it’s operated by a skilled craftsman/technician/artist executing the vision of another at the helm.

*   There is a right camera for each and every project and budget.

*   Lenses are at least as important as the camera (if not even more so).

The camera should be selected because it is the sweet spot between what the DP and/or Director want to capture the visual style, what the budget can adequately afford (including lenses and post production considerations) and what is right for what you’re shooting – and how (size, weight, location space and mobility (rigging).

There is a free, available on-line and on-demand three-part documentary series that is incredibly edifying. NOTE: I have absolutely nothing to do with this series, the company, the products, the individuals involved – other than I truly benefitted from it and am truly recommending it wholeheartedly and unsolicited – to help others who read my blog.

The Great Camera Shootout 2011 is a documentary that compares 12 large scale technical cameras through 15 tests spread out across 3 episodes. Administered by Robert Primes, ASC, these cameras were pushed to the limit through real “on set” challenges conducted over four days involving over 60 technicians including some notable motion picture industry names you may recognize (Stephen Lighthill, ASC, Nancy Schreiber ASC, Matt Seigel, Michael Bravin, and Mike Curtis) with I’d say a goal they achieved: to broaden understanding of the elements that create image quality.

The 12 Cameras

  1. Arri Alexa
  2. Sony F-35
  3. Sony F3
  4. Canon 5D Mark II
  5. Canon 7D
  6. Canon 1D Mark IV
  7. Nikon D7000
  8. Weisscam HS-2
  9. Phantom Flex
  10. Panasonic AG-AF100
  11. RED ONE M-X
  12. 35mm Kodak 5213 and 5219 film


NOTE: The Red Epic, “S Log” on the Sony F3 and “CineStyle” for the Canon cameras were not available at the time of these tests.

This was NOT a contest to decide who makes the “best” camera.

Rather, it was a collection of IDENTICAL in-depth tests on everything from sharpness to low light sensitivity, exposure latitude, highlight detail, shadow detail, color quality, flesh tone reproduction, compression losses and shutter artifacts to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the industry’s newest cameras. Both a science and an art, industry professionals watched the results in calibrated 2K screenings.

Watch it for yourself!



Episode OneThe Tipping Point

3 tests Re: usable latitude:

*   The Dynamic Range Test

*   The Under Exposure Test

*   The Over Exposure Test

Episode TwoSensors & Sensitivity

*   To illustrate how noise affects shots in the real world, the Signal-to-Noise Ratios were ascertained by shooting a chart with 20 different grey patches analyzing by software that converted each sensors’ illuminations into digital values.

*   A 3’ W Siemen star chart revealed the Spatial Frequency Response (SFR) of each sensor which demonstrated the smallest details each camera could capture.

*   A still life scene was shot to show the real world implications when resolution and compression are pushed to their limits.

*   Color compression and sub-sampling were proven using the Wringer chart to detail the differences between on-board and off-board recording.

Episode ThreeIt’s Not So Black & White

*   Motion Artifacts: the camera’s ability to render motion as close to human eyesight as possible. A motion controlled “drum test” built by General Lift was used to show vertical lines moving across the frame as well as the amount of skew generated by a camera’s sensor.

*   Rolling Shutter Issues: Clairmont Camera designed a test using a wheel spinning at 48 fps to show the differences between the ways the cameras each render motion.  A global shutter in a camera like the Phantom Flex will render the lines similar to the way your eye would see them.  The rolling shutter in the 5D mkII shows much more bend and skew.

*   Sensor Design

*   Processing Power

*   Price Point

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