Gear – Choosing the right camera pt. 2

Since we spoke last time about the resolution, the used sensor, the viewfinder and the weight of the camera we are hopefully about to buy, we will discuss more specific parts this time, like the manual control, the connections or input/output. Like always I will try to keep it short as possible but still interesting. At this point I’ve decided to split this up in a 3-part-series, which will make it easier not only for you but also for me.

manual-control The job of your DSLR camera is to accurately measure the scene you are filming and produce a picture that accurately reflects it. Your job as a cinematographer is to analyze the scene, analyze what the camera gives you, and make modifications as necessary. With manual controls you are now able to find the excact settings to create the outcome you want. We have to control shutter speed, aperture or ISO to adapt to the situation.

Why am I telling you this you may ask? Richard Kiefer ( you can find him on his website and blog or at Twitter ,if you are interested in more of his opinions ) gave me a good hint in one of the comments (which you can check here for exact words) of my last blogpost. The fact is: Not every “modern” DSLR supports manual controls in video mode even if you might think so. Even though it’s more an exception and you still should inform about the camera you are about to buy.

As we are going forth we will look at the outside and hardware of the DSLR again. At the top or in the front you mostly like to find your integrated camera microphone. Some cameras just support mono, others stereo, but in the end it won’t matter for us since the quality of the inbuilt microphones is just no rival to external sound recording. Even if you are using your inbuilt microphone, like on a spontaneous trip, it won’t make such a big difference between mono or stereo.

camera-outputAt the side of most of the modern cameras you can find the Input and Output slots for your audio or video. Beside them there are USB and HDMI for example. Of course this will be different to each camera you choose. You should beware of the fact that most of the lower-budget cameras don’t suppor audio/sound monitoring because of a missing headphone slot. As we are going deeper in the world of shooting film and handling the gear, we will see that this isn’t that necessary. We will have an external recorder with an own microphone (XLR connections) and own headphones, but we will come to that much later. Since I brought the argument for not really caring about inbuilt sound equipment, I still have to say something about the recording of audio. If you are shooting just with an external microphone put on our camera (what we will do in the very beginning) your audio will be regulated by the “Automatic Gain Control” (AGC henceforth) of the camera. AGC isn’t a really bad thing and in modern cameras it has a pretty good outcome. But in the end effect it will regulate your heights down and your downs up, and what will you get out? Right – A pretty flat sound mix. But you are not lost to bad audio. Gladly there are some great tips and programs out there, with which you can disable the AGC if you want to. For beginners it isn’t the worst choice to trust into the AGC, just to concentrate better on other things.

screenAnother big deal for us will be the way we will control our image. Nearly every DSLR got a LCD screen nowdays, so it won’t be a big deal to watch what we are doing. In part one if this series we talked about the inbuilt viewfinder, which we won’t use that often. What is more important, is the question: Do we want a turnable LCD screen? In my eyes it’s definitely “yes”. Even if I plan to do a lot with an external monitor, I know I will be happy about every time I don’t shoot with the external monitor and have to bob my head down to see what I am filming. Maybe that could be the right choice for you too. Where I am less sure about is the touchscreen which a lot of cameras got now. It’s some time ago now, as I had the chance to try one of them, even though I can’t remember the camera, and it was pretty hard to get forward at all. Nonetheless I’ve heard good reviews about modern touchscreens, which are easy to handle and pretty similar to smartphone screens. I won’t give you a direct suggestion at this point. This is something I will be able to report about when I get the chance to try out a few different screens.

HDMINow, as we talked so much about external monitoring beside, I have to loose some words about this particular topic too. It was hard to inform about that, because it is different from camera to camera, but I’ve heard that there are some issues with the external monitoring through HDMI ( if you don’t use the AV output or already another monitor ). The fact is that on some cameras monitoring through HDMI will disable your live-view on the LCD screen and in some cases to AV output too. In other cases it happens that the recorded solution of 1080p won’t be transmitted completely, so you have 720p or less (480p). So be aware of that if you are interested in this, ask a competent person at the market where you are about to buy your camera, try to find out through the support of amazon for example or get in contact with the producer.

Well, we already reached the end of this part, wasn’t that bad, or? In the third part of this series we will talk about the batteries and how it can save you some money by knowing which batteries you got in your camera. Also we will discuss the different types of memory cards for your camera and how it could influence your purchase. Furthermore we will take a close look to some software and their compatibility to some cameras.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed it writing it for you guys. I just wanted to give  you a big “Thanks“, because you already gave me such a big support which I’ve had never expected.
Feel free to share this project with your friends, family or colleagues if you liked it so far.

Leave me your thoughts, your inspirations and your ideas if you feel so.

Also don’t forget to follow “Get Film Started” on Twitter, Facebook or Google+ to stay tuned for the latest news and blogposts.

Thanks and see you next time – Cornelius

Gear – Choosing the right camera

Gear- Choosing the right camera

Just to say in the in the beginning: The pictured cameras aren’t related directly to this post.

Well, in the last blogpost we talked about how important a camera is to a becoming filmmaker. Today we will talk about the right one for me and maybe also for you, if you are on a small budget. You will get an insight of what my preferences and their benefits are.

On this point I want to make clear, that this blogpost will be a lot longer to read, even if I always try to keep it as short as possible. Also because of that I will split this post into two, to make it easier to read for you.

Choosing the right camera can be easy if you got some pre-information, some friends with experiences or if you had a camera before. If that isn’t the case you have to do some (a lot of) research to find out which camera fits to you, also because you don’t want to spend money on something you don’t need. Like always, the question comes up here too: “What do we really need?” But from where should we know what we really need, if we don’t know which configurations different cameras offer.

Hm, so let’s start with the easiest requirement. We want to shoot in the highest resolution available to us. For the ones of us, who are on a no- or a really low-budget, 4k isn’t affordable. Which leaves us only Full-HD with 1920×1080. Like you can guess that isn’t really a problem since nearly every modern DSLR got a full HD video mode. But the “Full-HD” sign on the package doesn’t mean that you will get the same outcome with every camera, even though you don’t have to worry that it will be absolutely miserable. The most different styles you will acquire with different lenses, but we will discuss lenses later and at full length. In this point we will find no big differences between modern cameras, unless it’s going up to 4k.

The next big point in our analysis could be the sensor. I won’t explain the function of the sensor in detail, but I will try to explain you the general aspects. If you are interested in knowing more about the exact function of sensors I can advise this article by Matt Golowczyncski at “What Digital Camera” in 2010. Four year’s old, but still pretty actual. It could be helpful for you to read it to understand the following things, if you are completely new to this area.
In the optimally case we will get our fingers on a Full-Frame Camera. Since they are in the higher price segment it is nearly unaffordable for the no-/low-budget user. Even though, in my opinion (Which could maybe change in the near future with more knowledge and more experience) the goal should be a Full-Frame camera. The greatest benefits of a Full-Frame sensor is that there is no crop factor to the lenses you use and definitely a larger area which can be hit by incoming light, which means you will get better results in low-light.
The other type of sensor which will be in our focus will be the APS-C Sensor, with an average crop-factor of 1,5 to 1,7. That is no huge handicap, but you will have to work with it and always know that you have to calculate it to your lens focal length. This will be the sensor which will cross our way most in our budget segment.
We also might find some Third-Four sensors in some smaller DSLR’s or compact cameras (Even though I think I didn’t meant compact cameras), but I think we will focus on the APS-C sensors most.

Another point which could be interesting for you could be the size of the optical viewfinder. Where some cameras just show 80% of the real picture you try to capture, there are cameras out there which get 100%. The question is if we should put interest in that since we want to shoot film with the camera. Personally I think: no. We won’t use the viewfinder a lot, since there is a monitor on nearly every modern DSLR. And if that isn’t enough for you, you just could by an external viewfinder or an external monitor to control your image better.

What about the weight of you camera? Of course you want to stay flexible and mobile, but most DSLR’s out there will have a pretty similar weight. If you prefer one which is a little lighter or heavier is up to you, but there is not that much difference. For me, other aspects are more important and this won’t influence my purchase, also because we will use a lot of stabilizers like Tripods/Monopods or sliders too, which will not be affected by the weight. If you are more into run-and-gun shooting or traveling a lot with your gear handheld a lighter camera will be a blessing.

So, like you can see it is not easy to choose the right camera for you right away. Also everybody got other preferences on their camera, but this is my mind. On the one side different cameras in different types and by different brands, stand tight together in function and ability at this budget, but on the other side we found out what are the things we might look at on our purchase.
For me it’s definitely a Full-HD DSLR, with an ASP-C sensor in it. Also the amount available lenses should be not small. I don’t care about the viewfinder and if it’s light it would be an extra. (That can also be negative if you got heavy lenses). When we analyze these results we see that there are a lot of different cameras on the market which fulfill all these aspects, especially by the brand Nikon, Sony, Pentax or Canon. At this point it is up to you which brand you prefer most. For me it is definitely Canon and I can’t even say you the reason *laughs*. Maybe I’ve been affected by other cinematographers whom I have seen and liked. Most I like their appearance and their perfect fit to my hand, what makes them so interesting to me.

Of course there are a lot more characteristic which I didn’t mentioned, but for the beginning it should give you a good overview for what to look for.
In the next part of this camera-choosing-series we will compare three direct rival Canon cameras against each other, in the price range from round about 400 – 700€ ( 550 –  950$ )…or less – get ready to be surprised.

Stay tuned for the second part of this series, which hopefully will be released in the next two or three days. Like always: Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.
If you like this project, feel free to tell your friends about it. This will help to keep the work up.

You know of course that I will be glad and thankful to read your thoughts and own experiences on this. Thank you a lot for reading.

Until next time – Cornelius