Camera Selection – The World of Mental Masturbation

The warning – everything below is based on my personal experience for this production. As always these are my ramblings so please forgive any grammar or spelling errors cause I surly did not notice them. While I know my thoughts might fire up some camera fan boy rage don’t get your panties in a bunch, these are my thoughts and what works for me.

Admittedly I am a bit of a tech geek and a research junkie so selecting a camera has provided more endless hours of wrist numbing quality time with my computer than a teenage boy acquires when he first types boobs into his browser. There is no shortage of information and options out there but at some point you have to put an end to the mental masturbation and just make a fucking decision.


So for me once I enjoyed hours of tech porn on cameras I started to create a narrow list of what I really cared about and what features where essential to what I am trying to do. Think of this as differentiating between the person you say why not to at closing time and the person you will eventually divorce. That list looks a little like this:

  • Color Science – the most important thing to me was how the camera handles the translation of color including the depth of that color, accuracy and quality of codec. Since horror benefits greatly from color correction for mood enhancement I want a higher quality codec that will hold up to color grading and correction. After watching hours of sample footage from just about every camera out there this first criteria really left me with three options – Arri Alexa, Canon C series, and Blackmagic. The higher codec requirement rules out DSLRS, even though they have been used on fantastic horror films like Absentia the codec just wouldn’t work for what I want.
  • Sound should be separate – audiences will forgive picture issues but rarely forgive sound issues. When you think about it sound is a constant while pictures change every 3-10 seconds so sound issues usually last a lot longer. With that in mind I want sound recorded separately into a mixer as movies have traditionally been done and will match the files in post using the camera sound as a scratch track. So the camera does not need to capture high quality sound since I won’t be using that feature anyway.
  • I prefer separate viewfinders – this eliminated the need to consider the camera’s LCD and viewfinder since I need a quality diopter and prefer the zoom capacity and color information from a separate viewfinder.
  • Need a small footprint easy workflow – managing a large camera is more work and we are a small indie crew working in real world spaces so I want something that is easy to move around and is reasonably easy to work with. We also need something that can work quickly since time is money on a set and you only have so much time to capture those money shots.
  • Money Matters – first I am a fan of owning not renting so I can have all the time I want to play with my equipment before we shoot (again kind of like that teenage boy putting boobs in his browser). Second I am paying for everything with my own hard earned money so I want to get my money’s worth and make sure I buy the right equipment for the job.
  • Final Output – where most people will watch your final product is a factor that deserves careful consideration. Most of my audience will be watching our movie at home over VOD so we don’t have to worry about needing 4k, 6k, or 8k when 1080p will be plenty.

After beating up every camera based on that list the best option for us is the Blackmagic line. It does everything I need it to do for this project is readily available and priced so I can buy multiple cameras (since you must be prepared for shit breaking on set, cause shit will break on set). Selecting among their cameras was actually a lot easier. First picking up a couple of their pocket cameras was a no brainer I am a huge geek for 16mm film, most of my favorite movies were shot on 16mm film and the pocket has a 16mm sized digital sensor and at about a grand I can buy a couple and even use them as crash cams. For the main camera it came down to their Ursa, the 4k production camera with a full size S35 sensor and global shutter and their cinema camera with a sensor size between 16mm & S35 but with more dynamic range than the 4k camera. The final decision really came down to the mount. As I said I love the look and feel of 16mm and the cinema camera, along with the pocket camera come with a micro four thirds mount (MFT) which allows just about any lens mount to be adapted to the camera. I already have acquired some vintage 16mm lenses that have been modified to work with the MFT mount on the pocket camera and the look is just gorgeous from the high quality manufacturing of old lenses. So after hours and hours, some more hours of research and a bit of carpal tunnel the mental masturbation over camera selection came to an end and I decided to go with the Blackmagic line combining a couple pocket cameras with a couple cinema cameras so we have redundancy (remember shit breaks and shit breaking sucks up the precious little time you have on set). Even after kitting them out to make them easier to use the total package cost will be around 40k less than the Arri all while accomplishing everything I want a camera to do.

Lens selection with a MFT mount is wide open but I can say we are only using cinema lenses and vintage 16mm film lenses since we are shooting a film might as well use lenses that were designed to shoot film rather than lenses that were designed to shoot photos but can shoot film. The rest of the equipment selection which is a further journey into the fridge areas tech geek porn I will save for a later post since this one seems to of rambled on long enough and besides I got a damn script to edit for the one millionth time.

If you dig these updates please join me on twitter to keep up with our progress, chat and get in on all the Agnation action!

3 thoughts on “Camera Selection – The World of Mental Masturbation

  1. Dan,
    Thank you for the follow on Twitter!

    I am writing a graphic novel and my hope (for all intensive purposes) is to adapt it into a graphic rock opera screenplay.

    I would be honored if you checked out my website – its a very explicit look into one mans dark sub conscious as he pays the price for his sins and battles the devil inside himself.

    Dan Mervenne

  2. I’m using the 35mm AF-S lens frequently on a D 7000, often in low light suitations, and am very happy with it. It holds up reasonably well against the 24-70 f2.8 lens which is about 4 times as heavy and 6 times as expensive. It’s only drawback would be a slightly slower AF response, the edges aren’t quite as sharp, it’s advantages are better low light performance, simplicity and small size it should balance very nicely on the 5100. Mine got it’s last use for a live concert video. Audio was multitracked into Logic on a MBP, video on the Nikon, later all joined together in FCP. Easy

    • Hey sorry for the delayed response we get pounded with spam on this site for some reason. I shot with the black magic pocket, but next time will be switching to the canon c100, its more in my wheel house (I came from canon DSLRS) and the lowlight is much better and I like the canon baked in skin tones and the auto focus is an awesome plus for steady cam and gimbal work. I think its a lot of work and trial and error to figure out the right camera system for each individual, seems like you found your awesome!

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