Choosing the Camera for Your Shoot – Part 1

Avatar Cinema Summit | June 26, 2018

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What Camera Did They Shoot On?

You will never stop hearing that question. Filmmakers and cinephiles alike are obsessed with the specifics of the cameras used on their favorite films; just look at the popularity of a website like ShotOnWhat.com.

People swear by the image an Arri Alexa produces, while other cinematographers love the compact, modular design of the RED line of cameras. But in the era of the DSLR and with the rise of better smartphone cameras, the specific camera used may become more and more irrelevant

In this multi-part series, we will try to tackle all the things you should consider when selecting the camera for your next, great project.

Resolution Isn't King

4k! 6k! 8k! You are going to constantly hear this as camera technology gets better and cheaper. RED seems to one up themselves every year by producing new sensors that offer higher resolution. Travel to NAB and after you awake from your drunken stupor, you will see all the new cameras out there touting their impressive resolution specs. 1920x1080 HD, which once was seen as the breakthrough for indie filmmakers, is now looked down upon as a max resolution. 

But know this.

When it comes to projecting in theaters (still a dream for most filmmakers), most theaters are still projecting in 2k resolution. So while 8k may sound awesome, you may be spending more for a pay off that isn't that much bigger.

Resolution - What is it Good For?

Easy - flexibility.

Where a higher resolution comes in most handy is during post work. Be it editing or VFX development, higher resolutions give you a lot more to work with and a safety net to fall back on, but NOT to rely on.

If your DP or AC, or anyone on set for that matter, didn't see the C stand on the edge of the frame during the filming of a pivotal scene, shooting in a higher resolution will allow you to punch in a little bit and hide it in post.

Didn't notice that stinger at the bottom of the frame that is powering a set of Skypanels? That's ok, re-frame it a bit utilizing the beauty of 8k.

For lower budget projects, while it is not ideal to depend on this safety net, crews are often rushing to pull off as many shots as they can in a day and things tend to get overlooked. 

When it comes to VFX work, its always important to get as much information and footage as you can. With higher resolutions, you can shoot larger plates, giving your VFX team the ability to resize and manipulate the frame according to the green screen footage that was previously shot.

It also allows more breathing room for added effects like camera shakes and added detail in the CGI. You can always reduce detail by downsizing your output, but it is near impossible to add detail when you are upsizing your end result.

Other important resolution facts to keep in mind:

  • The Alexa (some people's dream camera) until recently only shot 2.8k.
  • Movies like Black Swan, The Avengers, Elysium, The Bourne Legacy, and Drive utilized Canon's 5D Mark II during production.
  • The critically acclaimed drama Tangerine was shot on the iPhone.
  • Award winning director (and personal fav) Steven Soderbergh said that the future of cinema was using an iPhone as a camera, as he did on his most recent feature, Unsane.

While resolution seems to be the hottest topic around the new cameras, it shouldn't be a deciding factor. A lot of the newer cameras, no matter what the price point, can shoot at least 4k resolution, which is all you will really need for your next project. Until you get into the larger, 1 million dollar budget range, a 4k DSLR like the Panasonic GH5 might be better suited for you than a RED Monstro. In the next installment, we will get into what one should really consider when choosing a camera:


  • Cost
  • Size/Weight
  • Shooting Location
  • Accessories
  • Color Profile
  • Media

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