BEST CAMERAS FOR AN INDIE FILMMAKER – CINEMATOGRAPHY

I get asked this question so often I decided to finally make a blog about it. There is no “easy” answer to this question. Everyone has different styles, tastes, and types of productions they work on the most.

Here is a little background on me. I do mostly corporate videos, documentaries, narrative films, music videos, and portrait photography. I worked as a General Manager/Photography Manager at a portrait studio before I made the transition to film. I used to work in a studio with White Lightning strobes and a Canon 10D with 24-70mm f2.8L and a green screen. I got bored with the studio and decided I liked natural scenery and lighting better. Now I work mostly on exterior shoots, photo and video. If you are planning on working in a studio, you may consider different cameras, lenses, lighting, and other equipment than I use.

That being said, let’s get down to answering the question.

In my opinion, it’s not all about the camera you own. It’s about the person behind the camera and how well they know their camera and lighting. A good Director of Photography can make any camera look decent. So if you are just starting out don’t drop $15K on a camera you will never use the features of. A friend of mine Richard Aughpin told me, “Never be less expensive than your camera.” That has stuck with me to this day.

Since that advice to me was the truth I did a lot of research on several different cameras. The first camera I bought was a Canon 600D/T3i. It was a tough decision because I was looking at many different Canon cameras….

Canon 7D, 60D, 550D/T2i (these are the most affordable to people not making a good amount of money)

I chose Canon because, at the time, Nikon video just wasn’t very good. It was webcammy with the rolling shutter and just did not hold up to a professional quality video.

The most expensive and better quality came from the Canon 7D (Under the $2,000 mark). The Canon 7D has the same imaging sensor as the 60D, 600D, and 550D but more than twice the price ($1,400 Amazon). Where the 7D excels is in the photography side and ISO options. The 7D has a way faster shutter actuation speed (131 ms) than any of the other cameras. Also the 7D has a 19-point, all cross-type AF system equipped with dual diagonal cross-type sensors. This is way better than the 600D/55oD which only has 1. Not to mention the 7D is also weatherproofed and takes Compact Flash memory instead of SD cards. Many people prefer that because of higher bit rates.

But why didn’t I choose the 7D? The answer is simple. I DO VIDEO!!! So should I spend $1,400 on a 7D for a better AF system and a faster frame rate on pictures vs. spending $600 on a 600D/T3i that has the exact same imaging sensor and video quality? But why the 600D/T3i over a 550D/T2i or 60D?

The 60D is the next best of the group but I am not a fan of the buttons on the back. They kind stick a bit and are not the easiest to push in. It has the same ISO options as the 7D 100, 160, 200, 320, 400, 640…… The 550D and 600D have ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200 natively. You dont get the half stops in-between. It has the swivel LCD screen that the 600D has. The 7D and 550D/T2i have a static screen. I am not a fan of  static screens because you have to put yourself in awkward positions to see your shot or buy an external monitor. Again, the reason I didn’t choose the 60D is price ($899 Amazon).

With the 600D/T3i being $300 cheaper and having the exact same features that the 60D has I felt it was not worth spending $300 for a faster frame rate in stills and extra half-stops in ISO when you can just download Magic Lantern FREE and get the same ISO options. Magic Lantern even provides a live histogram, live audio levels, converts your input jack into a headphone jack, and has a focus assist option. The other thing the 600D has is the swivel LCD screen. The 550D does not. The 550D is $100 cheaper, but to me that was a $100 I was willing to spend. I am also glad I did because you can do shot like this without a ladder.

Cost wise $600 is much more affordable than $1,400 for basically the same quality of video. It may not be weatherproof but you can just cover the camera. I don’t know about you, but I don’t shoot much in the rain. A light rain will not affect the camera.

CONCLUSION:

If you want a swivel LCD screen spend the $600 and get a 600D. If you don’t care about the swivel screen, save $100 and get the 550D which is the same camera without the swivel screen!!

If you have any questions please feel free to comment!!

LAURENT DENIMAL

What was the first photograph you ever took?

At  a early age, during the 70’ – I was given  my grand-fathers rolleiflex (He was a
doctor, I never met him, but my father told me he use to photograph alot of family  life, specially with
medium format, and my mother kept a camera body of his work  after his death in1962).
I can’t remember which picture it was I took, but under the supervision of my mum, I
was 10 years old. I still use the camera today, for portraits of writers and also for a  project Im  working on,
about ”Saint-Valery-sur-Somme” in the north of France.

Talk us through your creative process?

Keep moving!
The camera is a tool, photographys has been part of  me ,in my dailylife since i was  10 years old, after
I went to study  photography in Stockholm, Sweden, where I live.
even when doing th odd  jobs, I  made it a habit to document my dailylife, at my
jobplace, and make books of the pictures.
Like in ”Tour de Stockholm”, a bike messengers diary through the streets of
Stockholm, all the photogrpahs were taken with an analog Olympus Mju-II, exclusivly
b&w rolls, shooting from the saddle.
Like in ”Millesgården”, as I worked 4 years as a gardener outside Stockholm, carriyng
a plastic camera from the 50’ in my  pocket (Vredeboch Felica, medium format), all
year round, keeping my eyes open, taking  snapshot.
Like in ”Djurgården” (a project still in progress),  I worked 7 months in an other
park, located in the city centre, having a polaroid camera 600 by hand, and shooting
the daily life in the garden, 1, 2 or 10 polaroid images a day.
As I was actually employed to do a specific job, I had to find a tool which is discrete,
easy to use and cheap. I love books, and love to see my photographs in book form – I did it with Tour de
Stockholm and Millesgården (Carlsson editor), I am working now on a book about
Djurgården.  I like to explore new format, new cameras, new films.
I bought the camera I use for ”Millesgården” for 2,5 €! That’s the funniest! The film roll
is more expensive,  I don’t realy  care.
All these projects don’t give so much money att all – but that’s not the meaning for
me.
The purpose is to create nice composition / photographs, to tell a story, the story of a
place and the people working there.

Which fellow photographer would you like to collaborate with on a project ?

Daydo Moriyama

What types of people inspire you to take their photograph?

The poor, the honest, the humble.
In fact, the people or the situation I am confronted  with, the person close to me and my travels through China, India, the Middle-east – just walking the streets and being there, watching the landscape, the people, looking for the right
moment, inspire me alot

Why do you think your work have this untold story which feature so often in your
images?

Poetry is a kind of untold story – i see the subject as it is wihout changíng nothing in it.
Just press  snap away  ,as I crossed South India , walk the streets of Beyrouth or
Damascus, the same spontaneity, the same concentration, the same presence of
mind. It’s about photography, and a bit about meditation too.

Which do you prefer; photographs whose subjects are contrived or spontaneous?

Spontaneous! The expression of life, no preparation, something happen, you’re just
there, the photography is in front of you, you see and feelit and its gone, you a have a few second
to react, you have to ”act” now, NOW, and you do it. Spontaneity!
No more thinking. See Cartier-Bresson, again and again. Everything is there.

What is it about black and white imagery that speaks to you ?

The infinity of gray, all between black and white. I love developp my photographs in
the dark room, it’s a moment of grace. B&W is elegance and refinement.

If you were on an island and you were allowed one item what would t be and why?

A bottle of Gigondas 2007.
(I was thinking first of a Leica M6 loaded with a tri-X to keep the eyes in action, but
what could I do if there is no darkroom on that island?)

What inspires you to create?

Photography is a kind of therapy – keep creating, as your questioning yourself, and
follow the infinity of the situations which occur.