It is always a (heated) question of what camera to choose. Sometimes you are limited to time and budget and you are forced to shoot with what you own. DSLRs can still get the job done, the C100 produces a great image, the FS700 can do 240 fps, the Red’s look is awesome and the Alexa seems to be the holy grail for now. I personally feel this is a great problem to have. I wanted to make sure that for my recent film, Impact, I chose the best camera possible.
After recently completing Five/Five, the same crew found themselves thirsty for another passion project and this time we put our money in a pot to get the gear we wanted. Here’s how we figured out the perfect camera and lighting package.
Find the Story First
Before we go on I do have to admit that I started shaping this project for certain cameras and soon realized this is not the way to go. I was so eager to build out a big sexy camera that I forgot about how to best tell the story. Luckily, I came to my senses and spent a few weeks with the director, Chris Jurchak, interviewing our subject and doing location scouts. Knowing the locations and story, I figured out there was only one camera on my mind. The Red Scarlet. I will give you a quick rundown of Impact’s overview so you can see for yourself what camera you would have chosen. I’d love to hear which camera you would choose.
So there’s this guy (Kyle) who was a professional MMA fighter and was doing great things in the ring but found his true passion in training and empowering others. Kyle had this great philosophy of bringing in other teachers from other schools so fighters could get a well rounded foundation. He did not follow cliques and paid attention to the need of his fighters and not the politics surrounding the sport. Unfortunately, other gyms did not like this and he found himself with out a gym. Instead of giving up he began renting out a dance studio to continue training and soon opened his own gym. Flash forward to know where he trains fighters of all ages, teaches woman’s self defense and hosts numerous free events for the community.
Choose the Look
With the story in mind we wanted this to be inspirational, motivating and fun while also showing the hard work and grit of the sport. We had 3 people to interview and broll to cover in 2 days. We didn’t need 240 fps, and we didn’t need a super light and fast camera. We had a crew of 5 and I had an AC so a heavier camera wouldn’t affect the shoot. What we did need was dynamic range, a sharp image, and a sensor that would do great things with light pollution and sun flares. DSLRs just wouldn’t cut it with how backlit we were shooting and I did not want a soft edge around our subject. The C100 didn’t give us the range in post that we needed so the Red fit the bill.
I’ve gotten training with the Scarlet from my good friend Martin Whitier and a local rental house, DC-Camera. I was comfortable with all the menus and settings and knew this would be the best tool for the job. The icing on the cake was when Martin told me he had a set of PL Schneider Xenar 3s. The glass really elevates the camera to the next level. Check out the video below to find out more about the glass.
Focus Gear TV Review of Schneider Xenar 3
Shooting with the Red Scarlet
The Red is actually a very fast camera. Yes it is heavy, but with the right rig and custom settings, I was flying through menus, changing frame rates, shutter and white balance. Was crazy how many GBs we shot but luckily we were prepared with a ton of cards and hard drive space. For Impact, I shot mostly on the Cinevate Duzi slider (which I love) and handheld. No rig actually, just the camera, 5” monitor and top handle. Again, not as easy to move around as the C100 or FS700, but not impossible. We were going for a look and wanted the natural shakes of hand held.
After working with the Canon C100, Red Scarlet and Sony FS700 in the same month, I don’t see why there’s so many heated discussions. They are all amazing cameras and will excel with the right project. There’s arguments I don’t agree on but no need to get into that now. What’s important is to get your hands on these different cameras and learn their strengths and weaknesses. We all have our favorites but make sure you don’t let that cloud your judgement on the best camera for the job.
As cinematographers it is our job to choose the best camera for the director’s needs. Look deeper than just the story. Look at the exact shots the director wants to get. If it is a type of shoot where you are hoping out of a car and shooting some broll and then hop back in for the next stop, the C100 or FS700 would be better than the Red. If you are taking time to light scenes and aren’t in a huge hurry, I’d choose the Red for the dynamic range and great image. When Chris and I talked to Kyle I understood the story but it wasn’t until we talked about shots and schedule that the camera choice was made easy.
So although everyone says to think about story (and keep doing it because they are right) I challenge you to look deeper and figure out the specific shots and look that the director, or you, are looking for.
Check out the trailer below for Impact:
(cover photo credit: snap from the video)