New Cameras for Filmmakers

The film and pro video world is abuzz this week about changes in the camera landscape.  Amidst the usual flurry of growing capabilities for shrinking prices, a couple of things have caused a lurch:

Red camera rig

Red rig for documentary work

  1. Red Digital Cinema announced impending price cuts.  Red’s  cameras have taken parts of the pro video business by storm because of their revolutionary price/performance ratio.  Cheap is relative, of course: the $40,000 Epic and the $10,000 Scarlett – both bare bones, so triple that price by adding lenses, matte boxes, viewfinders, and the like.  They have become accepted in TV and some film production, but especially in the TV commercial world.  Red’s camera’s are bricks – not very suited to documentary film production, although some have cobbled together FrankenRigs that work.  The noFilmSchool blog discusses Red’s price reductions in context (the takeover of film production by 4k or higher acquisition formats).
  2. Sony F5 and F55 cameras

    Sony F5 and F55 cameras

    Sony Professional has announced two new CineAlta 4K cameras, The F5 and the F55.  Both can record 4k raw video (at 16 bits) to SxS cards via an external recorder.  Both can record to a variety of other formats as well.  Their design, unlike bricks such as the Red or DSLRs (like those from Canon, Nikon, or now from Black Magic Design), allows for some degree of ergonomic use in a portable configuration.  Rumors place the F5 at $18,000, the F55 at $50,000, and the recordser at $10,000.  The SxS cards are at once pretty expensive (like $500 for 32GB) and more rugged and robust than CF or SD cards.  And raw recording (like the Red format) will at time, cost, and complexity to post-production workflows.  But still…  Is there an emoticon for drooling?

Sony and Red are vying for the mid-market, with the ARRI Alexa dominating the higher end market (like feature films), but with all of these blurring together into a pastiche of colorful choices, like a melted crayon painting, for filmmakers.  Of course, it means we’ll need bigger and faster hard drive arrays, and new monitors (to handle 4k!), and…

What does this mean for documentary filmmakers.  To tackle this question, you first have to specify what you mean by “Documentary filmmakers.”  Do you mean reality TV production companies, those union-bussting tabloids of TV that pretend they use unscripted real people when they really use scripted actors?  By eliminating union writers (and hiring them back for cheap) and union actors (instead giving amateur and aspiring actors a very low-paying “opportunity) and union editors and such – they can afford expensive gear, at least.  But if you are Chris Hegedus and DA Pennebaker, let alone an aspiring first time independent filmmakers, then $10,000 or $20,000 (plus lenses and viewfinders and matte boxes and follow-focus and…) starts sounding like a buying Ferrari.

Reality TV is not documentary film, by the way.


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