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How to Choose a Good Video Camera for Indie Filmmaking

How You Can Choose a Camera for Indie Filmmaking

When deciding on a camera, you must consider your budget and intended use. Low budget indie feature? Blackmagic’s Production Camera puts a cinematic aesthetic within reach– Run-and-gun documentary? You might consider something more ergonomic, such as Canon’s C100– Low light conditions? The Sony a7S would be a powerful ally– Need 4K on the cheap? Panasonic’s GH4 is waiting; etc., etc., etc

Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine the camera that best suits your needs. We hope this chart will help point you in the right direction. We invite you to check out our online filmmaking course if you ‘d like to learn the nuts and bolts of how to make a movie with your camera!

So, what do you think? Have you tried any of these cameras?

What is your preferred video camera? Learn more about these in our online store product descriptions.

Arri Alexa XT
RED Epic Dragon
Sony FS700R
Canon C100 Mark II
Blackmagic Production Camera 4K
Canon 5D Mark III
Sony a7S
Panasonic Lumix GH4


How to make Your Video Look Like Film

Making Your Video Look Like Film

There are several things you can do in post-production to make your video look like film, and I’m going to talk with you about them in this article. It’s important to understand that video, by nature, will never be film. Just like they’ve made electronic instruments such as pianos and drums that sound so close to their ‘real’ counterparts that only the most trained ear can hear the difference and only the most astute player can feel it, there is still a difference.

The Way Film Looks

It would be fantastic if the video you just shot on your handheld camcorder could look just like film does when you see a movie in the theater? Well, beyond the simple fact that good sound design does more than you probably realize to make a movie great, you first have to know what you’re looking for.

What does film look like?

Let me ask you a question. What do you think.

Unless you’re sitting there with your hand raised, ready to shout out a bunch of specific qualities you love about film off the top of your head, chances are you couldn’t rattle them off even if you had time to think about it. Can you really describe in concrete terms the qualities that make film look the way it does?

Well, for those of you who aren’t scholars, directors, or film students, I’ll tell you why you want that film look so badly in your projects.

Film Characteristics

Film is imperfect; it physically moves through the camera as it captures imagery. It’s moving at a high rate of speed, and any dust, hairs, or other abnormalities present during each instant are captured. The film rolling through a camera reel is only exposed for 1/24 of a second, and as it passes through underneath the lens it captures an image based on the light it iss exposed to. Because of the chemical reaction that takes place during this fraction of an instant, it has a depth and color quality all its own.

Following are several characteristics of film, an explanation of each, and tips on what you can do during
both production and post-production of your film to mimic each characteristic.

Film Cameras Have A Narrower Field

The measurement of how much of an image is in focus is called the depth of field. I have a whole page devoted to depth of field, actually. You might have a person standing in front of a mountain range and both would be perfectly clear and visible. This image is said to have an extremely wide depth of field. An example of an image with a narrow depth of field would be a close-up of a table fork, where even the tablecloth right beneath the fork is blurred.

In film as opposed to video, the depth of field is quite a bit shorter by default. Movies get part of their
magical quality from the fact that when our main character is standing in front of a crowd of people, you don’t see the whole crowd and everyone’s faces clearly. It’s just our hero, standing there, and he’s clear and sharp and crisp, while everyone in the crowd behind him is blurred.

Good filmmakers use this narrow depth of field to their advantage. The eye is naturally drawn to the part of an image that is most in focus, so everything that’s blurred becomes part of the background. When you shoot a video and your camera is zoomed all the way out (wide), there literally is no background; it’s a flat piece of scenery with a bunch of objects in it.

There is a way you can recreate the film look with video, and that is by narrowing your field depth. You’ll need to set up your shots a little differently in order to do this, and if you’re indoors you may be limited by space. But try using the following technique and see if you can make your video look like film by perfecting it.

Film Look– Tip # 1: To set up a narrow depth of field, dolly back so the camera is physically much further away from your subject (in fact, the further away, the better) and zoom in. While zoomed in, every tiny bit of movement or shakiness multiplies the amount your frame will move, so these shots are best attempted while using a tripod with a still or relatively still shot.

You’ll begin to see the background blurring out and your subject coming into view clearly when you are significantly further away and zoomed in (telephoto). To tweak this shot and adjust the focus exactly how you want it, switch your camera to manual focus mode if it has one and if you feel comfortable doing so.

Film is Slower and Softer

It isn’t composed of pixels like digital video, so film has a smoother, softer look to it. Because it has a slower frame rate than video, Film also shows motion blurs more easily. Since standard NTSC video is recorded at 29.97 frames per second, and most of it is interlaced, video doesn’t carry the same quality as film because the images are displayed differently.

Interlacing is the method by which video is processed to save bandwidth for broadcasting. Video that is interlaced uses odd and even scan lines that hold two frames’ worth of information in one. Some high-end video cameras shoot in progressive (full-frame) mode, which captures single frames, but most record interlaced video and are therefore prone to the sharpness of the scan lines appearing when motion occurs.

You can immediately do a couple of things to change the format so that you can make your video look more like film when you begin the editing and post-production process.

Film Look– Tip # 2: In your video editing program’s project settings, set your project’s frame rate to 24 frames per second. If there is an option that allows you to de-interlace the footage, select that option. These two changes will result in only a subtle change, but it’ll get you that much closer to the film look when you export it.

Film Handles Extreme Darkness and Light More Easily

You may have had an experience with a digital camera where you went to snap the device and a photo took a second (or several seconds) to finish. When it came up, it was blurry and out of focus. Digital photography and video does this often because it requires more light.

In situations where there isn’t a lot of light, the iris tries to automatically adjust itself to compensate for what it perceives as a lack of light. Any movement on your part during this time causes the blurring effect you see in dark digital photos. Sufficient light is necessary for a digital camera in order for it to get the amount of information it perceives is necessary to take a good picture.

Film has an exceptional tolerance for more extreme levels of darkness and light; video starts to degrade
But film simply takes in what light it can and presses that light into its imagery when things get dark.

Even on a regular, normally exposed frame of film with average lighting you can see that its levels– the difference between the darkest color and the lightest color in the image– are much wider than that of most video. There are ways to adjust the spectrum of light vs. dark in your image when you set about making your video look like film.

The closer to true black an image becomes, the more it ‘pops’ out at the viewer. Video taken in low light
conditions tend to be flat and can appear to have a grayish screen or filter over them. You’ll have to shoot your scenes with more light when you use video, just because that’s the way video works. But you can still make video look like film.

Film Look– Tip # 3: In your digital editing program, find your video effects panel or menu and look for an effect called Levels. Add this to your video and make the necessary adjustments until the
darkest spots in your videos are close to black.

Each Level filter is adjusted differently, so I can’t give you an exact interface method for getting the right picture. It’s your video though, so mess around with the settings and keep tweaking stuff until you find the look you think is the best you can achieve within your editing program.

Film Captures Closer To True Color

With digital grading and CGI being used more and more to add vivid color and special effects to
films, it’s becoming less common for film to make it from the camera all the way into theaters and home video media without having been run through a computer.

Remember, film captures light– video captures a digital interpretation of that light. The color captured on film doesn’t have to conform to its closest computerized interpretation of how to display that color.

Film Look– Tip # 4: Find and add a Color Correction plug-in to your project within your
digital editor. Bring up the saturation a little bit and play with the gamma settings to adjust
the overall lightness level. A brightness/contrast effect can also be used to offset any if necessary
increases in gamma.

The Highly Sought-After “Film Look”

Hopefully you’ll find these tips useful in getting that “film look” everyone seems to be after, but keep in mind that the way your video looks to you now might change in the future. If you’re a relatively inexperienced filmmaker, you may look back one day, slap your forehead and exclaim, “what was I thinking?!”.

Use your best judgment both on set and at the editing bay. Be aware that filmic style changes over the.
years and the latest fads and methods in films coming out right now might be old hat in a few years. Try less to mimic what you see on the big screen and more to develop your own unique style.

Do things you think will be pleasing to your viewers, but don’t give up your creativity in place of a trendy or overdone gimmick because it’ll probably wear out faster than you ‘d like. If this article has provided you with useful tips on making your video look like film, don’t hesitate to read on if you need a refresher on video production and broadcast standards.

How to Light a Movie Scene

Have you ever wanted to Light your own movie scene?

If you’re like me you’ve seen many dark horror films, a well-lit romantic comedy, and a gritty and grim war movie. Digital effects are sometimes used to colorize the film during post-production, but what gives each of these types of films its unique look and feel is the knowledge of how to light a scene and the type of lighting used on location.

There are a couple of simple movie lighting techniques you can employ that will get your lighting just right for your video. The first of these is basic three-point lighting, which you can experiment with below.

Three-Point Lighting

video lighting equipment

Key Light

This is the most focused, directional light used in the three-point setup. It is used to illuminate the strong or dominant side of the subject (determined by which way they are facing, or from the left by default).

The key light creates the largest amount of light of any of the three and is usually set the furthest away from the subject, being directed in a slightly narrower beam than the others if possible. As a result it also tends to create the most obvious shadows.

Fill Light

The fill is used to offset the harshness and the sharp shadows that can be caused by the key light. It is a softer, more indirect light that not only fills out the opposing side of the subject, but lights up the immediate surrounding area.

Using a diffuser or filter on the fill light is a good way to make it spread out and give it some added softness. A thin piece of white vinyl or tissue paper can be placed in front of the light to do so, but be aware that anything you put too close can become very hot over the course of filming! I once had a clear plastic shower curtain start to melt over one of my fill lights while I was shooting a scene. The result was a nasty odor and some toxic smoke, which was not very fun to be around.

Back Light

The back light provides a “rim” or border around your subject to set it off from the background. This is great for shooting close-ups and portraits, and the back light can be placed slightly low on the vertical plane and angled upwards to provide a softer effect.

In situations where the subject is near a wall and you don’t want such a feathery effect, you can actually turn the back light toward the wall and bounce the light off to better illuminate the background.

Bouncing Light

You may find, especially if you are using cheap shop lights or other inexpensive lighting tools, that you don’t have very much control over how to light a scene. The direction, spread, temperature, and sharpness of each light might not seem as if they are adding the proper types of lighting to the set. In these cases it is possible to bounce light off of an object to create a softer glow rather than a stark beam.

Use a piece of foamcore from your local craft store, a car windshield sun reflector, or any other lightly colored reflective object. Turn the light away from your subject and use the reflector to send the light back in that direction. It may take some tweaking time to angle the reflector so that the light bounces off of it correctly and lands on the subject in a more pleasing way.

Get It

In many locations where you’ll be in an enclosed space there may not be enough room to set each light just as you need it. You may also find that altering the height of your light sources changes the feel of your shot; higher key lighting offers an angelic effect, while lower, up-angled lights cause a more rigid, spooky look.

It may take some practice and tweaking to get each situation correct, but you will find that while your location set may seem overly bright to the naked eye, knowing how to light a scene really livens up a scene and provides the necessary light for your camera to function at its best.

An Inexpensive Solution at Converting Video Lighting

If you’re working on a budget and don’t have much to spend on lighting equipment and other types of programs or video conversion software needed., picking up a few basic clamp lamps is just about the easiest and most cost-effective thing you can do. These aren’t professional-grade, but they’ll go a long way toward giving your scenes some extra visual impact.

What is a Key Grip

A key grip is actually the chief supervisor of a union crew responsible for moving lights, dolly tracks, cranes and scenery. While grips are primarily hired for their physical strength and construction skills, a key grip also has some administrative responsibilities.

This person works very closely with the head electrician, known in the movie business as a gaffer. As part of a pre-production movie crew, the key grip, gaffer, director of photography and a location producer will discuss the logistics of a specific filming site. All of these people must understand the needs of the script and have an understanding of how difficult a particular location shot might be.

The key grip must determine if lights can be rigged up safely on a mountainous set. It is the work of grips, working under the supervision of a key grip, to install these tracks and remove them after the shots.

Experienced grips with good work practices can be promoted to the position of ‘grip boss’. The grip boss works closely with the key grip in order to translate general orders into specific job assignments.

Most film work is contractual, so any qualified grip may be hired as a key grip for the duration of the production. Quite often the production company will hire an experienced and respected key grip and then allow him or her to handpick a crew. A film construction crew which works well together can help a director meet his own production schedule with minimal downtime.

What is a Best Boy Grip

What is a Best Boy Grip?

Basically, a best boy grip is the assistant to the key grip– the man or woman responsible for making sure cameras and lights are where they are supposed to be. Grips are technicians who work in film, interacting closely with two departments: the camera crew, and the lighting crew. Grips may be called on by the camera department to set up camera dollies, mounts, trailers, or cranes. In many parts of the world– including Australia and the United Kingdom– this is the extent of a grip’s purview. In the United States and other nations, however, grips also interact heavily with the lighting department and crew. Union-job rules in the United States prohibit a grip from actually handling the lights, they work closely with the electricians who do that work. They also deal with light stands, nets, diffusion tents, bounces, flags, and large outdoor tents, all of which help focus, direct, diffuse, or cut off light.

The key grip runs this entire operation, essentially acting as foreman for all of the other grips on a set– which in the case of a large movie may be dozens. The best boy grip acts as the right-hand man to the key grip, handling logistics and orchestrating the other grips on a large set, or handling the bulk of the equipment on a small job. He or she has many jobs on a set, and these jobs range widely in scope. He or she will likely be responsible for hiring and firing personnel, coordinating the grip crew with the film or electrical crew, planning rigging and lighting schemes, and many other jobs. The best boy grip is also usually the contact person between the entire grip department and the unit production manager on site.

Best boy grips have a counterpart in the electrical department, usually known as best boy electric. Best boy electric serves much the same role, except serves under the gaffer, rather than the key grip.

The name grip is a holdover from old circus slang, and may have come from a term used to describe the small bag of tools all grips seem to carry with them. The phrase best boy grip is a holdover from the old guild craft system, where a master would have many apprentices, and the oldest– and therefore the one with the most responsibilities– would be called the best boy. Despite the inherent gender of the term, a best boy grip may be either male or female, and women make up a sizable minority of grips.