The Big Camera Question for Independent Filmmakers

“Which camera should I use?” This is one of the questions I am asked most frequently, and the time has come to address this issue once and for all.

First things first: camera shopping has nothing to do with being a filmmaker.

In this post I will write about why you need to start shooting your projects with the top cameras as soon as possible, which camera you should buy, and how the camera manufacturers are scamming you.

Why you should shoot your projects with the top cameras (Red Epic and Arri Alexa)

If you are an ambitious filmmaker, I strongly encourage you to shoot your projects with top movie cameras after you have completed your early projects, which are normally training pieces that allow you to build some basic skills before you can invest more significant sums of money in serious work for your director’s reel.

In my opinion, having built some skills with those cheaply shot early projects, you need to start building a serious reel, and you should use the Arri Alexa or Red Epic cameras to do so.

You might think that this advice is based on image quality, but that is not in fact the case. You see, the truth is that most projects these days are watched online, and if a video is only going to be watched online and all we care about was quality, frankly lesser cameras would be more than enough.

But there is a lot more to it than image quality.

Cameras for filmmakers The real reason for insisting on shooting your high-end projects with real movie cameras is professional development.

If you are a seriously ambitious filmmaker, surely your goal is eventually to get paid to direct high-end projects. There is no doubt that these high-end projects will be shot on cameras such as the Arri Alexa or Red Epic. Hence the value of building your reel with those cameras is that by the time you start getting paid to direct, you already have experience of using those cameras and directing crews that use those cameras.

In other words, by shooting your high-quality reel using the same cameras that you will use on big projects, you are training yourself to direct high-end film crews.

A director who has only ever shot projects on those pathetic DSLR cameras is simply not as professionally developed as a director who has solid experience of shooting projects with real movie cameras.

Case in point: a few years ago one of the production companies that I contacted with my reel (which was of a lower quality than it is now) e-mailed me back and asked me a very simple question:

“Your work is good, but have you directed any projects on 35mm or HD?”

(This was in the days before Red and Arri Alexa.)

My answer was “No,” and I never heard from them again. Back then I thought that they were being petty and unreasonable, but now, with several years of extra wisdom and more directing experience, I see that they were not being as unreasonable as I thought.

Can a director who has only ever shot with camcorders and DSLR cameras really be trusted with a real film crew? In principle, the answer ought to be yes; in practice, it is a more complicated question then you might think.

The issue is ultimately settled by a very simple fact: there is quite simply no shortage of directors these days; hence, other things being equal, those who are in charge of hiring directors will always prefer the director who, in addition to obvious artistic talent, also has solid experience of shooting with real cameras.

You see, if the project was shot with a DSLR, the director’s talents can still be demonstrated, but it is not at all clear just how small the crew was. It might even have been a one-person shoot! Hence there is no evidence that this director has the interpersonal and leadership skills required to direct a real film crew. There is more to directing than simply framing a good shot: you also need to be good with people.

Cameras for filmmakersA reel that was shot exclusively with DSLR cameras does not provide evidence that the director has strong leadership skills. That is a problem.

Conversely, if the director’s reel was all shot with high-end movie cameras, it is an inescapable fact that this director must have worked with substantial film crews, because it’s the only way to shoot with those cameras, which need grips, focus pullers and all manner of other personnel to manage them. Hence that director has demonstrated talent as well as solid leadership and management skills – a winning combination.

Cameras for filmmakersIn short, a director whose reel was shot with real cameras as opposed to those silly DSLR toys is a director who can be trusted with a real crew.

In this day and age, you need all the help you can get, because the other directors you’re competing with are able to say “Yes, I shot my projects with the Arri Alexa.”

“But I can’t afford those big cameras!”

If you are shooting your first, second or third project, you are a complete newbie and you need to cut your teeth and develop some basic practical directing skills.

For these early projects, you don’t have to worry about shooting with real cameras — just shoot with the best camera you can get hold of and focus on building your skills.

However, having cut your teeth on those early projects, the time has come to build a serious reel that is good enough to land paid work. For these projects, nothing less than the best cameras will do, for the professional development reasons mentioned above.

When you get to this stage in your development, if you can’t afford those cameras, you can’t afford to shoot – period.

You’re going to be spending significant sums of money to build your reel anyway, see you may as well raise a bit more money and do the job properly.

In this way, when producers ask you whether you ever shot anything on a Red Epic or Arri Alexa, you can proudly say “Yes, I did — and you can get references from the Director of Photography I worked with.”

The great camera scam

Some savvy filmmakers have wised up to what I’m about to tell you, but most haven’t, so is worth explaining here.

The camera manufacturers are essentially running a carefully crafted scheme whereby they sell you overpriced cameras that they then deliberately make obsolete six months or a year later by releasing an updated and superior model that they had in the pipeline the whole time.

The release of the latest hottest camera model makes the camera you own obsolete and undesirable, particularly in the eyes of paying customers (this is a concern for videographers, who are the biggest users of these wretched DSLR cameras).

These camera makers have no respect for filmmakers — their interest is simply churning out camera models every six months, each time with features not found in the earlier models, so that the filmmakers who are in the thrall of gear lust are forced to keep buying, partly to please narrow-minded clients, and partly to accommodate their insatiable lust for new cameras. It’s pathetic.

You see, the manufacturers could easily have packed all those features into their first model, but that would reduce their future sales. What they do instead is release some features in today’s camera, more features in the camera released in six months, and yet more features in the camera model that is released a year from now, all done to ensure a continuous flow of repeat business.

These manufacturers are drip-feeding their targets carefully timed releases of new cameras, and the hapless buyers just keep lapping it up.

They then stab them in the back with what can only be called “scheduled obsolescence.”

Each time the true objective is to make the earlier models as undesirable, obsolete and workflow-unfriendly as possible. And folks just keep buying! And the camera-review bottom-scraping websites keep churning out their camera reviews and endless tests and feature comparisons, and the newbies read them and obsess over the finest details, when they should really be working on improving their skills with actors, editing and camerawork, regardless of which camera model they are using.

Cameras for filmmakersDo not buy an expensive camera — if you do, you are supporting this hateful business model. Withdraw support and let them scramble to deliver real value!

When the time comes to shoot your project, you should instead rent a camera from a sucker who bought it and now has this huge depreciating asset tied around the neck like an albatross. Rent the camera, use it to shoot the project, and then send it back to the unfortunate owner who is stuck with it.

In principle one could keep using a camera that has been made obsolete by the carefully timed release of an updated model. In practice, however, most paying clients are so narrow-minded that they only hire videographers who own the newest and coolest camera – hot this month, obsolete the next. The less knowledgeable the client is, the more they insist on using the coolest and newest gear.

Newbie filmmakers are obsessed with camera shopping

Why are newbie filmmakers so obsessed with camera shopping? Why don’t violinists spend their time discussing which violin they should buy and reading violin reviews? Why don’t painters have a comparable obsession with paintbrush brands?

Come on folks, let’s step up! The truth is that filmmaking encompasses a gargantuan range of requisite skills. It’s a long journey, and I don’t think that endlessly ruminating over the relative merits of different camera models and reading review after review is a sensible use of time. Rookies have bigger problems to deal with, like amateurish framing, absent editing skills and poorly directed actors.

The only camera you should buy

The only camera you should ever buy is a cheap camcorder that you can use to practice and develop your visual style.

(Please do not ask me which model you should buy. Any camcorder with a zoom and an LCD screen will do.)

Even when your camerawork skills are polished, these little camcorders are immensely useful in pre-visualizing sequences and designing camera movements with toy figures and other stand-in objects.

I still own the camcorder I had 10 years ago. It is still more than enough for quick practice sessions and pre-visualisation videos. I am a terrible customer for the camera manufacturers. Bring it on!

When the time comes to shoot a project, I hire the best camera there is, which provides real image quality, helps with the all-important professional development and age-proofs the work. The camera then goes straight back to the poor sucker who borrowed money to purchase a device that in a few years’ time will have been made completely obsolete and unfashionable by the very company that made it. All carefully planned by them years in advance, of course.

I will not cooperate with this racket. I will not buy the newest and coolest camcorder because my 10-year-old one, surprise surprise, still does its job remarkably well. And I will not buy a high-end camera like the Red Epic or Arri Alexa, because they too will have been outdone in a few years’ time, and I don’t fancy getting married to the camera equivalent of a high-maintenance gold-digger. I will not cooperate.

The only people who should buy an expensive camera are those who regularly get paid to shoot videos and for whom it makes sense to own a camera rather than keep renting one, simply because they shoot so much. If you are busy enough to earn a good living off the camera and pay it off before it becomes shunned by clients, then by all means go ahead: in these cases it definitely makes sense to buy.

But these days very few filmmakers are in that position. In case you haven’t noticed, low-end video production is an awful business to be in, because the customers think that they can get stuff free, just because it’s video. Don’t bother with that squalor. Aim for the best work — and ensure that you tick all the boxes needed to get there, including gaining experience with real cameras.

Conclusion

1. If you are a complete newbie, you should shoot your first two or three projects with whatever camera you can get hold of — the true purpose of these early projects is to develop some solid filmmaking skills and cut your teeth. These projects will be mostly unwatchable and therefore it doesn’t really matter what camera you use to shoot them. It’s all about the training.

2. Having cut your teeth as a director, the time has come to shoot the most impressive reel you can, and for these projects you absolutely must use real movie cameras, which these days means cameras like the Red Epic and Arri Alexa.

3. The true benefit of using high-end cameras has little to do with image quality and more to do with professional development. They will give you valuable practice in directing real film crews and will also reassure prospective employers that you are a real director with real directing experience who can be trusted with real film crews. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this.

4. Camera manufacturers are exploiting gear-hungry filmmakers by releasing updated and improved cameras on a regular basis. These new models make the older models undesirable by short-sighted clients, forcing these videomakers to keep buying new cameras. It is a scam because the camera manufacturers are deliberately delaying and withholding the release of features for the purposes of ensuring a steady stream of camera purchases. I will not cooperate with this racket and you should opt out too. Withdraw your support!

5. The only camera you should buy is an affordable camcorder for the purposes of honing your visual sense and pre-visualising camera set-ups. Every filmmaker should own one, regardless of experience. Buy a cheap one and keep it for as many years as you can!

I hope that this post saves you money and motivates you to be smart and focus on professional development and building an employable reel, which is the only reliable way for a director to move forwards.

Thanks for reading and good luck! 🙂

72 thoughts on “The Big Camera Question for Independent Filmmakers

  1. Thanks for this…

  2. Steve Talevi says:

    Thanks, Ed. I’m sick of all the B.S. that’s out there from people trying to manipulate and take advantage of us. I followed that DSLR madness for a while before I realized I had everything I needed in my old Sony TRV900. When it’s time for serious work, I’ll rent. I love hearing words of truth, and that’s what you provide.

  3. You just don’t know how much value this article is…….Thanx D, keep up the good work!!!

  4. What you’re saying makes so much sense. When I was in film school, the cameras we used were not always the newest in the market, but they did the job.

  5. Picturesforlife says:

    It’s funny!
    Just today I was wondering and thinking about buying a DSLR for my application movie (Filmschool).
    And a answer was send from heaven… my LAvideoFilmmakerheaven ;)))

    Keep going on with your enthusiastic texts!
    I really enjoy ever single word from every of them.
    Thank you that much for training me as a filmmaker as well as improving my soft skills and approach to life.

    Stay successful,
    Best wishes from Germany, Andreas

  6. Hi Andreas,

    Thanks for the support — I’m glad this post has helped!

    You made a very shrewd comment about “soft skills” — professional development is indeed what this website is partly about.

    I have more in the pipeline for you 🙂

    -Ed

  7. Great post Ed. All very true.

  8. Hi Joe,

    Thanks! I hope your research is going well.

    -Ed

  9. Steve Marx says:

    I really enjoyed this post and as a music composer for decades I’ve started editing video for a short while and really enjoying it.

    Same with music equipment that goes obsolete very quick with very little re-sale value when you go to sell.

    I would also say the same for software that manufacturers won’t support anymore even though it still works perfect and gets the job done.

    If you need to re-install it for some reason and it’s not installing without support help, you pretty much lost hundreds of $$$ in now useless software and end up shopping again.

    Thanks for your true honesty on this subject!!

  10. Hi Steve,

    You made some great points! Software is indeed another perfect example. The “scheduled obsolescence” business model is widespread.

    Thanks for reading! 🙂

    -Ed

  11. Love the article. I love the advice. I love cameras too. For me (as an amateur) I love watching the newest cameras come out. That new Cinecamera from Blackmagic looks really nice. At a $3000 price tag it does a great job too… New cameras are exciting, but I think renting would be the way to go if I was ever doing anything serious!

  12. Mukesh Singh says:

    I was confused but not now.. I am again in love with my Sony handy cam.. Thanks

  13. It is tips like these that really give clarity to beginners and amateurs. All I have is a Sony handycam and I totally agree that its good enough to ‘PRACTISE’ filmmaking. Your posts give such knowledge and confidence.

    Looking forward to more.. Thank you Ed.

  14. chintan parekh says:

    An absolute reality and a great read…Your articles as always was an amazing guide for all filmmakers & photographers out there. Thanks a lot for sharing such real & ultra sharp tips…keep rocking!!!

  15. is it advisable to buy a high end camera and stick to it for a few years not bothering about the newer versions. if in case i don’t have to deal with short sighted clients and i wish to make feature films and release it through a distributor. Of course i agree if you are making ad films then you have to cater to the demands of the client and renting makes sense.

  16. Hi Magnum,

    There is no question that buying makes sense if it means you will spend less than renting — this might be true on a 100-day shoot, for example.

    However, the reality for most of these unduly optimistic camera buyers is that they only get occasional work, and their camera is made obsolete long before it has paid for itself. They buy a high-end camera and consider it a legitimate investment in their trade, but before their business can gain traction the camera manufacturer stabs them in the back and makes it obsolete — by, for example, releasing an awesome new feature that is not available for your version of the camera, unceremoniously leaving you out in the cold (you know which recent example I’m referring to, right? The victims know who they are.)

    My concern is that many wannabe filmmakers spend money on these wretched, expensive DSLR cameras, which are really neither here nor there: they are too much for a practice camera and not enough for professional work. That’s my problem with them.

    Thanks for reading! 🙂

    -Ed

  17. let me re-phrase my question – suppose i want to produce feature films for say next 5 years. i decide to buy a high end camera and plan to use it for the next 5 years wherein i produce films. Now in this scenario what difference does it make if the camera manufacturer releases newer versions, let them release… i can’t stop them. But my question is that will it harm me in any way as a film producer if i follow this business model ?
    Film business runs primarily on scripts, film stars, directors etc. nobody asks which camera model is being used.

    • Hello again Magnum,

      If you are going to be producing feature films prolifically over the next 5 years, buying a high-end camera makes sense: not only will it cost less then renting it for so many days — you will also get some of your money back by selling it, because it will still be worth something after your tour de force.

      David Fincher’s “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was shot with the Red camera, which has now been made obsolete by its very manufacturer, and that film will always look great! Even 50 years from now, no one will be complaining that it was shot with an “old” camera, I guarantee it!

      So the answer is: your plan will not hurt you as a producer, provided you do in fact crank out numerous shoot days over the next 5 years. The more shoot days you schedule for that period, the more worthwhile your high-end camera ownership will be, because you are essentially amortizing the camera’s purchase price.

      I hope this helps: keep me posted! 🙂

      -Ed

  18. David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was shot with the Red One because the Red Epic was not available outside the states. You can pretty much ask Jim Jannard if you don’t believe me. BTW Red cameras are built on a modular design and while the first and original Red One isn’t getting upgraded as much there are still many things for it in the future (and that does not mean half way decent commercials). Things like The Red Epic and even the much lower price Red Scarlet (which makes sense for someone who shoots ALLOT!) are going to be supported, the very fact that they offer sensor upgrades and all sorts of new things to use sorta shows this. If you take a look at Red User (the forum) you’ll see that.

    Anyways I love your site and all your posts but I have this nasty taste in the back of my throat about you bashing cameras and DSLR’s….I do realize that Canon for example does EXACTLY what you stated with holding back features but that said there have been some wonderful pictures created with these cameras regardless of fighting over how many lines it resolves, compression codecs, etc. Combined with interchangeable lenses I think IN THE RIGHT hands something like a Canon 7D, 5D or 1D can create a nice image. That said I won’t be buying another DSLR for quite some time for the reasons you stated. Yes it is very tempting to grab the new Canon 6D or the 5D for myself but I’m focusing on the actual heart of my films at the moment. As for consumer video cameras, yeah I do like them and I think they are needed when shooting with DSLR’s, but consumer video cameras by them self for a serious looking short film? Might as well go back to the era of DVCams….small sensor, ok glass…just doesn’t make sense to me. Anyways I’ll be dreaming about getting a RED Scarlet with a nice set of Zeiss ZF’s from 21mm to 85mm….

    • Hi Nate,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      I hope I did not give the impression that I somehow dislike cameras, because the fact of the matter is that I love cameras!

      I find them irresistibly alluring, and have done since early childhood. My love for them started when I was three years old and wouldn’t let my dad use his Sankyo Super 8 camera because *I* wanted to use it! True story! I remember its intoxicating scent and sleek elegance. We still have it 🙂

      That said, I will not cooperate with camera manufacturers, because I have sussed out their game. I will not be a hamster on their wheel; I will not cooperate.

      I am of course referring principally to mid-level cameras here — DSLR cameras, for which I honestly have no use.

      The Red Epic and Arri Alexa, for which I do have a use, are awesome cameras, but I will let someone else buy them and I will rent it from them. Let them carry the risk; let them become upset when things change down the road.

      I will change my tune when I see credible evidence that the manufacturers are more committed to the long-term aftercare of their customers.

      Look, I understand that these cameras are electronic and that therefore their technology changes faster than for the 35mm movie cameras of old. Nor am I suggesting that they should stop their Research & Development just to make camera owners happy. But a higher standard of care towards their customers is needed if they want to retain trust. Once bitten, twice shy — right?

      If I ever deem it economical to buy, I will do so — but at the end of the tour de force shoot, I will offload the camera as fast as I can, because I see them for what they are: depreciating assets, just like new cars or computers.

      I will conclude by reiterating that, as an independent filmmaker, I am indescribably grateful to RED and Arri for their awesome products, which have empowered thousands of cash-strapped filmmakers to compete with 35mm without the exorbitant expense. I am sorry to see 35mm film go, but it was just too expensive and unwieldy. It was a fascinating chapter of movie history, though.

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      -Ed

  19. Sir, all I have to say is , as a young filmmaker (college freshman), savvy in editing & having just directed my first film, this adds along to the list of things I am learning as a new director. It completely makes sense what you said about the difference in DSLR and high end. This is very informative for someone as young as me trying to break into the industry. I will keep this in mind for future reference. Really, I feel very enlightened. Thank you sir.

  20. Oliver Brown says:

    Many thanks for an invaluable resource. — Oliver

  21. This was a real good post. I was thinking same thing. I felt that if you didn’t have a guaranteed distribution contract set up, did it really matter what camera you used? Either you have the skills or you don’t. We have already seen movies like 28 days later made with a DV camera get play. So all these new camera will keep coming. When I first started camera shopping I remember reading a article addressing the same thing. The article made the point about film being able to be scanned to over 4000 lines. So if cameras are out with 1080 they are going to be replaced because you can work your way up to 4000. A short time after I read that article cameras started going up and up. Now you have 2k and 4k cameras. I’m pretty sure they can make a video camera right now that has everything a filmmaker needs. But just like a car that never breaks down you would kill future revenue. This was a good article and it was about time for someone to finally address the con game. By the way I started noticing that if you are just transferring your video to DVD for regular people to watch, most of them can’t tell what you filmed it on.

  22. Heya! Amazing tip, dude! But here goes my question… If I want to shoot several sequences in my film with Hero Pro camera (i guess it’s used only for action), and then, perhaps, I have to shoot on another camera like Canon, to proceed on my normal scenes… Will my quality of a film will be too different? Or is it impossible and useless to shoot on 2 different cameras?

    Thankeeee 😀

  23. James Wachira says:

    For a long time I have been reading the articles you send to me on my address. I have shared with other film makers and they have found the articles very informative and thought evoking. Happy New Year

  24. Hi thanks for this post, really helped.
    Do you think it would be helpful to learn to shoot with film cameras that use actual film( I know that might sound stupid)? I want to learn anyway but do you think it is useful to learn in this digital age?

    • No. Film is now for all intents and purposes obsolete.

      RED and Arri Alexa are 95% as good as film and massively more convenient, so they win — and this comes from someone who can absolutely tell film apart from digital and will always love it, but we must accept reality for what it is.

      Focus on building your reel and developing marketable skills.

      • Keith Wilkins says:

        Yep, totally disagree here. Film looks better than Red Epic even. And we must never leave out archival quality/ability when considering these two formats. It’s an important factor as well. Where will your Red Footage be in 50+ years? Gone like generations of family photos being shot with digital cameras. History gone just like that.

  25. Thank you so much for this article! I’m yet another student aspiring to break into the industry and I feel like this was just the thing I needed to hear. I’m looking for a camera and I was feeling inadequate with my budget, but it makes a lot more sense to get something cheaper and then rent.

    Do you have any opinion on mirrorless cameras as a starting point?

    • Hi Jaime,

      DSLR cameras shoot decent video, but they have the professional development issue described in my post. It really depends on what your ambitions are. If you want to be hired to direct high-end TV spots, don’t even think about building your reel with a DSLR camera, once again for reasons that are described in detail in the post (Executive Summary: you cannot be entrusted with a million-dollar film crew when you have only ever shot stuff with DSLRs.)

      For Youtube videos, corporate videos and similar projects, a DSLR will be more than enough, and admittedly they have the benefit of also shooting still photographs.

      For the purposes of practising, DSLR cameras have unacceptable ergonomics — you’re better off with a real camcorder.

      I can give more detailed advice if you clarify what you want to achieve.

      If you are ambitious — i.e. you want to be a real director who gets hired to shoot real projects — use a cheap camcorder to hone your visual style and then rent or borrow a real camera (in the Epic or Alexa class) to build your reel. It is not enough to impress them with a solid reel; you must also show that you have some experience with real crews and high-end equipment. Appreciating this detail can make all the difference to building a reel that will get you signed!

      As you can see, DSLR cameras simply have no place in that strategy. DSLR cameras exist for the photographers who use them and the companies that profit from them; they have little to offer to ambitious filmmakers. That’s my take on them.

      I hope this helps! 🙂

      -Ed

  26. Loved it.

  27. Loved it.. I am newbie and was wishing to do a small project on the RED (having shot first 2 years with DSLRs), just needed someone to validate my belief.

  28. hi, your article made me feel better , i want to become a film director and i am very ambitious about it . on september i will enter a film university and now i want to buy a videocamera to practice gain experience and maybe try to shoot some shorts , like 5min videos .
    Could you suggest me some video cameras ?,i have a bugdet of about 800 euro . is it enough to start with?

    Thank you in advance 🙂

  29. Hi Ed, your article has helped me immensely in clearing the doubts that I’ve been having in my mind for the past few weeks. Having said that, I need some of your valuable advice –

    I’ve applied at a film school recently for a masters course in cinematography and got selected. However, am yet to acknowledge my selection as I have a few queries to sort before I send them my response. Even though I’ve had a couple of years of experience as an assistant camera-man working mostly on 5D and occasionally working on Alexa or Red One, I still consider myself almost a beginner. Is it right when the school tells me that they’ll be emphasizing more on framing, composition, lighting, etc. i.e. mostly on aesthetics, by using 5D and some standard HD cameras and not high end cameras like the Red Epic or Alexa or 16mm / 35 mm film cameras? I agree, aesthetics are important but, I am seriously confused. I don’t want to spend my time at the school learning MASTERS in Cinematography on 5D. If I am investing a fair amount of money, I’ll expect the school to teach me A-Z of cinematography in terms of lighting, camera, grip, framing or composition, etc. etc.

    Do I have the right approach or am I just focussing too much on equipments? Thanks a bunch.

  30. Keith Wilkins says:

    Below is just convo from a random article about the BlackMagic Camera and proof of what you article is talking about in regards to the mind games being played on filmmakers by camera companies.

    Michael Hawk on 08.9.13 @ 10:54PM

    DSLRs are dinosaurs lol. They are so 2008 😉
    Reply

    Gene on 08.10.13 @ 10:34PM

    Technology is changing fast. The Red Dragon 6K is forcing every camera maker to go for 4K, and at fairly a low priced in order to keep sales high. The 6K sensor is showing that higher K’s are are too beautiful to hang on to lower resolutions. BM4K for $4K is forcing the price of a 4K down too. God Bless them for it! 🙂

    DSLR’s MUST go for higher resolution. What they currently are now has no future. I’ve seen a Panasonic rep say Panasonic is going for 4K in the next GH. Within 1 1/2 years the general population will begin to see 6K movies. There will be no looking back then, no time to debate if higher K’s are better. Every camera maker MUST begin to make changes now so they can hit the ground running when the higher K demand hits in earnest, because it’s coming.

  31. wow! i’ve been looking to get into film for a few months now and i’ve mostly been researching which camera to buy these last couple of months. I wish I would have stumbled on this article sooner.

    However, I have not yet purchased a camera and will take the advice of this article into consideration.

    Another part of the scam is refusal for companies to service older models. There’s a review of a Canon HV20 on Amazon where the user needed to get it repaired but was refused (if I’m not mistaken).

    And I recently watched the film “The Onion”. One of the skits, which is quite amusing, is about this very topic. The guy buys a computer and it gets obsolete by the time he leaves the store. At the end, he decides he’s had it and kills “Gil Bates”, the mastermind behind the scam.

    I already was aware of the scam that manufacturers use, but wasn’t quite sure how to deal with it. Great article. Thanks.

  32. The issue is not one-sided. Although this article does a good job of presenting one side of the story, I’m not so sure I entirely agree with everything.

    Yes, cameras are constantly changing and manufacturers would have you upgrade with every new model.

    But there is a positive side to it. And that is that better cameras have been available for lower prices. The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is a perfect example.

    While the camera may become ‘obsolete’ fairly quickly, is it flushing money down the toilet to spend 1000 dollars on a camera that seems to perform reasonably well and that can be used for at least a couple of years?

    You claim DSLRs are toys, but actually they’ve been used to make feature films. And correct me if I’m wrong, some people have won awards at film festivals with films shot with DSLRs. The whole point is that filmmaking has become more affordable, the constant upgrading and obsoletion of cameras notwithstanding.

    While there is some intelligence to the logic of renting the top of the line cameras because cameras become obsolete quickly, isn’t renting also expensive? I’ve seen prices of rentals and it seems like it would cost a small fortune even to rent. Unless you’re highly skilled and can pull off shoots in a very short time.

    Also, your article doesn’t seem to address documentary filmmaking, which doesn’t necessarily require a large crew to manage and can be done independently, so the argument that it’s best to film with a rented Red Epic or Alex may not be entirely valid in all situations.

    I am starting out and fairly confused. But at the moment, I’m thinking of buying the best and latest technology that I can possibly afford and trying to film with that and hanging on to it for at least 3 or 4 years and resist the urge to buy anything new that comes out with better specs.

    So I’m thinking I should get the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. It’s 1000$ and of course at least another 500$ for accessories, but from what I’ve read, the quality of the image it produces is much better than other cameras that price. Even though it will be outdated soon, I think it can last 3 or 4 years and will cost much less than renting and will produce good quality filming.

  33. author wrote:
    Do not buy an expensive camera — if you do, you are supporting this hateful business model. Withdraw support and let them scramble to deliver real value!

    I think this advice is flawed. They ARE delivering real value. Cameras are getting better and more affordable. 20 years ago, indie filmmakers couldn’t afford to buy cameras good enough to make films. Now it’s affordable to most people to own decent cameras.

    I would change the advice as follows: Do not buy the latest model every single time the technology is updated. If you do this, then you’re supporting this corrupt business model. But if you buy the best camera that doesn’t blow your budget and hang on to it for several years and it will not be wasted money and you’re not really supporting the business model. You need a decent camera and if you use it for several years, regardless if you make money from filmmaking or not, it will be worth it.

    Again, I’m not a filmmaker. I’m just starting to get into it. But that’s my understanding and perspective based on what I’ve learned so far. And to me, filming is a hobby that I’d like to pick up. If I get good and make films that people want to watch, great. If not, it doesn’t matter. Having a decent camera that I can use for several years will make me happy.

  34. Thanks so much for this article. I am planning to buy a camera within two-three days.. N am complete newbie.. I will buy the affordable one.. Your experienced helped me..

  35. Thank God I found this great website when I needed wisdom from an experienced videographer like you. Currently I am browsing through all the blog posts in your site that I think are good.

    I was planning to purchase the Canon EOS 650D for amateur movies. I know that you’ve mentioned not to ask about which cam to purchase. But please help me with this quickie please.

    If I’m into amateur movie direction, is it better to purchase a Camcoder or a DSLR? Thank you. Love your website.

  36. Great article, I’m transferring with my associates in Digital Filmmaking and I have been thinking seriously about getting a camera. See after reading this I can see how great it is to rent these high end cameras for projects for your film reel, but you see all of my spare time outside of school goes into making independent and short films. In other words I can see renting these cameras on some projects, but if I am doing so many projects all of the time I can’t spend the $ to rent these cameras.

    This is why am still considering a Black Magic Cinema Camera with 2.5k. I know that there is already the BMCC w/4k, but they dropped the price for the 2.5k from $3,000 to $2,000 and it comes w/ DaVinci Resolve.

    I know it will be outdated soon, but I would hold on to it for years and do you think it make sense for me to get this camera for my personal camera and to rent these high end cameras only on certain projects? I’m not trying to jump on the BMCC bandwagon, but it seems like an ideal camera w/a good program for an independent filmmaker, who has made short and independent films for the last few years.

    I really like this article and would like to know your thoughts on this.

  37. Great article , but I’m not sure how to take it in my situation . I’ve just made to 2 short films on
    *sigh* a Sony cybershot ….now before the torches and pitchforks happen let me say in my defence
    It was all I had , it wasn’t a paid job and I was the only one to do voice , editing , lighting etc …
    I thought I did pretty ok without sounding too stupid. Ed my problem is I think that camera will
    Be the only camera I have / can afford for a loooong time , I mean If I could i would rent/borrow in a
    Heartbeat no matter what unfortunately any shop with respectable cameras like the ones you mentioned
    Has been closed or closing down , doesn’t have any high quality cameras or is just being extortionist
    With their pricing .im just 22 and we all know you make barely anything at this time in life , the only thing I have in unlimited supply is my parents belief in me and they’re support so should I give up or just wait it out until opportunity presents itself ? . Ps sorry for the dreadfully long post

  38. The Mighty Monarch says:

    My wife and I are just getting into filming, getting our first camera. This truthful overview had affirmed everything we had been in suspicion of. Can’t blame the camera companies, they are headed by a bunch of corporate douchebags just like most companies. But thanks for speaking the truth, hopefully more film makers (and producers!) read it as well.

    Cheers, The Monarch

  39. I have yet to see more wisdom and honesty with such clarity on the free info available on web …. YOU ARE ONE OF THE GREATEST OUT THERE BRO .. wish all your honest effort is paying you back in some way .. LOVED YOUR ARTICLE ..
    thanks from all the free info seeking newbees

  40. Can’t agree to everything said.

    DSLRs are great to give you a feel about how real cinema cameras work. Lenses ( which / what / where to use lenses ) just one such thing which is common on DSLRs and Cinema camera.Filmic look: try that on a camcorder.

    So when you are also learning the framing and stuffs in camcorder and DSLR and you rent the cinema camera, the DSLR users do it faster.

    But yes, Don’t buys DSLRs which costs fortune for the sake of image quality or stuffs. Buy an entry level / mid level dslr , which is not expensive and learn the basics.

  41. You should buy the best camera that you can afford. But I would not spend more than $3000 dollars on the camera body because technology is changing so fast.

    -Instead try to spend more of your money on good lenses. If you buy the right lenses then you can keep them for years and they will still work on new cameras. An example of good lenses are Nikkor manual focus lenses. They are full manual, have aperture rings and can be fit on any sensor size up to full frame with a cheap adapter. Nikkor lenses that are over 20 years old can still be used on modern digital cameras.

  42. At last, the voice of reason and sanity!

  43. This is very informative. Interestingly, I haven’t noticed the same dynamic at work in the amateur recording industry. Sure, companies keep releasing newer gear to breathless reviews, but you can make excellent recordings with gear that has been around for ages. In fact, gaining experience with industry standards such as the SM58 is probably more important than owning the latest geegaw (whether these standards are grounded in experience more than inertia is another matter). And making a great recording with minimal gear carries significant bragging rights (which is why you hear stories that So-and-So-Grammy-nominated-producer never uses compression/EQ/reverb).

  44. What are your thoughts on cameras such as Canon Cinema EOS and the BlackMagic Cinema Cameras? Would you include those in the same league as DSLR Cameras? Are they also mid-level or would you consider them high-end? Would you recommend buying one or just renting one? I am certainly a newcomer in this trade and I currently shoot on a Canon T3i, and this article gave me some serious insight. Lots to think about regarding those who shoot for skill rather than for having an excuse to use new and expensive equipment. Thanks for this article!

  45. Benjamin Boyce says:

    I really like the advice given here about purchasing a camera as a newbie film maker. I think I’ve been following this advice so far, as a year ago I bought a cheap, used pentax k-x and just finished shooting my first film.
    I have a question though. Although this camera has worked great for what I’ve done and where I’m at as a film maker, the video settings are all automatic except for the aperture, so for instance sometimes the footage looks grainy because the ISO was on auto and I couldn’t control it. Shouldn’t I upgrade to a camera with more manual features so that I might know how to use Red if/when it ever came to that?

  46. Great article. Many of the smaller regional tv stations are not using the latest gear either. Even in this HD world there is still plenty of old gear in use.

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