Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer

Cinematic Excellence at 24 Frames a Second

And The Next Superstar Is ...

November 3rd was a highly anticipated day by many. Months ago Canon announced that it would be making an HISTORIC GLOBAL ANNOUNCEMENT. Not a company that usually makes these kind of claims, many people projected that they were going to announce and release their next camera, the update to the Canon 5D MKII - the MKIII, and it would be 4k. Days later, and never to be one who is out done my hyperbole, Red Digital Cinema announced that they too would be making an announcement of their completely updated Scarlet camera. Jim Jannard himself said this battle was going to be the next "Ali VS Frasier". Now that the "fight" is "over" and the dust has settled - who one? And who is going to be the next superstar?

In the corner to my right, we have the recently announced Canon C300 weighing in at a mere 6.4 lbs with the PL mount or 6 lbs with the EOS mount. This lightweight juggernaut comes in at an MSRP of $20,000 and a rumored street price of $16,000 - $20,000. It features:
  • Native ISO of 850
  • 12 stops of dynamic range
  • Maximum ISO of 20,000
  • Up to 60 fps in 720p
  • Canon-Log Color Space
  • 4k Sensor that is 24.6 x 13.8mm and is sampled down to 1080p (full RGB color)
  • 8-Bit processing
  • MPEG-2  50 Mbps 4:2:2 over HD-SDI
  • MPEG-2 Long-GOP at 50 Mbps in an MXF wrapper at 1080p to CF Cards
  • PL or EOS lens mounts (No i/pin data for the PL mount)
  • 2 XLR inputs (Full size)
  • Uncompressed Audio at 16 bit 48k
  • Compact Flash Cards (32GB = 80 minutes) - Non-proprietary media
  • And more ...
And in the corner to my left we have the recently updated Scarlet-X weighing in at an even lighter 5 lbs, also available with a PL or EOS mount. This lightweight titan comes in at an MSRP of $9.750 and an actual working package price of $14,000 - $16,000 and features:
  • Native ISO 800
  • 13.5 stops of dynamic range
  • Maximum ISO of 6400 (at least in the current firmware build)
  • Up to 120 fps in 1k
  • RedLog Film Color Space
  • 5k Sensor that is 27.7 x 14.6mm and usable for filmmaking (24p) at 4k HD
  • 16-Bit processing
  • 4:2:2 1080p HD-SDI out (Clean)
  • RAW R3D files at 1k - 5k to Red SSD's
  • PL or EOS mounts (PL does have i/pin, and EOS will control lenses)
  • 3.5mm audio inputs
  • Uncompressed Audio at 24 bit 48k
  • Red SSD cards (64GB = 11 - 40 minutes) - Proprietary media
  • And more ....
"Ding, Ding" The bell rings out and the fight ensues. Canon lands a solid punch across the face of Red with the delivery of some beautiful imagery even despite the highly compressed format. Not even stunned by the hit, Red fights back showing off some 120 fps imagery. Canon swings directly at Red with their full RGB sampled image for 1080p, but Red skillfully blocks with their full 5k bayer patterned imager with full RAW data. And now Canon delivers a three punch combo to the gut which lands solidly as they allow 80 minutes of footage on one 32 GB CF card that is non-proprietary & affordable, allows for a quick and easy post pipeline, and doesn't require massive amounts of storage, processing power, or extra expensive graphics cards in order to process their files. Red takes the hits, but doesn't seem to phased by it as they come back full tilt with their 4k HD RAW image.

And now Red brings out the the big guns and starts to take control, boasting movie upon movie, upon movie that has been shot on their cameras. 1080p isn't good enough! If you want to be a "real filmmaker" then you have to use the best & latest equipment available. Red's got people like Peter Jackson,  Baz Luhrman, Steven Soderbergh and many more using their cameras. And best of all, for the price of a use honda civic you too can make images as good as the pros! So what 'ya got now Canon? Huh?

..... SCREECH ... HALT! BACKUP! WAIT A MINUTE! DO NOT PASS GO! SAY WHAT? Have we COMPLETELY lost our minds? Are we actually buying into all this CRAP? (That is the nice version of what I wanted to say ...) What a sad world we live in - no longer is a camera seen as a tool- in our "rockstar / superstar" world we have elevated the tool over the artist. And I've come to the end of my rope. I'm just as much of a gear nut as the next guy - but in the end, I REALLY DON'T GIVE A $#!+ what the camera is capable of - it is NEVER about the camera. Give me Roger Deakins and a DVX100 over any 18 year old kid whose parents bought him a fully outfitted EPIC any day! It is ALWAYS about the artists and creatives behind the tech that matter, and I fear we have lost sight of that in a big way, for several years now.

Sure, cinematographers have always had their preferences when it came to the tools they used. (What artist or craftsman doesn't?) But they were not hired based on what their preference was - Arri or Panavision. Unfortunately these days all to often jobs are given, and people are sought after because of the gear they own, and specific camera they use. Whatever happened to the requirement for the cinematographer to be a skilled craftsman, able to work with any tool he / she is given? All too often I come across directors, producers, agencies, etc. whose first question isn't "Can I see your reel?", but rather "What gear do you own?". (Which is usually followed up by a conversation that tries to negotiate down the rental rate of the gear.) What I own doesn't matter on all kinds of different levels, not the least of which is that what I own may or may not be the best choice for that particular project ...

Unfortunately, this thinking only seems to get continually supported not only by the hype generated by the camera companies (who are SELLING cameras, BTW) and the media (who is also SELLING too - eye balls.). The mentality then gets further support by the numerous people who go out and max out their credit card, or who have Mom & Dad buy them all the toys, and then stamp themselves as a seasoned cinematographer- cuz they have the gear right? And I don't think that those of us in the trenches are helping the matter either. Every time we allow a production to think it is ok to "demand" that we come with gear we are adding to the problem - instead they need to be educated. We are all on the hook for this. And we are all suffering as a result- just look at the loads of CRAP out there that is getting produced. It boggles my mind to think that someone got paid to make some of this stuff - yet it happens day in and day out. Here is a crazy thought - if the budget is only $200 per day, and the cinematographer is required to bring all their own gear because there isn't a budget for it, and well it might lead to something bigger and we'll pay you then ... maybe this isn't a project that should get made ... just a suggestion ... (Not popular I know.)

So who is the next superstar? The next superstar needs to be me! And it need to be you! WE NEED to be the next superstars. We need to practice our craft, hone our skills, expand our knowledge and experience base, and raise the level of our game. Get out there and focus on composition, lighting, camera movement - all of the nuances that go into making a great film. Practice, practice, practice. (What I love about the affordability of the tools now, is that we can own gear and go out and practice a lot more on our own time.) Study and learn from those that have gone before us. We have over 100 years of filmmaking before us - lets learn from it. Seek out people in your area who are willing to teach and share their knowledge and experience with you. And we need to stop worrying about having the latest and greatest gear - it will not make us any better, it will just put us more in debt. (Not a smart move for the starving artist.) Yes, you and I may be passed over by the greedy, ill informed, producer who wants to hire someone for $200 per day all gear included - because their next door neighbors kid has that same camera. But was that really a job you wanted anyway - 12 hour days eating cold pizza? (Mc Donald's doesn't require their employees to own a frier ...) We are better then that, and WE should be the superstar! And it is time we stood up and did something about it. We need to raise our game, quit elevating the tech, and help those who will listen, realize that the camera is just a tool, and the quality of the final images will be determined by the team behind it - not the camera itself, it only CAPTURES images, it DOESN'T CREATE them.

Now maybe I'm being a little to idealistic - thinking that we can change the way the industry has headed. But even if I am idealistic, change has to start some where, and it may as well start here. So are you with me? Will you focus on your craft instead of the tech and be the next superstar?

Until Next Time - Get Out There And Shoot!
Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer

PS- A great quote from one of my heros:
"Too often people get caught up in the technical end of things ... they are missing the point completely. This way there is no proper input of individual personality." Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC

PPS - Incase you didn't catch it, the preamble to what I really wanted to say was done all tongue in cheek - so don't get your panties in a bunch. Both cameras have their place, and IN THE HANDS of talented PEOPLE they both can BE USED to capture some beautiful images. (Remember, the camera's didn't create the imagery.) 
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