Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer

Cinematic Excellence at 24 Frames a Second

Asking The Right Questions


Over the last month or so I have been asked at least once a week the following question: "If money wasn't an issue, what camera would you shoot with?". While I get that the people asking this question are trying to determine what I think the best camera is on the market currently, I think that this question is fundamentally the wrong question to be asking. What is the "right" question after the jump ...

I really do appreciate the advancements that camera manufactures have done in the past 5 years. I doubt anyone could have predicted where we would be now, or where we will be in another 5 years. However, there is yet to be a camera designed by anyone that is THE ideal camera to be used in every situation. Every camera has a great fit for a specific need, and in other capacities it fails miserably. The task of the talented, and experienced cinematographer is to determine the needs of the production and then find the right camera(s) to meet those needs.


So the right question to be asking is: "What are the needs of the production?"

Let us assume for the examples below that there is an unlimited budget. (Which never really happens.) What camera should be used?

I need to be able to shoot at 2,500 fps. I need a 4k - 6k image*. It will be a large studio shoot, so size and weight doesn't matter.
  • Canon C300: FAIL.
    • Highest resolution is 1080p, and only goes up to 60 fps in 720p.
  • Red Scarlet: FAIL.
    • Highest resolution is 5k (12 fps), and only goes up to 120 fps in 1k.
  • Red Epic: FAIL.
    • Highest resolution is 5k (120 fps), and only goes up to 300 fps in 2k.
  • DSLR's: FAIL.
    • Highest resolution is 1080p, and only goes up to 60 fps.
  • Panavision XL2: FAIL.
    • Highest resolution is 4k - 6k*, and only goes up to 50 fps.
  • Photo-Sonics 4CR: WIN.
    • Highest resolution is 4k - 6k*, and it goes up to 2,5000 fps.
* Film does not have a resolution as it is an analogue format. Asking what resolution film has is like asking, "what the bit depth of a record is?"- it just doesn't make sense. However, it is generally accepted that when 35mm film is scanned around the 4k - 6k range, that the majority of all of the information is being obtained. It could be scanned at 9k, 12k, or beyond, but there is not much difference in the resulting image, just a greater file size.

I need to be able to shoot at 24 (23.98) fps. I want a shallow depth of field (DoF). There will not be any slow motion. I need to have a quick turn around time with an easy post pipeline. I am shooting at the start of next week with final edited deliverables due mid week.

  • Canon C300: FAIL.
    • Not currently shipping, but does have an easy post pipeline & shallow DoF.
  • Red Scarlet: FAIL.
    • Hard to get a hold of, requires more time in post (if done right / well), does have shallow DoF.
  • Red Epic: FAIL.
    • It is shipping, has shallow DoF, requires more time in post (if done right / well).
  • Film: FAIL.
    • Easily available, easy to edit, shallow DoF, but slow turnaround time from the lab.
  • DSLR's: WIN.
    • Easily available, easy to edit, quick turn around time, shallow DoF.
  • 2/3" + DoF Adapter: WIN.
    • Easily available, easy to edit, quick turn around time, shallow DoF.
I could go on ad nauseum with examples, but I'll stop here. Suffice to say there are projects where each camera would be a better choice then the others listed, and there are even projects where multiple formats and cameras would be the right choice. So there is no "one camera to rule them all" despite what the manufactures may be saying, and what peoples biases happen to be. It is the needs of the project, and the artists behind the tech that can make a project sing, or fail miserably.

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