So you’ve written a script, you have actors in mind, and you’re ready to get started on an epic Faith based feature. Going to shoot it yourself? If so, there are a few things to consider when picking out the right equipment to do the job. First of all, what camera will you use? Prosumer camcorders are out. They simply can’t provide the picture and sound that professional equipment can. How about DSLR’s? Well, many are capable of incredible video in the right hands. But unless you are shooting separate (expensive) sound, forget it. They simply do not have onboard sound circuitry that is up to the task.
So what is the solution? Fortunately, in the last few years, manufacturers have churned out some low priced professional camcorders that are more than up to the task. Panasonic models include the HVX200, 200A, AF100, 100A, HPX 170 and HPX 250. Sony produced the lower priced XD and FS100 models, and Canon the C100, C300 and XH models. Importantly, all of these models have XLR audio jacks enabling you to plug professional microphones directly in. Combined with auto level controls that can be defeated and good built in preamps, these models are up the the job of getting decent production audio without hiring a sound mixer. (Nothing wrong with that- but at the microbudget level we are discussing here, it just doesn’t fit into the budget).
All the above models can produce a great picture- but how about cinematic results? That requires some additional elements: Varying depth of field, dynamic range, and a certain “Film Mojo”. Two of those can be had in the now discontinued but bargain priced Panasonic AF100 . It only lacks dynamic range, but that drawback can be overcome. The interchangeable lenses enable the DP to achieve shallow focus when necessary for a particular shot. The “Mojo” is a Panasonic thing- they have excelled in getting the picture to look like film, making some of the other cameras look more “video like”. The downside is that it looks a bit less “sharp” than the competition, sharpness being more of a video attribute. We used an AF100 to shoot Flowers for Fannie in late 2012, and were very pleased with the results.
You may be scoffing at the equipment I have mentioned so far. Why not shoot with the ultimate indy filmmaker’s camera, the “Red One” and subsequent models? Well, there are a few reasons: expense (drives up the cost of the production, yet hard to tell the difference on DVD as opposed to seeing it in a theater), needs a much more capable computer system to edit the huge sized footage files, requires a more experienced DP to get the best results out of it, etc. etc. At this basic, minimum level, we are sticking with camcorders in the under $5000 range.
If you insist on shooting with a DSLR, and don’t mind the external sound recording process, there are several models that can do the job. The Panasonic GH2 and GH3 DSLR’s have performance equal or better than the AF100, and with a bit of hacking can achieve a greatly increased bit rate. The Canon 5D, 7D, T3i and others are world renowned for their ability to emulate movie film. Several Nikon models can provide similar results, but remember, DSLR cameras are not designed for the rigors of film production and their sensors can overheat when shooting long scenes. They can, with the right lenses, give that cinematic shallow focus look.
What is the secret of shallow depth of field? Basically, a greater focal length combined with a lower F stop equals shallower depth of field. It’s hard to achieve with a 20mm F3 lens, it’s quite easy with a 50mm F1.4. You’ll need a selection of lenses with any interchangable lens camera, not just a couple. My lens assortment for the AF100, for example, included a fast Panasonic 20mm F 1.7 pancake lens, a variable focal length (but slow) 14/140 for zooming and outdoor shots, a 35MM Nikkor F1.8, and a 50MM Nikkor F 1.8. Occasionally I would grab one of my wife’s Nikon zooms and add it to the mix.
So there it is, a quick rundown of the very minimum camera equipment you would use when serious about shooting a feature. Next we’ll cover the sound equipment needed to get good production sound and how to use it.
Article by Fred Wilharm of MainStreet Productions.