04 Oct 2016

I want to make an "arty" documentary film. I can choose any camera. But which one?

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How do I choose a camera? How do I choose a camera? David Shapton


So, that’s it for video. I need audio kit as well. I’ve thought in very general terms about this. I’m planning on a few interviews, and for these I’d need either a good shotgun mic or maybe some small concealed Lavaliers. Radio mics would be most flexible and I’ve had experience of the Sony UWP series, which work very well. I definitely don’t want to spend any time syncing up audio so I want to record to the camera. I always like to capture audio “atmospheres” and I’ve been using a Sony PCM-D100, which is an all-in-one combination of a crossed pair of stereo mics and a recorder, with up to 192 khz recording and even DSD for a true audiophile performance (if not necessarily the easiest format to handle). I would probably choose 96hhz recording at 24 bit, which would give me an awesome dynamic range with plenty of headroom for peaks.

Post production? I want to keep this to an absolute minimum. As little grading as possible, and simple “cuts only” editing. I would make an exception to this for certain “beauty” shots, where I might want to turn the contrast up and maybe make subtle chances to saturation. As far as editing is concerned, I really have no preferences. Absolutely any of the NLEs out there will be able to handle the task. I’ve used them all (but not all recently) and I will probably use whichever one I have installed on my computer at the time. That’s not to say they’re all the same, nor that some aren’t better than others for certain specific tasks and styles of editing; but if I were talking about word processors instead of NLEs, you could do what I want to do in an ASCII text editor.

What about 4K? Well, I like 4K and I think it’s a worthwhile improvement over HD, but merely switching your camera to 4K doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to look any better. If you’re half a pixel out of focus, your 4K is going to look like HD anyway, and with a shallow depth of field, you really need a focus puller. So while I would choose 4K if the workflow still came within my constraints for equipment, speed and ease of use, then I would use it. But I think it’s more important to make sure I get good shots, with good colour and contrast, with good lenses as well. I kind-of feel that if you shoot good HD and watch it on a 4K screen, it will look as good as, if not better than, badly shot 4K. It’s tempting to think that if you shoot in 4K and downconvert to HD you’ll be able to reframe your shots in post, but, honestly, how often is that going to happen?

Lenses? Well, this is wide open. If you’re filming a city you need everything from telephoto to wide angle. I’m tempted, though, to shoot with a minimum set of lenses. I do think it is the case that the best way to zoom is with your legs and the idea of shooting with a set-up that’s the equivalent of a fixed lens rangefinder still camera is tempting, if, perhaps, a bit idealistic.

So that’s it. I’ve probably left some important cameras out, but this is just early thinking off the top of my head.

What do you think? I’d really like to hear your suggestions. And if anyone has a specific film in mind that they’re going to make, or have recently made - why not tell us what choices you made and why?


David Shapton

David is the Editor In Chief of RedShark Publications. He's been a professional columnist and author since 1998, when he started writing for the European Music Technology magazine Sound on Sound. David has worked with professional digital audio and video for the last 25 years.

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