Cheap cameras becoming expendable in big budget films?

Written by Patrick Jong Taylor

Paramount / MGM / RedShark NewsA still from 2016's Ben-Hur

Inexpensive cameras are increasingly used in high-end productions as 'crash' or 'stunt' cams.

We typically don't run articles covering camera choice and use for big budget films, but today we're making an exception, as we believe that the following news is indicative of an intriguing trend. We received word from Blackmagic that "several" of its Micro Cinema Cameras were used on this year's blockbuster retelling of Ben-Hur, a joint effort from Paramount Pictures and MGM.

Sergei Kozlov, the production's 2nd unit DP, employed the Micro Cinema Cameras for the movie's opening sequence. He placed the cameras in the hands of stunt people, either on a MōVI rig or completely handheld. While the film's A-camera was the Arri Alexa, Kozlov lauded the Micro Cinema Camera's imaging and usefulness for this production: "The opening sequence is a day scene, and we shot everything in bright sunlight. RAW was important to get maximum range and keep all highlights in the sky and clouds looking good. The Blackmagic Micro Cinema Cameras gave us the advantage of great dynamic range, RAW recording and of using better MFT lenses."

In addition to the Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera, the film's Director and DP, Timur Bekmambetov and Oliver Wood, respectively, used multiple GoPros for the film's re-imagining of the classic chariot race scene. The diminutive cameras were positioned in the sand for the action, placing almost directly in harm's way. The use of GoPros on Ben-Hur is brought into further relief when considering that Bekmambetov was the director of Hardcore Henry, a film that may be the first first-person action feature shot entirely with GoPros.

The use of inexpensive cameras (in the Micro Cinema Camera's case, in HD, albeit in 12-bit color) on major motion pictures makes a lot of sense, as the quality of lower-end cameras has greatly improved over the past few years, while their pricing, relative to high-end cameras, has remained steady and ultra-cheap. Of course, it may be a bit of a stretch to call these cameras 'expendables' in the purest sense of the word, but they are so budget-friendly that the loss of any of these cameras would be rather inconsequential to a production with a nine-figure budget.

Tags: Production

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