I don’t know which is more difficult, a filmmaker figuring out what camera to buy/rent or men figuring out what women really want. Actually, I think I know what women want…but I won’t tell you…yet! The objective of this post is to help you make smart decisions which will eventually save you money and lots of headaches. I am going to cover three camera types popular in Nollywood; The DSLRs (particularly Canon EOS 5Dmk3), The Blackmagics and the REDs.
As a director and someone who owns a post-production studio, I have used all these cameras on the field and used their footages in the editing room. I always love to prank my clients by showing them random footages and telling them to guess the kind of camera used. 90% of the time, they are wrong. After a while, I began compiling the things people respond to when watching a movie. In this post, we will ask some basic questions, Identify Three things commonly overlooked, review the three cameras and I will let you in on some secrets…including secrets and tricks I have used over the years. I will call the DSLRs small cameras, The Blackmagics, medium cameras, and The REDs, big cameras. This classification is largely based on cost, capacity and funny enough, size. So lets go there!!!…
Questions you should ask yourself first before spending that money
WHO AM I MAKING THIS FILM FOR?
You are either making films for yourself, an audience or a client. If you are making films for yourself, maybe just to test an idea, or some family videos or your girlfriend twerking, this post won’t make much sense to you because you can use almost anything to do that. However, sometimes before you collect someone’s money to make a film, you might wanna do some test shoots for yourself. so that boils down to how much money you are willing to spend. Most of you will be making films for an audience. There are many subsets to this question because even within the Nigerian context, there are different audiences. You might also strictly be targeting a foreign audience via festivals etc. the way they respond to films will largely influence your choice. We will dig deeper into that later. Lastly, if you are making sponsored documentaries or a corporate video, your client is the biggest factor. One thing I know from experience is that film illiterate clients always believe the bigger the camera, the better the work you want to give them. When it comes to these kinda clients, If you want to make big money, you must carry big things. Note that a film illiterate oversabi producer can also be treated as nothing but a client. Some producers don’t care about the story, they just want to show off…please allow them. Is it your money…joo o!
WHATS THE DELIVERY FORMAT FOR THIS FILM
If you are making a film only for Youtube or irokoTV, shooting in 5K or even 4K (we will talk about resolution as we go on) is an overkill and a waste of money. Most of these are consumed via mobile phones and the screen sizes of phone make even smaller resolutions look ok. Wait,,,before you kill me…I know Big cameras give you a lot of resolution and dynamic range so if you are planning for the future where 4k will be easy and available for everyone, then you might go for it. But for most of my readers trying to save cost, it’s an overkill. If you are targeting cinemas however, it is expected that you want to spend extra bucks so yes there will be some difference between a big camera and a small camera. Now…here’s where it gets really fuzzy
WHAT DO PEOPLE RESPOND TO THE MOST WHILE WATCHING A FILM
At the Nollywood week in Paris, two short films got people’s attention a lot; The Encounter by Tolu Ajayi and The Good Son by Tomisin Adepeju. The two films differed in a lot of ways. Encounter had really lovely and high production values, looked really expensive in its art direction and cinematography. The Good son looked more like a great student film. It didn’t look expensive. “The Encounter” had authenticity, The actor looked and talked like Ojukwu. The office looked believable. “The good son” had a heart. A relatable story. Both films were praised despite the obvious difference in look and cost. If they sold tickets, they would make about the same money.
We are almost always wrong about what people respond to in a film and I know for a certainty that the type of camera you use has very little effect on how people will accept your film. (Down the post, I’m going to tell you three technical things that are bigger than the biggest camera and why they matter). A lot of people thought good looking films like Out of Luck, GbomoGbomo Express and Taxi Driver (Oko Ashewo) were shot with big fancy cameras (their BTS are online so you can verify)…lol…this leads me to the next question
WHO IS BEHIND THE CAMERA AND THE EDIT
Daniel Oriahi’s Taxi driver had a really beautiful look to it. The DOP, Akpe Ododoru is a trained painter. He shot the film using a Magic lantern hacked Canon 5D mk3 and most importantly did some beautiful grading work on davinci resolve. Out of Luck was shot on Canon 5Dmk3. I put a lot of work in the lighting and set design and people mistook it for big camera cinematography. I almost always get away with deceiving people that I shot something with a big camera because of the thought I put into the shoot and the magic I do in post. It’s better to have a smart and creative DOP with a small camera than an olodo with a big camera. If you are a director on a budget, understanding how to get the best out of a camera can make your small budget look big. You can’t afford to be lazy about it. It means everything. Even Spielberg handles camera on set sometimes.
DO YOU PLAN ON HAVING A RENTAL BUSINESS
If you are building a rental business, you should have all the camera range but invest more on the big ones. The big cameras will bring you big money and because they are few in supply, you will always be in business. But you would have to worry about managing the cameras. Its better to always hire the camera along with someone you can trust to manage them. Small cameras aren’t good for rental businesses because almost everyone has them so na rubbish money people go dey offer you.
THREE THINGS THAT ARE BIGGER THAN THE BIGGEST CAMERA
The importance of a good lens can’t be overemphasized. It’s always best to use a high quality cinema lens regardless of the camera you are using. NOTE: a cinema lens is different from a photo lens!. While the 5Dmk3 tries a lot even with cheap photo lenses, The blackmagic and RED look really terrible with those type of lenses. Infact I refused to use the black magic in its early days because most of the footages I saw were terrible. I later realized they had used slow photo lenses on them. The DSLRs were designed as photo cameras but the blackmagic and RED were made for filmwork. You have to get good fast prime lenses if you want the best from them. I prefer to buy lenses and rent camera bodies. That way, regardless of the camera I can almost always guarantee some good detail from the shoot. Rokinon has some good cinema lenses at very good price. I have used them in all my films. You can buy a bundle here.
Once you understand that a camera is nothing but a sensor that converts photons of light to pixels, you will see how smart you can be regardless of the camera you use. Most of these cameras can pretty much handle low lighting now so a lot depends on how you design your lighting. It’s not just enough to get a gaffer…In Nigeria most of them are illiterate about the physics of lighting, they just move stuff around. If you study good lighting techniques and use them in your work, it will always look high value and expensive. As a nollywood director and producer, you should read about everything. We are not there yet where we sit on fancy chairs and call shots. Most of our crew are not trained in the art and science of the work.
To me, this is the most important part…I should do an entire post on the power of production design because we pay very little attention to it. Two films with the same budget can be shot in the same location and one will end up looking more expensive than the other. Once nigerians see good colour combinations in film, they interpret it as quality. Some films are currently getting a lot of buzz right now simply because of the production design. Don’t just shoot in some regular living room. Think about how you can make the setting of your film help the story better. A simple story with great production design and style will get more attention than a serious story that lacks authenticity. Stop wanking over how good your story is and forget that film is a visual medium.
Now let’s talk about the pros and cons of these cameras in Nollywood! Remember, we view most of our content on TV and cinemas with only few capable of high quality projection.
This includes all the other DSLRs but I will speak largely of the Canon series especially the mk2 and mk3. This camera changed Nollywood. We can never be grateful enough to Canon for this camera. It’s used in almost 90% of the Nollywood films whether in the cinema, on TV or even Alaba. The first obvious reason is cost but saying that does a great disservice to this beautiful camera. With the right lenses and smart planning, shooting a film in Nigeria with this camera can make you loads of money and people will compare your work with those shot of big cameras.
The 5D mk3 is a full HD camera with a full frame sensor. What that means is that even with a basic lens, you can achieve a very shallow depth of field. For those who don’t know, depth of field is that thing you like in films when the background blurs out and the foreground pops. This camera is the best at this. People always associate shallow depth of field with the film look. Use it to your advantage. It also has great low light capabilities and I realize footages from the 5D always look somewhat creamy making it perfect for romantic dramas, restaurant scenes and generally scenes with lots or dramatic lighting. It also has a small body and looks like a photo camera. The advantage in Nigeria is that you can shoot anywhere and people won’t know you are filming. Especially touts..lol. This makes it suitable for documentary work were you don’t want to create too much attention. I always carry a 5Dmk3 for my documentaries and I’ve never regretted it.
DSLR CONS AND HOW TO OVERCOME THEM
First is the 8bit H.264 compression. On the surface, you won’t notice this compression much but the moment you begin to do things like colour correction and effects, If you push it too far, you will hate your film on the big screen. What this means is that if you are going to use a 5d mk3, plan for little or no color grading. Design Your set, costume and make up such that everything already looks good. Avoid over exposed shots. You won’t need to grade much yet people will think you graded the film. You also can’t shoot high frame rates so that limits your creative choices if you want to do slo-mo. But hey, you can add nice slo-mo from an iphone 6 and mix it in and no one will notice. Just shoot only daytime slomos. Lastly, its not good for green screen work..also due to compression…but in the hands of a green screen genius, they can still make it work. Don’t record sound with them. Bad idea!
If you are a smart person, you will make magic with the 5D mk3.
When this camera came out, a lot of Nigerians rushed to buy it because it was cheap and came with a lot of promises. After the first set of use, they all dumped it and went back to their DSLRs…lol. Why, we just like efizzy and nothing more. Some people were shooting CinemDNG raw files on it and they couldn’t handle the storage requirements. Some used their old lenses on it and the shots all looked crappy. Most editors who thought they were colorists fumbled at handling flat 12-bit ProRes footages.
First it’s a high resolution camera. The first was 2.5k and recently they released a 4.6k. resolution is a good thing especially if you are targeting cinemas. Its also good to shoot in high res as a capture format. Even when you down scale later for phones and web, the picture quality is still better. Blackmagic designed these cameras to create images that look like film. It outputs images in the film log format that automatically creates the texture and look of popular film stock. It can also output CinemaDNG Raw files for maximum flexibility and gives the option of 12-bit ProRes; an industry standard. 12-bit images also mean you won’t have compression problems whenever you want to do color grading or add effects. In fact it was designed by a company known for the best color grading software, the Davinci Resolve so you would expect them to put that in mind and yes they did. If you know how to grade pictures in post or can afford a colorist, you will love this camera. It can also work with your EF mount lenses so if you are making a switch from a DSLR, you still get to use your lenses.
It was designed to create images that look like film…lol. What this means is that if you are using your cheap and quickie shoot mind-set with this camera, you will end up with nonsense. You have to think well about your production design and lighting. You have to spend a little more on the production. A lot of people have shot rubbish with this camera…absolute rubbish. Also, If you know you wont be able to pay for colour grading, don’t touch this camera. The other con is storage. First don’t shoot cinemaDNG for film work in Nigeria, it’s a lot of storage problem. You will do very well with the ProRes format there. Its perfect for what you want. It doesn’t have a full frame sensor so you must use really good lenses if you wan that very sweet depth of field like the 5D. NOTE: depth of field can also be overused o…it’s not that serious abeg! For frame rates, Only The Black Magic ULSA has high frame rates good enough for slowmo work so think about that.
It’s hard to argue against the RED camera. Its truly a revolutionary piece of equipment. Its been used on major Hollywood and nollywood blockbusters. Its very flexible and gives you a lot of value for cost. Unfortunately and this hurts a lot…people here don’t know what to do with the RED camera. This is a camera that’s capable of so many awesome things but we only use it here to point and shoot. Shame! Some people should be slapped for not using this camera well.
First it comes in many flavours, Scarlet, EPIC, dragon orisirisi. Then you have 12-bit recording and even 16-bit recording. Then you have frame rates up to 300fps at 2k. ha…kilode!! But this is not the best part. Unlike the Blackmagic CinemaDNG raw that nobody can afford to use. RED has a lossless RAW format that is a delight to use because its not too heavy. This means you can make a lot of sweet adjustment to your shoot even after you’ve shot. Adjustments like Colour temperature, ISO etc. without losing any quality. Not only that you can choose to grade your film in the RED RAW program even before editing. You also have the options of the film log format if you are giving the work to a trained colorist. In out of Luck, one of the best scenes there was the beautiful slow motion at the end. It was a 2 minute scene, but I paid 100k just to rent a RED and shoot that scene. It was worth the money. If you are using a RED and you are not using some of these few cool features I’ve mentioned, then what kind of a person are you. The camera is also built like a computer so if you or your DOP is not sharp, just go and rent a 5D. Its not worth it I swear. It can also use your EF lens if you are transitioning from a 5D. When well rigged…It’s the ultimate camera to shakara big clients. Also because its used a lot in commercials and music videos, you will make money renting it out. RED is always updating and you don’t even need to buy a new camera to upgrade. Editing in post is also easy because most of the editing programs now support RED files natively. Don’t let someone 419 you saying they need to compress to proRES before editing. I have never done that in my life
It’s not a full frame sensor 🙁 what this means is that you still won’t get that delicious depth of field like the 5D except with super fast lenses…even more, there is something called the crop factor. A 50mm lens on a 5D at HD is true 50mm. a 50mm lens on a RED will come out like an 85mm lens due to the crop factor caused by not being a full frame sensor. This means to get really wide shots, you have to use really wide lenses and we all know High quality fast wide lenses are expensive. Even though the RED Raw has a lossless compression, it will still take a lot of hard disk space. A two camera shoot for a full feature might take close to 3TB of data. This also means lots of data in post. It’s not as bad as the blackmagic CinemaDNG raw format but you do want to get a good colorist to handle your work.
WHICH CAMERA DOES NIYI AKINMOLAYAN USE.
Hehehe you want to know my secret abi…shior. Well I use all of them. For corporate work, I use the RED a lot. For documentaries where you have to catch the action while its happening I use the 5Dmk3 a lot. For films, I use either the 5Dmk3 or RED. “FALLING” that has been getting great reviews everywhere was shot entirely with the 5D mk3. One thing everyone knows me for is that I pay a lot of attention to lighting and production design. This is obvious in Out of Luck. As a director, be flexible. Sometimes the production can only afford a small camera, use it well and creatively. Sometimes they are going for big…maximize that too.
The person behind the Camera is more important than the Camera itself. Mic drop!