I went to a film school out here in Colorado about 4 years ago. Originally I intended to go there to earn an Associates Degree in Cinematography with a minor in Screenwriting. Over the course of the two years I attended that school, I learned a lot of valuable lessons when it comes to cameras, equipment, operation of said equipment as well as how to work with other people on sets.
But what I didn't learn, or rather what felt suppressed by the experience, was my love for film and my desire to go out and make shots happen. Or to round up some friends and say "hey I have an idea for a short film, and it won't require anything but time from us, let's get together!" And it may seem obvious but it bears mentioning; if a school kills the passion for what your dream is, than odds are you shouldn't continue your studies there.
The reason that I felt this sudden onset of apathy towards visuals was in part to three main constraints at this school: Firstly, you were extremely limited to what cameras you could use dependent on your seniority at the school. Now, at face value that sounds pretty fair, right? If you're brand new to cinematography, you don't really want those people handling a $30,000 RED Dragon rig. When in your first semester, you get access to the Black Magic Pocket 4K, a Canon 50D and a Sony XC-70. To anyone unfamiliar with cameras, those are some of the most basic and boring cameras on the market, maybe with the exception of BMPCC. So right away, I found myself just frustrated at the lack of respect towards cinematographers. I came into the school having already worked with high end cameras, and was being told that it doesn't matter. In other words, experience doesn't matter.
And that resulted in this:
All of these images are from my first project, which you can watch here. You'll notice that whole short is full of issues from the sound and the image quality and that's because I wasn't even allowed to use my own camera, a Panasonic GH5 that had VLOG capabilities and 4K 10bit cinema aspect ratio options.
So there I was; no options to improve save by tortuously long training seminars for things that I already knew how to use.
For the next two years, I barely used my GH5 for anything outside of a few road trip photos. The camera started collecting dust and I started to look into buying a cinema camera. I started getting hooked on the Black Magic Ursa series, and even considered buying a used RED or a VariCam off of Ebay.
But then I had a strange sort of revelation.
Around 4 months ago, I shot another short film with my friend Dustin for his school project. Here are a few stills from that shoot.
Granted, this is out of context, so it just looks like a few pretty shots, right? Well, that's kind of where I'm going with this, so forgive all of the setup and the rambling.
Dustin's desire and drive to make this short film happen, and his level of care and commitment to the crew, just fueled my inspiration to make these shots as pretty and consistent as possible. We shot the most of the film on a RED One in 4K 16:9, but I need to emphasize... MOST of it...
Would you believe me if I told you that the picture with the water bottles is B-Roll that I shot on my Panasonic GH5?
Just something in the way of how Dustin approached making this film spoke to me on a level that I wasn't truly prepared for. It reignited my love for filmmaking and made me excited to build a website, start doing more things around my neighborhood and start reaching to people to work on projects together!
And so I started researching and purchasing. I bought several lenses for my GH5, but not just any lenses... Cine lenses and Anamorphic lenses. I started utilizing what I had, by improving on what I knew and what I understood. I started teaching myself LUT creation and color grading. I started experimenting around my house with lighting setups and complex camera movements that I never would have attempted before.
And it was during all of this that I realized how stigmatic the camera community can truly be. And just how misleading all of the promotional material and requirements are.
See, I got obsessed with wanting to spend around $6,000 on a new camera that was listed in Netflix's approved list. I was so obsessed with this, that I didn't realize just how lucky I was to already own a piece of technology that could accomplish so much with so little investment. I was willing to go into thousands of dollars in debt because I got so convinced by YouTuber's and articles that if I wanted to be taken seriously, I NEEDED to have something that cost around $5,000. And guys, girls and whomever reads this... That's just not true.
$2,500 can get you a GH5 and a VLOG upgrade, a nice cine lens, a high speed SD card, a decent Tripod, a shoulder rig, a roll cage, a shotgun mic and a probably a secondary lens as well. No cap.
People used to shit on my GH5 all of the time, because I had images that looked like my first project, which wasn't even my GH5. And because of this constant downtrodding of my camera, I believed it. I knew that it's spec sheet was phenomenal, but I got so in my own head that I ignored it at times.
You can get cinema level quality without spending cinema level money. You just need to prioritize properly. Nowadays, the market is fairly flooded with high end cameras like the Panasonic S1H, the Sony FX series, Canon C300 and others. But they all start at around $3000. And once you tack on lenses and equipment, you're looking at north of $5000. But you CAN and SHOULD ignore what everyone else is saying. These cameras, these cinema level cameras are awesome, no doubt about it. I had the pleasure of working with an Arri camera recently, I still prefer my Panasonic because of it's color science but that's beside the point.
Listen to me closely. If you have money to burn, sure buy whatever the hell you want. Odds are, if you have that kind of money laying around, you're not reading this anyway. But guys, you can buy a BMPCC 6K, a Panasonic GH5 or the upcoming GH6, a Fujifilm XT-4, a Panasonic S5 and all of the accessories needed for filming for less than the MSRP of JUST the camera of the ones I mentioned above.
Film and visuals is all about what speaks to us. To yourself. It shouldn't, and will not, ever be about what equipment you have. If you are so concerned with the equipment you have and about measuring up to the big leagues on a budget, than you're in the wrong profession.