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Advice for a "wise investment" (3 replies and 4 comments)

Max A.
3 months ago
Max A. 3 months ago

Hello Mr. Deakins and all Dp's over this fantastic platform, if this is not the right section if is not I apologize and I can remove the post.
I would like to ask you, if it's possible, a piece of advice about an investment that I would like to do.

In order to "starting" to work independently and have a "good starting point" it's better for you to invest budget in a "medium-level" camera (that can shoot raw) or in some lights package?
My goal is to be operational also when the budget does not allow to rent of both camera and lights together in order to do more practice "on the field" and interact with some young directors with interesting small budget projects.
My budget is not so big (around 3500/3700 dollars) and I'm a bit hesitant on what to do.
I currently own a digital camera (for both photo and video) and an external recorder that allows me to get a 10 bit 4:2:2 video, but the dynamic range of this camera is not so far the best (around 9 stop) and with that budget, I can buy a camera that allows me to shoot something more "performing" in terms of image quality.
On the other hand, a "small" lights package is something that I would like to have, also if led units that I like (like fresnel that are more versatile than a panel for bounce solution etc.) are not so much "affordable" and at the end of the day I might find myself with only around 2 lights for that budget, tungsten lights are beautiful and a lot more affordable but require more wattage for some kinds of "indie" projects.

What do you think is the "better" choice for a good "starting point" for an indie cinematographer for both drama and documentary?
Of course when the project starts to be more "big" It necessary the availability rent a certain camera or some lights (also if it is a low-budget project).

As usual, I want to thank you for your availability and patience, Mr. Deakins, my question is a call on your big wiseness to try to do a good investment and trying to avoid wasting time and money.

I wish you a peaceful day.


The Byre
3 months ago
The Byre 3 months ago

When I am not doing A-for-V, I also work pro bono as a mentor for small businesses in difficulties in the UK (and boy are we all busy there!)   I used to run a news agency in Germany and now run an A-for-V facility and am setting up a local film production unit just for fun.  So putting that business hat on, here goes -

Lights can be cheap!  Lots of scope for some DIY here!  Also, old PAR cans from stage work are often first cheap.  I bought four Fresnel lights with 1.2kW bulbs in them for £3 the lot.  That's how cheap perfectly decent lights are being dumped just because they are not LED.

But now we come to the camera and of course the lenses.  $3,500?  A bit thin, that one!   That 6K thing from BMD is tempting and not much above $2k and the images are really good for such a cheap box.  

But then you will still need a lens or two and that means either going cheap (Canon 24-100 zoom for about $1k or more) or giving up on the whole idea of buying kit and renting.

The problem (IMO) is lenses - here's a story -

A long time ago I was talking to legendary audio engineer Bruce Swedien» and we got onto the knotty subject of drum kits and microphones.  During that discussion, he said, "Good microphones are the sound engineer's secret weapon!"

The same thing seems to apply to lenses.  I'm sure others will be able to tell you more here, but the cheapest prime that is of acceptable quality is about $2k (Xeen) and there are loads of rubbish that cost more (IMO).  

I would add to that mix, the blindingly obvious fact that digital stuff is falling in cost at 90mph.  So for those reasons, I would reassess my goals and see if either renting or just using what you have got does not make more sense.  

If I had $3,500 for making a film, I would put every dime in front of the camera!  My 30 cents worth!

Max A.
3 months ago

Thank you very much for your answer Byre!

Since I started as photographer 6 years ago, I still have some lenses with EF-Mount (including the new canon 24-105), they are 'still' lenses of course, and have a lot of focus breathing but those could fit well to the starting point.
I totally agree about the quality of the lens (as for the microphone) that gives the real "soul" of the final image.
Some friends of mine have a small production and they can rent me the Xeen-CF (I advised them for those lenses for the price/quality range).
Maybe gradually I might buy some of those while work goes on (I hope) and "increase" my small package of equipment.

Led lights are very useful for power absorption and battery adaptors, but when quality starts to "increase" a bit they are quite expensive, the "affordable" versions are almost all panels (not so good when I want to focus a bounce surface) or Bowens mount (needs fresnel lens or numbers of softboxes to buy separately).
My "target" is low budget and often have to think and do so fast and probably the "affordable" Led solutions will be my "forced friends".

So you advise me to think about buying lenses instead of a camera or lights
Your cent worth of course but add another doubt to my choice LOL

I wish you a nice day,
Thank you again.

Matt Stahley
3 months ago
Matt Stahley 3 months ago

Lights will always be a better investment IMO. I don't expect the majority of a viewing audience will have a clue or even care about the dynamic range performance of a camera. Really the story and sound are probably more important on a low budget project than an HDR image. Lights can be used for the most part forever.Camera bodies change like every 6 months. With that said there are some decent cameras out there in the $1500 range. Lenses are a great investment but be sure you will be staying with the mount they use or you will be having to offload them as well when you decide to buy a different brand or whatever.

Max A.
3 months ago

Thank you very much for your answer, Matt!
Your speech makes sense about the audience and dynamic range. The "choice" about the camera it's more mine, to be honest cause with the camera that I have now, the highlights clip so fastly and the shadows area is quite noisy (mostly when there is an underexposure around 2 stop, better if I have a strong underexposure around 4/5 stop that falls to black), but you are totally right about the real meaning of the shooting that is principally the story for low budget production.

Do you think it is better to invest in led lights (the budget is not quite big) or tungsten (with the "issues" of power wattage requirement)?

About lenses, this is true as well, I have EF-lenses (still lenses as I've started as a photographer) and EF-mount slowly seems to be offloaded by recent new cameras manufacturers of mid-high range. (I spent around 5000 dollars for lenses toward years).

It is quite difficult to choose one path to go LOL, especially when the budget is tight (as mine at now).

I wish you a nice day,

Matt Stahley
3 months ago

Max if you currently have an EF glass collection I'd look into the Blackmagic Pocket Cine cam 6k Pro. It has EF mount and super 35 sensor size plus built in ND filters. that would still leave you with $1k for some nice LED lights. Apututre has a budget line of great lights as does Good and Nanlite brands.

Just my thoughts 🙂

Matt Stahley
3 months ago

Sorry I should mention that you may need some rigging or batteries etc. for the camera but you can get some decent 150w LED lights for a few hundred dollars each. Currently I only own one Aputure 300dmk2 and the Light Dome 2 along with some of the APuture MC lights.Ive been able to get by shooting a doc currently with that lighting setup but its half your $3500 budget.

3 months ago
DomSim 3 months ago

Hello Max, 


If you are on a budget I would suggest that you look for the Amaran 200D, they are quite affordable have decent output and you can shape them with bouce, diffusion or use them as hard light depending of your needs and situations. In term of camera maybe look for a second hand Black Magic if you already own Canon lens. 




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