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The cameras and lenses used on the latest Oscar nominated films (premiumbeat.com)
50 points by belter 14 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 73 comments

Even if you could afford the camera you still couldn't make anything like a Hollywood movie. The amount of control a film crew exerts over what they're shooting is pretty staggering to anyone who hasn't spent time in a studio or a film set. Literally everything is controlled. Everything is logged. A set has to be reset between takes, which means knowing where everything is, what settings all the cameras, lights, etc had, everyone standing on marks taped on the floor, etc. A great camera is important to any scene, but there is so much more to filming anything.

(Background: I studied Broadcast Engineering at uni and spent time around television studios 25 years ago. It's a lot of fun, but intensely laborious, and ultimately making things on the internet proved more exciting..)

I was also astounded how much CG goes into movies. For context, I was an extra in Lord of the Rings ~20 years ago and almost every arrow in Helm's Deep was added in post.

That deserves a post in itself :-) Were Orcs allowed toilet breaks in full costume?

Good question :D

Now that you mention it, I can't actually remember. The Uruk-Hai costumes were much harder to get into and out of compared to the elf costumes (this is for Helm's Deep) so I'm going to go with yes, we were allowed toilet breaks but it was a logistical nightmare.

The plus side to the Uruk costume was that it was basically a wetsuit (this is how they modelled the muscles etc on it) so when you're playing a dead body in the middle of the night in a quarry, anything that helped you stay warm was a bonus!

On the other hand, I remember how The Flash costume (the 1990 TV series) needed water cooled undergarments:


Probably something special in the thigh pad.....

Even if you're just on camera for some documentary thing, the amount of fussing with lights, sound, multiple camera angles etc. is significant. The reality is that you can probably get most of the way there these days with significantly cheaper gear and most people wouldn't know the difference if the people using the gear were competent. But it's still impressive what goes into just a basic corporate talking head.

(Of course, a lot of people who go into shooting video for jobs like this are often into gear and financing their hobby. And even if showing up for the shoot with just an iPhone produces good results, you probably shouldn't expect a followup job.)

A lot of scenes can be naturally lit. I know someone who does documentaries solo, and they just make sure they interview people in a place that works.

I don't disagree. For interviews of any length, you probably want a decent microphone, a tripod, and somewhere quiet (unless you want something that's obviously in a bustling setting). But if they're hiring a video crew most companies probably expect a typical production video crew.

For most of us from outside the movies books like "The Devil's Candy" (about Brian DePalma's making of "Bonfire of the Vanities") also have a great insight into this.

It really is insane how much work and care goes into these movies (even the bad ones).

A friend who worked on crews on everything from Oscar winning movies to direct to video schlock likes to say "It's just as much work to make a bad movie as a good one."

> Even if you could afford the camera you still couldn't make anything like a Hollywood movie.

But what is a 'hollywood' movie? Do you mean one where predictably (like a Spielberg film) there is a certain level of technical expertise that comes off as very polished and perfect? Where I will add that that is not even the most important factor in many movies. After all movies are really entertainment and it's easy to be entertained by something that (if done well) was done on high end prosumer equipment. Now me personally I don't like the polished up 'hollywood' look either. It's almost to perfect and really not appropriate for every type of entertainment.

One thing I will say is that looking back and watching again many movies that I loved in the 90's that are 'hollywood' I don't like them as much as ones that I see now on Netflix. (Many of those are done super well technically but many are not and both often equally entertaining).

What is a 'Hollywood' movie? If you mean something released by one of the major Los Angeles-based studios, then sure. Otherwise there are a ton of feature length movies made with a shoestring budget and none of the effort you mention which get a wide release and get immensely popular and profitable.

Although I don't disagree with you, I think that number is much smaller that it might look like.

Same thing applies to home recorded albums or NPR style concerts.

What looks like just made on shoestring, its just the most exquisite work of very experienced professionals, making use of all their knowledge and years and years of experience. What looks like the use of minimalist resources, are smart choices whose modus operandi is only accessible to the best professionals.

NPR (Tiny Desk) concerts are the best example.

> the most exquisite work of very experienced professionals, making use of all their knowledge and years and years of experience

Weird Al's first album was mainly recorded in the Cal Poly bathroom and look where he is now.

Pretty much the same as buying high end DSLR.

The camera does not "make" pictures. The photographer does.

If you have no idea how to compose your shot or control lighting, it is going to look bad regardless of how much investment in the camera and lenses.

On the flip side, there are photos you just can’t take without a good lens and, less so, body. Having good equipment, skill or no, does open up possibilities.

Of course, the same is true with the camera on a phone.

It’s always right tool for the job.

That is until the director went rogue. See how SW franchise deteriot over the years since Ryan's control....or maybe Kathleen?

The most expensive cameras and lenses are the ones used in TV broadcast, like the ones used for sporting events. Those giant long box shaped high luminosity 20x zoom lenses cost $250k+.


Yes, much like violins and wine, there is a lot of dynamic range in lens pricing. As someone who used to buy/rent that stuff professionally (now doing it in a different pricing ballpark on a personal level), IMHO the pricing does not always correlate to tangible differences in the output.

That embedded youtube video is well worth the watch

It takes a lot of talented people to make a good film, the camera and lenses are just a small commodity part of it.

Arri and RED not the only game in town anymore too, although they are still the most popular on feature films and have great colour science. This guy https://youtube.com/c/EugeneBelsky is shooting incredible looking HDR demos with a $6k Blackmagic Ursa 12k and $3k Zeiss Otus 55mm 1.4 - one of the sharpest lenses around.

And you could get very close with a Pocket 6k and some cheaper primes.

Feature films have large budgets, camera/lens cost is a drop in the ocean but it’s really not about some unattainable gear anymore.

This really misses the mark. Any 2-3k camera beats the image most movies had 20 years ago.

The reason Hollywood uses expensive gear is because the human cost is so enormous, that any improvement in gear to reduce human cost becomes a no-brainer.

> This really misses the mark. Any 2-3k camera beats the image most movies had 20 years ago.

Do you mean beats any digital camera 20 years ago? Because I think film cameras back then were phenomenal.

A lot of film->digital transfers that people see are really poorly done by modern standards because they were done a decade or more ago, causing people to underestimate how good state of the art film looked.

I think you mean lenses. In any case, it doesn't matter how phenomenal the lens and camera were; film had a lot of limitations unless you shot really low ISO film, and that meant tons of light.

I think for filmmakers it was less about technical ability of the cameras and more about workflow and getting the look right; no film grain, no weave to the image as the film shifted slightly in the camera, way more dynamic range, different behavior around darks and highlights, etc.

One of the reasons a lot of newer films look so gorgeous is because modern cameras have such low noise at higher ISOs that they can employ a lot less artificial lighting, and high bit depth gives them much more flexibility in grading/coloring.

A studio-quality 35mm movie camera is roughly equivalent to 4K digital in terms of resolution. It is only 16 frames per second though so rapid motion is not as smooth.

According to wikipedia, standard 35mm movies are at 24 frames per second. It also says there are 16 frames per foot of film, which may be where you go that number.

Isn't that the joke in The Disaster Artist when Tommy buys the gear instead of renting it? The implication being that one does not simply buy movie-making gear. (And the secondary implication being, "where the fuck does Tommy get all this money?") Not that I know the first thing about making a movie.

The joke there is mostly about the secondary implication.

People actually do buy movie-making gear and loaning it out to people a way to earn cash/favors or network in the industry.

Luis Guzman owns a ton of camera gear that he still keeps in his lower east side apartment and that he lends out to crews of movies produced by friends of his.

The closer you end up to low-mid budget filmmaking in your career, the more you'll be sourcing equipment from people.

The other part of the joke is he bought both a film and digital camera. He then shot the movie using both formats. They were the first to do this. Tommy was such a visionary.

I read a book recently on technical advances in early Hollywood. One chapter was on cinematographers. To start, they were using off-the-shelf consumer tech. It was the responsibility of the cinematographer to provide their own equipment (and hold it, one but not the only reason why there weren't many women in the job). As the 1920s went on, cameras eventually became expensive enough that the business model had to change. Now studios purchased them and provided them to cinematographers working on specific films. This was part of the broader move to the studio system.

It was still a while before there were a lot of Hollywood-specific cameras developed. It was still a niche market compared to, say, home movies.

It's just a matter of time before someone wins an Oscar for best cinematography and does it using a couple thousand dollars worth of equipment.

Recently Finneas won the Grammy for best engineered album (for his sister Billie Eilish's album), and he did everything except the very final mastering on equipment that cost less than a typical car. Including recording vocals and some acoustic instruments in their parents' house.

The recording industry isn't that different from the film industry, where most things are done on ridiculously expensive equipment. But it is increasingly unnecessary.

And there have been several music videos from famous artists shot on an ... iPhone https://www.billboard.com/music/pop/music-videos-shot-with-s... (actually looks like John Legend and Ellie Goulding filmed their music videos on a Google Pixel 2 and Nokia Lumia 1020, even more impressive.)

Yep, and they all, to my eyes, are superb quality.

I'd be scared if I was the manufacturer of one of those quarter-million dollar cameras.

An iPhone 13 in the hands of a pro produces unbelievable footage. It's amazing how a lot of software can make up for weaknesses of the hardware.

> It's just a matter of time before someone wins an Oscar for best cinematography and does it using a couple thousand dollars worth of equipment.

This is a lot more accessible now with things like the red komodo and blackmagic pocket 6k pro. If you buy a pocket 6k pro and rig it with a lot of stuff (a cage, series of external NVME SSDs, matte box, etc) the cost is still way under 8000.

the red komodo is low enough cost that confident UAV operators are taking the risk of flying them on large quadcopters and octocopters in aerobatic/fpv mode.

Classic supply and demand. The price is set based on the market and the demand if these were created in any type of quantity they'd cost very little ... obviously. Essentially like any expensive machine these are custom machines for a very limited and particular purpose. The rental is a strategy that makes sense (to extract the most revenue) after all tech moves on and there is no reason to have a camera for another film when something better will most likely exist.

I think the correct link should be https://www.premiumbeat.com/blog/cameras-behind-oscar-nomina...

This matches the title of the post. Either that or update the current title to be "You Can’t Afford This Expensive Hollywood Camera Gear".

The correct link is the one used above: https://www.premiumbeat.com/blog/you-cant-afford-this-expens...

It was changed from the original title "You Can’t Afford This Expensive Hollywood Camera Gear" to the current one as its more in the spirit of the article. I did not do the change, but agree with it. It does not editorialize and its within the guidelines.

Maybe a more interesting article would be the cameras and lenses used in the best short films and whatnot? Those tend to be done in a much more budget-friendly manner and in reality if you want to become a good film maker you will always start with shorts rather than full length films.

I assume that most industries use specialized equipment that is incredibly expensive for the average person.

I like to do DIY projects around the house but I can't afford a tower crane.

As an interesting complement to this story, I've recently seen a video on youtube (I'll try to find it when I'll get home) showcasing poorly or not-at-all color-graded movies made with expensive gear and crew, either because someone wasn't aware they should do it (seriously...), or they've seen other such videos and considered this to be desirable aesthetics.

Possibly related, I’ve become a fan of recording videos on my iPhone on 4K. On playback I just love the video quality, and I don’t care about how much space they take. Any 8k fans? I think some android phones support it?

I’m not a pro or anything but amongst my family members I tend to be the one who likes documenting the most, and I like the idea of really high quality playback of special moments many years from now.

The lenses are still very poor compared to pro gear (especially like what we see in this article). This can be fixed in post with lens distortion correction but there's no substitute for a nice hunk of glass.

There are the Moment photo lenses snap-ons, which are fairly decent photo lenses that could provide DSLR-like control on an iPhone: https://www.shopmoment.com/iphone-lenses

Rather than investing in a phone that can record in 8k (if it even exists) I'd try and look into some entry level "proper" cameras. The bigger sensors and better optics should provide a bump in video quality. Mirrorless cameras aren't very large to lug around when going on vacation or other places where interesting events could be documented.

Somewhat surprisingly, it's actually easier to get good-looking footage on an iPhone than say a mid-level mirrorless camera. The iPhone has better built-in stabilisation and handles high dynamic range more conveniently (built-in tone mapping and HDR capture by taking multiple real captures per video frame). Taking full advantage of a "proper" camera takes additional equipment (tripod/gimbal / lights / microphones / decent lenses).

A single clip that looks somewhat good, sure. A set of clips with a consistently good look, without any additional gear? Not so much.

That permanently enabled tone mapping and noise reduction is actually a huge obstacle in post where you have to give your video clips the look you want and match them to glue into a single video. And you should always use a gimbal, even just a simple mobile one: no matter how good the built-in stabilization is, without a gimbal you'll have parallax and shaky uncorrectable motion blur when shooting handheld on the move, especially in closeup shots. And external lenses and especially ND filters are a thing too in mobile video making, in fact they are super useful.

Vendors like Apple spend a lot of money marketing the idea of effortless video making to consumers, but the reality is that even a high quality video blog requires a lot of attention to detail and careful planning. Point and click and "one size fits all" philosophy works much worse for video than it does for photo.

Yes of course, if it's for a professional production (and these days even many Youtube videos are professional productions) a (semi)-pro camera has a lot more headroom. But it will require knowledge, experience and additional equipment to better what an iPhone will do out of the box.

This video is quite a good illustration, pitting an iPhone 12 Pro against a Sony A7iii (a quite respectable camera): https://youtu.be/TrEdAKCHSZg With these default settings the A7iii is blowing out the highlights in the sky, the church and the swan. Which could have been prevented by choosing one of the Log settings but then it would have required making adjustments during video editing.

If it's for taking a video of family / kids and sharing it immediately with friends/family, the iPhone will produce better results with minimal effort (and that's not to mention having to bring a heavy camera, lenses, tripod/gimbal, accessories).

Definitely. A modern iPhone can do a pretty fantastic job at capturing a somewhat cinema verite sort of video--with appropriate eye and editing. For relatively modest expenditure, you can take that to the next level. But it probably requires hauling around a lot of gear and being less spontaneous.

I was fairly interested in video at one point when film (Super-8) was just transitioning to video. But it was all such a hassle that I pretty much just kept to still. An iPhone (or a videocam that's a few hundred dollars) would have been so great.

Although once you're getting into "proper" cameras, you're probably also talking about at least a tripod, maybe steadicam, at that point. But, yes, once you're at 4K, I'd definitely be thinking about other ways to move to the next level than higher resolution.

This is a great point. Part of what I’ve liked about iPhone shot videos is sound and stabilization.

So maybe there are some of those aspects which dedicated cameras could do better without stepping up the resolution.

Traditional cameras--and the more traditional you get the truer this probably gets--have been fairly, well, terrible is probably not too overstated in software. One could probably make nationalistic--or at least industry related--comments related to that but I won't. (BTW I have significant Canon and Fuji systems.) It's also probably the case that the buyers of those cameras were traditionally fine with software that was pretty hands-off.

But, yes, if you combined APS-C Fuji, say, with the software available in an iPhone you'd have a really impressive instrument and presumably we'll get there some day.

I think it is telling that even Hollywood is not yet on the 8K bandwagon; for example the ARRI Alexa LF camera mentioned in the article is "4.5K" and the Sony Venice is "6K"; I venture to guess that vast majority of feature films are produced at 4k currently. I find it unlikely that smartphone video footage would be at this point significantly improved by changing recording format to 8k.

Phone cams and optics have definitely advanced remarkably in recent years and are capable of surprisingly good-looking output in the right contexts, especially when combined with a little effort and knowledge. But... as someone who has shot film and video (both professionally and for personal projects), there is still significant incremental value in going up to a full-frame DSLR-style camera body for most contexts. Most fundamentally, it starts with the size of the "light hole" (ie lens diameter) and the size of the imager - which constrain the number of photons at the top of the funnel.

To your point, this is balanced by the old photography truism, "The camera you don't have with you is always zero megapixels." Thus, for personal day-to-day use, there is tremendous value in a good camera that fits in your pocket.

Personally I’m blown away the iPhone video quality. It squeezes an amazing end result out of a tiny lens.

It’s now a surprisingly expensive endeavour to noticeably beat iPhone 4K Dolby Vision HDR.

Something like the Nikon Z9 with a decent prime lens and a stabiliser mount? That’s approaching $10K and is nowhere near as convenient or practical.

Anything less than that and the quality difference just isn’t worth it in my eyes (for home videos at least)

I think the main reason people are shooting is 8K is that they can crop into 4K more easily. It just means you don't have to do as much planning with your framing.

Yes I was wondering if the smartphone push into 8k is almost coming from the expected future of VR, but it may offer benefits for users before getting all the way to VR playback like you mention.

Collect all the video at a higher resolution than you can display and then only show the small part which is in the smaller user view field.

Camera cost is negligible compared to cost of a production. No one buys equipment to shoot a movie at that level too. Camera, albeit important, is also not the single most important factor in percieved image look; There's also glass, light, grip, production design, post. And ultimately and most importantly - knowing how to use all of that. On top of it, you cannot do it all alone. People that do (know) cost a lot more than any of the above and you need them, on average anywhere between 30-90 days without much sleep during principal photography, not to mention all of the prep and post work.

Tl;dr; it's about camera as software is about text editor.

Meanwhile the world is busy filming with iPhones, and at any second a movie shot with one/them will win an Oscar.

If you mean in any one of the major categories (best Picture, Direction, Cinematography, Sound Editing/Mixing etc.), then it is not going to happen anytime soon, probably ever. There are still several generational gaps between the mainstream equipment in use today and a phone camera.

I can see an iPhone-shot movie getting best documentary short or whatever, but that's it.

I think this might take another generation. The Oscars represent the high production values/costs of the entertainment industry. Giving an Oscar to a 17 year old with an iPhone would threaten the foundation of a lot of that industry.

I suspect we'll see a tipping point soon (if we haven't already) where more minutes of time are spent watching content produced on an iPhone vs an expensive film camera.

"Tangerine" got pretty close. Made it to Sundance and that was in 2014/2015 with an iPhone 5S. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tangerine_(film)

The threat to the industry definitely appears to be the bigger hurdle, but don't discount workflow. Offloading from an iPhone is non-trivial, especially when all big-budget movies employ at least one DIT (if not an entire team) to manage this process.

Well they gave a Grammy for best engineered album to Finneas (for his sister Billie Eilish's album), and it was recorded and produced on equipment most any of us could afford. Not so different.

I don't see the people who vote for Oscars being so concerned about threatening the foundation of the industry. That would require some sort of corruption or conspiracy, and I'm just not confident that is going on to that level.

You'll almost certainly see some short documentary or short subject at some point. (i.e. something almost no one ever sees) But other costs so dominate the actual photography, there's little reason to expect a studio to economize on the cinematography (and sound, etc.) other than someone doing it as a stunt.

A 17 year old with an iPhone, maybe.

Happily, plenty of industry veterans are finding uses for camera phones. https://momofilmfest.com/oscar-winning-claude-lelouch-cannes...

>I suspect we'll see a tipping point soon (if we haven't already) where more minutes of time are spent watching content produced on an iPhone vs an expensive film camera.

Counting Youtube/TikTok/whatever, this must have tipped years ago.

Searching for Sugar Man won Best Documentary in 2013 and was partially shot on an iPhone.

I suspect at the same time Oscar will gradually become less relevant as people's attentions will be divided between Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

The viewership has been decreasing for years. I don't think mainstream really pays attention anymore. However it still seems to hold some significant merit among the industry and that counts for something.

Anybody know whether computational photography is making inroads? I'm not sure how feasible it is currently for very high resolutions on a mere movie budget, but it seems like it could be a huge boon for editing freedom and probably useful for a lot of effects work.

Of course, any of the cameras that say they aren't for sale are definitely for sale. Just run the trick people use when you want a prop from Sony's or Universal's prop warehouses which are rental-only. Rent it, keep it and pay the loss fee.

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