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Is This Camera Suitable for A Feature?


DorSinai
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We got the rights to a theatre play, finished turning it into a script and we've started preproduction.
Now, the question is will you shoot a feature with the equipment listed below?
I know that Netflix, for example, has a specific list of cameras they approve.
Will this camera suffice for a feature

Fujifilm XT4 - 4k video resolution - 2 Mirrorless Camers

Fujifilm Lens - 16mm
Fujifilm Lens - 50mm
Fujifilm Lens - 16mm - 80mm
Fujifilm Lens - 16mm - 80mm
Fujifilm Lens - 70mm - 300mm
Coman - 3 Professional Tripod
Ronin SC Gimbal DJI - 1 Camera Stabilization
Phantom 3 Professional DJI - 1 Drone

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I wouldn’t worry about Netflix, since they very very rarely buy small films, and when they do, their camera requirements do not apply.

That said… if this is all you’ve got, use it and make your film.

Your cinematographer may well be driven nuts trying to shoot with a camera best used for YouTube Vlogs.

Keeping focus, constant battery changes, and low quality recording formats will make many challenges!

The camera will be cheap, but time delays and difficult post color correction may well make this an expensive choice.

Better to find an old RED or Arri Alexa to shoot with I think.

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The three things you didn't list, which I believe are critical to a narrative feature production are: 

1) Ability to do wireless focus pulls, repeated over and over again.
2) Actual orientable electronic viewfinder with an eyepiece you can place your face on. No way you can use displays outdoors. 
3) Mattebox for filtration and filters. You will need to filter instead of stopping down or adjusting shutter speed/ISO to compensate. You need to keep the ISO the same (close to native) throughout production and of course keep the shutter speed consistent as well. So you'll need several stops of ND for any outdoor work. 

You can use a toy camera if you have those things and a decent lens. Some people get away with a large orientable display on top of the camera, but I personally don't like that because you can't see any detail with a display. The only way to NAIL focus, is to have a sealed environment where no light is leaking in and your eye can be focused on the display and not ancillary light. 

No, I would not shoot a feature with a still camera. Even though I really like our Canon R5 (really nice camera) I would never attempt to use it for a feature because it's missing all of the items above and getting it all decked out, would be so much work, it's just not worth it in the end. I'd rather rent honestly. 

If you must own a camera (which some people really want to for some reason, even though I suggest renting a real cinema camera always) then the Blackmagic 6k Pro is a good way to go. It has excellent color science. It has a very good imager. It's pretty darn close to S35mm sized imager. PL conversion kit isn't grossly expensive. It has real audio ports, so you can run audio directly to camera for temp or even final if you don't want an audio guy. The adjustable viewfinder works great. You can also capture RAW to SSD, which is awesome for post. No other camera at that price point does it all. Then all ya need to do is rent some PL glass when you want to shoot or simply buy a few cheap PL primes. You need real lenses to have enough focus range for real fine tuning of focus. You can't really get that with stills lenses, it's just impossible. 

Also, Netflix stopped taking low budget indy films without stars, those days are behind us. Amazon just stopped taking them in 2021 as well. So the "dream" of getting your low budget indy on Netflix isn't gonna happen unless you have some crazy inside connection, but even then, I've talked with their sales guys for years, they only take things with stars. This is the problem right now, too much content being made and the major outlets are closing off because they aren't seeing the financial gains. Just storing your film on their servers costs them money. So unless you plan on having stars and already have some sales agent calling distributors, you can kinda not worry about Netflix and Amazon. 

 

Edited by Tyler Purcell
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I would recommend a Canon C200 for very low budget. Granted the media isn't the cheapest, but not that bad considering the quality of the footage that you get and how easy  it is to use.  The internal RAW light is easy to deal with and the look is great. The fuji looks  great also, but such a camera on a feature shoot will be more headache than it is worth. Jo mir

Canon C200, Shume mir!

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I want to also suggest the Sigma FP. I own one and could not be more happy with it. The look it creates is great. Fantastic with skin tones. It's build quality is great, all metal. Workflow is easy, all Cinema DNG. They are very small, yet can be built up to any configuration. Lastly, they are affordable, perhaps even more so as a rental. Possible downside is some rolling shutter. Much more on the FP L version which is more still oriented than the FP which is more cine oriented. I haven't had any issue with rolling shutter, but some people complain about it so I thought it was worth a mention. I did own a Powrig dummy battery to D-Tap cable which seemed to cause FPN and banding. Using Sigma branded accessories and cables work great with no FPN or banding at all when using external power as you will have to on a feature. It's low light, high ISO performance is fantastic. There is of course noise at high iso, but not fixed and that can be an asthetic choice. Being a mirrorless camera, it is very easily adapted to use MANY lens made, such as any still lens you might already own. For a low or no budget feature, I would choose this camera over the Fuji. It will run all day long with out issue, like a Sony. Rent 2, 3 or 4 with some Samsung T5 SSDs and you are good to go. The Sigma FP strikes a rare middle ground between cheap, fast and good.

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Soderbergh shot Paranoia (released in 2018) with iPhones 7. Upstream color (released in 2013) was shot on a Panasonic GH2. Arround 1995-2000, there was a bunch of film shot on DV cameras (The Blair Witch Project, Festen, Dancer in the Dark…). I do not know how Chris Marker did shoot La Jetée (1962), but since this is mainly based on still pictures (except for a short scene), he could almost do it without any camera at all. There have always been movies shot with cheap equipment while much better cameras were available at the time. So yes, you can shoot with a DSLR and dream of an international distribution in theatres or on Netflix, as long as you produce a masterpiece…

… Or just shoot with what you have. Considering your list, I guess you are rather in the "no budget" category ? Then the question is not whether this is acceptable for a feature, but what drawbacks you will face.

I guess your lenses have fly-by-wire focus and aperture control. Most if not all Fuji X-mount still lenses do, as well as other brands AF lenses. Even if there are rings, they do not control physically anything. These are just encoders, and a stepping motor is set accordingly. From my little experience, this is usable, but the relationship between the rotation of the ring and the actual change in focus is not perfect. If you write down marks and pull focus once and revert back, focus should be OK. If you do this one or two more times, focus has started to shift. You need to set the focus again on a very regular basis. Note that this behaviour still occurs even if you set the ring control to « linear » (which is mandatory anyway, « non linear » is unusable with a follow focus). Using purely manual lenses with adapters will not have this problem. But you loose autofocus, built-in image correction, and Fuji-X lenses are usually great optically.

Ring strength is a bit on the hard side. Using a follow focus will tend to raise or push down the lens, as the camera body is thin and the attachment to the rods will have sufficient flexibility to allow some deformation. This is more obvious at longer focal lengths. The workaround is to have something attaching the front side of the lens to the rods, so that mechanical efforts are balanced.

The aperture is stepped and cannot be de-clicked. You just cannot modify the aperture while shooting, because it jumps in 1/3rd of a stop increment in a very apparent manner (again, it is electronically controlled).

Some lenses have focus breathing, some do not. In my own collection, the XF23mm f/2 and the 56mm f/1.2 have remarkably no visible breathing. The 35mm f/2 breathes.

The Fuji X-series have clever built-in tools to tweak the image processing. Using F-log, the dynamic range is claimed to be a little above 11 « real » stops (source : Cine-D). Using Eterna film simulation with DR400 and highlight setting at -2, you loose only half a stop. If you do not have the ability to shoot log correctly and if the Eterna look please you, this will ease your life and you can focus on other important things, or save money and rent for more lighting.

Edited by Nicolas POISSON
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This is a Fujifilm X-T3 rigged up for conventional narrative prodution, with all the basics (EVF, Monitor, Mattebox, Wireless Video, Follow Focus, v-mount power distribution, and some lightweight bracketry out the back end, to stop the whole thing tipping over whenever you set it down):

IMG_4193.thumb.jpeg.1efbabefbb4f5bbec20e1e8dcea6f017.jpeg

IMG_4186.thumb.jpeg.9643ba13b2e674a4e71366901100f19b.jpeg

IMG_4215.thumb.jpeg.96750052ab3718ac04273084a9d6eeb1.jpeg

 

Did it work? Yes. And (to be fair) it worked reasonably well because it was so intricately rigged out to provide all of the functionality we'd normally need on set.

Would I ever do it again? I certainly hope not. 

You're reliant on a single, tiny, Micro-HDMI output for all of your video outputs (which even reinforced with a cable clamp on a camera cage, still isn't all that sturdy), and trying to access the camera's internal menus and controls (with all of that gack around the body) is fiddly at best.

On the plus-side? You get a lovely 6k sensor, downsampled into a crisp 4k image - with decent dynamic range, and 10-bit recording (at 4:2:0 internally, and 4:2:2 if you record externally). 

So there's little to complain about with the image quality you can muster with the camera, no one will question the results on that front - it's really just a question of form and function. A little mirrorless like this will bring you a lot of grief if you're trying to work within a conventional production style.

That said, if you're working differently - pulling your own focus, doing everything handleheld, running the camera solo effectively, well then maybe it'll be fine. There's plenty of people out there doing beautiful work with barebones mirrorless cameras - it all just comes down to the workflow and the needs of the specific production you're working on.

 

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We took a step forward, contacted an experienced cinematographer, offered him to become also a producer for the purpose of him getting an Arri camera. This script is too good and too funny to be shot with an OK camera. We're going to make an effort to get the Arri plus more equipment and crew. Thanks to everyone for their replies!

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