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Lessons you wish you would’ve learned about purchasing equipment


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9 hours ago, aapo lettinen said:

I would highly advice against purchasing any of the very heavy cameras like the kitted up Alexa Classic unless one can spend at least 4k or 5k minimum to the very basic used tripod and head which can support such a heavy beast.

I will preface by stating, I'm not recommending an Arri Alexa. I think it's a big mistake to buy a 1080p camera in 2022. However, to LEARN what it's like (which is what the OP wants to do ) to work with a pro camera, it's the best camera to do that with. The Alexa cameras all work the same, similar menu's, similar color science, similar functions, it's all so similar, the knowledge gained can be used directly on film sets today. Not the same with any other lower-cost camera. 

I agree, the Alexa Classic is heavy. However, a decent tripod is required for any shooting. I got my Mitchel base, Sachtler 25 for $900 bux used with sticks. I've seen them go for $1500 on eBay many times. The thing will hold 60+ easily. I've thrown HUGE 35mm kits like Moviecam Super America's on it and been great. The balancing system is designed for heavy cameras. 

I would never spend $4k on a tripod, absolutely insanity. Even my "lightweight" kit, which is a Miller kit I got just for my 16mm package can EASILY hold the Alexa Classic with a prime lens kit, EASILY. I got it for $600 bux nearly brand new from craigslist. 

 

9 hours ago, aapo lettinen said:

One can of course purchase anything one wants but it is generally not a wise choice to purchase very heavy, power hungry and awkward to operate cameras (for example very long camera setups) for fast moving low budget productions. The heavyweight gear just limits one's possibilities too much and slows down the production unnecessarily and makes some shots impossible to shoot with the time and budget available. The general no-no cameras for indie and doc are for example the Red One (M, MX), the Alexa Classic versions, the Panasonic Varicam cameras, the F65 and the old digital cinema cameras like the F23, F35, D21, etc.

Why is an Alexa Classic (XT as well) a long camera setup? You throw an AB battery on the back, throw a lens/rods/mattebox on the front with a follow focus and you're good to go. Takes longer to pull the pieces from the cases than it does to attach them. Any show that needs wireless equipment, either FF or video, will probably have no problem with a more complex build, doesn't matter what camera body is underneath. 

I don't understand why moving the camera around would hinder you with an Alexa Classic. The camera is on a hot shoe from the tripod. You simply unlock the shoe, which unlocks the dovetail and you lift the camera off the tripod complete. Move the tripod and re-attach it for your next shot. I shoot on film man, my cameras are for sure heavier than an Alexa and I do PLENTY of indy work. Moving cameras around is no problem, it does not slow you down at all. Sure if you had a Moviecam Super America with a Cooke 20-100 zoom and 1000ft mag, ya just get another camera assistant for moving the camera. Honestly, I shoot primarily on dollies anyway, costs $250/day for a decent kit and a few bux more for a jib arm that will take a 30lb camera. 

You can't really build a Red Helium to be much lighter than an Arri Classic anyway. We're talking maybe 5lb total difference once you kit it with EVF, wireless FF, video, monitoring, battery, focus aid, shoulder/dovetail kit and lens. I've shot with the Alexa classic, Mini and of course the Red Dragon and Helium. Because the smaller cameras require a much more substantial kitting/rigging out, they wind up not being small after all and very heavy. 

 

9 hours ago, aapo lettinen said:

The reason I recommended the F55 as a some kind of OK compromise if one specifically wants a older camera body is because it is lightweight and can be used with normal relatively affordable tripods and is easy to handheld too for being a magnesium alloy body. The "cinema camera bodies" one talks about (Alexa Classic, most Red cameras, etc) are usually made of much heavier aluminium alloys which makes them much heavier and more awkward to operate on fast moving sets and small productions.

I may have missed that suggestion and it's not a horrible one. Where I absolutely despise the camera personally, having done a few "Sony" shows and said I'd never work with Sony again, I guess for a beginner camera at todays price point, maybe its ok? I personally can't stand their color science, it's atrocious. They use proprietary memory cards, aftermarket ones have issues and the card readers are very weird. I've had some that don't read certain cards. So you get back from your shoot and none of your card readers work, great. Sony also licensed the shit out of these cameras, so doing things like over cranking can be tricky if you don't have the appropriate licensing, which of course includes pro res and raw, which are both extra difficulty and cost. 

On the best of days the F55 is fine for interviews. On the worst days, it just doesn't work. The Alexa Classic with it's 2.8k imager will do circles around the F55 in every department but resolution and sound. The F55 does benefit from having TWO XLR inputs, but how your image looks in my eyes, is more important than two xlr inputs. 

 

9 hours ago, aapo lettinen said:

It is just, the lightweight and easy to operate camera allows you to get more of the shots you want in the limited time available. Choose a heavy and difficult to operate camera body and you will lose shots, a lot of them

I don't understand this really. Why is it tricky to roll a dolly around? Why can't you shoulder these cameras?  I shoot with the same support using a light camera, then a heavy camera. That's how you make your stuff look professional, by putting it on a dolly, jib arm, Steadicam, etc. 

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9 hours ago, aapo lettinen said:

one further thing is the storage space requirements.

Our last film shot with one Helium in 8k and one Komodo in 6k, two cameras every shot, sometimes 3 cameras. Shot over 18 days. 90 page script there about, is 38TB for all the raw material from set. 

We got our raid box for $399. We populated it with 4x14tb drives and were editing the same day we received the components for $1300 bux after tax. I don't understand what the big deal is? Wanna back things up? Just buy a bare drive reader. Buy some 14TB drives (the best deal currently) and back files up onto bare drives. Store them in your safe and every 3 - 5 years, back them up to newer drives. 

Where I do have a lot of media today, I also work on a lot of big shows. If you're just a young filmmaker, you're not going to have a problem. 

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1 hour ago, Tyler Purcell said:

I will preface by stating, I'm not recommending an Arri Alexa. I think it's a big mistake to buy a 1080p camera in 2022. However, to LEARN what it's like (which is what the OP wants to do ) to work with a pro camera, it's the best camera to do that with. The Alexa cameras all work the same, similar menu's, similar color science, similar functions, it's all so similar, the knowledge gained can be used directly on film sets today. Not the same with any other lower-cost camera.

Learning to use camera menus is pretty easy and one does not need to buy a camera for that, an extra prep day is enough to get them set up. So purchasing a camera just to "get used to the menus and interface" is not necessary by my opinion and should not affect the camera choice of a person.

That said, the Alexa Classic has long been fallen out of use here after the Alexa Mini came out and people got used to the Mini which weights so much less that it is just the most practical choice for general use over the original heavy Alexas which seem to be mostly kept as a "sh*t hits the fan backup" if nothing else is available. The Venice is now becoming more popular and I see the Mini falling out of use in about an year or two in high end productions. It is just that the sensor technology of the Alexas is so old that it cannot compete with current offerings in any other than the familiarity (for having been around for so long) and the advertised ease of use (which does not actually differ much from any other camera and being mostly a marketing thing)

 

For the OP starting out the business I would still recommend a camera which has the most potential of getting your money back quickly so that it would pay itself back and is of lesser risk. For example the Blackmagic cameras (if you can find a reliable one), the Sony FX6 or some of the Canon models if one wants to spend around 6k on the camera body. For example if one is shooting commercials/corporate/short films/reality/etc. the Sony is a pretty safe investment and can be used for anything.

Things like the Komodo or the older "cinema cameras" like the Alexas are pretty much only suitable for cinema style production and it is more difficult to get your money back from them for that reason for the camera body not being very practical for most of the productions the OP could get money from

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AAND the cool old cinema camera is still pretty useless if one cannot light perfectly for it so one needs to invest a lot on the lighting gear, even more so than with a modern dual iso high sensitivity camera. The extra headroom the sensitive and lightweight dual iso camera body gives makes lots of difference if on tight budget and schedule, often saving the production when the resources would have been too thin with an old 800 iso bulky camera

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2 hours ago, Mark Kenfield said:

Buy once, cry once.

That was the first and most important lesson I learnt when I began acquiring gear.

What does this mean?

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I think it means if you spend the money on a camera, don't get hung up on how much you just spent/regret but move on and focus on shooting with it. 

I would get a cheaper camera like a Blackmagic and practice lighting, setting up shots. I wouldnt worry too much whether it's an Alexa or Red or Sony really... you will not be getting jobs and getting paid yet anyhow so it is a personal camera. About Alexa being out of flavor right now due to new cameras on the market, we are back to the problem 1 with digital and that is consumerism to the max... so a camera that was used to shoot Skyfall and every other great looking films in the last 10 years is not good anymore huh? It's a shame the whole industry's main focus point is resolution first and the look next. 

As for getting familiar with menus and stuff, I wouldnt get hung up on it either. 1 prep day at a rental house and voila more or less... also, if you are going to be a dp, you will have an AC who will or should be familiar with the menus anyhow. You wory about creative choices like lighting not technical stuff like the menus on a camera. 

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3 hours ago, Gregory Irwin said:

What does this mean?

It means buy exactly what you want once rather than a cheap imitation then upgrade later.

I might agree. Except when you're starting out it's a lot harder to know just what you want!

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9 hours ago, aapo lettinen said:

Learning to use camera menus is pretty easy and one does not need to buy a camera for that, an extra prep day is enough to get them set up. So purchasing a camera just to "get used to the menus and interface" is not necessary by my opinion and should not affect the camera choice of a person.

Most of the learning is about how the camera works from imager through post. Menu's are easy, it's just understanding the entire workflow and being able to grade the files well and understand how the professional workflow actually works. Plus being able to get that look from day one and understanding the limitations of the system, is quite important. 

9 hours ago, aapo lettinen said:

That said, the Alexa Classic has long been fallen out of use here after the Alexa Mini came out and people got used to the Mini which weights so much less that it is just the most practical choice for general use over the original heavy Alexas which seem to be mostly kept as a "sh*t hits the fan backup" if nothing else is available.

Nobody has shot with a Classic here in a long time either, but who cares? The way the camera operates is nearly identical. The great thing about the classic is that you don't need to pay a huge entry price for a 3.2k camera. You can get a classic for peanuts, learn the workflow and dump it after a few shoots. Can't do that with a mini. 

9 hours ago, aapo lettinen said:

The Venice is now becoming more popular and I see the Mini falling out of use in about an year or two in high end productions.

For the 2021 award season, Alexa accounted for around 70% of all production. Film actually was the 2nd most popular "format/camera" system. Red was 3rd and Venice was 4th. The new Venice II may change that, it seems to have some offerings that have been missing. Here is hoping they trickle down into the FX9 MKII. Still, nobody is beating the Alexa for top camera in Hollywood. You don't even have to look at IMDB specs anymore, it's guaranteed whatever you're watching is shot on Alexa and if it looks slightly different, then it's probably Red. 

9 hours ago, aapo lettinen said:

Things like the Komodo or the older "cinema cameras" like the Alexas are pretty much only suitable for cinema style production and it is more difficult to get your money back from them for that reason for the camera body not being very practical for most of the productions the OP could get money from

Eh, its good to learn the "cinema" way of shooting. Anyone can use an ENG camera like an FX6 or FX9. They're pretty automated honestly. With Sony glass, they have auto focus, auto iris, build in variable ND, etc. Also, nobody uses them for feature production. Yet, everyone uses the Alexa imager for documentary, with the Amira. So the downside to the Alexa Classic is basically no audio. But why would you want internal audio anyway? Professionals shoot with external audio, so why would you waste time messing with internal audio? We just slap a tentacle on the recorder and camera to keep TC in sync. Then throw a wireless receiver onto the camera for temp audio out of the recorder. This way we have audio in the camera just incase, but the files will auto sync in programs like Resolve. So you get beautiful 32 bit audio, with excellent preamp and mic quality, without having to worry about syncing later. This is the way every show I've ever worked on has operated. 

Sure if I'm going out as a one person crew shooting an interview, I'll grab a basic camera and plug the mic directly into the camera. But that is the only time I'll ever do that and yes, the Alexa Classic CAN do that no problem. 

FYI again, I'm not suggesting someone buy an Alexa classic, I'm just defending the idea of why a beginner would like to learn how to shoot with one. 

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42 minutes ago, M Joel W said:

It means buy exactly what you want once rather than a cheap imitation then upgrade later.

I might agree. Except when you're starting out it's a lot harder to know just what you want!

That’s what I thought. Technology changes too fast. You’ll always be upgrading. That’s the rabbit hole. 

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9 hours ago, aapo lettinen said:

AAND the cool old cinema camera is still pretty useless if one cannot light perfectly for it so one needs to invest a lot on the lighting gear, even more so than with a modern dual iso high sensitivity camera. The extra headroom the sensitive and lightweight dual iso camera body gives makes lots of difference if on tight budget and schedule, often saving the production when the resources would have been too thin with an old 800 iso bulky camera

I think being forced to shoot with an 800 ISO native camera is great. Teaches you to build skills you normally wouldn't need to when you can just crank up the ISO. 

People are literally giving away tungsten lights. I bought 6 lights during the pandemic for $500 bux. Got some stands for $50 bux. Add a few modern cheap battery powered LED lights for augmenting, maybe $1000 more in lighting total and you're good to go. We buy gel's on rolls and simply stick them in small frames instead of flags. All of that is cheap and folds up into a nice bag to carry around. Then I always carry around incandescent bulbs in 100W, 150W and 200W with me, including my own sockets with chimeras. All in all, I probably have $2k into lighting, so not a lot at all. 

I still don't understand the ideas of tight budgets/time constraints and lighting issues. Raising the ISO of your camera, does not solve lighting issues, it just makes your show look unprofessional.

One light is enough to augment MOST scenes anyway. Sure, complex night time interiors, require a bit more work, but are totally doable on a budget.  

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Posted (edited)
14 minutes ago, Gregory Irwin said:

That’s what I thought. Technology changes too fast. You’ll always be upgrading. That’s the rabbit hole. 

This is another good point. Arri's products seem to hold value a bit longer, but they also cost a lot more.

The lens market (and film camera market) I agree with someone else is another story, though. I almost bought a set of Cooke Speed Panchros – and kind of wish I had. I almost sold a 7-63mm Canon zoom and set of FD L lenses and am so far glad I didn't. 

 

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31 minutes ago, Tyler Purcell said:

Eh, its good to learn the "cinema" way of shooting. Anyone can use an ENG camera like an FX6 or FX9. They're pretty automated honestly. With Sony glass, they have auto focus, auto iris, build in variable ND, etc. Also, nobody uses them for feature production. Yet, everyone uses the Alexa imager for documentary, with the Amira.

Sure if I'm going out as a one person crew shooting an interview, I'll grab a basic camera and plug the mic directly into the camera. But that is the only time I'll ever do that and yes, the Alexa Classic CAN do that no problem. 

FYI again, I'm not suggesting someone buy an Alexa classic, I'm just defending the idea of why a beginner would like to learn how to shoot with one. 

I don't understand the method of intentionally crippling your camera gear "so that you can learn better to shoot 'cinema style' ". The point being that the camera HAS TO BE old, heavy, low sensitivity, consume tons of power and be awkward and expensive to use with the potential uses limited only to a very narrow band of productions suitable for the said crippled camera?  

If a camera has automatic features one does not want to use, one can just switch them off. I don't remember when I have used autofocus or auto iris with any camera. Or is it that the controls for switching automatic features on and off make the camera "less streamlined and more complicated to use"?

Amira has not been used that much here for documentaries because they have been relatively expensive to rent and they don't have much benefits over real documentary/tv oriented cameras. The only real benefit of the Amira is that the imager matches with the Alexas and the Amira is thus good enough B or C camera for shows shooting with Alexas if there is not enough budget to rent multiple Alexas (which are generally better suited for feature production than Amiras) . One additional reason for the Amira being not favoured that much in documentary productions is that it is relatively BIG AND HEAVY compared to real documentary oriented cameras which use exclusively magnesium+plastic parts to keep the weight down and which often use more sophisticated image processing to lower the power consumption which lowers the cooling needs which futher drives the weight and size down and has the benefit of managing with smaller and cheaper batteries which, again, saves on weight on this type of shooting where camera weight really becomes an issue very easily.

We have a ideological difference in that I am thinking the camera for the OP should be first and foremost a tool to do real more or less paid projects. Whereas you suggest the camera should be first and foremost a learning tool for cinema style shooting and it does not matter if one gets any money back from it or if one can do "real projects" with it efficiently (because the goal was only to learn how to use a big traditional digital cinema camera  and fit the projects to the camera, NOT finding the right camera for real work the OP would do. By my opinion this easily lead to the OP needing to rent another camera for paid projects most of the time even when he owns a good camera (which is not suitable for the work and is thus left home for most paid work). I see it as a risk of needing to purchase another camera very quickly after playing half a year with the Alexa without getting to do much real projects with it

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There are only 2 days of glory when you buy your first equipment with no means to recoup your investment. The day you buy it and the day you sell it!

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In my day 800 ISO wasn't considered slow. 😞

Fwiw I own an old Alexa because I work in post and mostly shoot for a hobby. I'd rather be bogged down on set a bit for a few days than have to relearn all my workflows. I like the image from the newer Reds, but it's too much work to adapt to the workflow.

I do disagree with Greg a bit in that an Alexa Classic (the Plus is heavier but not much) and a battery and lens isn't insanely heavy. It's only when you rig it out with a large zoom and AKS that it gets truly unwieldy. That said, I'd prefer an Amira or Mini ergonomically. And I kind of feel like no one (except a rental house or thriving business) needs to own an Alexa of any sort.

For my paid work, even in post, I almost always shoot with an S1 6K HEVC and use a plug in to convert V Log to Log C. It's not as good, but it's awfully close. 

I used to own an EVA1. That was the happy medium. The image from that camera is beautiful and it's very small. 

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6 hours ago, aapo lettinen said:

I don't understand the method of intentionally crippling your camera gear "so that you can learn better to shoot 'cinema style' ". The point being that the camera HAS TO BE old, heavy, low sensitivity, consume tons of power and be awkward and expensive to use with the potential uses limited only to a very narrow band of productions suitable for the said crippled camera?  

Because the OP said he'd be ok with a 1080p camera. There isn't a better 1080p camera made, then an Alexa Classic.

I don't consider 800 ISO "low" sensitivity either. It's better than 500, which is the max I've had to shoot with for years.

What production isn't narrowed by the resolution that is suddenly narrowed by the camera size? I shoot film man, I've never had an issue with putting my cameras wherever I want them.  

Power consumption means nothing as well. The batteries are not expensive. I got 4 AB lithium batteries from Ebay for $90 bux each. Charger was $200 used. Not a big deal at all. 

6 hours ago, aapo lettinen said:

If a camera has automatic features one does not want to use, one can just switch them off. I don't remember when I have used autofocus or auto iris with any camera. Or is it that the controls for switching automatic features on and off make the camera "less streamlined and more complicated to use"?

Sure you can switch them off, but who would want to? If a crutch exists, whether it means infinite shooting on digital cameras OR automatic functions that work, people are going to use that crutch. If the crutch doesn't exist at all, like shooting on film or an all-manual camera, they're FORCED to learn. This is why the Blackmagic Pocket cinema cameras were so damn good. They forced people to learn about color temp's, shutter angles and how to manually expose a shot in the way commercial cameras did it. The problem is that today, building an entire original Pocket camera rig, can still be expensive. Few grand more, ya get the camera that shot Skyfall. 

6 hours ago, aapo lettinen said:

Amira has not been used that much here for documentaries because they have been relatively expensive to rent and they don't have much benefits over real documentary/tv oriented cameras.

They are very poplar in Europe and the United States. 

Filmmakers prefer to buy Amira's due to added features and the same imager/color science. 

6 hours ago, aapo lettinen said:

We have a ideological difference in that I am thinking the camera for the OP should be first and foremost a tool to do real more or less paid projects. Whereas you suggest the camera should be first and foremost a learning tool for cinema style shooting and it does not matter if one gets any money back from it or if one can do "real projects" with it efficiently (because the goal was only to learn how to use a big traditional digital cinema camera  and fit the projects to the camera, NOT finding the right camera for real work the OP would do. By my opinion this easily lead to the OP needing to rent another camera for paid projects most of the time even when he owns a good camera (which is not suitable for the work and is thus left home for most paid work). I see it as a risk of needing to purchase another camera very quickly after playing half a year with the Alexa without getting to do much real projects with it

The OP stated he wanted to learn, not do commercial shooting. 
 

On 5/15/2022 at 9:05 AM, Ryan Ivy said:

Currently, there are 3 of us that want to familiarize ourselves with professional workflows and form factors with equipment features that can be used in a professional setting. However, we are all adult students (had previous careers and are going back to school) and want to earn our stripes, put in our time, and apply our motivations to make beautiful work. This is currently personal work.

 

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Posted (edited)

then the best advice would probably be the one I use as a method when purchasing gear:

buy one piece of gear at a time. it forces you to think through what you really need when you need to evaluate every small piece of gear separately whether you really need it or not. After you have made the decision, only then you can choose the next piece of the kit.   Start from the lights, audio and grip gear. DON'T purchase the camera first! the camera body is the last piece of the kit you will purchase. And this way you will know how much money you actually have left for it so that the whole kit is in balance.

If the goal is only to do personal projects and not advance to professional productions any time soon, then the camera choice is less critical and even a non productive camera can be used with good results.

The resolution is not an issue generally. Fullhd can be a bit tricky nowadays when everything needs to be uhd or 4k distribution (even if just showing on youtube) and one needs to upscale it a lot if the original is fullhd. But generally everything over about 2.5k or 2.8k is very usable still because the resolution requirements are dependent on screen size and the screen sizes haven't changed that much in the last 10 years.

It is when you need to shoot something for a customer who pays for it when it becomes an issue to have a non optimal camera for the job. Later on, when advancing to bigger productions than the "indie practice films", people are not generally much interested about whether you shot your non budget indies on Alexa or some crappy dslr...  when doing paid work people are interested in what kind of PAID WORK you have done previously and what crew positions you actually did there with what results.

Any kind of paid work qualifies for more paid work whereas any kind of non paid work qualifies for more non paid work, no matter how good you are in using the 12 year old Alexa body on shoestring indie stuff or how many twisty non budget shorts you have made shown only on student festivals to 10 people...

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4 hours ago, aapo lettinen said:

buy one piece of gear at a time. it forces you to think through what you really need when you need to evaluate every small piece of gear separately whether you really need it or not. After you have made the decision, only then you can choose the next piece of the kit.   Start from the lights, audio and grip gear. DON'T purchase the camera first! the camera body is the last piece of the kit you will purchase. And this way you will know how much money you actually have left for it so that the whole kit is in balance.

 

Teach me your ways, sensei. You are a treasure trove of insight, thank for imparting your wisdom. I saw a couple of other people discuss lighting and g&e earlier and I’m beginning to see a theme. I have been totaling neglecting my lighting kit. I currently have 2x 650 and 2x 300 arri fresnels, corresponding barn doors, and more scrims than I know what to do with, 2 Mathew’s c-stands, and some decent manfrotto photography light stands. I have about a dozen large rolls of various warming, cooling, and diffusing gels at the moment.

What would you think are some affordable (or great used deals) options that could add to my kit to really add to production value? Would they be different suggestions for documentary, field work, or studio? What are excellent investments that just make a big difference in your experience? And are there any deals you’ve seen a trend on lately that people shouldn’t just walk away from because of their value?

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15 hours ago, M Joel W said:

For my paid work, even in post, I almost always shoot with an S1 6K HEVC and use a plug in to convert V Log to Log C. It's not as good, but it's awfully close. 

I’ve seen a handful of people discuss the S1. How do you like to rig your camera? Would you opt for something else right now? What type of lenses do you like for it? Thanks for all of your earlier comments. Also, any suggestions on g&e for must-haves or big difference makers? 

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18 hours ago, M Joel W said:

I almost bought a set of Cooke Speed Panchros – and kind of wish I had. I almost sold a 7-63mm Canon zoom and set of FD L lenses and am so far glad I didn't. 

I have seen some videos on the Cooke Kinetals, are they even worth looking at for something like the s1? Or would those even fit? If you had to choose 3 or 4 focal lengths, which would you have? I have been eyeballing the FD’s after a video I watched comparing them to the k35’s but didn’t know what sensors or mounts they would work with or could adapt to. There’s so much information out there and not all of it seems to be in one place. Hehe.

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18 hours ago, Tyler Purcell said:

People are literally giving away tungsten lights. I bought 6 lights during the pandemic for $500 bux. Got some stands for $50 bux. Add a few modern cheap battery powered LED lights for augmenting, maybe $1000 more in lighting total and you're good to go. We buy gel's on rolls and simply stick them in small frames instead of flags. All of that is cheap and folds up into a nice bag to carry around. Then I always carry around incandescent bulbs in 100W, 150W and 200W with me, including my own sockets with chimeras. All in all, I probably have $2k into lighting, so not a lot at all. 

I still don't understand the ideas of tight budgets/time constraints and lighting issues. Raising the ISO of your camera, does not solve lighting issues, it just makes your show look unprofessional.

One light is enough to augment MOST scenes anyway. Sure, complex night time interiors, require a bit more work, but are totally doable on a budget.  

Are there any particular brands to avoid? As far as LED lights go, are there anything that stands out and makes for an excellent investment? I generally like to buy quality used gear so I’m willing to spend more on lights that really make a big difference. I appreciate your insight about learning how to work around professional workflows. Are there any books or people to study in regards to workflows, lighting, framing, etc that have heavily influenced or inspired you and your philosophy on your work?

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Ryan Ivy said:

I’ve seen a handful of people discuss the S1. How do you like to rig your camera? Would you opt for something else right now? What type of lenses do you like for it? Thanks for all of your earlier comments. Also, any suggestions on g&e for must-haves or big difference makers? 

I don't really rig it up but if I were using it on a shoot I'd rent more AKS. Reflectors and some inexpensive Arri fresnels (and daylight balanced LEDs) is a nice kit. Lots of good lenses available. I like old Nikkors. You need an ND filter set (or variable ND) of course.

All this gear talk is funny because there is so much of it online, but at the high end no one cares as much. The most successful directors and even DPs will say "I dunno, I think it was K35s?" "Panavision Super Speeds, but because the PVintage wasn't available" etc. I used to think that was kind of flippant of them but it really doesn't matter as much as we think it does. It's a bit like asking a chef what brand of food he uses – it doesn't matter much to the chef so long as it's good enough, but we sometimes feel like using it will turn us into a chef? 

On the other hand the stuff I work on professionally is 95% Alexa and I have found myself really fond of certain lenses, unsurprisingly including the Cooke S2/S3s and Canon K35s. I wish I had a set of S2/S3s. The Primos, C series, etc. are my favorites too.

The F35 has a GREAT image fwiw. In some ways I prefer it to the Alexa.

 

1 hour ago, Ryan Ivy said:

I have seen some videos on the Cooke Kinetals, are they even worth looking at for something like the s1? Or would those even fit? If you had to choose 3 or 4 focal lengths, which would you have? I have been eyeballing the FD’s after a video I watched comparing them to the k35’s but didn’t know what sensors or mounts they would work with or could adapt to. There’s so much information out there and not all of it seems to be in one place. Hehe.

Kinetals only cover S16, and the 9mm only covers 16mm. So that would be okay for the crop mode in the P4K but not for an S1. And that might be a good option too? But probably not since those are old lenses and might need service or repair.

The FD lenses are really not bad at all (I prefer them to Nikkors usually) but they are massively overpriced right now and they can have mechanical issues.

I'm the DIY type but I think it's worth shadowing someone or getting on a bigger set before dropping $14k.

Personally I wish I had an Amira and Cooke S2/S3s. I have an Alexa and Schneider vintage lenses instead. They're fine but the Cooke Speed Panchros are imo where it's at. I would also be too afraid to take them on a shoot due to their value so maybe the Schneiders are okay. 😕 Cooke doesn't automatically equate to magic btw, I don't like their anamorphic lenses personally and the s5i seems clinical to me. I like the S4i and S2/S3, 20-60mm t3.1 zoom, 10-30mm t1.5 zoom, and the new S8is I think look nice to me too.

Vimeo is great because you can look up gear and see how it looks, but even then you need to train your eye a bit because you're STILL looking more at the cooking than the ingredients to extend the metaphor. You could see something with a color grade you like and think "oh I like that lens" and it's not that lens at all, or just a composition that's nice, etc. The video you posted looked great but there it's from a talented team who has a history of nice looking work. 

I'd start REALLY small with a little Arri kit and an S5 (they're like $1500 now) and some Nikkors and ND filters. 

Then try to get jobs on bigger and bigger sets. 

And eventually see where things meet the middle.

Or hire a crew. I'm trying to do that more myself. 

Edited by M Joel W
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20 minutes ago, Ryan Ivy said:

As far as LED lights go, are there anything that stands out and makes for an excellent investment? I generally like to buy quality used gear so I’m willing to spend more on lights that really make a big difference.

One should avoid buying LED lights used, as the LEDs become dimmer over the time and might also get a color cast.

In that sense lights that allow you to replace the actual light source (HMI, fluorescent, tungsten) are more preferable when buying used equipment. However, the issue with HMI and tungsten compared to LEDs is of course the heat and the size, which makes working with them slower. Many smaller teams prefer the newer high power LEDs for that reason (and no risk of UV or bulbs exploding).

Still, something like flicker free 1.2kW HMI can be very useful to own if you can't rent one but you have the space to store it and team to set it up. And if you know how to use one without harming yourself or others... 🙂

My suggestion is, before you go buying any expensive lights go make some project geographically closer to a rental company. Hire an experienced gaffer to take care of the lights. Learn from that person and observe what works for you.

Ultimately, however, I'm tempted to say: don't start your project by buying stuff. I know that I'm being boring, since buying stuff is nice and fun while working on a script or planning a project is just tedious work, but that way you'll more likely end up with an actual finished project and not just with expensive toys sitting on your shelf. Furthermore, if you have a very good story in your documentary, it really doesn't matter that much how many K's the sensor has or if the skin tones are silky smooth Arri Alexa® stuff.

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Yes led lights tend to turn dim and green when aging and even a 2 years old light can have issues depending on the type, usage and luck. So don't expect your very expensive led light to last 20 years... You can maybe manage with it for couple of years before it starts to age and then you start to hate the thing and it falls out of use even if you still keep it.

That said, leds can be amazing for some stuff, especially if you need to run them on battery power and rig to weird places quickly.

If purchasing leds I would concentrate on getting mid powered daylight stuff from about 150w to 600w range (led mats or cob) and the smaller internal battery led tubes (the 2ft tubes are a great balance between output, battery duration and size. 1ft is ok but the battery duration is short and I like to use other units instead the 1ft ones). If purchasing leds only purchase one piece of each type because versatility is the key advantage of them and you want different style of units in your kit.

So maybe start with a 2ft led tube and then when having used it a bit figure out what you want to have next?  The next one might be a daylight cob led from 150 to 600w depending on what you need. These two I know you will use all the time because them being very handy and you needing daylight all the time especially for having tungsten kit at the moment. The next might be a cheap-o flexible led mat, maybe from 100 to 150w or so. 

After these you may develop a need for bigger daylight units. That would still be used hmi nowadays. If needing bigger or more punchy tungsten one can try 2kw units and 1kw nsp or vnsp par cans. 

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15 minutes ago, aapo lettinen said:

Yes led lights tend to turn dim and green when aging and even a 2 years old light can have issues depending on the type, usage and luck. So don't expect your very expensive led light to last 20 years... You can maybe manage with it for couple of years before it starts to age and then you start to hate the thing and it falls out of use even if you still keep it.

the difference between a LED and a HMI in daylight use is that you buy the HMI light once and then it lasts for at least 20 or 30 years easily. If the HMI bulb ages you just change the bulb for 60 to 200usd and you are good to go for hundreds of more hours of shooting time. Same with tungsten: if the bulb goes bad you will just change the bulb and it costs 10 to 30usd. No need to buy a whole new light every 1000 burn hours or so.

With LED you may burn it couple of thousand hours and then it may be visibly dimmer and so green that you start to despise the thing. You cannot just change the Led chips inside the unit so you will need to purchase a whole new light instead for full price and it may be very difficult to get rid of the old green one unless you practically give it away for free.

It can become expensive if you whole lighting kit is led based and purchased at the same time (aging at the same time) so I would advice using a mix of led, hmi and tungsten instead, using leds only for stuff where their practical advantages outweight their lower power and limited lifespan and the possible much lower durability of led units in most cases (fragile connectors, more complicated electronics than on traditional lights, possibly worse quality cables, possibility to destroy leds if folding or transporting it the wrong way, possibly not sealed against moisture because that makes cooling problematic, etc) .

Hmi's can be got very affordably when being used older models and especially if they have magnetic ballasts so you get lots of daylight output for the buck. Hmi is mostly practical from 1.2k upwards and lower power lights are more practical being Led. Leds are easy to battery power, lightweight and easy to rig and adjust and remote control but they are relatively expensive, fragile and have limited lifespan which makes them more expensive to use. Tungsten is cheap and durable but your colour temperature span is more limited and they waste tons of power and generate lots of heat which becomes problematic on indoor shoots and when power is limited (like it almost always is)

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