The Age of DSLR Cinematography

DSLR cinematography (the practice of cinematography using relatively inexpensive DSLR camera bodies, which were originally purposed for still photography) has been enjoying a sort of minature renaissance over the last few years.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Shane Carruth’s new movie, Upstream Color, was shot entirely on a DSLR body. The information I’ve been reading indicates that he used a Panasonic GH2 DSLR body, with a few lenses, including the Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 (which I highly recommend). It scored at Sundance, and if it hadn’t been for a few “behind the scenes” photos, it might not have been quite that apparent.

Of course, Carruth also ended up using some Voigtlander glass, which is by no stretch of the imagination cheap/affordable for cash-strapped indie filmmakers. There’s an interesting write-up on the whole thing at EOSHD.

There’s a reason why I bring up “Upstream Color” – and it’s a point that I’ve been trying to make, off and on, for the past year or so. That film grossed over 300k dollars at the box office, and was shot on a small, inexpensive camera body. Still, it produced stunning visuals and did not seem to suffer from most of the “fatal flaws” that most seem to ascribe to DSLR cinematography, in general. The point, boiled down to its most essential component, is that the most important piece of equipment you’ve got is between your forehead and your nose. You can’t buy your way into it, and you can’t just assume that if you own it, you can shoot as well as cinematographer X who has the current successful movie on the big screen.

Whether or not you’re a big fan of “Act of Valor” or the “Fast and Furious” franchise, you can still appreciate Shane Hurlbut’s extensive use of Canon EOS 5D mk III bodies. He has had a series of posts on his blog praising not only the relative inexpensive nature of the 5D bodies, but also their versatility.

For every person who says “I shoot on the RED ONE” and produces sub-standard output, or bemoans not being able to afford an ARRI which would “really make a beautiful movie” – I call foul on that entire argument. Even contending with a more limited dynamic range (a common DSLR problem), a top resolution of 1080p for shooting, and mostly commodity lenses, Carruth managed to produce something beautiful. It’s not down to the equipment you buy, folks, it’s how you use it.

Good luck.