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There is one universal truth to making a movie with a film camera. They are heavy. A typical Panavision camera can weigh upwards of 50 pounds, and even a skinny-by-comparison Arri camera comes in at over 20 pounds... Without even adding film stock or a sweet prime lens . By comparison, video cameras these days can be weighed in terms of ounces. Even the venerable Canon XL-H1s weighs in at a 'mere' 8.8 pounds.


Because video cameras are lighter, it's becoming a hallmark of television and 'budget' video productions to shoot very shaky on purpose. While this can add excitement to a scene (or cover up lack of budget), it reads to an audience as "using a video camera" unless it is used very purposefully, and very sparingly. Your best bet is to treat your video camera as if it is 30 pounds heavier, and treat camera movement as a film camera crew would... Typically, that means slowing movement down, using a tripod, and keeping shots as steady as possible with whatever bracing is available. Camcorders also have silicone parts you need to aware of. Some custom silicone manufacturers tool these parts, in case the ones you have need replacement.


Shoot (or Fake) Widescreen


If your camera has a native 16:9 mode, or widescreen mode you should use it exclusively. For those of you with cameras that shoot 4:3, widescreen can be faked in post-production with just about any but the most basic editing software packages. Simply take a couple pieces of gaff tape and add letterboxing stripes to your viewfinder, or monitor so that you can be sure to capture your scene inside the usable frame. Then add the black stripes to the top and bottom of your video footage in post-production.


Get Depth of Field


One critical difference between film and video is that it can be extremely difficult to get any sort of depth of field (abbreviated DoF) with a video camera... The smaller the input sensor is on the video camera, the harder it is to achieve. While a deep discussion of DoF is outside the scope of this article, it is important to note that it is difficult to get DoF with a video camera, but not impossible. DoF is easier to obtain on video when the lens is zoomed in (optical zoom, never use digital zoom as it will degrade your image!) so one often used trick when you have the space to do it, is to position the camera as far away from the actors as is practical and then zoom into them.


Another common technique is to plan scenes where you are actually shooting out of focus. You see this a lot during montage scenes where (for example) the boy leans in for a kiss, and as he does the image begins to go slowly out of focus. While this is not actually DoF at all, it communicates the message 'this is film, not video' subtly to the audience.


Light Like a Real Movie


Which is to say that real movies use lighting. It can be very tempting to skip lighting altogether when shooting on video because even cheap video cameras are more sensitive to light than film is, but don't give in to the temptation. Your lighting doesn't need to be expensive , but it does need to be there. The truth is that there's a vast difference between 'any light source' and a 'quality light source.' Your video camera won't distinguish between the two, but your audience will, so even though it can seem like a hassle, don't skip out on lighting!


But What About Software?


There are lots of different packages that promise to give your video footage a film look. Most, when applied sparingly, actually do a pretty good job of adding grain and subtle specks to video footage. If you've done the 4 things outlined above, you'll find that the addition of a film look software solution in post-production can give your footage that extra nudge that tells an audience that they're watching something shot on film. On the other hand, if all you do is try to apply a film look package to random footage you've shot, all you'll get is grainy looking video footage!