Getting the Shot: Why you don’t need Full Frame

on September 3, 2014

I’m going to start off this post by stating for the record how much I love full frame.
The 5DMKII was a game changing camera, and the 5DMKIII is such a playground for filmmakers.

That being said, I get asked this question all the time: Do I need a a 5D to start filmmaking?
Absolutely not.

I will even add on top of that: there are more people with a 5d that know almost nothing about filmmaking than people with t2i’s.

I am astonished at how many “photographers” I meet that have a 5D with a kit lens (the 24-105) and just shoot on auto.
This is the problem with modern cameras- they are so good, they take a lot of the machinations out of the photographer’s hands.
There is a mentality- and I hate to say it, but it came from Apple- that people want everything to “just work”. They want the machines to do the work. THe 24-105 has image stabilization, so you don’t need a tripod or even need to worry too much about shutter speed. The lens is fast ENOUGH to get you the shots for editorial or filmwork, and the low-light sensitivity will make up the rest. It’s a camera package with all the right elements to make the process a no-brainer.

And you don’t need it.
The purchase price of this package is $3999.00 from B&H right now.
I want to say this again: the 5DMKIII is an awesome machine and it will shoot hi-def RAW using Magic Lantern. If I were going to shoot a feature with DSLR’s I would get a couple of 5D bodies and shoot in RAW and just keep switching them out to avoid overheating. It’s a great way to get production quality up there with the big boys. Add on an external recorder and you have a very formidable set-up.
Indeed, this became the indie filmmakers package of choice for so many shoots.
And when you are budgeting an independent film- this is how I would go. Because most of the time, your camera consists of only about 1% of your total budget for your film.
Now for the rest of the time you are shooting, you are either footing the bill yourself, or you have put in a bid for a project that you are producing. You should not- in any way- feel that you have to be shooting full frame in order to get the footage you need.

There is a clip going around the internet right now HERE

that exposes exactly how minute the differences are between APS-C and full frame.
Yes- sensor size matters. It’s so much more important than megapixels. One of the great innovations of the Sony A7S is that it intentionally only has 12 MP compared to its 36mp a7r brother.
THe reason for this has to do with the the size of the photosites. Fewer megapixels to capture means the photosites can be larger and more sensitive to light. This is why the a7s is basically able to shooting the dark with iso that approach half a MILLION.
A larger sensor means a shallower depth of field- which is why your dslr looks better than your point and shoot and your iphone.
But the difference between full frame and APS-C does not change the process of filmmaking nearly as much as the jump from a point&shoot to an APS-C.

For video- the benefits of full frame become even more specious.
APS-C is very close to Super 35, which is what many film crews use. The look, the lenses- all of that will be more equivalent on an APS-C sized sensor.

The only compelling reason I can think of where you would NEED to go 5D instead of an APS-C would be for RAW AND you need it to be in 1080p. Still, there are less expensive ways to get RAW (the BMPCC comes to mind). Shooting in RAW is a great thing- perhaps even the best thing to come out of Magic Lantern. But the need for 1080 RAW is a little overplayed.

99% of what all DSLR shooters capture will find a home on the web, and once the online compression takes hold, and the footage is played back through whatever mobile device- the difference between 1080 and 720 is negligible.

The lower end models can come shoot in these lower resolutions, and upscaling raw footage does not have nearly the detrimental effect you would imagine it to.
You can do more with less.
Lack of equipment is not holding you back- but too much equipment might be.

I took an acting class with a phenomenal teacher back in my college days at NYU.
She had a piece of advice that has affecting a lot of my artistic decision to this day.
“Don’t say the words until you need it. Until there is no other way for you to do it than to have to say the words.”
That’s great advice for filmmakers. DOn’t buy gear until you HAVE to. I remember doing a shoot and having to stabilize everything in post because it was all handheld. “If I had a steadicam, I could have gotten 2 more shots.” THat’s how I learned.
Shooting in natural light presents the same situation. For most of the time- its great. But at some point- probably every early, you will need to shape and control the light in some way. Having a reflector on hand will make a HUGE difference to your shoot. And if you can’t get an assistant- a light stand and a boompole reflector holder goes a long way- and will save you from extra overhead.

The price barrier for filmmaking is at the lowest it has ever been in my lifetime.
For $500, you can get a camera with an APS-C sized sensor,a monopod, a 50mm 1.8, a zoom h1, and cheap shotgun or lav mic.
Most of these things will need to be upgraded at some point in the future, but the difference in production value between this package and a full-frame package would be maybe %15, IF your audience could even tell a difference.
The difference in price would be in the thousands.

You what you do: make movies.
Take picture.
THIS is the only proven way to get better not through equipment. Take classes- make a short film.
I can tell you that what I spent on my first film out of school taught me more than all the MANY thousands that I spent at Tisch- and Tisch was a GREAT school. I can’t say enough good things about it.
But this is an industry and an art where you learn by doing.

So go out there and shoot.