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Spoilt for Choice
The Accessibility of Digital Film Making
Written by Phil Wainman.

Bradford 1932. Three men, Norman Scott, Calvin Tempest and Percy Schofield held an open meeting in Calvin's Barbers shop for anyone interested in cinematography and film making. This was the beginning of the Bradford Cine Circle, the film making club which is now known as the Bradford Movie Makers. It was a very different time. The only way to capture a moving image was on a roll of film and film was expensive, not only to buy but also to develop. It's fair to say, that film making was a hobby for the wealthy and not easily accessible to people who were poor.

Now wind forward to 1999, the year that I bought my first Digital Camcorder (*1). It was small (by 1999 standards) and recorded Standard Definition digital video on to little cassettes. This in turn could be digitally transferred to a computer with a special Firewire cable, ready to be digitally edited. It really was the start of the digital revolution and the point when many Amateur film-makers gained access to similar tools and techniques to those the professionals were using.

At this point, there were three categories of cameras. The small handheld camcorders which were aimed at consumers, the larger broadcast cameras that were used for TV and the celluloid film cameras that were used for cinema production (*2). Film was king, when it came to quality and that cinematic look. Digital quickly became the choice for TV and low budget amateur film-making. There was little crossover.

Now fast forward to 2021. Standard Definition has been replaced by High Definition and Ultra High Definition. We now have Camcorders, DSLRs, Mirrorless Cameras (*3), Bridge Cameras, Compact Cameras, Action Cameras, Mobile Phones and Digital Cinema Cameras, all capable of shooting high quality digital video (*4). Gone are the days of tapes, with memory cards being a fast and efficient way to record and transfer data. It's fair to say, now we really are spoilt for choice. As digital camera technology has improved, it has also become much cheaper, with budget cameras making film-making more accessible to people with little disposable income. In fact many new film-makers will make their first films with the mobile phones they all ready have in their pockets (*5).

It's not just Amateur film-makers who have benefited from the vast improvements in digital technology. Where digital was once considered cheap and synthetic looking, it can now match the natural and organic look of film. In fact many would argue that the best digital cameras are better than film, with the majority of motion pictures now being shot digitally. The lines between TV production and cinema have also blurred, with many TV dramas being shot on the same high end digital cinema cameras that are used for Cinema. Long gone are the days when the job of a cinematography was different to the job of a Broadcast TV camera operator.

So, if you've ever wanted to try your hand at film-making, now is the most accessible it's ever been. Things have come on a long way since 1932 and you don't have to be wealthy to make your own films.


(*1) I'm skipping the old Analogue Camcorders because I never owned one and that's a blurry story for someone else to tell.

(*2) There were still some UK TV programs being shot on 16mm film back in 1999, but not many. Midsummer Murders was one, with it's first seven series being shot on 16mm film. There were also some brave film-makers who were experimenting with digital cinema, but at this point the quality of digital did not match the quality of film and Movies shot on digital formats were quite rare.

(*3) I often get asked, what's the difference between DSLRs and Mirrorless Cameras? The longer more complex answer is that DSLRs have a little flip up mirror, which allows Photographers (not video shooters) to use a small optical eye piece to compose their photos. Because video requires a constant line of sight between the lens and the cameras sensor, the mirror has to be flipped up out of the way when in video mode, meaning the eye piece can not be used for video. Mirrorless cameras on the other hand, have done away with the mirror completely and instead have another smaller screen inside the eye piece. My shorter less complex answer would be, that Mirrorless Cameras are what DSLRs have evolved in to and that they will eventually replace DSLRs completely.

(*4) High quality video is a relative term. The video quality of a compact camera (not all compact cameras even shoot video) is unlikely to match the quality of a more expensive Mirrorless camera or DSLR. By the same token, most Mirrorless cameras and DSLRs won't match the quality of a high end Digital Cinema Camera, the type of camera which is designed with Professional Cinematography in mind.

(*5) I've heard a lot of hype recently from mobile phone companies (especially the one named after a piece of fruit), who are claiming the video from their latest phones, equals that of high end video cameras. Yes, if we believe these claims, Hollywood are about to dump all their Arri Alexa Cinema Cameras in the nearest skip and start shooting their big budget blockbusters on their mobile phones. Of course, it's complete and utter nonsense. Bare in mind that the companies who make these mobile phones, don't make DSLR and Mirrorless cameras. It's in their best interest to try and sell you their most expensive mobile phone, with the bluff that it's the greatest camera ever made. To be fair, the quality of mobile phone cameras have improved an impressive amount, but they still lack the quality and more importantly, the versatility of an interchangeable lens camera.

9 Febuary 2021


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