Pratik’s Holiday 2012 DSLR Videography Buying Guide

First of all, for anyone who is not about to graduate in the next quarter or two, I recommend buying Canon. Both the Triton TV studio and Comm/VisArts departments use Canon.  Shooting Canon opens up both these lens collections for you to experiment with. Plus for video Canon is still king. While Sony’s and Nikons have comparable options,  Canon has been offering video for the longest amount of time, and they have the best support system for video. If you are planning on focusing on Photography, Nikon and Sony offer great alternatives. However the advantage with buying a Canon body is LENSES. Canon bodies are adaptable to most current lens on the market, however Canon lenses will only work properly with Canon bodies.

Now there are three major options when it comes to buying high end consumer/prosumer cameras.

  1. Crop Sensor- Crop Sensors currently make up the bulk of your DSLR options. They have a physically smaller sensor compared to Full Frame cameras. This results in reduced low light performance and focal lengths must be multiplied by a factor of 1.6 in order to know the real focal length (A 50mm lens is actually the equivalent of a 80mm on crop sensor cameras). What these cameras loose in low light performance, they more than make up for with reduced weight and price.
    1. 7D - For a brief moment the 7D was the best option on the market for videographers. However as cheaper options became available the choice became blurred. The 7D offers the same crop sensor as the 60D albeit in a stronger weather proof body. For photographers the 7D also offers more AF points….but you shouldn’t be relying on those anyways! The 7D also features a slightly faster processor compared to the 60D, but this is something most users won’t really notice at all.
      With the 7D you are also missing the articulated LCD from the 60D.
      Because there are now cheaper options on the market…I would only recommend this body if you can find a great used deal, you are clumsy as fuck and always drop your shit, or you have a super annoying superiority complex and just have to be a little bit better than everyone else….you know to put them in their place.
      (The Panasonic GH2 often comes up as a alternative for this model because they were release around the same time, however the GH2 had documented compression issues when it comes to video, I’ve been told this is fixable with a hack, however having a hacked camera malfunction on set looks pretty unprofessional.)
    2. T3iTechnically this model has been replaced by the T4i, however the only improvement the T4i offers over the T3i is a gimmicky touchscreen interface….everything important has remained the same. So rather than spending an extra 200-300 dollars, I recommend buying the T3i.
      The Ti Series are Canon’s entry level DSLR’s, they feature small form factors and light all plastic bodies. One big annoyance of this model however is the lack of dedicated Aperture control wheel when shooting manual. Overall this option sacrifices some features and ergonomics in favor of a smaller form factor and price. Newbies won’t notice these missing features, but pros will find themselves getting frustrated.
      This is my recommendation if you are just starting out, but still want to buy a new camera.
    3. T2i - Although this camera is now two generations old, if you are starting out and low on cash, you will likely find awesome deals on this model used. This is going to be your cheapest option to start shooting 1080p (at 24p and 30p). This video interface on this camera isn’t as polished as the T3i and you are still missing the dedicated aperture control. Also the T2i has an older sensor but similar processor compared to the T3i. Those with keen eyes wil notice worse low light performance compared to the T3i.
    4. 60DThe 60D acts as a marriage between the Ti Series and the more robust 7D. With this camera you get a dedicated aperture wheel, more robust (partially) magnesium body, larger articulating LCD, larger battery, optional battery grip, manual white balance selection, and more. You also get a better sensor and processor compared to the Ti series this results in improved low light performance, especially for photographers.
      For crop sensors this is currently the best all around option on the market.
    5. *T3 – Just stay away from this camera, avoid it like its a disease. This is basically the T3i with gutted video options. It is so useless it doesn’t even deserve a bold title.
  2. Full Frame- Full Frame cameras are your low light kings. Full Frame is where Canon’s video technology really shines; and if you know how to use them properly they produce absolutely beautiful images. However, lets be real….If you are referring to this guide you’re probably not ready for a full frame camera yet. However if you want to future proof yourself, you shoot photography, you have wealthy relatives, or if you can find a kick-ass deal on a used camera then this is definitely an option you should consider.
    1. 5D Mark IIThis was the camera that kicked off the DSLR revolution. It was the first DSLR to allow photographers to shoot 1080p in 24p and 30p. Since its introduction, the Mark II been used on professional film sets around the world, including big budget productions like Iron Man 2. That being said, this camera was designed with photography in mind first. Video on this camera is basically a half-baked feature that Canon decided to include (they improved it with the subsequent 7D, 60D, 5Dm3, etc).
      Because this model has been replaced with the newer Mark III you can find some kick-ass deals on this camera, making this your cheapest full frame option.
    2. 5D Mark IIIThe replacement to the old king. First of all this is a very expensive option you should only consider if you know what the fuck you are doing (pardon my french…bitch). It offers a few unique features pros will appreciate; for example you can shoot to two cards at the same time so you automatically have a back up of your footage/photos and you get a programable multifunction button by the shutter. The Mark III has a beastly 22MP sensor and dual core processor. This give photographers and videographers some pretty amazing low light performance. But of course all this comes with a huuuge price! Even with holiday pricing be prepared to drop 3300 on this clunker.
    3. 6D - My recommendation for Full Frame (if you are buying one brand new.) Set to be released by Canon on December 10th. The 6D is basically a 7D with the 5D Mark III’s processor and a slightly less powerful 20.5MP sensor. The drop in performance is really only to get ignorant hussies to upgrade to the Mark III once this body is released. This is the best value option if you are trying to get into Full Frame. For $1200 less than the Mark III you get a Full Frame camera with a few cool(but also kinda gimmicky) bonuses like built in GPS(for automatic geotagging of footage) and built in WiFi(for automatic transfer of files and remote control via smartphone). Even though it is cheaper, still be prepared to drop $2100 and don’t expect any special holiday discounts off that price seeing as it is a brand new body.
  3. Mirrorless – The newest technology on the market. Technically this camera isn’t a DSLR, however it is meant to be Canon’s answer to Micro 4/3 models from other companies. Canon doesn’t actually offer a camera with a Micro 4/3s sensor, instead if offers the EOS M. The EOS M offers users an compact mirror-less body with a APS-C Crop Sensor (same sensor size found in the Ti series, 60D and 7D). One annoying thing about this camera is you have to buy a $200 adapter to use regular canon lenses, but with the adapter you still retain full electronic control of the lenses (which you cannot normally do with Canon lenses on adapters).EOS M makes up for this inconvenience with its extremely small form factor. If you planning on traveling a lot OR need a camera that is inconspicuous for documentary work this is your best option.

This would also makes a great secondary camera to compliment a Full Frame camera on shoots for those of you looking for a backup (and if you’ze a rich betch who can afford a brand new camera as a backup).

Hopefully this helps anyone trying to decide which model to buy. Happy Shooting!

– Pratik Shah

Learning from “The Hurt Locker”

Just finished watching The Hurt Locker and although it was a good film it wasn’t an amazing film. I do feel, however, that I got a lot out of it despite that not much was in it to begin with. This made me realize that it’s amazing how many things people experience and how little they take away from them. People have so many experiences all the time, but the more I talk to them the more it seems that they’re not realizing “the point.” By the point I mean something meaningful, anything meaningful really.

For instance, The Hurt Locker is about three soldiers who are defusing bombs in Iraq. Now that’s not a synopsis of everything that happens but put plainly, that’s the jist of it. It seems like a mediocre plot, but somehow it brought up a really important idea to me: Perspective. This film really changed my perspective on my situation at the moment, which seemed pretty bad. Before I saw this film I was concentrating on the little problems in my life, school stuff, career stuff, relationship stuff, etc. After seeing this film, however, all these little problems that had previously added up into a full blown dilemma, suddenly became nothings. Four midterms are nothing compared to four bullets, to four wounded, to four dead human beings. If you compare my life to the life of a soldier, well there is no comparison.

Many times it is easy to lose perspective on what really matters in life, and as cliche as that sounds we still keep doing it over and over again. So the lesson is twofold. First of all, keep a wider perspective when it comes to life’s little problems. The wider the lens you view them from the smaller they will appear. And, secondly, don’t waste anything at its face value, think upon it, build upon it, and make something out of it.


Wanna Know How to Tell a Story? Watch “The Walking Dead”

Two summers ago I interned at Valhalla Motion Pictures. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a production company headed by Gale Anne Hurd. And if you don’t know who she is, take a minute to edumacate yourself here. Among her credits are as producer of Aliens, Armageddon, and both Hulk films. One of James Cameron’s earliest collaborators, she shared writing credits, as well as producer credits, on The Terminator. The freakin Terminator. Lady knows her stuff.

Anyway, the company sort of specializes in producing films and TV series based off of graphic novels, comic books, and the like. While I was interning there, they had a project up on the big board in the works. It was titled The Walking Dead. Frank Darabont, of The Shawshank Redemption fame, was the series creator. Gale Anne Hurd wanted to produce. No pilot script had been finished yet. No stars attached. On that strength alone it had been picked up by AMC. During my time there, I didn’t get to see much in the way of development of that series, but from that long ago I could not wait to watch it when it aired.

Two years later, and I’ve just devoted the past two nights of my life to watching the entire first season of The Walking Dead. It’s a 6 episode season, half the number of normal episodes usually ordered for an established premium cable television series. But man, what they do in 6 episodes, most network series can’t accomplish in a full 24. It’s as wonderfully written as it is shot, and for an upstart storyteller like myself, it’s the perfect example to take from of how to take a badass concept and weave some real emotional heart into the sucker.

What sets The Walking Dead apart from most other series is, in my opinion, it’s ability to find the human truth in every single circumstance. No matter how fictional or fantastical a situation may be, at the end of the day, you are telling stories for a human audience, and raw human emotion is what all anyone will ever connect to. That’s why, for instance, you can have a far greater investment in characters fighting off zombies than you might for desperate housewives cheating on their partners. It doesn’t matter whether or not one situation is more realistic than another, what matters is which one of those instances feels more emotionally honest. In this respect, The Walking Dead is head and shoulders above many more shows airing today.

In terms of the power of cinematic narrative, The Walking Dead is a great example of the difference between having a camera tell a story than anything else. In the pilot episode, there begins the introduction of the audience to the zombie apocalypse with a 5 minute non-dialogue sequence. In this moment, our hero wakes in the hospital from a coma, and he sets out to make his way home, discovering what the world has come to along the way. During his whole journey home, perhaps four words total are said, and for a solid 5 minutes, we watch in dialectic silence as the world around us is slowly, powerfully revealed onscreen. From the use of juxtaposition, to the rhythm of the shots, and the exposition of subject matter, every single layer is peeled back, emphasizing and simultaneously enlarging the sheer magnitude of the catastrophe.

Through no other medium of storytelling other than film is a silence such as this so powerful. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then moving pictures are like those one thousand words being screamed by the most eloquent banshees you ever heard. As a filmmaker, it’s a glorious piece of cinematic achievement to behold.

And as a screenwriter, reading the pilot teleplay is like seeing that “A” paper the smart little punk wrote in your 8th grade English class while you were toiling away with a “C-“. Everything you might have learned about writing, or read about writing, is executed in such a way that you fully understand the meaning of how it’s accomplished. Wanna know how to best use white space? It’s right there. Wanna see how to write the tone and tempo of a scene onto the page? You got it. This day in age, it’s all to easy to do a search for screenplays online and get them for free, legally. The insane copyright laws that exist for the finished products of music and movies don’t yet extend to the scripts themselves. So if you’re looking into getting into the filmmaking business, do yourself a favor and get while the getting’s good. Search for some movies you like and download their screenplays. Learn from them. And then expand upon the knowledge they give you.

In screenwriting, the first exercise you’re given is to write a short, dramatic, non-dialogue scene. It all started with silent films, and if you can’t translate the drama of your piece without dialogue, forget trying to make your scene seem authentic with it. If you want to know how to write an amazing non-dialogue sequence, read pages 13-20 of The Walking Dead pilot. If you want to know how to tell an amazing story onscreen, read the rest of that pilot script. Then watch the actual show. Or vice-versa. Either way, you can’t go wrong.


Happy Shooting,

Kevin Matthew Reyes