January 31, 2022

You DON’T NEED a “Full Frame” Cinema Camera

5 Reasons You DON’T need a “FULL FRAME” Cinema Camera

The Sony Fx9, Fx6, F3, A7s3… 3 of which have the same sensor… The c500mkii, The Panasonic S1H, The Alexa LF, The Red Monstro and now Raptor, the Kinefinity Mavo Edge… You get the point. Large format, Vista vision, Full frame (Stills full frame! I don’t consider super 35 to have a crop for cinema, it’s the traditional standard don’t crucify me). Anyway, large format has not just arrived but is now a widely available standard available to filmmakers at all levels… and low budget filmmakers stand to benefit from bucking the trend and sticking with Super35… Whaaaaaaaat?????

Reason 1:
Independent filmmakers stand to benefit from Super 35 cameras going for lower prices as they don’t fit the hot “full frame” trend.

Quite simply because the full frame trend is so strong right now and companies recognise it as a new way to sell us stuff, a lot of still very good used Super 35 cameras like the Arri Alexa, Red Epic’s, Scarlets and Heliums (and I know some of these are slightly larger than super 35) anyway they’re going for considerably cheaper prices on the used market then they were just a year or two ago and they’re still outstanding motion picture cameras, each with different key strengths. We’ve owned a Scarlet-MX and a Scarlet-w and loved them. LOVED THEM. We picked up a used Arri Alexa Classic for 5 grand US with around 800 hours on it, 8 memory cards Pl and EF mount earlier this year. That’s become our main narrative camera, with a mix of Blackmagic cameras including the Ursa G2 and 6k pro being our main corporate work cameras.

Have you noticed that Super 35 cameras are not really any brands flagship cinema camera anymore, except of course for the Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro 12k which can be had at the bargain price of 6k US. That’s insane!!! Would it sell for that price if it was full frame? Not likely!

If you look at the other manufacturers, full frame is carrying the Flag. RED now has its Large format Raptor to the S35 (global shutter) and much cheaper Komodo, Arri has the Alexa LF to the S35 Alexa Mini, Canon the more expensive c700FF to the c700 Super 35, and the c500mkii full frame to s35 c300mkiii. Sony interestingly has gone full frame crazy from the A7s to the FX6,9 and the Venice.

If you’re buying new, you can have a really high quality super35 digital cinema camera for considerably less then a full frame one.

What’s not unexpected and wonderful to hear from the likes of Arri (god rays music) is that, and I quote ““We at ARRI believe in Super 35. Not everybody will shoot Large Format/Full Frame. Many productions, in particular on TV, will remain with Super 35 for the foreseeable future. Therefore, we are also working on a dedicated Super 35 4K camera (not LF), further increasing the choices for cinematographers”.

The key here is choice.

And if we can get past the hype, the fomo, the thinking that the camera gear is going to magically make our work twice as good, we can see that large format is just that, a choice, a tool. And it’s a great one to have. But there’s saving to be had, and underappreciated benefits to sticking with Super 35.

Now don’t expect Arri’s Super 35mm 4k camera to be a budget option, one can dream, but there’s outstanding new and used super35 digital cinema cameras out there offering incredible bang for your buck for filmmaking, not content production.. I mean that too I guess but for the purposes of this video I’m talking about narrative filmmaking – written scenes with actors.

I think today the undoubtable best value s35 cinema camera is the BMPCC 6k pro which has an S35 sensor, Dual Native ISO, about 13 stops of dynamic range, a bright articulating OLED screen, internal ND’s, two mini XLR inputs, takes cheap Sony NP570 batteries, 3 if you add the battery grip (which I’d thoroughly recommend) And records 4k prores or 6k braw and it includes Davinci Resolve for $2500. No autofocus, no ibis. Great tools for content production, not traditionally used for narrative filmmaking so a non-issue in my opinion for that purpose.

Honestly if I were a young filmmaker today that’s the camera I’d buy. Yes it has a slow read speed so no whip pans, but at that price and feature set and that image it’s a no brainer IMO even if just as a bcam.

I think the c300mkiii is an interesting one. It’s MUCH cheaper than the c500 mkii (5k less) and offers more dynamic range and higher frame rates of 120fps whilst the c500mkii max’s out at 60.

Well if you can afford both more power to you.

Reason 2:
Over the top shallow depth of field can be impractical for narrative filmmaking

I’m not going to lie, I love the shallow DOF aesthetic and full frame makes this easier to achieve, you don’t have to open up the aperture as much to where a lenses weaknesses – softness, chromatic aberration and other issues may start to rear their head… Or you can just shoot wide open and achieve a look you simply can’t on Super35. You also don’t need to shoot on as wide a lens to get the FOV you want which can mean less distortion. I find this dreamy look is often received well for branded content work when you’re just trying to make things pretty and portrait like all the time – but far out trying to keep actors moving around a scene in focus even at T2 can be a fucking challenge for a really good AC.

A shallow depth of field can often be a nice cover for poor or non-existent production design, or poor composition. When things are a bit clearer it forces you to get your shit together in other areas. Also, less takes are wasted because it’s not a one in ten chance that your AC can nail the timing and depth of every focus pull in that one shot short film you’re planning on getting over 402 clicks with.

To put it bluntly, shooting wide open can look cool but it’s often impractical especially on independent productions when you’re stretched for money, time, sleep and personnel.

Reason 3:
Cheaper Lenses

Super 35 cinema Lenses are finally starting to drop in price a bit too! (And APSC still lenses are generally cheaper than their full frame counterparts anyway). We just picked up the Sony CineAlta Primes V2 (the metal ones, in mint condition) for less than 9k USD. That’s x6 PL lenses with excellent optical performance, t2, color matched, all the same length bar the 135mm with 240 degree focus rotation across the set… Their just heavy asfk and have no brand recognition, but we don’t rent out our gear so that’s not an issue for us. If you’re interested in a dedicated video on the Cinealta Primes version 2, let me know in the comments and let me know what you want to know or see.

Point is there’s bargains to be had out there on the used market and because “full frame” is all the rage there’s some excellent deals to be had for glass that was never designed to cover a larger than super 35 sensor. Many filmmakers deem them not “future proof” and are therefore more reluctant to buy and it’s for that reason I think that’s bringing prices down a notch.

Not to mention there’s a plethora of cinema glass designed for s35 available to rent or buy as it’s been the standard for cinema for so long.

I haven’t used them yet but the DZO Pictor Zooms can be had for $5200 US covering you at T2.8 from 20mm – 125mm. That’s nuts! Okay they’re big and heavy but you’re not going to get parfocal LF coverage of that range at that price.

Reason 4:
There’s so much more to the final image (than the camera)

In a world where cinema cameras depreciate in value faster than cars, saving money on a large format flagship camera purchase (and yes I know there’s some great value “full frame” options like the S1H, A7s 3, the FX6 and 9 but generally speaking, when available, s35 counterparts are cheaper)…  

Where was I? Oh yeah, saving money on a high end full frame purchase can free up funds to spend on other things that matter more than the camera, considering even a $2500 camera can create spectacular images in the right hands… those things being – lights, diffusion, flags, stands, lenses, grips equipment. Or for an Indie film, camera costs saved in the budget either from camera rental or purchase frees up money to spend on things that go in front of the camera like makeup artists, better costumes and more investment in production design.

Also don’t underestimate what a great colorist (which costs money) can do with a well exposed, lit and composed scene regardless of the camera providing it’s shot in a decent codec, ideally but not necessarily raw.

Reason 5:
Large Format wont make your film “better”

Make no mistake I think having large format capture as an option, a tool, available to us is AWESOME. I genuinely adore it, I’m just trying to make the case for independent productions and production houses there’s huge benefits to bucking the trend. The Joker, The Revenant, The Hateful 8 70mm film, TDK IMAX) these are incredible films that large format capture from the Alexa LF – Alexa 65 and 70mm film was a perfect fit for. But for low budget filmmaking, I think s35 still allows for more than enough of a shallow depth of field and widens the list of available lens options, both to hire or purchase, whether that be adapted APSC stills lenses like Sigmas hugely popular 18-35 and its Cinema counterpart or more expensive s35 cinema rental options from the likes of Cooke, Zeiss and others.

This may just be me but I see large format being a tool I’d use more in commercial work where I’m seeking that very shallow DOF that clients think is really cinematic.

It’s an aesthetic that can look really, really good. But I find when I’m in a really good location, or the composition is really strong I kind of want to see it – not as sharp as the talent, but I don’t want it to be swirly mush either.

And this is coming from a guy who shoots handheld slow motion lens flare filled content wide open on Zeiss ZF primes all the time, chromatic aberration be damned.

If you’re like me, you make corporate or commercial content for a living, and the cameras you buy are also going to be used on your passion projects too. And if those projects are narrative films with actors then sticking with Super 35 instead of chasing the current trend may prove fruitful, for the vast array of available lens choices as well as the incredible deals to be had in the new and used market for both Super 35 cameras and lenses.

Those with a focus fixed on the stories they’re helping tell rather than the desire to have the newest large format cinema beast (as brilliant as they are) potentially stand to save a lot of cash by sticking with the tried and true classic 35mm format.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Ready to start a new video project?
Send us a message and we’ll get back to you ASAP

Discuss Your Project