“Your current camera isn’t good enough, you should wait until you get a nicer one.”
If anyone ever says this to you, they are an idiot.
There is this thing that annoys the crap out of me and it happens on almost every decent looking video on Youtube or Vimeo. It seems harmless, and I have even been guilty of this when I first started out.
“What camera did you use?”
Argh! Not only is this a slap in the face of whoever shot the video, but it shows a general misunderstanding of the way things work. As if buying the same camera will yield the same results for you. To be honest, if you can’t tell … it probably won’t matter what camera, lens, or brand of slider was used. The reason a video looks good is because someone put some thought into the way it was shot and that is what you should focus on—why it looks good.
I want you to consider something for a moment:
Let’s say you are learning to play the piano. You currently have this old electric keyboard and it doesn’t sound very good. To be honest, it sucks; the keys stick and everything you play on it sounds terrible. So you go out and purchase a 97 key Bösendorfer. It’s an internationally acclaimed thing of beauty. The sound is rich and full. The sympathetic resonances of the extra bass strings give it a voice that no other instrument has. After admiring this majestic construct of wire, wood, and iron, you sit down and place your fingers on the ivory keys. You begin striking the notes to what you hope will be your next multi-national chart-topping single. Instead the the only thing you hear are the all too familiar sounds of suck.
“But why? This piano is the best of the best! Should I have gotten the Steinway instead? Oh, God! What have I done?”
It’s a trap we all fall into at some point. We see all the big dogs using all this mouthwatering gear, and then we look at what it all produces and the assumption is “if I had that new Canon 5dmIII, I could make awesome films that look just like Philip Bloom’s” or “if only I had the rig that James Cameron has, I could make the next Avatar”. But that’s not how it works. These people you look up to didn’t just pick up a really expensive camera and get lucky. They have spent the better part of their career perfecting their craft. Not only that, but I guarantee that if you gave Cameron your iPhone he could still make a better film than some kid who just bought a RED Epic. Why? Because a great film has almost zero to do with the camera or equipment that is being used.
I’ll say this, and stone me if you want, but I feel that this is a truth we all need to deal with:
Your gear does not affect the quality of the story you’re trying to deliver. The more time you spend worrying about creating great impacting images, the more amazing images you will create.
Is gear bad?
… I can hear you asking. Of course not. The right gear just makes it easier, faster and more convenient to capture the results you need. However, you will never know what you really need unless you’re out there practicing.
I read a lot of blogs and forums and watch a ton of videos about cameras and video. I love reading about gear. I love drooling over all the new film tech. I may even have a small addiction to buying vintage lenses on ebay… I say this because I don’t think wanting or having gear is a bad thing. That is, unless it or the procurement of it disables you. If you find yourself waiting for that affordable 4k camera, or to have enough money for that wireless follow focus, instead of shooting, then you’re stunting yourself creatively. You need to be out there every chance you get, trying to perfect your craft. You need to be annoying your friends and conning them into being in your short films. Worrying about all the gear you need just makes your skills weak and anemic.
What do you expect to happen if you constantly hold off on filming your short because your camera isn’t good enough for your story?
I can tell you what’s going to happen, one of two things: you’re going to eventually give up on the dream because it feels too far away, or you’re finally going to get that camera and you’re not going to know how to use it, how to frame up a shot properly, how to convey emotion, or how to tell a coherent story. Then after seeing how much your story still sucks despite all that equipment, you give up on your dream.
You should be concentrating on being an impressive cameraman instead of a man that wields an impressive camera. The camera doesn’t matter as much as your ability to SEE and TELL your story. You need to be out there practicing and developing your storytelling vocabulary. Skills have to be earned, they can’t be bought. The awesome thing is practicing costs you nothing except time. Even if you’re shooting video on a Nokia 6630, you are still building skills that will be useful for creating compelling images on any camera you use.
A master pianist can make any piano sound amazing. They don’t need to be using a special “master” piano for their skills to shine. In fact, I bet a truly gifted pianist could make a herd of football players emotional with an untuned piano.
I will leave you with a Google image search on Ansel Adams, a man who spent the bulk of his career (from 1927-1984) shooting on stills cameras that would be considered ancient and outdated by most today, and yet he has shot some of the most amazing and breathtaking photographs that rival the millions of images uploaded online everyday.