Small Cameras Make a Big Difference on Movies Like ‘Green Inferno’

Although the cinematography world breathlessly awaits large-format, 65mm projects such as Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “The Revenant,” which was shot digitally by Emmanuel Lubezki on the new Alexa 65 camera system, and Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful 8,” shot by Robert Richardson in Ultra Panavision 70, much smaller tools also are making significant inroads into feature film production, adding flexibility and bringing cinematic image quality to specialized applications.

For instance, d.p. Robert Elswit used the  Codex Action Cam on two sequences of “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation.” John Bailey deployed a tiny drone-mounted Panasonic Lumix to capture some of the vistas in “A Walk in the Woods.” GoPro and DSLRs have taken over as crash cameras in place of the long-suffering industry-standard Eyemo.

Cinematographers say the changes are driven by larger sensors, better image processing, and in some cases the ability to use cinema-quality lenses. Digital intermediate techniques in post-production help smooth over any differences. Cameras on the lower end of the quality spectrum can suffice for kinetic action shots that last mere fractions of a second on the big screen.

On certain projects, however, smaller cameras are right for the entire shoot, whether for aesthetic or practical reasons. On Eli Roth’s “Knock Knock,” released Oct. 9, d.p. Antonio Quercia shot exclusively in 4K resolution on the Canon 1D-C. The duo used the Canon C300 on their previous project, “The Green Inferno.” But “Knock Knock” was shot almost entirely in a cramped house location. “I can’t imagine how we would have put a larger camera on a Steadicam gliding through the tight hallways, and running in and out of the house,” Quercia says.

On David Rosenthal’s “The Perfect Guy,” released last month, cinematographer Peter Simonite combined the Sony a7 with anamorphic lenses for certain scenes. Most of the movie was filmed with Sony’s flagship F65 camera, which Simonite says produces exceptional images, but calls a “Goliath.” “We needed something smaller for working nimbly at night while maintaining a similar visual integrity,” he explains.

Combined with Kowa anamorphic lenses, he adds, the a7s were small enough to use for action sequences and crashes. “With incredible low-light sensitivity, we were able to capture action with stunning clarity against the spooky ambiance of Los Angeles after dark,” Simonite enthuses.

On French feature “Braqueurs” (“Robbers”), which premiered at the Busan festival in Korea, d.p. Philip Lozano shot mainly with an Arri Alexa. The story takes place among criminals in the bleak suburbs of Paris. After extensive tests to determine the right camera for car rigs and wheel shots, Lozano and helmer Julien Leclercq chose the Codex Action Cam, a tiny remote head that shoots in HD up to 60 frames per second, in conjunction with older Super 16 format lenses that were “sharp and contrasty,” matching the look of the rest of the film, Lozano says.

For one shot, the tiny camera was mounted on the helmet of a character driving a scooter. “The entire process was designed to get the best possible quality,” adds Lozano. “The Action Cam’s latitude made the images amazingly close to the Alexa’s. In a two- to five-second shot, you’ll never see the difference.”

Quercia speaks for many of his peers when he notes: “People are realizing that the camera is no longer a constraint or a weight dragging down their budget. Every day, there are more solutions.”

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