If you want to see a selection of cameras that all meet these specifications, please check out Recommended Cameras for Film Production. It has details on different types of camera for a range of budgets.
Your camera must have a resolution of 4K or higher. The 4K refers to the number of horizontal photosites on your camera’s sensor. There are two types of 4K. UHD is television 4K and has a resolution of 3840 x 2160 photosites. DCI is cinema 4K and has a resolution of 4096 x 2160. The exception to this are certain Arri cameras. If you rent an older Alexa or Amira, the resolution will be 3.4K.
Cameras split the colour and brightness of the image into three colour channels. If there is no compression on the colour channels, then they are represented as 4:4:4. With compression on two of the colour channels the number will be 4:2:2. The format you record to needs to be a minimum of 4:2:2 at 10-bits per channel. So if you camera or external recorder supports ProRes422, then you’re in good shape. Recording to 10-bit ProRes 444 is even better. If your device records Raw, then that’s the best. It’s always 4:4:4 and is usually 12-bit.
Dynamic Range and Colour Gamut
Your camera must be capable of shooting High Dynamic Range, so this means it either shoots Raw or the format supports Log. High Dynamic Range is usually abbreviated to HDR.
The camera must be capable of shooting Wide Colour Gamut images. You’ll see this referred to as Camera Native, Cinema Gamut, Film Gamut, Rec. 2020 or Rec. 2100. It’s usually abbreviated to WCG.
If your camera doesn’t record or output Raw, it must record to a format with intra-frame compression. You’ll see it described as All-Intra, All-I or I-frame. Choose this instead of LongGOP
Another indication of image quality is the bitrate. It’s measured in Mbps (megabits per second). Make sure your camera has a bitrate of 100 Mbps or more for the decent quality. If your camera uses a variable bitrate (VBR), then the bitrate will be shown as a range. Make sure the bottom of the range isn’t less than 100 Mbps.
Syncing Pictures and Sound
When shooting fiction, it’s common practice to record sound on a separate device. So the pictures and sound need syncing in post. There’s different ways you can help the editor stay sane, one of them is synced timecode. You can use something like the Tentacle Sync E system to write the same timecode to the camera and sound recorder.
Modern cameras are computers with lenses, so firmware updates can improve performance, add new features and new recording formats. It’s not only cameras that require regular firmware updates. External recorders, audio recorders and even lenses can be upgraded.
Don’t be concerned about the tech talk…
I realise this is a lot of techie info to throw at you! If you’re finding this too much, refer to the recommended cameras. They meet this criteria.
I’m not the only one to insist an a minimum spec, all movies have delivery requirements. If you’re curious about requirements for professional content, check out this Camera and Image Capture information from Netflix.
Terms used in this Article
- Ultra High Definition. Another name for 4K television.
- Digital Cinema Initiatives. A joint venture between film studios to agree specifications for digital cinema.
- a small, light sensitive cavity on the camera sensor. Each photosite has a coloured filter, so it can record levels for either red, green or blue.
- High Dynamic Range. This means the camera can record a large range of brightness levels between its upper and lower limits.
- Wide Colour Gamut. The camera can record a sizeable area of the visible spectrum.
- Rec. 2020 / Rec. 2100:
- global standards for ultra high definition television. They define such things as resolution, colour gamut and dynamic range.
- Long Group of Pictures. A type of lossy compression. Few of the video frames are whole and complete. Most are created using comparison and motion prediction.
- Intra-frame. All frames are whole and complete.
- Variable Bitrate. This is a type of lossless compression. The bitrate scales depending on the amount of detail and movement in the image.