The cameras we love to use  for adverts, corporate videos and online films...

The cameras we love to use for adverts, corporate videos and online films...

So this is one of my favourite topics being a bit of a closet nerd! There are a whole range of cameras out there and it can be tough knowing which one to use for various projects.

If you're looking for advice for filming on a low budget- maybe some simple online films for your business using a consumer level camera, then I'm going to write a post in the next couple of weeks covering that too. Watch this space. 

Below is some advice based on the cameras we have loved using on various projects and programmes. 

We shoot a whole range of videos and films- from online videos and business films through to television ads. We hire in most of the kit we use as we're always looking for very specialist set ups and specific lenses etc and it saves us having to buy a gazillion options on things... 

When shooting the adverts and commercials we use 2k and 4k resolution cameras to create a high end and beautiful cinematic look. But it comes at a cost- they're not cheap bits of kit! Add in the specialist bits and pieces like lenses and monitors and you're getting up to the five zeros mark for a Red Epic or Sony F5.

You're also left with huge data files at the end of the shoot and this can create problems with storage and the costs associated with that. This is a major consideration as you may need to invest in some hefty data storage. 

With the Red Epic the ability to shoot RAW files is a major advantage and is much sought after. The high speed capabilities are also great and mean you can create some lovely slow motion shots. However, several cameramen I know have complained about the battery life and the ISO and dynamic range aren't great compared to other similar cameras. 

On almost all 4k shoots the plan is to push in on some of the shots- this is a major advantage as you can crop to your hearts content and still get a great 1080 picture. 

We also shoot a lot of TV broadcast stuff and recently did some documentaries for a German broadcaster. Here I was shooting on the PMW500. It's a big and chunky HD camera that a lot of TV broadcasters like to use. (Think news cameraman/woman with a big camera on their shoulder and you're in the right ballpark). The beauty of this camera is it's run and gun abilities- no rebalancing lenses when you change them, no external sound recording or data storage- it's all in one robust case. It also shoots 50 mega bites per second (Mbps) which is required for HD broadcast on the major channels. A lot of other smaller cameras (e.g. 5D mkii) look great and have lovely lenses etc, but aren't full broadcast HD. 

Another favourite is the Canon C300. When Canon released the 5D DSLR they revolutionised the video market by making a full frame camera which could shoot video. Suddenly you could use all your lovely DSLR lenses and create that shallow depth of field and film look with a £2k bit of kit. However, the 5D has major drawbacks which the C300 addresses. The major one being that on the 5D sound has to be recorded externally to get it to acceptable quality (and it's way too easy to forget to press record on a separate sound recorder in the heat of the moment. Silent film anyone??) Also there is no ND filter so when shooting outdoors in sunlight and wanting to get a lovely shallow depth of field by opening up the iris, you're left with a very overexposed shot. Canon realised that there was a hole in the market here- a lot of people using the 5D who would pay to overcome these problems. Hence we got the C100, C300 and C500. These are essentially 5Ds put in a robust case with XLR inputs for sound and ND filters (and a few other bits and pieces like 50Mbps recording and high fame rates). 

Needless to say they sold like hot cakes and are a very robust range of cameras. We use the C300 for a lot of shoots as it's great for shooting out and about and documentary filming. 

Finally we have the Canon 5D and Black Magic cameras. The 5D is still the camera of choice for many and is a real workhorse. It's compact size and robustness mean it is ideal for a lot of shoots. You need to get extras if you're going to use it as a primary cameras- I'd recommend a shoulder rig to give you steady shots as well as an eyepiece viewfinder for the back of the camera. As I mentioned earlier you also need to record sound separately. A soundman ideally but if not then something like a Zoom H4N is necessary. I've had a lot of issues when using this set up and it's really not convenient. You only need to loose your sound once and you'll wish you were using a C300... On the flip side you can shoot at incredibly high ISO levels- i.e. shooting in dark situations that many other more expensive cameras just can't handle. (Also hacking it with Magic Lantern opens up a whole range of options like HDR but the jury's out on whether it invalidates your warranty). 

The Black Magic is another great camera, but one I don't have much experience with. Talking to colleagues they love the detail in the shots and the endless opportunities for colour correction. You get an awful lot of detail in the highlights and shadows and a pretty impressive 13 stops of dynamic range. All this for about £2k. However, squeezing all that into a small box at a bargain price has some drawbacks. It's a bloody ergonomic nightmare and this is a major let down compared to the C300. It can be somewhat unreliable (words you never want to hear from a cameraman/woman on a shoot) and the post production process is convoluted to say the least...

Each camera mentioned here has its strengths and weaknesses and reasons for being on our list. We find the C300 is our staple camera for a lot of shoots and delivers great pictures reliably. The 5D is a workhorse and shows no signs of going out of fashion. We've used it on hundreds of shoots and it's never let us down. The Red Epic and Sony F5 are lovely cameras and produce stunning results, but they require a lot more setting up management and are only really for controlled shoots where you have time and a full crew. 


John A
Added 09th November 2014

What lenses do you use on the C300? Do you use primes or zooms?


James Johnson
Responded on 13th November 2014

Hi John,
We mainly use Canon L series with the C300.
It also depends on the job- for example if we are shooting a scene with actors we'll use prime lenses to give us the nice depth and 'cinematic' look. .
For an interview I'll often use my trusty L series 24-105 zoom (the most versatile lens we have). It gives you a nice depth but you can also zoom in and out to get the composition just right.
And for documentary or real life we'll normally use zoom lenses.

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