Art and Experience: From iPhones to Arri Alexas, SXSW filmmakers used a wide variety of cameras and lenses to capture their unique visions, and the reasons for their choices are just as varied.

No Film School reached out to filmmakers screening their films at SXSW 2017 to find out which cameras and lenses they chose for their films and why. As we expected, camera and lens choices run the gamut based on the styles and budgets of the projects, the looks desired by the directors, and whether the film was a narrative or a documentary.

We surveyed several filmmakers at SXSW about cameras and lenses, and here, in their own words, are the reasons behind their camera and lens choices.

Rat Film

“Use whatever’s easiest and closest at hand. I used iPhones and DSLRs and Google Maps screenshots. Whatever was the most mobile, required the least preparation, and still looked okay in the end.” — Theo Anthony, director, Rat Film (Visions, documentary feature)

Easy Living

“We used a Sony F55 camera and Canon Cine and Zoom lenses. Our favorite lens for most of the shoot was a 35mm focal length. Shooting in S-log on the Sony F55 provided us a lot of versatility and range in post.” — Adam Keleman, writer, director, producer, Easy Living (Narrative Spotlight, feature)

Lane 1974

“I knew I wanted a camera that could perform well in all kinds of natural light, as well as capture scenes lit only by firelight. Early in my process I consulted with Eric Rosen, a Seattle colorist I have great admiration for, and after listening to what I wanted the vibe of the film to be visually, he recommended the camera I thought I’d probably land on based on all I’d been hearing about it: the Alexa. When my cinematographer Sebastien Scandiuzzi came on board, we talked extensively about what I wanted from the look and feel of the film. He is a sensitive as well as intuitive and scrupulously thorough DP.” — SJ Chiro, writer/director, Lane 1974 (Narrative Spotlight, feature)

“Since Lane is set in 1974, we wanted to recreate the look and feel of that cinematic era. Film was considered but out of the question financially so we tested Canon C500, RED Epic and a few others but finally settled on the Alexa. The majority of our principle photography was in Northern California in bright sun (with little to no modifiers) in large open rolling hills so we needed a sensor with high dynamic range, high resolution for detailed wides and natural highlight rolloff and the Alexa was a perfect fit for the look SJ and I wanted to achieve. We chose Zeiss Super Speeds (MK I/II’s) to match the lens characteristics of our production’s cinematic period, as well as their fast aperture and color reproduction. It can be tough to find a matching lens set and Koerner Camera (Seattle) was a big help making sure our set matched as well as possible.” — Sebastien Scandiuzzi, director of photography, Lane 1974 (Narrative Spotlight, feature)

The Blood is at the Doorstep

“The vast majority of shooting (95%-ish) was done on the Sony FS7 and a Canon 24-105 IS. Ergonomically this camera was an ideal option to use in the field as a solo operator in unpredictable shooting circumstances over long periods of time. The focal range of the lens gave me great flexibility to adjust quickly to a changing scene. Firmware updates allowing the FS7 to double its focused range by cropping in on the sensor was also helpful at times.” — Erick Ljung, director, The Blood is at the Doorstep (Documentary Feature Competition)

As I Walk Through the Valley

“Our film was shot pretty bare-bones primarily on a Canon T2i with a 50mm prime lens. A few shots were done with a Phantom drone and we even did some B-roll using our smart phones. We firmly believe in using whatever you have to tell your story and equipment should always be secondary to inspiration.” — Charlie Vela, co-director, As I Walk Through the Valley (24 Beats Per Second, documentary feature)


“We used the RED Epic with Zeiss super speeds. The lenses we rented, but the camera our 1st AC owned. Initially, we were going to shoot with my Canon C100 but then decided to upgrade during prep.” — Peter Vack, director, Assholes (Visions, narrative feature)

Flesh and Blood

“We’re the first feature to shoot on the URSA Mini 4.6K and chose the camera for its dynamic range, image quality & small footprint. The majority of the film used Schneider Optics Cine-Xenar primes and occasionally Rokinon cine lenses when in tight spaces.” — Dustin Hughes, producer, colorist, sound designer, post supervisor, additional photography/camera operator, Flesh and Blood (Visions, narrative feature)


May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers

“When we started shooting in January of 2014, we shot with the Sony F55, then switched to the Arri Amira when it came out in late summer of that same year. Our DP Jonathan Furmanski chose the camera based on this being primarily cinema-verité film, and the Amira has a beautiful look while being very friendly to handheld operating. We shot with Fuji zoom lenses for practical reasons more than aesthetic ones. Primes look beautiful, but in the studio especially, we needed the flexibility of zooms in order to have the coverage that allowed us to edit scenes.” —  Michael Bonfiglio, director, producer (with Judd Apatow), May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers (24 Beats Per Second, documentary feature)

Thank You, Friends: Big Star’s Third Live… and More

“[We shot on] Canon C300s. We chose them because we could use XLR mic inputs for syncing audio. Also we had shot with them in the past and liked what they delivered.” — Benno Nelson, director, Thank You, Friends: Big Star’s Third Live… and More (24 Beats Per Second, documentary feature)

Bad Lucky Goat

“[We shot on the] Alexa Mini because we needed our rig to be portable. We were using a MOVI and only had 18 days to shoot the entire movie, so we had to be light and efficient while setting up, transporting and storing equipment. We also shot on an island and the Alexa sensor works great on dark skin tones.” —  Samir Oliveros, director, Bad Lucky Goat (Global, narrative feature)

Game of Death

“In general, the Alexa system (body and sensor) is ahead of the competition at every level. It is so well thought out and designed, hence making it super easy to use in any circumstance. But most of all, the sensor’s superior quality allows you to capture a very impressive amount of details at both end of the spectrum. This very flexibility gives you lots of room to play with in the DI suite at the end. We shot with Zeiss standard lenses due to our limitations with the money, but I assure you they are splendid pieces of glass when properly used.” —  Simon-Pierre “SPG” Gingras, DP, Game of Death (Midnighters, narrative feature)

Becoming Bond

The story takes place across Australia in the 1940’s and 1950’s and then London in the 1960’s, so I really wanted the reenactments to feel of the period. My DP, John Rutland, and I did a long series of lens tests and landed on a set of vintage Cooke Anamorphic Primes paired with an Alexa. The combination gives a great cinematic feel, a unique look to the bokeh/blur, and a bit of a slightly soft and imperfect feel that modern lenses lack. Beyond that, we tried to use techniques that would have been used in that period. So for our car driving shots, we went with a rear projection approach that is the same style you see in the Bond films of that era. Beyond this, we worked closely with our production designer, Caity Birmingham, to utilize a warmer, yellow overall palette that feels of the period.” —  Josh Greenbaum, director, Becoming Bond (Visions, documentary feature)

Small Town Crime

Small Town Crime was shot on the Sony F55 along with Cooke mini S4’s.  I also chose to shoot the entire film with a Schneider ½ Classic soft and either an Antique Suede 1 or 2 depending on the situation.  I chose the F55 as I had shot various commercials and a previous feature on it.  In my opinion, it has the best sensor out there and performs quite well in low light levels, the kind of levels that I knew we would be dealing with.” — Johnny Derango, director of photography, Small Town Crime (Narrative Spotlight, feature)

Source: nofilmschool