Hey there, Indy, you're looking REAL nice.

Your camera sucks!

“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.

13 thoughts on “Your camera sucks!”

  1. if your wondering how to instantly make your videos better its not the quality of the video sometimes its the audio, if you cant pick up good audio, go out and get a shotgun mic and use that, with the camera you got. its better to have great audio than great video quality.

    1. While I kind of agree with you, your audience may forgive bad video before they forgive bad audio but, purchasing expensive mics and recorders will not guarantee good audio if you have no clue how to properly use it. Great audio can be captured with pretty inexpensive equipment when used right.

      But even better than great audio is great storytelling! So long as we always come back to that point and understand it, we can/will create great films.

  2. Good read, definitely agree on the Youtube comment section, drives me mad aswell.

    I am always telling myself that if I can make a script that will blow the viewer’s mind, he won’t be able to focus on the image quality. There are audiobooks that are stunning and we are adding moving image to it all, what can possibly go wrong if you tell an amazing story?

  3. This is a lesson I’ve been learning continually over the last several months. My camera has decent video quality, but it’s a huge hassle to get anything I film onto the computer. I’m dying to get a new camera, one that has this and that feature that I really want, but in the end, I don’t have an extra few hundred bucks laying around. So I’ve resolved to do what I can with the camera I’ve got, and then when I can upgrade, I’m going to keep this camera somewhere safe. It’s the first one I ever got, and for all its faults, it’s served me well.

    There are definitely standards that everybody who wants to get to a professional level in this field must eventually rise to. HD quality is one of them. But this post was dead-on in saying that even though quality’s important, it pales in comparison to craft. And craft, birthed from creativity, is what takes a powerful story and transforms it into a powerful work of film.

  4. Good read and I agree completely. I must however, object to this business about prioritizing audio quality over visual quality. Namely the recommendation to “go out and get a shotgun mic” and “its better to have great audio than great video quality” Erroneous I say! I agree, there are few things more grating than poor audio. (Those lucky enough to prescreen the prologue ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ had only one complaint… They couldn’t understand what Bane was saying) However, when it comes to film, I believe image should (almost) always take priority over sound.

    There is a fundamental difference between the formats of film and television. Film originated in silence and in its early days, the narratives relied on image alone. Television programs were adapted from old time radio shows where dialogue, narration, music, and sound effects were relied on most heavily. Think sitcoms, news broadcasts, game shows, soap operas and so on. With film “show don’t tell” is a common criticism and rightly so. It takes a more intelligent storyteller to find ways to drive a narrative without simply… well talking.

    Ok everybody calm down! I know it’s not 1902, I know sound is an incredibly powerful tool to manipulate an audience’s emotions, I know movies were once referred to as “talkies”, and yes I wish I owned a shotgun mic, but it’s the general principle I’m after.

    If you’ve ever attempted any sort of filmmaking you know that you must be adaptable, you must overcome unforeseen obstacles, and you must often make sacrifices. Even big Hollywood directors have to deviate from their original vision to make things work. The conclusion of “needing a better mic” is the equivalent of “needing a better camera” and I respect this article too much to be satisfied with either. Wind is often going be an audio obstacle when filming exterior scenes and I don’t know of any microphones completely impervious to its persistence. Sound is often added later in the editing process and you might even be surprised with how frequently dialogue is rerecorded in post production.

    I personally think every aspiring filmmaker should make at least one silent film. I guarantee it will help to strengthen your storytelling muscles and hone your problem solving skills. Go ahead, add music if you like, but no dialogue! One of the things I loved most about the comedy of old time radio shows was that the punchlines would often hinge on what you didn’t see. In terms of movies, I think there is something to be said about narrative devices that hinge on what you don’t hear.

    Thanks for reading, thought I would stir the pot a bit.

  5. I would love to see a post similar to this regarding VFX Software. E.G. Using Movie Maker instead of Adobe.

    1. I’d also like to add a question. What’s a good way to explain this to some friends. They’re not into film but they want to “make movies” and help me shoot videos. However when they see we can’t add muzzle flares and have explosions they kind of give up. I would just ignore it but they would be valuable help in making awesome videos if they were up to it. So I guess how could I concisely articulate this point. That story and effort = good quality more so than gear does. I mean it’s easy to say but hard to convince them of.

  6. Thanks so much! This was a much-needed wake-up call. My camera most definitely sucks, and I have been waiting to either buy my own better camera or use my school’s equipment. I realize now that I need to be constantly writing and shooting. I’ll be doing that as soon as possible. Thanks!!!!

  7. Way to go, O’Ryan. I think I needed to hear this one too and can say that I strongly agree with your sentiment.

    I can say that I definitely have a passion for photography. I enjoy taking pictures and I enjoy the retouching and refining after they’re shot.

    However, since I started working with more high-end professional photography in my career, it’s landed me in this place of “I’m not worthy” that is truly totally ridiculous. It’s something that I’ve been struggling with for some time now. I used to shoot weddings and be eager to get out there for the extra cash. I used to get excited about capturing bands while they perform. (Stage lights really get me amped up! Pardon the pun!)

    Recently though, I’m embarrassed to show up and shoot a gig with “unprofessional” equipment – when in reality what people really expect is professional results instead!

    Great read! Thanks for the insight.

  8. I think every aspiring filmmaker needs to read this. Well worth the read! Thanks!

Comments are closed.