Canon’s 5D/7D Family vs. 35MM Film: A Cost Comparison
Hello loyal readers, it’s Andrea here to discuss the cost differences between 35MM film and today’s easily accessible Canon DSLR cameras in the 5D/7D family.
But before we discuss the numbers, let’s take a moment to consider the fundamental differences producing for either medium:
- Wait for it…
- There aren’t any.
- Shocking, I know.
Granted, there are significant differences in cost and ease of use when using the Canon 5D/7D, as compared to shooting on 35MM film. But the process of filmmaking is relatively the same.
Or at least it should be.
Let’s take a minute to go over the process and then we can get into the details of budgeting.
First, one issue that tends to crop up with the advancements of digital filmmaking is that the actual art of filmmaking is no longer a requirement.
This is not nor should this ever be the case.
Changing the format from film to digital does not mean that the same level of artistic control and thought no longer applies. In other words, just because cameras such as the 5D or 7D can handle low-light situations well does not mean that lighting is no longer important.
Now, back to budgeting.
So, where are the budgetary line-item changes when switching from 35mm film to digital? They’re exactly where you think: the cost of the film and processing, plus the reduced cost of equipment, plus the reduced cost of manpower.
For example, Kodak film costs in the neighborhood of $0.23 per foot. Now let’s say you are producing a film with a 25-day shooting schedule. At an average of 4k-5k feet shot per day, that $0.23 per foot adds up quickly. And that doesn’t even begin to deal with the cost of the film development (about $0.13 per foot) and transfer costs.
Canon 5D and Canon 7D
When shooting on the Canon 5D or 7D, however, the cost of the equipment is significantly reduced, the equipment is easier to use and you may be able to get the same shots with less specialty equipment.
For example, maybe you’ll be able to afford a great aerial shot on a remote control camera without the full cost of renting a helicopter, a pilot, fuel, an aerial coordinator and the nose-mount rig, etc …
The Bottom Line
And with less equipment, there are fewer people required to facilitate your shoot.
And with fewer people, there are fewer headaches.
So in the end, the cost differences are significant enough to consider moving away from film and into the digital realm.
As a long-time film snob, I surprise myself by saying that, but with the recent advances in digital technology, the time to switch is now.
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About Filmmakers Academy Cinematographer Mentor Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Director of photography Shane Hurlbut, ASC works at the forefront of cinema. He’s a storyteller, innovator, and discerning collaborator, who brings more than three decades of experience to his art. He is a member of the American Society of Cinematographers, the International Cinematographers Guild/Local 600, and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Hurlbut frequently joins forces with great directors: McG’s Netflix Rim of the World and The Babysitter, plus Warner Bros. We Are Marshall and Terminator: Salvation; Scott Waugh’s Need for Speed and Act of Valor; and Gabriele Muccino’s There Is No Place Like Home and Fathers and Daughters. His additional film credits include Semi-Pro; The Greatest Game Ever Played; Into the Blue; Mr 3000; Drumline; 11:14, which earned Hurlbut a DVDX nomination; and The Skulls. Notably, his television credits include the first season of AMC’s Into the Badlands.
For me, the exciting part is that this new journey is just beginning.
And, if you play out this scenario — we’re moving into an era that resembles the silent picture days — small independent companies producing media. This is both because of the lower cost of production technologies and this all new era of electronic distribution that, I think, at this point is still confusing to everyone, mainly because it’s just getting started.
In about a decade I suspect it will be possible to produce your film over the weekend and have it available on every television set in America by Tuesday. That’s a simple statement, but I suspect it characterizes the future, that will be both better than we can imagine and, simultaneously, trashier than we can imagine.
Thank you for you comments, Andrew. I think you hit the nail on the head with your statements of where you think this industry is headed. One of my main points was to treat a less costly medium with the same creative forethought and planning as one would use when shooting an expensive and often fragile medium such as 35 mm film.
I think the content suffers when we chose to just “let the camera roll”, as one can do with the ease of the Canon 5D. With the advancements in technology, anyone can pick up a camera, turn it on and make some sort of story out of the footage. The time will come when the viewing public demands a higher quality project in regards to content and filmmaking skills. Being better prepared by learning how to tell a story through planning and practice will make your product stand out. This will become increasingly more important as the content providers transform from a few major studio players to anyone, anywhere with access to a camera and the internet.
“I think the content suffers when we chose to just “let the camera roll”, as one can do with the ease of the Canon 5D.”
I’m not sure I agree. Let’s take Pedro Costa, I believe he shot Colossal Youth and In Vanda’s Room without any crew beyond a sound guy for the former film, shooting around 500 hours worth of multiple takes and characters who would later be discarded. I think that ability to just be able to bring your camera and tripod in a bag and randomly decide to shoot with an actor (or non-actor) is one of the benefits to digital, allowing people to be less restricted by scheduling, the complications of film etc..
Another popular director is Lav Diaz, who I believe tends to shoot a film over the course of a year, making scenes up as he goes along, using friends he knows to help with sound or set design, with little planning (if any), he credits this entirely to the digital revolution in filmmaking – this freedom and looseness being something which has benefited his films…
Thank you for your comments, Alexander. My opinion is based off my experiences and what I’ve seen since the beginning days of digital. Yes, one can shoot off the cuff, per se, and get an amazing final product. I agree with that concept and yes, you have shown examples of such a thing. What I speak of, however, is a tendency when dealing with narrative film. If one chooses to shoot haphazardly and is willing to put the effort into the edit, then yes… a fine film can/could be made. But really, how often does that happen? And besides, who wants to edit 500 hours worth of footage until there is 90+ mins of something good?
You are correct and we are already headed that way — webisodes are perhaps the first example of this quickness. I suspect what you speak of to happen in far less time than a decade.
This article is quite subjective and not based on any hard examples. I’m surprised this was even allowed to be posted. At least try and back up your opinion with some facts/figures. You didn’t even try to fudge some numbers…
Thank you for your comments, although I am confused as to why you would expect me to provide hard numbers with back up and then question why I didn’t “fudge” them? How does this help anyone attempting to produce a product at any level — length or budgetary?
By looking at budgeting as a puzzle, rather than hard facts and line item numbers, I become open to an ever increasingly amount of solutions to any given problem. That is what, in my opinion, a good producer does, regardless of what size project they are working on. The cost of any project has to do with the circumstances to that specific project, the players involved and where you intend to shoot it. Using the cost of raw stock was a simple way to provide an example, as that cost seldom changes when shooting throughout the United States.
Any producer that has seen a budget go from creation to actualization, knows that budgets are only an estimates of potential cost. The goal of a producer is to get that number to the lowest possible point without going over. Sometimes those numbers are padded, or “fudged” to provide that little bit of wiggle room needed for the problems that might come up.
Thank you for your comments, Phil. Welcome to producing — everything is subjective and there are no hard examples. Even those numbers i didn’t bother to fudge are up for negotiations when dealing with Independent Filmmaking.
Strange that the 12 minute shot limit is the same ;-)
Pulling off a worthy 2 minute shot is a difficult task, let alone a 12 minute one. When done correctly, it blows me away. When done incorrectly, it bores me to death.
The long take should only be used if the filmmakers can plan and prepare to execute a shot worthy of the screen time, like this one from “Touch of Evil” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaN4R6KRSY0) or this one from “Children of Men” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiyA70jAL14).
There is a collection of academy award nominated short films that has the most impressive single shot short film I’ve ever seen. After a lengthy and exhausting search, I can not find the name of the short film but I believe it was on the same 2005 collection as Martin McDonagh’s “Six Shooter”. Wow, it was impressive — trucks, a mass of extras, crane shots, and a helicopter all in one take. I would guess the amount of preparation needed to pull that off was enormous. Well done to whomever made that film. Check it out, if you have a chance. I’ll post the name if I can find it sometime soon.
Or the amazing 15 minute fight shot in Oldboy. The one in Children of Men is very impressive as well.
Long takes are being used to good effect in modern contemplative films, often static but rarely boring. Take Alonso who in Liverpool shoots his main character quietly eating a meal in a harbour bar in a single shot lasting around 8 minutes. Nothing exciting which can be compared with Oldboy or Touch of Evil… but an awareness of time… something modern Hollywood filmmaking is so bad at.
Or Bela Tarr! Who likes to silently follow with a steadicam from behind, character’s walking from one place to another, often in shots lasting 10 minutes…
I don’t think traditional dramatic tension is a requirement for maintaining interest in a long take – I think there it naturally creates an unsettling feeling when there isn’t a cut… we relate to the character as we are stuck in the same place with him without any changing of angle. Hard to put into words… I just wish more American filmmakers (beyond Van Sant and Benning) utilised the long take..
Van Sant is a great example of an American filmmaker that knows how to use the long take. My point wasn’t about the value of the long take but rather the value of pre-planning, pre-visualizing (mentally, storyboards or using a pre-viz program) and knowing what the end product is going to be in order to know how to achieve that goal.
Now we can concentrate on storytelling instead of worrying about money
About time! Hooray for the return of storytelling!
Whoo Hoo! Oh wait…. that might not ever really happen. But what’s the point of spending the money if the story telling isn’t there. I predict a backlash is coming from the movie going audiences sick of being fed visual candy rather than something of substance. Soon those in charge will die off and the younger generation will be hungry for movies to mean something again.
You are so right. I’ve used many camera’s and found that the only way to get great results in digital is to treat them like you would film, and knowing their weaknesses too. With using the 5D I’ve found myself having to be as in control of the camera as I would have been with a film camera, and that’s with both photography and motion picture. What I really enjoy about the Canon’s is that you have choices and choices without the added cost. And I agree with Andrew, CraigC, and Vu.
I, too, come from a photography background and found the same to be true there — doesn’t matter what medium one shoots on, but the process of planning should be the same. Excellent comments. Thank you!
Thank you Don! Keep up the good work and good things will follow.
As someone who has shot with pro HD cameras, as well as the 5D and the 7D, there is a huge difference in the quality of motion fidelity on the 7D or 5D. The jello effects of movement both from the subject or from camera shake makes it difficult to get great footage, and therefore is not giving you the same kind of moviemaking capability as a true HD movie camera / RED / or film camera.
But the new DSLR style video cameras might be changing that. But until then, it seems like it would be very difficult to make a dynamic movie with a 7D or 5D. And I own one of those as my personal camera. Just have to stay a bit limited on the movement.
You can see the effects of 5D on the shot when the guy is crashing here:
ufoclub1977, I have shot the equivalent of 1.9 million feet of film on Act of Valor which will be released on 3000 screens across the country and 2000 internationally. I can tell you that action and panning is what this camera does well if you know how to set it up correctly. Pulling a 5D out of its bubble wrap and trying to shoot is the biggest disservice you can do to this platform. I chose the best tool to tell the story and on the Navy Seal film it was the Canon 5D hands down over any professional HD camera system.
The 5d is a tricky machine, but once you figure it out, it is amazing. Shane’s footage shows the exceptional quality one can achieve. I was skeptical at first, but soon realized the 5d is a top notch camera. I’ve seen alot of films done on superior priced cameras and the quality did not come close to what Shane does with the 5d. Shane has kindly given expert advice and secrets on how to achieve with the 5d. It took me quite awhile to tame the beast. It is a steep learning curve.
Thank you, Ron. You are absolutely correct. All equipment, cameras, formats or whatnot can be considered “tricky” until one figures it out. It’s that figuring it out that is the step most forget. I would like to think there is never a lack of something new to learn — in film making, in new technology, and in life in general. :-)
Also, the Act of Valor quality looks excellent.
I saw Act Of Valor on the big screen and was blown away. I saw the trailer this week at the theater.Great job Shane.
Emm Gee, thank you so much for your kind words of support. Every one is wanting to see my footage on the big screen. I have been doing this for 16 years, what would be the difference, just because it is a still camera, it is the person behind the tool, right? Believe in yourself, create and inspire.
I couldn’t agree with you more Shane.
Kudos for Act of Valor – visual stunning I must say. I was recently fortunate enough to purchase a 2nd hand 5DM2 for an awesome price. I have a long way to go to learn the good points and bad points of this tool and I’m enjoying the ride. Being that this is a hobby – it may be quite some time before I would even be able to afford an ‘upgrade’ so I’m wondering what your experience is with the Mosaic Engineering Moire/Aliasing filter – does it significantly improve IQ? Thanks!
Noticed this today. For interest sake with respect to revving up the 5d.
– over 100Mbit 1080/24p
– and other goodies.
– if it is stable, it may be worthy of a go.
Ron, thanks so much for this.