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How Digital Cinematography Has Changed

by David Agnew

thehollywoodnews Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 16.02.46

How Digital Cinematography Has Changed

In 2008, Canon changed digital cinematography with their announcement of the 5D Mark II DSLR camera. Priced well within reach of the average consumer, combined with Canon’s extensive lens collection and a large sensor that could give a film-like look, the 5D almost single-handedly democratized filmmaking. Now just about anything can shoot 4K video, from consumer cameras to the smartphone in your pocket. Here are a few examples of how the filmmaking industry has changed thanks to new technology.


One of the most talked about films from the 2015 Sundance Film Festival was “Tangerine.” Not only was it well received due to the story, direction and acting, but the fact it was filmed entirely on the iPhone 5s showed that many technical aspects don’t matter as long as you have a great story.

What made filming this possible was an app called FiLMic Pro, which gave the cinematographer control over all aspects of the video recording. This sort of control is essential to avoid annoying shifts in exposure or focus which are things that can draw the audience out of the experience.


Because of the 5D mk II, DSLRs became more popular in full-sized Hollywood production. The advantage came from their small size and relatively low price. The show “House” used them for its season six finale because they were able to maintain an extremely shallow depth of field while shooting scenes in complicated spaces (like a collapsed building set).

More than the size of the camera itself what really made it popular was the ability to get shallow depth of field. Depth of field is partially controlled by how large the sensor or film is, smaller sensors have a harder time getting shallow depth of field and begin to look like video from a soap opera.


What really makes smartphone and DSLR cinematography possible is the software behind the sensor. The auto settings that come by default might give a good image for the average person, but because the device is doing the thinking rather than the person behind it, it cannot be used professionally.

The Magic Lantern firmware project brought extra control and increased quality to DSLR video. But what it really brought was exposure and focus tools. By adding false color, which shows what level of information you are getting in your shadows and highlights, means you can push the dynamic range of the sensor to its very limits and you can make a conscious decision as to whether or not you can afford detail being lost in certain areas.

As consumers have gotten more savvy and have demanded better quality software for their devices, many camera and phone manufacturers are putting in features for control over everything, like the Samsung Galaxy S7 pro mode. Being able to control the ISO might give you more exposure, but it can also help in deciding what balance you need, giving you a finished product that you want.

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