Digital Cinematography: Lesson 38: The Benefits Of Shooting On a Digital Camera

Simply said photography is the art of recording focused light, reflected or emitted from objects onto a light-sensitive surface, which is inside a box, during a timed exposure.

Digital Photography records the light information in the form of pixels, instead of film emulsion.

I’ve been a pro shooter for many years now, and a lot of new technology has been introduced in that time. However the essential art of photography has not changed since the camera Obscura in 1826. Either you allow or restrict the amount of focused light onto the light-sensitive surface you are recording on. That’s it! And it will never change no matter how advance photographic technology becomes.

That being said digital cinema affects three major areas of movie-making, and has changed it forever:

That would be accessibility, cost, flexibility, and distribution.


A Canon DSLR camera cost very little for the huge sensor, and almost 2k resolution, which means anyone serious enough to make pro movies can do it now! This is huge! Low budget movies are now open to anyone to make, because DSLRs can shoot in low light, which means if you are smart you will not need to rent any movie lights.


If the production is low-budget you can make a movie for very little money. The bigger the budget the less savings you will get out of shooting digital, as all the other typical costs still exist.  The one Thing any production will save on is film stock. Film is hundreds of times more expensive than digital recorders or cards, which you can use again and again. By Hollywood standards, digital cards cost nothing.

When they shot “Star Wars”  ”Attack of the Clones,” a while back, which was the first digital Hollywood movie, they spent $16,000 on 220 hours of digital tape, and they would have spent about $1.8 million on 220 hours of film. That is mind-blowing savings, and today it is even cheaper.


DSLR cameras weigh nothing compared to big movie film cameras, so camera set ups are quick, dynamic, and easy, and these little cameras can go anywhere, allowing POVs and angles not seen before.

For the filmmaker, the most exciting element of digital technology is how easy it is to use. Most filmmakers have already switched to digital editing systems because they make it so much simpler to put a movie together. When you shoot digital, what you see is what you get, eliminating the use of light meters, and costly mistakes that you can only see when the film is processed. Post production is super easy and fast…

As soon as they shoot digital footage, filmmakers can immediately play it back and start editing it. With film, they have to send the footage off for processing before they know what they have. A director might spend all day shooting only to discover the lighting was off and the footage is totally unusable. On the “Attack of the Clones” set, the crew could review the footage after every shot. They could shoot a scene in the morning, and start editing it that afternoon.

Additionally, the crew doesn’t have to get extensive coverage (repeated takes) in case something looks wrong. They know right away if there were any problems.


For both independent filmmakers and the industry the coolest thing about digital distribution is it is cheap and easy to deliver, whether that is on YouTube, Vimeo, independent internet film channels, like Indie Movies Online, or for the cinemas. And publishing to the internet is as easy as one click from Final Cut Pro X.

Companies would spend a lot of money producing film prints of their movies. Not only do the prints cost a fortune, shipping the prints makes them spend even more money. These reels are heavy, and you need at least four of them for one movie, sometimes six of them. And after the run is over they would have to collect them again.

Because the distribution costs are so high, production companies have to be extremely cautious about where they play their movies. They will not take risks running a film at a theater that does not make money. Look at it this way: if the film bombs, they might not make their money back.

Just the sheer physicality of digital movies make things way cheaper, and bring with it way less risk. You can write digital files to a DVD-ROM, send them through broadband cable or transmit them via satellite. Since shipping costs vanish, the production company can show the movie in a 100 theaters instead of just one. With this distribution system, production companies could easily open movies in theaters all over the world on the same day.

Now if a film becomes a hit, and suddenly sells out, a theater could decide to show it on additional screens on the spur of the moment.

No matter how you look at it Digital is the way to go and will continue to deliver ever better quality of viewing  experience for the consumer. As filmmakers we live in exciting times to be sure. Never has it been easier and accessible to make film as today with digital cinematography. You will need a camera, a computer, and the right software, (more on this soon), but you will not need to take a second mortgage out on your house to get rolling, and the is the best news.

Go To Lesson 39


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