Same but different – Intro to Digital Cinema.

As a professional photographer, transitioning into the HDSLR Cinema world for the past 3 years has been a fascinating journey. I would like to share the five main similarities and five main differences I have encountered. Read through, I can guarantee it will save you some time.


• White balance. Think Jpg. You can tweak the White Balance in post, but you are very limited to what you can do. Instead of using Auto White Balance, set a specific color temperature (5200K for example), especially if shooting with more than one camera.

• Exposure is very critical. Pay special attention to the highlights. It is time to use again that good old Light Meter or get one specifically designed for HDSLR shooters like Sekonic’s L-308DC. Like White Balance, do your best to get it right on camera, not in post.

• Camera Settings. We are still using ISO, aperture, and shutter, but because of the frame rate, the shutter is not really a variable factor anymore. Now, we also need to add fps (frames per second), picture styles, and other interesting things to the mix.

• Composition. We go back to the basics. Rule of thirds, symmetry and patterns, texture, depth of field, viewpoint, and cropping. Luckily, that has not changed. If you have a good eye, you are good.

candle light image

• Lighting. All cameras are light-tight boxes that admit controlled light only through a lens. Just because we can push sensors to 25,000 ISO does not mean you are telling a story with light. You need to light.


• Lighting. Wait! Wasn’t this one of the similarities? Yes, it is also a big difference. Remember strobes? They turned into hot lights and continuous lights. Also, keep in mind that now the camera moves, and the light should work for several angles.

•Audio. Some say audio is 50% of a movie. Somebody told me “the ear, not the eye, leads the senses.” This is definitively true in video. I highly recommend the Zoom H4N as a trusty workhorse.

• Script. Yes, you need a script. Sorry. And many people also work with storyboards. This has been the hardest thing to adapt into my workflow. Adobe Story is a free scriptwriting software that I am starting to use with relative success.

• Focus. Now is manual and extremely critical, especially with full size sensors. A viewfinder is paramount.

• Movement. This is an interesting one. I used to carry a tripod, or “sticks”, only if I was driving somewhere. Now it is as important as the lenses. And now, both the subject AND the camera move. How is this for a change?

Bonus Difference

• Crew. Long gone is the lonely photographer, the “invisible witness.” The word of the day is collaboration. Now you have at least a director, director of photography, sound mixer, editor, screenwriter, and gaffer. And this is for a small, low-budget production! For a bigger one, add a producer, focus puller, camera operator, lighting technician, production designer, colorist, special effects coordinator, hair and makeup, line producer, and more.

Stay tuned, my HDSLR equipment lists for small, medium and large projects, as well as the best smart phone apps for filmmakers will be posted soon.