More thoughts on YouTube, Filmmaking and Cameras

A post about filmmaking, YouTube, gear and what on Earth am I doing?

I spent this morning looking at a new camera from Canon. It’s fancy, it has all kinds of great features and it satisfies a number of requirements I have for a camera. Do I need it? No. Do I want it? Kind of. I do not believe that it has been released yet but given how the world of cameras works there are many, many reviews of this camera on YouTube. And I doubt I will watch any of them (but if I did it would most likely be Gerald Undone or Potato Jet).

I have not been writing about cameras as much as I used to and, in part, this is because I’ve stopped paying attention to the new models. I’ve discovered that for all of the interest I may have in new cameras and amazing features I do not need anything more than I have. Which is somewhat disappointing as the most popular posts I have all concern cameras. Only I’m not writing here to be popular. I’ve been vocal about trying to figure out why I am write here and my absolute confusion as to what I should post on this site. I am not certain of the answer still. I am certain that I do not what to be a reviewer or someone who chases after what is popular.

All of this thought about the new camera (The Canon R5C) made me think about how different things are now compared to when I first started learning about cameras online. When I bought bought my first proper camera (the DVX 100B) there were not a lot of websites reviewing these cameras. There certainly were not thousands of people on YouTube putting out weekly reviews. What was truly different then was that the cameras I was concerned with were being reviewed from the perspective of how good they were for making films.

By making films I mean feature films being the purpose of these cameras. It was exciting and interesting and all of these famous filmmakers were extolling the virtues of having less expensive cameras for making movies. Steven Soderbergh was shooting films on a prosumer Canon camera (which I shot my first music video on) and Sidney Pollack accidentally did the same (Sketches of Frank Gehry). A new company called RED was going to make a camera and their goal was to have it be inexpensive enough that anyone could make a movie with it, removing the largest hurdle for making movies (I should point out that Jared Land also created a website/forum that was instrumental in providing me with information regarding filmmaking gear).

Now when I see reviews of new cameras nearly everyone is talking about whether it would be good for YouTube. Or weddings. Or some other thing that is not making feature films. Which makes absolute sense as there are millions of people making YouTube videos now. More people are making a living from creating videos for YouTube and other social media platforms than they are from making feature films. It’s just that these same people absolutely do not need amazing cameras to do what they are doing.

About a year ago I found myself watching video after video from YouTube filmmaker Peter McKinnon. I had heard about him for a while and never really found myself watching what he made. For some reason I watched one of his earliest videos and liked it. So I started from the beginning and watched what he made in chronological order. The videos were interesting, they were fun and it was a good way to pass the time in the middle of a pandemic. Then I came across a video where he visited the YouTube studio of someone who went by MKBHD. I had seen his image before but did not know him. It was a decent video, not overly interesting to me but there were two points where it had my attention fully.

The first was when Marques Brownlee was discussing the “sound traps” in his studio which allowed him to record anywhere in the giant space and still have great audio. That was news to me, I had not heard of those before. The other was when he was trying to convince Mr. McKinnon to invest in getting a Red camera. In case you don’t know until two years ago Red cameras were expensive. That initial dream of making affordable cameras for filmmakers never really happened. The least expensive model now sells for about $6,000. The cameras that these two were discussing were all at least double that amount.

I’m delving deep into this one episode but the reason is the arguments presented – shooting in 8k resolution was “future proofing” and that these cameras were vastly superior – were not really valid to Peter McKinnon at the time. He was using a Canon 1DX mark ii (I believe) a $5,000 camera geared more toward still photography than video. Still, an excellent camera and one he had been using for quite some time to make his successful YouTube channel with. I watched a few more videos of Mr. McKinnon’s and what appears on screen? A Red camera.

I just wrote three paragraphs to say something that should be one sentence – if you are making YouTube videos where 90% of what you film is yourself talking to the camera don’t spend a lot of money. Despite so many of these people promoting their Aputure lights and Sennheiser microphones if it’s just your face talking at the camera you don’t need expensive anything. Good lighting will make a better looking image just as a good microphone will make your voice sound better but at the end of the day it’s just a person talking to a camera. If people are willing to watch you do that then you can certainly save thousands of dollars and have it look and sound a bit worse.

Obviously a good looking image is nice.

I seem to have gone off topic here, I apologize. My frustration regarding the world of YouTube, cameras and making short or long form films/videos/content is that all of the focus on gear seems driven by the companies making and selling it. That so many people have a business that consists of reviewing filmmaking equipment on YouTube speaks volumes as to how weird this has gotten. I find it incredibly difficult to find people making actual films whereas if I want to watch a review about the new Panasonic S5 mark ii there are dozens that will come up with my first search.

There seems to be a disconnect between making films and making content and it’s interesting to see that few people make both. Which is not to say that I have not found people that do (Mark Bone in particular comes to mind as does Brady Bessette) but it certainly is rare. In a previous post I shared a clip from a podcast from Corridor Digital with Freddie Wong who had been part of a YouTube channel (RocketJump) and decided to leave in order to make films. I am happy to report he has done this and below I am sharing a video he made with Aputure and his director of photography Bongani Mlambo. It’s short and it’s interesting take a look:

I feel like I tread and retread this ground often with little positivity to add. I’d like to end this post by saying there’s nothing wrong with using great gear. I found it interesting to see videos from Peter McKinnon last year where he started purging all of his large and expensive gear (The Red camera included) because he doesn’t need it. What I like about the above video is when they speak about gear used on this shoot (the video is on the Aputure channel so…) they aren’t talking about using the biggest and best gear. They are highlighting products from this company and explaining why they chose to use what they used. Somehow the feeling I get from someone saying, “I made this and here is how I did it,” is more palatable than someone saying, “If you are going to make something, use this,”. Perhaps that is just personal preference.

Another Sony A7S Post

I keep poking at this in the hope I’ll be happy afterwards. Not yet…


Once again I am writing about cameras, specifically the Sony A7S. Why am I doing this?! Who could possibly care? It seems like you do, dear reader. Given that the vast majority of my posts are read by a handful of people, I’d like to point out that my most popular post (excluding the time that CNN linked to my See it Again of Hudson Hawk) is The Wonderful World of Cameras.

Screen Shot 2017-04-29 at 3.59.25 PM

Both of my posts concerning the A7S are over three years old. I’ve had the camera for nearly four years and many people are expecting the A7S mkiii to appear any day now (which is strange because you would think camera companies would benefit from simply announcing cameras in a normal fashion rather than playing this “surprise!” game that they do).

Over the past three months I’ve been playing around with the settings and discovered, not surprisingly, that I’ve been doing many things wrong. Let me try and be organized about explaining this matter because perhaps it might help some of you as well.

First, I bought the camera and was new to Sony menus and the like. Knowing that how you set up one of these cameras is as important as how you then use the camera I went looking for some guidance. As I mentioned before this led me to Philip Bloom and a workshop that he held with B&H Photo. I am providing a link to Cinema5D because they have a write up to go along with the video which I found helpful.

I have been following Philip Bloom and his work for some time and I find him to be knowledgable and helpful. When he shares settings he uses for a camera he usually offers an explanation as to why he uses these settings. This is incredibly helpful!

That being said I should have continued exploring and looking at the options for the camera because, I think, what he offered in this workshop is a down-and-dirty, quick set-up guide for people about to shoot. What he offered was for people who needed something that would work immediately, not necessarily the “best” settings for the camera.

An explanation of Slog

Why do I say this? Well for one he warns people off from Slog 2. The camera was new at the time and the minimum ISO setting of 3200 was off-putting to many. I also believe that he had (which many people have put forth) his understanding of when to use Slog backwards.

In my recent journey to better understand how to use the A7S and get better results I started reading blog posts by Alister Chapman. At first I came across Mr. Chapman and his published thoughts because I was looking for LUTs for the A7S and he made a number that he gave away for free. In trying to read through and watch the content he shared about the A7S I found I was either in waters too deep for my head or, sadly, bored with his approach.

I don’t write that to diminish his offerings. In the past few months I have made a concerted effort, due to my better understanding of who Mr. Chapman is and what he is offering, to try and understand what he has shared online. His understanding of how this camera (and I gather all Sony cameras) work and how best to use them is thorough, detailed and impressive.

It was in reading thought his posts that I began, slowly, to understand what  Slog 2 is intended for.

Log gamma, such as Sony’s S-Log2, allows the camera to capture a much greater brightness range or dynamic range than is possible when shooting with conventional television gamma. Dynamic range is the range from light to dark that the camera can capture or the range that the monitor or TV can display within one image. It is the range from the deepest blacks to the brightest whites that can be captured or shown at the same time.

Up until reading this post and others I did not appreciate (as I notice many people also seem not to) that the idea of a log gamma curve is to allow for greater dynamic range. What this means is that you have an image with very bright parts and very dark parts and you want to try and capture all of them (and do it without noise and other problems).


Now a great many people in the forums I follow have written about only using Slog 2 at night, due to the minimum ISO of 3200. They then have gone on to complain about noise in the shadows and overall poor image quality. Reading through Mr. Chapman’s take on Slog 2 it became apparent that if you know what Slog 2 is intended for that these results are unsurprising. Shooting at night usually means less dynamic range in the image and therefore a different gamma curve would be better suited.

I had been attempting to use the LUTs Mr. Chapman made (and others) for years and I’ve often found that when shooting with the profiles recommended in Mr. Bloom’s workshop that the results are less than ideal. This is because most of the LUTs I use are made for Slog 2 and not Cine 2 or 4.

Because of this I have continued searching and come across a number of posts referring to custom picture profiles that Andrew Reid at had made.

When I purchased my Panasonic GH3 I was made aware of Andrew Reid because he sold a guide about how to set it up for cinematic shooting. Many people recommended the guide and I purchased it for $20. At the time I found it useful since I was new to this form of filmmaking. Since that time I have been made aware that nearly everything in the guide could easily be found online at other sites, for free.


This made me skeptical when I heard about his picture profiles but I looked at the site and watched a few videos. The results are often quite good. Upon further investigation it became apparent that he had not created LUTs for the A7S but picture profile settings that he was selling.

Thankfully I have been paying attention to such things for long enough to know that whatever he was charging it was not worth the cost. A few keyword searches later and I found myself on a site I used when I owned a Panasonic DVX100 – DVXUser .com.

If you are unfamiliar with it it is a forum site which now deals with a wide range of cameras and filmmaking topics. When I purchased my A7S I did not know the site was still active. It is and, contrary to the Facebook groups I previously belonged to, it has a lot of great content and the members are often helpful.

In particular I found a thread pertaining to the A7S and custom picture profiles. Unlike Mr. Reid, the people sharing these are not looking to make a living over tweaking a few settings. One of the many benefits of this altruism is that a thread can be created where users test the settings, share their results and help fix any possible problems.

This comes from a Cinema5d article about LUTs –

This is where I have landed, a number of custom settings that dig much deeper into the submenus (and sub-submenus) of the camera manipulating settings I do not fully understand. The profiles come with suggested settings (a useful thing to have and thankfully accurate) and I now have a sense of what to use and when to use it – all in order to get better results.

The reason why I have bothered to write all of this is because after three and a half years – I am consistently happy with the results I am getting. The camera is delivering images that I now am manipulating in post in a way that works (rather than the long periods of trial and error from before).


I have found in the online community there is often an assumption of knowledge that leads to confusion and lack of understanding. Belonging to a number of groups and forums I am comforted by the fact that I am not the only person who is unsure as to what Knee adjusts on a camera. Yes, I can look it up – but understanding how a particular camera with a particular gamma profile should be manipulated to produce the best image isn’t easy and it isn’t intuitive. Finding the information, without explanations and the reasons why choices are made, often clarifies little for me. I follow the instructions but the results are hit or miss because of my lack of understanding.

Why the people making cameras don’t also make guides like the one on DVXuser is beyond me. Customers like myself would be thrilled to be getting better results without guesswork and hours of manipulation in post production and those that enjoy testing and learning on their own could ignore these guides and carry on as they like.