40+ Sundance filmmakers share the cameras and lenses they used to have their projects reach their greatest potential.
The films that make up the 2019 Sundance Film Festival weren’t just made overnight, and they didn’t appear in thin air, already made and on their way to one of the most prestigious festivals in the world.
The participating films took a lot of hard work, dedication, commitment, and good cameras and lenses. Like, really good cameras and lenses.
With the 2019 Sundance Film Festival currently in progress, we asked several of this year’s participating filmmakers what cameras and lenses they used on their feature films. Below is an infographic summing up our findings as well as individual responses that go into greater detail.
Scroll down to read the information they offered.
A.J. Eaton (Director of David Crosby: Remember My Name): Red Epic Dragon (at 5K), Sony FS7, Sony F55 (at 4K, Slog3 S-Gamut3.cine) with Canon 17-120, Fujinon XK20-120mm T3.5 Cabrio Premier Lens, Fujinon ZK85-300mm T2.9-4.0 Lightweight Cabrio Lens, and Zeiss Variable Prime lenses. Additional footage captured on Sony Z150 along with some DSLR shots and drone aerials (all in 4K)
This documentary is a hybrid of cinéma vérité following David Crosby as he leaves home and makes various stops at significant locations along his 2017 concert tour and a number of seated multi-camera interviews that were conducted by me and Cameron Crowe in Los Angeles, CA, on the campus of Kent State University in Kent, OH and at the Crosby home in Santa Ynez, CA.
RED Epic Dragons were used for our initial stationary interviews when we had adequate camera support to handle the workflow. The Sony FS7 proved to be extremely valuable for our vérité with their low light sensitivity which came in very useful when shooting in darker backstage areas, in moving cars and run-and-gun location situations. Eventually, we started loving the speed of the FS7 workflow and ended up shooting the last stationery interviews with F55 working as the primary camera and FS7s as B-Cam.
However, as it turned out, many of our most vulnerable and raw moments I shot myself with a Sony PXW-Z150 4K camcorder which gave me the ability to become discrete and unobtrusive, allowing Crosby to become unaware that he was being filmed and to act naturally.
Adam Newport-Berra (Director of Photography on The Last Black Man in San Francisco): ARRI Alexa Mini with Zeiss Master Primes and Angenieux Optimo.
Alex Chi (Producer of Ms. Purple): ARRI Alexa Mini w/ Todd AO 55mm Anamorphic Lenses.
Alex Lehmann (Director of Paddleton): Canon C700, Cooke Panchros. We wanted a versatile 4K camera that wouldn’t be data intensive. The lenses added a soft warm vintage feel.
Andre Hyland (Director, Actor, and Producer of Old Haunt): Old Haunt was shot on a RED, with vintage lenses from the 70s to have a warmer/softer cinematic feel.
Britt Poulton (Director and Writer of Them That Follow): ARRI Alexa Mini with Cooke Speed Panchros lenses, for their reliability and their organic, film-like image.
Bronwyn Cornelius (Producer of Clemency): ARRI Alexa w/ anamorphic lenses. Beyond the sheer beauty and quality the ARRI brings to films, using anamorphic lenses allowed us to extend the breadth of our visual space, which is especially significant for us, having largely filmed in a prison cell and small rooms of a prison. This camera/lens combo helped provide us with a cinematic feel, even with the challenge of filming within confined spaces.
Caleb Jaffe (Director of It’s Not About Jimmy Keene): Pocket Cinema Camera for pickup shots.
Caroline Rumley (Director of The Ghost Behind): Pocket Cinema Camera.
Chester Algernal Gordon (Producer of Fran This Summer): ARRI Alexa.
Chiwetel Ejiofor: (The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind): ARRI Alexa Minis with Panavision Primo Prime lenses. We used the minis because they are light and fast. They were also very useful for the small spaces we were shooting in. The Panavision Primo lenses have a beautiful, classic, timeless quality to them. Cinematographer Dick Pope has used these lenses on previous films and thought they’d be perfect for this, which they were.
Dan Madison Savage (Director and Writer of Them That Follow): Them That Follow explores the century-old tradition of snake handling and much like these churches, I wanted the film to feel out of place in time. To achieve this, our DP, Brett Jutkiewicz championed an ARRI Alexa Mini with vintage Cooke Speed Panchros lenses—allowing us to keep the past alive in a story that is very much of the present day.
David Wnendt (Director of The Sunlit Night): ARRI Alexa Mini and different anamorphic lenses. Smaller size allowed for more flexibility in tight spaces and with handheld shots.
Debra Eisenstadt (Director, Writer, and Producer of Imaginary Order): We worked with Cooke s4 lenses. They are great lenses with soft contrast, very good details, and warm colors. They are light and easy to use for handheld. The lenses match together in the set for color, contrast, and detail.
Elegance Bratton (Producer of Fran This Summer): ARRI Alexa because it’s one of the finest prices of gear out there and it’s provided by NYU grad film.
Emelie Mahdavian & Su Kim (Producers of Midnight Traveler): The movie was shot with Samsung S3, Samsung A3, and Samsung S3 mini mobile phones. The mobile phones were a necessity for logistical reasons, but contributed to the aesthetic of the film. As director Hassan Fazili says, “I could be very close to the subjects and characters of the movie, and this proximity created intimacy that meant I could feel their inner feelings and portray the characters better.”
Eric Lin (Director of Photography on The Sound of Silence): We shot on an Alexa Mini with Zeiss Super Speed Mark III primes and an Optimo 24-290 zoom.
Peter Lucian, the main character, is obsessed with sound as an invisible force that can significantly impact our behavior. In prep, the director, Michael Tyburski, and I talked about how to visually draw out how Peter’s obsession isolated him emotionally and how it imposes rigidity on his life. One aspect of our approach was to shoot with a shallow depth of field, minimal camera movement, and restricting the color palette. Doing so also allowed us to emphasize the auditory elements of the film and foreground the act of listening while watching the film.
After much testing, we settled on Zeiss Super Speed Mark IIIs because they allowed us to achieve that very shallow depth of field while also having a cooler, less saturated color rendition and a softer contrast when shooting wide open. Like Peter, who relies on analogue devices in his meticulous work, the Super Speeds brought an analogue feel to the image while also being precise. We also used judicious zooms to emphasize when the world was imposing itself on Peter and he starts to question his own beliefs.
From experience, I knew the Alexa sensor would have the color depth so that we could limit the color palette further with our LUT and achieve porcelain skin tones without it looking monochromatic. We wanted there to be room for mystery in the frames and played with deep shadows and underexposure to get there. In many scenes, I underexposed by several stops and the Alexa sensor handled the underexposure beautifully. While shooting a rooftop night exterior scene, we lucked out and got foggy weather. The ambient light of the city provided just enough exposure that our actors were silhouetted against the foggy night sky. The levels were so low, I couldn’t rely on my meter, but the waveform and false color on the Alexa showed me that the sensor was able to pick up the tiniest amount of detail in the actors’ faces. We didn’t use any additional lighting, relying solely on the ambient light the fog was kicking around onto the actors and it gave us a unique feel for a delicate moment in the film.
Garret Price (Director and Editor of Love, Antosha): Canon C300.
Grant Sputore (Director of I Am Mother): We shot on the Alexa with Master Anamorphics. The DP and I loved the incredible clarity and precision they offered, which felt right for our story about a robot and its meticulously controlled environment. In particular, we responded to the lack of distortion the lenses had, since our set was filled with lots of straight lines that we wanted to keep straight!
Henrik Georgsson (Director of The Man Who Played with Fire): ARRI Alexa. Good camera.
Irene Taylor Brodsky (Director of Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements): Our story is told with 80 years of motion pictures, from 8MM home movies to the iPhone, an Osmo, and present day run-and-guns Canon C300 and 5D.
Jason Orley (Director and Writer of Big Time Adolescence): To accomplish the look of thefilm, we chose Alexa cameras for their filmic-like qualities. My DP Andrew Huebscher did an amazing job of designing a grainy vintage look, with a flatter, darker, more drab palette that felt appropriate to the world we were creating. We tested vintage glass at Panavision NY, and ultimately decided on Super and Ultra Speed lenses for their gentle handling of details while still maintaining sharpness.
Joe Berlinger (Director of Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile): We used the ARRI Alexa Mini with Panavision C-Series Lenses. I made my career shooting vérité documentaries and wanted to achieve a similar handheld feel with this narrative film, so the mini was a perfect fit. We also felt that the vintage anamorphic lenses would be the best tools to achieve the 1970s look of the film that we desired without overdoing it with heavy handed production and costume design.
Julian Cautherley (Producer of Clemency): ARRI Alexa.
Justin Chon (Director of Ms. Purple): 55MM Todd AO anamorporphic, 300mm Canon. We wanted to shoot scope hence the anamorphic. As for the odd choice of the 300, i wanted to have a voyeuristic aspect to the film. We have a lot of shots from across street, down streets. I wanted the audience to feel like they were candidly observing them when they were out in public.
Ken Rosenberg (Director and Producer of Bedlam) and Peter Miller (Producer of Bedlam): We shot on a range of cameras, including Panasonic 720/24PN, Canon C300, some on an Amira, a little on XAVC S 4K, and a small amount on Sony AVCHD 1080 24p.
Kim Longinotto (Director of Shooting the Mafia): PDW XDCAM 850 with wide angle zoom lens.
Lucas Gath (Co-Director and Director of Photography of Ghost Fleet VR): The subject of this 360 documentary project was slavery in fishing boats in Thailand and Indonesia, so filming was delicate and we knew we had to be careful. Some of the fish markets where we wanted to film could’ve potentially had traffickers looking for people.
I spoke with Luis Flores who built a very small, inconspicuous rig that could go unnoticed. His understanding of cameras was very important to find the perfect solution, as there were no plug and play that would work there. The cameras were hidden and lenses were barely noticeable. Parallax was close to none. Like this we were able to have it in plain sight without putting ourselves in danger, getting excellent quality, low light, and capture the action in a fluid way.
Luke Lorentzen (Director, Producer, Editor, and Director of Photography on Midnight Family): I used a Sony Fs7 body, and I shot the whole film on one prime lens–a 24mm Canon L series f/1.4. Almost all of my film takes place at night, so I needed something fantastic in low light and this match seemed to be my best option with my budget.
Lulu Wang (Director and Writer of The Farewell): Alexa Mini with Master Primes.
Martha Stephens (Director of To the Stars): We used the ARRI Alexa XT because of its versatility and image quality. Our lenses were Panavision Primos with a few customizations to complement the black and white photography.
Matt Porwoll (Director of Photography on Tigerland): We primarily shot the film on two Canon C300 MKIIs in 4K. For lenses, we opted for the Canon Compact Zooms , 5.5-47mm T2.8 and 30-105mm T2.8, as well as a set of the Canon K35s. In Russia, we wanted the verite scenes to have a crispness to the image that reflected the cold, harsh environment and the Compact Zooms were perfect for that. They are sharp, have great color representation, and solid contrast. For the atmospheric, beauty shots, we used the K35s for their softer contrast and gorgeous flares.
In India, we wanted a softer, warmer look to the image, so we opted to shoot as much as possible on the K35s. For verite scenes that required a zoom, we used the Canon Compact Zooms paired with a 1/4 Tiffen Black Pro Mist to soften the highlights and slightly reduce the contrast. We also carried a Canon 50-1000mm lens for the tiger and wildlife footage. It’s such a beautiful lens for this application, because not only could we get a shot of the tiger’s eye at 1000mm (or 1500mm with the 1.5x extended engaged), but could also pull out to 50mm to place the wildlife in the environment! In addition to the Canon C300 MkIIs, we also had a RED Epic Helium 8K on a DJI Ronin 2 for slow motion shots, a DJI Osmo for snow mobile driving shots, and a DJI Inspire 2 shooting 4K RAW for aerials.
We really covered the gamut of shooting formats for this film!
Minhal Baig (Director of Hala): We shot on the ARRI Alexa Mini on spherical Cooke S4 lenses. Carolina and I spoke extensively about wanting a small, light camera because we were shooting in a lot of tighter spaces. Personally, it’s important for me that the camera be as small and as unobtrusive as possible; I want the actors to forget that it’s there. Cooke S4s are a favorite of mine but we tested a lot of lenses before deciding on them. These lenses render faces so beautifully and the color always looks great.
Mirrah Foulkes (Director of Judy and Punch): ARRI Alexa with Panavision B and C series anamorphic lenses. We wanted to shoot on film but couldn’t afford it, the vintage glass on these lenses gave us a really nice organic look and we liked the unpredictable flares.
Musa Syeed (Director ofThe Dispossessed): Pocket Cinema Camera.
Myf Hopkins (Producer of The Last Tree): ARRI Alexa Mini with Zeiss Cinema Speedstars and Zeiss High Speeds lenses.
Rashaad Ernesto Green (Director of Premature): We shot with Arriflex 416 camera and Zeiss Ultra 16 Lenses. We wanted the the image we created on 16MM to be as sharp as it can be. The camera body is versatile and offers lots of flexibility.
Richard Ladkani (Director and Director of Photography on Sea of Shadows): ARRI Amira with EF Mount and Canon EF lenses. The camera is extremely robust and versatile with the best image quality. The lenses are very high quality and cover a wide range from wide to telephoto at very low cost, compared to cine lenses.
Ross Kauffman (Director, Producer, and Co-Cinematographer on Tigerland): We shot primarily with Canon C300Mark2. Many times we had TWO cameras running and two backup bodies. We shot in Russia in -20 degree weather, and India in 100 degree weather so we needed to be nimble, versatile, and durable. We had to have the ability (both financial and physical) to easily swap out bodies if any failed. We used Canon cine zooms 15.5-47mm and 30-105m along with a 50mm-1000mm for shooting tigers in the wild. We also used K-35s. We used the RED Epic on a Ronin. We also shot 16MM Bolex.
Ruben Impens (Director of Photography on Dirty God and Mustang): Alexa Mini with Panavision Primo lenses (both movies, same gear, different aspect ratio).
Sacha Polak (Director of Dirty God): Mini Alexa, primo lenses. We wanted to be flexible. What was important was that the film take place in the present day and age.
Samantha Buck & Marie Schlingmann (Co-Directors and Co-Writers of Sister Aimee): We shot on an ARRI Alexa Mini with Cooke Mini S4 Primes (mainly 25 and 32mm). We wanted to keep the camera build small and light considering some of our tight quarters, including a 1920s period car, so the Mini made sense. It also frequently lived on a Chapman Cobra dolly with a 3ft slider, on as well as off of track. We had a compressed shooting schedule and found the dolly/slider combination a very useful tool for framing up quickly. Lens-wise, we aimed to have deeper focus images and since we didn’t need very fast lenses for our look, we felt that the Minis were an ideal choice.
Tayarisha Poe (DP of Playhouse): URSA Mini Pro.
Tayarisha Poe (Director and Writer of Selah and the Spades): Alexa Mini and kowa spherical lenses
Tim Mason (Director and Co-Writer of Work in Progress): Alexa Mini and Zeiss Super Speeds.
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders (Director and Producer of Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am): Primary camera was RED Scarlett.
For more, see our ongoing list of coverage of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.