Any seasoned filmmaker or photographer will tell you that it’s not the size of your camera, sensor, or lens that matters, but how you use it (or craft your supporting elements like lighting, composition, etc.). But what I’ve come to realize is that size does matter– because impressing a client on set is just as important as impressing them with the final product.
Fellow Fstoppers writer Stephen Kampff wrote an article on this topic about a week ago, suggesting that he was reluctant to replace his Ronin-M with a DJI Osmo, for the simple fact that it doesn’t look impressive. While sad, this is the truth we are faced with when working with folks who are mostly not tech-saavy.
A friend that I’ve worked with for years was chatting with me on the phone a couple of months ago. There was a job coming up that he was producing, and he asked me to shoot and edit, so we discussed options for the camera and format. He is a filmmaker/photographer himself, so we can nerd out all day on this stuff, and I know he gets it. I suggested using the Panasonic GH4 for this particular shoot, as we wanted to archive the footage in 4K, but also keep the budget within reason. While he completely agreed that the quality the GH4 would provide would be perfect for the job, and come in at price point that was great for the budget, he said that we couldn’t use the GH4 because it wouldn’t “look impressive to the client.”
To be honest, the compact size of the GH4 can make it appear more like a toy or amateur stills camera at first glance. Anyone who has shot with it knows that it delivers a powerful video image for such a small package (which makes it that much more impressive, I think.)
My producer friend wanted to make sure his client, who was paying a tidy sum for the work his agency was doing, made no mistake that we were “professional,” so we elected to shoot with the more expensive, larger, Sony FS7 instead. If you’ve ever shot with a full-size shoulder mount camera, you know full well that the common person will see them and immediately notice or even comment about how the user “must be a professional,” for no other reason that the camera is large. I’ve heard it a thousand times. In the eyes of the average person, bigger equals better. Perception is everything.
For the exact same reasons, I’ve found myself using a mattebox system on shoots where I didn’t really need one. I had a full flag kit, a stock lens hood, and plenty of control over my lighting to ensure there wouldn’t be any errant light spilling into the lens. The shoots were indoors, locked down on a tripod. The mattebox added considerable bulk, but to the client, it looked damn impressive. For the small amount time it takes to rig one up, the size of a good mattebox with flags definitely commands respect. I heard several times that day from my client, their co-workers, and the talent, various comments about the massive camera we were using.
Before you tell me that a good client shouldn’t care about what your rig looks like, or that the final image is all that matters, know that I agree with you. 100%. But in the real world, where perceptions and impressions are huge, it’s been worth it more than a few times to make choices that make me “appear” more like a professional. It’s kind of ironic, given that what one of the things I think that actually makes me “pro” is being able to use cheaper, amateur gear and still deliver high end results.
Impressing a client on set can leave a lasting impression, but it’s not just that one client– it’s everyone you’ll work around, which might include potential future clients as well. So, in this writers opinion, it's definitely worth it to use gear that looks as impressive as possible when working with people who just don't know any better.