Yes! The Size of Your Camera Matters Because Most Clients are Not Filmmakers

Yes! The Size of Your Camera Matters Because Most Clients are Not Filmmakers

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.)

Even though the GH4 captures a great image, it doesn't look nearly as impressive as a larger, shoulder mounted camera.

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.

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Eric Crawford's picture

It's not just the client who is more impressed with larger equipment. I've been able to get photojournalist access to shoot events as a photojournalist (e.g., press conferences, huge parades in NYC) just by showing up with a full-size SLR and pro zoom -- no further credentials necessary.

On the flip-side I've been removed from events because my equipment looked "professional".

I don't have media credentials, but, as a fan, I went to a NCAA baseball regional and superregional. The venues for that university state that lenses can be no longer than 6 inches long. At the ticket gate, they had their measuring stick. I had already measured my 85-205mm f4.5 zoon and at 205mm, it measures 5 7/8 inches. One of the gate keepers challenged me and cranked to focus to 3.6 feet and the length went beyond 6 inches; focus changes the length of this lens, not the focal length. I said "You changed the focus. I'm not going to be 4 feet from the action." He said to change it to where I would be shooting. I changed it back to infinity and it measured in. I was shooting with my Canon A-1, a film camera.
At the first and second round of the women's basketball regionals, I brought the same A-1 setup. From our seats, I found myself shooting mostly in the 100mm range. Since I didn't need the range of the 85-205, I brought my 5D Mk III with the 24-105mm f4L lens, which also measures under 6 inches.

Oh man, do I feel your pain. Makes me not wanna carry my DSLR anymore

I'm working for a local news tv station. I never have to show a media card. I just have my camera in my hand and nobody ask a question

I totally agree - it's all about the clients perception and experience. You're not just selling the steak, you're selling the sizzle.

Which is funny, because you don't normally think about needing to have the "sizzle" behind the scenes.

What you do mean?

By sizzle I mean the whole experience. People pay for a meal at a restaurant to get the whole experience - good food yes, but also atmosphere, service, fancy "plating" of the food on the plate, etc. Sometimes this is more important that the quality of the food itself - just go to a cheap hibachi restaurant and you'll see what I mean (all show with bad food).

As photographers, we only really care about the photographs. But as entrepreneurs we have to care about client experience, which includes perceived value (and how professional we look).

This is why I love my Fuji mirror-less for everyday/family photos. We can go to any event and no one notices me - I can get whatever photo I want with great image quality. If I brought my full size gear it instantly changes the response, like it or not!

John Nelson's picture

I have to agree. Recently I started using a GH-4 on a Beholder DS1 Stabilizer, and the footage looks so smooth and amazing. But several people made comments that it looked amateur. Where as if I show up with a larger, heavier older camera with battery pack, larger lens, lens hood, and all the accessories, the response is totally different. They think I brought out better equipment. Also the effect can be a good thing if you don't want people to pay attention to you. If they mistake you for a tourist in public, or some busy location, they leave you alone.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Yes, but if the results aren't as good, will they hire you again?

Rob Mynard's picture

Unfortunately a lot of the time, people that aren't film makers or photographers wont be able to tell the difference between good and great footage but they'll lean towards the one they were told was shot on what they think was the better equipment. It's a bit of the emperors new clothes action I think. It's the same thing that still sells entry level DSLR's over similarly priced mirrorless alternatives.

Jacques Cornell's picture

I don't doubt that this happens. However, it doesn't happen to me. And, the IDEA that it happens unnecessarily exercises far too much influence in the buying decisions of inexperienced photographers with dreams of becoming professionals.

Roger Dilts's picture

Is the video camera pictured in this article the Sony FS7?

Omer Rana's picture

No, thats the FS700

Bryan Cooper's picture

I've talked about this with many photographers and videographers in the past, but the way you articulated it added an extra layer of insight. Great job on writing this post!
Perception is everything in business in general, not just creative work, and the size of your camera is one facet of that for sure.

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

I will add that the price of a ronin compare to a Osmo is also different
Maybe your final editing movie will look very similar with both gimbal; But on the shooting day, you can ask to be paid more when you bring a more expensive gear too.

Tech is getting smaller and smarter everyday, but it's natural that a Client is more impressed when you bring expensive gear to the shooting day? no?

Rob Mynard's picture

Well lets just hope that the GH5 has "Professional" printed on it somewhere.

Jacques Cornell's picture

For some, this matters, especially in the minds of insecure wannabes. For me, as a stills photographer doing events, it matters not at all. My clients hire me for the results, and they appreciate the silence and unobtrusiveness of my mirrorless cameras. Professionalism, demeanor and attire, and a bit of lighting gear, are all I need to convince all present that I'm a pro and they can expect pro results.

Mark Smith's picture

In my 25+ years in photography. Yes, size matters. Perception matters...At first.
Which brings me to a old joke......

A photographer had her friends over for lunch one day. After lunch the wife of one of her friends was looking at one of the prints hanging on the wall and said to the photographer "Wow! What a great photograph you MUST have some incredible camera!" The photographer was gracious and thanked her.

A few months later, the photographer was over her friend's house for dinner. The wife make dinner and desert, they all drank, laughed and had a great time. Later, upon leaving for the night the photographer went the hostess and said, "That was really a great meal, you MUST have really great pots and pans!".

Anonymous's picture

Personally I think it depends on what area of photography you do. I am only speaking as a stills photographer here. Commercial work? Probably a good idea to show up with a full DSLR or medium format rig. Events and weddings? Smaller the better. My clients love that I shoot with small unobtrusive cameras. i blend in at weddings so well I've been asked if I left early lol. You simply cannot get some intimate shots with a large camera, its just not possible. So while I agree I also disagree and think the situation dictates the gear.

Also if you show up with Big pro gear and blow the job do you think you will get hired again ? Probably not. If i show up with small gear people think isn't professionals and I nail the job? Im getting hired again for sure.

Good insights in this article though I agree with most of it

Mr Hogwallop's picture

On Craigslist you can get a 15 year old ENG camera for about $50 that could be used as a prop...just get it out of the case and say "We'll use this later..." and go shoot with the C300, G4 or A7.
If I hired those guys in the photo to shoot for me it's not necessarily the size of the camera that I'd be concerned about, its more that he's just hand holding it. Nothing to hold it shoulder rig, tripod, stabilizer, helium balloons...
I shoot 90% still, for high end clients using a Sony A7Rii, one guy noticed how small it is. I held up the Canon 5D and said the sony has better files that are 2x the size, and I find the Zeiss lenses to be better than Canon
I guess it depends on the comfort level and how you explain it.

Gabriel SAP's picture

I really get the point, but only partially agree. In fact I really like when the client is blown away by the final result after making many questions about the equipment and even looking to me with unbeliever eyes.
Once, working on a music video I remember hearing one girl of the cast saying "what, those guys are recording with photography cameras?!" and laughing with the others. It was around four years ago and since then, that very girl hired me several times for photo and video work.

Chris K.'s picture

I agree. I had a shoot yesterday with my Red Weapon and a Red Raven. I had the Weapon all bare bones-just a Leica R lens, 4.7" lcd, and battery for run and gun shots. The Raven was all kitted out: Leica R lens, follow focus, matte box, larger 7" lcd, and multiple monitor outs.
The client was awestruck at the Raven-pretty much just by size and accessories and not the Weapon. He claimed he knew a thing or two about "Red cameras" but obviously not enough between a $6k and $30k camera.

Fritz Asuro's picture

Yeh bigger is better. But unfortunately (or fortunately), technology is getting better and now can pack everything in a small package. Clients that lived their lives in the old age are most of the time stuck with this perception. But as of now, I never had a problem bring smaller than usual gear - what I do is I let them try to understand that this is the new age, equipments are becoming smaller, lighter, and better!

Remember GoPro was considered a small camera and clients before did complain why use such cheap looking camera instead of the professionally rigged video cam whenever shooting cars. Well hello future, even hollywood uses them now.

Lee Christiansen's picture

OK, I'm going to chime in as a seasoned DoP of 20 years in broadcast and higher-end corporate work...

Pro cameras are not small because they need a ceratin amount of functionality. Many lenses are not small because they offer options that smaller DSLR lenses simply can't come close to. Shoulder mounted trumps holding a small camera in front of your face almost every time - and I don't need a stabiliser to keep my hand held shots steady...

My PMW-500 camera is a full size 2/3" sensor (16mm equiv) and balances beautifully on my shoulder. The viewfinder sits in the right place and doesn't fog up when it's cold. The lens offers HD with a zoom of 17x and it holds focus throughout the zoom range and boy does it zoom fast and smooth. There's enough circuitry in there to offer superb dynamic range (last night I was shooting stae work with dark shadows and unpredictable highlights... not a blown skin tone, not a crushed black - and shooting with clean ISO gain. Pop on a Chrozsiel matte box, (which are things of professional beauty) and pana-size filters with bars and remote zoom - then this is adding up. An extra SDI fed nanoFlash for data security and we're getting bigger.

The other day I was shooting with a fully loaded Sony F5. By the time you've lloaded it with the options to make it actually work, then it grows in size. Every element of that package was needed.

My 5D3 rig takes a small DSLR. But with an exteral Blade recorder (which could so easily be a top mounted monitor for directors / focus pullers) and the rig set to balance properly, along with a required matte box and battery to power it forever and balance the lens, then it gets to be almost the size of my PMW-500.

There is a myth that modern cameras are small. Old cameras are big. We're not impressing clients by having big cameras - we're just getting the job done... quickly, professionaly and without compromise.

It's only when you get to play with the bigger cameras that you often realise the shortcomings of smaller, less operationally featured counterparts. Certainly smaller cameras offer technically great images, but the control comes from other factors - and that usually means an increase in size.

Chris K.'s picture

I think for the most part, modern cameras are becoming "modular" look at the Arri Alexa Mini or the Red Weapon. Bare bones the footprint is much smaller then your typical ENG camera without sacrificing any quality.
You'd adapt the camera to your shooting style and needs. Like with the F5 you were shooting with to shoot raw 4k if the client wanted you'd add on to that camera by adding the AXS-R5 or Odyssey.

For me for a traditional film shoot I'd outfit my Red Weapon with all the bells and whistles: heavier cinema lens, 19mm support, matte box, follow focus, extra modules, larger LCD, etc. For gimbal use it's as small and light as I can make it. And for handheld it's a bit in between.

Nick Jense's picture

I added the battery grip to one of my gh4's. Not because I really needed it, but it makes it look more "professional"

This is true...perception IS reality as far as others are concerned.

So when you are in the business of attracting clients you need to craft their perception carefully.

Rob Mynard's picture

At the other end of the spectrum, photographic cameras can be small and still look professional but only if they look retro.

Joe Morrison's picture

I've definitely found that people give me shooting space when I'm carrying a decent camera, even something smaller like a GH4. Going to sporting events or festivals it also doesn't hurt a bit if you wear a baseball cap with the name of a popular magazine as well.

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