My phone has a camera on it. Two, come to think of it. My tablet is a couple of years old at this point, so it doesn’t have two cameras, just one. In fact, I have a camera in my living room and a camera on my video game system that are both constantly recording and at any time I can stop and play back the last 15 minutes. The first is for home security, and the second is for epic victories that none of my friends would believe without concrete proof. I’ll let you guess which one is more important to me.

Also, there’s YouTube, where anyone with access to a camera, any camera, can have a channel. Grainy, pixelated, blurry video with terrible audio is accepted as a low-production-viewing experience, but if the content involves a really cute kitten scaring away a big dog or something equally intriguing, we’ll still watch it. And hit like and subscribe.

In the age of “Indie films” that actually make it to Netflix, seemingly without any real experience in filmmaking behind them, do we need to spend money on a camera we already have in our pocket, especially when we’re talking about thousands of dollars? Law of diminishing returns says it better be a world of difference in quality to justify the price. Is it worth it?

Yes. Yes it is. No hesitation. It’s important. You do need it. Save money elsewhere. We can help with that, actually—we can build a really affordable system for you so you can free up the funds, because you need a quality camera, particularly as high definition is replaced by 4K, and 8K is not far behind.

One thing those grainy cat videos have in common is that they are short, like the attention span of the aforementioned cat. I can watch 20 seconds of that and giggle, no problem. If it was feature-length, I would have a headache as my eyes struggled to focus the whole time, because even my insides would assume it’s my eyes and not the screen that’s so bad. I’d also probably have a headache out of professional frustration, but once you have a headache it doesn’t really matter the exact percentages credited to each cause. Still hurts.

Using a webcam or phone camera, you’re working with fewer pixels. They look clear for family photos, but if you tried to film an action flick, you’d immediately see the difference. Blow that photo up to the size of the IMAX screen and try to capture the nuance and detail of a wide shot to make the most of the explosion you can only afford to do once. If you shot it on a phone camera, you most definitely won’t get as much bang for your buck, literally.

A modern film camera, like those offered by Blackmagic, are capturing far more pixels in each shot, ensuring clarity even when zooming in on a tiny detail and projecting it on to the side of a building. As the image moves, the movement is clear because it’s not only capturing more in each image, it’s capturing more images, preventing “motion blur.” Each of those frames is a huge, high-quality image, and there are a lot of frames, thus making each shot a very, very large file...the type that can’t be saved on 10 phones, let alone one. These files are so big that it takes significant computing power to even open them. A film requires layers and layers of work, from the rough cut to the final edit, and both color grading and audio correction are needed after that. If every change caused your computer to crash, you aren’t making a movie.

If your best friend is posing for a tourist photo, and right behind them is a wave that is seconds away from completely soaking them, switch to video and use your phone. That’s YouTube gold, there’s no time for a camera crew, and pixelated pranks are still funny. They’ll probably even forgive you, particularly if the shot’s so pixelated you can’t really tell it’s them. Anything grander than that requires investment. You can use a minimalist cast, simple costuming and generic locations and you can still make a beautiful movie, but the most expensive design choices in the world will be lost if the footage isn’t clear, and at the end of the day, it’s all about the footage and how it comes together to tell your story.

If YouTube is your goal, go for it. You already have a camera somewhere and no one really cares. People don’t need to watch cat videos in high definition. But if you have a greater vision, you can’t capture it without a decent camera, and you owe it to yourself, and the project you are creating to do it right.

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