In the beginning of every cinematographer’s journey, the camera is idolized. “If only I had this camera, my work would be infinitely better.” “This camera has the best dynamic range, and it shoots in this many Ks.” I can tell you that once you’ve had your hands on the “best” camera, it doesn’t make you any better. This tends to be the natural progression of things. When you’re at your worst, you want the best; but when you’re at your best, you know that you can make anything work. Having the best camera is an unattainable goal because your eye and skillset are what make whatever camera is in your hands the best camera.
I can tell you for a fact that I once felt this way while pursuing and eventually purchasing my first Digital Cinema Camera back in 2014; this camera was the RED One MX. I was 21. I shot my first short on it, which was about a man who steals a cat and smokes a ton of pot along the way. It was a failed little experiment that never made it past the editing room. I learned a lot from the experience. I had some successes and mostly failures. But, the most important bit of knowledge I learned was that the camera, no matter how much it costs or how many features it has, doesn’t instantaneously create an amazing-looking, well-lit image out of thin air. One must learn how to use lighting in order to paint the image that one sees in his or her head.
Lighting is the constant in a vast sea of ever-changing physical capture formats. No matter what you shoot on, in the world of cinematography or photography, lighting is the leading factor that’ll make or break your image. How the sensor or film of each camera reacts to said light may differ, but the light itself remains the same. A soft light is a soft light, and a hard light is a hard light. Exposed, under exposed and over exposed are still factors. Highlights are highlights and shadows are shadows. Once you fully understand lighting and how expose for the camera, it won’t matter what camera you have in your hands.
When it comes to cameras, the one fact about that I can’t stress enough is that the camera is simply a format to capture visual information. That’s it. How you expose for that medium is up to you.