Posted on Tuesday, April 11, 2023

The Importance of a Camera Test – One Expert’s Take

A camera test is a process of evaluating and experimenting with different cameras, lenses, and lighting setups before the actual production begins. The purpose of camera testing is to determine the technical capabilities of the camera equipment and explore creative options that best fit the story being told. Camera tests can involve a range of professionals, including directors, producers, and post-production experts.

I have met many filmmakers who have videography backgrounds and who underestimate the importance of a camera test. Familiarizing yourself with a camera test is important especially when you shift your career from a videographer, focusing on documenting events, to a cinematographer working to create a specific look and feel for a scripted project.

Technical Assessment Camera tests allow cinematographers to assess the technical capabilities of a camera and lens combination before shooting begins. This includes factors like dynamic range, resolution, and color fidelity. By conducting camera tests, cinematographers can ensure that they're using the best equipment for the job and can make adjustments to settings or equipment as needed.

When I use a new camera I have never used before, as a minimum I always test dynamic range and latitude. One of the many advantages of this test is that you can ask a gaffer to make a specific ambience exposure on a pre-lighting day without the camera.

Creative Exploration Camera tests provide an opportunity for cinematographers to explore creative options and experiment with different looks and styles. By testing different lighting setups, camera angles, and lenses, cinematographers can get a better sense of how they can use the camera to convey the story they want to tell.

For example, I performed a lens flare test for a project. I tested cinema lenses such as Cooke S4, Zeiss Super Speed and Master Speed as well as cheap still lenses with a specific front adaptor, which created a better result than comparatively expensive and sophisticated cinema lenses. As a result of this qualitative camera test, I chose the cheap still lenses for the specific shot.

Collaboration Camera tests could involve a range of creative and technical professionals, including directors, producers, and post-production experts. By involving these stakeholders in the camera testing process, cinematographers can ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding the intended look and feel of the final product.

When I worked with a food company, one of the important things was to reflect their corporate color and the product color as accurately as possible. A camera test served this purpose, collaborating with a production designer and a colorist.

Cost Savings By identifying technical or creative issues early on, cinematographers can avoid costly reshoots or post-production fixes. Camera tests can help ensure that the final product meets the desired technical and creative standards, reducing the need for additional filming or post-production work.

We tested a couple of jibs for a project to move a camera from low position to high position in a small space. I asked a rental house for the test in advance and got a chance to see 3 options. The best jib was a X jib crane which allows a camera to move forward, since that was the most important movement for our project. The rest of the jibs were not able to create the same movement.

If you have never done a camera test before, you might be able to start by measuring the dynamic range of your DSLR. By doing this, you will be able to expose a camera more confidently. That is the first step to create a specific look and feel for a scripted project.

Shohta Fujii was born and raised in Japan. He has been a commercial cinematographer for 4 years working with international clients such as Microsoft, Dior, 3M and Google. He currently lives in Los Angeles where he is a fellow at The American Film Institute, pursuing his passion in storytelling.