IndieWire reached out to the cinematographers behind the scripted narrative features premiering this week at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival to find out which cameras, lenses, and formats they used, and why they chose them to create the looks and meet the production demands of their films. Here are their responses.

Films appear in alphabetical order by title.

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Section: Midnight

Dir: Prano Bailey-Bond, DoP: Annika Summerson
Format: 35mm Kodak 5219 and 5207, Sony 4K X-OCN
Camera: Arricam LT& ST, Sony Venice
Lens: Canon K-35

Summerson: I shot a short film with “Censor” director Prano Bailey-Bond called “Nasty” on s16mm years ago which was the calling card for this feature so we already had it in our minds to shoot on film, 35mm if possible. Both because we love the organic look and the texture of film, and also because it’s set in the 1980’s and pays homage to the video nasties of the time. We ended up with a compromise where we shot roughly 80 percent of it on film and had a Sony Venice for the night exteriors in the forest. Lenses were canon K35s which I thought lent themselves well to the period with a soft, low contrast look.

Throughout the film, the look is changing quite dramatically and the challenge was to make it feel like the same film from start to finish. We begin with our protagonist Enid in a fairly muted setting, a 1980’s corporate office, which we then slowly merge with the colourful, distinctive look of video nasties, as her mind slowly descends into confusion and madness. We also shift the aspect ratio between 2:39 and 4:3 as we step inside the world of horror films, losing track of what is her real world and fantasy.

We also shot some of the films the character is watching in her workplace and those I wanted to feel like real ’70s and ’80s horror films and had a lot fun making them. For the main part of the film though, it was important to me to draw inspiration from them, but not fully emulate them.


Section: Dramatic Competition

Dir: Sian Heder, DoP: Paula Huidobro
Format: Sony Venice 6k
Camera: Sony venice
Lens: ARRI signature Lf primes

Huidobro: “CODA” is a powerful coming of age story set in a fishing town in Massachusetts. The intention behind our our visual language was to tell the story in a realistic yet intimate way. We wanted to capture what it feels like to be 17, the struggles of becoming your own person and the unique sense of possibility, hope and some times heartache with the choices life presents.

“CODA” is the story of Ruby, a hearing girl in a deaf family. The story was full warmth, a strong loving family, a fishing village, a high school, and a community. We wanted the images to make you feel part of it. Nature, the ocean and music were also always present on our mind as we told the story.I loved the resolution of the Sony Venice for the wide landscapes and the ocean. I loved the tonal range and the high iso. The lenses are really beautiful portrait lenses.

“Coming Home in the Dark”

Section: Midnight

Dir: James Ashcroft, DoP: Matt Henley
Format: 3.2k Prores 4444XQ
Camera: ARRI Alexa Mini
Lens: Zeiss Ultraprimes

Henley: “Coming Home in the Dark” required an austere but dynamic and dark visual style. I shot the majority of the film with a handheld approach that needed to be reactive to action while also being slightly disorientated and bewildered to reflect the predicament the two lead characters find themselves in. My instinct was that it needed to have a very clear and stark image the intention being I wanted the audience to have an immediate reaction to the action within the image.

The film was lit in a manner which meant I had a lot of light sources pointing across the action getting dangerously close to the lens so I needed a set of lenses that were forgiving to direct light, near, or directly down the lens to maintain this starkness in image. I also needed a set that was light weight and with a reasonably fast stop as we were shooting exterior night locations in remote places. The set of lenses that best fit these requirements were the Zeiss Ultraprimes. We spent much of the film shooting in and around cars so a small and lightweight body was preferable.

“Eight for Silver”

Section: Premieres

Dir/DoP: Sean Ellis
Format: 35mm Film
Camera: Arricam ST and LT
Lens: Optica Elite Series-7 Anamorphic lenses

Ellis: I’m simply into film so the choice is very simple for me. Here I shot with an Arricam ST as our A camera and an Arricam LT for handheld and steadicam. Both were 4 perf anamorphic. I spent about six weeks testing Kodak stocks with my colouist, Fabien Pascal at Silverway Paris to determine the look for the film. We shot all the beautiful costumes by Madeline Fontaine using various lighting styles and tested about 10 different types of candles, finally deciding on triple wick candles imported from Canada. We used Kodak stock 5203 for daytime exteriors. 5213 for daytime interiors and 5219 for night.

We were shooting fours hours away from Paris so the rushes would leave for the lab everyday at 3PM and I would be emailed graded stills by 5PM the following day. The online rushes were uploaded by 11PM that night but I was often too tired to view these so we screened selected rushes at the local cinema on a Saturday and discussed how we were doing and made any adjustment in the look from there.

The Optica Elite anamorphic lenses are just beautiful and play a huge part of the look of the film. They have a soft fall off but bite down where it counts giving a painterly quality that is complimented by the texture of the film grain. They bow at the edges and breath and do all the things we love about anamorphics – they also flare in a subtle and pleasing way. I generally shot them around T2.8. Other lenses included a set of Kowa Mirrorscope anamorphics for steadicam work. And a Cooke S4 18-100mm T3 zoom with a rear anamorphic adapter which made it a 36-200mm T4. We also had Angenieux 50-500mm T4.5 anamorphic and a Canon 600mm T4 anamorphic.Principle photography lasted 55 days shot in two blocks and split by a year. We ended up shooting 250,000 feet with a shooting ratio of 25:1.

“El Planeta”

Section: World Dramatic Competition

Dir: Amalia Ulman, DoP: Carlos Rigo Bellver
Format: Blackmagic RAW
Camera: Blackmagic Pocket 4K
Lens: Leica R

Bellver: The main reason we decided to use this camera is because it was inexpensive and we were dealing with a very limited budget. In retrospect, I think it was the right decision because we needed a simple, light and easily manageable camera for a small team. On the other hand, Amalia had previously shot a short film with that camera and knew that it could work for “El Planeta.” It seemed like a good idea to me, and it was interesting to get out of my comfort zone of shooting always or almost always with professional cameras and lenses.

Regarding black and white, we knew that facing a color post production with our very small budget was almost suicide because the weather in Gijón is very gloomy and makes color photography very difficult. We opted for a black and white so we could make something beautiful with the limited tools we had. I think we managed to bring that initial decision in our favor because it really helps to tell the story of a town in decline.

Regarding the look of the film, we decided to go for a naturalistic, contemplative photography that didn’t distract from the story. My challenge as a photographer was to try to create filmic spaces where the characters could move freely without being limited by technical aspects of the camera or light. On the other hand, we tried to solve the sequences in the fewest possible shots, trying to make things happen in front of the camera in a natural and intuitive way. In short, it was a pleasant exercise, Amalia gave me great freedom to propose new ideas and we agreed almost always.Maybe we say this too often, but the reality is that I consider this film a small miracle, it would have been impossible to make it without a huge amount of love and involvement on the part of a tiny team always rowing in the same direction.

“Fire in the Mountains”

Section: World Dramatic Competition

Dir: Ajitpal Singh, DoP: Dominique Colin
Camera: ARRI Alexa MINI

Colin: This is a story of a woman who fights for her son’s health in a remote Himalayan village with no road access. We found a gorgeous but a very difficult location with no road and decided to shoot there. (The film is shot in Sarmoli, a remote Himalayan Indian village above Munsiyari in Uttarakhand, which shares its border with Nepal and Tibet and has its own Instagram page).

As the director Ajitpal and I spoke more about the protagonist Chandra and her fighting spirit, and he told me that he wants the audience to experience the film as if they are sitting next to Chandra, my reference was the Andrea Arnold’s film, “Fish Tank,” one of my favorite films, mostly shot handheld. Ajit loves this film too. So, we decided to shoot handheld and skip the grip equipment and the grip team to be as light as possible so as to move quickly anywhere and give more freedom to the actors and be very close to their emotions, especially for the last sequence where the actors were in a trance. The flexibility and the sensibility of the Alexa Mini with the Ultra Prime Lenses was a very good choice to capture all the subtlety of the script.

“First Date”

Section: NEXT

Dir: Manuel Crosby & Darren Knapp, DoP: Manuel Crosby
Format: Cinema DNG Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6K
Camera: Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera
Lens: Rokinon Cine DS Primes, Letus Anamorphx 1.8x

Crosby: We wanted to echo the visual style of 1990s and early 2000s indie genre movies, but put our own spin on it. I already knew the Ursa Mini 4.6k pretty well a key criteria for this project because I was both shooting and directing. Using our anamorphic setup along with focal lengths on the wider side heightened the movie’s world and added just the right amount of softness and aberration. Also, one of our team members owned the camera and lens package and gave us a great rental rate. Nothing beats practicality! This got us more shooting days and accommodated our spread-out schedule.

Though primarily a single-camera shoot, we occasionally grabbed seamless second angles with a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. Lighting with mostly halogen fixtures and leaning into harder sources gave the image some grit. Straight tungsten temperature edge lighting with a bit of post work created a nostalgic silvery sparkle for moonlight. We also embraced darkness throughout, to further enhance the movie’s blending of genres and tones.


Section: World Dramatic Competition

Dir: Blerta Basholli, DoP: Alex Bloom
Format: 2.8K Arri ProRess 4444XQ
Camera: ARRI Alexa Mini
Lens: Cooke S4 Mini and Zeiss Superspeeds MK2

Bloom: To be honest I wanted a camera that i didn’t want to think about so much and where I knew what to expect. With the Arri Alexa you have very good latitude and an organic picture out of the box. I like to create a look on set and I am pretty confident with what this camera has to offer. Lens-wise I wanted something that doesn’t draw to much attention and is subtile. The movie is pretty much about the women and their struggles not about a big cinematic look. So I stuck to something I knew and liked and what was available. Since the movie is completely handheld and most shots were mastered in long takes, a nice side effect was that this lens-camera-combination is very lightweight and small. My biggest rule was that this wasn’t a camera-movie, which meant that I tried to see my needs in less important position, I wanted our actresses to move freely and where they felt was right and tweak everything around it to make it possible.

“Human Factors”

Section: World Dramatic Competition

Dir: Ronny Trocker, DoP: Klemens Hufnagl
Format: 4K Sony RAW
Camera: Sony F55
Lens: Cooke Speed Panchro, Leica-R

Hufnagl: Our goal was to contrast the modern advertising world with a classic, melancholic counterpoint through the use of the 1.66:1 aspect ratio and shooting with vintage lenses. The film takes place in 2 different worlds. The professional, cool environment in Hamburg contrasts with the warmer holiday house on the Belgian coast. It is a constant fluctuation between cold and warm, not only between the worlds, but also in the images mixed light plays a big role. For Hamburg, we shot on the slightly sharper, cooler Leica-R lenses and used lots of blues, soft light and less visual tension. Belgium has higher color contrasts with dominant warm tones. We wanted to emphasize that with the Cooke Speed Panchro lenses. The warm colors, distortions and softness at the edges give the sleepy Belgian coastal town a dreamy atmosphere.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the German Leica lenses put Hamburg in the best light as do the French Cooke lenses with Belgium. The light was dirtier in Belgium than in Hamburg. We used economy lamps with a high green cast in the practicals and orange sodium vapor lamps outdoors. In Hamburg, we did away with the dirt in the lights and used cleaner lamps.As for framing and camera movement, the 4 characters differ in subtle nuances. We used different focal lengths, apertures, camera heights and types of movement to visualize the personalities and moods. When doing this there is always a danger that the film will visually fall apart, so we had to be very subtle. To counteract this and to create additional cohesion between the worlds and to further support the melancholic character of the film, we shot with a 1/16 or 1/8 Pearlescent filter throughout.

“I Was a Simple Man”

Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Dir: Christopher Makoto Yogi, Dir: Eunsoo Cho
Format: 2.8k
Camera: Alexa mini
Lens: Speed panchro 18, 25, 32, 40, 50, 75, 100mm

Cho: The image of Hawai’i in my mind is lush, colorful and soft. The greens are vibrant, the rocks and earth are dark, and the clouds and breeze are very playful and soft. The story of film travels through the space and time and the family. I wanted a unique look for the story and the character of the island. I also knew that we will be shooting all locations and I will squeeze the camera into nooks and crannies. I needed a small body that is reliable and carries out the characteristics of the lenses.


Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Dir: Clint Bentley, DoP: Adolpho Veloso
Format: ARRIRAW Open Gate 3.4K
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Zeiss Superspeeds

Veloso: Alexa mini + Zeiss superspeeds is the best setup I’ve found so far to shoot documentary-style narratives like this one. The combination is very light and easy to operate and has the sensitivity and speed necessary to shoot in very low light. We were able to really immerse ourselves in that live horse track without interfering much, using mostly practical lighting and a handheld camera. That was essential to us, as we were able to follow the actors around while they improvised with the first-time actors.

“John and the Hole”

Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Dir: Pascual Sisto, DoP: Paul Özgür
Format: ArriRAW
Camera: Arri Alexa LF
Lens: Zeiss Supreme lenses

Özgür: When I read the script I was fascinated by this concept of the hole in the ground. I told the director (Pascual Sisto) I always saw this film in a 1:33:1 ratio. So I proposed the idea of making the opening of the hole the same as the shooting ratio, so that you really have this box within a box.I tend to shoot a lot on medium still format film in my time off and I always felt like this film should have a similar feel to it. We ended up testing the Alexa LF with an open gate to get the biggest sensor size and really felt that the bigger format would give us the freedom to play with a very shallow depth of field or a very deep depth of field. To me this was the closest to the “medium format feel” I tried to achieve.

We tested some older and newer glass and we both agreed on that the newer Zeiss Supreme glass was a match. I also needed the consistence and speed of a modern lens. We were shooting a lot with natural light so I wanted to be flexible and modern lenses keep the quality consistent even if you go wide open. During some of the make up tests we realized that our workhorse should be the 50mm and the occasionally the 85mm for close-ups. I like working in a very disciplined way, I always end up shooting most of my films on two or three lenses. I was inspired by the simplicity (and complicity) that you see in the work of Yasujirō Ozu. His cinematic vocabulary is extremely minimalistic and I think subconsciously I took it with me one shooting this movie.

“Judas and the Black Messiah”

Section: Premieres

Dir: Shaka King, DoP: Sean Bobbitt
Format: ArriRaw
Camera: Arri Alexa LF, Alexa LF Mini
Lens: Arri DNA LF lenses

Bobbitt: The Alexa LF and DNA LF lenses were chosen for a number of reasons. The film is not a documentary or a docudrama. We hoped to emphasize that by shooting in a wide screen format. The wide screen format lends itself to strong compositions of groups of people – a recurring image in the film. The shallow focus inherent in the large format cameras can also be used in close ups to isolate the actor from the background with great dramatic effect. The DNA lenses have some characteristics of anamorphic lenses which lend them to a more period feel without having to shoot on anamorphic. The amount and quality of color information in ArriRaw from the LF Camera gave the ability to grade the images without compromise. It also meant that we were able to maintain true and accurate flesh tones for each individual actor.


Section: Midnight

Dir: Frida Kempf, DoP: Hannes Krantz
Format: 1.66:1
Camera: Sony Fs7
Lens: Modify contax lenses

Krantz: I used the Sony Fs7 because you can use a speedbooster so it end up looking like a full frame camera. I wanted to get close to the actor but also get shallow depth of field. The camera with that lenses make the camera light and easy to use and we just film in real locations so that was also a dealbreaker for me that the camera was not to big. Some shots like the snorricam shots we use an a7s Mark II because we needed the camera to be very small and light for the actress to be able to wear it herself. There is a lot of wide angle in this movie, were we was really close to the actor and that was the recipe for the claustrophic feeling.


Section: World Dramatic Competition

Dir: Alex Camilleri, DoP: Léo Lefèvre
Format: Arri Log c – S16mm Sensor Crop Mode – Pro Res 4444
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Zeiss MKI + Canon Zoom

Lefèvre: Based on the documentary approach of the director, we wanted to do some tests to find the look of the movie make the story [feel] alive and powerful. We fell in love with the combination of the Alexa Mini in S16mm Sensor Crop Mode with Vintage Zeiss lenses. Shooting a 2019 story with that kind of hybrid setup allowed us to show a very unique image of Maltese people and landscapes.Also, the size and the lightness of the camera setup helped us to shoot very fast while giving a lot of freedom to the non-actors in the movie. We were able to shoot on boats, in fish markets, restaurants, or streets with a lot of freedom without blocking people and cars.

We used the vintage 11.5-138mm Canon Zoom as a documentary setup for the boat and market scenes. Surrounded by a wonderful Maltese crew, my camera assistant Mark Dingli did a great job through this shoot and we totally agreed that the Alexa Mini was a perfect workhorse for our shoot. When grading, my colorist Kene Illegems had a strong input finding the look that we were looking for. We did a LUT in prep that we used as base. We also took some time finding the good texture, mixing the “natural noise” from the camera with extra 35mm grain.

“Ma Belle, My Beauty”

Section: NEXT

Dir: Marion Hill, DoP: Lauren Guiteras
Format: 3.2K ProRes 4444
Camera: ARRI Amira
Lens: Panavision Ultra Speeds

Guiteras: The Panavision Ultra Speeds and handheld Amira build gave me a relatively compact and beautifully balanced build to capture “Ma Belle” with. From the jump, I knew that Marion’s work favored handheld as the primary form of support and that I’d need ergonomics I trusted to sustain that approach through the entire shoot. Additionally, I felt that my job on this film was first and foremost to support performances, and there were many times on the shoot that I really felt the handheld build allowed me to react with more immediacy and intuition to the actors’ movements especially at skeleton locations with improvised moments where they were interacting with real people in the small village where we shot.

Another reason for the compact single camera build was that I didn’t feel overly elaborate or flashy setups were appropriate for the intimate tone Marion wanted to strike. So we motivated camera movement almost exclusively from blocking, and my primary goal was to embrace the idea that less is more. When we started shooting and I saw how expertly Idella Johnson (Bertie) and Hannah Pepper-Cunningham (Lane) could conjure authentic emotion, it just further cemented the ideas we had in preproduction about quiet camerawork that could hold space for those moments. This film is very, very close to my heart and I couldn’t feel prouder or more privileged to have seen it through the eyepiece.

“Marvelous and the Black Hole”

Section: Premieres

Director: Kate Tsang, DoP: Nanu Segal
Format: Prores 4444 2.8K (anamorphic) and Prores 4444 3.2K (spherical)
Camera: Alexa mini
Lens: xtal xpress anamorphics and panavision super speed sphericals

Segal: We chose to use lensing as the primary way to move between our heroine Sammy’s internal and external worlds. The external world was shot on xtal xpress anamorphic lenses, which we chose for their organic beauty and inherent quirks and ‘flaws’; this instinctively felt like a great match for Sammy’s coming of age journey. When the story shifts into Sammy’s imagined world, we switched to spherical lenses (panavision super speeds) for cleaner, crisper imagery, and a differing bokeh, to reflect that inside Sammy’s fantasies and dreams, the world is much clearer and less opaque.


Section: Premieres

Dir: Fran Kranz, DoP: Ryan Jackson-Healy
Format: PRORES 4444
Camera: Alexa Mini, SXT
Lens: Cooke Speed Panchros, Kowa Anamorphic

Jackson-Healy: “Mass” is a character-driven story that gets uncomfortable, claustrophobic and combative before reaching any emotional catharsis. It also takes place nearly entirely in a single room. Fran and I wanted to tell the story in a way that would gradually become more and more subjective, mirroring the thoughts and feelings of the film’s characters. We sought to do this in way that would be bold but also not apparent to the audience, except for some key moments where we wanted it to be. We created a visual language using movement, framing and lighting that would subtly evolve until a pivotal moment in the story where the film switches from spherical to anamorphic.

This plan also informed the shooting schedule. The movie’s large central scene was shot in script order not only to allow the actors to build the emotions of the scene, but to help us make our visual ‘evolution’ as seamless as possible. And all within the constraints of a short shooting schedule, micro budget and skeleton crew! Some days we’d be working with two cameras on dollies. On another day, it would be a single handheld camera that might see 100% of the room in a single shot. It was a challenging and extremely fun shoot, done all on location in Ketchum, Idaho.


Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Dir: Karen Cinorre, DoP: Sam Levy
Format: 3.4K ArriRaw
Camera: Alexa Mini
Lens: Cooke SF Anamorphic Prime Lenses

Levy: For the look of “Mayday,” I wanted to create a visual language to bridge intimacy of the characters’ personal journey with the scope and sweep of an adventure film — as if Andrei Tarkovsky had directed an action movie. There was never a question in my mind that “Mayday” was an anamorphic movie. I worked very closely with the brilliant Kavon Elhami and Kelly Samuels at Camtec in Los Angeles in choosing Cooke SF anamorphic lenses. At the time we began principal photography on “Mayday,” there were no large format anamorphic lenses that I liked so I happily picked the Alexa Mini. Camtec also went above and beyond in creating a custom Infrared Alexa camera for me to shoot a special sequence in the film. We shot most of “Mayday” in Pula, a beautiful coastal city in Croatia.

Together with my gifted DIT Sean Goller I designed a bespoke digital lab in several adjoining hotel rooms. Sean was with me when I shot “Lady Bird” –– we have a wonderful shorthand. Each night we’d watch down the day’s work before setting our print lights and processing the dailies. In another room we’d then watch dailies from the previous day with writer/director Karen Cinorre and editor Nick Ramirez. The foundation of “Mayday”s look is baked into the digital negative through extensive testing, research and development. We worked into the wee hours every night in Croatia making sure our dailies were consistent in order to protect the integrity of the final image.

“Mother Schmuckers”

Section: Midnight

Dir: Lenny and Harpo Guit, DoP: Sylvestre Vannoorenberghe
Format: S16 crop sensor HD Prores 4444, HD Prores 422, Aspect ratio 1.5 : 1
Camera: Arri Amira, Canon C300, Gro pro, Sony Alpha 7s and Sony Hi8 camcorders
Lens: Canon S16 zoom 11-165mm , Canon EF-S 18-135mm

Vannoorenberghe: Harpo And Lenny are the funniest people in the world, they work with the funniest people who all run around being funny all over the place and follow them with a camera.So,we tested quite a few, mostly small sensor camcorders, but the brothers agreed on the Arri Amira in Super 16 Crop sensor mode, rated at 1600 ISO, letterboxed at a 1.5:1 aspect ratio.The reasons were that they liked the noise level that gave us, the kind of video vibe it had when combined with a very saturated Lut. Also, S16 crop sensor made it easier to keep a deep depth of field because we wanted the less bokeh possible. We shot most of the film around T8 for that reason, except some night scenes for light availability. In the same time we could use a very long range S16 zoom while keeping it relatively light since everything was handheld.We shot quickly and 360, and Jeremy (Gaffer) and Edouard (AC) couldn’t put a stand on the set or a mark on the ground. They were so fast and accommodating and i learned a lot from them.Since we shoot a lot and the brothers are big on post, the Amira signal allowed flexibility there. We couldn’t afford it for the entire shoot, so we selected some scenes that we could shot on my Canon C300. Lucien helped us a lot in the color grade matching those, and finding ways to fix inconsitencies.As for the Go Pro and the Sony A7s, they were respectively Thrown in the street trough widows , and rigged in the back of a car being trashed.The main challenge operating was not to giggle to much, or laugh out loud while filming .I tried to learn to laugh with the belly, keeping the shoulder still, but it can still shake the camera.So, since I had a zoom lens I tried to hide my laughter in a little zoom or when shifting positions. It’s the best feeling, filming your friends making jokes.

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