Movie Cameras. From Reel to IMAX, From IMAX to Smart phones.

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By Atul Mishra

Muybridge sequence of a horse galloping
Muybridge sequence of a horse galloping

Cinematography has progressed profoundly and has seen diverse permutations and combinations in its echelon with the regular advancements in technology. Every year cinematographer gets stirred and sparked with the advent and inception of new sophisticated movie cameras. Let us trail the timeline to see how have movie cameras changed the face of silver screen and what is the motion movie milieu these days.


Capturing moving images were done on revolving drums and disk way back in 1830s. Gelatin-emulsioned film strips came into being in second half of 1800s and combined with paper film, gave us the earliest surviving motion picture till date: Louis Le Prince’s Roundhay Garden Scene, filmed on October 14, 1888.


Kinetoscope, in 1893, which was a large box that only one person at a time could see the film on through a peephole, was a major advancement in the 35mm celluloid film strips. All these films were monochromes, two-toned. The color cinematography began in early 1900s. In 1908, kinemacolor was introduced. In the same year, the short film A Visit to the Seaside became the first natural color movie to be publicly presented. In 1929, Fox introduced Fox Grandeur, the first 70 mm film format.


Still from A Visit to the Seaside
Still from A Visit to the Seaside

Since then cinematography, and not just its post-shooting-additions, but the shooting itself has seen multitude of changes. Who would have thought in 1910s, that a century later, The Dark Knight, would feature six sequences (a total of 28 minutes) shot on IMAX camera? And who would have thought six years after The Dark Knight, Tangerine would be shot on three i-phones and have its world premiere at Sundance Film Festival?



These days with the advent of so many cameras, from DSLRs to smart phones, amazing short films are being made by aspiring film makers. May be only Nolan can afford an IMAX, but if a film shot on an i-phone can be screened at Sundance then surely enough anyone possessing a decent smart phone can nail the magic of silver screens. Do these short films being shot on normal DSLRs and smart phones these days lose the aesthetic qualities of a film? Well, to shake your shaft here is what The Hollywood Reporter described the look of Tangerine as- “crisp and vigorously cinematic”, with “an aesthetic purity that stands out in a field where so much indie filmmaking has gotten glossier and less technically adventurous.”


Another giant shot on a DSLR is the 2013 indie film Ship of Theseus. This film that swooped two National Awards and various other accolades at many international film festivals, is visually enriched and starkly eye-catching, though being shot on a DSLR.

The Oscar contender for the next biggie Academy Olive has been completely shot on a smart phone and is considered the first feature film to do so.


This is soon becoming a culture and cult. Good movies are being made and thanks to YouTube channels that these films reach out to many audience. And this is where the film makers stand today. Giants like Syncopy and 20th Century Fox may try their hands at IMAX, but the indie film enthusiasts these days are making their movies with their own IMAXs which not only justify the silver screen but garner various accolades across the globe.