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Australian Image (Ray)

How good does a light have to be?

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I'm posing this question more out of curiosity and what people use when it comes to their lighting fixtures. This isn't about major film productions and the like, I'm really talking about small, low cost, productions.

I recently ordered a Sokani x60 v2 COB LED so that I could start experimenting with better continuous lighting than what I have currently used. Now I did a lot of research before ordering the Sokani light, and I know that at AU$239 it's not likely to be anywhere near as good as something that's 5x - 10x the price, but the reviews I researched didn't make it appear to be a bad light. The other options I considered were the Nanlite Forza 60 and Godox SL60, but the Sokani came out the most cost effective and closest in features to the Forza. Aputure were out of the question given their price (5 x Sokani for 1 x Aputure 120D).

Now what kind of perplexes me about these lighting reviews in general is the fact that many reviewers, genuine gaffers and the like (not YouTube celebrities) go to great lengths to test colour accuracy compared to say daylight or HMI lights. There's often an emphasis on skin tone colour rendering and the like. Exactly how important is this accuracy when, at the end of the day, in the editing suite most film and TV shows toss out any semblance of reality, opting for things like orange and teal or dark and sombre effects that kill any accuracy that may have prevailed at time of shooting.

The question is really what is 'good' or good enough? An AU $2000+ light may have better aftersales support, greater durability, more consistent long term performance, somewhat better colour accuracy and some better features such as remote control etc, but if you can get 5 x Sokani LEDs for the price of 1 x Aputure 120D, effectively getting 400W of light vs 180W, might you not be better off with the less costly option?

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I always advocate that whatever is good for you is good enough.

People have different needs and budgets, that's fine.

That said, lighting is one of the things that if done poorly on set, can't really be fixed or remedied. 

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The quality and range of lighting available nowadays is quite amazing. I remember my film days, from way back, when everything was limited in range and cost and arm and a leg. I guess it's a bit like cars, they used to cost a year's pay or more, and now you can get one at a fifth of that.

Yes, lighting not done properly can't be fixed, but I think that's more a part of application and technique than the equipment used. Some use nothing but natural light and reflectors, or one light and reflectors. Others use half an Amazon warehouse of lights.

I was wondering more about whether the actual lights matter that much anymore (for some at least), given how good they seem to be, even those at the lower end.

 

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I guess its down to the build quality .. buy cheap, they get knocked about and break.. buy new ones .. but more importantly the color.. no point to buy cheap LEDS if every interview you shoot they are green and have to be corrected in post ..  and depending on your market.. if you charge a decent day rate, but turn up with obviously looking very cheap lights .. some  director / producer know a bit about gear or have at least seen what everyone else turns up with for the same rate.. 

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Surprisingly, the build quality of many of these products nowadays is quite good, some very good indeed for what you pay. Many of the components come from the same factory as used by even the high end manufacturers. You will perhaps not have quite the same fit and finish as the more expensive brands, fans might be quieter, materials might be better, but sometimes you do.

As for colour quality, from the reviews that I've seen and comprehensive ones at that, the colour rendition is very good, with even some of the most inexpensive lights (again, same major components). This guy is a working gaffer and does very comprehensive, no holds barred, reviews of lighting and lighting accessories. I was tempted with the Forza 60 based on his reviews.

Depending on your clients, I doubt that many could tell the difference between a $200 light and a $2000 one. But if you deal with clients that judge you by the gear that you bring along, rather than what you produce, then you're dealing with very fickle clients and who'd likely drop you on a whim. I don't judge plumbers, electricians, builders by the tools that they use, word of mouth about their quality and integrity is far more informative.

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I just bought the Sokani too after a LOT of research.

Haven't noticed any colour cast at all. Very nice build quality for the money.

Stick a big octabox on there and bingo.

Clients like to see where their money is going. I've worked with a number of DP's who put up extra lights that aren't affecting the scene at all on commercial shoots just to impress the client with the "look at all the pretty equipment, I must be worth the money"

Personally I love the Sokani it holds it's own against much more expensive lights I have owned.

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An important thing to consider when buying (cheap in particular) lights is: how well will the match with other lights?

A lamp may have a high CRI score, but that on its own is meaningless if it's native output (for example at 5600K, of that's what it's designed for) is significantly different to another brand's 5600K.

This is of course only really a concern when one is mixing and matching gear. The difference may also be more noticeable in-camera than to the eye. May well not be a deal-breaker, but something to look out for.

For me, build quality, warranty, ergonomics (well thought out design), and brand support are important factors. If I can afford it, I'd rather buy from a brand who I feel are going to care about me as a customer. I'd also prefer not to (though it's not always possible) buy from the "lowest common denominator" - especially if it's a Chinese (for example) company who is copying others' designs and not doing any real R&D themselves (I'm not implying Sokani is one of these - I haven't researched enough).

Also, accessories are big element. Take Aputure, for example, they have, in my opinion, done an excellent job of building a strong accessory eco-system for their flagship lights... and they're all excellent quality. They also have good relationships with other top accessory companies. That, for me, is another thing worth buying into.

Of course there are other small (or maybe significant) things to consider such as: how well is the accessory mount machined (is it clunky to get accessories in and out)? How strong are the screw-locks on the yoke tilt? How loud is the fan, if it has one )one review of the Sokani I quickly found suggests it's not very good)? How reliable are the electronics? Is it weather sealed (some are, some aren't... might not be important)? How well made is the case... will the zips bust after a few uses (common with cheaper stuff, I find)? 

I remember a few years ago when I thought of Aputure as "that cheap company copying others"... but now it's clear others are copying them! But then, Godox, for example, have been around since the early 90s. They're always random other brands popping up whose products looks 85% identical to the larger brands. Quite weird. Wild west out there in China.

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Yes, matching lights can be an important factor but, as in my example, I can buy five Sokani x60 lights for just a fraction more than one Aputure 120D II. That's 400W vs 180W of lighting that I could apply to a scene. But it's fair to say that you also need to consider such things as reflectors, softboxes etc that can introduce colour casts and other unwanted effects, even the colours within your set/room/ surroundings will affect things. But film makers also often use coloured gels or bi-colour LEDs to change the colour of surroundings, backgrounds etc.

The Sokani x60 v1 had a very noisy fan, couldn't hold even a small softbox and had a rattly Bowens mount. User feedback had Sokani redesign the things very quickly and the fan is now almost inaudible, the yoke has a rosette so that it can hold a very large softbox and they also fixed the Bowens mount. Being responsive like this is a very good look. The Sokani also comes with a great set of features, such as a remote and a pretty good case.

The accessories etc are an important factor and that's where the Nanites are excellent as they have a complete ecosystem for those that require a wide range of compatible lighting gear. But as the Sokani uses a Bowens mount, I can get any number of accessories that use the Bowens mount.

On final note, the Sokani with a 4' softbox (quite a good one) cost AU$345 delivered. The Forza on its own would have cost AU$474 with the extra Bowens mount adapter. Going fully Aputure would cost way more for the same setup. So for someone like me, these sorts of lights and accessories allow me to experiment with lighting that would otherwise make it nigh on impossible. Now were I earning the US$100,000-$500,000+ that most filmmakers earn, I'd most certainly be opting for the very best gear that money could buy, but sadly I don't and can't.

 

 

 

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21 hours ago, Australian Image (Ray) said:

Depending on your clients, I doubt that many could tell the difference between a $200 light and a $2000 one. But if you deal with clients that judge you by the gear that you bring along, rather than what you produce, then you're dealing with very fickle clients and who'd likely drop you on a whim. I don't judge plumbers, electricians, builders by the tools that they use, word of mouth about their quality and integrity is far more informative.

Maybe not so much judging YOU, but what they're paying for.  I'm sure a lot on here remember "gear lists" that networks used to publish that their crews had to (reasonably) adhere to.  And corporate shoots used to be big 'dog and pony' shows, where a lot of big, expensive equipment was brought out and set-up, even if it wasn't being used, just to make the clients "feel good" about the (sometimes) obscene amounts of money they were spending for these shoots.  

Just like in the early days of quality handicams, like the HVX-200 and small production companies started buying them and using them, but still charging the same amount as "real cameras".  Yeah, they could make nice images when care was taken, but clients didn't like seeing those little toys. They wanted the big "real cams".

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I have no doubt that those situations exist, it's no different to the photographic industry where clients sometimes expect to see big cameras and lenses, especially when it comes to bridezilla's wedding. When I used to do news and sports photography, I used a small camera but had big lenses attached and no one ever questioned me when I wanted go where the other news and sports photographers were clustered.

So put a big 4'-5' soft box on say a Sokani or Forza and bring out half a dozen of these and/or similar panel lights and that starts to be impressive in anyone's language. When you don't need to find power outlets and drag cables about as you just plug into V-lock batteries, and move the lights about nimbly, that too starts to look professional. And you can afford to do that with the money you saved on the lights.

Of course all of this depends on your client, if you know that nothing but a Christopher Nolan assembly of gear is expected, you go out and hire that gear and impress immensely (and hopefully deliver a Nolan result). But if your client isn't of that calibre, or as demanding, then a BMPCC4K or two rigged up with a few Sokani/Forza lights etc may impress greatly. On the other hand, rocking up with a Sony A6500 and a small LED panel may not impress, no matter how good your final performance.

But at the end of the day, how many here do these massive corporate jobs? I even wonder how many TV programs are now done with such gear. I've been watching one local channel devoted to cooking programs that are sourced from around the world, and it struck me how often I'm now seeing such shows with utterly abysmal lighting (especially indoor ones). Everything is washed out terribly and some even have this horrid yellow cast.

I think the times are a changing.

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On 8/31/2020 at 11:25 AM, Australian Image (Ray) said:

Surprisingly, the build quality of many of these products nowadays is quite good, some very good indeed for what you pay. Many of the components come from the same factory as used by even the high end manufacturers. You will perhaps not have quite the same fit and finish as the more expensive brands, fans might be quieter, materials might be better, but sometimes you do.

As for colour quality, from the reviews that I've seen and comprehensive ones at that, the colour rendition is very good, with even some of the most inexpensive lights (again, same major components). This guy is a working gaffer and does very comprehensive, no holds barred, reviews of lighting and lighting accessories. I was tempted with the Forza 60 based on his reviews.

Depending on your clients, I doubt that many could tell the difference between a $200 light and a $2000 one. But if you deal with clients that judge you by the gear that you bring along, rather than what you produce, then you're dealing with very fickle clients and who'd likely drop you on a whim. I don't judge plumbers, electricians, builders by the tools that they use, word of mouth about their quality and integrity is far more informative.

Im not saying they only judge you on your lights.. but many will know if I light costs $200 or $2000 and they will usually not look the same either at that price.. I think most directors I work with would actually know the difference ..alot do know about gear, alot of them have been DP,s !..   if your rate is high and your working on "higher end" docs or corps .. they are quite particular about gear and will ask for a complete gear list .. including lights .. totally apart from your show reel and CV..  part of it is BS for sure .. but its a part of the game being a freelance DP..   for good or for bad .. what makes you think they would be fickle clients .. just because they know about gear and want to know what they are paying for .. ?  shooting/director doing the whole project start to finish, for sure matters alot less ,clients are just interested in the finished edit.. Im talking as a jobbing freelancer .. just doing the shooting .. 

 

I would definitely judge a trades person by the van they turn up in and the tools they have ,and the condition of these tools ..  as well as their reputation ..  you wouldn't ?? 

Edited by Robin Probyn
spelling

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If you're on a job where you need to impress, you rent. No? How many people own Arri cameras, Arri SkyPanels etc? Very few I'd surmise. Would you be hesitant to turn up to a job with a Pelican case full of Aputure MC lights that, on their own, cost less than $200? Is your audio gear of equivalent standard to your Arri gear? As a freelance, do you bring along a sound recordist, gaffer and all the others needed to put up a set, or do you try to impress the client with your multi-tasking?

I actually wouldn't judge the tradie by the vehicle they have and the tools they use. It's reputation that matters more than anything else. A good tradie doesn't spend money unless they absolutely have to, having shiny new toys that have to be paid off means they are less competitive with those that have well worn toys. And shiny new toys means they haven't been used very much.

If your client looks at what gear you bring to the job and decides it's not new and shiny enough for their liking and dismisses you, then I think you've just dodged a bullet. But if these clients know their gear, then they also know that times have changed and gear can no longer be judged by looks or price.

But it's sad to think that anyone would think that you are charging for the gear that you bring to a job and not the skills and knowledge that you bring to the job. It's even sadder that some go to jobs with this in mind. It's like that old meme that I've had actually said to me 'You must have a great camera because of the great photos you take'.

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I wanted to add this as a separate point (could well be a separate topic), as what you just said is quite disturbing. The impression that I get from your statement is that you go into a job completely blind and only on the day of attendance do you meet with anyone involved with the production.

As a professional, I would assume, nay expect, that a lot of water would have gone under the bridge before you ever set foot on a set; meeting with the client, understanding their requirements and expectations, letting them know your skills and knowledge, agreeing to outcomes etc.

You're entering into a contract and by doing so you and your client have to understand and accept what the terms are and what the deliverables are. You and your client have to both be involved in what is going to be done, how it's going to be done and when it's going to be done. And if neither understand this fully before signing a contract, failure is the only outcome.

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6 hours ago, Australian Image (Ray) said:

I wanted to add this as a separate point (could well be a separate topic), as what you just said is quite disturbing. The impression that I get from your statement is that you go into a job completely blind and only on the day of attendance do you meet with anyone involved with the production.

As a professional, I would assume, nay expect, that a lot of water would have gone under the bridge before you ever set foot on a set; meeting with the client, understanding their requirements and expectations, letting them know your skills and knowledge, agreeing to outcomes etc.

You're entering into a contract and by doing so you and your client have to understand and accept what the terms are and what the deliverables are. You and your client have to both be involved in what is going to be done, how it's going to be done and when it's going to be done. And if neither understand this fully before signing a contract, failure is the only outcome.

I bring  the crew that Im charging for the day rate .. sorry but with due respect  obviously  you are not yet really working as freelance DP .. many / most .. jobs  you have not met anyone till you turn up on set .. I have flown from Japan to Denmark, to shoot a 6 week job for Australian TV and have not met any of other crew ,except for the presenter ..and the same thing happened for Singapore for the same series .. 6 week shoot .. only me and the presenter the same ..   and the same for many other countries .. and where I live directors fly in (well used to)  and mostly I have never met them before .. these days often a Skype / zoom chat ..but thats it .. even some commercials this will happen..  feature films sure  different .. but this forum is not that market ..  nor is that the OP,s market ..of course you have emailed etc ..I feel you don't really have a grasp of the job .. no one is talking about shiny toys .. you are charging for your skill.. that goes without saying ..you wouldn't even be there .. but believe it or not the gear you turn up with counts .. you have some sort of glorified film school naive out look ..   do a few years and you will see what I mean ..

Edited by Robin Probyn

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6 hours ago, Australian Image (Ray) said:

having shiny new toys that have to be paid off means they are less competitive with those that have well worn toys. And shiny new toys means they haven't been used very much.

If your client looks at what gear you bring to the job and decides it's not new and shiny enough for their liking and dismisses you, then I think you've just dodged a bullet.

Who said anything about shiny and new? It can be battered and worn and old, but still be of the best quality.

If I tradesperson turned up with a £30 consumer Black and Decker drill I wouldn't dismiss them completely if their reputation was good... but I'd definitely be surprised and a bit skeptical. But if they turned up with an old Makita or Milwaukee drill with paint all over it, I'd get a sensation that they were a "tried and true" experience worker. Obviously the reputation still matters, but the little things in visual perception matter too.

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23 minutes ago, Robin Probyn said:

I bring  the crew that Im charging for the day rate .. sorry but with due respect  obviously  you are not yet really working as freelance DP .. many / most .. jobs  you have not met anyone till you turn up on set .. I have flown from Japan to Denmark, to shoot a 6 week job for Australian TV and have not met any of other crew ,except for the presenter ..and the same thing happened for Singapore for the same series .. 6 week shoot .. only me and the presenter the same ..   and the same for many other countries .. and where I live directors fly in (well used to)  and mostly I have never met them before

Same here. I'd say the majority of my jobs I turn up having never met any of the other crew or production team before.

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42 minutes ago, Nezih said:

Same here. I'd say the majority of my jobs I turn up having never met any of the other crew or production team before.

Yeah.. Ray has yet to join the great freelance circus as yet ..still wearing rose tinted glasses    I think he's in for a bit of a shock .. some of his ideals will be out the window ..  but its still better than working .. as they say .

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8 hours ago, Robin Probyn said:

sorry but with due respect  obviously  you are not yet really working as freelance DP

I'm not and I've stated that from the outset, I'm on  learning curve. But I have worked as a photographer amongst other things and have a pretty good idea of what it means to bring together disparate groups to create something. It involves planning, meetings, setting goals (statements of requirement), organising schedules, materials etc. I've been a project manager, fully responsible for projects worth millions.

Yours is clearly a very different world indeed. If it's common practice to turn up cold to a job, without knowing a thing about it, how do you even know what to bring along, or arrange to be available locally? How do you even know what is expected of you? Not meeting the other crew isn't the issue, but not having any idea of what you're going to do, and this is what it sounds like, how can you even function properly?

What exactly are your responsibilities on such a job? I'd be interested to know.

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12 hours ago, Australian Image (Ray) said:

I'm not and I've stated that from the outset, I'm on  learning curve. But I have worked as a photographer amongst other things and have a pretty good idea of what it means to bring together disparate groups to create something. It involves planning, meetings, setting goals (statements of requirement), organising schedules, materials etc. I've been a project manager, fully responsible for projects worth millions.

Yours is clearly a very different world indeed. If it's common practice to turn up cold to a job, without knowing a thing about it, how do you even know what to bring along, or arrange to be available locally? How do you even know what is expected of you? Not meeting the other crew isn't the issue, but not having any idea of what you're going to do, and this is what it sounds like, how can you even function properly?

What exactly are your responsibilities on such a job? I'd be interested to know.

No.. well of course you exchange emails / Skype /zoom etc ...reference screen grabs often.. and you know what the project is about .. the look they want.. and of course camera specs and what gear is expected to be provided for the rate..you seemed to think it was strange not to have met up face to face for lengthy discussions ,discussing goals, planning the strategy.. we are not part of that in the video world . apart from maybe being asked some techie question.. .. that would be the client and the agency  people / director / Producer ..etc ...  its rare now but the last two shoots I did I had a location scout .. but that was just me going into the locations..  the organizing of schedules and logistics is done by the production / local fixer .. basically in the corp / doc world , you are responsible for the shooting only, providing the right spec camera and settings of that camera ..lights and any dolly .. gimbal.. wireless monitor .. etc ..I often asked what lights I have.. or they are on a gear list ..    I usually provide the audio guy too, and he brings his gear .. sometimes they ask me to provide a local fixer / producer .. but I like to keep their payments separate from mine ..   I believe thats pretty much it .. it sounds like as a stills photographer you are alot more invested in the whole project and there are a ton of meetings .. on a feature film or massive commercial that would be the same too.. working with art dept and wardrobe and obviously very closely with the director .. but corporate/ doc its much more about the gear / crew you are providing .. and a decent CV / showreel / recommendation..to get the job in the first place  and basically they just tell you what they want to film !..  often its really a case that they have just made the shoot happen .. got you to the location .. then  they say ok we need this or that from this location... and off you go and shoot it..  there isn't really much to actually direct ..   others might disagree .. but thats how it is for me shooting over 20 years .. 

I don't think you are ever going to be admired for Muti skilling on a video shoot .. they will just think you work for a cheap rate .. need the work.. and exploit you even more .. sorry to say .. its much better to have the right person for that job on the crew with you..

Thanks ..

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8 hours ago, Australian Image (Ray) said:

Interesting video .. but these are big time DoP,s like Roger Deakins !.. shooting feature films or big budget drama .. thats isn't really the world of people on these forums..  its something to aspire to for sure but its a far cry from corporate and doc shoots !

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10 hours ago, Robin Probyn said:

No.. well of course you exchange emails / Skype /zoom etc ...

So you don't go in blind, you ostensibly know exactly what the expectations are before you even agree to the task. You know well before hand what to bring along or have hired and ready before you arrive. I would consider that normal and intelligent practice.

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10 hours ago, Robin Probyn said:

Interesting video .. but these are big time DoP,s like Roger Deakins !.. shooting feature films or big budget drama .. thats isn't really the world of people on these forums..  its something to aspire to for sure but its a far cry from corporate and doc shoots !

It's not who is doing this but what they are doing, it's informative even if it would never apply to the peasants.

That site has some other very informative videos that show how different directors/DPs approach their work, some like soft and other worldly, other like raw natural looks, some like film, others prefer digital.

It's been one of the most informative sites I've come across and made me realise how many film makers don't follow the orange and teal or dark and sombre look after all.

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3 hours ago, Australian Image (Ray) said:

So you don't go in blind, you ostensibly know exactly what the expectations are before you even agree to the task. You know well before hand what to bring along or have hired and ready before you arrive. I would consider that normal and intelligent practice.

Yeah you of course have the details of the actual shoot .. but long term goals ,sales strategy alot of in-depth meetings with the client  ,you don't do..   the production company will do all that with their client .. the production company or agency .. then employs us .. often the director too unless they are in house .. our concern is the nuts and bolts of actually making the video rather than the clients long term goals etc .. unless they come on the shoot you will have seldom ever met the actual clients .. or until the day you film them .. and there are some jobs where you havnt met the other crew members before .. but of course there are teams that form.. alot of camera people work with the same few audio guys .. and directors with the same few camera people .. 

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3 hours ago, Australian Image (Ray) said:

It's not who is doing this but what they are doing, it's informative even if it would never apply to the peasants.

That site has some other very informative videos that show how different directors/DPs approach their work, some like soft and other worldly, other like raw natural looks, some like film, others prefer digital.

It's been one of the most informative sites I've come across and made me realise how many film makers don't follow the orange and teal or dark and sombre look after all.

 .. the thing is the "work place" of a big budget feature film is nothing like your average corp and totally a different planet to doc shoots .. its comparing an f1 drivers work, to driving a fork lift at Wal Mart ..  every one can have a style they like to shoot even with an iPhone ..  but on these productions the DoP,s job is very different from ours.. they are first of all telling a story .. they are working with a director not like we do on corps /doc,s.. they are working with wardrobe .set design , makeup, XVF,  most often very big lighting rigs .. massive cranes, remote work , aerial , and managing a camera crew of maybe 5 or more people .. they have their own team .. its a completely different world .. doc DO,s have made the move over .. Roger Deakins for one ..  but they have to adjust to a different world .. its only relatively recently that the DoP on a feature or even tv drama would actually operate the camera .. and still its not common practice ..  sure the basic concepts are the same .. and for sure we can all learn from feature films and use those tricks/ ideas  with our small shoots.. motivated light ..  we use that everyday lighting an interview .. but as a job, shooting a feature film is not like shooting a corp ..and not like shooting a documentary . where often you have zero control over anything .. even when you have a piss.. !

Maybe this is the difference here .. Im talking about working as a jobbing freelancer .. if you want to make your own narrative films , and be a film maker .. (which I wouldn't call myself)..  or work with a film making group doing drama .. experimental films etc... then great all power to you.. but we are talking at cross purposes .. different jobs.. 

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