Bigger Isn’t Always Better: An Introduction to Movie Camera Sensor Size

Put on your "tech-talk" pants, it's time to talk sensor size.
Movie Camera Sensor Size

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that looks at the differences between light sensor sizes.

First things first, I want to assure those of you who find all this technical stuff a bit daunting: today’s video essay is still for you! Part of what makes video essays so fun is that they make it easier for folks to approach inaccessible topics. For my part, I’m a visual learner. And seeing graphs and side-by-sides in motion makes a world of difference.

So with that out of the way, let’s cover a few quick introductory points before launching into today’s essay:

What does a camera’s “sensor” do?

Sensors (not to be confused with light sensors) are also known as the film plane, a sensor plane indicator, or a focal plane indicator. The term refers to the surface of the camera where the lens creates a focused image. Focal distance is not measured from the front of the lens or the back of the lens but from the surface of the camera sensor. All this to say: if you want to accurately measure the focal distance of your lens, you need to know where to take that measurement from (a.k.a. the film plane/sensor).

To sum up: cinematographers use film plane indicators to understand the exact focal length between the camera sensor and the subject. It’s an important tool in making sure everything looks right.

Why are there different sizes of sensors?

Because there are different motion picture formats, from smartphones to super 16mm to IMAX. Different formats have different focal requirements.

How do different sensor sizes affect the filmmaking process? The visual look of a film?

Well, I guess you’ll have to watch the video essay below to find out… :)

Watch “Does Sensor Size Matter?”:

Who made this?

This video essay on how sensor size comes into play in movie making is by In Depth Cine, a YouTube account dedicated to providing its audience with practical rundowns and explainers on some of the more technical aspects of movie-making. Gray Kotzé, a documentary DP based in South Africa, is the man behind the channel. You can check out Kotzé’s portfolio on their website here. And you can check out In Depth Cine on YouTube here.

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    Meg Shields: Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.