We spoke to several professional filmmakers to get their insights on overheating issues and if it’s being played up too much.
This article sat in our backend for a long time. Truth be told, I wondered whether or not it really needed addressing. Some of it just seems like such common sense to us who’ve shot for years. And some of it seems like unneeded hype from influencers and YouTubers. But, it needed to be addressed, and so we spoke to a bunch of professional filmmakers about overheating issues with cameras. And over the months, we’ve heard even more stories. Is overheating really an issue worth talking about with cameras?
Pro Tip: Camcorders aren’t in the same class as cinema cameras. Camcorders usually have a fixed lens and are sold as “what you see is what you get” options. They also have severe limits on all attributes of recording (bit-rate, format, etc.).
Understanding the Cameras
We spoke with Chris Monlux over at Videomaker about the various types of cameras for shooting video. Overall, he sticks to the idea that cinema cameras and camcorders are designed for video first and foremost. “Videocameras, be it cinema cameras or camcorders, are designed to record for long periods of time, and it would be a unique situation for them to overheat, generally speaking, that is,” says Monlux. “Most video cameras are even able to accept an array of sizes of batteries. Take the Sony FS7II or the FS5II. There are 3 different size batteries offered for them for a longer length of power supply.” He suggests that you don’t sit in direct sun on a hot day with any camera. However, cameras made primarily for video won’t experience the same overheating issues DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have suffered. Further, he hits home that you should use external power.
Here’s a bit more of an explanation from Chris:
“We wrote an article a few years ago about what to do when your Sony mirrorless camera overheats, addressing the problem many alpha camera users were experiencing. (You can find it here.) I conduct most of the camera reviews, and overheating tests have had a lower demand than they once did. However, we have a few tips for those experiencing it, meaning they are not able to just choose a different camera: they need to make what they have work. The first is if the camera can be powered externally, via its USB port, do that. Sony cameras and Blackmagic Design cameras I know off-hand can be powered from a battery pack you would use to charge your phone while traveling and such. This will allow for the battery cavity to be open, allowing for the camera to dissipate heat. If you can get the heat away from the camera it will be able to run longer. Another issue is external heat being the problem, like direct sunlight. An umbrella will help in this situation. Because most cameras are black, they are going to absorb heat from the sun. If the audio in the scene isn’t important, a fan will also help. Lastly, if the camera has an articulating monitor that can be adjusted to be away from the camera body, this can help with heat dissipation (as well as not adding in the heat made by the monitor). When a camera has overheated before, we have put the camera in the freezer to get the temperature down. Removing the battery and media will also help dissipate heat faster. In humid locations, quick changes in temperature will fog up a lens, monitor, EVF, or viewfinder. Be wary of that. Ice packs can be helpful too but can also fog things up.”Chris Monlux
Overheating is an issue that has come with removing the recording limit. And Chris believes it will sort itself out soon.
Overheating Is Bound to Happen, and You Shouldn’t Be Surprised.
“This is abnormal, but honestly, it seemed bound to happen,” explains Mike Florio, who was the Lead motion graphics artist on “Active Measures” and is often playing double duty as a DP these days. “Digital cinema cameras were plagued with this early on since recording at high bit rates and resolution sizes requires the camera to have proper ventilation. The RED is a perfect example of this.” According to Mike, RED cameras have a huge heat sink, and a large fan will run as the camera isn’t recording. This keeps the temperature in check. The science behind this – the internal sensors don’t think the camera will overheat and damage itself.
According to Mike, this is the problem with modern DSLR-style bodies. There’s no major airflow or cooling options. “I understand the appeal of the smaller form factor, but I think (mirrorless cameras) with wider video focuses will have to work on new solutions to keep the cameras working even in harsh conditions.”
In fact, these problems happen with cameras that are well over $10,000. However, it doesn’t happen as often anymore. Mike explains:
“For example (and this isn’t to pick on RED) but the Scarlet and Epic cameras would overheat on set a lot and they would just turn off and the fans would fire at full blast for a while. It will refuse to continue working until it has cooled off. Most larger shoots have a A and B camera (with backups) so sometimes it’s as simple as swapping them to “avoid” this issue. I understand that’s not practical or the case for most shoots but originally that was a “workaround”. I don’t really have that issue a lot anymore as I think the manufactures found ways to avoid this.”Mike Florio
“Yes, so cameras overheating is a real issue,” explains Jenn Halweil, the Chief Story Engineer over at #GoBeyond. Jenn and her team use a variety of cameras. “It’s more an issue if you’re out in the field on a doc shooting a ton of footage all day long. So, for example, going to the Grand Canyon or like Giza in Egypt to film a doc outside.” She continued to express the most common sense approach we’ve heard on the web in a while.
How to Prevent Overheating
“The way we structure our shoots is we tend to shoot more in indoor controlled environments for interviews and longer form capture, and then you do b-roll in segments throughout the day outdoors,” explains Jenn. “We also always shoot Multicam. So there are almost always b-cams on set, sometimes even c-cam and a backup cam for the a-cam.” Jenn explained how professional sets work. They find ways to work around problems the way that actual professionals would. Her insights made us further believe that torture tests just don’t make practical sense. Her answer goes incredibly in-depth.
My crew’s joke that I’m the “Queen of Contingencies.” A professional crew should always have backup lights, backup audio, backup camera rigs, and memory. Things break on set. I’ve had everything happen in the book – card failures, flash failures, blown bulbs. It comes from my background managing events but you always want to make sure you have a Plan B for when Plan A doesn’t go exactly as intended.
That said, the way we structure it with our current Sony A7s II is we know overheats and has to be turned on and off after about 30 minutes so we make sure to take a break for a few minutes when doing an interview that time. People don’t talk for 30 minutes straight without needing water or to stretch their legs, etc so it’s usually a huge issue.There is a big difference between cameras and your cell phones but I’ve even seen cellphones overheat. But keep in mind the history here, originally films were storyboarded with shot lists. You’re setting lighting. Audio, Controlling your environment and doing multiple takes where you are going to start and stop the camera. It’s not realistic to just shoot hours straight without a break unless you’re livestreaming which involve different rigs and even then usually what professionals do is multi-cam setup and switch between cameras when they need. That’s why it’s so expensive. Alternatively if it is really really important to a client that we shoot for an hour without a single break (rare, again people need to stop, ask questions, swap out on camera talent, do makeup touch ups, etc) we usually encourage them to opt for a different rig like our Panasonic GH5.
Cinema grade cameras run into these issues too but in my experience memory is more of an issue. 4-8K high res / log / raw footage can take up a LOT of memory cards. So more often we’re stopping to swap and backup memory cards than we are to deal with a camera overheating.
If you want I can loop you in with Onur Battal my primary DP. I believe he just bought a Sony A7r III. I still have my Sony A7sii. He may be able to speak more concretely about these models. I can also intro you to Sandy Chase, a colleague and friend who plays more in the Canon family. I shoot As7ii if it’s just me. We also have Panasonic GH5, Blackmagic 6K, and Red Epic 8K as a production company and if we’re hiring a crew that wants to work with their own gear we’ve used the Fs7 frequently or the Canon C300 but these are more professional than prosumer grade.
Upsides of prosumer DSLRs like the Sony or Canon you mentioned is they are small. Easy to throw in your backpack for a quick doc job. I prefer the Sony to the Canon because it tends to do better in low light, but it does have issues with color. I find yellows and orange hues can look a bit off, but if you shoot s-log you can fix that in post or I’ve been told there are hacks where you can hack the Sony color waveform to be more like a Canon waveform. On the prosumer end I’m a Sony + Panasonic Gal mostly because I started with those as my early cameras and know them more intuitively. Cinema grade I like the Blackmagic and Red because they are much more budget friendly than the Alexa and you still get a LOT of control in post to play with colors, exposure, etc.Jenn Halweil
“I’ve always just tried to be intentional about planning my shoot days as best as I can if I’m worried about performance issues,” says Brooklyn-based filmmaker Drew English. His words seem to support the common sense everyone else is sharing. “If I’m shooting in the middle of summer, and we need to film outdoors, I’m going to try and stack those moments at the front and back of the day (it helps that the light is better then!) and not be out in the high-noon sun.” Drew continues to state that, luckily, he seldom runs into overheating issues. And part of that comes from contingency planning.
“If I’m filming interviews with camera packages similar to what we are talking about here, likely, these are shorter-form interviews and I am trying to keep the run time on cameras down as much as possible–or I’d be renting a backup to have on standby for the day.Drew English
Airflow is something that comes up often amongst filmmakers. In fact, Florio is pretty huge on it. He recommends opening and removing the battery. It even helps to power down the camera or running external power. “If the camera goes down, you really can’t do anything but bring it to a cool place and let it cool back down,” explains Mike. “You just have to try to maximize the amount of time you get out of the camera before it goes down if this is a persistent issue.”
Who Should Be Concerned?
Over my months of writing this article, I’ve heard more feedback from others, including a National Geographic photographer. When he shoots video, he’ll sometimes let the camera sit there and run for a long time. After a while, it will surely overheat. He typically shoots in 30p video at 4K. Why would he let it run for a while? It’s sometimes easier when he’s doing a presentation and answering questions.
Another photographer I know was concerned about it for weddings. Shooting video of the ceremony is, of course, crucial. So at times, they need to just let the camera run for a while.
Of course, that’s not something everyone does. So who really needs to worry about overheating?
“Personally, I only ever record short clips at a time and don’t leave the camera running for a while,” says Mike. “So when doing this, I didn’t experience overheating issues. It seems like this would hurt independent/lower budget filmmakers, bloggers, and content creators mostly.” He continued to say that most of the shoots he’s been on aren’t in climate-controlled studios. It’s a huge problem in LA, Atlanta, and Florida. However, he thinks it’s just a camera generational issue.