Not just any camera can be used to capture content that is designed to be streamed on Netflix, and many do not have a firm grasp of why these particular cameras were selected. Netflix is finally shedding a bit of light on what makes a camera “approved.”
In a new video published on Netflix’s Production Technology Video Resources YouTube channel, the company’s camera systems specialist Kris Prygrocki reveals some of the logic behind why Netflix even has an “approved” cameras list and how the company determines what gets included on that list.
“One of the biggest priorities for us as a studio is helping our filmmakers do their very best work. We want our filmmakers to not just feel enabled, but also encouraged to use the latest and greatest capture technology that is out there to tell their stories,” Prygrocki says.
“The most common misconception is the only requirement we have for cameras on our approved list is 4K capture. Now, while capturing at a higher resolution is certainly important to image quality, we know it’s not everything. That’s why resolution is just one of the many attributes we look at when evaluating a camera system.”
He says that in addition to image quality, other criteria that is just as important is dynamic range, color reproduction, noise performance, sensor readout speed, compression, chrome subsampling, bit depth, and so on. To test all of these factors, Netflix has a set of tools that it uses to evaluate cameras that are being considered for its approved cameras list.
“We do our best to remain as objective as possible by doing a multitude of tests and not just relying on one singular solution. We also make a point to stay in communication with the manufacturer to ensure that we are operating the camera system and testing it in the best way possible to achieve the greatest results. As informative as these controlled tests can be, they don’t always tell the whole story,” he continues.
“So that’s why we remain in constant communication with the filmmakers on our productions as well as the filmmaker community at large to understand what features are important to them.”
The company says that it makes sure it’s not putting its specifications for Approved Cameras together behind closed doors, and all of its requirements are built on years of experience and on the feedback it gets from professionals.
Of all that feedback, Netflix says that, surprisingly, most of it isn’t related to image quality.
“That’s why during our camera evaluations we look at things like stability and reliability of the system. Does it have proper thermal management? Is it going to overheat on a professional film set? Are we going to have to deal with image correction or lost data all the time? How well supported is the recorded file format in post software? Is there proper color management?
He says that the evaluation can look at even simpler things like the camera’s ability to create unique file names or include embedded metadata such as lens info or timecode.
“All of these aspects and many others factor into whether a camera is approved or not,” Prygrocki says.
But what if a filmmaker wants to capture a scene that an approved camera isn’t suited for? For those scenes, they might need a specialized camera. Netflix’s high standards make it much more challenging for specialized camera system manufacturers to produce equipment that can hold up.
Action cameras, drones, and slow-motion camera makers generally have to make some concessions in order to have a camera system approved for use by Netflix crews. This could mean using a smaller sensor which can have positive rolling effects like faster readout speeds and lower power consumption.
“It’s always a struggle to try and balance the practicality of a camera’s intended use case versus image quality,” he says.
But these cameras still might not reach the standards necessary to be “Netflix Approved.” But that’s something Netflix understands and says that it actually allows these cameras to be used in select situations where their specialty is necessary to allow for the creative intent.
“Even when you’re shooting with non-approved cameras, we want you to follow some basic rules, like shooting at the highest resolution, capturing at the highest data rate, and recording at a wide color gamut and log curve when and where it makes sense. Following these basic guidelines can help maintain optimal quality even when not using an approved camera,” Prygrocki explains.
All of Netflix’s current “approved cameras” can be seen on its Partner Help Center, along with all of the other resources that the company has put together to help filmmakers create the best content.