Almost everybody knows that Netflix has a list of ‘Approved Cameras’ to be used to shoot its 4K Originals. However, not many are familiar with the conditions and terms for Non-Approved cameras. Netflix has published the requirements, highlights, and general guidelines for these cameras (including the iPhone) so you can use them to shoot its 4K Originals. Check them out below.
Netflix knows very well that there are situations where the ideal camera for a particular shot may not be on its approved list. In fact, the list of the approved cameras is pretty much limited and does not include many fine cameras. For instance, film cameras are not included. There are excellent shows that were shot on film, like Don’t Look Up which we wrote about. Furthermore, specialized cameras are not included as well (ultra-high-speed cameras for instance), as well as action cameras and even mobile phones. All these imaging devices are being heavily utilized on Netflix productions as a B-cam, C-cam, and so on. As such, Netflix states: “When working with a non-approved camera, steps should be taken to ensure optimal capture quality…consult with your Netflix Post Manager and perform real-world tests to verify compatibility with your primary camera and workflow.” Hence the non-approved camera must be merged and matched with the primary camera, which has to be a ‘Netflix Approved’.
Netflix defines the key setting for optimal image quality for non-approved cameras. Here’re the main factors/rules of thumb to be considered:
- Resolution: Shoot with the highest available resolution possible — On any given non-approved camera system the highest available resolution should be used. Netflix is aware that on some cameras, shooting at a lower resolution uses less of the camera’s sensor and alters the FOV (Field-Of-View).
- Recoding format: Highest quality possible — RAW is preferred. When recording compressed formats, opt for the highest bit-depth and the lowest compression rate available. RAW formats approved by Netflix – R3D, CinemaDNG, ARRIRAW, Canon Cinema RAW Light, Sony-X-OCN. For compressed: XAVC, ProRes, DNx, h.264.HEVC, and more. As you can explore, almost all formats can be used.
- Color: Use “native color space” as defined by Netflix. Color space – Sony S-Log3, ARRI LogC, GoPro ProTune Flat, REDWideGamutRGB, Panasonic V-Gamut and so on. Rec.709 is not allowed for shooting (can be allowed for monitoring).
- Timecode: Netflix recommends recording a timecode feed from the sound department onto one of the audio tracks on the camera if a dedicated timecode input is not present.
- Camera card: Netflix recommends using only approved media (memory card that was approved by the manufacturer).
- File naming: This one is a bit tricky. Netflix says that non-approved cameras may utilize non-standard naming or may not allow manual configuring of file naming which can lead to overlapping file names resulting in issues during conform. In that case, Netflix advises you to reach out to your Netflix Post Manager for further guidance.
- Overheating: Netflix emphasizes that a non-approved camera must be verified and tested to be able to shoot in hot weather without any overheating issues.
Here are some examples of commonly used non-approved cameras in Netflix productions, as well their recommended settings (as defined by Netflix). Click on the slides to view them in full resolution.
iPhone 12 Pro
DJI Zenmuse X7
Phantom Flex 4K
Although Netflix has been meticulously testing new cameras to be included on its ‘Netflix Approved’ list, there are many high-end cameras that are not included. Numerous Netflix projects were shot on non-approved cameras. One of the best references for such a project is ‘Don’t Look Up’ which was shot on film cameras (ARRICAM and Aaton) and it still looks stunning on streaming. As for the other cameras that are not on that list, the guidelines above can shed light on Netflix’s image capture requirements. Basically, use raw, shoot in log, and dial-up for the highest resolution possible to get maximum utilization of the sensor. Generally speaking, the list of ‘Netflix Approved’ is being used as a status symbol for camera manufacturers that manipulate it as a marketing phrase. Grown, it is good to know that even an iPhone can shoot for Netflix, even though 90% of the total runtime of the final project should be captured on approved cameras.