For more than a century, choosing the right medium to make a movie was simple: Film. In more recent years, this question has been complicated by the revolution in digital cameras.

Today it seems as if cameras are following Moore’s Law of Computing, with a new, unique digital capture system available every six months. This is, on the one hand, great for the director and cinematographer, as more choices mean more variety in terms of visuals. On the other hand, there are so many choices now that a moviemaker can become easily overwhelmed by too many options. The most important question to answer is: What is the best camera to tell my story visually?

Just as a sculptor may choose clay, marble or steel to express his or her art, a moviemaker needs to think carefully about the best camera and medium to realize his or her vision completely. For me it is hard to see period epics like Lawrence of Arabia or The New World, where vast landscapes are integral to the story, shot on anything but film. By the same token, movies like Cloverfield and District 9, where the authenticity and documentary-like immediacy are part of the story, only make sense if told on digital cameras. Other movies, like Babel or JFK, require a mix of media. How do you know which camera is right for you? Here are 10 of my personal favorite choices.

1. 35mm Cameras
Still the best image source after 100 years, the quality of 35mm film cannot be beat in terms of color fidelity, latitude and resolution (resolution of 35mm film ranges between 5K and 8K). However, the cost can be substantial. It may be budget-breaking if you are an indie newcomer, but you’ll find that if you do your prep work, it is possible to rent an older film camera at a discounted rate or possibly even for free by way of a grant or donation.

Film companies like Kodak and Fuji offer special rates on film stock and there are always short ends out there.

Discounted rates on processing and post-production can be more difficult to find, but if shooting with the unparalleled quality of film is important to telling your story, it may be essential to find ways to make it work for your budget. In terms of specific film cameras, my personal favorite is the Moviecam Compact. It’s light, easy to use and fairly inexpensive to rent.

In Theaters: Everything from Citizen Kane to The Dark Knight have been shot on 35mm film.

2. Aaton Penelope Delta
An interesting hybrid of film and HD, the Delta (which is scheduled for an early 2011 release) is really a digital magazine that adapts to Aaton’s Penelope 35mm film camera, thus enabling the same lightweight camera body with lens and optical viewfinder to be used to shoot either 35mm film or digital capture exceeding 4K resolution. Delta’s digital sensor is a Bayer pattern CCD, which allows for a unique dual sensitivity base of either 800ASA or 100ASA (but can be set as fast as 3200ASA) while still promising a dynamic range of 13 stops. Being able to change your ASA means this camera can shoot comfortably in the bright sunshine as well as gloomy nights without losing any quality to the image. The camera is also incredibly ergonomic (in the Aaton tradition), making it extremely hand-held-friendly.

3. ARRI 416
Even shooting with the smaller Super16mm format (and this is one of the best Super16 cameras on the market) will give you better color fidelity and latitude than any digital format currently available. The 416 Plus HS can shoot at frame rates from 1-150fps. This range in frame rates can be pretty handy if you want to capture slow motion sequences or speed up a sequence to make it move quicker.

In Theaters: Black Swan, The Wrestler

4. ARRI Alexa
ARRI’s new lightweight digital camera offers a base sensitivity from a single CMOS sensor of 800 ASA with low noise and a latitude of 13 stops. What this latitude means is that the sensor can capture more details in the shadows while maintaining image information in the highlights, coming closer to exposing the world the way your eyes see it. It also offers a resolution of 2K and uncompressed 12 bit color depth with a sampling rate of 4:4:4, which means the camera offers more versatility in post-production in regards to color correction.

5. Sony SRW-9000PL
Sony’s hybrid of their premium f35 and f900 series of cameras, made available in the fall of 2010, produces something portable while maintaining high quality PL mounted optics. It shoots at 1080p with a color-sampling rate of 4:2:2. Which means you can use any of the high quality, 35mm lenses that cinematographers have been using for decades to capture amazing images. The color-sampling rate will give you more of a range in post-production to push your image in dramatic directions if need be.

The current indie favorite to shoot on because of its relatively cheap price for delivering 4K images at 12 bit color space with 4:4:4 color sampling. The new Mysterium chip makes a good camera great, expanding the sensitivity of the RED to 800ASA with a promised latitude of 13.5 stops.

In Theaters: The Social Network, parts of District 9

7. Panasonic AG-AF100
Panasonic’s upgrade to their popular HVX-200 series (available in late 2010) could become the camera of choice for its ease of use and versatility. The interchangeable lensed camera promises up to 12 hours of continuous shooting at 1080p with 10 bit 4:2:2 color space on SDXC cards and a micro 4/3 imager to approximate the depth of field of 35mm. The AG-AF100 is equipped with adaptors to shoot with 35mm lenses and has built in XLR ports, making sound easier to deal with, especially for run-and-gun type shooting.

The XDCAM is perhaps the most resilient digital camera on the market currently. This is partly due to its solid-state capture system that can survive extreme temperatures (both hot and cold). If you are shooting a documentary in the jungle or in Antarctica this is the camera to choose. Shoots 1080p with 4:2:2 color sampling ratio.

In Theaters Encounters at the End of the World, parts of District 9

9. Sony NEX-VG10
Here’s a tiny Handycam that shoots 1080p, but allows for interchangeable lens mounting (with Sony’s E and A lenses) for that 35mm depth of field. While it doesn’t have the color space versatility of some of the more expensive cameras, the price can’t be beat for the low-budget indie moviemaker.

10. Canon 5D/7D
These revolutionary HDSLR cameras, which are a hybrid of a digital still camera and an HD video camera, offer 35mm-like depth of field with the largest sensor size available and offer incredible images for the price. They shoot 1080p with .h264 8 bit color compression, which can be an issue in post-production because your color correction capabilities are severely limited, but if you know what you are doing and have little to no cash they can help make your little movie look beautiful.

In Theaters: Tiny Furniture MM