I had the honor of sitting down with Steve Tobenkin from Canon USA regarding our camera choices for Blood Brother. Also a reminder of which side of the camera I like to be on. Behind 🙂
I just got done spending four days of extensive shooting with the brand spankin’ new Canon C300. The background of the documentary can be found in my previous post about the Saxman of Cleveland. The four days included a massive amount of freezing temperature day and night exteriors as well as day and night interiors. Our mission for this part of the story was focused on capturing content. This meant we had to be quick and ready for anything. It was gorilla style film making on city streets and rooftops for extended periods of time. Interiors consisted of bars, restaurants, theaters with villainous volunteer ushers, very tight one bedroom apartments filled with Bruce Lee & super hero posters as well as a cat on crack that attacked Kevin DeOliveira, our AC. The crew was small but full of trusted & talented colleagues. Lighting consisted of two 1×1 LED light panels and natural light. There’s a lot to say so I’ll do my best to make it as organized as possible.
Why do I think the C300 is a great camera? Because it allowed me as a cinematographer, to quickly get to what made me start doing this in the first place…creative and beautiful story telling. Period.
Breakdown of Aesthetic Decisions & Logistics for the Project:
One of the biggest reasons I rallied for the C300 was because of its performance in low light. We were going to be shooting of a ton of night exteriors in a dark city and I was worried from previous tests that DSLR’s weren’t going to cut it. From what I had been reading and seeing online, this camera seemed to be the right fit for what we were doing. With higher ISO’s that are relatively clean and fast lenses…this camera practically sees in the dark.
Another very important reason this camera was chosen was because of it’s ability to relay record and not have to cut the clip (in context of us almost having to strictly shoot DSLRS for this project due to budget constraints). We were going to be shooting a lot of emotional content and asking someone to stop telling a story during an interview because our DSLR has limited record time was unacceptable.
Since this was a multi-cam shoot, the C300 acted as our A Cam. Two Canon 5D’s were our B Cams. I wanted to utilize Canon’s Log gamma mode (monitoring in REC709) which meant I would have to figure something out for the 5D’s to match the C300 as best as possible. I had been curious about the “technicolor” look for the 5D and decided it would be the best option for the task at hand. After some tests, it seemed that it was going to work for our purposes. I was impressed with the Canon Log gamma and the latitude of the camera was pretty darn fantastic. Exteriors in the city can be a big challenge because of dramatic contrast ratios but it seemed to hold up well. We shot 24 fps for the most part with the 50mb / 4:2:2 compression option on 32 gb CF cards. At 1080, that gave us 82 minutes of record time per card.
Lastly, the director Joe Siebert and I discussed the idea of using deeper DOF on this film. A lot of us are very aware of the very narrow DOF associated with the Canon 5D’s full frame sensor. Quite frankly, my eyes are going to explode if I continue to see obnoxiously-shallow-DOF-macro-porn plastered all over vimeo. Sometimes its nice to be able to tell what a location looks like instead of appearing to be a complete blob of nothing behind the subject. The C300’s sensitivity allowed for us to stop down to achieve deeper DOF.
Configurations on Set:
The camera work consisted of handheld, tripod and slider movement. I used a simple frankenstein rig from Ohio HD video that was actually my favorite rig I have used to date for handheld work. The C300 was mounted on a Zacuto baseplate, 15mm rods, a shoulder pad (not sure of the manufacturer) and the one and only O’Connor O Grips. We did a lot of following talent from behind (ala Aronofski / The Wrestler style) and the rig was awesome for that. I also used a Zacuto EVF for daytime exteriors via the C300’s HDMI port. FYI…I was able to use the Zacuto EVF and Canon’s LCD at the same time. The bonus with this set up was being able to give the director something to look at while staying light. Also, I could use my other eye to peek up at the LCD to see the live waveform and keep watch on my exposure during a shot. There were times I needed to move a lot quicker or shoot in a car interior and for that, I stripped down the camera to the body and lens which was very easy to operate with. We also used the Kessler Cine Slider for all of our dolly work. The camera weight was in perfect range for it.
The Good Stuff:
1. Image quality & sensitivity blew my mind with low-light / night photography. I pushed the ISO to 3200 and was pleased with what I was seeing in the dailies. The noise pattern was tight and provides an interesting texture.
2. Extremely sensitive camera in low light with a native ISO of 850. I never drifted from that number until we ran out of daylight.
3. Highlight and shadow retention is impressive.
4. Moire, rolling shutter and “jello” dramatically reduced.
5. If you are used to using DSLR’s in tight spaces, the C300’s footprint is still manageable & fits nicely in that scenario without much headache.
6. Legit professional audio options (XLR, headphones..etc). Who would have thought?
7. Ergonomics are flexible and the weight is light for shooting very long days under strenuous conditions. Adjustable side grip and top handle are nice.
8. Magnifying for focus while recording is a nice option.
9. Live waveform and vector.
10. Professional output and monitoring options…HD-SDI…thank you Canon. I have grown to HATE using HDMI. That connection is horrendous and unreliable for professional film making.
11. Hi res on-board LCD is bright and easy on the eyes. Looks great.
12. Time Code options
13. Tally lamp on the rear of the camera is a must when shooting with the on-screen display turned off.
14. Relay recording between two cards and not having to cut the clip is a welcomed improvement
15. Built-in ND filters
16. Solid & reliable performance in extremely cold temperatures. Never slowed us down.
The Bad Stuff:
1. Native ISO of 850? I’m curious as to where that number came from? Makes reciprocity a challenge when matching exposure on multi-cam shoots. I would imagine a lot of people will be mixing the C300 with 5D’s, 7D’s, 60D’s…etc. I’ve been used to working in third stop increments. Can this be changed in a firmware update?? Even if it were a native ISO of 800, it would still fall on one of the noisier ISO’s of the 5D and 7D (see this article on Native ISO’s for Canon 5D and 7D). Currently, this is the biggest issue with the camera IMHO.
2. The Start/Stop (record) button on the rear left side of the camera is very difficult to activate. I missed a few seconds of action a couple of times during the shoot because of this. Luckily, the on-board LCD and side grip’s record buttons work just fine. A handle remote on one of the O Grips is a must for the next round of shooting with the rig.
3. Unable to see the On Screen Display through third party EVF via HDMI. This was a hassle for knowing when I was recording. Luckily, a glance at the tally lamp does the trick. Maybe this could be fixed in a firmware update or maybe I missed an option in the menu to enable it.
CORRECTION: During my second time using the C300, I used a Marshall 7″ LCD via HDMI and was able to see the on-screen display from the camera. Not sure why it wasn’t working with the Zacuto EVF.
4. When using Canon glass and electronic aperture controls, the camera does weird increments “in-between” thirds of a stop. The menu gives you options to work in either third or fourth stop increments. But each click on the jog wheel failed to increase or decrease the light level in tandem with the on-screen aperture number.
5. Electronic aperture complaint number two: Increasing or decreasing your aperture on the fly is not smooth and is very visible. Only way to get around this is by using manual lenses with de-clicked aperture rings OR get the version with the PL mount and use cine lenses. This isn’t really a deal breaker though.
6. When fully built with top handle and on-board monitor panel on top, the rig is awkwardly tall. I probably could have come up with another configuration if I had more time but it made shooting in tight spaces a pain. Again, not a deal breaker. I’m sure all of the overpriced third party accessory manufacturers will come up with a million different options that they can price gouge the public with.
7. Wish the built-in ND filters were in increments of 1 stop, 2 stops, 3 stops, 4 stops (ND.03, .06, .09, 1.2). But then filtration manufacturers wouldn’t be very happy because people wouldn’t need to load down their cameras with extra glass.
8. Would have been nice to have a quick switch or user button dedicated to 60p / over-crank mode.
8. Price. Yeah yeah…I know. Everyone complains about price.
Additional Notes On Glass:
We used mostly Canon L glass for the shoot. I’m a big fan of L glass because of their quality, wide range of focal lengths in both primes and zooms, availability as well as being light weight for documentary work. I’d like give a huge thanks to Mick Edmundson and Brian Matsumoto at Canon USA for hooking us up with a couple of lenses that made a significant difference in making our days as efficient as possible without having to compromise in image quality or variety. The following glass was used on the shoot:
– (x2) 24-70mm F2.8L – staple lens for any documentary being shot on a camera with an EOS mount.
– 24-105mm F4L IS – great range. Only caveat to this lens is that a weird delay effect happens when zooming out manually. Not sure what it is but it doesn’t work for me. manual zooms have to be slow for it to work. Other than that, this lens has an awesome range and is very compatible with the sensitivity of the C300.
– 70-200mm F2.8L IS – another staple lens
– 70-200mm F4 IS – much lighter than the F2.8L for long days of shooting handheld. The sensitivity of the C300 makes this lens an awesome asset to any arsenal.
– 16-35mm F2.8L – 16mm is a must for cropped / super 35 sensors for getting wide angle FOV. This lens was great for walking handheld as well. If you want the effect of full frame barrel distortion, try the Tokina 11-16mm. Gave that effect to all the 7D / 60D users out there.
– 24mm F1.4L – awesome for night exteriors or low light interiors. I love this lens.
– Zeiss ZF 50mm F1.4 (de-clicked) – came in handy a few times.
– Filtration used: 77mm Fader ND & 82mm Fader ND
I think the Canon C300 has the potential to be one of the best tools at this time for not only documentaries but many other genres of production. The image quality, sensitivity, flexibility & ease of use make it quite a contender. I’ll be using it again this upcoming week for a commercial shoot which means I’ll have the opportunity to dive in a little deeper. Props to Canon for yet again making a great tool to add to a cinematographer’s arsenal. Can’t wait to shoot with it some more!
If you have any questions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always up for talking shop.
About 6 or 7 years ago, I was at a Dredg concert in Cleveland, OH. Before playing one of my favorite songs, they announced that they were bringing up a guest musician that they met on the street earlier that day. Out of the shadows of the stage, came a lanky, yet smooth and stylish man carrying a sax. The intro started up and he improved with the band as if they had rehearsed it a thousand times before. It was the most memorable moment of the concert. There was something very special about this guy. I could just feel it.
If you would have told me that in 6 or 7 years that I would be the cinematographer of a documentary about Maurice Reedus Jr’s life, the one and only “Saxman of Cleveland”, I would have thought that you were one of those crazy sages or mages that go around saying crazy things. No…really. Turns out that he is pretty special and we’re about to embark on a journey of telling his story.
Another amazing aspect from a technical side is that we have the honor to be some of the first people to shoot on the Canon C300!! This could not have been possible without some wonderful people including Scott Handel at Ohio HD Video (www.ohiohdvideo.com) and Mick Edmundson at Canon U.S.A. Anyone who knows about the camera knows that there aren’t many available on the market at the moment. This is very special and we’re are extremely grateful for the opportunity to tell this story on the C300. Mick has requested that we review the camera and I will be providing lots of details both during and after our first bout of shooting. I got an extensive look into the C300’s abilities during a recent workshop hosted by Andy Shipsides from Abel Cinetech. Although the camera is brand new, I definitely think that it’s the right tool for the job. In fact, I’m going to venture to say that it has strong potential to be one of the best options for documentaries of all kinds.
Obviously, there’s much more to share but it’s late and our first stint of principle photography starts tomorrow morning in Cleveland, OH. I’ll be posting about both the Canon C300 and the shoot itself. This documentary is going to be shot over the span of one year…winter of 2012 to winter of 2013.
See you soon and thanks for reading!
The Real Bold Badmen will be screening at this year’s 35th Cleveland International Film Festival. Words provide no justice to the journey that Joe Siebert, Derek Urey and I have been on since it’s inception back in the summer of 2009. In fact, we were recently talking about all the events that occurred in such a small window of time. October 2009…Cowboy Len…feisty and giving his own direction to the director Joe Siebert, sat next to an 8mm film projector with Bold Badmen playing behind him and shared his story about he and his brothers making amateur western films back in the 1940’s in Canton, Ohio. We were encouraged to see a 78 year old man sit there and speak of his films as though they were dreams that persevered through all these years . He even showed us lasso tricks and did some gun slinging with his older brother Ky in an alley behind the house!
During the filming, Len was in remission from his battle with cancer. Tragically, it returned shortly after principal photography. After assembling a five minute micro documentary for the Reelate film festival, Joe wanted to dive much deeper into the story which required going back to get testimonials from Len’s children and good friend, “Deuce”. Even with Len’s health compromised, he still made an appreciated effort to pull it together for another shoot day.
I watched this man’s mind and body crumble before my very eyes…but it was evident that nothing could crush his spirit. The little I knew of his life, I was sure that Len was a dreamer until the day he passed. I’ll never forget seeing him up on stage at the 2010 Akron Film Festival in his wheelchair…speaking about his journey in film making. The Zaleski family firmly believed he was hanging on for this moment. Bold Badmen had finally reached an audience that would appreciate it in all its glory and in tandem, a documentary that revealed the true heart behind the men who created it. It was an honor to share the stage with such an inspiring man who clearly left a living legacy.
After the screening, Joe, Derek, our friend Beau and myself all stood in the lobby and spent some time with Len and the Zaleski family. Deep down, I knew that we were saying our final good-bye’s to a husband, father and dreamer that graciously opened his world up to us over the past year.
Roughly a week later…I stood in a long line for Len’s calling hours. It wasn’t a surprise to see all the pictures and video of Len, his family and his life. It made me think about my life and what kind of legacy that I might leave behind someday. Obviously, Len was a loved man and will be remembered that way.
His undying spirit is inspiring to this very moment and will be something that I carry with me for the rest of my life. I am fortunate to be a part of something so special…and I believe that God designed this opportunity just for us.
Until we meet again…happy trails Cowboy Len.