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.
The past six months have been incredibly busy…perhaps more so than ever. It started with the epic ad campaign for Range Resources in western Pennsylvania. The production consisted of close to a month of shooting but was broken up into 4-5 consecutive days at a time. I had the pleasure of being one of the DP’s on the shoot, taking on the visuals of barns filled with light breaking through their weathered walls, rolling midwest hay fields, an accomplished artist and his birds, farmers with endless stories in their faces, the sincerity of middle-class America and the best BBQ pulled pork I have ever had (just to name a few). I reunited with the talented duo Danny Yourd and Steve Hoover of Endeavor Media/Animal out of Pittsburgh, PA.
We shot on RED for testimonials / hero shots and Canon 5D Mark II & 7D for abstract b-roll / candid moments. I had a chance to see the 5D and 7D go toe to toe with the RED on a scratch system in all it’s digital glory because we were mixing all the footage together in both the 30 second spots and web spots. The 5D really impressed me with how well it held up in CU shots next to the RED footage. But where they really fell short (especially the 7D) were in wide, high detail shots. Banding becomes a hideous issue when shooting fine detail and patterns with wider lenses. Things like water, hay / straw and shingles on a roof start to fall apart with a lens like the Canon 16-35mm. Not to say that lens isn’t usable (I absolutely love it), but knowing when and where to use it is critical.
Obviously the RED camera offers much greater control over the image both in camera and in post but I can say with full confidence that we wouldn’t have been able to get the amount of dynamic shots that we did in a day without using the Canons and Kessler Cine Slider. It’s all about knowing the capabilities of your tools and using them for the right job. That comes with testing and experience.
Currently, the 30 second spots are all over the television in Pittsburgh and quite a few of the web versions can be found at MyRangeResources.com
Director Kevin DeOliveira and I shot some moving pieces for Stark County Children Services involving people with various backgrounds coming up through the foster care system. This was an extreme run & gun scenario that left us with limited time and resources…but the end result was fantastic. We shot with both the 5D and 7D. The videos can be viewed here.
In October of 2009, I started working on a micro-doc with Director Joe Siebert about a couple of cowboys making impressive amateur Western films in Canton during the 1940’s.
The Real Bold Badmen finished production earlier in the year and was received admirably not only at the 2010 Akron Film Festival but even more so by cowboy Len Zaleski and his family. Len, who was battling cancer, attended the screening and received praise from an audience who was moved by his story. This project was extremely rewarding as a filmmaker and I am blessed to know the Zaleski family and to have known Len himself. Happy trails to you Cowboy Len…until we meet again! (Len Zaleski 1931-2010). Check out The Real Bold Badmen.
Immediately following the 2010 Akron Film Festival, I conducted my first cinematography workshop at the Akron Art Museum. The core subject material was based off of the role and expectations of a working DP as well as an overview of shooting with DSLR’s. I was taken back by how many were in attendance! It was a lot of fun and I hope to do more events like this in the future. I owe a huge thanks to the patrons who participated and Akron Film for growing and maintaining the local film community.
In between Range Resources shoots, StoneKap did a fantastic VFX piece for The Timken Company. It was a mixture of real-world environment on white and a virtual pop-up book. Shot on RED and directed by Kevin DeOliveira.
Next on the list, I shot a TV spot for the Saab 9/3, directed by Kevin DeOliveira and produced by StoneKap Productions. Shoot days consisted of hanging out of the back of a cargo van with the RED on bungee straps and a studio shoot that felt like sprinting a full marathon. The end result was well worth it.
I came up with a lighting design that consisted of fluorescent work-light fixtures being arranged in a half sun shape, hanging over the car. Gaffer, Derek Urey took on the challenge of actually finding a way to hang the fixtures. His results were remarkably insane looking but executed with great success. All I have to say is that my old back yard chain-link fence was hanging in the grid of the studio. What made this day so crazy was the fact that the pre-light AND the shoot were in the same day…and yes…we made our day thanks to the incredible crew. This was another RED/5D shoot and huge part of making our day without sacrificing production quality was using the Kessler Cine Slider with the 5D. By far, this has been the best small format slider I have ever used. I’ll post a link to the final product ASAP.
Following the Saab shoot, I headed out to NYC to shoot an Express runway show in Manhattan for good friend and Director Andy Reale. It was definitely run & gun/docu-style shooting but fun nonetheless. Getting some insight into the fashion industry was a great experience as well. During the short time I was there, I had the opportunity to grab some interesting textures of the city. I’ll post photos at a later date.
November was kicked off by a shoot at Akron Children’s Hospital for a great ad agency in Cleveland. Talk about a rewarding couple of days…We were able to get up close and personal with a bunch of great kids at the hospital and capture some beautiful moments. The crew needed to remain small and move swiftly. Derek Urey and I shot extensively with the Canon 5D and 7D along with the Kessler Cine Slider. Of course, everything was natural lighting with a raw approach to the visuals.
A few weeks ago, Mike Thorn AC and I found ourselves in frigid conditions under Friday night lights in Coshocton, OH. We were shooting pick-ups and inserts for a film called Touchback, starring Kurt Douglas and directed by Don Hanfield. This was my first time using the RED MX-Sensor, which was fantastic. I couldn’t believe how well it performed for night exteriors, especially compared to the original sensor, which I usually rate around an ASA of 160 or 200. I was rating the camera at 800 ASA for some of the night exteriors and the image held up pretty well in most cases. I also had the opportunity to truly fall in love with the Angenieux Optimo 24-290mm. What a beautiful piece of glass (and brutally heavy for “run & gun” scenarios). I’ve used the lens before but didn’t have the time with it that I did while shooting Touchback.
Recently, director Drew Russ invited my team and I to tackle his recent music video for As They Sleep in Detroit, MI. Legit amateur wrestlers + guys getting hit in the head with metal trash cans + guys getting hit with lumber & chairs + over-the-top scary faces + metal = a sick video. However, unloading a one ton grip & lighting package up six flights of stairs = bad news and sore legs. Especially after working for over 20 hours straight. I’m currently prepping to do the color grade. Stay tuned.
Animal called me back out for a studio shoot in Pittsburgh, PA for four days to do some table top product shots for a local hospital’s “get to know your doctor” web videos. My time consisted of setting up small dolly shots on the Kessler with infinite configurations of Jenga-style apple box support (apple boxes are a man’s best friend when it comes to sliders). Actually, I learned a ton on this shoot because I was challenged to make 10 pairs of running shoes, 5 sets of golf clubs, 4 sets of tennis rackets, a water ski vest, endless photos and books, Mickey Mouse paraphernalia and lots of guns all look interesting on a white void cyc. The lighting design wasn’t super complicated. I wanted contrast but it couldn’t be too moody because of the nature of the piece. These items belong to the friendly neighborhood doctors so it needed to be inviting and bright. Although I was sick on this shoot…I had a blast with Danny on set. Mickey Mouse ears, pump jumps and shotguns to Tyson’s face…’nuff said.
The year was wrapped up with a few fun projects. The first being an eye insurance shoot at Classic Worldwide Productions in Cleveland that involved over 40,000 watts of power to shoot some high speed green screen shots on RED and white cyc scenes on 5D and 7D. Attaining proper exposure was difficult due to the fact that we were shooting at faster frame rates AND losing a little over one whole stop of light because we were using a teleprompter (shooting through reflective glass). It also takes quite a bit of light to make a white cyc WHITE and not grey. A couple of 14″ 5K Fresnels did the trick nicely.
The second project involved Joe, Beau, Derek and I traveling to snowy Syracuse, NY to shoot a marketing piece for ICM Controls in their state-of-the-art, energy efficient facility. I actually shot with the HPX170 for the first time in a LONG time and to be quite honest…it’s still one of my favorite cameras to operate with. It’s not always feasible or in the budget to have an AC on every shoot which made this camera along with the HVX200 the right tools for the job. We shot this “dirty jobs” style, hosted by talent and the company’s president, which keeps what could be a very mundane marketing video…interesting. Note: I’m very jealous of their conference room.
Last but not least for the year…the StoneKap 2010 Holiday E-Card. We had a blast making this one. http://www.stonekap.net/stonekap/ecard2010/
A lot more to come. Thanks for reading!