We first saw the Canon 5D Mark II (aka 5D) in the lunch room at Canon's Mississauga, Ontario, office. It was so new that the now-legendary Vincent Laforet clip was just about to appear online and start a worldwide buzz. I can remember how amazed I was, the camera in my hand for mere minutes, as I stared with an open jaw at the bokeh I was able to get from a pair of salt and pepper shakers. This camera, it seemed, would transform the way we see our films.
Fast-forward several months to the first time we were able to take the camera out of the lunch room. Our team was in Jamaica for a wedding right before New Year's when we came upon a very interesting local artist who went by the moniker Slick. Our intention was to shoot a little piece for our wedding clients, Tiffani and Ryan, that we could show at their wedding. So we suggested that Slick sing live for us, and we would tie that into what we were putting together for the wedding. His eyes instantly lit up, and he put out a beat right there on the beach. Things snowballed from there; the plan then became to shoot an impromptu music video for him, which seemed like the perfect test for the 5D.
The footage we got was roughly half shot with the 5D. Being that we are so accustomed to the aesthetic of 24p, our first challenge was to find a way to convert the 5D's 30p footage. The byproduct of that conversion process (which we ended up doing in Compressor) was that we were able to get our files into a much more workable format for color grading (if you drop a simple 3-way color corrector on the native files, you'll have to render).
The shoot itself was quite exciting; several moments into it, we all just sat and looked in amazement at what the LCD on the 5D was capable of. To be able to go from a 16-35mm f2.8 lens (while Slick was dancing atop a half-constructed building) to a 45mm tilt-and-shift lens (while he was grinding on a bridge) really made us feel like we were controlling exactly what we wanted to shoot and how we wanted the result to look. We can get so used to the fixed lens on something like a Canon A1; it becomes easy to forget that there is so much more versatility out there when you move to interchangeable lenses. Not only can you choose a focal length, but the look of the image also changes with each lens. Properties such as the bokeh, color reproduction, and distortion are unique to each lens and are all variables we can utilize to tell our stories better.
While we were amazed by the 5D, our first shoot wasn't without its problems. Shooting the majority of the video handheld meant that we had a fair number of shots plagued by the rolling shutter (aka jello) effect attendant to CMOS sensors. Video cameras with CCD sensors have a global shutter and, thus, do not suffer from this jello effect. With a CDC'sglobal shutter, the entire frame begins gathering light and is exposed at
the same time. With a CMOS sensor’s rolling shutter, different portions of the frame are exposed at different times, essentially “rolling” through the frame. This isn’t a physical shutter but rather an electronic one (whereas a film camera uses a physical shutter) that is making different parts of the sensor light-sensitive at different times. You’re fine if the camera is stationary while you’re filming, but as soon as you introduce the smallest amount of shake, your image begins to look like it’s made of jello and somebody knocked the table.
Rolling shutter is probably one of the most difficult things to overcome with the 5D when shooting video; however, I can offer a couple of tips to minimize its impact. Higher frame rates generally have less jello effect, so 60i would exhibit less than 24p. While we can’t change the frame rate on the 5D MK II, other DSLR cameras offering video do shoot in 24p, so we would expect the jello effect to be more pronounced. A higher shutter speed will generally reduce the amount of jello effect; however, a higher shutter speed also makes any jello effect you do have much more apparent.
Shooting outside in the hot Jamaican sun meant that the 5D’s auto-only settings dropped the aperture down to f32 to get proper exposure. Not only did we lose any depth of field that we had hoped to have, but now even the smallest piece of dust on the sensor was visible on the final image (as the depth is so deep that particles in front of the subject are still slightly in focus). Had we been more prepared we could have brought along a pile of ND filters and avoided this problem altogether. Most of us use the more common 0.3 or 0.6 ND filters, which block 1 to 2 stops of light, respectively, and are not nearly enough for this type of application. If you pick up an ND 3.0 filter, you’re looking at a loss of 10 stops of light, which will do much more for you in very bright conditions.
Getting an assortment of filters for each lens you have can be a little daunting, so I suggest looking at a rails setup (the same ones used for 35mm adapters) with a matte box that accepts 4"x4" filters. The matte box can be adjusted on the rails for each lens you use; this way, you can get away with having only a couple ND filters on hand.
This first piece we shot with the 5D really opened our eyes to the quality of imagery the camera could produce. But we needed to control how it was used. Without proper forethought, it was easy to shoot a lot of footage that resembled dirty jello.
5D Destination Wedding
Our second shoot with the camera—the destination wedding we’d come to Jamaica for—was only days later. With the ceremony being held on the beach, the first thing that struck us was the amount of dynamic range that this camera was able to hold. Since we were shooting with the Canon A1 as well, it was easy to see just how much more detail there was in the highlights and shadows of the 5D. It meant that we were able to have a deep blue sky in our image while also retaining most of the detail in the bride’s white dress—all in the blazingly hot sun.
The 5D records both photo and video clips to compact flash cards. Halfway through the wedding, while we were downloading some CF cards to our laptop, we thought it would be wild to try to put together a surprise same-day edit (SDE) that would follow the music video we were to show at the reception. Converting the footage to 24p and Apple’s ProRes 422 codec on-the-fly was actually much more manageable than we had first imagined. The trick was to import the 5D files into FCP, rough-cut the footage before converting anything, and then send just the desired shots out to Compressor to be converted.
This first SDE was probably shot a little more handheld than it should have been with this camera. While we ended up with a very strong SDE, a fair amount of footage still had traces of the rolling shutter.
As the night progressed into the more formal reception events, we saw the perfect opportunity to try to add some creative flair to the speeches. While the camera certainly excels in low light and we could have gotten away with shooting ambient alone, the light we use is much more about shape and depth as opposed to exposure. We set up our lights as we normally would, mounted the trusty 70-200 f2.8 onto the 5D, and shot away. This is where the 5D really found its home and simply added a whole new dimension to an often overlooked cinematic gold mine. As the mother and father of the bride were speaking, we were able to rack-focus from the mother’s punch line into the father’s reaction. All of a sudden, we had a whole new dimension of storytelling that we could play with. Having the ability to magnify the LCD up to 10x was also critical in making sure such a shallow image was always focused where we wanted it to be.
This first wedding we shot with the 5D was a great way to ease the camera in. Being a destination wedding, everything seemed to move along slowly enough to allow time to really work with the camera between shots to get the optimal image. Being that the 5D is an almost fully automatic camera when it comes to video, it actually takes quite a bit more time to set everything up properly than it does for a manual camera. White balance is something you can set manually and have ready before you shoot, but the combination of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO is something that needs to be caressed to achieve better control of your image. There is an exposure lock option; from there, you can adjust the exposure compensation up or down 2 stops.
In many situations, we had enough variability to hit the proper exposure without having to send it back into auto and start over. However, be aware of the time needed to properly set your camera. By putting your hand in front of the lens and simulating the type of reception lighting we all know and love, the camera will open up the lens as much as possible. You can then lock the exposure and hold this aperture setting. The trick here is that once you remove your hand from in front of the lens, you can hit the exposure lock twice more and it will re-adjust the shutter speed and ISO to give you a better exposure without altering the aperture.
In situations where the light is too bright for the ISO and shutter speed alone to compensate, the aperture will start to close down. But even here we can force the camera to shoot in a much shallower aperture than it would have had we left it in auto. Doing this will mean that you will have rather high shutter speeds; it is always important to be aware of how that will affect your motion.
Shooting a Premium SDE
For our next wedding, we did a premium same-day edit, which meant that we had three cinematographers there for the day. The plan was to bring along two Brevis (35mm adapter) rigs and the 5D. Unlike the other shoots, we wanted to try to get away from shooting handheld with the 5D.
Shooting a wedding side by side with two 35mm adapters provided us with a very interesting comparison. The size and weight of the cameras were very apparent right away. Our fully set-up Brevis rig with camera, rails, grips, follow focus, and a small shoulder pad weighs in at a hefty 15 lbs. While the lighter weight is certainly a convenience, it also introduces camera instability, which then reduces your versatility.
With the Brevis rig, we’re used to shooting from the waist, from the ground, on the shoulder, or held up in the air. That 15 lbs. is what allows us to get away with shooting purely handheld with very little shake. When shooting handheld with the 5D, on the other hand, we always kept it tight to the body and much closer to shoulder level. Regardless of the image quality, your angles and storytelling ability take a serious hit when you’re either lugging a tripod with you, or shooting handheld conservatively.
Having full-manual control in the Brevis rig also allowed us to react much more quickly when things started to speed up. During the couple’s first meeting, the 5D was mounted on a tripod and needed to be moved midway through the meeting for a better angle as the couple came together. Moving a tripod and needing to lock the exposure certainly resulted in several precious moments being missed, but more than enough was covered overall to tell the story. The 35mm adapters could have covered this scenario better with the only downside being slightly deeper depth of field and a different look to the bokeh.
As the light went down and space became more restricted, the tables started to turn in favor of the 5D. The ceremony location was much tighter than most spaces we have shot in, and it was certainly not appropriate for any sort of Steadicam work that we are accustomed to. Instead, we threw a 16-35 f2.8 lens onto the 5D, mounted that onto a slider (the Cinevate Pegasus), and got some very original shots. The ceremony was also very dimly lit, which proved to be a challenge for both an EX1 and an A1 (no 35mm adapters at this point), even after shuttering down and gaining up. The 5D image held together very well and, had we had more of them, would have been a more preferred way to shoot the ceremony. For many situations, this camera will mean the difference between your footage being murky and grainy or vibrant and clean.
When it came to the reception, space and lighting were again a concern. We’re used to shallow depth and nice bokeh out of our 35mm adapters. But with the 5D, every candle and light source provided the backdrop for a stunning shot. Shooting through objects such as a wine glass, which many of us have undoubtedly done in the past, created an image that was both brand new and exciting.
Subsequent 5D Shoots
We’ve since used the camera at several weddings and commercial shoots. For us, the 5D certainly has its place and will be a solid cornerstone of our lineup. More than anything else, this camera really excels when the lighting is low. Aside from the obvious low-light advantages afforded by its huge 35mm CMOS sensor, when the lighting is dim, you don’t need to worry about your exposure workarounds, and the shutter speeds stay low.
Being that this is—and looks like—a still camera first, we’ve found that the reactions to it certainly can change how you would normally shoot. Subjects seem to be much more camera aware when your pointing a still camera at them for an extended period of time, so you might want to consider dressing up the camera a bit differently to camouflage its photo side. Out of all the ways we’ve used the 5D, handheld is certainly possible, but it would be the least preferred. It can be tempting with such a small form factor and seductive image to liberate yourself from camera supports. But it is far too easy to introduce enough shake that the rolling shutter is visible, thus creating unusable footage.
Tripods are the obvious solution, but an incredible image that is tied down to a tripod is only going to hurt your story compared to a worse image with more mobility. When it comes to something where tripods are the standard, such as the ceremony or the reception, you’ll be hard-pressed to compete with what you can do with a 5D. Throwing the 5D on a Steadicam was certainly a treat, but the shallow depth of field does make the movement more challenging, and you’ll need to factor in rebalancing your rig for each lens you would like to use. If you choose a lens with external breathing (such as the Canon 24-70 f2.8, which changes length as you zoom), you will also need to keep the lens at a fixed focal length to avoid constant rebalancing.
In most cases, the depth of field you’re going to need to achieve a longer Steadicam shot is so deep that you negate most of the purpose for using such a camera in the first place. When it comes to the slider, the 5D makes a lovely companion. There’s no need to worry about rebalancing as you switch lenses, and the subtle motion you can achieve from a slider is a perfect match for the imagery that this camera can produce.
In terms of video, this camera offers many advantages that are more than worth the MSRP. The fact that it doubles as a photo camera presents even more opportunities. While it might be tempting to try to shoot both mediums since you have the capability in your hands, it can be very tough to think in two mediums, especially to the extent that one doesn’t hurt the other. While you won’t see us shooting an entire wedding with an 5D in the near future, it will certainly complement our approach and provide us with many new avenues to explore.
Patrick Moreau (patrick at still-motion.ca), a two-time EventDV 25 honoree, joins Michael Y. Wong and Kondrad Czystowski in the Cinematography crew at StillMotion, one of the leading fusion studios in the world.