Hands on with the new Canon C300 Mark II

Newsshooter NAB 2015: Canon C300 Mark II First Look from Dan Chung on Vimeo.

Canon were displaying their new C300 Mark II at NAB in Las Vegas. Today we finally got to see the camera in the flesh. My initial impressions overall were very positive. Any user of the original camera will instantly at home with the mark II. Even though the camera is slightly heavier it can still work easily on the shoulder if you use it with the Zacuto Recoil system that Canon were showing the camera rigged with.

Canon today confirmed that the camera will indeed control most aspects of the EOS CN 17-120mm servo zoom lens.

The camera features an all-new 9.84 megapixel Super35 size CMOS sensor (8.85 megapixels is used when 4096 x 2160 shooting resolution and 8.29 megapixels when shooting 3840 x 2160 or 1920 x 1080 resolution). The camera has a claimed 15 stops of dynamic range – greater than the original C300 and also besting the Sony FS7 on paper. When combined with the new Dual Digic DV5 processor it allows 4K capture internally in 4:2:2 at 10-bit depth. The camera can also record 2K or HD resolution at 120fps. Sensor read speed is said to be twice as fast as the original C300. This should lessen the rolling shutter skew effects to the point where most viewers would never notice.

The image is said to be better than the already excellent original, which many shooters love. Canon Log2 replaces the original Canon Log and is in essence a flatter version that allows for more information to be retained in highlights and lowlights. Canon’s WideDR, as found on the C100 mkII, also makes an appearance on the camera – great for shooters who want an image that retains some highlight and shadow detail, while still being usable with minimal grading.

Atomos Shogun 4K Recorder review – the good, the bad and the 4K

Article By technical editor Matt Allark – Link


The Atomos Shogun was one of the most anticipated video products of 2014. The 4K external recorder was announced at the NAB show way back in April. Units finally started to ship just before Christmas and it has been a long and patient wait for customers to get their hands on one.


The Atomos Shogun with Sony a7S and Movcam cage

I have had a production unit on loan from Atomos for almost a week and had the chance to really put it through its paces. Over that time I have run various tests, shown the unit to some well respected cinematographers and been able to gain an overall opinion about the Shogun. I have also interviewed Atomos CEO Jeromy Young to get his responses on what I and other users thought could be improved.

The image quality when shooting 4K with the Sony a7S
As soon as I got the Shogun I shot and posted a piece in 4K with the Sony a7S at Pearl Beach , north of Sydney. In full frame mode there is a little more noise in the images compared to what you get in HD but that is to be expected. I discovered after examining the recorded footage is that there is inherently more noise when you record 4K in the cameras APS-C crop mode. This has nothing to do with the Shogun – it is just recording the output of the camera’s HDMI. It is certainly something to be aware of though if you plan on shooting in low light conditions in 4K.

I would recommend trying to avoid shooting in the APS-C crop mode and stick to the full frame mode if you have suitable lenses. When you record 4K in APS-C mode the camera isn’t using the full sensor so it has to upscale the image to 4K. I think it holds up reasonably well at lower ISOs but as you go into the higher ISO values noise is much more apparent. Below are some high ISO tests comparing how the camera looks in 4K full frame and APS-C mode, as well as in the same modes downsampled to 1080 HD for comparison. Downloading of the files is recommended as Vimeo’s compression masks the differences.

I also did several tests to compare the resolution of images in 4K and HD, in both full frame and APS-C modes. As expected the 4K image is a lot more detailed than the HD. This is quite evident when I cropping in on the image 200%.

Interestingly putting a 4K image onto a HD timeline and exporting it as 1080 provides a lot more detail and sharpness than the same image recorded natively in HD. For people wanting to shoot 4K but deliver in HD this is good news. I see a lot of users of the Shogun going the route of acquiring in 4K, but delivering in HD. The Shogun and a7S will deliver good results.

Using the Shogun

The Shogun is quite straight forward to use and has an intuitive interface. Anyone who has previously used a Atomos Samurai or Ninja Blade recorder will be instantly familiar with most features. Setting the Shogun up with the Sony a7S was as easy as connecting the HDMI cable, enabling the 4K HDMI setting on the camera and turning on the unit. The Shogun automatically detects the 4K signal from the camera and you are all set to shoot. The only thing left to do is select what flavour of ProRes you want to record in. I really like the ability to choose between ProRes LT, 422 or 422 HQ. In 422HQ with a 480GB SSD you can record around 1hour and 20min of 4K footage. For a lot of users ProRes 422 will be more than enough. One thing to note when you use the HDMI out with the a7S is that you cannot record internally on the camera at the same time as recording to the Shogun.

The touchscreen interface is easy to use and all the familiar features like peaking, zebras, false colour etc. are there. Nice new include the 1:1 and 2:1 pixel zoom for focus check – that enables you to drag your finger around in a small box to zoom in and check sharpness anywhere on the screen. This is important as it is very critical to get exact focus when shooting 4K. I won’t go into details about the menu system as we previously covered it here.

For now you can’t play back your images on the recorder itself – although this is promised in a firmware update imminently. Once you have finished recording you take out the SSD or HDD and hook it up to your computer with the supplied dock. You are then ready to view or edit your files straight away. The beauty of ProRes recordings is that they are universally accepted and easily read by almost any modern computer and video editing package.

Build Quality

Judging build quality is always difficult. Just because something feels solid or flimsy doesn’t necessarily mean it is built to last. You need to take into account what is the product designed to do and will it work in that environment without breaking. The Shogun does feel a little less solid than previous Samurai and Ninja Blade. It doesn’t have the same metal frame encasing the recorder. Atomos have obviously chosen the plastic they use to keep weight and heat down, and maybe manufacturing costs too. How the unit would hold up if you dropped it is something I’m not going to test deliberately, but I doubt it would fare well.

The screen is made out of a Gorilla glass type material but it is not the latest type and will shatter if you drop it. That said you wouldn’t drop a lens or a camera and expect it to fare well – equally expect the same with the Shogun. Mounted on a camera or gimbal etc. I don’t see too many problems with the build quality and it is similar in construction to many camera top monitors that people use every day. If you are really worried about knocks and drops then I’m sure it won’t be long before accessory makers will have light weight cages to encase the Shogun.

What concerns me more are the HDMI inputs. There is no HDMI port protection on the recorder and the HDMI connector sticks straight out of the side of the Shogun. This is a potential problem as cables are usually the things that get caught if your moving through tight spaces. I would have preferred to see the HDMI ports placed on the back of the unit, or at very least a right angle HDMI cable included. As far as weather sealing goes, there really isn’t any. I would not recommend using the Shogun in the rain or snow without a protective cover. The big heat vents located on the unit are completely exposed so any type of liquid that gets in there is going to cause problems. Obviously covering the vents with a rain shield may also cause heat issues – I’m not sure what I would do in wet tropical conditions. Just how robust and reliable the Shogun proves over time we will have to wait and see.

The Screen

The Shogun screen if very impressive but highly reflective

The Shogun screen if very impressive but highly reflective

The screen is one of the Shoguns strengths. With a full 1920×1080 display it has nice colour reproduction and produces a pleasing image. It is quite bright but don’t expect to be able to use it in bright/sunny conditions outdoors without a hood. It is very reflective so when you look at it from certain angles it can be hard to see. If getting a Shogun I think I would add a matte screen protector like the type you can buy for your iPad. You will also need to carry a cleaning cloth around as the touch screen operation means you will be constantly wiping your finger print smudges off the screen. There is an Atomos sun hood coming and you can find out more information by listening to the interview with CEO Jeromy Young in this post.

Size And Weight

Despite the 7″ screen the Shogun doesn’t feel to big when used in combination with the a7S or GH4. Atomos have done a good job of keeping the unit as compact and light weight as possible. This is very important if your going to be using it on small rigs or cameras. I mounted the Shogun on top of my Movcam a7S rig and even hand holding the camera, the added weight of the Shogun never made it feel like the camera operation was impeded by having the unit attached.

Battery Life

The decision for Atomos to go with one battery instead of the original 2 that we saw at NAB was purely to cut down weight and try and streamline the unit. Unfortunately the battery life is pretty poor using the standard batteries. Using an included battery the Shogun will only last between 30 to 40minutes. Thankfully Atomos do give you other power options – an included dummy battery with a D-tap and an auxiliary power jack allow you to power it externally. You could also use the Atomos power bar that will fit below or above the Shogun. My concern here is that if you want to cut the weight of the Shogun down by only having one battery it sort of defeats the purpose of having to use another power source mounted to your rig instead. This is fine if you are using larger cameras but if your using it with small cameras like the a7S or GH4 most users won’t want to run a separate power source. Another solution will be to use larger Sony NPF type batteries like those used in the FS700 and 100 – but these again add weight and bulk to the rear of the recorder.

The other thing I would like to see changed is the battery indicator. The Shogun battery indicator goes from green to red and then flashing red. You get very little warning and then the Shogun just turns itself off. I am not a fan of battery indicators that don’t show you the exact time or percentage remaining. Jeromy Young’s response to the battery issue is also in the interview I did with him later in this article.

Audio

The added lemo connector which combines 2 XLR audio inputs and 2 XLR outputs is a great concept provides a good selection of audio recording options. Phantom power is available to power you microphone and headphone monitoring is provided too.

The XLR audio connections are via a Lemo breakout cable

The XLR audio connections are via a Lemo breakout cable

On the downside once you connect two XLRs cables to the connector you end up with a lot of cable weight dangling in the air. Just like the HDMI cable, it sticks straight out on the side of the unit and because of its weight it does tend to pull the Shogun slightly to one side. I’m being very picky here but again it is something where the design could be improved.

The audio level display is clear and accurate

The audio level display is clear and accurate

Another thing I found quite strange is that when you have two channels of audio going into the Shogun you cannot adjust the level of each individual channel. Any adjustment you make alters both channels – somewhat useless if you have two different audio sources with different output levels such as an XLR top mic and a wireless pack. I have brought this up with Atomos and they are going to look into it.

Included Accessories

You can’t say Atomos doesn’t give you value for money. Included with the Shogun are a lot of accessories. Again we have covered them here so I won’t go into too much detail. All the accessories are great and the HPRC case is a nice touch, but the biggest thing missing for me was the sun hood. Apart from the SmallHD DP7 and Transvideo high brightness monitors, I find it very difficult to use most screens outdoors in sunny conditions. The Shogun is no different. Why manufacturers don’t just give you one of these in the box is a mystery to me as they are essential.

What other professionals thought

Jason Wingrove using the Shogun on his Nebula 4000 Lite stabiliser

Jason Wingrove using the Shogun on his Nebula 4000 Lite stabiliser

We got three respected cinematographers to use the Shogun on a real world shoot. Jason Wingrove, Peter Barta, and Clinton Harn came along pre dawn to one of the rock pools in Sydney. Here we had a chance to use the use the Shogun on the a7S and also try it out in combination with the Nebula4000 Lite 3-Axis brushless gimbal. Jason Wingrove has modified the Nebula so it looks more like a traditional gimbal and can take a monitor. The Shogun easily mounted onto the Nebula and Jason was impressed with just how easy it was to use. He liked the ability of being able to press the record button directly on the Shogun and not have to fiddle around and try and find the fiddly record button on the a7S.

The Shogun mounted easily to Jason’s custom Nebula 4000 Lite brushless gimbal setup

The Shogun mounted easily to Jason’s custom Nebula 4000 Lite brushless gimbal setup

The Shogun looks to be a good option if your using a gimbal or other stabilising device – especially as you are likely to need an external monitor anyway. What Jason, Peter and Clinton all thought could be improved was the way the focus peaking works. Shooting in S-Log, wide open with low contrast lenses it was very hard to get any sort of peaking visible, making it difficult to focus. We could have used the pixel zoom but then you need to go into a menu and this isn’t always practical – especially on a gimbal. They unanimously said the intensity of peaking needs to be able to be adjusted.

All the guys also commented that they thought the HDMI connector should of been mounted on the back and not on the side of the unit. All of them were equally puzzled as to why the Shogun used a lemo connector for the audio, but not for the power. They also were as unimpressed as me by the battery life. Jason thought it was strange that when the unit ran out of battery and a recording was interrupted, upon powering the unit back up you get a “A broken file has been detected. Do you want to recover it?” message appearing on screen. He made the point that there were no circumstances where you wouldn’t want the video file recovered and this should be done automatically. Personally I didn’t mind that warning – at least I know it has happened.

Despite making some criticisms all three cinematographers were impressed by the Shogun. They liked the screen, the recording options and the size. All of them commented that it was pretty amazing how far technology has come and that you could now record 4K over HDMI from a very small camera setup.

Clinton, Peter and Jason at the rock pool.

Clinton, Peter and Jason at the rock pool.

Conclusions

I can only judge the Shogun from my short time using it. So far this is my assessment.

The Shogun gives you a lot of bang for your buck. It’s easy to use and takes cameras like the GH4 and a7S to another level. It has a nice screen, great recording capabilities, a lot of included accessories and an intuitive operating system. I didn’t encounter any problems with anything I recorded and even when the unit ran out of battery and shut down while i was recording, I never lost a file. The use of off the shelf media is always going to be a small gamble. There will always be defective hard drives that get to market. If Atomos used expensive proprietary media then people would complain about the cost. Atomos know their what their customers want and so have avoided using expensive proprietary media. The cost outweighs the small risk of a defective drive.

There are things that i think could be improved such as the battery life, HDMI placement and a few small things that should be in the operating system. We are still waiting for the 3D LUT capability and playback. Sadly, like most devices that come out these days, firmware seems to be an on going process. As a Sony F55 owner I’m well aware of how long it can take to perfect the firmware.

Atomos CEO Jeromy Young agreed to talk to me about all the issues that our review bought up. You can listen to that interview below as he responds to users feedback:

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Overall the Shogun ticks a lot of boxes and I think most users will be very happy with it. At the end of the day the Shogun delivers what it promises – 4K recording on a budget, a great screen and easy to use interface. We did do some tests with the GH4 and the results were equally impressive. The Shogun can be used with just about any camera out there on the market to record either HD or 4K depending on what your camera can output. The versatility the Shogun is that you can use it not only a recorder, but a very good monitor too.

Atomos have always provided free firmware and I am sure future firmware will help improve the unit over time – they did the same with the Ninja and Samurai models. Atomos has always been a company that tries to learn from their mistakes so it will be interesting to see what improvements can be made after they receive customer feedback. Being able to record 4K over HDMI is an incredible feature and something up till now was extremely hard to do out in the field. The Shogun has a lot to live up to as the hype surrounding its announcement was huge. How it performs over time in users hands is something we will have to wait to see.

Panasonic GH4 vs Sony A7s Review – 4K vs ISO

Two brand new video cameras with different strengths going head to head is always a ton of fun. Not quite as fun as having to make the decision of which one of these cameras to purchase. We all know by now that nothing beats the A7s in low light and the 4k in camera shooting of the GH4 definitely has it’s advantages. So which one of these cameras should take its place in your camera bag, let’s find out.

You also might take a look at the Sony A7s vs. the Canon 5D mark III

On these cameras, both are geared towards videography and thus both come equipped with all the standard features one would expect such as manual audio control, focus peaking, zebras, and a ton of other more advanced options. The GH4 is able to shoot 1080p at up to 96fps while the A7s is limited to a more normal 60fps at 1080p or 120fps at 720p. The GH4 is also able to shoot 4k internally while the A7s can only use this via HDMI output with a recorder that is not yet available, costs $2000, and is bulky enough to make handheld recording at 4k not a great option. This is a huge win for the GH4 as 4k is the future for a format standard, but also has many applications now allowing for cropping or framing in post as well as digital stabilization without any loss of quality. Both may offer the same level of control but the GH4 feels a bit more logical with its layout and actually offers more custom buttons than the Sony. I’m also a fan of the touch screen LCD as it allows me to change all my settings without making any noise or risk of moving the camera. The LCD also adjusts to every level on the GH4 and makes it easier to use for filming yourself or filming from the side. I find this extremely useful and I’m a big fan of this ability. Now while both cameras offer Wi-Fi, the Sony app only allows for start stop of video recording while the GH4 basically gives you access to all the controls you would have on the camera and even the ability to focus and shift focus points from a remote location. This makes it much better for use as a b camera or on a dolly where it may not be easy to reach the camera controls.

Of course the Panasonic GH4 does have a much smaller sensor which imposes some limitations with dynamic range, a larger depth of field, and worse low light abilities, though there are some advantages to smaller sensors that start to even things out. For example, while the GH4 is not immune to rolling shutter or the jelly effect, it is definitely less pronounced and easier to manage than the Sony. However, in low light the GH4 starts to show limitations at 1600 iso with some noise present, and is limited to 6400 ISO while the A7s looked great up to 25000 ISO with the ability to go even higher if needed. However I did find the GH4 4k files cleaned up nicely with some noise reduction but that will add steps to your workflow. Either way, 6400 is the highest you can go in the GH4 while the Sony A7s is just getting started. Now, while the Panasonic offers great quality f2.8 zooms as well as 1.4 prime lenses, the Sony is limited to f4 for its native zoom lenses on only has 1 wide prime lens at f1.8. This meant it was easy to shoot with wider apertures on the Panasonic allowing me to shoot at lower ISO while achieving the same exposure. The smaller sensor also allows for more area in focus and I find it easy to shoot all day long at f2.8 and wider on the GH4 while on full frame cameras like my 5D3 I was stopping down to at least f4 to get the depth of field I was looking for. The small sensor on the GH4 also allows you to use a metabones speed booster which we will go over in another video but it essentially turned this Sigma lens into a 29mm-57mm f1.2 zoom lens after factoring in the 2.3x crop factor (exposure equivalence). Try shooting that wide on your A7s! So yes the GH4 loses the ISO battle, especially at 1600iso and above, but that is only half the story.

Shooting with these two cameras is actually quite interesting. While the controls and operation on the A7s felt clunky, the GH4 felt much better and I have been using the A7 and A7s much longer than the GH4. Also, before I had these cameras, I figured I would use them both at 1080p and the 4K would be a nice option for the future. Quite the opposite, the 4k recording has become part of my normal workflow allowing for sharp looking 1080p footage when down converted and the ability to crop and stabilize my footage in post. This is huge for me and it makes it tough to go back to normal 1080p. So while the A7s is comparable to the GH4 at 1080p in many ways, being able to shoot 4k made it a game changer for my current workflow, even though I have no plans on outputting 4k footage, nor do I own a 4k TV or monitor. 4k Files even played back on my laptop which was something I was expecting to have issues with. Both of these cameras also offer a profile for better grading with the S-log2 on the A7s and Cinelike D or V on the GH4. The S-log2 is definitely a more empty profile with more room for grading, but I found it to be almost too empty and the fact that you can only use it at 3200 ISO and up made it less usable in practical cases compared to the more natural Cinelike D on the Gh4. If you love grading, I’m sure you will love the S-log2 profile, but at 3200 ISO, I’m just not sure how often you will be using it but you might want to stock up on ND filters.

Both of these cameras have redefined my view of what video should look like in cameras of this price range. They have both stomped on my Canon 5D3 and Canon 70D so hard that it will be nearly impossible to pick them up again for video shooting. As a result, you really can’t go wrong with either of these cameras though the more time I spent with them, I definitely started showing a preference and For me, the GH4 kept coming out on top. For one, the 4k ability turned into a feature I could use every day rather than something that I thought was mostly for future proofing. Also, most of my footage is shot below 1600ISO and the f2.8 zoom and 1.4 prime, and even a 1.2 zoom lens with the metabones adapter for the Panasonic made it easier to shoot at lower ISOs while my F4 Sony zoom lens had me shooting at higher ISOs. Shure, the high ISO shots looked great on the A7s, but the smaller, lighter, cheaper, and still amazing quality lenses from Panasonic took some of wind out of the Sony’s sail… And for only $1700, there is another reason to go with the Panasonic, and use the extra cash for a nice wide aperture lens. Sure I wish the GH4 looked great at 6400ISO and the Sony is still king of the low light hill. But with all its advantages, great price, and overall fit and finish, because remember, this is Panasonics 4th generation of this camera, The GH4 is now likely the video camera that I am likely going to use from here on out.


Article from Learning Cameras – LearningCameras.com

Canon Collaborations: The Crew of VICE on HBO and their Go-To Gear

VICE on HBO takes you deep into the world’s biggest political and cultural clashes. To capture the hair-raising stories you see on screen, VICE Media’s Director of Photography Jake Burghart and Segment DP Jerry Ricciotti are no strangers to shooting in extreme conditions — and need reliable gear to keep up with their immersive documentary shooting style. Find out why Jake and Jerry turn to the Canon EOS C300, XF105, XF305, and 5D Mark III to get the job done and learn how they configure their cameras while shooting in hostile environments.


EXTREME DOCUMENTARY: HOW VICE PUTS THE CANON C300 THROUGH ITS PACES

Interview by News Shooter features editor Mat Gallagher:
Cameraman Jerry Ricciotti and DP Jake Burghart travel the globe to film some of the biggest conflicts, most hostile environments and most hair-raising scenes for the HBO series Vice. I spoke to them about Vice’s style, shooting in extreme conditions and the team’s camera of choice, the Canon C300.

Where are you at the moment?
Jerry Ricciotti: We’re in Benghazi, Libya right now; we’ve been in Libya for six days. We came to Benghazi pretty last minute, two days ago, so, this is our second night or third night here I think. It’s been fun. We’ve been doing a story for Vice.com and maybe for the HBO show. It was a little exciting getting over here and not knowing – with all the clashes and all the police and military – what we would see, but we’ve largely been pretty safe, so it’s been good.


Jake and Brendan taking cover in the streets of Cairo, shooting handheld with a 70-200mm
Photo: Jerry Ricciotti

Tell me a little bit about Vice, my impression is that it’s an extreme documentary?
JR: Vice is a little ambiguous because the production company that creates the show is named Vice, but also it’s a magazine and media entity itself. So Vice, on HBO, is the name of the show and yeah, I think [extreme documentary] would be a fair assessment of it; it’s a news magazine show, focusing on a younger demographic, telling stories that are a little bit different, stories that might not get covered on the nightly news and, certainly for Americans, [it’s] something that we don’t see in many of our news outlets.

Jerry with all the gear, three C300s, two XF305s, two XF105s, three 5D MK3s and all the stuff to make them work.
Photo: Jake Burghart

What cameras do you shoot on?
JR: Primarily the Canon C300, and we always go out with a Canon 5D. We first started working with the XF305 and the C300 but it didn’t seem to be a great fit – It wasn’t as good a complement as we hoped, so we started using the 5D. The image from the XF305 matched nicely, it was just the size. Having the full frame and interchangeable lens options of the 5D made it a better second camera. We also always go out with a Canon XF105 and GoPros.

Why did you choose the C300?
Jake Burghart: We got the cameras pretty early on. I shot the Sebastian Tellier video for ‘Russian Attractions’ on the C300 and shot the underwater scenes on a 5D MkIII. I thought the two worked well together and would make a great pair for us in the field.

The C300 almost chose us. There really isn’t another camera in its class. The AF100, FS100, even the F3, none of these cameras can actually meet broadcast standards without using an external recorder. Shoulder-mount ENG cams are basically dinosaurs and just an aesthetic I’ve never been interested in. Then, if you look the other way, Alexa is obviously out of our budget, but even still, that thing would have broken our backs in the field. Same with an Epic, and I can’t imagine being all filthy and covered in mud trying to access a touch screen menu to close down my iris a stop. The Red Scarlet has the same problems. Touch screen is not something I’m ready to deal with. When you add in storage and battery life, you just can’t beat a C300 for what we’re doing. I love shooting on an Epic in a more controlled environment – the picture, the latitude, all amazing – but for doc shooting I can get 300 minutes of accurate, to the minute, battery life out of a single Canon battery that I can wrap my fist around. With two 64GB CF Cards, I can shoot for over 300 minutes straight. I rarely shoot more than that in a day, which means I don’t wrangle cards till the end of every day. That completely eliminates a job in the field, making our crew that much smaller. I’d love to see another super 35mm sensor camera meet those storage and battery specs while shooting at 1080 at 50MB/s in a log gamma. It would be great to have options but even if Sony steps up their FS100 to meet that, they can’t compete with the native glass that comes with Canon. Using Canon zoom lenses on the C300 means iris control is on your handgrip, and my focal distance and focal length are on the screen. I’m changing shots and exposure without taking my eye off the screen or my hand off the grip.

Jake shooting morning time-lapses in the Sahara with a C300 for the Mauritania piece.
Photo: Jerry Ricciotti

Have you pushed these cameras to their limits?
JR: We didn’t really know the durability of it, so we figured out what it can and can’t do from the nature of our shoots, which are in some pretty extreme terrain – a lot of outdoor work, hiking, on boats, all that sort of transit stuff. What is typical in production [in general], we do with a smaller team and, for me, a much faster pace and much further out.

JB: We shot with the camera hanging out of helicopters in the freezing Russian winter and spent days in the Sahara during the middle of the summer. We suction-mounted it to trucks in West Africa, hung it out of boats in the Maldives, ran it nonstop on way too many 18-hour days in 90 percent humidity, covered the thing in oil, sand, and grime, mounting extra parts anywhere that would take them. The camera stands up to just about anything.

Jerry walking through a village on the Nigerian delta
Photo: Jake Burghart

I take it most of your shooting is handheld, run-and-gun style shooting?
JR: Yeah, it has to be, handheld, exactly, run-and-gun. You’re waking up with the camera in the morning and you don’t put it down until the night. We have to eat with it. So having a solid shoulder rig and nothing too big is kind of important. We don’t really bring sliders or glide cams with us on too many shoots. We have done, but it depends on the situation. Mostly it’s just a shoulder rig, all day.

What would you say are the C300’s strengths and weaknesses?
JR: Strengths – definitely its ability to push ISO and the image quality when the gain does come into effect; it’s kind of a pleasant look. Even two years ago with the AF100 I wouldn’t have even thought of not using an on-board light. I’m always finding myself dealing with natural light so, for us, the advantage of that is huge. Basically being able to see in the dark.

I like how easily it can be broken down to almost a camcorder size. When you strip down to just shoot out of the viewfinder, it’s a nicely balanced camera at its smallest. Then of course it’s really upgradable, too. We end up adding a lot of things for shoots, so, ergonomically and just practically, having all the buttons and the menu options available, for me, is just great. The weather proofing of it is great, too. I’ve been really happy being able to take it [into all sorts of environments].

JB: Outside of the size – storage, battery and glass strengths that I’ve already pointed out. The low light capabilities are off the charts. We shot in existing light on the Niger Delta one night. All we had was a moon, the gas flares in the distance, and one red LED. The scene looks amazing and you would have killed it by lighting it. So many times I don’t have to break a scene to add light. I can just crank the ISO and know it’s still going to look good.

The camera needs to be able to do 60fps at 1080. I know it’s possible. Even if you had to go down to 35MB/s it would be better than having to do 720. Even if it did 48fps I’d be happy. I know it’s possible, Canon is just holding out.

The mounting point on the LCD is weak. It gets loose and can’t be tightened. That’s the biggest drawback. If you try to put a shotgun mic on the supplied shock mount, it will definitely loosen that LCD mount point, and you’ll have a hard time keeping your horizon straight using the LCD. Also the handle only has one contact point, which I don’t like. I’ve swapped out to a Movcam handle with four points of contact. I hate that you can’t separate the XLRs and the LCD. We always need XLRs, we don’t always need an LCD. I’d love to see an artificial horizon in the LCD like on most of Canon’s DSLRs.

The hardest part about rigging the camera has been a working EVF. The one on the camera is pretty much useless. The LCD is great, but there is no good solution for a loupe. The (Dietygear) Mira is maybe the only one, and while it’s really nice it’s too heavy for that weak LCD mount point. It doesn’t flip up easily either. If you use a third-party EVF like the Kinotehnik or Alphatron, you still need the LCD to keep the XLRs, and now you don’t have your waveform monitor (which I think is a must when shooting log). You also don’t have the easy push button magnification on your grip. Sony has been good about making their own loupes and putting them in good spots, I’d like to see Canon follow suit.

Jerry sporting his riot gear in Cairo
Photo: Jake Burghart

JR: Yeah, the monitor situation has been the one thing that’s been a constant, sort of, game I play before I go out on a shoot. In bright light you really kind of need one, the LCD just barely gets by and so I bought a Kinotehnik EVF, which I was really happy with on the 5D but moving on to the C300, it’s just okay. I’m not completely happy with it. The HDMI out is a major issue, I get nervous it’s going to break – luckily it hasn’t, knock on wood – and then the AA batteries die pretty often. It’s nice to have an extra cartridge when they do, but they die so, I bought the Deitygear Mira, and I don’t like it. It’s so big that it backs up against the underside when you have the LCD flipped open and down, sort of the typical way you have it on a shoulder rig. It jams right into the back of the XLR inputs, so I returned that, and I didn’t even bring one on this shoot. I’ve just been using the cameras EVF, and I’ve actually found that turning up the backlight setting on the LCD made a big difference shooting in daylight. With that, peaking and toggling with the magnification I’ve been able to make pretty accurate exposures and I’ve been able to keep everything focused without too much trouble. But I’m still searching for [a good EVF], that’s definitely the thing that I still can’t figure out.

What other gear are you using?
JR: Typically the Litepanel Micro is the only light we bring with us. We use all Canon lenses on the cameras. Our equipment manager Jaime Chew started calling them the ‘three wise men’: 24-70mm f2.8, 16-35mm, and the 24-105mm. I also bring a 70-200mm f2.8 and I have a doubler for that, which I find myself not using that often.

JB: I have a personal set of Zeiss Distagon primes that I use for interviews, and really low light. But the 16-35mm is my go-to lens. For sound we use Lectrosonic lavs, Sennheiser shotguns, and when we have a sound guy we do a Sound Devices eight track. We like to run a lot of wires and keep booming to a minimum. Nothing blows intimacy like a boom in your face. We light interviews back home but in the field keep it pretty minimal. The Litepanels are for a worst-case scenario, but they generally look pretty terrible.

I’d love to see a working bus-powered four-slot Thunderbolt CF reader. We had a Sonnet version that was fast, but it had too many connections, was too fickle, and too fragile. Now we just use several USB3.0 readers at once.

Do you think 4k would be an advantage to your shooting? Is there any talk of moving to 4k, or is it just not necessary until the networks ask for it?
JB: Right now I can’t see any reason for us to use 4K; too much processing and space. It would make the cameras too bulky, and just bring up too many problems. I really can’t see any of the benefits outweighing that stuff for a long time.

Jake’s current C300 handheld rig, with a Movcam top handle.
The Zacuto recoil lite puts the camera right on his shoulder for better weight distribution. The extended follow focus sits out past the LCD screen, which has the Diety, Miro Loupe. On the front is the custom handgrip offset made by Abel Cinetech. His shotgun is mounted off to the side, so the camera doesn’t get too tall. Photo by Jake Burghart

What is the shoulder rig that you use?
JB: We try to keep moving, stay off the tripod as much as possible. Everyone has their own shoulder rigs, I like to keep mine light and tight. It’s combo of Zacuto, Movcam, and some custom stuff.

JR: I have a Redrock micro cage, with just the rails, and an offset grip that sits on the rails. That’s basically it for me. Like I said, just having to be so minimal with it, I put my lavs on the back of the rails on Velcro, behind the battery. Sometimes, depending on my setup, if I’m using the EVF, I’ll actually put the LCD and the XLR back there also, which is as much of a counter weight as I’d ever need. Jake’s is even more minimal. I used to use a Zucato shoulder pad also, but having seen him go without it, I decided to get tough and go without it too and just put the rails on my shoulder all day. I’ve got a nice little knuckle in my collarbone through that but it does help with weight.

Give me an example of some of the situations you’ve been in with the cameras that really pushed them to their limits?
JR: We went up the Niger River delta in Nigeria a couple of months ago, to do a story about oil pirates. These guys continue to break into Shell Oil’s pipelines across the delta where they live. They’ll take the oil out of the pipelines and build these large, basically like moonshine distils, where they refine oil themselves. We weren’t sure if we’d have power there so we brought three to four days’ worth of batteries and cards, and camped up there to go out and find these guys. And we did. We found them in the middle of the night, so we shot with a small light panel and a shoulder rig on a Panga Boat as we sped along the river, doing pieces to camera the entire way as we looked for the indication of oil pirates, which are big plumes of smoke flaring from their oil stills.

All the time we shot on the 85mm f/1.2, which sometimes we’ll bring if we know we’re going to be in low light situations a lot. Shooting on an 85mm at f/1.2 on a moving boat is a not the easiest thing to do but the footage came out great, it’s really steady and the audio sounds good on a Lav, and the shotgun with fuzzy did a really good job picking up the host’s audio.

Once we got there, we had to walk in a foot of sludge, which is basically a combination of mud and oil that had been discarded by the guys on a daily basis. They’ll refine gallons and gallons of oil but a lot of that gets discarded around them, so they’re throwing this oil out all over the place. You’re standing in big knee high rubber boots and as the oil is being refined it’s generating a lot of smoke. It’s really a dangerous environment because that smoke can catch fire and the whole place can go up in flames. Of course, you’d like to have a tripod but you can’t, so you find yourself kind of balancing with one hand out trying to keep your balance and the other hand shooting as you move across a pretty explosive terrain. And the whole time monitoring audio and pulling focus, so I was really happy with the camera. I don’t think it would have been a situation that a camcorder would have really shined in. You didn’t need a heavy rig on your shoulder and you didn’t have to look through it all the time. The precision focusing and the low light capabilities meant it was the perfect camera for the job.

That was a pretty built up rig but before that we were in Egypt in protests. We were pretty lucky to get right to the front line of the protests, which turned pretty violent with the cops shooting rubber bullets at kids and them throwing molotovs back, and tear gas. You’re wearing a gas mask, looking through an LCD. Actually what I had done is, I’d shot two different riots in Egypt, one time I had an LCD, a follow focus and a shoulder rig, and the second time I just had the 24-105mm, looking through the eye piece. Physically you just want a camcorder, something pretty low profile that can zoom far and has pretty good image stabilisation. I was really proud of the stuff that we shot. I felt like I was still shooting something beautiful, like snapshots of action, so that was kinda nice.

Do you find when the C300 is broken down it can work to your advantage in that it doesn’t look too imposing?
JR: Yeah, we did some hostile environment training and the big thing he showed was silhouettes. You don’t think about it until you’re in a place like Benghazi but when you have a large camera on a shoulder rig it looks like an RPG. A smaller camcorder-type camera isn’t as imposing in touchy situations. I’m actually really happy with how small it gets. Especially if you have a small lens on it, like an 85mm or something. It’s pretty low profile. I’ll bring a Rode mic too, just a little DSLR one that works on the C300 as well.

Jake and Shane on a very unstable rooftop in India
Photo: Brendan Fitzgerald

Can you say what you’ve got coming up in the future?
JB: Season two is getting started pretty much now.

JR: I’m going straight from Libya to Hawaii. I have a couple of other Middle Eastern shoots. We’ll definitely spend a lot of time in Asia, covering more civil unrest, and you can probably assume we’ll see Egypt and Turkey again.

VICE launched in 1994 as a punk magazine, and has expanded into a multimedia network, including Vice.com; an international network of digital channels; a television and feature film production studio; a magazine; a record label; and a book-publishing division.

Posted on July 23rd, 2013 by Mat Gallagher

The Philosophy of Filmmaking: Top Five Film Production Secrets – Jeremiah Birnbaum 8 of 12

Did I get your attention? I know people love secrets and “top five” (or ten) lists so it made sense to combine the two. Just good marketing….which is another blog topic altogether. So without further ado, here is my top five list of things to keep in mind when you’re producing your next movie:

Be Organized – This may sound obvious but I would say that most filmmakers, especially beginners, begin production without being truly organized. There is an old adage in filmmaking, “pre-production = production.” What this means is that the more you prepare BEFORE you start shooting, the better the shoot will be and the better the film will be. Make sure your shot list and shooting schedule are detailed and real. If you’re trying to film 10 locations in two days or get 50 shots in one day – you’re fooling yourself. Do your homework and have a plan that is doable and will lead to success. And really sweat every detail. Scout your locations at different times of the day and decide when the light is best, and know where the best parking is and, if you’re shooting outside, where the closest restroom is located. Create overhead diagrams of camera and lighting set-ups for every scene. Maybe use the phone on your camera to create a digital storyboard. If the scene calls for an actor to throw red wine in another actors face, make sure you have at least three sets of the same clothes for the lucky actor getting his face drenched so that you can do multiple takes. Good filmmaking is in the preparation.

Have GREAT Food on Set – Students of mine always laugh when I say this to them, but it’s true. Food is a major part of film culture – look at Mr. Coppola – and having good, nourishing food on set shows that you respect the crew and the work they are doing. Nothing will irk a film crew more than lousy food, or no food, on set. Bad food will cause a film crew to grumble and not do their best work. I’m not saying you have to provide gourmet meals (though I do this as much as my budget allows), but making sure your crew is well fed will more than pay for itself in hard work and loyalty.

What Can You Get for Free? – Every one of us has certain things we can get for free. A friends sail boat he doesn’t use or your crazy uncle who has all that WWII memorabilia. Maybe you worked as a waiter all through college (I did) and you know the manager of the restaurant who’ll provide a couple of free lunches. Do you need special clothiers for a scene? Do some research and maybe there is a local designer looking to get their clothing in a movie and will give you your entire wardrobe for free. Explore your options and don’t be afraid to ask. The worst anyone can do is say “no.”

Hire the Best Crew Possible (especially Sound) – As filmmakers we are often blinded by the latest, coolest piece of equipment, especially cameras. Yes, use the latest, coolest camera you can get your hands on, but more importantly find crew people who know how to use it! Film equipment is only a tool. The artistry come from the person wielding that tool, not the tool itself. So take your time and find great people to help you make your film. And don’t skimp on the audio. Sound is as important as picture. If you can only pay one person on your crew, pay the sound person and you’ll be saving yourself a ton of headaches in post-production.

Say THANK YOU – I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again – filmmaking is a privilege and every opportunity we get to bring the dreams in our head out into the world through motion pictures is a blessing. At the end of every shoot I make sure to thank every member of the cast and crew for their hard work. People who dedicate their lives to making movies do so because they love films and want to part of the magic. Saying thank you shows that you appreciate them and the contribution they are making to realizing your vision. It’s the least you can do!

Catching up with FilmschoolSF film actor Ivan Spane

film actorIt’s been awhile since we’ve chatted with an FilmschoolSF Film Acting student (our last chat was with actor Greg Cala). This time, let’s catch up with film actor Ivan Spane.

Spane is a familiar face in the FilmschoolSF Film Acting program having been in several films over the past few years and many of our film classes. Recently, he’s been the lead in two films that have screened at couple festivals this past October.

“The Sacrifice”, written and directed by Marisa Schlussel, concluded its run at Carmel Art and Film Festival a few weeks ago. A powerful story about a Holocaust survivor (Spane), who, when attempting to rescue his wife while impersonating a Nazi solder, inadvertently becomes the instrument of her doom. Told on his deathbed to his son (played by SFSDF Film Acting program alum Vincent Leddy), “The Sacrifice” is a riveting tale of the best intentions gone bad.

Spanetrades his deathbed for a bed of roses in another short, “All of Me: Sex Over Seventy”. This look into the boudoir, or at least the minds, of the ‘over the hill crowd’ played to critical acclaim at the recent SF Indie DocFest. Think of it as a stroll down memory lane and a peek into the libido of your grandparents. Written and directed by SFSDF 5-Week Filmmaking Program alum Gina Margillo, it stars Spane as the male representative who takes the approach that the sexual energy can be harnessed for greater health, longevity, and well-being through Eastern practices and techniques of Tantra and Yoga.

We excited to see Ivan doing so well and look forward to seeing more of his work. Check him out in “All of Me: Sex Over Seventy”!

Environmental Filmmaking: World Environmental Films

Lucy Marcus is one of the people you hear about and think to yourself, “Damn, I wish I were her.”

A couple years ago, this FilmschoolSF grad started her own business focusing on environmental filmmaking. From the Great Barrier Reef to Palau, Lucy has been traveling to some of the most amazing places in the world to capture the powerful beauty of nature on video. Called World Environmental Films, her firm is focused on “Creating Documentaries About Terrestrial and Marine Environments and Scientific Research.”

Her motto? “Movies help people love nature; people care to protect what they love.”

This dispatch came in via Electronic Mail from Lucy several days ago. We’ve left the content as-is but we’ve added a few links.

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environmental filmmakingI just got back from spending 2 months in Africa and filmed an educational science video on an island eco-resort! I went on safari in Kenya and Tanzania for a couple weeks before beginning a 1-month volunteer project on a tiny island eco-resort near Zanzibar. I was leading snorkel tours for the guests who came to stay and see the healthy coral reefs. The rangers who work on Chumbe Island (pronounced “Choom-bay) are Muslim and during the month of Ramadan, they are fasting (no food or drink) from dawn until dusk every day, so they can’t go in the water.

I also shot video of the island’s forest, wildlife, eco-buildings, solar panels, school groups visiting and did interviews with the rangers. I am now editing this video into a 10-minute educational piece to be screened in schools on the island of Zanzibar, before the school groups come to the island. I will have the finished video on my website in the next month, but there are lots of photos there now if you want to see big game animals and coral reef shots.

environmental filmmakingI happened to arrive on Chumbe Island when a BBC film crew was there filming an episode of a TV program World Challenge. Different ecological businesses around the world have an episode filmed about their project, then the viewers who see the shows can vote for which business will win a $10,000-Euro prize to help the best business. Chumbe Island, is not only an eco-resort, but they bring out local school groups and fishermen to teach them about sustainable architecture and marine and forest preserves. The BBC crew did not have a good underwater camera, and I did, so they asked me to film all the shots of the school students learning to snorkel and shots of the coral reefs and fish. You can see a few of my underwater shots (and vote for Chumbe) on the BBC World Challenge website. They were really grateful for my help and it was a great learning experience to see how TV crews work (This crew was actually quite simple – one guy!)

If anyone ever needs an underwater videographer, let me know!