I’m a professional car photographer shooting with the Canon 1DS stills cameras since 2003. I guess the sum total of video I’ve shot has been a few tapes of my kids and the cat on a creaky Canon HV10. But I had an itch to scratch and when the Canon 5D Mk2 was announced, I saw for the first time a way for me to shoot video using a lot of my existing equipment. Every winter, I work in Sweden with Ice Driver, driving and photographing cars on the frozen lakes of the north, so I had my subject. The question was, could the new 5D Mk2 survive on the outside of a rally car at -25c plus wind chill and still deliver quality footage?
So planning started with a wish list of gear on one side and the weight limit of airline check in luggage on the other. I‚Äôm a lightweight traveller whenever possible and light to pack the minimums, but a video head was a must. However, the sticks used by broadcast crews were out, I needed to stay below 20Kg check in, so Graham at The Flash Centre suggested a Manfrotto 501HDV head with 438 ball levelling cup to fit onto my existing Manfrotto 1900 alloy tripod.
For the camera and immediate kit, most of the shooting was to be on a frozen lake at -20c or below, so a BG-E6 battery grip and a second battery pack was added. I had been warned that as well as batteries, the 5D eats memory cards when shooting video, so three 8Gb SanDisk cards were added to my collection, plus two Seagate 320gb Free Agent firewire 800 hard disks for backups.
There are some excellent online resources for shooting video on the 5D Mk2, so I won’t go over it all again, just to say that theere is an excellent resource put online by The Guardian’s Dan Cheung and also a great guide to exposure and focus settings by Tyler Ginther on Vimeo were very useful in figuring out the obvious stumbling blocks and work arounds.
The next thing was sound. We needed a separate source to record engine notes and ambient noise inside the cars. Time was running short, so step forward my friend and colleague Nick Wilcox Brown who generously offered to load me his H4 stereo recorder. Many people are using Rode mics and other devices on the hot shoe, but I needed an off-camera source for when the camera was mounted in the wind outside.
Finally, Tiffen UK offered me the loan of a Steadicam Merlin, just to complete the learning curve, so after a short tuition by the excellent James Elias at Tiffen UK, into the bag it went. £90 worth of excess baggage charges and the most rigourous baggage search I’ve ever had out of my local airport and we’re moving at 5.00am. Fourteen hours later and I am stepping off the train into the familiar breathtaking air of the Jamtland area of Sweden and minus 18c. Several days waiting around under dull skies before the snow storms clear and we’ve just a day and a half to get what we need.
So if you’re a stills shooter like me and wanting to start shooting video with something like the Canon 5D Mk2, what sort of things can catch you out?
Firstly, video takes longer to shoot than stills. I kind of already knew that, as I’d shot stills photography on TV sets before and I know there can be an awful lot of standing around time. What you don’t think of, of course, is that what is one person’s bored standing around time is another’s ‘flat out getting ready to shoot’ time. In future, I’ll schedule longer periods.
Secondly, shoot for the edit. I’d already talked through with some professional broadcast cameramen I met about shooting the B Roll, but I should probably have shot more than I did, as although I had notes and a ‘shoot list’, once you start shooting a short movie like that, you get other ideas that you’d like to explore, but again, time was not enough.
Third. If you’ve read about the difficulties focusing accurately with the 5D, something like the wonderful 14mm wide angle with it’s massive depth of field is great for handheld shooting inside a car. I found hand holding the 5D easier than many video cameramen, probably because it felt normal to me. It was superb for hand holding shooting in-car footage and the depth of view you get from the 14mm made focussing less critical. However, once you try longer lenses, or need a more steady shot, it gets harder. Certainly the quality offered by the 5D means that unsteady shots or anything with focus less than dead on stand out a mile. My favourite 70-200 F.28 IS needs a better support than I had. The opening shot of the video has movement that I’m not happy with and an additional thing about the fluid head that none of us considered was the effect of -25C temparatures it. The fluid became so stiff that smooth pans were impossible. If there’s one single thing I’ve learned above all is that camera supports are critical. The rig shots worked great, but I really need some more grip gear and a really good set of sticks. Since I shot this in February, lots of gear has arrived on the scene from companies like Zacuto and Red Rock Micro and I’d love the opportunity to try more car shooting with some of those kits.
In post production, my head really hurt. Trying to learn something as powerful as FC Studio, work out a method of using 5D footage and assemble an edit all at the same time was not wise. Poor time planning and the knowledge that there was yet more software that needed learning meant that I kept putting off the inevitable.
At the time, no-one had worked out the workflow for using 5D footage in FCP, but with help from Canon UK, The Flash Centre and FCP expert Dave Hackney we worked out that converting in Compressor to Apple Pro Res was the way to go. It created huge files but I saved time by clipping into rough edits in Quick Time Pro before converting.
The final edit was about 80% of what I wanted. I liked the easy handling of the 5D when sitting alongside the driver, Andy McKenna, I just wish that I’d had a better tripod and more time. Sound? Oh yes, sorry, I forgot. The H4 was superb, but in the end I didn’t use it and instead went with the sound track from the interior hand held. Testimony to McKenna’s accurate driving was that we were able to sync up his three different runs with the camera in different positions all to one time line.
Since then, the 5D Mk2 has had a firmware upgrade that just makes it an even better tool. I’ve been ably to try a Canon XH-G1 recently and while it’s superbly customisable with ‘looks’ and has far better control over sound and is much easier to handle in the traditional ‘chain saw’ style, it doesn’t deliver the ‘film look’ right out of the camera that I loved the first time I saw the 5D.
So how long before there’s an XL series Canon out there with an EF lends mount and a 5D chip? Form a queue here, please.
Philip asked me to write a little more about why as a stills photographer I’m so interested in shooting video and how the 5D has affected the way I work, so I’ll try and keep this brief, but here goes..
Traditional print media is declining and my existing income base of car editorial – about 60% of my income - is flat lining in many areas. Any conversation with any car enthusiast today (the traditional buyer of magazines) will inevitably result in discussions about websites and then video clips. The writing is on the wall for those who choose to read it.
I’d always been interested in video and broadcast film making, but thought it unattainable due to costs, retraining needs and lack of a customer base for video work – all of my clients were using my work for print. I’d also been disappointed with the results from the little family Canon HV10, so it had seen little use. Even so, I’m one of those people who’s sometimes more interested in the ‘making of’ disc in the DVD set than the actual movie itself.
Suddenly, along comes the Canon 5D Mk2 and for the first time I can shoot 1080p HD using my existing Canon EF lenses, have great colour straight from the camera, recorded to instantly reviewable CF cards and all for £2000 GBP.
Couple this to my needs to generate an income from my own created content, independent of the market of existing editorial clients, that I could distribute using my own small collection of websites and you can see why I’m excited.
How will all this fit into my business and the way I make my living? I believe that with the Canon 5D Mk2, coupled with the new distribution platforms, like WordPress and Vimeo, we’re seeing industry changing products. Print media will continue to decline as advertising revenue migrates to where the audience is – online. I predict that some car magazines will vanish and that of those that remain, the print edition will be just one facet of their new identity. I see this as a huge opportunity, not a threat, and I need to move quickly to find ways of creating my own content and use it to generate an income online.
Will some of my existing editorial photography clients follow this and book me for video work? Who knows. The cost of entry into publishing is now effectively zero, so more than ever, quality of content is king and in my view, this is the way to create it.