Shooting Canon DSLRs on a big movie set for Lucasfilm!

So everyone and their dogs are getting Canon DSLRs and are shooting everthing from our home videos to blockbusters on them apparently 😉 But ,what is the reality of going down this route and what do you need to be aware of and what advantages can be gained from using them?

First off I am a small set guy, I like small teams…I am very hands on. That’s the way I work and the way I like it. I hate not operating. I love a collaborative team and the way we all work together, I just am more used to nice small teams. This was VERY different!

Well, following on from my DSLR consulting with Lucasfilm back in December I went back there to work on some pick ups on their “Red Tails” movie for them using the same DSLRs, more for a test than anything else. We really wanted to see how well they performed and it was a really useful experience for learning what was needed and what needed to be improved by Canon. Also,  how they fitted into big projects like this, not just physically but workflow wise and also which camera/ lens/ accessories really were essential.

“Red Tails” is George Lucas’ long time pet project. Based on the real life Tuskeegee airmen, the only African American fighter squadron in the US military. This is a fictional story with a nice old fashioned war film feel to it. This isn’t Saving Private Ryan! It has a great cast….Cuba Gooding Jr, Terrance Howard, Method Man, Tristan Wilds from “The Wire” (who owns a 5d!), David Oyelowo, Nate Parker, Ne-Yo and many more.

Before I flew out there I liaised closely with Lucasfilm’s Rick McCallum. We had to make sure we had everything we needed. We researched all camera and lens options. Would we shoot Canon L series? PL? 1DmkiV? 5DmkII etc… accessories, monitors. You name it…we talked about it.

Behind the Scenes on Lucasfilm’s Red Tails with the Canon DSLRs from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

Some behind the scenes from my stint filming DSLR pick ups for Red Tails.

Thanks SO much to Rob Wynn at Lucasfilm for this!

Rick McCallum and myself

Now I need to make this clear, the idea was not having the Canon as the A or B camera but to be used for extra angles (as we could sneak in almost anywhere) but also mainly side with Camera A (Sony’s F35) to see how well they compare. Obviously being a Lucasfilm movie much green screen work was needed and with the low bit rate and colour space issues amongst it’s other drawbacks it was as much as a real world test as it was for being used to get those extra angles.

What myself, Producer Rick McCallum and head of post Mike Blanchard needed to see was what apart from the known limitations of these camera, what exactly was needed for them to fit into a large budget production, both shooting and post.

The cameras we used were the 5DmkII, the modified for PL mount lenses 7D from Hot Rod Cameras and the 1DmkIV.

Both Rick and myself preferred the look of the 5DmkII over the other two cameras, there is something so unique aesthetically about this camera but what we also needed to do was make sure what we shot didn’t look so wildly different from the F35s that we could not cut the shots into the movie.  There was no point in offering a different angle if it completely looked differently aesthetically to the other cameras, it just wouldn’t be used no matter how good it looked. Cameras need to match each other for intercutting otherwise they jar!

So we started two weeks of picks ups and learnt a lot during that time…

The major issue we had with the Canons was the monitoring issue. These cameras are still cameras first and foremost and that causes many issues, one of the biggest is they all use a mini HDMI as it primary video out, which also causes the camera LCD to shut off.  We experimented with using powered HDMI splitters to feed both the Marshall monitors for my focus puller and myself but also for video village. This was not very successful at all for our purposes. For a small crew using the excellent Jag35 splitter we used would have been fine but we had to go a different more pro route. So what we ended up doing was using a Blackmagic HDMI to HD-SDI convertor. This required different monitors as our Marshalls were HDMI only but it did mean it slipped into the video village feed so much easier than before. This I have to say is essential in any serious production. Dump the HDMI and go HD-SDI, HDMI is a not a pro connection systems and suffers because of it. It just is not robust enough. The big issue we had with the 5DmkII (the 7D and 1DmkiV were unaffected) was that when you hit record then the image drops from 1080i to 480p making using the monitor for focus a major issue and also caused about a 7 second black image for the director in video village. Not great. The new firmware for the 5DmkII has not rectified this issue.

My 17

Looking v little next to the beasts!

We used the Hot Rod Cameras PL 7D a fair bit. If you watch the short film “A day at the races” you will see a piece that I made with this camera and Cooke S4 primes

Hot Rod PL

We used a variety of PL lenses for the 7D on Red Tails, we also were lucky enough to have then new Zeiss CP.2 EF mount primes which we could use on all the cameras. The camera we used the most in the end was the 1DmkiV, mainly as it gave us the most flexibility with what lenses we wanted to use as I wanted to use Canon L series a lot as I had some nice long lenses which we did not have in any other form. Now, pulling focus on these lenses is not much fun for my focus puller as they have no hard stops. But with a good focus puller and knowing these limitations we were able to cope. We also rarely shot anything close to wide open as the F35 was often at around F11 so we closed down a lot to try and match their depth of field, a shame as both myself and Rick love the shallow depth of field look but we just could not make our stuff too different from the main cameras as I said earlier. Although every now and then we shot a wide open shot for the hell of it to which cause Rick to cry out “Bokeh baby!”

Everyone lusted after the Zeiss CP.2
Me likey the Zeiss CP.2

Getting spot on exposure was a problem; I lost the HDMI only Marshall monitor which had false colour, to switch to the Ikan VX9 (an ok monitor which has HDMI and SDI, but has a terrible viewing angle and odd colours, I understand the VX7 will be much better) as it had SDI in. False colour is very useful for getting exposure. Metering with these cameras was very unreliable, especially when we used the PL camera. Also a light meter was pointless as we used the Vari NDs which although were essential for us to drop the light coming in, meant we had no idea how much ND was being used so we were not able to get an accurate light meter reading. So it came down to a combination of in camera metering, looking at the monitor and then checking it back on the laptop. When we do more shooting in Prague, this time we are having a feed of our image go into the DIT tent so we can get accurate exposure each and every time and so we can match up as closely as possible to those F35 beasts!

Working on the set was an absolute joy.  My 1st AC, Phil Bowen was straight off of the cancelled “Trauma” and is one of the best in the business and about as pro as you can get. It’s a sad fact that not everyone in this business has a great attitude like his. These days there is a lot of “we can’t because…” rather than “we can make this work”. You see that is the biggest issues with the Canons. We are asking a lot of them, they were not designed for this! The guy who made the chip for the 5DmkII saw video for the first time from the camera at Skywalker Ranch’s Stag Theatre when he was invited over from Japan by Lucasfilm. Apparently he cried when he saw it. What we are doing is pushing them as far as we possibly can. We know there are lots of issues so what do we do? Do we say no to them or do we make them work? We make them work of course because the end result is so bloody gorgeous we WANT to make them work. Also the small form factor is so revolutionary, even though we do need to pimp up like I do with my Zacuto gear, to make them easier to use they are still small! I can carry around my 5DmkII, my 50mm F1.2 and my Z-Finder in my man bag (not murse please) everywhere I go. It’s incredible.

Anyway back to Phil Bowen. I said to Phil, “Phil mate, we are using these L series lenses, they have no hard stops and the rotation is tiny. Is that ok?”. His answer was “No problem boss”. He THRIVED on the challenge, sure shooting on L series without hard stops is tough for a focus puller, and I only once made him pull focus at F1.4. I was pretty easy on him mostly although I did make him pull focus on a 600mm F4L lens though from the barrel on a really key shot of Tristan coming towards us on a jeep from a long distance away. He nailed it 4 out of 6 takes. Impressive stuff!

Phil Bowen

Having a great focus puller is essential. Doesn’t need to be someone as experienced as Phil. Just someone with skills and the right attitude.

I also had an excellent 2nd A.C. in my Intern Garrett O’Brien. Still in film school but without too much of the film school mentatility. He paid to make his own way there and paid for his accommodation but I know he learnt heaps and he was a real asset to us. Thanks mate.

Garrett O'Brien

We acted very much like a small independent unit on the shoot and working as a team is essential. I relied on Phil; he relied on Garret and Garret he er…had to do everything! It worked very well. We were fast and got the shots.

We had a mattebox for the 7D and PL lenses but not for the Canon ones. I have just received my new Petroff one and will be using that, but for this we simply had our grips flag for us. Worked a treat!

Lens flagged

The whole crew were truly wonderful. You could easily imagine a crew as experienced as this lot (most have credits longer than your arm) being a bit snotty to someone like me coming it with my dinky little camera and sneaking in and grabbing shots, but they were fascinated by it. Also many of them, operators, ACs, grips, extras and even some of the stars have the same cameras. It was a talking point for many and everyone who walked past couldn’t help but take a peak.

Me with the Gopro boys on set
Tina the photographer and one of the Germans going method!

One of the German extras was a 7D owner!

A wonderful experience with an amazing crew/ cast and I cannot wait to see my footage in the movie! Because you know what? We set out to do tests but it looks like we could have about 150 shorts in the final cut. Now onto Prague!

With Prague, as I still only have HDMI Marhsall monitors, I will be using Panasonic SDI monitors and also the View Factor cage as well as my Zacuto follow focus and other accessories. I need a cage so we can easily mount monitors and other bits on and keep it as solid as possible. This is where the View Factor cage is coming in. It’s the best on the market. I have the one for the 5D and Curt is working hard to get me the 1DmkIV version to Prague in time. I will also have two excellent “interns”, both talented filmmakers in their own rights. The great Nino Leitner and Sebastian Wiegärtner. I will get them rotating between data wrangling and 2nd AC. We needed a data wrangler on the the first batch of pick ups. This time we have oner.

View Factor cage for 5d/7d

Tripods we used were the Miller Solo 3 stage with Compass 20 head. Sachtler Video 18, Zacuto flippable follow focus, Marshall 7″ and 6.5″ monitors, Ikan VX9 monitor, 35mm Canon F2.8L F1.4, 50mm F1.2L Canon, Canon 70-200mm F2.8L (we used this the most) IS, Jag35 HDMI splitter, Blackmagic HDMI-SDI convertor box, Zacuto Z-Finder


  1. Philip try and get the Camera Dpt to grab a Panasonic LH-900, great monitor for HDSDI with passthru for the video village. Great to pull focus off of and nice for exposure checking.

  2. Incredibly fascinating post, reading about DSLRs on a Lucasfilm shoot. I love your blog and your movies. I am a landscape photographer and only shoot stills with my 5D Mk II but still love following the amazing things being done on video with this great camera.

  3. Great post! Between this and the interview from FreshDV with Shane Hurlbut it’s awesome to hear how these Canon’s are being used on movie sets.

    I would love to hear more about the new Zeiss primes and what you thought of them.

  4. Also curious about the View Factor cage even though I got a JAG35 one. Are you planning on doing a review at some point? I’d be curious to see a photo of your camera rigged out with the cage.

  5. Hi Phil,

    would love to read a few lines about Phil Bowens Tools of the Trade-Thing.
    I quess a Hilti Laser rule, but what about the rest?



  6. Great stuff, Philip, on MANY fronts! At this time last year who would have ever thought that you
    1. Would be on a Lucasfilm set with Rick McCallum
    2. Filiming with a DSLR on that set (making square pegs fitting into round holes with all the workarounds)
    3. The footage from that DSLR making it into the final cut of a Lucasfilm movie!

    And, while you’re off doing that, we’re all out here salivating over your adventure and learning a TON from your experiences. Truly inspirational Philip. Oh, what a difference a year makes.

    Thanks for sharing all of this with us…..

  7. Very nice of you to share the experience with the world, amazing times!

    Did you get any vertigo on the crane? Looked pretty hi up!

    BTW are you running on batteries or power AC adapters to bricks? Nothing like out of battery when a crucial scene is mid way!

  8. What is with the 3D gopro rig? I see cables plugged into those. Did they have hacked or a beta firmware to allow start/stop sync or monitoring?

  9. Wow thats a really big crew… from my point of view as a student.
    If you should ever be in Germany or even somewhere close like Prague, please let me know I’d love to see how things work an a film set like that… we don’t have that opportunity at our really really small film school.

    So please let me know if you think this would be possible in future.

    Thanks a lot for the insight,

  10. Will the upcoming RedRock Micro microfollowfocus v3 help with the Canon lenses with the addition of hard stops? They say it should come out this summer – you planning on getting one?

  11. Brilliant stuff Philip. I got my 7D when it first came out, and was still very unfamiliar. It seems since then everyone is flocking to it. I’m still learning a lot of things about it. It’s still very much a DSLR with video recording and great for cinema. Using it on fly-on-the-wall documentaries on the other hand, not so suitable. I am excited, however, to see what the next generation of video DSLRs bring to the table 🙂 Keep it up!

  12. Great job Phil!

    I have the same BM HDMI-HD-SDI converter. I see in one of your photos that they were running that off of what seems to be a Panasonic battery…do you know who makes that custom plate?



  13. Phil, I always enjoy your blogs, but this one was especially good. I’ve been following you since day I discovered your site while trying to figure out my Letus adaptor a couple years ago. Like many others, I’ve been following your recommendations about gear and have been learning a ton. Love your work ethic, Hey and also, that sun tan looks pretty good on you dude.



  14. Was Phil Bowen pulling focus on the 5D at 480p? What a pro!

    Do you think you’ll be monitoring HD-SDI exclusively in the future?
    Yes, Marshall’s false color is great for exposure, isn’t it?

    What camera did Rob Wynn shoot the BTS with?

    Looks like a fun (if nerve-wracking)set. Great stuff Philip, look forward to you making the final cut!!!

    1. yeah he was. but he also went off his marks. For big projects like this then HD SDI, but smaller ones probably HDMI as only have one HD SDI Panny monitor and have two Marshall HDMI monitors.

      Rob shot in HD CAM, not sure which model.

  15. 2 ?’s – Has the director gotten involved with what he wants on your end?
    – And what happened to The Hughes Brothers? I thought they were involved in this film?

  16. Whoa, awesome post Phil, thank you for sharing all of this. Text, video, photo galleries, this is industry blogging at its best. Thank you

  17. Awesome post Phill,

    Brilliant information / inspiring stuff… really love all the behind the scene photos (love the german extra + great one of you with the pistol)- It must have been amazing to be part of something so big! All the little details about the crew / the set, what lenses etc you are using is excellent. Really nice to have so much information shared with everyone..

    Cant wait to check out the finished product on the big screen..!

    Did you do much panning / movement ? How did you find working with the Compass 20 head versus the Sachtler ?

    Posts like this are what keeps bringing people back to your blog and inspiring them – looking forward to seeing some prague stuff !



    1. Cheers Seb. Yes i moved the camera around. Loved the Compass 20 head but of course the Sachtler video 18 was better as its legendary but that Compass head is great.

  18. Hi Phil,
    I am currently shooting a documentary with the HD-SLR line up.

    The most difficult issue i had to deal with is the 12min restriction, and while reading your article i saw you didn’t mention it. Is it because all of the takes were less then 12min?

    Whats your work-around that?


  19. What’s up with the T-shirt again !!! Mr. Messy ? Forget video, I’m gonna open a bloom T-shirt company… I’ll open a bloom gift shop and i’ll sell bloom “souvenir” at DSLR meet-up…

  20. I HATE YOU SO MUCH BLOOM, you get to play with all the best toys 😉 jk, congrats, this is a major accomplishment for the vdslr world, your a true trailblazer. the shot with your setup inline with those f35s is epic, i would love to see a shootout between the footage.

  21. Hi Philip,

    This was a great and amazing experience!

    I could ask LOT of things, but will only go for few practical ones, that I noticed and still wonder “why?” and “what does Philip think about?”:

    – You used (as seen on the pictures) a “big” and (supposedly) somewhat “heavy” display mounted on the hot shoe of the 5D Mark II / 1D Mark IV and 7D.

    Did you ever feel it was a bit risky to break the camera’s hot shoe? Did you feel any difference between the three cameras in this regard?

    – I personally noticed you didn’t use hoods on your lenses (at least in most of the pictures there is no hood, excluding the matte box).
    Why? Was it for any specific reason?

    – Additionally, as you might know we (a small group of photographers and filmmakers) are “pushing” since so long for improvements for the 5D Mark II, and indeed one of the requests in our (long) list is regarding a “clean” HDMI output with a higher resolution. To disable the white square would be so easy to do. And the delay of 5-7 seconds to have a signal on the external monitor after you press “record” is a “must” fix too.

    One of our LIST OF REQUESTS can be found here:

    We SINCERELY hope Canon take it in serious consideration, along all other users’ feedbacks on the next firmware update (because it will come indeed :)). The “iris jitter” will be fixed, but we REALLY hope Canon take advantage of that needed update to include some additional possible features.

    – You mentioned you prefer the “look” of the 5D Mark II, is it because of the Full Frame or because something related to the file encoding/final result (or why)?

    – This might sound silly, but just to be sure, were you shooting in 24p mode on every camera? Or did you use another frame rate (in such case, why?)?

    – Finally (but not less important!): Did you notice that using firmware 2.0.4 on the 5D Mark II you now get better image quality, less “blocks/patches” on the footage (especially on flat surfaces, etc)?

    Thanks a LOT in advance once again!

    Best regards,


    1. been told hot shoe is rock solid, it was our only choice for this shoot. in prague we have the vf cage.
      i was not using hoods as I had the vari nd on.
      prefer look aesthetically, personal opinion. that is all.
      24p on every camera.
      didnt notice about improvement with firmware.

  22. That is a marvellous story about the guy from Canon Japan, who engineered the 5D Mark II’s sensor. What a brilliant idea to invite him to the Stag Theatre. I think a lot of top engineers, who aren’t artists, could be inspired like this. I am sure if Nikon’s top boffins for example had that kind of eye-opening experience, they would be pushing video on their DSLRs a lot further.

  23. Thanks for the report, amazing stuff!!! I live in Prague and I’m a huge DSLR cinema enthusiast, when and possibly where will you be shooting here?

  24. Hoi,

    may I ask when and where in Austria you’ll be?

    I’m a teacher in a Vocational school (in Austria) for Multimedia design. And I have a video class these days.

    It would be nice to get a far or maybe bit closer look of your work


  25. Wow Philip that is great! I have a question by, you said that you used 70-200 2.8 is most time. But, aren’t prime lenses have greater image qualities? I’m struggling with some choice of lenses… Another thing is this: is there a lot of difference (quality, resolution etc) between 7-200 F4 and 2.8 is? I am a poor boy.

      1. the sigma equivalent 2.8 of the canon L, was used alongside the L glass and matched our multicam footage of Fightstar live really well. I didn’t operate, so I don’t know about the practical use comparison + build q, but In the grade, I couldn’t see much difference at all. I know it’s a cheaper lens, so may be worth looking out for it, mate.

    1. If you are in a “budget”, check the “EF 70-200mm f/4L IS”, it’s Really sharp (a bit geometrical distortion though, like most).

      Note that I’m referring to the “IS” version, which is different and more expensive than the “non IS” (both have the same focal lengths and aperture but have different optical designs)

      There’s a very good web page to compare many lenses, at all focal lengths and apertures, side by side.


  26. What a fab detailed post!
    just used the Viewfactor cage … excellent piece of kit .. protects camera too .. and easy to grab! Anything attaches ..
    Regarding the hotshoe – it’s rock solid as it is built onto/part of the metal skeleton inside the exterior coating of the Canons – (we had to xray our gear every night at a hotel in Cairo so we studied how the Canons are built!) …
    Thanks for your great articles!

  27. Philip, thanks so much for all the info you share – it’s not only very entertaining to read, but you are helping every DSLR shooter in the process with your insights and trials. We all owe you a drink!

  28. PB:
    Fantastic! Thanks for sharing. Curious of what your thoughts are on using a focus whip with the Zacuto (or any) follow-focus in the situations you were in on set? Again sincere thanks for sharing!

  29. Great post, Phil! I really enjoy the behind the scenes look and to see how these little cameras are being used on the big sets. Good luck in Prague!

  30. Wow, that looks like quite an experience! Can’t wait to see the final results!
    I bet that German extra who owned a 7D was really geeking out at that setup!

    Oh, and if you’re ever shooting something in Texas, and need an apprentice/intern, I humbly volunteer myself. 😉

  31. Very exciting times! well done Philip it is actually happening now- big movies shot on dslr! my head spins with the possibilities now !

  32. Phil, you mentioned this is a fictional story but the story of the Tuskegee airmen is true. Have they changed the true historical events or is it an attempt to retell the original story?

  33. Ahh forgot to say – loved the GoPro 3D rig! actually curious to know how the footage would turn out when viewed with glasses..!

    Also what mm Zeiss CP2 did you use?? how was the quality ?? would love to see some A/B footage with the zeiss and your 70-200 / 50mm L series etc…

    ps is your 70-200 the newer model ?

    thx again and rock on in Prague !

  34. Thanks for the very informative post! My day job is editor / colorist and have just purchased a 5D to experience shooting first hand vs critiquing, cutting and coloring from afar. That you are sharing your experiences in such detail is very, very awesome. Detailing the lenses and eposure settings is so helpful as I tweak my camera to match (shooting with Canon 16-35mm 2.8L and 24-70 2.8L).

    Can you recommend any resources for picture style settings?