Shooting short drama “Present Tense” on the Canon 7D

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Yesterday I shot a zero budget short film around Richmond/ Twickenham. I used the Canon 7D and in this blog I will be going through the shoot, how the camera performed, hiccups, compromises, lack of time…all the usual stuff you experience when making a short film! Behind the scenes photos taken by Alex Kubalsky and Andy Dunn.

It was completely up to me what I wanted to shoot this on and I has have yet to shoot a short drama on the 7D it was the perfect time. Done a couple of commercials and lots of other work with it but this was the first time done a short drama.

Thanks to Andy Dunn for photo
Thanks to Andy Dunn for photo

These are the reasons I went with the camera.

Form Factor is a strong factor. I wanted something small and relatively discreet. After all permissions were not guaranteed for our locations so I wanted something that would not attract too much attention. Although the 7D’s form factor on it’s own is a bit of a  nightmare. Handheld is tough. Focus is very difficult. So of course I was pimping it up. Tripod: Miller DS20 Solo. Handheld rig: Zacuto Tactical Shooter. Viewfinder: Zacuto Z-Finder. Marshall Monitor: Follow Focus: Zacuto Follow Focus.

Yes everything above is expensive. Can you get a away with cheaper alternatives? Of course. But I needed something that I knew performs brilliantly and would help me, not cause me issues during the shoot. Oh and of course I already had these luckily! 😉

If the 5DmkII had 24 or 25p I would have shot using that camera for sure. It does have a punchier image, less noise and better in low light. But the firmware has not arrived yet so it will be 7D. Which is of course absolutely fine as the 7D produces stunning images too!

What is the film?

It’s an idea by myself and Director Armin Ruede to take scenes from classic movies and rework them. Although not quite as was envisaged. This short film was inspired by a scene in “Lost in Translation”.

It features two characters. Both married who meet each other away from home on business…

The female lead was played by Angela Bull and the male by Rez Kempton.

Rez. Photo thanks to Andy Dunn
Rez. Photo thanks to Andy Dunn
Angela: Photo thanks to Andy Dunn
Angela: Photo thanks to Andy Dunn

The Shoot.

The film consisted of three main scenes. Scenes 1 and 3 were in roughly the same location and Scene 2 in a cafe. We started with scene 2, a cafe in Kew near Richmond. We had originally planned to just do it outside on a table outside, but it was cold and the cafe had a really nice conservatory in the back. Being a bit cheeky we asked the lady in the cafe if there was any chance we could use it. She said yes so we effectively took over the conservatory. It was a bit of blessing. We suddenly had a much more controlled environment to shoot in and much warmer. Outside was also going to be a problem with the road noise. Inside still suffered from noise, as Richmond often gets the planes landing at Heathrow. A problem we had to cope with.


Apart from myself , the two actors and Armin Ruede, the Director, we had with us Alex Kubalsky, a friend of mine from Japan/ LA who was over in London as my 1st AC. Andy Dunn, a BBC director interested in seeing a drama shoot as he had just bought a 7D was second AC. Bradley Steenkamp on sound, Glenn Jones boom operation and some extras. It was minimal crew and it worked just fine.

Now the biggest factor against us all day was easily time. Being the winter we had about 8 hours or so of daylight. We started at location one at 8am and by the time we were rigged for sound, scene dressed, rehearsed, extras in etc we didn’t start rolling till 930am. A bit slow for sure. But as all the kit was packed away and everything had to be set up so Armin’s idea of rolling at 830am was always a bit optimistic. Fortunately, I didn’t have to light the scene. I could have added a little bit of extra lighting but with us aiming to strike at 10am I knew this would be a mistake…the light was pretty good in the end as you can see from the ungraded  frame grabs below. Would I had prefer additional lighting? Of course… a little bit of subtle lighting would have helped a lot. We just had not time for it. In hindsight a lite panel mini would have been very useful.

Could have done with light into his eyes...
Could have done with light into his eyes...




Andy Dunn 2nd AC and BBC Director
Andy Dunn 2nd AC and BBC Director
Alex Kubalsky 1st AC
Alex Kubalsky 1st AC
Myself and Armin the director
Myself and Armin the director



a moment of non communication between DP and Director ;-)
a moment of non communication between DP and Director 😉

IMG_7232The film was shot with a mixture of handheld and tripod. All the cafe scenes were shot handheld. It was a very static location and the handheld really added to it. I sat down in a chair to keep the eyeline of the characters and used the Zacuto Tactical Shooter to get good handheld with the Z-Finder. I often recommend the Zacuto Rapid Fire if on a budget but I needed the extra handle for longer handheld scenes to get that extra stability.

Now the biggest problem when shooting handheld with this combo was Armin had no way of seeing what I was shooting. Now this is the fatal flaw with shooting the 5dmkII and 7D. If you have to use a viewfinder, and I find it helps immeasurably when handheld, then you cannot use a monitor. Plug a monitor in and you lose the LCD. Now you can shoot handheld and mount the monitor onto the rig and use that, then you could use a powered HDMI splitter and use two monitors or just have the director behind you looking in yours. I needed the viewfinder so it meant Armin had to watch back clips after I shot them. This slowed things down and was far from ideal.We really need to be able to have that LCD working AND plug a monitor in. Not sure if firmware can make this possible but I hope so!

Bradley Steenkamp
Bradley Steenkamp


Thanks to Andy Dunn for the photo
Thanks to Andy Dunn for the photo


For the wide establishing shots I used the Canon 24mm F1.4 which in full frame terms equates to about 38.4mm. Not super wide. But wide enough for what I needed. That’s the problem with all these awesome L series lenses I have, they just aren’t as wide on my 7D as they are on the full frame 5dmkII! I shot ISO 100, shutter was at 1/50th throughout the shoot apart from one shot at the end of the day (more of that later). When shooting video you want to keep your shutter to as close to double your frame rate as your camera will do to get the optimal film motion. Slower shutter and you get motion blur, faster and you suffer the “Gladiator” effect. Which is fine for some stuff. Not for this though! I shot 25p as it is the EU standard for TV and DVD. If I shot at 24p then shutter would have been 1/50th too as the camera does not have 1/48th. My iris was down to about f2.8 for most of the stuff inside. More open that that and my depth of field would have been too shallow and I would have lost the actor’s focus every time they move slightly. I focused manually with my hand on the barrel as I didn’t use the Zacuto mini base plate or follow focus whilst handheld. I like shooting “from the hip” when handheld. I tend to “feel the camera” and the focus and focusing feels utterly natural for me this way. Canon lenses also focus the “right way”, like my video lenses. Clockwise for nearer, anti for further. If you are used to Nikon lenses that is the other way. Very confusing! My picture profile was neutral with sharpness down one notch. I am always experimenting with PP settings and normally I recommend sharpness all the way down. I went with down one notch for an experiment, it is after all easy to soften that sharpness in post if it is too much…

When shooting dialogue as singles I did some as dirty frames (with the edge of the other character soft to the edge of frame) and some as pure tight shots. Key when doing these shots is make sure your camera is at roughly the same eyeline as the character you are filming next to. Too low and the other character looks like the are looking up, too high and it looks like they are looking down. This meant when filming Rez I had to slump slightly to match Angela’s smaller frame.

Sound was recorded on the Zoom H4N. A good little device. Not ideal for narratives like this though due to the limitations of two XLR inputs. Ideally I wanted both characters to have personal mics and a boom. Three channels that needed to be recorded separately. Bad idea to do a live mix down to two channels as if the sounds recordist makes a mistake you are stuck with it. Bradley didn’t have any personal mics with him and with the limitation of two channels it was going to boom only. Far from ideal and something we struggled with in wider shots. We also had the problem of planes Every 90 seconds or so we had one go over. A PAIN IN THE ARSE. Being a conservatory meant sound proofing was pretty poor. I also used the Rode Video Mic to get reference audio. Very useful when syncing sound in the edit and for auto sync plugins like Pluraleyes. Make sure you use a slate that is labelled correctly. It makes the editor’s job a lot easier when it comes to renaming clips and doing manual sync.

So we got the wide establishing done, the wide 2-shot of the whole scene, a tighter 2-shot of the whole scene and all of Angela’s singles. Then the owner of the coffee shop turned up very angry that we were not allowed to film inside and told us to leave immediately. We had only done a couple of lines of Rez’s singles so whilst Armin took him to the front to try to calm him down I quickly got the coverage we needed of Rez’s singles so we had something “in the can”. Not ideal. Armin was not there to watch the performance and we only got one run through from that angle but it was better than nothing. So we quickly de-rigged and was out of there at 1030am. 30 minutes later than scheduled but not bad considering the coverage we managed to get. I wanted some cutaways of cups and other things but had no time to get them. I will try to go back one day soon with just the camera and get them…great thing about the small camera. Also continuity sucked with the froth in the coffee, it was not even between takes. You really need a continuity person to make sure this doesn’t happen. Unfortunately we didn’t. Remember little things like that are really important.





Showing back a take to Armin
Showing back a take to Armin


We were very lucky with Location 2. We wanted a park style place to film. Top of  wish list was York House gardens. A beautiful spot that I only discovered accidentally this year whilst looking for a place to test my Cinemek G35. I have lived in the area almost 20 years and never knew it was there. Quite stupid of me…have a look at the short film I made of the location with the Cinemek and EX3 about a year ago below…

York House: Cinemek G35 HD from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

Surprisingly a short phone call by Armin and we were told no problem. Very surprising and great news.

We had extras coming, a family with kids so we scheduled to do that first but as they were late we decided to get some other shots first. I got the Miller tripod out for the first time and used the 70-200mm Canon f2.8 IS.  I really cannot recommend this lens enough. I understand it is being replaced shortly. The IS helps so much you cannot underestimate it. I did a quick test to show Alex, Andy and Bradley the problems with the rolling shutter of the 7D on the end of the lens. I had the camera on the tripod all the way to 200mm, tapped the pan handle and watched as the image turned to jelly. I then turned on the IS and did the same thing. Nothing. ESSENTIAL LENS.


Me taking photo of Alex on my blackberry whilst he takes photo of me with my 5DmkII
Me taking photo of Alex on my blackberry whilst he takes photo of me with my 5DmkII
Thanks to Andy Dunn for the photo
Thanks to Andy Dunn for the photo
"Now what?!?"
"Now what?!?"

Light was a small issue. Luckily it wasn’t raining, like today as I write this blog. It was mostly blue skies with clouds. Of course with winter sun being very low, lens flare was a huge issue, a mattebox would have helped on some shots for sure but only a little bit as the light was so low it was practically down the barrel for some shots. I needed speed again and was constant changing of lenses but more importantly the inability to use my vari-nd meant (with matte box on accessing it impossible)  I opted not to use a matte box, any flares i would get them flagged by my assistant…Continuity of light was the main challenge. Shoot a wide with sun out then then tights need to have sun out or vice versa. Sun coming through the trees created a beautiful dappled light on Rez for one shot so I wanted that light. Of course that cost us time as clouds went past and we had to wait. Always an issue and something you have factor in timewise. Don’t schedule your shoot to go smoothly. Always factor in problems with light, noise etc. That way you get less stressed and rush less. There was no leeway in the schedule for this so we were always fighting against time.  Ungraded frame grabs below…



An extra
An extra
Nice light
Nice light



No harm was done to any extras I promise!
No harm was done to any extras I promise!


Pervy sound guys!!
Pervy sound guys!!

It’s very important of course to make sure everyone gets a break, food, drink. Grumpiness and fatigue will set in! I had to skip mine as we were so behind. Needed to block out the next scene! I missed out on some very fine pies as seen below!

Photo thanks to Andy Dunn
Photo thanks to Andy Dunn

For the 2 big wide shots outside I used a real favourite lens of mine for the 7D. The Tokina F2.8 11-16mm. Gorgeous lens. Affordable and great image. Check out the frame grab below…

Shot on the Tokina 11-16mm at 14mm

Of course with time against us a big problem was falling light levels. We rattled through scenes quickly. We still got most of the coverage we needed but Armin realised if we were going to have a film that could be edited we had to drop some shots/ angles to make sure everything was covered. Not ideal but that’s the nature of the zero budget short film in one day!

I did some handheld walking back with Rez and Angels by the river using the 35mm f1.4 set to f2.8 and the Zacuto Tactical shooter. The Zacuto rig with the extra hand support made the footage pretty good. More ungraded frame grabs below…








Bad shot!!
Bad shot!!


The only way for the director to look back at shots with 7D as live monitoring when handheld using Z-Finder not possible
No reason why you can't mix up handheld and tripod footage
With a small chip camera i would have been about 15 foot away zoomed in to try and knock the background out of focus.
The Zacuto tactical shooter made the hand held footage really good...


Need a shave...those are grey hairs in beard!
Thanks to Andy Dunn for the photo
I love the Rode mic because it has a nice green light in your face to say it is on. Nothing worse than rolling with mic plugged in but dead battery or off as your will be mute, pluraleyes needs reference audio

Next up was the climatic final scene where they say goodbye. By this point the sun had technically gone down, we moved location 5 minutes away and tried to get as much as done as possible. Throughout the shoot we were dogged by planes, police sirens, children crying, then at this location an air ambulance landed the other side of the river from us meaning we lost about 20 minutes of shoot time. With the sun just about gone this was a disaster. When you have these awful audio problems make sure you record lots of wild/ buzz track at each location. Essentially just ambient noise for 2-3 minutes that you can use for underlay to even out the uneven sound recording. Don’t forget to do this!!

So with the helicopter there, I did a few non-sync shots but there weren’t many. As soon as that engine was off we were off. We did the scene from 5 angles. Big wide from front, medium wide, two singles and a rear shot. Big wide was good. ISO 200 f2 on the 24mm. Medium wide same settings on 35mm. Single on Rez ISO 400 F1.8 on 50mm. Then due to helicopter taking off…single of Angela ISO 1600 50mm f1.2 shutter down to 1/30th (from 1/50th) so a huge difference. Basically it was dark. Very dark. We had no additional lights with us as we didn’t plan to shoot in the dark so I had to compensate with high ISO, which is not as clean on the 7D as it is on the 5DmkII, dropped the shutter (not ideal) and was very lucky to have such a fast piece of glass. Made sure Angela didn’t move to much, but even the slightest move meant I had to try and track her with the follow focus. I did my best…you can see some frame grabs below of the drastically changing light levels….going to require some film grain and good grading (done by me) this film!


Getting darker...
Getting darker...


ISO 1600 1/30th and f1.2...It's nightime!!!
ISO 1600 1/30th and f1.2...It's nightime!!!
Thanks to Andy Dunn for this photo
Thanks to Andy Dunn for this photo. He used a flash on this!!


So was the 7D the right choice? Absolutely. I wanted filmic look, controlled depth of field from a nice big chip. There was no way I could have got this done with my EX1 and adaptor. Not enough light. Handheld is a nightmare…5dmkII no 25p. Could have done with that extra boost from the 5dmkII at the end…

All in all I was very pleased with the results and will certainly be using this a lot in the months to come. A great camera and perfect for this sort of work. Armin is cutting this, I will be grading it. It should be done just after Christmas. I will share it with you then.

Big thanks must go to the Angela and Rez, their performances were great and their utter familiarity with the lines and the parts made my job a lot easier. Also big thanks to everyone, all of whom gave their time for free. I remember putting out a tweet looking for help of this shoot for free and someone berated me saying it was people like me asking for help for free that is killing the film industry. Getting experience on shoots like this is invaluable for many people. If you expect everything you do to make it has to be paid you will have a long wait! None of us got paid, we all gave our time for free to try something out, create a great film and get great experience.

Biggest thanks must to go Armin who brought us all together and worked incredibly hard in making this happen. Never seen a director more passionate or ready for a shoot than Armin.

Here is a short clip of the rushes from the outside the beautiful York House gardens fountains…

Below is a full list of the kit that I used on the shoot.

gear n stuff smalla

1 Canon 7D

1 Canon 50mm F1.2

1 Canon 24mm F1.4

1 Canon 35mm F1.4

1 Tokina 11-16mm F2.8

1 Canon 70-200 mm F2.8 IS

1 Zacuto Tactical Shooter

1 Z-finder

Rode Video Mic

5 Official Canon batteries


1 Sandisk USMA CD Card

1 Fader ND 72mm

1 Thin Vari ND 77mm

Zacuto Follow Focus and gears

Zacuto mini baseplate with rods

1 Zacuto Whip

MarshallV-LCD651ST-HDMI with 2 Sony L series large batteries

Miller DS20 Solo Carbon Fibre tripod

Zoom H4N audio recorder

1 16gb Transcend Class 6 SDHC card

1 Beyerdynamic mce86 and boom pole


    1. nope. Shoot a 1/25th of a second and you will get motion blur. Golden rule for the OPTIMUM film motion…always have shutter at double the frame rate. This equates to the 180 degree rule in film. Read about it on google/ wikipedia.

    2. As i’m not a motion picture guy like Philip, all i can say is that going as slow as the 7D/5D2 gets, which is 1/30, from a still photography standpoint, is only logical with lenses wider than 30mm. So on a 7D it would mean wider than 19mm. That’s really wide. Only at such focal length and not very close to the subject, you’d not notice the motion blur.

      OTOH, i’m sometimes shooting at 1/30 when i have no choice (using the 17-40/4L in a dark room where i need to boost the iso up to 1600 or 3200). Shooting at 1/30 is also a way to get rid of rolling shutter, but actually you’re just covering it up in motion blur 😉

      1. There is nothing stopping you dropping below optimum shutter rate. Just beware if there is any movement through frame it looks like crap! A lot of DPs would rather put gain in that drop below the 180 degree rule…

  1. Great Philip… Exactly something I’m looking forward to doing sometime soon… Just waiting for money to buy the Z-Finder. It’s a must have. I know it now. I can focus the 50/1.2 quite well, but with anything wider/darker, i’m just not sure. Thanks for that huge blog post! Very educative.

  2. Hi Philip,

    Thanks for such a thorough and honest accounting of your shoot. On short, dramatic narrative projects like this, especially on zero budget and only 8 hours of daylight, I have discovered the magic of covering every set up with two cameras. With 7Ds as cheap as they are, it’s still possible to get two kits together and there are always shooters eager to get behind the camera.

    I have found, as a director, it allows a greater amount of freedom for the actors to explore scenes, play around and not worry so much about making sure their blocking is perfect. And reaction shots are actual reactions to what the other actor is doing.

    Inexpensive cameras with beautiful makes so cmany things possible for no-budget filmmakers that were unthinkable a year ago.

    Again, thanks for sharing all you do on your blog.


  3. The punch you’re talking about is most likely due to a slightly different colour response-curve in the 7d, actually I find it more suitable for grading in post compared to the 5d now that I’ve had the chance to test both.

    I’ve found a good way to get back some punch without crushing the entire picture is to apply an extremely broad unsharp mask-sharpen filter. between 80-250 px wide and 25% for amount usually gives a very good local contrast enhancement, try it out if you haven’t yet!


  4. Philip, I’ve been following your blog for many months now. I’ve recently acquired a 7D as a part of my quest to transition into motion picture.

    Simply put, I feel compelled to comment in order to thank you. This post is full of so much information and so many tips for which you could easily charge. Subtle pointers that are elementary to you are so crucial to me.

    People say “thanks for the great post” and “good tips” all of the time. In this instance, I want you to be certain that I mean it. I read the whole thing three times. I took plenty of notes–both written and mental. Your insight will be put to good artistic use.

    I also must send thanks to Andy Dunn for the marvelous photo set, which provided further insight. Just *seeing* what you (Philip) do while shooting is invaluable–especially to visual learners like me. It’s like being on-set and gaining experience, except to a lesser degree.


  5. Packed with useful info. Thanks for posting. Of special interest, comments on PP. Will try …. My results from much discussed Super Flat, like name Super F….D!!!

  6. So that’s why you use the vari ND to allow you to film at 25fps with a shutter speed of 50 because sometimes you are locked to 50 and there is not enough f stops or you are needing a shallow DoF so you would also use the vari ND. How does the 180˚rule stand if you shoot above 50, eg 100. I assume you only get motion problems if you go below 50 then it all becomes staccato.
    PS 25fps only refers to the 7D at present.

  7. Thanks for the write up. I realize from reading your blog post that the 7D is way over my head. I was thinking about getting one because of the great videos I have seen on Vimeo but after reading this I am not sure that it is the right camera for my limited skill level.

    I need a video camera like my Sony HDR-SR7 but that can give me DOP. Anyone have any ideas what that would be?

  8. Wow. Amazing how you put this together right after the shoot. I’m be on my back, dead tired. Must be the 10 years between us bro, (enjoy it while you still can) Looks awesome, when can we see the finished edit?

    I do love that silk you live under in the UK, makes for soft shadows and more of a film look.

  9. Great post, really helpful! I thought it would be better to disable IS when put on a tripod to exactly avoid the jello effect, here you are just saying the opposite. Will have to test that!

    Twitter, Vimeo, editing your clips, F Stop Academy, always on a plane between UK and Chicago or anywhere else, posting these huge posts on your blog, filming, answering questions and twittering again; I always wonder when you take time to sleep!

  10. Hi Philip,
    Great blog!
    Just wondering how you are evaluating exposure.
    I know the marshall you are using has false color but it looks like you arent’ using that monitor always (especially in the park).
    Are you using a light meter or maybe Magic Lantern’s histogram?

  11. Philip,

    there is a simple solution for external viewing without losing the monitor of 7d.
    Attach a usb cable, have a laptop and run the eos utility. Now you can even operate everything from the computer, follow focus, white balance etc.
    Not the greatest quality but now everybody can watch the image.
    Hope this helps for the next shooting.

  12. “My picture profile was neutral with sharpness down one notch” ?

    Philip, With reference to the Neutral PP. I notice the default setting is at extreme left of scale position. Did you mean contrast down a notch? It’s default is 0, mid way on slider range. Thanks.

  13. May I suggest the EF 70-300mm IS as a nice alternative to the expensive 70-200mm L. It’s slower and build is nowhere near as nice as an L lens but it also has a great stabiliser and decent image quality. I shot a scene in Selfridges from a stalker’s perspective, of following a woman as she browsed the aisles through a long lens and it worked a treat! Just make sure you use separate audio capture as the IS is quite noisy when turned on.

  14. Phil,

    Great blog as always. Pleased to see you having another crack at some drama. I know what a film fan you are, so it makes a lot of sense. Interesting to see the benefits/limitations of the 7D setup too.

    Small correction/clarification – eyelines for the singles – you should really be between their heights. Not on the same level. Especially true if they are quite different in height. Also, it goes without saying that in a dirty single, you are not restricted to their eyeline – you can shoot across their hip for example (Sergio Leone style)or any other variation.

    Looking forward to seeing Armin’s work. I know how critical he was of the performances in The Echo and of ‘English’ acting in general, so it will be great to see what he’s done.

    1. true, and every rule is there to be broken. But I find when shooting dialogue between two people, I try to keep the eyeline as close to the height of the person as possible. Of course if there is a radical height difference then that all goes out the window…

  15. Hi Philip. I read you used the Neutral picture profile with only Sharpness down one point. So i assume you left contrast and colour at their default values. Since many people advised me to film “flat” with contrast and colour completely dialed down, i’d value your opinion on this. What do you think about “having more latitude in post” and suchlike theories in combination with this camera?
    Thanks and regards – Martin.

  16. Philip,

    You truly are “tha man”!

    Thanks so much for sharing these great insights with all of us. Ever since a month or so I started following your blog. This weekend, I watched the “Learn to Shoot Great Video on Canon 7D” training DVD. Overall, the learning curve has been steep, but the insights are massive! Being a relative novice in the field (I just finished an ENG camera course in October), I can’t wait to get my gear together and start shooting. Was thinking of buying an EX3 with Letus Relay/35mm Adapter, but I have now decided to invest in proper Canon EF-IS lenses (not on EF-S). Only difficult choice to make now is 7D versus 5D-Mk II. If only we knew when the firmware update would come… However, on the total budget getting a different recording device if and when it comes out does not make a lot of difference.

    I have a few questions:
    1. In some shots I noticed that you had the MarshallV monitor attached to the camera, whereas in others you had the Rode Videomic for audio-sync purposes. When shooting with the monitor, were these non-sync shots? Is there a possiblity to have both attached to the camera or the Zacuto rig at the same time?

    2. I have seen a shot of Velodramatic shooting from the hip with a SmallHD attached to it: Would it be possible to attach the Rode videomic for sync-audio as well in such a shooting style?

    3. I noted that you had ordered and received the SmallHD as well. Have you had a chance to work with it and, if so, do you like it?

    4. Finally, from the training DVD I learnt that you use the Manfrotto 394 quick release plates. Is it possible to leave your monitor attached to the tripod/Zacuto baseplate and easily switch to handheld mode?



    1. Hi Richard

      2. Yes you can use an arm to attach to the rig for a monitor.
      2. don’t see why not
      3. not a fan to be honest, have one and it’s “ok”
      4. if you use a baseplate and leave the monitor on that and detach the camera from that then sure…

      1. Too bad to learn that the SmallHD is “OK” – I just ordered one last night… ;-( The sales pitch promised native 720p resolution, which should be ideal for critical focussing.

        Curious to learn why you’re not a fan? Is it the quality of the image? Or having to set the controls through a menu instead of buttons on the front?

        Also, are you planning to visit Amsterdam for a “Dutch people” short? If so, let me know and I’ll buy you dinner…

  17. Now that really was interesting. You opened up a whole new angle (forgive the pun) on filming a short. Superb information and very readable, too. Thanks so much for the considerable effort you put into documenting this, much appreciated by all, I’m sure.

  18. Another excellent blog-post with yet again another excellent movie. I bought your training video for the 7D and learned a lot.

    I (probably like many others) read your blog, ProLost, om Guilmette etc to pick up tips and tricks, and all of you without exception deliver fantastically. I applaud the amount of time and effort you spend to share. I do slightly want to pick up on the “zero budget” part of the title. You are a pro, shoot like a pro, talk like a pro, move with pro’s, and therefore, when a title appears with “zero budget” in it, the likes uf us non-pro’s get very excited…… UNTIL we tot up the cost of a “zero budget” shoot:

    DSLR Tactical Shooter: $1117.00
    Z-Finder: $350
    Rode VideoMic: £79
    Singh Ray Thin Vari-ND: $390
    Zoom H4N: £299
    Marshall V-LCD651ST-HDMI: £1000
    Beyerdynamic mce86: £270
    Zacuto Z-Focus: $1675
    Zacuto Whip: $129

    Ballpark total: £3900

    And this modest tot-up assumes that we already own the camera, a few lenses and a tripod!

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not knocking you. The insight into a shoot like this is fantastic. The problem comes when someone who wants to learn and emulate your talent then looks at trying it themselves and realises that it’s totally out of their reach! OK, I hear you saying “I had this stuff lying around” but most of us don’t! I would love to see a ‘bare-bones’ camera, lenses, tripod and maybe z-finder only shoot. Now that would be very interesting to the grillions of us who will never be ‘real’ film makers, but will be very enthusiastic funsters.

    You remain a massive source of inspiration to me. Thank you. Keep it up!

    1. I agree to a point. But zero budget means, no extra money was spent, everything was done for favours. I used my gear without charge, actors didn’t charge. Locations didn’t charge etc…

      It’s impossible to have a true zero budget unless you know someone who will loan you gear you need for free.

      I have no desire to shoot without my accessories. Why make things hard for myself when I have what i need? True I am in lucky position as a professional I own my gear but it’s hard enough to do something like this without my gear! People are doing this of course and doing well.

  19. Great informational piece. My question is: Would you have considered a lite panel to bounce and balance your light under the darker conditions?
    Its visually obvious that the lenses achieve a great deal of transmission, but you can still see a bit of a difference in some of the shots.

    Looks good.

  20. Thanks for this great and detailed post. I always had the opinion that the additional light sensitivity of those DSLRs is more important than the awkward form factor of the cameras (which can be compensated for). I’m happy that I haven’t purchased a 35mm adaptor as I will be using the 7D as a “go-anywhere” camera and a tool for narrative fiction mainly.

    But as you have pointed out frequently, there are so many other jobs on which the shallow depth of field and other “advantages” of these cameras are in fact limiting rather than useful. As a DP, I like to be able to have the right tool for the right job. My EX3 will still serve me well in the years to come.

    By the way, I find it very ironic that the female lead is carrying a Nikon DSLR in the rushes 🙂

  21. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    I found a really good alternative when shooting with the 7D instead of using something like the tactical shooter or shoulder support. If you want to do quick shots I like to have the 7D on a monopod and us the z-finder.
    Very comfortable, steady and not much strain.

    But if I had to walk and record the rapid fire seams great!

  22. Thanks you so much for your insight. Know that your help in this community will not go unnoticed and you will definitely benefit from your generosity as much as we do.

  23. RE: ‘free help is killing the industry’

    And highschool creative writing clubs are killing fiction publishing =P

    I’m so glad that yourself and many others are creating creative video work for the joy of it rather than for a paycheck. It frustrates me to no end that, compared to music, literature, painting, theater, etc, there seems to be an insane assumption that film/video is special and should only be undertaken under ‘for pay’ circumstances.

    Tools like the 7D finally bring classic cine aesthetics to the for-fun DIY crowd. And that’s a lovely lovely thing.

  24. Great post and very insightful.

    I’m shooting an indepndent feature film in a month with the Canon 7D or 1D and just finished shooting a music video with the 7D. Although this music video is the first project I’ve done with the 7D, and I haven’t finished color grading yet, I’m feeling really good about this camera.

    Can’t wait for the grading.

    BTW, I don’t think you needed extra eye-light in the resturant. Its beauitful and natural, great job.

    Nadav Heksleman.

  25. Thanks for the great play-by-play of the shoot!

    I am not a videographer, but I absolutely loved learning something about your world, and I might try some DIY stuff when I get my 7D. As others have also mentioned, thanks for your generosity of spirit in sharing this! It is very inspiring and I look forward to viewing the result after Christmas.

    BTW, Great Blog

  26. All day shooting with just one 7D camera? Didn’t it overheat?
    Every other production I’ve heard of complained about overheating. Wasn’t it an issue for you?

  27. Hey Phil, great post.

    It’s funny, reading this reminds me of when we shot our first feature. We shot it in HD in 2006 and used every trick in the book to shoot it in basically 3 days.

    We’re gearing up to shoot our next feature in June 2010.

    This time we’re shooting it on DSLR’s full gorilla style.

    Boy has film making changed in the last 12 months…for the better.

    Keep up the great work.

    By the way I shot a music video on a 7D and Red…see if you can pick the different cameras…



  28. Great post Philip. I thoroughly enjoyed the amount of detail you included. This information will be very helpful in my shoots. I just recently bought a 7D and found dead pixel. Have you had any problems in this area? Thanks.

  29. BEAUTIFUL write up. Thank you for taking the time to walk us through the shoot!

    I love my 7D (I’m a PJ, using it a ton for the stills) but really wish I had an opportunity to really use it for some serious video. Unfortunately, I am not a writer, need to get together with someone that has an idea for a story and can write a script or the like, allowing me to really get this thing working!

    Thanks again,

  30. do you think the 7d will match ok in postproduction with the sony ex3?
    im going to do a documetary made with 2 cameras 1 ex3 and im thinking to buy a 7d but I dont know how is gonna be in the posproducion is a 2000 dolars camera against a 9000 one
    thanks so much

  31. Hey Philip,

    I just read about this cool plugin in After Effects and Nuke that promises to solve (some of) the issues of rolling shutter with the 7D and 5D. Check it out:

    BTW – I just bought the 7D last weekend. Getting ready to do some serious shooting with it. Am still in desperate need of Zacuto gear to keep the camera steady. Here’s my first racking focus test with the 7D:



  32. Philip, great detailed post. Thank You for all the notes and thanks to the photogs for the pics. It’s awesome to see and get some insight as to how other people shoot and work. I’m anxious to see the final cut. I really appreciate the detail and thoroughness of your explanation. I know how tough it is to keep up on so many things at the same time. I’m trying to run a business and I’m kicking myself for taking the time to read your blog, (hey, it’s education, right?), but you’re running a business, how do you find the time to write this, and all the other posts. Thank You, thank you, I really mean that.
    I love my monopod as well, so it was great to see Peter’s comments above about using it with the Z Finder. I’ve thought about doing exactly that, and I want the steadiness. Awesome to hear both comments.
    You’re still invited to Denver, CO to speak at our trade group meeting.
    Thanks again.

  33. Great work Phillip. I’m post producing my first videoclip of a Fado singer that I shot intirely on my brand new 7D that I’ll be posting soon. You talk about ISO 100. I shot in ISO 200 that is the lowest I can find in my 7D. I also used a canon 50mm 1.4 but used 2.0 all the time. How can I lower the ISO?
    Best regards

  34. For monitoring purposes I used a Macbook attached to the 7D with the Canon software and I didn’t lose the screen on the camera. It’s not realtime but very helpfull and it worked for me.

  35. Your stories are great as always, well after I got my stolen gear back, I’m shooting a music video on sunday with the 7D, a 50mm 1.2, 17-40 4.0 24-70 2.8 70-200 2.8 plus a 2x and a lensbabies, it is my real first experience with the 7d on a serious shoot, I also own a EX-1 with a Brevis 35 with Nikkor lenses, I’m courious about the shutter speed as I see it it is 1/45 and 1/60 (shooting in NTSC at 1080 24p) on my menu, wich one do you recomend?


  36. Yet another great read. Thanks heaps Philip!

    I think my head would explode if I knew my work (even if marginally) influenced the direction of digital film making.

    Never underestimate word-of-mouth (and Google). I just returned gear to my local rental place and asked if they were going to get the 5D or 7D in. They said they were hesitant because they weren’t sure people would use them.

    I encouraged them to at least get a couple, because I’d personally want to rent one or two for shoots in the near-future.

    Anyway, thanks again, Philip!

  37. Hi Philip,

    I’ve been reading your blog for a few months and it’s just occurred to me that I have yet to show my appreciation for your fine work in sharing your insight. This particular article had me stuck to me chair, so I thought it only right to let you know!

    You have succeeded in making a fantastic information portal for fellow creatives and I must commend you on the amount of effort and passion you put into sharing your knowledge and experiences. There is a wind of change and you and other like-minded pros are leading the way in breaking down the black box mentality within the creative industries. It is a refreshing time to be in this game.

    The combination of photos, ungraded rushes and the candor with which you describe your experiences, gives us such a well rounded vision of how you do what you do. Combine that with technical reviews and you’ve got a one stop shop for camera geeks like me! Many thanks for all the hard work.

    I have just recently purchased the Miller Solo DS20 and am absolutely thrilled with my purchase (I got a very good second hand deal) but there’s one slight problem. The base plate comes with a metal spigot (to stop a traditional video camera from undoing itself and sliding to the side). If you take the screw out and use it alone it doesn’t really sit properly within the base plate. Did you have this problem? Did you replace the screw and if so where did you find a suitable one?

    Thanks once again for sharing, I can’t wait for the next instalment!

      1. It must make things so much simpler if you can interchange the camera between supports without changing the baseplate. I’m planning on getting the Tactical Shooter and the Glidetrack in the new year so thanks for the tip.

        How do you attach the manfrotto base plate to the DS20 head? Did you buy it separately or is part of the head that you use with the Glidetrack?



  38. I can only echo the thanks of the other readers here. Wonderful information, generously offered. I’m reading with pen and pad in hand. Be sure to throw us GH1 users a bone from time to time!

    Best regards,


  39. Philip,

    I am a constant visitor to your blog for your products and films.

    I want to thank you for your generosity in sharing your experience and knowledge with us. Clearly you are a pioneer in HDSLR film making and your advice and experience will help us tremendously.

    I am about to purchase the 7D for corporate video production and your pointers in ‘Present Tense’ is helping me consider the gear I should be getting and my budget.

    It is your self-less attitude that will grow this industry and bring us all closer in the pursuit of film making excellence. Keep up the noble work 🙂


  40. philip,
    You have such great information and to message all your followers back is amazing. I just ordered a Canon 5D yesterday and I cant wait to get it in the mail. I was up all night going through all your blogs and videos. Picked up a zfinder and rapid fire too! i got a canon 50mm f/1.4 lens and was wondering if i can get that killer depth of field u create with your f/1.2. oh and i got the cheapo intevalometer off ebay to do some time lapses. Thanks again for all the inspiration!!


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