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Some Canon HDSLR Notes

Phil Holland

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Just thought I'd jump in and share some notes/progress in terms of my personal experience shooting material on Canon DSLRs. (as we're about to get a slew of new bodies)




Previously I have constructed a rig that looked like this:


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The concept behind the rig was to avoid shooting pure handheld and still have something I could plop down on some sticks. Stay quick, stay light, stay small, be flexible.


I used that for a bit and things felt fine. Which led to this video:



That setup lasted about a year or so of use without too much change. However, this year I've changed a few things:


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A nice change was with the "Easom Halo Cage" arms and offsetting them. This allows me to get a grip on the camera handle. There's not a lot of space to quickly move the camera in and out of cage, but it's certainly easier to do with this configuration.


Another big change for me was getting rid of the RedRock Micro Handles and switching up to a generic brand that can fold up. These guys collapse flat and can individually be adjusted. Not to mention the can be removed in one piece.


The placement of the Zoom H4N (or Marantz unit) has changed to allow me to control and monitor audio more easily. In my first build it was quickly discovered that not being able to see that pesky device was a bad thing. Batteries have to be changed, levels have to monitored. Having it on the right side, also the record button side of the 5D Mark II, allows for me to preroll audio and quickly get the camera rolling.


The shotgun position moves around still on this rig, but honestly the microphone is rarely on it when shooting live action. However, when I am handling audio I do have the Sennheiser (sorry about the typo in the graphic) receivers attached via velcro to the should brace. Nice to have all of that again on the right side of the unit. Good for monitoring even when on sticks.


Still using the smallHD DP-1, but 90% of my shooting happens still through the Zacuto zFinder V2 or just the LCD. There's a couple of newer solutions on the market, but none are "sexy" enough to attract me.


One thing I will be replacing very soon is the RedRock Micro Follow Focus V2. I've destroyed this thing by shooting rough, travel, and general anger out of desire for a higher quality unit. RedRock has recently released their "blue" series follow focus and I'll likely purchase that device.


The Material


The biggest change this year in terms of working with the material has been the release of Technicolor's CineStyle picture profile. Personally I love it, but there are certainly some who hate it. For cinematographers/shooters who use these tiny cameras it's a real "upgrade". It allows you to step out of the typical video feel of the default profiles and the plastic skin effect of a lot of the other "flat" profiles. It produces a much flatter and almost "film like" feel to the material.


Case in point, this scene. This would be wretched to shoot with the default profile as the blacks and shadow detail would crush into each other, however through the use of the CineStyle profile I can shoot and produce something that feels closer to what I feel is right.


Technicolor CineStyle


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5D Mark II with a 50mm f/1.2L at f/2.0. ISO 320 at 1/50th. 5600K white balance. Green and pink sunset through the smog of Los Angeles with a light blue sky. Light bounce camera right.


Highlight detail nicely contained and saved. The shadows have actual usable detail in them. Also, in terms of the previous profile I was using (Marvel's Cine), the Technicolor CineStyle profile is a bit smoother to color correct and grade.


Now much of what I have to do with my material when shooting on HDSLRs is to bring it up to snuff and get it to match other types of material "seamlessly". Super35 is often the target, but recently Alexa and Red One have also had to be visually matched. You can't come close to the pure resolution nor dynamic range of these bodies. Especially the Red Epic with good glass. These current digital SLRs just don't have the resolving power within the lines. Once projecting this material straight onto a 40 foot screen causes screams throughout the darkness. However, in terms of bringing things into a 2K/1080P world I have developed a consistent pipeline to bring things up to visual standard.


It usually consists of noise reduction, chromatic blurring (remove the damn moire), rolling shutter correction (if needed), upressing/scaling, sharpening, and applying a film grain pattern of some sort. Usually in that order. Between the noise reduction and the grain pattern application you get rid of a good amount of codec compression artifacts, which is one of the bigger issues for me. Different studios have varying requests regarding this material and sometimes a few of these steps are left out. In the end with, a light grade/correction, you can get something similar to this:


Canon 5D Mark II + Technicolor CineStyle + processing for projection (pushed up a bit over a third of a stop).


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On a total side note, if you want to squeek the most out of those resolving lines, shooting in anamorphic is a perfectly viable option on both the full frame and 1.6x crop factor bodies. It's just a pain in the butt and expensive.


50mm f/2.8 (@ around f/8) Iscorama 1.5X + 5D Mark II


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100mm f/2.0 (@ around f/10) Panavision 2x + 5D Mark II


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Big Conclusion

It ain't a perfect world. Shooting with these little monsters and getting images on screen is a wrestling match. I've been extremely lucky to have been able to follow most of the material I've shot from camera, through post, and onto screen. A rarity these days for sure. But it does help ensure quality as opposed to confusion.


The biggest learning curves have been getting solid with the follow focus through "loupe" and on a fairly low resolution screen. This will likely be remedied in the next iteration of bodies with full 1080p out while recording. Avoiding "jello cam" hasn't been a tremendous issue once you add the shoulder mount into the mix. That is of course as long as you don't whip pan like you're having a fit. If so, there are things you can do in post, and even more if you involve a VFX studio.


My experience as a digital colorist a few trips around the sun ago has helped with managing this material and being acutely aware of what can be "saved" and what will always be lost. That mindset doesn't just apply to these cameras by the way. Having that awareness when shooting is extremely important. Especially when it comes to making sacrifices for a good exposure, like here where I clearly should have ND'd those windows.



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My life has surrounded still and motion pictures for a long while and I haven't stepped up to the plate just yet to invest in a more expensive/higher quality camera package. However, after shooting with the Red EPIC last week for pre production and several projects previously with the Red One and Alexa, I see myself maybe making the leap, but that is a very scary world. Big money and big risk. Plus there's new high quality cams out now (Sony F3 comes to mind) and more on the way. I've been in a very fortunate position to play with and gain experience on a lot of these toys... erm.... tools and have had a great time doing it. There's always so much to learn and each camera system has it's fun quirks and kinks.


Just thought I'd share some thoughts through my experiences when it comes to this particular type of body thus far. Cheers!

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I used that for a bit and things felt fine. Which led to this video:




..thank you so much for taking the time & effort making that video. Your rig looks very streamlined, considering all the stuff it includes. Though, that counterweight is just plain silly since the pivot point (shoulder) is just next to it, (i.e., that weight thingee will only add more weight to the rig and on your shoulder).


By the way, here's a stupid video of my current setup:



-- peer




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