BodyMax: First shoot with the Canon C300

It’s that time of year again…this past weekend, me and 9 teammates participated in the Toronto Film Challenge yet again. A few of us are now veterans of this challenge, but the majority of our team were new people, and I must say I’m pretty impressed with how well our team worked together. After running into so many problems that derailed us with Harvest, our 48-hour horror film last fall, we really learned from our mistakes, and planned much, much more effectively to minimize problems and make sure everything ran smoothly. We worked like clockwork and looking back, I feel like we pulled off a superhuman feat on Saturday by shooting at 5 locations (and lots of sub-locations within those), doing something like 100 setups, on an 18 hour long shoot, on a next-to-nothing budget. I’ve been on a variety of productions from large to small and I can definitely say I’ve never seen this many shot setups and locations within the space of one day.

Something else was new this time around, which was that it was my first ever shoot with the new Canon C300. Some of you who have been following this blog will know that I’ve had my eye on this camera for a while now, and have been dying to do a test shoot with it. Well, through the generosity of Canon Canada and Cinequip White, I was able to borrow the camera for the entire weekend to shoot this, and get a sense of what it’s actually like to shoot with. It’s one thing to read about a camera, or look at specs online, or pick it up and play with it for a few minutes at a show, but it’s another thing entirely to actually do a shoot with a camera and put it through it’s paces.

I had originally thought about doing a more planned shoot or test with the camera, but there is something very real life about a 48-hour Film Challenge – the fact that no matter how prepared you are, you always have to be ready for the unexpected; the fact that you have such limited resources; the fact that you have to just embrace your idea and go for it; the fact that you have to be able to work quickly and efficiently and make changes with no notice. Again, I’ve worked on a variety of shoots from extremely planned to totally haphazard, but in all of these experiences it’s important to be able to adapt quickly, and have a camera that can do the same. For these reasons, I felt pairing the C300 test shoot with the 48-hour film challenge would be a great “real world” test.

And the verdict is… I was incredibly happy with the camera and fell in love with how it operates. At first, it felt a bit foreign and I really need to familiarize myself with its controls and settings – but did this last Wednesday during a camera test. Once I figured out my essentials, I decided to customize some of the buttons (there are 15 customizable buttons – a great feature) to make some of the key shooting functions more accessible. One thing I love about this camera is the fact that you can pare it down to its simplest, or build it up to a full blown studio rig to suit your needs. I love that kind of versatility in a camera. I was pleased to see that I could set it up with my existing Redrock Micro parts and could see having a lot of configuration bliss with this thing. I did plan to use my Redrock Micro shoulder rig and follow focus, but found that with the number of setups we were doing, and need to work quickly and efficiently, it was actually easier to just operate it with only the handgrip and monitor/XLR and top handle attached. I left the focus gears on my lenses and did all my own focus pulling. Doing handheld with the camera isn’t a “traditional” way of doing things ergonomically (by putting the camera over your shoulder) but I was still able to have a nice comfortable grip and keep it steady, operating it more like a medium-format Hasselblad. Coming from a photography background, this felt very natural and comfortable to me. I do strongly believe that this is the direction cameras are going (smaller, lighter, and more versatile, but packed with the essential quality and features) so I see this new handheld operating as a sign of things to come. We also only had two batteries for the full shoot – but this was plenty as the battery life was quite long.

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News Update + AEYIOU Shoot

I’m way overdue for a blog update – I think I need to hire a monkey to read my thoughts and write them down! Lots has been going on since my last post, and while I’ve had a few things I want to write about, sometimes when you get slammed it’s hard to find the time to post!

So, let’s start with a quick news update:

-Took a trip to Costa Rica for two weeks end of Feb/beginning of March. Mostly vacation, but of course took my camera along and shot a tonne of photos and had a tonne of fun! Had my first crack at wildlife photography, and lots of beautiful landscape opportunities as well. Rather than post a few photos here, you can check out my gallery of faves HERE
(Note: for those curious, prints and digital copies of these photos are available for sale)
Got me curious about bird photography as it’s tricky, and researched what kind of lenses are used by serious bird photographers!

-Got to check out the performance of Campbell House put on by my lovely friends at Single Thread Theatre Company – it was fantastic and a beautiful production and location as usual. Never before has Canadian History been so entertaining!

-Shot day 4 of 5 on a new music video I’ve been DPing, for a song called AEYIOU by the band INTF. It’s a remake of the original 80′s song, AEIOU (which is pretty hilarious by the way). We turned the basement of a house into a Club Scene with extras and the like. My job was to take this space and light it to give it that club feel – with limited equipment. I’m very proud of the results and very excited for the finished product – this video is shaping up to be a great one. Also made use of the Steadicam again. See behind the scenes pics below!

-Have been prepping for the upcoming Toronto Film Challenge this weekend – in which me and 9 other teammates will write, shoot, edit and deliver a short film, all within 48 hours. It will be an intense but fun weekend and I will of course do a separate post on that as soon as it’s done!

-And…. to go along with that last bit of news, I will be doing my first ever test shoot on the Canon C300 this weekend! I am very, very excited to finally use the camera I have been drooling over for months now… and get a chance to really see how it works in a pressured situation. So of course I will also share my impressions and reactions on working with this camera.

So this time… expect another update soon … see you out the other side!

Canon C300 test for our shoot this weekend

Canon C300 Test for our shoot this weekend!

Canon C300: First Impressions + TIFF Lightbox Event

Well, tonight I finally got to hold it in my hands and try it out. This evening, Canon had its official launch of the new Canon C300, along with the new 1DX, at the TIFF Lightbox. I spent a few minutes looking it over and getting a feel for all the buttons and menus and form factor, and I could definitely see myself getting used to this camera. Ergonomically, it’s a real departure from traditional cinema cameras (which modern models like the Panavision Genesis, Arri Alexa, and RED all emulate) and feels more like a digital Hasselblad from the stills world. For those of us coming from a photography background, this is actually a pretty nice and familiar feel. Just picking it up and holding it in my hands, with no rig or anything, felt nice and comfortable and I could easily see myself getting handheld shots.

I love the fact that you can build this camera up or strip it down, depending on your needs. With the XLR inputs and monitor removed, it’s quite a small package. I really favor small, portable and efficient setups with minimal muss and fuss, and I think almost everything on this camera is geared to fit that bill.

So: first off, great form factor, and nice and small and light (for what it does), better for shooting handheld video than with a DSLR.

Secondly, the low light performance. I know, this is Canon’s forte, and much has been written about it with regards to this camera. But I have to say, it was the first time I was seeing footage shot at 6400, 10,000, 16,000 ISO on large HD screens and in the Lightbox theatre, and I was truly blown away. I needed this camera on Monday, when I was shooting with a Steadicam rig in the basement of Campbell House, my actors lit mainly by candlelight. The panel of filmmakers who later spoke attested that you could easily shoot up to 10,000 ISO with a very clean image with this camera. That’s pretty incredible. There will be less of a need for big lighting setups and we’ll be even more able to work with available and dim light than we have before. The grain was visible in the demo shots taken at 16,000 ISO but it certainly did look very filmic and not your typical digital noise – it looked like stuff shot on a high end 35mm camera. Vincent Laforet was on hand and described some of the techniques behind making his short “Mobius” and basically said they shot everything in the desert (a very high contrast scene) with almost entirely natural light, and no fill. The camera was able to capture detail all the way from extreme highlights to deep shadows in these scenes.

Thirdly, the workflow. This isn’t something I’d really thought about as a major plus to this camera, and as I haven’t officially shot my own projects with the RED, Alexa, or F3 yet (although I’d like to) – I can certainly imagine the amount of computing power you would need to process 4k RAW footage. I’ve also run into problems with other cameras having their own proprietary cards and needing drivers in order to download and work with the footage – very annoying and time consuming. The costs of maintaining that kind of editing suite could also definitely add up. The filmmakers praised the C300 for the ease of use of the footage – and this is also a pretty important factor to me. Basically, it’s a codec that can be simply downloaded off of CF cards and can be imported straight into your editing suite and worked on right away on a decent home computer – no need for a high end suite and no converting to Pro Res. Canon states this footage should work with all current editing suites out there right now. When on a tight deadline (and budget) this is super important. I actually believe that all cameras should work this way – download and away you go – but that definitely hasn’t been the reality for the film industry for the past few years. So, the apparent ease of workflow from download to edit, sounds pretty great.

Finally, Canon has addressed all the major issues that many DSLR shooters have complained about – rolling shutter and moire are gone, there are manual audio controls and XLR inputs, HD/SDI outputs so you don’t have to deal with the pain that is HDMI when outputting to a monitor on set, and time code sync options. There’s even a built in intervalometer (no need to go buy a separate one), and when paired with the Wi-Fi transmitter, you can apparently view SD footage and control the camera settings from an iPad. Super cool. It’s not yet there to my wish of broadcasting an HD signal wirelessly for monitoring (I HATE cables on set!) but it’s definitely one step closer.

The evening featured a few hours to walk around and try out the C300 and see it set up in various rigs (stripped down to its bare essentials, in a studio setup with rods, follow focus, matte box and zoom control, and on a jib). And then, some keynote speeches from Alex Buono, the DP for Saturday Night Live, Vincent Laforet, and local shooters Paul Steinberg and Nigel Akam. Alex gave a pretty great explanation of how people obsess over high resolution 4k cameras, but give little consideration to how colour and luminance are also an important part of image quality. While this was all new (and valuable!) information to me, I can definitely see how people obsess over high resolution and can neglect other factors – this has been the case in the stills photography industry for years. The biggest criticism this camera has gotten is for not shooting 4k, but to be truthful what I care about is how great the image looks on a big screen – and the image certainly did look great on a big screen – both slo mo and regular shots.

Laforet’s insights into working with the camera on Mobius were great (Hey Vincent, where can I get one of those remote controlled helicopters??) and it was refreshing to see a female DP’s testimonials. It was also really nice to have local cinematographers Nigel and Paul there – and they were able to offer up some comparisons between their own cameras (a Sony F3 and RED respectively). It was also nice to see some footage that actually featured Toronto.

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The Canon C300 Comes to Canada

A few weeks ago, I got my invitation to the unveiling of Canon’s new C300 cinema camera in Toronto – and I registered right away. This camera has already been getting great reviews from a lot of cinematographers, even though it’s not available yet, and I’m really excited to finally see it in person! Exactly one week from today, I’ll be attending the event at the TIFF Lightbox. Keynote speaker Vincent Laforet will be there, along with several others.

For those who haven’t heard of this camera yet – it’s Canon’s answer to the RED Scarlet (and was announced on the same day last November). It has also addressed a lot of the issues that 7D and 5D Mark 2 users complained about: no rolling shutter, XLR inputs, manual audio levels… and that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve been looking at test footage from the camera for the past few months since it was announced and have been really impressed at its capabilities. And, unlike the RED, it comes as a full complete package. One of the biggest advantages, though, is it’s ability to take Canon EF lenses – so if, like me, you’ve already invested a good chunk of change into some nice quality glass, you’ll be able to take full advantage of the EOS line of lenses. The C300 will be available with two possible lens mounts: the Canon EF mount or a standard PL mount. (I must say this is one downside to the camera – it would be nice to be able to switch between the two. I don’t have to make this decision yet but if/when I do it’ll be a tough one because of this!)

I just spoke to a Canon Rep today, and got word that the C300 is expected to retail at around $17,000. (Note this is a very rough estimate, and exact pricing still needs to be confirmed by Canon and individual dealers – more on this after the unveiling next week.) So, not cheap and definitely in the “pro” and not hobbyist range. I asked about whether there will be an option sold without the monitor and XLR inputs to bring the price to around $10,000 and said that would make it a LOT more tempting to many shooters. At this point this is more of a request from the filmmaker community that I hope Canon becomes aware of – so he couldn’t comment. But the camera in its full version is currently available for pre-order in Canada.

So, all in all some very exciting news… I’ll definitely be writing a blog post with some impressions of the camera and let you know how the event went!

See below for the great video review (which also makes fun of most camera test videos SO WELL) by Jonathan Yi:

Rode VideoMic Pro

…there’s a new kid on the block, and it’s the Rode VideoMic Pro:

This seems like Rode’s answer to the Sennheiser MKE400. This has put a kink in my plans! Now I’m gonna see if I can get my hands on one to do some testing, or at least keep my eyes peeled on the reviews.

There may be a part two to my last post of mic review … this time just between the two frontrunners, the Sennheiser and the Rode. I’ll try to keep it a little more short and sweet!