Achieving the film-look with the Canon 5D

Video production has progressed a long way since the 1980’s.

For over two decades, video producers have fought against the ‘cheap’ aesthetic of video and attempted to mimic the high-budget medium of film on a shoestring.

The past few years have seen the rise of the ‘Depth of Field’ adapter. These devices from small manufacturers like Cinevate, Letus and Shoot35 allow us to use lenses from the cinema and stills photography world on the front of our video camera’s to achieve film-like cinematography. These adapters are great, but expensive and have a steep learning curve.

Enter the Canon 5D MKII. Released in late-2008, the 5D combines the imaging capabilities of a high-end Digital SLR stills camera with the ability to shoot full HD video. The 5D has been hailed as a revolution in low-budget digital cinematography offering beautiful film-like images and interchangeable lenses for a fraction of the price of a 2/3″ camera and Depth of Field adapter.

Having tested a 5D for a few weeks, we were itching to  test its capabilities on a live project. We finally got our chance when Haymarket Exhibitions returned to Engine Creative to create a TV commercial for the Clothes Show Live 2009 back in August.

The ad begins with the story of a girl who loves to play dress up – dreaming of a place where she can be surrounded by clothes, shoes and all the things she loves. A sequence perfect for the dream-like quality and focus that a shallow depth-of-field can offer.

The organic feel that the 5D images offer was the perfect aesthetic for the first half of the ad. We had no sync-sound to worry about so we were happy to shoot at 30p and conform down to 25p using Cinema Tools. For any job that requires sync sound, we would definitely be using the 7D instead (until a time where 25p might be enabled on the 5D).

So, the kit:

  • Canon 5D MKII
  • Canon EF 50mm f1.2L
  • Canon 17-40mm f4L
  • Glidetrack HD
  • 1 x 2KW Blonde
  • 1 x 800W Redhead
  • Interfit super cool-lite 5 twin head kit

This was a great little package that did everything we needed it to. We were working in some really confined spaces (practical locations as opposed to sets) so it was vital we kept the kit simple.

With the exception of the ‘catwalk’ wide, we found ourselves using the 50mm f1.2L exclusively. Such a gorgeous lens with beautiful bokeh. Shooting almost wide open, we were able to make the best of our small lighting kit.

It was shooting this wide that gave rise to our only big problem on the day. Unfortunately, our Z-Finder hadn’t arrived and we had no HDMI monitor to hand – we had only the camera LCD for focus.

Getting critical focus on the small LCD screen alone is exceptionally difficult. This was especially difficult during our linear tracking moves using the Glidetrack HD (which itself performed exceptionally). We can’t stress how thoroughly we would recommend a viewfinder or HDMI LCD as essential kit to anyone considering shooting on DSLR.

With this one exception, the camera performed flawlessly throughout the day. The DSLRs are never going to be as user friendly as a professional camera, and will be a pain when sync sound is necessary, but we feel the film-like images that they are able to produce more than make up for their shortcomings.

In the world of corporate and documentary filmmaking, the 5D (and now 7D) comes into its own. With the ability to push the ISO, we can get usable footage with even the most minimal lighting.

It seems with every week that passes, we’re edging ever closer to the dream of the low-cost film-look. The DSLRs are a step in the right direction and, working in concert with good lighting and solid storytelling, help us get close to the film aesthetic at a fraction of the cost.

With the release of the Canon 7D with its 24p, 25p and 30p frame rates in full-HD, we’re now able to shoot at rates usable for broadcast and DVD/BD in the UK. These light, portable units are ideal for fast-paced budget-conscious corporate film-making — which is why we’re making an investment in the 7D ourselves in the coming weeks.

Pop back soon to find out how we’re getting on…

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