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Canon 5D Still a Workhorse for Micro-Budget and Multi-Camera Shoots

By Michael Svitak, Elite Team Cinematographer
MichaelSvitak.com

Shooting HD on a DSLR has been a revolutionary tool in the history of cinema. Having gone to film school, where we actually shot film, and working as a union camera assistant, where the tangibility of 35mm negative was the norm, my transition into the digital realm of shooting has had to be a total embracement of the art form.

The Canon 5D Mark II opened the floodgates to new and creative filmmaking three years ago and is still going strong today. Where 35mm stood as a pillar for generations, digital is evolving at breakneck speeds. The next generation camera system comes to the forefront virtually every two years. Nevertheless, we should be able to hang on to the Canon DSLR cameras for some time yet. They remain a reliable workhorse for many cinematic options, particularly micro-budget, multi-camera shoots.

This July, I had the opportunity to work as Cinematographer on two music videos, both shot extensively with Canon DSLR cameras. The shooting schedule was extremely limited in both circumstances. I’m sure we could not have achieved all that we did without being able to use multiple cameras quickly.

 

“HOW THE WEST WAS WON” – The White Buffalo

The first was a music video for The White Buffalo for a song called “How the West was Won,” directed by Pete Macomber. His concept was to shoot the band playing live in a Fourth of July parade in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Revolution Cinema Rentals outfitted us with five Canon 5D Mark II’s and Canon L Series lenses for the shoot. The plan was to fly into Colorado, scout the float on which the band would be playing, find our best camera positions and shoot the next morning. Producer Scott Ballew, Pete and I took a hot lap down the parade route and conjured our best guess on how long it would take from start to finish to see how many times the band could play the song. The magic number would be four.

The other factor we had to take into consideration was that the float would be in constant motion and full of people dancing, so getting clean camera angles on a small float had to be pre-planned. On parade day, we were able to get ample coverage due to the amount of cameras we had in tow. Our camera crew of four did a remarkable job in the twenty minutes we had to get the job done. Since we finished with the band by 10:30 am, there was still plenty of time to grab the remaining B-roll footage at the local rodeo and fair. Pete stayed on for a couple of extra days of shooting using a Sony F3 with S-Log for some stunning shots around town.

DP Mike Svitak walks alongside the float. Director Pete Macomber is holding on to the cameras just before the parade begins.

DP Mike Svitak walks alongside the float. Director Pete Macomber is holding on to the cameras just before the parade begins.

Svitak getting up close, hand held with Canon 5D Mark II with a 24mm L series lens.

Svitak getting up close, hand held with Canon 5D Mark II with a 24mm L series lens.

Float is on the move. Svitak tries to blend into the background while shooting the close ups

Float is on the move. Svitak tries to blend into the background while shooting the close ups

Director Pete Macomber after the parade and ready to gather B-Roll at the rodeo.

Director Pete Macomber after the parade and ready to gather B-Roll at the rodeo.

Crew photo from White Buffalo. Left to right: Britt Brzoza, camera op; Michael Svitak, dp; Pete Macomber, director; Scott Ballew, producer

Crew photo from White Buffalo. Left to right: Britt Brzoza, camera op; Michael Svitak, dp; Pete Macomber, director; Scott Ballew, producer

 

“BUSMAN’S HOLIDAY” – The Allah-Las

The next project was another extremely fun, multi-camera music video for a song called “Busman’s Holiday” by a group called the Allah-Las. At the helm would be accomplished commercial director Sinuhe Xavier. Sinuhe and I had recently worked together on a Callaway Golf commercial. I thought his concept of a road trip and camping in Joshua Tree National Park sounded like a brilliant idea for the laid-back-surfer-vibe music of the Allah-Las. Capturing dusk and dawn natural light was at the forefront of his vision. Therefore, we would be venturing out into the desert for two days of sunrise/sunset photography. This proved to be the only way to accomplish our shots due to the temperatures skyrocketing to over 120 degrees during the middle of the day. The only thing to do at that time was find shade and stay hydrated!

Since we had a finite amount of time to complete key shots, I chose to have two separate cameras built, one 5D Mk III with the Canon 50mm Cinema Prime and one 5D Mk II with a Canon 24-105mm IS zoom. I stayed with the 50mm prime for the bulk of that footage, but employed the zoom for some tight inserts when necessary. After seeing some of the footage that I was getting with the 50mm Cinema Prime, I decided to keep that configuration at the ready for the duration of the shoot. The beautiful falloff and focus roll is comparable to any cinema lens out there, plus the flares we were getting were addictive. I was grateful to have Elite Team member Bodie Orman along as an additional camera operator because he was able to grab some gorgeous exteriors of the van (dubbed “The Avocado”) driving while I was inside shooting.

Once it finally cooled down enough to start shooting in the evening, we began to set up for the campfire and night time-lapses. When we discussed shooting a campfire, I was a little concerned about not having enough light. I considered lighting the campfire, but nothing photographs like real fire and we wanted to stick to our theme of natural light. Plus, I brought along some beveled glass for an in-camera double exposure effect and I didn’t want to catch any lights in frame.

For the finishing touch, Sinuhe had a recipe for time-lapse that he perfected while shooting supplemental footage for the movie 127 Hours. His technique paid off with some dazzling nighttime desert footage.

We called the Green VW "The Avocado"

We called the Green VW “The Avocado”

Joshua Tree National Park

DP Mike Svitak, Director Sinuhe Xaiver and Operator Bodie Orman making the most of the Kessler Pocket Jib at a natural salt water river. Temps were above 120 degrees!

DP Mike Svitak, Director Sinuhe Xaiver and Operator Bodie Orman making the most of the Kessler Pocket Jib at a natural salt water river. Temps were above 120 degrees!

Joshua Tree National Park

DP Mike Svitak and Director Sinuhe Xavier discuss the next shot

DP Mike Svitak and Director Sinuhe Xavier discuss the next shot

Author: Michael Svitak

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29 Comments

  1. How did you get the slow mo shots in the first video? Twixtor, Timewarp? 720-60 to 1080-24?

    Post a Reply
    • Spencer,

      The slow mo shots in the first video were all done on the Sony F3. The director owns one and we had an additional operator walking the parade shooting B-roll.

      Post a Reply
    • Rick,

      We used the Sony F3 for all the slo-mo on the White Buffalo Video.

      Post a Reply
  2. Awesome article Shane, Really do enjoy your posts and your blog – check it our weekly :)

    Can you go into more detail about the “beveled glass” technique? And how to do so…

    Is it kind of similar to what Salomon Ligthelm does in his videos? If you’ve seen any of them?

    thanks again and keep up the awesome bogging/sharing/filming

    Rick

    Post a Reply
    • Rick,

      I used 12″x4″ strips of glass that we had made at a glass store. They cost under $10 each and are a great tool to get an in-camera double exposure effect. There is beveling around the entire piece of glass so you can move it across the lens and get some cool effects. Since the crew was so small all the operators had to operate the camera handheld and articulate the beveled glass. It all done by eye so find that perfect exposure and shoot.

      Michael

      Post a Reply
      • Awesome – Thanks for replying Mike :) Appreciate it

        Will give it a try soon

        Post a Reply
  3. Just wondering what your feelings are on the 5D3? The image out of the camera is soft but sharpens up well in post, and with a great improvement with moire. Thanks and keep up the great work.

    Post a Reply
    • Ilia,
      The 5D mark III really looked great when I used it on the Allah Las video. However, I was also using the canon cinema primes on it, which are exceptional lenses. The mark III sharpened up well in post and cut perfectly with the mark II and 1D mark IV.

      Post a Reply
  4. It’s nice to see that with all of the flurry of new cameras coming out that the image of the 5D has stood the test of time.

    Thanks for all that you do for our industry.

    See you in Austin. :)

    Post a Reply
    • Kevin, yeah baby!!!! It is an amazing tool in the right hands. Thank you for your support and kind words

      Post a Reply
  5. Love seeing the behind the scenes action of how these low budget videos were planned and shot. I’m curious how the audio was handled for the White Buffalo video. If they were playing live, what was your workflow for synching up with the studio recording? Thanks for all the great posts and information. Your site is an inspiration.

    Post a Reply
    • David,

      The band was playing live on the float. No playback, no slates–just the scratch track from the cameras. They were playing much faster than the original song so Pete Macomber had to slow down all the footage to about 20-21fps to make it sync.

      Post a Reply
  6. Hey guys
    Nice work! I’ve lived in Durango for the last 24 years, so its fun to see you guys shooting in my backyard. Hope you guys had fun. It looked like you did!

    Post a Reply
    • Chris Giles, Mikey had a blast. I love that part of the country

      Post a Reply
  7. Michael thanks for the info, Yes it is still an amazing camera pound for pound if you consider the barriers that it first broke. The 3rd addition took it even further with image quality, the only problem is that they do not really reslove to 1080p, but still something about that 5d canon eos look. It will be more amazing if Canon delivers on clean uncompressed video in APRIL.

    Have a question if you know or have info, i have read just about every blog and information about ACT of Valor/work flow etc, because we will be getting a C300 soon if the BLACK MAGIC CAMERA does not pan out.

    I remember Shane and the crew mentioning scanning the 5d footage to 2k. How was that possible , by anychance do you know more info about the 2k upscaling, not scans but upscaling the HD to 2k Asking because we may be using 5d’s or c100′s as B AND C cameras for a upcoming movie, thank you.

    Post a Reply
    • I worked on the Act of Valor pipeline, so I can fill in on this one. We used Cinnafilm’s DarkEnergy software to upscale the 5D footage to 2K, so that it would match our film scans. We tested many different scaling options, and determined that we liked the look of that one the best. There is more info on that part of the workflow available here:
      http://www.hd4pc.com/techblog/2012/04/14/editing-act-of-valor/

      Post a Reply
  8. Ah man. Really diggin this post and both videos! I really like that beveled glass idea. Looks awesome!

    Post a Reply
    • Lawrence, thanks so much. I showed Mikey that on Boeing. It is a wonderful effect

      Post a Reply
  9. Shane what kind of lenses do you like to use when you shoot 5D? Does the 5D need a mount alteration to fit your favorite lenses? I just started using the Ziess ZE T* primes and really like them.
    P.S Thanks for all that you do and give back to the film/cinematography community!

    Post a Reply
    • Iain Trimble, yes,You are very welcome and thank you for your kind words, my favorite lenses on the 5D are Leica R mount which require a Leitax mount that physically screws into your lens. They rock, pricey though. My next choice would be the Nikon AI and AIS lenses. Have great old feel.

      Post a Reply
  10. I loved the look and feel of the “Allah-Las” video. Everything flowed perfectly. How did you tackle ““The Avocado” driving over the camera and the following shot of it driving from under the camera as it pans up? Did you accomplish this with the Pocket jib? Thanks and great work by all involved!!

    Post a Reply
    • PJ,

      Thanks for the compliment. It’s pretty cool what you can still achieve with couple cameras and a vision! The shot you are referring to was something I had pitched the director that we decided to try if we had time and ended up being the last shot we did for the video as the band drove home to LA.

      For the shot on the road we simply drove the car over the camera. But for the overhead shot I rigged up 2 combo stands on either side of the road with a piece of speedrail connecting them. I clamped a camera upside-down to the pipe and as the van drove under the speed rail I twisted the pipe so the camera would tilt up. Very lo-fi, but very effective!

      Post a Reply
  11. Hi!

    I am in the process of upgrading my event videography company (mostly
    weddings for now) from SD to HD. (I took some time off to raise a
    child). Now I am returning and need to catch up tech wise. I have bought
    the Sony XDCAM PMW-200. I am now trying to figure out which camera
    would be best for my company. I would need to edit footage from both
    cameras on the same timeline and create videos for my clients. I really
    want to buy the Canon 5d Mark3. My concern is that it will be too hard
    to edit them together. I have FCP7.

    Can anybody tell me a workflow that will work and I can depend upon with
    all the footage that is inherent in event videography? I am a good
    shooter, but no tech wizard, but willing to learn for a great result. Is
    learning the tech to edit these two cameras together worth it? Or
    should I just buy another XDCAM? Eventually I want to do more than just
    event videograhy, so I am really pulling for the Canon 5D m3. Any
    advise? Or perhaps a workflow explanation for “dummies?” I need to start
    some where… Thanks so much for your time…I urgently need help
    because I need to decide which camera this week…
    I do not mind the two looking different. I can learn to work with that
    with the fact that each “scene” will be very different looks. However, I
    am concerned with learning how to shoot in a way that makes the two
    cameras footage mixable on a timeline, and then also being able to bring
    each one into FCP7 with correct settings to make them exist happily
    together. (frame rate, audio, etc, etc-especially since the FPS is different ex. 29.97 vs. hard 30fps?)). I have researched and
    researched to find a tutorial that includes both, (shooting with the
    correct camera settings with the intention of bringing both cams footage
    into FCP7 in a way that cuts together, and ALSO includes
    settings/methods of how exactly to bring them in. At this point, I feel
    like I need someone to litterally come into my office and teach me how
    because I have not found a video tutorial that includes both…Perhaps
    because shooters seem to answer some blogs, and editors seem to answer
    editing questions on the net. I need to find a way to marry these two so
    that I can make it all as easy as possible (shooting and workflow). I
    understand that I have quite a bit to learn…but I am willing to put in
    the time. I have no unrealistic goal of being able to match experts
    talents at this point.

    Once I understand if there is a way of doing all of this and how
    difficult the process is, I can make an informed decision about which
    camera to buy. I am pulling for the 5D M3 because I think it would be
    best for transitioning into commercial. However my bread and butter will
    be event videography for now. If there is any way to explain this
    process with both objectives in mind, it would be amazing and totally
    help me out. or if anyone knows of a tutorial, please point me in that
    direction. Or even a class/worshop in NYC or Massachusetts?

    Post a Reply
  12. Shane,

    Inpired by you and also rented couple of times from your place, i created this music video for my son to show case his singing and acting talents. Here is the link to his video. When you have time, kindly visit this link and let me know your feedback.

    This video is completely shot on 5D MKII and 7D. David Cowles did the editing and i did the Screenplay, cinematography and direction.

    I shot this on 2.35:1 aspect ratio and then exported to DCP by David. It was projected on a 50 foot screen @ Laemmle theaters, North Hollywood. It could hold up very well on the big screen.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIy_oGeOzIU

    Regards,
    Venky

    Post a Reply
    • Venky, First off I want to thank you for renting from our house. We just moved into a rocking facility in San Fernando. You have to check it out. Nice shots in the video. Loved the lock off at the pier. The composition with the windmills and the shallow depth of field on the train tracks. Your son looked at ease.

      Post a Reply
  13. Shane,

    Thanks for taking time to watch the video. Definitely will visit your San Fernando facility. Did pass on your comments to my son. Will shoot more this year. May be Mark III with Remote Follow Focus if available. Will keep in touch.

    Regards,
    Venky

    Post a Reply
    • Venky, that is great news, any help I can feel free to send a comment and I will answer. I hope you get to check out the new digs

      Post a Reply

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