The release of the C series of cinema cameras from Canon has garnered a lot of attention of filmmakers as a great alternative to cameras like the RED. After much debate, our studio purchased the camera a few months back and recently flew to Austin to shoot two commercial spots. We couldn't have been happier with the results.
I will be the first to admit that having the best camera gear doesn't matter if the story isn't captivating. The entire argument of what the best camera is irrelevant if the storytelling side and production is lacking. There are so many moving parts in motion production that if any one of them is out of sync with the others, the entire production can suffer. As our studio begins to offer motion capture as a service to our commercial clients, and as we commit to producing higher quality BTS videos of our still photography shoots, we were at a crossroads with renting versus purchasing and which camera to actually invest in. The biggest decision was the investment in a RED system or a more affordable lightweight option with the Canon line of cinema cameras. In the end it all came down to the ease of workflow and we pulled the proverbial trigger on the Canon C100 paired with the Atomos Ninja for uncompressed 10-Bit Pro Res 4:2:2 capture. The camera itself is easy to setup and working with the footage is an easy transition from the DSLR workflow. I am not saying that the camera is better quality than the RED by any means, it just happened to score higher in categories like price, workflow, required people to operate it, accessories needed, cost of accessories, and post production. An Fstoppers colleague Dave Wallace just wrote a piece on why he switched from RED to the Canon C100 and made a compelling argument why he did. We were basically in the same mindset he was.
In addition there are certainly a LOT of benefits to renting your equipment as needed. I know a lot of successful production houses that do this and pass the cost on as a line item in the bill to the client, which is perfectly acceptable in most cases. We considered this option but then quickly ruled it out because of the days of planning required to actually get the camera. There is a lot to be said to having the camera set up and ready to go for any ideas, testing, or filming that we decide we want to do when inspiration hits, which happens a lot in our studio. Having the camera whenever we want is really valuable.
For our first shoot we were hired by Jet Pack out of Chicago with Director Al Wyatt to shoot the videos for a booming juice company out of Austin, Texas name Daily Greens. We had 3 days to shoot 2 spots with the first day spent entirely on planning, location scouting and testing.
Day 1 - Blocking & Testing
Day one was dedicated to what's called blocking, or getting down your camera movements and getting everyone on the same page in terms of a shoot schedule and workflow. We spent time at both locations studying the light, monitoring the weather, and using an iOS App called Artemis to get an understanding of what lens MM will look like from various locations without having to have the actual camera with us, the perfect director's viewfinder. The App will crop the preview on your iPhone and give you a view of what your specific camera and specific lens will look like from where you are holding your phone, which is a great time saver if you can get an approximate marker for your blocking shots. We had little time for error and the transitions from scene to scene needed to transition smoothly and quickly as possible.
Above you see a general idea of Scene 2 of the "Mail Man" where the director has outlined the shots that the DP needs to get and the general idea of the camera's movement. This is distributed to the members of the crew so everyone knows the order at which we will be capturing the scenes. Below are two scouting shots that show us light at specific times of day and backgrounds in relation to the subject, which are then noted on individual shots on the blocking document. We took hundreds of photos like these and discussed further shots later that night to maximize the order at which we shot each scene in relation to the sun. We spent all day shooting a scene that was supposed to take place in 1 minute of real time so balancing the sunlight was a major, and technical, task to figure out. We flipped sets in relation to the sun in the AM and PM and used 20 x 20 foot silks to diffuse harsh mid-day light. This is where an experienced crew becomes critical to the flow of the set.
Seen below, executive creative director Kirk Payne and Al Wyatt in a scouting location exercise.
Day 2: The Mail Man Shoot
Day two was shot primarily indoors at a local house rented for the production. We used Kino Flo's bounced off of the white ceiling with ROSCO #3001 diffusion rolls to diffuse the light when needed. In addition we brought in a Chapman PEEWEE and 20 foot of rails to achieve the smooth sliding shots needed. These Dolly's are super critical to any film production and can typically only be rented from your local production rental house. In fact these Dolly's are not even sold to your local production house rather they are leased to them and then rented to you, which is one hell of a great business model if you can secure it.
The dolly couldn't fit into the bedroom so a custom mount was quickly built with apple boxes and standard grip hardware from the rental truck.
The dolly tracks are quickly leveled with track cribbing (the wooden wedges under the track) from the grip truck by the crew. The dolly itself comes with a "dolly grip," which is required to rent the dolly itself. The dolly grip must be certified to safely operate the piece of equipment. Our dolly grip and entire crew were seasoned professionals and had a solution to everything, which is absolutely critical in motion production.
Another custom build from the crew to mount the camera to a dolly track using the Sachtler tripod head. It really pays to have an experienced crew that can build mounts to put your camera anywhere for any motion.
The Canon C100 Cage - Red Rock Micro
The biggest expense for us outside of the camera was the Red Rock Micro Cage seen below. We customized our cage with additional rails, a follow focus, backplate, top handle, and matte box. The total came out to just under $4,000, which is a lot to spend on a cage but critical for our workflow. The cage allows us to easily mount additional accessories like the Atomos Ninja, Marshall Monitor, and any audio mics for syncing audio. This accessory, while expensive, is critical to our workflow and absolutely essential in creating the entire camera package. Without this, we couldn't easily mount the monitor and external recorder without creating a grip nightmare. This will also allow for adding additional batteries, wireless follow focus, and additional accessories in the future.
Day 3: The Eating Contest Shoot
Day three was an absolute beast with 100 degree temperatures, 80 people on set, and ever changing cloud cover that changed light quality by 3-4 stops every 15 minutes causing production to stop. We had an excellent grip and gaffer crew of 8 guys managing a 20x20 silk, 10x10 silk, running 200 feet of electric to 5 devices, and building dolly tracks on uneven ground with ant hills scattered about. Below you see the crew beginning to setup a 20x20 silk that was used during the suns harshest moments with no cloud cover. This took 6 guys or more to move into place each time the clouds dissipated and the sun became too harsh. An added bonus is that the camera never became too hot or overheated. We did cover the equipment and power down everything whenever possible.
The shot below is a look at the talent below the 20x20 silk used to diffuse the sun and soften the light. This helped but also increased the temperatures by 20 degrees if you were directly under it. This was a great help but caused the talent to sweat more than usual due to the harsh Texas temperatures.
Capture and Backup - Atomos Ninja
Just off set was a tent setup for the digital tech for video and audio to backup to. We shot everything on a series of 240 GB Mercury Extreme Pro 6G SSD cards that worked with the Atomos Ninja. The Ninja allows you to label each file as you shoot so organizing the footage for the digital tech was a breeze as no transcoding or re-labeling needed to be done because the Ninja records directly to Pro Res 422 10-Bit uncompressed H.264 files. This is a HUGE benefit because the native CODEC in the C100 is compressed AVCHD 4:2:0, which doesn't give us the flexibility as 10-Bit Pro Res 4:2:2. This same device can be used with the 5D MK III and other similar cameras to capture uncompressed footage as well. And because we were transferring files from an SSD to a thunderbolt drive it took no longer than 5-10 minutes to copy and back up each scene, which was in between 10-20 GB each. We triplicated the footage onto three 1 TB Lacie Thunderbolt drives and never deleted the original footage from the Mercury SSD's we were shooting to. At the end of the day, one drive went with our crew, one with the director, and one with the executive producer. Separating the footage like this was absolutely mandatory considering the amount of time and energy that went into the production. A simple thief or catastrophe to a camera bag could ruin the entire production.
A good grip crew will rig up the dolly with a sun guard to help minimize glare on the 5 inch Marshall monitor we use on our cage. This also keeps the DP cool and out of the sun.
Rob Grimm, seen below, with his custom and mobile shade flag. On day two we rented a bigger, heavier dolly made by J.L Fisher. The Fisher 10 is a similar model but considerably heavier to help compensate for the rough terrain. The heavier the dolly the smoother the shots on certain ground.
Canon C Series & C100
"The C100's Super 35mm-sized sensor provides an angle-of-view and depth of field that equivalent to that of traditional Super 35mm film. With a native resolution of 8.3MP and a wider pixel pitch than conventional professional camcorders, the C100's sensor offers enhanced sensitivity and reduced noise in low light environments. The C100 is fully compatible with Canon's renowned EF mount lenses. Even specialty lenses, such as Canon's 24mm f/3.5L II tilt shift lens or the 8-15mm f/4L Ultra-Wide Zoom fisheye lens, are available on the C100. When shooting with EF lenses, C100 features peripheral illumination correction, which automatically compensates for light fall-off in the corners of the image. Furthermore, continuous AF will be available via a firmware update for compatibility with Canon EF Lenses with STM focusing."-(Canon USA)
In addition the cropped sensor in the C100 is a 1.6x magnification. This might take some getting used to and may require you to go out and buy a few more lenses. The 35mm lens that you are used to on the full frame Canon 5D MK III would be more like a 56mm lens, a 24mm would be more like a 38mm, and a 50mm would be more like a 80mm. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing depending on the type of motion you are trying to shoot.
Overall the Canon C100 workflow is pretty seamless. The dynamic range especially in the mid-dark tones is phenomenal at the native ISO of 850. As long as the highlights are protected and detail in the highlights are preserved there is no trouble whatsoever bringing tone and life to the black and underexposed areas of the shot. Overall the footage is more elastic in post than I originally thought and a big improvement to working with the 5D MK III or comparable DSLR cameras. In addition we shot almost all day with one battery for the Canon C100 and two batteries for the Atomos Ninja, which gives us less of an interruption in swapping out gear and remaining cordless. The only cord we had running was an HDMI out running from the Atomos Ninja to a Panasonic display for the director off camera. An added bonus is the three built in ND filters in the C100 body. This really helped streamline our workflow with the ever changing light and saved us on purchasing/renting additional ND glass.
I am interested to hear people with the C300 and why they purchased that camera instead of using something like the Atomos Ninja. What are the benefits to that considering it is more than twice as much?
Big thanks to Daily Greens for having us on set and to AL Wyatt from Jet Pack for putting this shoot together. If you would like to get some awesome veggie juice delivered to your door each week check out the Daily Greens website. Also big thanks to Utopic in Chicago for editing the pieces. Specifically the following: