A busy summer with the 5D mark III

Bruce Springsteen at Hard Rock Calling 2012

It’s been quite a while since I posted anything here because work has been crazy the past few months. Since I invested in the 5D mark III a couple of months ago I’ve hardly had a day off from shooting with it; promo videos, weddings, timelapse, corporate and a bunch more, I’ve shot a lot of stuff with the 5D mark 3, including an intense initiation on two beautiful weddings in London – back to back! Over one weekend I probably shot with my new toy for around sixteen hours overall and for much of that it was side-by-side with the other camera I use at weddings, the Canon C300 – no pressure on the mark III then!

So it had a fairly huge task on it’s hands impressing me while I shot with both that and the C300 together! First impressions and I found that the 5D mark III (at least mine anyway) isn’t as ‘muddy’ and soft in focus as much of the feedback has made out, although it does benefit from around 8 – 15% sharpening in post. It doesn’t come near the resolution and sharpness of the C300 but then I never expected it to! It produces a lovely full-frame image just as the mark II had done but without the dreadful problems of moire and aliasing.
As I had been using the Canon 60D for about 18 months before it, the 5D3 did feel like a fantastic upgrade in every area, except perhaps the lack of a swivel screen and the ridiculously-placed zoom-in/focus check button. Thankfully the customisable buttons meant I could place that function in the centre of the wheel (the old 5D mark II record button) and it didn’t take too long to get used to.

Not long after the double-wedding I got a fantastic gig shooting the preparations, stage build and festival days of Hard Rock Calling 2012 in Hyde Park (my own edit is pending – watch this space!) I was predominantly there to shoot a timelapse over the space of around a week of the stages being built so I actually resorted back to using the Canon 60D to click away all week long whilst I used the mark 3 to get video cutaways and second timelapse angles. This meant I got to put the new and improved JPEG quality of the mark 3 to the test (and compare with the 60D) and I wasn’t disappointed. In Lightroom it felt like I had as much to work with in the 5D3 JPEGs as I typically got from 60D RAW files! I was able to pull so much back with them and really fine tune my timelapse images in batches before exporting and creating the final product.

On video mode, as expected, things had really improved. I’ve shot with the mark 2 loads in the past and really did find that although things hadn’t massively improved on the spec list with the mark 3, all of the tiny little improvements resulted in a big all round step up. Just to confirm I consider the main things to be; 1 megapixel more, 30 minutes continuous recording, ALL-I codec, custom audio levels, headphone slot, almost no aliasing and moire, useable ISO up to 6400.) So at Hard Rock I found myself happily flipping through to ISO 3200 and 6400 in low light and noticing very little noise. 1600 in my opinion is still totally clean and only at 6400 is grain visible. In fact, recent promo work for a nightclub has meant 12,800 had to be used and even then I find the footage to be useable!

I’ve got a handful of really exciting short film and music video projects coming up, the first narrative pieces I’ll be shooting with the 5D3 in fact, so I can’t wait to put it to the test in more controlled environments where I can really focus on my cinematography.

Here’s a video I shot for an event by bespoke charity event and auction company Sacramento Events – very few of the shots are post-sharpened so I think it goes to show the 5D3 image is pretty decent straight out of the camera, personally.

Shooting with the Canon C300

I recently had the opportunity to shoot with Canon’s new EOS C300 camera for a couple of days, and on top of that, I was able to shoot with it alongside a bunch of 5D Mark II’s in a demanding and fast-paced environment; a wedding! That allowed me to compare all the big talking points of the C300, including high ISO’s, form factor, audio, peaking/zebras/waveforms, size and weight, functionality and quite simply how easy it is to learn and use.

Canon C300 and 5D Mark II (2) side by sideSo to get a few of the more obvious things out of the way, in comparison to the 5D’s the C300 was the bigger, bulkier and ultimately more exhausting camera to use on the day. The 9kg tripod I was using with it didn’t help of course! and in fact, the C300 felt well balanced in my hand for any hand-held stuff, and equally as useable and sturdy on a monopod. But, all those features that the 5D is missing really came into their own and outweighed the slight weight/bulk disadvantage. Considering I’d only had around 3-4 hours experience with the camera before the ‘big day’ too, the buttons were surprisingly intuitive and easy to learn.

To put my use of the C300 into perspective, it was a 15 hour day from 9am ‘til midnight, shooting almost continuously throughout. As an overall evaluation of the camera it’s useful features such as peaking, zebras and waveforms really, really impressed me, along with all the other things that the camera has been getting so much praise for; the high ISO is as staggeringly clean as people have said. Also, coupled with the built in ND’s, there was rarely a situation where I had to compromise my shot in any way. I could choose my aperture and my ISO to suit any and all situations; If I wanted my shot to be really shallow in bright sunshine, 3 clicks on the ND+ button and I was ready to go (with a DSLR I’d then be fumbling around in my kit bag for my fader ND and the right step-up ring.) In this sense it’s a much faster camera to shoot run-and-gun with.

The peaking feature in particular was just a dream to use when doing focus pulls and needing to reframe and re-focus every few minutes. The zebras remained on almost all of the time, although sometimes I did find that they disagree with what the screen is showing you. It still seems odd to me that there would be zebras over a wall or object that I could clearly see colour and detail in – basically to the eye it doesn’t look blown out at all, but the zebras told me otherwise. On top of that, on the first day, the screen was set to +2 sharpening and slightly darker than the image actually was, meaning that what I thought was sharp and exposed correctly, was often not quite as sharp and slightly overexposed. However, by day two (the wedding day itself) these issues had been addressed and the screen was showing much more accurately what I was shooting.

Canon EOS C300 on a slider, Konova Slider, Manfrotto 504 HDThe only negative points I could find with the camera were with the some of the buttons and the camera’s form factor. The default settings for some of the functions seem a little oddly placed and required some customizing to make them faster to change when shooting run and gun. The form factor of the camera also made it quite difficult to shoot anything particularly high up, because once it’s on a tripod at full extension, the viewfinder, and even more so the screen, are a good 2 feet from your face! It meant that at times I was struggling to see exactly what I was shooting. There is of course a million and one different ways to configure the screen layout – it can be up top or flipped down and round to sit lower and more side-by-side with the camera body – but it still remains a long way from view if you’re shooting on a tall tripod over people’s heads!

In terms of the camera’s weight and size, it was actually a lot more portable and easy to get around quickly than I had first imagined. With a Canon 24-70mm L lens on the front the camera it was around 3kg or so, which is still very light and actually a more solid weight to eradicate shakes. On a DSLR, where the weight of your camera rarely exceeds 2kg, those shakes creep in when you’re handheld because firstly DSLR’s aren’t particularly comfortable to shoot with handheld and also because there’s not a lot of weight in your hands either. The C300 felt like a really solid, sturdy camera to be filming with. I used it on a Manfrotto 504 tripod and a Konova slider, and the C300 felt like a well-matched camera for these supports. It was a heavy set-up to move from place to place but I got some great stuff with it because of how secure and solid it all felt.

And for all it’s quirky little features, design, weight and many, many buttons, it all seems irrelevant when you see the image quality. The resolution and colour depth of the image that I got out of the C300 were just stunning. The information in the image means that grading will be a doddle and the sheer detail at all apertures is excellent. It’s a camera that I managed to learn in a matter of hours, and felt confident and able to use without even thinking by the end of the first day. Buttons and menus are so easy to navigate and the possibilities with the “proper video camera” features made it a firm favourite of mine already.