Daniel Haggett

London based Lighting Cameraman / DoP 

Cheap LED light panels, are they worth it?

LED light panelLED technology has come along way in the past few years and LED lights are becoming increasingly common in the film and TV industry.  At the top end of the price scale there are brands like Litepanel that sell 1x1 variable light panels for 2,700 USD  or 2,300 UKP.  This is for a panel that can be easily dimmed, runs off mains or V lock battery and has a variable colour from tungsten to daylight.  Dedolight who are a very reliable brand, make a similar panel: the Tecpro Feloni, but almost three times less expensive (810 UKP) and when you include Chinese manufacturers these prices drop even further...a lot further.  So the question is: how low should you go?  Can you buy cheap LED panels and still get high quality colour for TV and video work?

I have used panels from both Litepanel and Dedolight - Tecpro.  They were both light weight, emit very little heat and they also have a very low power draw, which means you can run them off a V lock battery for hours.  When you are out in the field along way from power they make a very useful light source.  When looking at the way the light falls over the face, and the skin tones that they give, I felt they were both doing a good job and was pretty happy with them, HOWEVER, and this is a big however, the way a cameras senor interprets that light is different from the way your eye interprets it. 


This can better explained with the images below.  On the left you can see the colour spectrum produced by various sources.  The scale represent the full colour spectrum that we are able to see.

colour rendition from bulbs


The sun obviously has the most clean source of light, where the full spectrum of colour is visible.




Tungsten is still the most reliable source of artificial light in terms of its colour rendition.  As we know, tungstent heavily favours the more reddy orange tones to the right of the spectrum, ending up with a light of around 3200 kelvin.



Other artificial light sources rely on a mixture of a few different seperate colours to create a kind of white.  As you can see from these spikes, this light is likely to emit a light that slightly favours blue.  Most importantly however, there is lots of detail in between these spikes that is missing.




LEDs are essentially doing what the energy saving bulb is doing, they take a number of different colours and mix them together to something that aproximates white.   To the naked eye the colour may look correct, but a certain amount of the colour spectrum will be missing, and the amount that is missing will differ, depeding on the quality of the LED light product. 

So how does this effect us when lighting for a film or TV camera?  This is something that Ryan Fletcher from ARRI explained brilliantly at BVE in London this week.  In a demonstration Ryan showed a white screen lit with various different quaility LED lights.  Each light source was aiming to be a neutral white light, as you would expect to use in lighting for video.   As he flicked through the various LED lights they all looked pretty similar when lighting a white background, some were slightly cooler or more blue that others, but nothing too dramatic.  Next, he used those same LEDs to light a colourful peice of material and the difference was absolutely HUGE - and this is just to the naked eye. 


This issue of accurate colour rendition is made more complex when we consider the camera's sensor.  Camera sensors are devided up, so one sensor deals with one type of colour.  This means that when lighting with a source that doesn't have a wide colour spectrum the camera won't be able to out put what the eye sees.  The video below, made by ARRI, shows the same scene, shot by the same camera under different light qualities.  The ARRI fresnal differs massively from the LED brands.





As cameramen we all obssess about cameras and lenses.  We buy the best camera kit we can afford, to give us the best image, but, in my opinion, this is money wasted if we then go and light with poor quality kit.   I am a big fan of the kino flo Diva light, it is my standard bit of kit for a key light and has been for years.  What this talk by ARRI  convinced me of, is to stick with this light.  There are situations where you can't feasibly do this, if you are away from a power source, and for that there is LED, but even then, it is essential to buy a product with a high CRI (colour rendering index).  I would only buy LED panels from a high quality provider (lite panel, Dedolight, ARRI) and would check video reviews on line to make sure their colour rendition is acurate, as compared to a tungsten light (which is still the most accurate form of artificial light).





Hitchcock's filming techniques

I recently thought it would be a good idea to start writing the odd article about inspiration for cameramen.  I often think about what makes the difference between cameramen - from a basic operator, up to a top cinematographer.   I was watching Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train the other day and a couple of shots stood out to me as having an amazing emotional effect.  In case you haven't seen it, or can't remember the plot fully, here is a basic outline of what happens:  Two strangers meet on a train, and one of them brings up the idea of  "the perfect murder."  This man, Bruno, suggests that they swap problems, so that Bruno would kill Guy's wife (who he is trying to divorce), and Guy would return the favour by killing Bruno's father.  As neither would have a motive, it would be impossible for police to solve.  Bruno seems friendly enough, and Guy dismisses the conversation, thinking it is just idol chat from an unusual stranger.   However, Bruno immediately murders Guy's wife and follows Guy around trying to get him to complete his side of the "bargain" and kill Bruno's father.


Bruno is a total psychopath, but he is always smiling and has a false friendliness to his character, so it is left to the camera work and music to convey a sense of menace. Hitchcock's cinematographer Robert Burks pulls this off brilliantly.  The first shot is filmed from Guy's perspective, when he discovers that Bruno is watching him from a far.

cameraman techniques HitchcockIn this shot Guy is pulling up in a car, he looks out of the window to see the menacing figure of Bruno looking down at him from the steps of the Jefferson Memorial.    Bruno is so small is screen you can't even see his face, but you know it is him.


It is hard to say why this shot works so well, it just does.  There is the contrast between Bruno's dark suit and the bright pillar behind, the fact that Bruno doesn't move but his gaze is trained on Guy, but most of all it is the imposing nature of the building itself, the giant pillars and the raised aspect that give the feeling that Bruno is a sinister character.











This next shot is even more dramatic than the previous one.  This time Guy is playing in a tennis tournament.  The camera starts on a wide shot of the audience, all of their heads are moving from side to side, following the ball, except one.  In the middle of the screen you can see one head that isn't moving, but  staring straight ahead, immobile.













Cameraman techniques - Robert Burks





The camera gradually pushes in to reveal Bruno who is sitting with an odd grin on his face, he has come to watch Guy, not the tennis match.

















Cameraman techniques strangers on train


Of course there are plenty of other great shots in this film, notably when Bruno commits his murder we view it from a reflection in the murdered woman's glasses.  All of this didn't go unnoticed and the film was nominated for an Academy Award for best black and white cinematography.








Cameraman inspiration

Every now and again somebody hits the nail on the head, somehow they manage to explain an idea, that would take me ages to explain, in one pithy little line.  This is from Twitter:


vince gaffney ?@gaffneyfilm
Hey, you, bokeh guy. Instead of worrying about how pretty the out of focus crap is, worry about what the in focus parts are saying. Thx.


I thought this was hilarious, but also sums up a lot about current trends in the world of film and TV.


Sometimes we can get a bit obsessed with camera gear and techy stuff, maybe everyone is guilty of this from time to time.  Vimeo is clogged full of people obsessing over whether this lens performs better than that lens, but I wonder how many people outside the film and tv world actually notice or care about these things.  When DSLRs first arrived on the scene I just couldn't believe how something so small and cheap could create such images.  I remember filming my niece playing in the snow with my new camera and a 50mm prime.  There were shots filmed in slow motion of the warm air drifting from her mouth, shots where her eyes were pin sharp, but depth of field was so shallow that even her hair had a lovely softness to it.  I remember plugging my new camera into a large HD screen to see the results.   My family stood around to watch, did they gasp in amazement at this small camera that could shoot crystal clear HD images, were they stunned by the shallow depth of field like I was?  Of course not, they saw a little girl playing in the snow.  


The internet is awash with people (mainly men I imagine) chatting about the minutiae of cameras, lenses and gear in general, and I am one of them.  It is good to know about the gear that you are using, and what is out there that can help you to work better.  An almost obsessive attention to detail is something common to most cameramen I think, and this can be very useful at times, especially when you are always pushing to get a better shot, or make a scene more visually interesting.  However, what the tweet above is getting at is that this almost fetishisation of camera gear shouldn't come at the expense of the bit that matters, the bit that is "in focus", the bigger picture.


As I look through my blog post, I realise they are all incredibly techy, talking about every detail of camera kit.  As an antidote to this, I have decided to write a few pieces about inspiration, odds and ends from films, books, photography anything that inspires the cameraman.

why you need a sound recordist

As production budgets come down, people are obviously going to want to cut costs.  There are some situations where you may be able to get away without using a sound recordist.  A standard sit down interview is not too taxing to film for a cameraman and running a tie mic into the camera isn't going to present too many problems.  However, not all shoots are as simple as this.  When you choose to shoot without a sound recordist you are loosing a crew member, and this has ramifications to the shoot as a whole.


Several years ago I was asked to fly to Italy to do a few pick-ups for a CGI heavy documentary.  As most of the budget had already been spent, the Production Manager asked if I would be happy going without a Sound Recordist.  From an audio perspective, it was relatively simple: there was a presenter who was giving several pieces to camera around a town in Italy.  The shots would take place on the move, walking around the town and in one case inside a car.   All of the  gear was rented from a facilities house, so the first time I even looked at the kit was at the airport - this is never a good way to start a shoot.   We were midway through shooting the first piece to camera and I heard a glitch in the sound, it was just a small crack, but very audible.  We did the piece a second time without a problem.  Every now and again the glitch would come back ruining the take, and costing us time.  We were right next to a huge port, and my first thought was that we were getting interference from the taxi or boat radios.  I changed channels on the radios to see if this would help, and for a short while this seemed to work.  I wanted to get to the bottom of the issue, but the director was worried about time and wanted to push on, hoping to get clean takes in between audio glitches.  Sometimes a take was unusable due to the presenter fluffing his line, and sometimes the radio mic caused the problem.  We were rapidly running out of time.  Eventually I decided we had to stop and find the issue.  I tested each bit audio kit in turn until I eventually found the problem, the cable running from the receiver to the back of the camera had a fault.  Luckily, there was a spare, I replaced it and we went on without any further problems.  This was a one day shoot, and we had really lost a lot of time to this audio fault.   The rest of the shoot was rushed and chaotic.  Enviably this quality of the footage suffered and we were lucky to make our flight back to the UK. 


Any lowering in the quality of the footage reflects badly on the cameraman.  It is unlikely that people will look at my footage from Italy and think: "the audio sounds good" or "that cameraman was good at repairing audio gear", they will just think the camera work could have been better.

All of this would have been avoided with a Sound Recordist.  Sound Recordists check their own gear constantly, and it is much less likely to fail.  Even if there was an audio issue, the Sound Recordist would be able to spend time fixing it on their own, while the cameraman is free to continue shooting scenes that don't require audio. 


Sound recordist are worth their weight in gold on a shoot.  It isn't just that they have good kit, it is that they know how to use it.  Sound recordists can hide mics in clothing without picking up rustling noise, they can boom people who aren't on mic, they record atmos that can add something to a programme, often audio that the rest of the crew would talk all over if it wasn't for them.  The list goes on and on.  A part from anything else, just working with an extra crew member makes life easier.  Many times Sound Recordists have helped me carry boxes around, set up light stands, stand in so I can check the lighting, and so much more, none of these things are their jobs, but they helped me out as part of the crew.


So what is the moral to the story?  I guess it is:  When you are asked if you can work without a Sound Recordist,  think about the consequences and the effects it could have on the quality of your work, and on the quality of the production as a whole.  There is no point in being pushy and refusing to work without one, but in many cases you can persuade a Production Manager that it is a good idea to hire a reliable Sound Recordist.

How to become a Cameraman

I have been sent a few emails recently about getting started in television, and how to become a TV Cameraman. Before starting down this road it is worth asking yourself the question "Do I really want to become a cameraman?" You are about to embark on a career that could last the rest of your working life, so it is worth thinking about this one.   If you are wondering how much money cameramen make you may also be interest in this.

 working as a cameraman in alaska

Firstly, here are a few pluses to being a cameraman:

1) You get to travel to interesting places.

2) You get to meet interesting people.

3) There is a creative element to the job, which can be very rewarding.

4) It is very varied, one day you could be filming a sunset in the Caribbean, the next you could be a in London sewer. (I am speaking from experience here).


working as a cameraman in africa

Secondly, here are a few negatives:

1) Travelling can become excessive, and it is often beyond your control. If you are a freelancer it is very difficult to turn down work, as you get older and have a husband/wife/kids, you may not be as keen to spend months of the year abroad.

2) All most all cameramen are freelancers, I personally love this lifestyle, but it isn't for everyone. At the first sign of a recession or slow-down in the economy, the first thing that happens is companies pull back on advertising spend, this in turn means broadcasters choose to spend less and commission less programmes and, therefore, work for a cameraman will drop off. For some people this is fine, they can spend the free time polishing their lenses or something, for others, it can be very stressful.

3) The freelance lifestyle is somewhat erratic. Here is a conversation that frequently goes on between all cameramen or women and their wives or husbands:

Spouse: "Are you around next weekend, I want to have a BBQ"

Cameraman: "Don't know, might be in Cambodia."

Spouse: "When will you know?"

Cameraman "Don't know."


This sounds ridiculous to people outside television, but if you work in TV it is totally normal.  Production companies are often waiting for confirmation of talent/flights/budget/people etc etc, it is a nightmare juggling act that the production managers have to deal with. Not every shoot is like this, but it is in no way unusual. For the cameraman, this means planning things in the future can be tricky, and it is something that effects not just you, but your friends and family.

4) Ok, just one last little negative thing, then I'll stop. Working in TV in pretty much any capacity, and becoming a camera operator in particular, is extremely competitive. When I first started looking for work in TV in 1999 I applied for a job as a runner/camera assistant, there was one job available and they received over 200 applications for it. That was a long time ago, and things may have changed, but I bet they haven't got any better.


Ok, that is the negative stuff out of the way, if you are still reading, and still interested here are a few different routes available to becoming a cameraman:

1) Become a camera assistant. There are loads of really good pluses to beginning a career this way. Assisting a Cameraman or DoP means that you get to learn a huge amount on the job. You learn about the kit: how it is packed and unpacked, how it works, what it does and when to use it. You learn how the cameraman treats the clients and talent, how he or she communicates with the director and everyone else on set. You can spend hours reading blogs about camera gear, but working closely with a cameraman is the only way to learn this. Unfortunately, as budgets drop, camera assistants are becoming less and less common. If you want to find work as a camera assistant there is no point in writing to every cameraman in your area, you need to find out who is likely to use one. Look for high budget work that you like and want to work in, this could be commercials or top end documentaries such as wildlife programmes. Do your research and find those who are using camera assistants and see if they would be willing to add you to their list.


2) Work for a rental company/facilities house. Lots of companies out there rent camera gear and some of them supply cameramen or camera assistants with it. The advantage of working in a place like this is pretty obvious, you get to learn about every piece of camera gear under the sun, and if you can prove yourself to the people who run the place, they might start sending you out with the cameras.


3) Work for a production company. If you go down this route you have to make sure you are working for the right kind of production company. There are a huge number of companies out there, but few of them are regularly sending crews out to film. Some production companies may have had success in the past, but slowed down now, also there are companies that make most of their income from editing programmes, or they might specialise in series that use archive footage and won't often have need for a cameraman. Get a PACT directory or search on line and see what companies have been making and when.


4) Work for a broadcaster. Large broadcasters have sports and news crews that are sent out on jobs on a daily basis. They have huge kit rooms with large amounts of camera gear. These people employ cameramen and it is probably the closest thing out there to a full time job.



5) Work for a OB unit or Studio crew.  If you are interested in sport or live events you could get a job working for a company who supply this service.  Large Outside Broadcast facilities supply cameras, cabling, live mixing trucks as well as the camera operators.  The advantage of starting off here is that these companies need lots of people to help rig and de rig for events.  Many shoots will have 10 or 20 cameras, some of these cameras will require greater skill than others.  Think of a football match, some cameras are following a ball by the pitch, and others are high up showing 2/3rds of the pitch and hardly moving.  This means you have an oportunity to start on that easy camera position and work you way up.


6)  Go it alone.  When I started working in TV cameras cost upwards of 30k, by the time you had added on your lights tripod etc etc you would be close to the price of small appartment at that time.  These days things have changed and you can pick up a cheap camera, that shoots decent images very cheaply, however, this doesn't immediately make you a cameraman.  If you buy a camera, and learn to use it you are still going to need to build up a client base, the freelance world is hard one to just dive into.  The jobs you might get as someone who has bought camera, but hasn't worked their way up, are likely to be fairly low level corporate shoots.  If you are happy to shoot this, then fine, but if you want to move up it could be hard without the experience that comes from the other career routes listed above.


The main point to remember here is to do your research.  There is no point in getting a job if it isn't going to lead somewhere, or you aren't going to learn something that will help further you career.  


TV Camera courses and further reading:


There are several courses that are run that will teach you how to use a camera, however, just because you have been on one of these courses this doesn't automatically lead you on to getting work as a cameraman.  That said it will put you ahead of the crowd when it comes to job offers and, in addition, when you do finally get a job, you'll be one step ahead of everyone else when it comes to lighting, composition and camera technique.   Another big plus of going on courses is that with a bit of luck your contemporaries at college will become successful writers, producers, directors etc and you can hit them up for work.  If you are based in the UK, without doubt the top estabilishment is the NFTS - the National Film and Television School.  Roger Deakins is an alumni of this place, as are a whole host of writers and directors who went on to have very successful careers in film and tv.  If you can't afford to study here full time, you can always apply to their short courses.

If you are interested in any type of television or film course it is worth looking at Skill Set (now referred to as Creative Skill Set) to see if they are able to fund part of the course for you. Skill set are an industry body that has been setup to insure the UK remains competitive in the creative industries.  If you are already a freelancer you'll get reduced rates.


Another group of people that are worth checking out is the GTC (Guild of Television Cameramen.)  You can't fully join the guild until you are a cameraman, however, it is possible to join as an "associate" or student at a lower yearly rate.  With membership you get a free subscribtion to their newsletter called "Zerb" which is a good place to learn about what is going on with Cameramen in the TV industry.  The GTC website is also a good place to learn a bit more about being a cameraman.  They also advertise all sorts of short courses, from camera technique to health and safety too looking after you gear in harsh environments.  These courses are usually free to GTC members, so if you only go on one course in a year you have more than covered you annually joing fee.


Although entry into a career as a cameraman can be difficult, the rewards are huge. It is a job that I really enjoy doing, and feel lucky to do this for a career.  


Other articles that might be of interest here are:

1) How much do cameramen make

2) How to find work as a cameraman

3) How to make money as a freelance cameraman

4) How to get your first job in TV

How to update Canon C300 with new firmware

Canon released Firmware Version a few days ago for the C300.  This can be downloaded from Canon's website.

This is said to resolve the following issues:

  • Some of the EF lens products that can be mounted on the camera can be controlled more reliably.
  • Corrections to the Spanish and German language texts in the View Assistance function (View Assist).
  • Efforts to correct image color fringing when a subject is of high contrast have been made.

 To install the firmware:

1) Take an SD or SDHC card and format it.  To do this turn on the camera, go to initialize, select the SD card and initialize.

2) Open the downloaded Canon file and take out the firmware update VIA8.FIM.  Drag this onto your SD card.

3) Click the menu button and scrole down to the end to firmware.  Click this and it will update.


(NB If the firmware button is grey and cannot be selected, check the following: the SD card has been formatted, that the correct file only VIA8.FIM has been loaded onto the SD card)


Manual Iris Lenses

Using a modern EF stills lens for shooting video has its draw backs, these lenses were designed for photographers and were never meant to be used for video after all.  The main issue is that modern stills lenses don't have a manual iris as this function is performed by the camera body.  Changing iris mid shot then becomes impossible,  unless you are a fan of big half stop aperture jumps.  There are other problems with these lenses, owing to the auto focus feature.  Auto focus is useless to the cameraman and it usually means that the focus ring will rotate indefinitely, meaning that making focus marks, either on the lens or on a follow focus, is impossible.  There is also the issue of throw: the distance the lens has to rotate to focus between its closest range and infinity is very small.  Pulling focusing between smaller distances therefore becomes tricky.  Lastly, if you are using zoom lenses, there is the problem of back-focus.  If you zoom in fully, find focus, then pull out, you will loose focus.  Having said all of this, there is a big plus of using stills lenses for video: price.  I think you get great optics for a small price, mainly as these are popular mass marketed products.


There are lots of different options when it comes to using manual iris, the first of these is to use a lens that is actually designed for shooting video.  However, dedicate film/video lenses are not cheap.


Zeiss CP2s

Zeiss CP2 Compact PrimePrice: around 4,000 USD or 3,500 UKP per lens


Zeiss Compact Primes have interchangable mounts, so you can use them on your HDSLR,  other EF cameras, or a PL mount.  Zeiss have a long history of making lenses, their top end Master Prime series are favoured by Cinematographers like Roger Deakins, so it is safe to say they know what they are doing.  Their lenses have really good colour rendition and high contrast, optically you know you are getting somthing decent here.  The lenses are in metal housing and feel really solid when compared to a stills lens.  The focus distances are acurately and clearly marked, this is pretty much essential if you are working with a focus puller, as they would have a nighmare with an EOS stills lens.  Even when you are working without an assistant (as I always do) I find the focal marks really useful.  Just remembering the distance marks and pulling between them becomes much easier and the larger throw also helps with acurate focusing over small distances.  Before you rush out and buy a set, here are a few negatives.  Firstly, the price, these lenses are by no means cheap.  The throw on these lenses, whilst making life easier for fine focusing or use by focus puller, works to your disadvantage when doing fast pace shooting alone.  They have a 300 degree of rotation and they are fairly large lenses, so imagine how much you have to turn the lens when making a large distance pull.  CP2s are also a fairly heavy and large compared to a still lens, this may or may not be an issue to you, depending on your set up.  Lastly, they are not that fast compared to top end stills lenses.  The fastest CP2s are T2.1 and the slowest in the range (18mm) T3.6





Canon Cinema Primes

Canon Cinema prime 14mmPrice: around 5,000 USD or 3,500 UKP per lens


Obviously the Canon Cinema primes have the same basic advantages as the CP2 above (I am not going to compare the look of the 2 lenses, as I am sure this is covered in detail elsewhere on the web).  The big difference here is speed.  The Canon Primes are quite a bit faster.  The 50mm and 85mm are T1.3 compared to the Zeiss T2.1








The next, and much cheaper option, is to get an old manual stills lens and pay for it to be modified into a cine style lens.  There are several lenses which can be modified in this way.  The main work that needs to be carried out includes: de-clicking the iris wheel, making it into a smooth iris control, changing the backs, so your old style mount becomes an EF mount.  You can also have a solid focus gear added for easy use with a follow focus. In the USA these are done by Dulcose Lenses and in the UK there is The Lens Doctor.


 Zeiss ZF

PZeiss ZF Nikon mountrice: 50mm Planar 619 UKP 725 USD  (+modification costs)


Apparently Zeiss ZF and ZE mounts use the same glass as the Zeiss CP2s that are several thousand pounds more expensive.  The Canon mount ZE mount don't have iris control, which leaves us with the Nikon mount ZF range.  These lense can be sent away to be modified into something more useful to a cameraman. I have used both Zeiss ZE and ZF lenses (modified by the lens DR in the UK) and loved using them.  They are small lightweight lenses, and I find the throw is big enough to be good for fine focus pulls, but not so big as to make it a mission for a single operator.   The only issue I have with these lens is the focus direction.  Nikon lenses focus in the oposite direction to Canon, for me this is a bit of a nightmare, as my instinct will always be to rotate the wrong way.  To get the focus direction reversed anywhere in the West is prohibitively expensive (you might as well just go out and buy a Cinema lens).  I did read of a company in China called GL Optics on Dan Chung's DSLR New Shooter, but this means sending the lenses to China (not something I'd be keen to do).




Leica R

leica R lensPrice: 50mm (aprox 500-600 USD, 400 UKP) Rough prices on Ebay.


I have personally never used a Leica, but firsly they have a good name when it comes to making quality glass, and secondly they are well regarded by Matthew Dulcos at Dulcose lenses as good lenses to convert.  Although they are not as easy to find as Zeiss ZF lenses, if you manage to pick up an old Leica R in good condition you could have yourself a bargain.








Canon FD

Canon FD lensPrice:  This varies on Ebay, but is very cheap 20-50 UKP 20-60 USD


On paper these lenses make sense, they rotates in the right direction, the speed is pretty fast (the 50mm is 1.8) however, there are several issues with using these lenses.   Firstly, the lenses are not pin sharp when wide open (anywhere from 2.8 to 1.8)  Secondly, they require a 2nd peice of glass to adapt them for use on EF mount, this means you lose a stop of light, the lens becomes slightly cropped, and putting any extra bit of glass in the lens is also a worry with optical quality.  There are also several videos out there that demonstrate a glowing or halo effect on bright object in certain shooting situations.  That said, there are also videos that show the lens performing well in other conditions.  These issues rule FD lenses out for me, I couldn't afford to fail a quality control test from a broadcast, just because I wanted to save a few hundred pounds on a lens.  If I was a student film maker, or using my lenses only for corporate web productions, I would almost definitely buy a set, for the price alone.

Camera Slider Review

Which DSLR / Camera Slider to Buy?

When DSLRs first started to be used for shooting video there were few camera sliders out there on the market, now there seem to be hundreds.  It is often hard to tell which are good just by looking at pictures on the internet.  I have used most sliders on the market, some of these are great when you first use them, but quickly deteriorate after use, others are better built and can handle frequent use and abuse. Here are some points to consider when choosing the right slider for you, followed by a review on the main camera slider manufacturers.


Points to consider when choosing a slider:

1) Smoothness of the slide.  This one may sound really obvious, however, most sliders feel smooth when you run the carriage up and down, it is when you mount a heavier camera and lens, or point the camera up or down creating an uneven pressure on the carriage that things can go wrong.

2) Durability.  There is nothing worse than investing a few hundred quid on a product, only to find it doesn't last more than 6 months.  Sliders can be fragile things that slide really well, until they have had a few knocks.  If the rail they run along suffers a small scratch or dent, how will that effect slide, if it cause a glitch or wobble, you may need a new slider.

3) Transportability (this probably isn't a proper word, but I don't care).  This is massively dependent on the types of jobs you usually do.  If you often work in a small 2 person crew, can you carry a full size 5ft Kessler Crane Cine Slider around with you together with your tripod and camera.  If you fly regularly with you kit, how are you going to pack it.  Smaller sliders can be broken down so the rail fits in with the hard case with the tripod, with large slider rails (such as Cinevate or Kessler) you will need a separate case and this will obviously increase you outlay.

4) Length. Again dependant on the type of shoots you go on, for me a meter is perfect.  I find a meter long slider means your rail is about the same length as your tripod.  This is useful as it is easy to pack it into cars etc.  For certain moves you can get away with only using half that length, but I find for really wide shots, or shots where you are moving towards the subject, a meter slide is useful.

Here is a quick round up on the sliders I have used and a few thoughts on them.


Igus (Zaza slider, Glidetrack etc):

igus slider with headThe first slider I ever bought was made from IGUS parts.  There are several companies making sliders from these parts, and they all work in pretty much the same way with a few add ons.  Glidetrack sell 2 versions of these HD and SD - HD, just being a heavier duty version.  The one meter version of the HD slider sells for around 350 UK pounds.  These sliders work on a "drylin" bearing, put simply this is a piece of material that doesn't use roling ball bearings, but is just a smooth material with no grease that slides along the metal.  When I first got this slider, it worked well for a while, but there are a few issues worth noting down here.  Firstly each bearing is screwed onto the sliding plate individually, if any of the bearings are knocked even slightly they will not be perfectly aligned, and the carriage will not slide smoothly.  I travel alot with my work, so knocks are unavoidable.  After every flight I would have to re align these bearings with an allen key.igus bearing



The next issue I had is with the locking mechanism, as you can see on the photo on the right, the breaking mechanism is a screw that screws directly into the bearing itself, after time this damages and eventually breaks the bearing.







Glidetrack Hybrid:

The upgrade to the Glidetrack is the Glidetrack Hybrid, the rails are the same but the carriage is vastly improved.  The bearings themselves are a combination of the original drylin bearing, and a plastic roling hybrid bearingwheel.  This is much smoother than the previous version.  With the normal version the carriage generally works well when the camera is pointing horizontally, but as soon as it is aimed up or down, it puts stress on one side of the rail causing the slide to be jerky.  With the new version you can point the camera where you like and the slide is much much smoother.  The fact that all the bearings are housed in a solid steel box also helps out greatly.  You can now pack this slider away, throw it onto an aeroplane, get out the other side and the slider will still work.  These are more expensive at 420 UK pounds for the 1 meter version, but well worth the extra in my opinion.




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 Cinevate Atlas:

Cinevate atlas camera sliderCinevate make all kinds of interesting gear for DSLRs to full size cameras.  Their Atlas 10 camera slider is really sturdy piece of gear.  This is their smallest and lightest slider, but it still has some considerable heft to it, and according to them it can carry up to 18kg in weight.  With the Glidetrack Hybrid above, the motion is so smooth that it is easy to over push the carriage, so it requires a really delicate touch, whereas the Cinevate Atlas has more drag on it, when you stop pushing the carriage it stops dead.  I know some cameramen prefer the Cinevate for this reason, but it is a personal thing, for me I actually like the feel of both.  If you travel a lot and are concerned with weight, the Cinevate is definitely heavier than the equivalent model from glidetrack, this probably helps with durability, but could be a pain with regards to excess luggage charges.  The Cinevate Atalas 10 sells for 650 in the UK including tax.  They are a Canadian company so are generally cheaper in the US and Canada,  (680 in Canada and 580 US dollars in the US).







Konova slider review

I am not a huge fan of Konova sliders, in some respects that is a bit unfair, as they are certainly cheaper than many of the other siders on my list.  The main issue I have with these is they are not hugely durable and are really only designed for fairly small camera set ups.  If you are only ever going to use a DSLR and you are only going to use small light weight lenses, then this could be a good option for you.  














Kessler Cine slider

kessler cine sliderEric Kessler is someone who has been really visible in the development of slider technology, if there is ever a band of cameramen heading out into the desert to record some crazy timelapse project, you can pretty much guarantee Eric Kessler is behind it.  It is probably for this reason that the Kessler slider is pretty well attuned to what cameramen want.  The carriages of these slide smoothly, I tend to use them manually like you normally would, just pushing the carriage along the rail, although there is handle that can be turned to move the carriage along.  This is a useful feature if you need to do really slow moves.  Another good point about these sliders is the tension screw, this allows you to add or take away drag from the carriage.  I find this useful when you are changing lenses as heavier lenses require different amounts of drag.  Kessler is a US company, so works in feet rather than meters.  This slider is 3ft, so just a touch under a meter.  Kessler also sell a whole load of options for this, for example you can add a high hat onto the carriage if you need to mount a full size tripod head.  Obviously all of this good stuff comes at a price.  The 3ft Cine slider sells for 1,200 USD (and this is without the feet, which cost an extra 150 USD), Kessler don't have a distributor in the UK so you would need to order it through their website  and pay the additional shipping cost and UK tax.  This slider weights 4kg or 9lbs, which isn't too bad considering it size.  


I do quite a bit of air travel for work, so this is just a bit too large for me.  Kessler do make a hard case (around 400 USD) for this so you can easily fly with it if an extra peice of luggage isn't a problem.







Kessler Stealth Slider

Kessler stealth sliderKessler have lots of options that are smaller and more portable than the Cine Slider.  Many are fairly short (around half a meter or 26 inches), but the stealth slider is a good option in my opinion as it is still around 1 meter long, but is lighter and more portable than the Cine Slider.  It doesn't have the crank handle, but I find a almost never use it anyway.  These go for around 800 USD, which isn't bad considering the quality you are getting.






New to the market are a company called Slideshot.  When I first took this thing out of the box, I though it would be too small, something aimed purely at the DSLR market.  I was wrong about that.  Although slide carriage and the bar it sits on are both small, they are incredibly

robust.  Most sliders do a good job of sliding smoothly when the camera is not panning or tilting and the camera is just pointing straight ahead.  Once you start pointing the camera up or down or begin to move it the unequal weight you are putting on the slide carriage often makes the slide mechanism stick.  This is a really common problem with sliders.  With the Slideshot this just doesn't seem to happen.  I kept moving the camera around, but at no point was there any difference in its ability to slide.  As you can see here, the camera is locked off at 90 degrees pointing at the ground, and the slide is just as smooth as if it was level.  This is a massive plus.   


The carriage itself is a sturdy construction, with all of the parts made out of metal, so I reckon it could stand up to a hard life on the road.


Price wise, these things are very reasonable and go for around the 300 UKP mark depending on the model.



The only gripe I have with this slider is that there was nothing to prevent the carriage sliding off the rails.  However, I noticed on the slideshot website that the sliders do have this feature, so I guess this is something that has no been updated.



So which is the best slider to buy?  Obviously we'd all like the control and smoothness of Kessler, with the weight of the Konova, and the price of the build-it-yourself-with-Igus-parts

but that isn't real life.  For me it comes down to a compromise between control, smoothness and portability.  I like the Glidetrack Hybrid because it moves smoothly, it is built to last, but I can still pack it down well and transport it.  I can remove the carriage and chuck the rails inside my tripod hard case, which means one less peice of luggage to check in, and it is light enough to carry around an clip onto the top of my tripod.

 I also think it is worth buying an additional base plate for the slider, that way you can just fit the slider straight onto the tripod without having to screw a new attachement on every time you want to use it.

Which Tripod to buy for video

When it comes to investing in a tripod for video work the first thing to consider is payload.  Generally speaking, the more weight a tripod head can comfortably hold, the more expensive it will be.  Of all the things in your kit the tripod is the bit of gear that could be around for the longest: cameras come and go, monitors become obsolete, even light kits get superseeded every few years, but tripods can last.  I have used Ronford Baker tripods that were probably older than me that worked beautifully. If you can afford to buy a bigger head with a bigger payload, it will be a good investment.


There are vast amounts of cheaper alternative tripods out there, but the old addage "buy cheap buy twice" applies here.  If you are serious about your images, you are going to want a decent tripod that will allow you to make smooth solid moves and will continue to do so after it has been hurled on and off hundreds of planes by burly baggage handlers or "throwers".  For my money, I would only really look at Satchler, Miller, O'Connor, Vinten and (at a push if you are using smaller cameras) Manfrotto.   As you will see from the reviews below Vinten are absent, but that is because I have only used their triopds a handful of times, so not enough to review them.  It is also worth considering that most grip equipment such as, jibs, dollys etc are designed to work with tripods with 100mm bowls.  Larger tripods from the big manufacturers will have this, and be able to  take the extra weight of a jib, the same can not be said all tripods.

manfrotto 504 headAt the lighter end of the tripod range Manfrotto make several heads for video cameras.  The manfrotto 501 head is designed to take a payload of around 2.5kg or 5lbs.  If you are shooting on a DSLR with a small lens the head on the Manfrotto will probably do an okay job with smooth pans and tilts.  This head does have a good locking system for panning, but not for tilting - to lock this off you have to tighten up the resistance to full.  If you decide to start adding to your rig in the future, with a monitor or EVF, a long lens, a shoulder rig or a bigger camera, this head just won't cut it.   


As you move up the Manfrotto price range you get the 504 (in the picture) and 509, these can take a heavier payload (around 7kg or 15lbs).  I must admit, I am not a huge fan of these tripods, the locking systems that stop the pan and tilt are never that sturdy, the plate on the top never seems to have enough travel forwards or back to correctly balance the camera.  These things I can put up with, but the thing that annoys me most about these tripods is the legs.  Several times I have used Manfrotto legs on a job (never my choice) where one of the legs starts to slide down mid shoot.  This is usaully solved by tightening the legs with an Allen key (if you happen to have one) not ideal.



Even if you don't need the additional payload at the moment, my advice would be to spend a bit more and go for something like a Miller, Satchler or Oconner.  I have heard of people shooting for their entire careers on one Satchler 20, these things are built to last.


Miller Arrow 40 Tripod Head

Of the three mentioned above the Miller work out the cheapest.  Miller are an Australian company, and their tripod designs are very much like that of Satchler.  The Miller Arrow 40 has a payload of 16kg (So just under that of Satchler V18 at 18kg) and the Arrow 50 is 25kg (Comparable to the Satchler V20 - also with a 25kg payload).

I have used both of these heads a great deal.  They work in much the same way, the only obvious difference is the operation of the tilt and pan drag mechanisms, but both work fine.  Both heads are decent quality and produce good smooth movement.  The only slight issue worth bringing up between these two is that the Miller's head has an unusually large screw handle that secures the head to the tripod legs, this isn't in itself a big deal, but some grip gear is designed with satchler in mind, such as dolly's, or high hats, and the miller screw won't always fit as it is so long.  This isn't a massive issue as you can get hold of a smaller satchler screw to hold the tripod head in place, but it is worth noting.Satchler 20 tripod head

A slight plus point with me for Miller is the feet. Satchler feet often need to be fiddled with to make sure they are flat on the ground, whereas the Miller design seems to work better for me.

As you can see, not much to talk about between the two tripods here, so it may just come down to price and the payload that works best for your gear.










Cine 7 7 Satchler head

Although the Satchler V18 and V20 are the heads that are most commonly used for TV work, a new head that I recently used was the Satchler Cine 7+7 HD.  I was really impressed with this head.  One of the best features is the plate that has lots of forwards and backwards travel (around 6 inches).  This is really useful when using single chip cameras such as the Sony F3, F5, Canon C300 etc.  When using these cameras the weight distribution changes massively depending on whether you have rear external batteries, monitors, different lenses etc.  This larger amount of travel really helps balance the camera on the head properly. Under the plate is a great little feature, screw holes where you can store an additional pin, 1/4" and 3/8" screws - simple stuff but very useful. It also has a good solid feel: lots of the tightening leavers are metal rather than plastic.  




Oconnor 1030d tripod headThe next tripod to talk about is Oconnor.  Oconnor traditionally make tripods for the film industry although more recently they have made tripods with a slightly lower payload for camera such as the F3, C300, RED Epic etc.  In my opinion these tripods are great.  There is something incredibly solid about the way these heads operate.   A slight problem with the locking mechanisms on the Satchler and Miller tripod is that they are located off centre on the head itself.  If you tilt down and then go to lock the camera off at the very end of the move, by pushing the lock leaver, you can easily upset the move by pushing the head down.  With Oconnor this just doesn't happen, you come to the end of your move, switch the leaver and it is rock solid.  The Oconnor 1030d has a payload of 30 LBS (13.6 kg) and the S version 41 LBS (18.6 kg).  Price wise, compared to the payloads of the Satchler the Oconnor is the most expensive of the bunch.  For a 1080ds with carbon fiber sticks you are looking at around 7000 pounds in the UK, or just over that figure in dollars in the US.

Although it is expensive, this thing is built like a tank.  Everything feels very solid.  No matter how many times this thing gets thrown into the back of a van or hurled off an aeroplane by a disgruntled baggage handler, it will surely last. 


Another tripod I am a big fan of is the Miller DS20.  I use this with my C300 for run and gun work when I need a lightweight tripod.  The DS20 packs down really small and is super light.  It also spreads wide and sits very low to the ground, so no need for a high hat or baby legs with this thing.

Further reading:

Miller tripods


Miller DS20 review.












Canon C300 Rigs

C300 redrock rig

I have used a few different rigs with the C300 many of which were good.  The most important thing for me when buying the rig was getting something modular, I didn't want to invest in a rig for a camera which would be useless when I changed camera, I wanted something that I could add to and adapt to different shooting scenarios with different cameras.  Most of the top name rigs work in this way, including Redrock, Zacuto and Vocas.


This picture on the left was the rig I started out with when the C300 first came out.  This consists of Redrock parts with a manfrotto quick release plate to mount the camera directly to the Redrock shoulder rig.  The advantage of this rig is having a comfortable shoulder pad - great for long shoots with lots of hand held work. This worked ok, but the camera always felt a bit high on the shoulder, the C300 is already a fairly top heavy camera so I decided to change things around to bring the camera lower down.

C300 redrock rig


On the right is my current set up, it is much the same as before, although I here use a Vocas riser to mount the camera.  The vocas riser allows the camera to slide onto the bars, bringing 
the camera down closer to my eye line.  There is no shoulder pad, I decided against it as it is perfectly stable without one, by pushing forward on the bars a little the weighted block at the back sit snugly onto your back and keeps the camera stable.  I also removed one of the weighted blocks as it wasn't needed and creates a nice light rig without it.








Vocas riser on C300


The vocas riser allows you to slide in 15mm rails, which give you the correct height to add on a matte box and follow focus.  It is a pretty solid steel construction and has movable screw holes on both top and bottom, so you can slide the camera or tipod wedge into the correct position.  I tend to leave this on the camera all the time and slide the rails in whenever I am doing handheld work.









 C300 rig with Noga arm

Another big benefit of the Vocas riser is the screw holes on both sides, these are great for attaching monitors etc.  I often add my monitor using a Noga Arm, this is useful as you can set the LCD screen to view assist and feed the Clog picture into the monitor.  It is also useful when you don't have a large dedicate client/director monitor, this way they can just look over your shoulder and see what you are shooting.












The Redrock rig packs down very small if needed, I break it down into just 4 parts, so it is quick to assemble.  I have used Zacutto rigs that were broken down into so many parts it was like some kind of Maccano set, and took an age to build - not idea at the beginning of every shoot.














 Zacuto C300 Stinger rig

The Zacuto Stinger is another popular rig for the C300.  The good point about this is that the shoulder pad is low on the bars, so the camera isn't mounted too high up.   I am not a huge fan of this rig, simply becuause of the distance the hand grips are from the lens and the camera.  They are fairly comfortable to hold like this, especially with the ball sockets in the handles which help with positioning, but when you want to quickly reach up to focus, the camera seems miles away.  This could just be a complaint personal to me though.
















Another rig that I have used that is worth looking at is from Tilta.  Tilta are a Chinese company, but there gear is much better quality than a lot of the Chinese made video gear on the market.  The rig has a small plate that fits onto the camera and then slides onto the Tilta plate, which in tern mounts onto a normal V mount quick release plate (those designed for standard Sony ENG style cameras).  There are holes at the front and rear for adding bars for rear weights, v lock battery adapters and hand grips.  The big plus about these tilta rigs is the price.  The item to the left goes for 430 pounds in the UK, add some hand grips and rods, and you will still have something costing less than a similar sized rig from Zacuto or Redrock.


If I had any complaints about this rig it would be that the camera doesn't lock in quite as tightly to the mount as I would like.  The camera is held in place by a screw fitting which can come a little lose causing a slight wobble on the camera.  This however, is a fairly minor complaint as you just have to ensure you keep tightening the screw when it loosens.

vignette on EFS 17-55mm lens on Canon C300

EFS Lens vignette and Canon's Peripheral illumination correction.

In many ways the 17-55mm EFS Canon lens is a great lens for the C300, it is stabilized, it has a good range for the C300 and it is pretty fast at 2.8f.  There is however a small issue with vignetting.  EFS lenses are designed to be used on Canon's 1.6 crop cameras such as the 7d, the sensor size of the Canon C300 is slightly larger and I imagine this is where the problem comes in.  The first issue I found is the flair hood for this lens (Canon EW-83J) which works fine when the lens is used on the Canon 7d, suddenly starts to vignette.  This isn't such a huge problem, and I just hacked at the sides of the hood with my leatherman, cutting off a few mil and problem solved - or so I thought.

I was working in an infinite white studio the other day and noticed the vignette with or without the hood.  I decided to take a few test shots back at home (this is where this post gets even more geeky).

vignette on 17-55mm on canon c300


Here is a test shot from the 17-55mm lens of a white wall.  Light fall off can definitely be seen at the edges of the frame.

This frame was taken at 17mm wide open at 2.8.









17-55mm efs lens vignette on C300 

This shot was taken at 55mm and the vignette was still there although less evident, I defocussed the shot - focusing nearer to the camera, and the light fall of is apparent.









I tried these shots with the stabilizer on the lens on and off.  With the stabilizer on the problem is worse, with the stabilizer off, the light fall off is still visible.

Like a lot of things, this can of course be fixed in post, however, it is certainly well worth thinking about this when choosing to use this lens.  I imagine the same defect would be present on all EFS lenses on the C300. 

So what about Canon's Peripheral Illumination Correction?  I have played around with this this and the difference is pretty big.  When I flicked the illumination on and off I saw a big difference and not just in the very far corners.  I exported a few frame grabs of this, but it is not very clear from them.  The only way to see it clearly is by actually watching it.




peripheral illumination correction on C300I wasn't sure how peripheral illumination worked and worried that it might just be a slight digital zoom in, it isn't.  This is what Canon say about it.

"Peripheral Illumination Correction automatically corrects for any lens vignetting, accounting for specific lens characteristics such as focal length, working aperture, and distance setting. This produces even illumination across the frame, from center to corner. Canon engineers thoroughly test different Canon EF and EF-S lenses, map-out the specific vignetting characteristics of each lens, and this data is input into the camera. As images are taken, the camera records this information, and lens-specific correction is applied during in-camera processing to minimize the natural darkening that would otherwise occur toward the edges of video images."

I haven't used this on an actual shoot, however, on twitter @anticipatemedia said that it causes issues when trying to grade the footage in C-log.    I guess if you are going to grade the footage, peripheral illumination correction isn't a great idea, as you are taking control away from the colourist, however, it may be a useful function for fast turn around shoots.

Which DSLR lens to buy if only buying one

I have been asked several times "Which is the best DSLR lens to buy", often by people who really only want to buy one lens.  The simple answer is that ther is no "best lens" as each lens is very different and designed for different purposes at different price points, however, I wanted to answer the question as best as I can here.

Canon 50mm 1.4fPrime lenses always give the best quality for the money: they tend not to breathe much, they are typically very fast and very reasonably priced (with the 50mm usually being the cheapest).  For example, for around £350 or $300 you can pick up a Canon EOS 50mm 1.4f or pay a touch more and get a 1.4 Zeiss, which have a better throw and sharper optics.  These are excellent lenses, they give you a really shallow depth of field, they are great in low light, however, they have a fixed focal length and you will constantly have to move the camera backwards and forward to frame up each shot.








If you tend to work on shoots that require a degree of speed, you may not have time to constantly change between your prime lenses, or shift the camera backwards and Canon 24-105mmforwards, and so a more practical option is a zoom lens.  Zoom lenses have a lot of glass in them, which means they tend to be slower i.e they are less good in low light and have a bigger depth of field.  The more money you pay for these lenses, the faster they become.  If you are going to be doing a lot of run and gun work, and you don't have time to constantly change lenses, the best lens has to be the Canon EOS 24-105mm.  This lens has a really big range (over 6x) for a DSLR lens, and most importantly it has a constant aperture.  Cheaper lenses tend to have variable aperture - this would be an absolute nightmare for video work, it may work fine for photography, but if you are filming something, the last thing you need is to have to adjust the exposure every time you zoom in or out.  The other good point about the 24-105mm is that it is an L series lens, meaning the build quality is good, it is weather sealed and you know you are using something with professional quality optics.   Another big advantage of this lens is the image stabilization, which is useful when shooting video. The only downside to this lens is it is relatively slow at f4, but that said cameras are so much better in low light these days that this is less of an issue than in the past. 


For most of the work I do, there is at least some time to switch lenses.  I prefer to use faster zooms with a f2.8 aperture.  These give you slightly less range, but then I  think it is worth it for the shallow depth of field.  You can read more about these lenses here.

Another point to consider when splashing out for a lens is that these lenses hold their value incredibly well.  I once bought a long lens for a shoot, I wasn't that happy with it, so traded it in on ebay after a few weeks.  I had bought the lens new from a shop at a discounted price and when I sold it on ebay, it actually went for £5 more than I paid for it.  It is well worth investing in decent glass, and if you decide you want to trade it in at a later date, you won't have lost much, unlike your camera, which will drop like a stone.


PL Zoom Lenses Fujinon and angenieux optimo

Yesterday I did a shoot with two Canon C300s and two PL zooms.  One was the new Fujinon 19-90 T2.9 (named "Cabrio" for some strange reason) and the other was the Angenieux Optimo 28-76 T2.6 (seen in the photo below).

angenieux optimo C300Most of the time I use EOS lenses on my C300, so thought I would write a few quick notes on these two lenses.  Obviously a big factor in a PL zoom lens like this is the range.   The Fujinon has the most range 19-90 being 4.7x which gives you a better range than most EOS lenses with the 70-200 being under 3x (Only the 24-105 has a bigger range, but that is a fairly slow lens at 4f).  It also has a rocker button, like an ENG style lens, this can be powered with a cable running to a D-tap.  I run my C300 with on-board batteries, so don't have a D-tap coming from a V-lock mount, so didn't actually try out the rocker.  The general feel of this lens is very much like that for a 2/3 inch camera, although this is a smaller, lighter weight lens.  The Fujinon lens is around 6lb, or under 3kg, however it still makes the camera very front heavy, so you would need a decent counter balance if you were using it on a handheld shoulder rig.


The build quality of both lenses is excellent.  The focus ring, zoom and iris control are all really clearly marked, and the throw on the fujinon 19-90 PL zoomfocus is huge compared to EOS lenses.  This is a feature I really liked.  Pulling focus from one thing to the next, while remembering the distance mark on the focus ring, makes it really easy to snap the focus from one thing to the next.

I was looking at the image through a large monitor, and both lenses had a good filmic quality to them, unfortuneately I didn't have any other lenses to compare them with.  At T2.9 and 2.6 These lenses are both a very reasonable speed, considering how much they can zoom.


The fujinon definitely feels like it is aimed at the documentary style, run and gun shooter, more so than the Angenieux.  The hangrip and the rocker button would work well for handheld situations.

So the final thing to say is how much these lenses cost.  The Fujinon is around £30k in the UK and $38 in the US so it is not a cheap option.  The Angenieux tend to go for slightly more around 35k in the UK.

Are they worth the high price tag?  I think that all C300 users are crying out for a mid range zoom.  If you go for a photography lens you get the 24-70L Canon 2.8, this is a nice lens, but not quite wide enough, or you have the 17-55s Canon which has a nice wide end, but not quite long enough (there is also slight vignette issues).  For me the range and speed of the Fujinon 19-90 makes it an ideal lens for broadcast tv work.  The rental prices on this lens is currently around 320 UK pounds a day, for that price you could rent an entire PMW 500 kit with camera lens sticks the lot.  For me this isn't cost effective.  Great lens, great range, nice optics, fast, but just a bit too expensive.

Kate Middleton Portrait artist Paul Emsley for National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery commissioned a short film to show the final stages of the painting of the Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton) by artist Paul Emsley.  There was only a short amount of time allotted to film this, just a few hours, and for a piece like this there is always the danger that it can end up looking like a news item.   Paul's studio was very small, so I decided to shoot much of the video on prime lenses to keep the depth of field as shallow as possible to give some depth to the room.  There are a few slider shots to give the piece a bit of movement, these were done on a small 1 meter slider, which was still fairly hard to work with in such a small space, but I think it was worth the effort.

Sony PMW F5 vs Canon C300 vs RED

Some thoughts on the new Sony F5


The Sony F5 has entered the market, competing with cameras like Canon's C300 and RED's Epic


Sony F5
For the past few years Sony seemed to have been relatively quiet, whilst RED and Canon have been busy bringing cameras that have had huge appeal and must be taking a very significant chunk out of Sony's market.  Sony have now brought out a camera that, on paper, looks amazing and has aimed the price right where it will hurt Canon and RED the most.

The Sony F5 is advertised on CVP for £10,295 in the UK + VAT and $16,490 USD from B&H in the US.  The Canon C300 is currently selling for £9,150.    No doubt you would spend a touch more on Sony F5 accessories than with the Canon C300, first off you need a view finder (from CVPs site it isn't clear, but it doesn't look like the viewfinder is included) at around £2000, and the batteries will set you back £300 each.  





Sony PMW F5 side panel The side panel of the camera bares more than a passing resemblance to Arri's Alexa, which is no bad thing.  This is a panel that is well configured and easy to use.

Sony have been making cameras for professional, broadcast use for years, and it shows.  There is a lot about this camera that just makes sense ergonomically: XLR audio inputs are positioned at the base of the camera. (Unlike the C300/500 which attaches them to an LCD monitor, which firstly you may not wish to use, and secondly is higher than the lens, so you have to be careful not to let the cables get in your shot ).

Right next to the timecode is an "in/out" switch, what a great idea!  With the C300 that same function is located inside a menu, which isn't great when you are at the beginning of a shoot trying to hurriedly jam synch two cameras.

Having a proper viewfinder is really a massive selling point for me.  All other cameras in this mid range seem to have some sort of compromise: tiny tail eye pieces that block out the light but don't give you an image big enough to correctly focus and expose with, or flip out LCD screens that work great indoors, but are less good outside in bright sunshine.  Even work arounds for this such as external EVFs still  have issues, either they are not as easy to move around into different positions or the data from the camera, such zebras, digital zooms, peaking etc aren't transferred across.

Sony-F5-modularAnother big selling point is the shape, this thing just looks like a decent block that is meant to sit on your shoulder.  The C300 is definitely too top heavy and can be a little bit awkward for handheld stuff.  

The filter wheel is right where it should be (unlike the C300 that has buttons that feel exactly like all the other buttons on the camera, so not something you would want to use without taking your eye away from the eyepiece).

As far as the technical specs on this camera go they look very interesting.  First off it is able to record in MPEG 422 8-bit or  XAVX 422-10bit.   The frame rate goes up to 120 fps without cropping. However, this is an option, i.e you have to pay for it, as standard the camera shoots half speed (50 or 60 frames at full res).   There is also the external recorder that allows 4k recording .  This will cost an extra £3,599, but if you don't need 4k immediately it is a great way to future proof your camera.  Again this is something that looks ergonomically sensible: rather than an external recorder that has to be attached in some awkward, off-balanced manor, this thing just clicks seamlessly onto the back of the camera.



I bought a 2nd C300 only a 2 months ago, if the F5 was available then would I have bought it ?  To be honest, looking at the specs and the ergonomics, I would have to go with the F5.  That said, whether you have a C300 or a Sony F3 or whatever it, you will still be able to make your money back on it, and that is what matters.  Those cameras still both produce amazing images.

Broadcast calimed that CVP has ordered 100 of the F5 and Toptechs 40, so it is already looking like a popular option.

Update.  Since I wrote this back in November of last year, I have had a chance to use the Sony F5 a number of times.  The first obvious thing about it is the heft and weight of it, if feels more solid than I expected and not at all pastic-y.  There are 4 mount points on the top of the camera, which is great for the top handle and other accessories.  Arri have made plate for the F5 and F55, which has a cheese plate for multiple mounting options of monitors etc and a top handle.  This is a defiinite advantage over the C300 which only has one small screw.  I also like the fact the the F5 can be rested on the floor, this sounds like a simple thing, but it is quite important, I often find myself passing the C300 to someone to hold just because if I put it down anywhere it will tople over, which isn't great.  When I first used the camera I realised the minimum iso was 2000, 2000!!! minimum.  I thought I'd made a mistake at first, as most cameras (C300, RED, Alexa etc ) tend to be rated around 800-850 iso, so you would imagine this thing will work pretty well in low light conditions.


I really like the look of the F5 in S-Log even straight out of the camera.  The image isn't so flat that you need a different looking profile to help you find focus (as you might with the Alexa or C300).  There are plenty of options out there to attach moose bars, shoulder pads etc to allow you to shoot handheld.  With the C300 I tend to add on additional weight behind the camera to help the balance, but this isn't necessary with the F5 as the camera is longer and less tall and makes a bit more sense ergonomically.


Overall the camera is fairly straight forward and simple to use, if you are used to using Sony cameras.  The menu is prety extensive and there are lots of options as you would expect.  If you have a job booked in with one of these cameras and you haven't used it, it is well work having a look at the online simulator.


The camera comes with a Sony mount, which you then need to add an adapter to if you want to mount a PL lens.  This seems slightly odd to me, to buy a camera that comes as standard with a mount that you will never use.


If you are deciding between a C300 or an F3 a big consideration is obviously going to be lenses.  With the C300 you can choose PL or EOS mount with the F3 it is just a Sony mount which you can then adapt to PL mount.  Now to really confuse matters Arri have the Amira, which will be available in B4 PL or EOS.  


Here is an F5 online simulator if you want to look at the menu systems.

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Upgrading from DSLR 7d or 5d is it worth it?

Upgrading from dslr 7d and 5d, is it worth it?

I have been shooting with the Canon C300 since  it first came out, since then I must admit it is very rare that I use my Canon 7d at all.

I did a job last week where the director really wanted 7d so I went back to it.  There is a big difference between using the two cameras and I thought I'd write down my observations, as it might be a good guide for those thinking of upgrading their DSLR, to see if it is worth the extra cash.

The biggest difference is the form factor.  Using a C300 is way easier than a DSLR.  I use a TV logic 5.6 monitor with the 7d, this works well for focusing however, I found myself constantly having to re rig the monitor at different angles often detaching it from the camera all together.  The C300s lcd monitor moves around so much more quickly and easily, saving you time.  The other big issue is exposure.  The 7d has no zebras so can be really tricky to expose correctly, it can be done of course (for a more detailed info on exposing DSLRS correctly see here), but again it just takes time.  With the C300 it is really easy to quickly flick up the zebras and spot check skin exposure.

Once you have the footage back in the edit suite this is where you see the big difference.  The C300 has a massive dynamic range and the colours and contrast can really be pushed and pulled, do this to the 7d footage and you quickly end up in a mess - there just isn't the latitude for it.

The other issue with the 7d footage is moire.  The camera really struggles with fine detail, and this seems somewhat heightened when movement is involved.

In the footage below there are a couple of bits that really jumped out at me (although it is slightly less noticeable with vimeo s compression.)  This first section is at 0:26.  The metal protecting the wooden platform (towards the bottom of the frame).  This looks really dodgy to me is seems to strobe and even the colours look a bit weird.  Would this past a QT test before being aired on the BBC?  I very much doubt it, but in this case the footage is a US broadcaster, so we shall see.

{vimeo width="840" height="480"}52551860{/vimeo}

The next issue I noticed was in the close up shots: the eyebrows seemed to have this same issue, as the fine detail just couldn't be correctly rendered with the 7d, this can be seen at  0:41.  In this case the shot is pretty quick and might slip through quality control.

If you are using DSLR for the web, then fine, but for broadcast work I think these issues could easily trip you up at some point, and so for me a fully functioning video camera is the way to go.

Canon C300 Custom profiles and gamma curves

Canon C300  Custom profiles and gamma curves.

The C300 has 9 scene files that can be used, or turned off all together.  These files are accessed via the "picture profile" button on the side of the camera.  These are labelled  C1 to C9.   Additional custom profiles can be made or uploaded from the internet, put on an SD card and then loaded onto the camera.  These files then appear as S1-S20 and can be loaded onto the camera, or just used directly from the card.

The last 2 of these in camera profiles are locked as standard:
C8: Cinema (This uses the Clog gamma curve for the greatest dynamic range.)
C9: Eos standard (same look as the standard picture profile on Canon DSLR - this tends to give fairly accurate colours, but it is also pretty punchy with regards to contrast and saturation.  I tend not to use it for this reason as it looks too vivid and blows highlights easily.)

The cinema profile using the Canon Clog gamma curve gives you the flattest image, with the greatest dynamic range.  This profile does get the most out of the camera, but requires a fair bit of grading in post.

Canon C300 CP Cinema picture profile CLOGThere are two way to access the Cinema / Clog profile: through the picture profile button on the side of the camera, or through the menu system.  For the menu route, go to the  menu button on the back of the camera, pick the camera icon > CP cinema locked >select ON and SET.  (CP locked will appear on the left of the screen.)

This will then disable the CP button on the side of the camera, (Until you go back into the menu and turn CP lock off).  CP cinema locked means you are using the standard Canon Log Gamma as it comes from the factory, this way you can guarantee you are using a profile that hasn't been adjusted by another user.  There is however a small amount of sharpening added when using this route.


With cameras such as the Arri Alexa, you can assign a REC 709 gamma curve to an evf, to give you a more standard looking picture to work with.  The C300 has a similar function when using Clog called view assist.  I like using this in the view finder so you can get an idea of how the image might look when graded.  I find this really helps with focusing.  For more focusing help check out this.

Inside each of the 9 scene files there are many of the usual elements you would expect that you can edit: gamma curve, black, black gamma, low key saturation, knee, sharpness etc etc.  Alan Roberts, a highly respected technician from the BBC, has written a paper on his recommended settings, I have noted down some of these comments in quotes below - followed by AR.

There are 8 Gamma curves to chose from:

Normal1 (default) NHK 4.0
Normal2 REC709 4.0 ("the 709 curve with lower slope near black"AR)
Normal3 REC709
Normal4 BBC 0.4
Cine1 ("cinema like tones"  "film for video…good for a film look for TV" AR)
Cine2 ("softer contrast"AR)
Canon Log
Eos Std

The final option is to shoot with no picture profile at all.

This test from Kevin Richie on vimeo shows each of the gamma curves.


If there isn't time for a grade and client wants a baked in look, for a quick turn around edit, it probably makes sense to go with Normal3 (REC709).  Here is what Alan Roberts has to say on this: "For broadcast purposes either Gamma 3 (ITU-709) or 4 (BBC 0.4) is perfectly acceptable. The BBC curve always produces more accurate colour rendition, but the 709 curve is normal for HDTV shooting"

Either you can make your own adjustment to create a custom picture profile, or download one from one of the many C300 users out there.  I have used several of these which I prefer to use over the Normal 3 profile.

DP Brian Weed made some alterations to to the Cine, Log, and Eos Std picture settings, that means there should be less grading needed in the edit.  These can be downloaded from the links below, or to read more about each CP log you can read up on them here.


Another CP profile that I like is from Australian DP Roger Price.  He has taken the recommendations of Alan Roberts and produced a CP profile that can be used straight out of the camera with no grading.  Great for fast turn around shoots.
A video of the profile, and a link to download it can be found here.

Abel Cine, who are a great resource for information about camera equipment, have several different picture profiles for the C300 for shooting in different conditions. 


For those who aren't familiar with the C300, here is a quick video I made to explain how to change the different custom picture profiles:





Also, if you don't own a Canon C300 and want to get familiar with these picture profiles before a job, Canon have a C300 simulator on line, so you can see how to load up various profiles for yourself.

Links to several camera simulators including the Canon C300, C500 Arri Alexa, Sony F5 can be found here.


Finally, a point made by Alister Chapman on twitter recently was that shooting flat isn't always best.  It is an interesting point as so much has been made of shooting with the flatest profile possible recently.  The point is that the camera only records a certain amount of data per second and using up all of this data with the widest possible dynamic range doesn't always make sense.  Not every scene requires a massive dynamic range, especially if you are shooting inside a studio.  

UPDATE:  With the latest Canon Update you now have a further profile Canon's Wide Dynamic Range.  This image give you a brief idea of how the profile will perform. 


There is more info on the latest fimware update here

Best picture profile for shooting in low light.

Lens comparison and crop factors

Firstly, before getting into this a word of caution. Using the idea of a "crop factor" is slightly tricky, as to have a crop factor you need a reference guide, from which perspective all other sensor sizes are cropped.  With the advent of DSLR filming and "full frame" 5d and 1d some people talk of all other smaller sensor sizes as being cropped.  However, the  smaller sensor size of Super 35 has been a standard in the film industry for years.  For example, when working on an Arri Alexa most people from a film and TV background don't think of a 50mm lens as having the field of vision of a 70mm lens as it has been "cropped into", for them a 50mm lens is a 50mm lens on an Alexa and they are not comparing it to the image you would get on a 36 x 24mm full frame sensor such as the 5d or 1d.


Having said this, so many people are using this crop factor as compared to the 35mm full frame chip that I will continue to use this as a reference guide here.


Firstly the cameras. 

35mm Full Frame: 

sensor size: 36x24mm

Canon  5D and 1D

Super 35mm chip: 

Sensor Size 24.9 x14mm (these have a crop factor of around 1.4 to 1.5 as compared to full frame cameras although sensor size varies slightly in this group)

Red Epic, Scarlet  (25.9 x 14.5)

Canon C300 C100 C500  (24.6 x13.8mm)

Arri Alexa (23.8 x 13.4mm)

Sony F65/F3, FS100, FS700  (23.6 x13.3)

Sony F55 F5 (22.6 x12.7mm)


APS-C chip:

Sensor size 22.2x14.8 crop factor of 1.6

Canon 7d, 60d, 50d (22.2x14.8mm)


4/3 inch chip:

sensor size: 17.8 x 10 crop factor of 2

Panasonic AF101


Blackmagic design camera

sensor size: 15.8 x 8.9 mm


2/3 inch chip:

Sensor size:   9.6 x 5.4mm   cameras have a crop factor of around 4x

Sony XDCAM 700/800 

Panasonic AJ-HPX3000

Most other traditional ENG style broadcast cameras.


In the image below, I have illustrated each sensor size as a comparison tool.  This image is 4 x the sensors actual size, so that the relative differences are easier to see.  As you can see, the difference between the yellow from the 7d to the red Super 35 is small even at 4x.  This is somewhat confusing as the actual sensors don't have the same aspect ratio, as they are also used for 4:3 recording or photos in the case of the stills cameras.  (To see the changes to the field of vision when in movie recording mode, see the next picture.)

video sensor size comparison 

This next image demonstrates the relative field of vision you would get from each sensor.  All of these are now 16:9 as the stills camera would be shooting in video mode at this aspect.



With the advent of new 4k technology, cameras such as the Sony F55 / F5 are able to shoot at 2k using a crop of their own sensor.  The great thing about that is it opens up the possibility of using lenses designed for smaller sensors or film.  The centre crop mode on the F55/5 will allow you to use 16mm lenses, and there are some amazing 16mm lenses out there which are incredibly cheap.  I haven't tried using one of these on an F55, but my guess is that if it works well they won't be cheap for much longer.

Since there is a massive difference in the crop factor of 2/3 inch cameras and single chip cameras, I thought I'd write up a few lens range comparisons.  Many of us are used to working with Canon broadcast lenses such as HJ11, HJ22 etc, and since these are designed for B4 mount, 3 chip cameras the crop factor is pretty large.  Here are a few notes on how different lenses compare.


Lens size

2/3 inch 4x crop  Effective Focal Length

HJ11: 4.7 - 52mm

With doubler 9.4-104mm

HJ22: 7.6~168mm

with doubler 15~336mm

18.8mm to 208mm

37.6mm - 415mm

30mm - 672mm

doubler 121 - 1,462mm


This next table illustrates the difference between a full frame camera and a APS-C chip camera such as a 7d. 



Full Frame no crop

1.6 crop  effective focal length

(NB super 35 chip cameras will be very slighly wider here)










70-200mm with 1.4 extender 98- 280mm

70-200 with 2x extender 140-400









112- 320mm



Interestingly the HJ 11 full focal range is 19mm to 415mm (including the doubler) so if you wanted to have the same focal range using a single chip camera with eos lenses, you would need pretty much every eos lenses they make.

It is possible to use B4 mount broadcast lenses on single chip cameras with a B4 to EOS or PL adapter from MTF.  Since Super 35 sensor cameras have such a large chip compared to the broadcast cameras, the lenses will only work with the doubler on (otherwise you would have a massive vignette.)   I have done this a few times, although I am not a massive fan of it as you are obviously shooting through a layer of doubler glass and the optics aren't that great, although in terms of practicalities it does work.  MTF make a good variety of adapters, which you can buy from B&H. 

This is the range such lenses would give you on a super 35 chip camera:

HJ11 = 15-166mm

HJ22 = 24- 538mm


For further reading:

Abel Cine have created a useful comparisson showing all of the main camera sensors field of vision as compaired to super 35mm

Also from Abel Cine is an intersting tool that automatically calculates the field of vision on any lens size you choose from most of the major cameras in use.


Can you use the Canon C300 for reality/entertainment shows

I recently did some work for ITV's Dancing on Ice on my Canon C300 and thought I'd note down a few things: pluses and minuses for using the C300 for this kind of work.

dancing on ice shoot For me the C300 really excels when you can control the situation you are filming.   Web commercials, corporate films, traditional style documentaries or low budget films all tend to have a slower pace and the action can be stopped and repeated to ensure you have the shot.  When a director from ITV called me and said he wanted to improve the look of the first episode of a new series of Dancing on Ice and liked the C300, I imagined trying to follow focus as a load of untrained celebrities careered around the ice in an uncontrolled fashion, that said, I am always up for a challenge.

Firstly, some plus points.  The C300 has all of the features you would expect of a normal broadcast camera, which allows it to fit in with the rest of the cameras on a large scale shoot.  For any shoot where several cameras are recording, synching them together with timecode becomes essential to the edit.  A lock it box can be attached to the camera, and it has a TC in, so you can feed the camera timecode that won't drift throughout the day.  The camera can be black balanced, something that the camera assistant or DIT might want to do at the start of each shoot.  It is also really easy to dial in an exact colour temperature, which makes life easy matching shots in the edit.




There are always going to be a few negative points or difficulties when working with any single chip camera and the first of these is lens range.  With a traditional 3 chip camera, such as the Sony XDcam, the lenses focal range is massive.  Take the standard Canon HJ22 lens, it has a 22x zoom, with a flick of switch you have a doubler in, increasing that range to 44 x.  By comparison, a large sensor camera, such as the C300 using the 70-200mm lens give you a range of just under 3x.  You can of course put in a doubler of sorts (with a canon 2x extender) but this takes time to mount, and then you still only have a focal range of under 6x compared to 44x from the HJ22.

70-200 canon lens

You could of course use a lens like the HJ22 on a C300 using an EOS to B4 mount adapter.  This gives you a lot of range (although not without the doubler as it must always be in to help with the crop factor), however, the whole point of using a single chip camera like the C300 is to use nice lenses with a shallow depth of filed, so chucking a HJ22 on it, in some senses, defeats the point.  I only use an HJ22 on a C300 when I really need the range. (For a more in depth look at lens ranges and crop factors see this article)

What lenses with a long range give you is an ability to quickly respond to something that is happening, be it close or far a way, if you happen to have the wrong lens on when something dramatic happens, you could miss it.


The next challenge is focusing.  Shooting with a shallow depth of field, while people move around and the scene is totally unstructured is of course going to be tricky.  The issue with reality style programmes is that directors are usually looking for interesting synch from whoever is on the show.  Often everything that is said is recorded in it's entirety onto an audio hard drive, and APs will be noting down interesting bits of dialogue.  This will inform the directors choice of which shots to use, so it is important to keep shots usable and in focus for the longest stretches of time possible.


I guess to answer to the original question, can you use the Canon C300 for reality and entertainment shows, the answer is yes.  Although standard 3 chip cameras such as the XDCAM 800 are likely to be in focus for more of the time, and can access a greater range or vision, there is a trade off to be made.  The C300 could potentially record less moments, but the footage it does capture is pretty stunning.  I think the filmic look the camera has, the colour quality, the shallow depth of field and the large dynamic range, means the sacrifice is worth while.


Should I buy the new Canon C300?

When the C300 was announced, I read several articles about it and then decided it was the camera for me and put my name on a waiting list.  I am sure there are a lot of people out there asking "should I buy the Canon C300" and the answer really depends on the kind of work you do.

Obviously the image quality is great. The Clog profile in particular works well, it has a flat look that gives a really good dynamic range, which can then be tweaked in post to look stunning.  I am not going to talk too much about about the image quality here as compared to the Sony F3 or the RED Scarlet or whatever, as I am sure that is covered well elsewhere.  The only thing of interest from my point of view is that the camera records on a 4k chip to deliver 1080 and 4:2:2 in camera.  This means it is easily going to fit into the most stringent broadcast requirements for HD.  I shot this test footage in Clog and deliberately went for contrasty looking images.  The images are very clean and sharp in my opinion and this is with a certain amount of compression in from Vimeo.  There are also several shots which have a lot of tiny detail with movement in them, these are the kind of thing a DSLR would struggle with and give some kind of moire, but the C300 handled them fine.


If you have already invested in EOS lenses for a Canon 5d mark ii or a Canon 7d, then choosing the EOS mount is obviously a great way of saving money on glass.  I think these lenses offer unbelievable value.  I often use the 70-200mm IS 2.8f lens and think that the optics are fantastic. Considering how much you would pay for a full size broadcast lens or PL mount lens of a similar quality, these lenses are a bit of a bargain at under 2k.

One of the most important issues, to my mind, with this camera is the ergonomics and usability.  It is a really odd shaped piece of kit, the camera is pretty boxy and also quite tall.  If most of the shooting you do is on a tripod, a dolly or slider or whatever, then that really doesn't matter.  However, if you need to do large amounts of handheld work, then this could be an issue.   The camera has a hand grip on one side, so if you are doing a small amount of handheld then this would probably work well, but when shooting for any length of time you are going to need to rest the camera on your shoulder.

C300 Redrock mountAt different times, I have rigged the camera to a Vocas riser and also to my Redrock cinema rig  (using a manfrotto plate to attach the camera to the top of the Redrock shoulder mount).  The camera is pretty stable in this position and being able to manoeuvre the monitor is massive plus.  The LCD monitor rotates a full 180 and flips upside down, which means you can view it whilst the camera is on your shoulder.  This is great if you are indoors, but if you are outside and the sun is over your shoulder the monitor is going to be hard to make out.  Rather than having a tiny tail eye piece and and LCD monitor, I would rather have just one good eye piece.   If I was on a job with lots out handheld work outdoors I would probably rig an external EVF A review of the various C300 rig options can be found here.

All the buttons for the camera are great, they are clearly labelled and there are lots of assignable options, which saves time going into fiddly menu systems, as you have to do on so many other small cameras.  This is of course a bit tricky when you have the camera on your shoulder as all the buttons are right by your face and hard to reach, but the this is true of all small cameras.

The magnification button is pretty useful and the button is well placed on the handgrip right next to the record button.  It is a button I constantly use to check focus.  Personally, I prefer the magnification on the 7d where you can zoom in much further and you can dictate which part of the scene the camera zooms into.  Having said that, you do have peaking with the C300, which should make focusing easier without the need for a big zoom in.

The camera is pretty packed with video features, there is a waveform monitor and zebras, both of which are great for checking exposure.  Having the buttons for these on the outside of the camera means you can flick them on and off whilst you are recording to check the exposure of the picture. 

When using the Canon Clog profile everything looks so flat and the profile is so forgiving, with regards to correct exposure, it is actually hard to tell what is correct.  The view assist button is great here as it shows an image with more contrast that is easier to expose from, whilst still recording in the Clog profile.

Having 2 xlr inputs is obviously a big plus, but they are mounted on the strangest spot of the camera.  Firstly, they are on a detachable part of the of camera that holds the LCD screen.  To my mind this is nuts, it means if you decide to use a different monitor and that you don't need the LCD screen, tough, you have to keep it attached if you want to record audio.  The second massive issue with this is the ports are effectively over the lens.  I worked with a sound recordist this week and his audio tails were hanging down getting in the way of my hands and the lens all the time.  We had to tie the cables to the handle just to be able to work. Why aren't the XLR points on the back of the camera, like every other large broadcast camera?

For me these occasional negative points about the camera are minor enough that it is still a great investment.   The great, sharp clean looking images you get back, easily outweigh any niggles I might have about the ergonomics.  So to answer the question above: should I buy a C300?  If you already have EOS glass or PL for that matter, or you do work that doesn't involve much run and gun off the shoulder work then yes. 

If you feel like having a play around with the cameras interface, have a look at the Canon C300 on line simulator.


Still not sure?  Here is Martin Scorsese's opinion:

UPDATE 7 Feb 2012:

Since writing this article nearly a year has gone by and the C300 has proved pretty popular.  A pole of facilities houses by Televisual, which came out today, showed that the C300 came first in a list of the most in demand cameras over the last 12 months.  This is how the top 10 looks (The number in brakcets is the rank from the previous year):


1 (new)* Canon C300

2 (1) Arri Alexa
3 (4)Sony PDW-F800

4 (3) Canon XF305          
5 (10) Red Epic    
6 (8) Sony PMW-500       
7 (9) Canon EOS-5D MkII/MkIII
8 (2) Sony PMW-EX3
9 (5) Sony PDW-700       
10 (new) Sony F65  

super slow motion

I recently shot a viral (pun not intended) for the DVD release of the film Contagion.  The concept was pretty simple: the director wanted some super slow motion shots of a number of different people sneezing.  The idea was to then to CG in some snot hurtling towards the camera.  Like I say, pretty simple.

{vimeo width="840" height="480"}39105542{/vimeo}

At one time every Director / Producer / Cameraman was fascinated by timelapse, now it seems to be super slow motion.  So what are the options to achieve this kind of look?

phantom flexAt the top end of the budget range is the Phantom Flex and Phantom Gold, which shoot up to 1000 fps (frames per second).  There are a few things to consider with this, firstly, the cost.  These cameras are pretty expensive to hire per day just for the camera.  The next consideration is the DIT, you need someone to work with the data. Files are saved onto mags, for each shot you will need to consider whether to keep the shot or bin it, for this you need a DIT (Digital Imaging Technician).  You also need to think about lighting.  Shooting at very high frame rates will reveal flicker in many lighting types, so you will need to think about how you are going to light for this.  At 500 frames plus a second, you will need a lot of light, perhaps HMIs from 2.5k to 20k depending on where and what you are shooting.  For this kind of  lights size you need a significant amount of power - so you are looking at a truck and probably a gaffer.  As you can see the budget soon mounts up, and for this little viral it was not an option.



At the other end of the budget scale is a programme called Twixtor.  Twixtor doesn't work in every situation (otherwise it would have put Vision Research, who make Phantom cameras, out of business) however, for this situation it is perfect.  What Twixtor does is digitally add extra frames to your shot.  It does this by "warping and interpolating" frames, or in other words, it is guessing what would be there.  For a complicated scene, such as a person sprinting down Oxford street, Twixtor wouldn't stand a chance of guessing all those additional frames, as people and cars in the background would constantly be moving.  Also if the camera was being moved around, rather than locked off on a tripod, the background itself would be very hard to digitally recreate.

For Twixtor to work really well you need a background that is either fairly simple, or where the camera is locked off, so if doesn't change too much.  For this viral I shot the people against a plain back curtain, making life easy for Twixtor.  I also shot this on a Canon 7d at 50 frames a second, giving the editor a 50 percent slow motion to start with.  The other thing that helps when shooting slow motion is shooting at a higher shutter speed to prevent blurring.  So for a normal shot on a 7d I would shoot 25 frames at 50 shutter, (using ND and iso to expose correctly).  For 50 frames I would increase the shutter to 100, and if Twixtor is going to be used I would probably double this again.

This is a video that came out back in 2010, it blew me away when I first saw it, and is still hard to beat when it comes to showing what Twixtor can do.  It was shot on a Canon 7d at 60 frames and shows Twixtor creating 1000 frps slow motion shots.  Part of the reason Twixtor works so well here is the background - all the shots are locked off making life easier for Twixtor.

{vimeo width="840" height="480"}13557939{/vimeo}

How to get perfect skin tones on a DSLR 7d or 5d

After filming on 7ds and 5ds for a few years, I have realised that there is not much latitude with regards to perfect skin tones.  With these DSLRs it is really easy to blow the highlights and lose some detail in the face.  It can also be tricky to get the correct white balance, particularly in mixed light conditions, or where the face is small in frame, and therefore hard to judge manually.  A decent monitor can help with all of this, but it still means that a lot of guess work is being done.  There are of course times when you want under exposed skin tones, or a very cold, blue looking light certain scenes in a dramatic context, but for a basic sit down interview, you want correctly exposed and corectly white balanced tones.

Video cameras are set up for filming perfect skin tones: white balances are quick and easy to do, the black and white view finder helps assess exposure and zebras can be used to check skin tones or blown highlights.  On a video camera you would never just look through the view finder and think "yeah looks about right", without actually checking these functions, so why do it with a DSLR?  The following is a method I have found useful for getting accurate skin tones.

Firstly, we'll look at white balance.


How to get the correct white balance on a DSLR.

In some situations it is fine to use the white balance presets.  If it is a bright sunny day (around 5600 kelvin) then the outdoor preset will be about right; and the same is true if you are indoors using tungsten light, the indoor or tungsten preset will work (at 3200 kelvin).  However, often when filming interviews the light tends to vary from these presets.  You could be shooting indoors with a tungsten lighting setup, but ambient daylight could be creeping into the room, changing your 3200 kelvin light into something altogether cooler.  One option is to look at the light, make a guess and say it is around 4500 kelvin and turn the WB wheel around to 4500 kelvin and make minor adjustments from that figure.  There is an issue in this though, how do you know your monitor or evf is showing the correct colour? The monitor colour can often be slightly different from that displayed on the back of the camera, and in any case you are just guessing. A solution to this can be to us an 18 percent  grey card.


How to use an 18 percent grey card

When shooting with traditional video cameras I have always used a white card, however, it seems many photographers tend to use a grey card, the reason for this is that although both colours should give a correct white balance reading, a white card can occasionally reflect light directly into the camera lens, and give a false white balance.  Since HDSLRs are essentially stills cameras, I use the grey cards that photographers prefer.


The grey card should be held in place of the person you are shooting.  Make sure it is at head height as the light quality could be different elsewhere in the shot.

This is the menu screen for the Canon 7d (I imagine most cameras will be pretty similar and use the same icons).

Canon 7d Custom White balance menu

Stage 1:

Take a photo of the card, with the card filling the frame (if you are unable to fill the frame with the card, make sure the metering mode is on spot, so you are only metering off the card, and not the entire scene.  You can now use this photo to as a reference to set white balance.  Hit the MENU button, go to the 2nd page of menu items and hit Custom WB.










Canon 7d Custom White balance menu


A screen will pop up on the photo of the grey card you have just taken and ask you if you want to use that for your custom white balance.  Hit ok.











    Canon 7d Custom White balance menu


    After this you need to make sure you are using the custom WB reference you have just taken.  Again, press MENU, go to the 2nd page, scroll down to White balance, hit this and you will go through to a page with 9 options, pick the custom white balance option.  (The WB menu also has its own button on the top of the camera, I also have white balance set up in my custom menu so I can access it quickly as I use it a lot.)








    The next thing to consider is exposure.   Monitors are a great way to check correct focus on DSLRs, but they are not always perfect for exposure. This is where the 2nd use for your 18 percent grey card comes in handy.


    Using and 18 percent grey card for perfect exposure for skin tones.

    18 percent grey cardThis is a picture of my 18 percent grey card.  In this picture the exposure line was dead set in the middle (ie at 0, rather than a plus or minus figure).  The histogram should show a single fat line right in the  middle of the graph.

















    poorly exposed grey card







    This is a poorly exposed shot of the same grey card.  This was taken with the exposure line still in the dead centre, meaning that the shot as a whole is correctly exposed, however, the card is very underexposed.  If this was someone's face masses of detail would be missing from the image.














    correctly exposed grey cardFor this shot I kept the exposure at the same setting as in picture one, I then re positioned the camera and took the shot.  The exposure reading was saying 2 stops over, which it is when you consider the whole frame, the highlights have blow out but the grey is correct.  If you look at the grey card in this image, the exposure of the card is right and pretty much the same as in the first shot.  So if you were filming an interview at this exposure the skin tones would be accurate.







     You can just use a normal grey card, but I prefer to use this little popup ones from lastolite as they pack down really small and are very tough.


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    The last thing to consider with this is not everyone's skin tone is exactly the same as an 18 percent grey card.  A white skinned person, without a tan will be over the middle line by a stop and a back person will be under it by a stop.  It is still well worth taking a reading from an 18 percent gray card though, so you know where that middle is.


    audio recording with 7d and 5d

    How do you record audio when using a 7d, 5d mark 2 or other HDSLR?

    There are several different ways to do this, and which method you choose will depend on the type of sound quality you need and your budget.

    Option 1: Get a sound recordist to do it.  This is easily the best option, I nearly always use a sound recordist when shooting HDSLR.  All you need to make sure is that the Sound Operator owns a digital recorder so sound files can be recorded onto his or her hard drive and then synched with the HDSLR footage later.

    This synching can be done quickly and easily with a programme called Plural Eyes.  Plural Eyes picks out the audio levels on the internal camera mic and the sound recordists files and puts them together.  For this to work YOU MUST ENSURE AUDIO IS SWITCHED ON IN CAMERA, you won't use this audio, but it is needed as a guide.

    If the Sound Recordist is standing along way from the camera, the two sound sources may be different and therefore Plural Eyes will struggle to synch them.  There are a couple of ways around this. Firstly you can send signal from the Sound Recordist to the camera via radio mic.  A radio mic receiver will sit on your camera hot shoe and feed the audio recording into the camera.  You might ask, well why not just use this audio?  The reason is that the HDSLRs have their own preamps which mean you aren't recording high quality audio in camera, and with the 7d it only records audio on auto.  It is best just to use this as a guide track for Plural Eyes to Synch with.

    If your soundie doesn't have a spare radio mic to do this, then you can synch simply with a clapper board, or even a hand clap at the start or end of each take.  Likely hood is, Plural Eyes will pick out this clap and synch the clips automatically at the edit stage, if not at least the editor will have something to help the process along manually.

    Another option to aid synching is to film the sound recordists timecode.    If you lean over and get a shot inside the bag you will see the timecode and this will allow the editor to workout fairly accurately what bit of sound this image relates to.  Some sound recordist even hook up ipods which can display the timecode coming off their recording device, which is easier to film as it has a bigger screen.

    Zoom h4nOption 2: If you don't have budget for a soundie, and if the sound recording is very simple - say a sit down interview - then you might be able to use your own external recorder.  For this I would recommend the Zoom H4n The great thing about this device is it has it's own pretty decent mic. ideal for atmos, and it has XLR inputs with phantom power so you can plug in your 416 mic, radio mic whatever and record that audio to an SD card.  It is a decent quality product and very easy to use.  There are 2 XLR channels, and a clear read out that is well lit and easy to read audio levels from.

    A word of warning: if you do go this route, get plenty of batteries, this thing eats them. (2 x AAs will just about last 1 day shooting if you are lucky.)  If you are powering a mic that needs phantom power, such as a 416, as the power in your battery gets close to low, the sound level will start to fall, so make sure you top up the batteries.  (It does come with plug in power, but I can't imagine using that much.)  Another thing you can do to help the power output is put batteries in the mics that require phantom power, such as a 416 or ECM mic.







    Rode MicOption 3: If you don't really need to much audio and just want to get a bit of atmos only, then you could just get a Rode mic and plug it into the camera.  The are a few issues with this touched on earlier. The 5d mark 2 has controllable audio levels with a firmware release, but the 7d does not, so you will constantly be on auto with the 7d.  As this is just for atmos it may not matter to you.  The other issue is both cameras have low quality pre amps, so it is not going to be the best audio quality in the world.










    If you can, get a Sound Recordist, there is enough for the cameraman to do on an HDSLR shoot without having to faff about with audio issues.

    Using a 7d for broadcast actuality scenes

    Most of what I shoot with my Canon 7d tends to be fairly controlled and set up, as this is where the camera really comes into its own.  Director / Producer Lucy Cutler from the BBC contacted me as she wanted to shoot a film with a different look and was keen to use some kind of DSLR for the shoot.  Initially it sounded like the wrong camera for the job, but I was really interested to see if you could shoot a standard fly on the wall or observational style piece with a 7d. For this project, it was impossible to control the scenes in this way at it was more of a "run and gun."

    When shooting any actuality scene I find myself continually re-framing in order to help the edit.  If I shot an entire scene on a mid shot there would be nothing to cut to, so a variety of shots are needed in a very short space of time, and this can be a challenge on an HDSLR as the lenses just don't have the same range as a traditional broadcast camera.  Alternating between a wide and a tight on a 17-55 mill lens gave me just enough variety, along with moving position more frequently than you might need to with a full size camera.

    The big difficulties are obviously lack of ND and iris control.  Following a presenter as she walks from dark rooms to bright rooms to outdoors with no ND filters or a smooth iris control was obviously pretty tricky.  I tried to control these scenes as much as possible, by stopping the action before going into a new room.  I used an ND fader on the front of the lens which I find essential for DSLR work, you can twist the ND ring to give you more or less light.

    On the whole I would say shooting actuality on a 7d is difficult, but not impossible.  Check out the results below.{vimeo width="640" height="360"}33036067{/vimeo}