Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Canon 5D Mk II and future of HD Cinema

Like many indie filmmakers, I've been trying to achieve a film look by using the newest dv and hd cameras without cracking the bank. Combine that with having a production company and a love of cinematography, you can imagine that I was quite excited when I like many of you heard news of the Canon 5D Mark II, one of the first DSLR cameras to be able to record HD video. I had previously owned the Canon 10D from years ago and always wondered why the pictures had such great depth of field and beautiful bokeh on digital stills while the video cameras I was using to make my documentaries were so much worse. If only I could get a moving image of all these great photos i was taking. In fact in my films in those days I would use digital stills in a stop action technique in my films to achieve that look.

I've used pretty much every camera out there from the p2 cards/ HVX200, Sony's EX3, Red Camera as well as the varicam, the cinealta. Now all of these cameras are  okay but either they are expensive and heavy, or they just don't have the picture quality or the optics to satisfy my needs. One rig came close: using a very crude DOF adapter like the LETUS and putting it on a HVX or an EX1.  I used this technique for a spot I did for Obama.  But adding a contraption in front of a prosumer camera then putting a Nikon or Canon lens in front of that seems a bit cumbersome.

But then late 2008, Canon announced they were making a full frame camera with HD capabilities and sound input, the cost for the body was half of the cheapest HVX and the card format is the regular CF format:  at most $100/16gb as opposed to $1000/16gb for P2 or sXs. And you get the depth of field without all of that extra equipment.

So I took the plunge and bought it.  I should say that I bought and returned the Nikon D90 which was a great little camera with the right lenses but no audio input was a huge down.  It did have one advantage and that was shooting at 24p.

Immediately, I started using it on a professional project which looks great. Will give a more detailed review later once we have finished editing.  But here are my initial thoughts

So far the camera wins out on low-light shooting.  Audio is really difficult.  I have a Beachtek adapter but you can not monitor sound while recording only after as playback.  Not ideal.  also with FCP on any laptop, the H264 format cannot be played natively. i don't seem to have a problem on my mac pro but it's not ideal.  also it shoots at 30fps not 24p and not 29.97 which is broadcast standard.

So my overall impression is, this camera is great for shooting short, scripted mostly MOS footage on a budget.  It's not ideal as a primary camera but a great second camera.  Also I made the decision to invest in the lenses, and then wait for the Red Scarlet in the Fall...

Whatever the outcome, for the first of its generation I am very impressed.