For examples of creative cinemotography visit vimeo.com/stephenmcgee
visit the site here… www.stephenmcgeefilms.com
I will also start posting my creative process as I finish my 96th film for Kresge Arts in Detroit.
1/10/10 Oh man, I am in New York and was photographing last night and snapped a photo of my friend Clay Patrick McBride at his bday and my camera wouldn’t work. The screen said “Error 30”. The camera recommended that I turn the camera off and on or disconnect the battery and put it back in. That did not work. From posts I have read that there is no fixing this problem without sending it in. Didn’t see this one coming a month into this, my second 5d MK II body.
NEW News 12/2/09-I went on a 10 day video shoot to China and bought another 5d Mark II and the Cinevate Tracking System to accompany me. With 3 16gb cards and a bunch of other things, about 9G’s were dropped in a matter of days, ouch, including a Beachtek 5d. As professionally as I can say, IT SUCKS. Dont buy it. Put on some big boy pants like I had to do and record audio off camera. Unfortunately for how you work, this is a bit of a drag, but you will have a much higher production value. Tests with the Beachtek 5d will be up later this week.
The 5d Mark II can only record a file up to 4gb in length. Which is about 10-13 minutes depending.
New!!!!!! Canon just released an update here…
for manual control of exposure in video mode. Haven’t downloaded it yet. Will do soon.
I recently updated to Final Cut Pro 7 and have found that there is no rendering needed when I import video into the timeline. Altough when I was doing the China video series I had a large problem with Final Cut skipping a few frames in playback between clips. I use the suggested sequence settings when I drag and drop footage to the time line and it works without rendering. IF you start stacking clips on top each other. Here are some new 5d Mark II screengrabs from my most recent movie shot in Italy.
This video is under 4 minutes.
This video is uner 7 Minutes.
New section update on Ghost Pigeon below
Recommend/Forward to Write-Up
First and for most I would like to say that I recommend this camera if you are making the transition from stills to video/stills because it will get your mind thinking visually in an alternative way than you are used to and comfortable with (at first). Making the switch is hard and to transfer your photo style into video is even harder. I have many positive and negative critiques down below. I have shot with almost every HDV camera and my thoughts are that there is no “one camera to rule them all” (sorry for the lord of the rings reference). From picture quality to ring resistance (focus, zoom, aperture) each camera (HDV Canon XLH1 & A1, Sony Z1U & FX1, Panasonic P2, Sony HV1, etc) that I have shot with has is highs and lows. None of those from my experience has come close to the picture quality of the Canon 5d Mark II. Some have less than or equal to color spectrum and perform similarly at night/early morning. However, in my experience I have noticed that the F stops in the HDV world don’t come close the look of a still camera. I have to zoom all the way in with my HDV cameras in order to blow out the background. That is not the case with the 5d Mark II.
In the Canon 5d Mark II, when using Senn MKE 400 the audio qualities are not perfect, but that does not mean you should discount this camera. The components inside are very good and once Canon allows it’s customers to control the audio in camera, well I will just say that the components in the camera will make us all happy.
One more thing to think about as a journalist is the fact that most filmmakers with larger crews and not on strict deadline don’t record audio in their camera. They match up the audio in post.
Overall i think this camera is a good buy for a few reasons; if you have never shot video, you will become more relaxed in the video world by shooting (especially onto the cf card and not wasting time/money on tapes). If you shoot video you will notice more opportunities to shoot in ambient light bringing more of your mental vision into the visual world. It still blows my mind how good the visual is compared to my HDV rigs.
During the Shoot
I went to Chicago for a workshop and found a 5d Mark II there (see Random Story below for how this movie happened and some extra thoughts on the camera). I asked if I could take it out and borrowed some lenses. Read more about my first time holding it below. This section is about During the Shoot.
Walking Around (Run and Gun)
I found the camera hard to focus when walking around following people/events because I always had to keep the screen in viewing distance. Tilting the camera 90 degrees or even 45 degrees makes focus very difficult because you can’t see the screen. Many of my shots are out of focus because I could not look at the screen because of the angle I was shooting at.
Walking out on lit streets I had a great time holding up the camera on with the live view function on because I was amazed at the colors in the darks of night. Holding it up with two hands in front of me was a bit strange and was different than how I hold my Canon A1 I shoot with normally. I noticed it was harder for me to hit the sharp focus quickly and on the first turn because I was not used to looking a screen out in front of me like this.
While shooting the larger HDV video cameras, I often use the strap as a support, pushing the camera away from my body as I walk to minimize tilt shake as well as X/Y axis shake. With the wider lenses i thought I was doing a great job but with the longer lenses I could not hold the camera as steadily as I could the larger HDV cameras.
I found it hard to keep the shot steady with the longer lenses. I also found it hard to keep steady in general. I would consider myself a steady shot when it comes to the HDV world; not really using a tripod and really relying on the makes of my environment to press my camera against to steady. But with this smaller camera I think that my work flow will have to change in order to assure a high production value.
I was not worried about using it simply as a still camera at the time because I had heard that you could seamlessly shoot stills while shooting video. Before I get into my experience with the video side of this camera I’m going to go ahead and say false to that. You can not seamlessly shoot both stills and video at the same time with the 5_II. When in the video mode you can shoot stills but not only does it interrupt your video with a glitch in your video, it makes a noise. It is a muted shutter release sound that is a bit longer than a normal camera click.
While I was shooting with the 5d Mark II I zoomed in on the shot of the man walking. There was a bit of blur, as if you were to push the shutter while zooming your lens for the zoom affect. The plus side of this is during interviews you can quickly switch your focal length with your lens to give your interview a variety of head sizes for your edit. The downside of the manual zoom is that you have to be very constant and consistently patient with your zoom if you are looking for a good slow zoom. Otherwise the zoom will look jolted and/or the pacing will be off. It is possible though, which is cool.
Camera + Lens
Although the picture looked very great and “artistic” aka “out of focus” on the back of the screen while I was walking around Chicago, it became very frustrating always focusing on focusing. The 5d Mark II only allows you to use the widest aperture the lens you are currently using offers. Example; if you are shooting with a 2.8 L, then the Canon 5d Mark II will use that aperture to shoot the video in. You can not change it. So again, half of my film resulted in me trying to find focus while filming.
“Using headphones cuts out LCD display (which is the only way to see what your shooting as the eye viewfinder does not work with video) Other problems are that there are no audio levels on LCD, you can not hear audio while recording, there should have hot shoe to use Canon mics that have hot shoe capability and that there is no way to split the audio into 2 channels without Beachtek adapter. (And then you can’t monitor it.)”-PF Bentley.
One reader of this blog posted this response which I found very good to know about audio possibilities…
Great Review, I would think one could control their audio levels with this http://www.beachtek.com/dxa6vu.html if they wanted to use a wireless mic or short shotgun when shooting video.
Also to monitor your audio one can use the AV out cord with a 1/8th to Dual RCA Y -Adapter and a 1/8th coupler female to female to plug in the headphones. I just bought this today at Radio Shack for a video camera that does not have a headphone jack, it work great.
In the Edit (both pre and post)
I realized after the first three hours I had the camera (night shots) that I wanted to actually make a educational/review video instead of simply holding all of this Chicago footage on my computer as stock. I had so much fun shooting at the sushi restaurant and in the streets that I came up with an idea after watching Reverie again to mimic the style of Laforet’s movie. So the next day I shot with the intentions of making a spy-like film with a little romance, some chase scene and a confusing ending. Really all I wanted to do was to see how the camera worked and present that test in an entertaining way to the world/my mom.
In “Review” I pushed the pixels from the independent 5d Mark II clips to the limits that I often push HDV video in Final Cut Pro.
From my interpretations Laforet’s video, Reverie, is about being caught up in day dream. I did not know what I was going to name mine since it was really just a review so I just went simple with the title, changed the lettering of his title, and threw the “E” sideways and boom, “Review”.
I have never shot with a lens baby before this shoot. But sense one of my friends had it and Laforet’s first shot has a tilt-shift, I decided to go ahead using it. I luckily saw that couple holding each other at the Bean in Chicago. Only wished he would have dipped her!
Zoom and Time Lapse
In the first shot with the buildings at night and the minimal clouds cruising by, I not only increased the speed of the clip to 1500% but I put a zoom in in the post too. The time held up perfectly and once exported as an individual clip and then re-imported as an individual time lapse movie, the clip ran fine. The zoom to 250% worked well on the small screen but once viewed on a larger screen I could see the focus becoming more and more soft. I don’t think that is really a problem with the pixels as it is more a problem with the narrow depth of field (lowest depth of field that your current lens has) used by the 5d Mark II.
Zoom and Pan
On the second shot with the boats and the cars shows the people getting to work at 2000% faster than normal. Again, the amazing thing I find is the consistency in the pixel greatness in both night and day shots. The shot held up perfect, no pixels are dropped and the detail is held in the details in my shot.
In “Review” I made it a point to have a long cross fade of lights passing by over various night shots. Now while I do not think that is difficult for pixels to do in FCP, I was happy that it worked perfectly.
Pigeons a Plenty
For one of my last shots I shot some pigeons flying over me and slowed those down to 25%. Going frame by frame I can see the pigeons jumping through the scene instead of super slowly going through the scene. I think the slower shutter speeds of 1/125 (which again is the fastest the 5d Mark II will shoot at in video mode) is the reason for that. This happens in the HDV world too.
From a reader…”Also Stephen, nice review, but I feel you should correct your comment re: the ghosted pigeon. That is not a limitation of the Camera, that is you slowing your clip to 25% and Final Cut Pro performing it’s frame blending interpolation. It is not a fault of the camera at all. . .”
To respond to that post by a reader I would say that is true. There are some cameras like the Panasonic and Sony which have a slow mode function. I think in that mode the camera records twice as much data and plays it back at half the speed. It is a great function which I hope the 5d Mark II adopts.
I have a Mac Book Pro 15inch with 2 gigs of ram that is 2 years old and for the most part everything ran fine when editing “Review”. I had the footage on my computer (not on an external hard drive) while editing. Sometimes the computer was not fast enough and I had an issue with the play head on the FCP timeline. It would not move even though the movie was playing in the upper right window (canvas). That made it hard for me to cut to the beat sometimes and have the exact affect I wanted in my edit. (Mainly around the quick cuts at the end right before the pigeons shot).
By the Numbers
1.83 Gb for a six minute clip (for time lapse) of buildings at night where the scene doesn’t change much
482 Mb for 1:39 clip of morning lit interview in Pancake House where scene doesn’t change much
104 Mb for a 22 second clip of night driving looking at taxi in side mirror of Mini Cooper
105 Mb for 21 second clip in daytime of people standing listening to fire truck
32 Mb for 7 second clip of woman in revolving door
7.1 Mb for 2 second clip in restaurant with yellow wall and waiter going by
Average size per clip with audio ranged from 4.4 mb/sec – 5.9 mb/sec
Random Story (how this movie happened)
Now then, for the past few years I have been hoping Canon was going to make a still camera shoot video for the main reason of using Canon lenses to add sexy background (blowing out of focus) to each of my shoots. Also, I have been shooting with both a still and video camera for many assignments at the Detroit Free Press specifically for both the print and web distribution of my content.
With the breakthrough of this latest member of the Canon family, that hope seems to be here. My mind was blown away along with the rest the billion people that saw Vincent Laforet’s video, Reverie (to be caught in a daydream) (www.vincentlaforet.com). Since I am much lower on this industries’ totem pole I did not think I was going to be able to touch the new 5d Mark II for some time.
I did not intentionally set out to write a review or to post this “video response” as youtube puts it, but I did go out to see what this new camera was all about. And here are my thoughts….
With a windy city, no budget, no crew and no actors, one night (4 hours) and one day (3 hours) I had my first date with the new Canon 5d Mark II and it has made me a believer that Chicago is not cooler than Detroit, it just has more to do and less crime. Walking from the hotel after the workshop I noticed many more passers by remarking to me, inquiring even to the looks of my new camera. Much more than when I went out with my normal 5d. I would attribute that to the hot shoe mounted microphone as the body type is almost the same as its predecessor.
I far as I understand, you can not seamlessly shoot both stills and video at the same time with the 5_II. When in the video mode you can shoot stills but not only does it interrupt your video with a glitch in your video, it makes a noise. It is a muted shutter release sound that is a bit longer than a normal camera click.
Only watching over a friend’s shoulder once, it seemed that you have to go into the functions menu and scroll through a few menu items to come to a final option of enabling the rear viewer to play in live mode. Once all those are selected I haven’t had to do that again. With those functions turned on and the camera turned on you have to press a button located just above-left the large view finder to enable the live view mode which enables you to be able to use the video option. Using the live view a lot, say ‘goodbye’ to your fully charged battery in about a day or two. And the old Canon 5d battery does not fit the 5_II either.
With the live view on all you need to do is press the center button located in the rear wheel to begin recording video. A red blinking light will turn on in the upper right hand part of your screen showing you you are recording, oddly enough, just like a home movie camera. If that doesn’t give you the clue, your memory card light tells you also as it blinks showing it is being written on. The whole world will know you are recording video if one more light were blinking.
When the live view is enabled and you want to change a lens, the live view disables itself and after switching lenses, you must press the button to enable the live view again.
When recording the only option for exposure is automatic. The camera automatically uses the lowest aperture possible on the lens you are using adjusts the ISO and Shutter Speed to compensate. In my experience I have seen as quick as 1/125 and as slow as 3.5 second shutter speeds with the ISO ranging from 1000-2600. There is an AE-Lock function which I utilized throughout my trial period.
Compare and Contrast
To Show you a Video that I co-shot and produced with the Canon XLH1 watch the video below. Compare the night driving shows (which had to be shot with a slow shutter speed and/or high gain) with the ones in “Review”.
About Me (so you know where my perspective is coming from)
I am a photographer turned filmmaker/photographer. I have been working as a photographer for 6 years and as a filmmaker for 5. I both shoot and edit the movies I produce and have for the past year freelanced in the non-profit communities around the world as well as in the corporate world making films and photographs alike. I was hired by the Detroit Free Press in late 2005 to teach their photographers to transition their still skills into the video world. In the first two years (2006, 2007) we received 5 National Emmy nominations, winning three of them (see below in Compare and Contrast and at (www.freep.com/emmy and freep.com/respect) and 8 Local Emmy nominations, winning 5 of them apart from numerous other awards.
As far as the name of this blog goes, I am just that, a believer who pursues his faith which happens to be most of the time while wearing flip flops.
To read more about the author of this blog visit (http://www.popphoto.com/americanphotofeatures/5131/the-photographer-as-director-stephen-mcgee-page2.html)
A little more about the Inspiration/Mr. Laforet
In regards to the parody aspect (Review resembling Reverie) of the posted videos, I would like to say that I respect Vincent Laforet and his work very highly and the videos posted above should be seen not as anything else but educational videos that are also entertaining. I don’t teach or speak at events often but when I do I don’t teach with a chip on my shoulder or anything like that and I try to meet each student where they are at in the learning curve. Sometimes my humor goes too far from sticking to the facts and when that happens I appreciate people pointing that out so I can correct my opinions and present them in a more objective approach.
Ultimately I believe it is consistently bringing great content with a high production value in a creatively objective way that will condition your audience to come back to your site time and time again and with the Canon 5d Mark II the visual quality is there. It is not the 70,000 or so photographers found on Lightstalkers changing their photo efforts to video that will save this industry or even a fraction of that.
I often tell my not so often students, “You can buy Picasso’s paint brushes, but that doesn’t mean you are going to paint like Picasso”. Translated; It is not up to the gear to guide us, the audience, through the story, it is up to the visionary. With all that said I will close by saying that I will be going to get my own 5d Mark II to help my vision become someone else’s canvas for education, exploration and inspiration. (too cheesy? I think so)
Feel free to mosie around the other pages on this blog, I have videos (both slide shows and multimedia packages) from the Detroit Free Press on the “Visual” page, videos from more long term work on “NGO work“.
Photography isn’t dead.
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions/concerns/recipes for good food you like.