Since purchasing my Canon 5D mark II, I have spent significant amounts of time changing the settings, researching ISO, noise levels, picture settings and stabilisation techniques. The 5DM2 feels like a cinema-grade production camera because the footage it produces is amazing. Already, it’s being used in Hollywood to produce commercials, TV spots, music video promos and even the last episode of House on primetime network television. All this attention has come at some surprise to Canon themselves who created the video option almost as an afterthought when choosing to give journalists opportunity to shoot video in the field. Little did they know what a revolution they would spark amongst the indie filmmaking community!
The full-frame 35mm sensor creates an incredible depth of field in low light situations, allowing filmmakers to work fast and efficiently in up-close situations.
One aspect most owners of a 5D Mark II do not know is that noise levels do not increment in tandom to sequential ISO numbers. Far from it. The sensor chip of the 5DM2 is designed to have optimal levels that are similar to the old ASA ratings on non-digital SLRs.
Try and stick to the following ISO levels only: 160, 320, 640 & 1250. Why? Because the sensor chip design was optimised for these settings and will produce the least noise. The lowest ISO setting I use is 160, I never use 100. Believe it or not, ISO 640 is the lowest noise ISO setting for your Canon 5D Mark II. Study the graph below to see how these and other ISO settings deal with noise:
This may appear obvious to some, but in filmmaking, your shutter speed will always be half your frame rate for normal film capture. Anything more or less will reduce the filmic look of your footage, unless you are purposely aiming for a special effect. This is called the 180 degree shutter rule. For a framerate of 24 fps your 5D has a shutter of 1/24 that represents a 360 degree shutter. If you want the regular film look then you should go for 1/48. Since that isn’t available, use 50. Then you get a subtle but nice motion blur. Any faster than this and it significantly reduces motion blur making your film look more like video. Similarly, if you are shooting 60 fps on the 7D, you would use a 1/120 shutter.
I wish there were a way to lock this down on the 5DM2 as it is too easy to move it with the jog wheel when working quickly. Shutter lock-down would be a nice feature for a future release.
Buried deep in the Canon menus are a number of custom functions that can be enabled or disabled. To be in with the best chance of locking out any undesirable side effects to your valuable footage, the following custom function value settings are recommended:
This section is pretty much down to personal style and also, to some extent, your environmental conditions at the time of shooting. There are no right or wrong ways to use these settings because your shooting conditions will always be different. There are, however, a few rules of thumb which I will cover here. Some people use the automatic picture style of ‘Neutral’, leave it on that setting and then colour accordingly in post production.
Personally, I set exposure first by using the default ‘Neutral’ picture style setting. Then after exposure and WB is set, before I actually roll camera, I switch to a customised, personal picture style I like best. I do it this way because in some shooting conditions, I struggle to set the exposure and colour temperature properly with my customised picture style already on. The picture style I use for shooting footage is a custom, registered one based off the ‘Neutral’ picture style. You can find out how to do this by looking up page 63 of the Canon 5D Mark II Manual: Canon 5DM2 Manual
It’s vital to get the colour temperature setting correct in camera before you shoot. You can’t rely on fixing this in post because although it is later correctable to a point, your footage will still look rather flat and strange-looking. If you appear to be having a problem setting white balance correctly, go back into your picture style effects and set it to default ‘Neutral’. Although you can use many of the presets available as on many cameras, it’s particularly easy to dial in the colour temperature value directly on the 5DM2 (check out page 67 of the Canon 5D Mark II manual: Canon 5D Mark II Manual
If you’re not very good at judging this yourself, use an 18% grey (gray) card to callibrate your WB. Such a tool can be invaluable for scenes where setting exposure is difficult.
Nobody thinks Tiger Woods would continue to play to international standard with a junior set of clubs. Neither will you manage to capture exceptional footage by throwing any old lens in front of the 5D. A camera is only as good as what you mount in front of it. Selecting quality glass and filters will transform bog-standard footage into wow-standard film in the blink of an eye.
I can’t afford to buy cine lenses, so I rent them for the bigger budget gigs. If I’m doing a self-shooting, budget gig, I use my own set of prime lenses. These range from Canon to Nikon to Zeiss primes. Make sure you use prime glass and not zoom lenses. Primes are premium quality glass optics and produce images head and shoulders above their variable size counterparts. You can buy great manual lenses cheaply off eBay, but remember that it’s worth paying that little bit more for faster lenses if you can afford to. The faster the lens the better. I have a Nikon 50mm f1.2 and I love it. I use the 50mm a lot, but I also get lovely colour rendition from my Nikon 85mm 1.4 which I use for close quarter dialogue, portraits, interviews. I also have a 35mm Zeiss for midrange and 14mm for ultra-wide on long shots (although I don’t use that one very often and usually stick to 17mm for my widest shots on the 5D).
Filters can be expensive to buy too, especially if you want to buy them for all your prime lenses. So why should you? A clever trick is to buy the best filters for your largest diameter lens, then to buy step up adapter rings to connect between your prime glass and the filters. So which filters to buy?
If you plan on doing timelapses, especially during the day, a neutral density (ND) filter is going to be a mandatory purchase. Unlike prosumer camcorders, the 5DM2 (or any DSLR for that matter) doesn’t come with internal ND settings, especially if you want to drag your shutter (which is likely). What has become very popular indeed amongst filmmakers is the variable ND filters. This allows you to ‘dial in’ your neutral density filtration simply by turning the glass ring. The good ones don’t increase image softening or produce any significant colour casting or vignetting. There are two that I recommend.
The most useful filters for digital SLR lenses are polarising (polarizing) filters. They are essential in many respects because you cannot reproduce the look you will get from them in post production. They saturate color, provide better contrast and remove unwanted reflections from non-metallic surfaces such as water or glass. The circular type are designed for HDDSLRs like the Canon 5D. B+W MRC (Multi-Resistant Coating) or Hoya HMC are the best choices. Hoya Circular Polarizer Glass Filters are a value buy and what I use. I haven’t tried the B+W filters, so I can’t help with a comparison there, but the Hoya ones work very well indeed for me.
Don’t bother! Use a hood or a matt box to prevent flare. Replace your lens cap after use to protect your lens. Enough said!
When you’re working with shallow depths of field as you undoubtedly will be when shooting films with your 5D, you will need a good follow focus system. The difficulty with touching the barrel of the lens to change focus during the shot will, more often than not, shake the body of the camera. It’s also very difficult to judge where the new focus setting will be ‘pulled’ to. As many filmmakers will tell you, a follow focus system can be an essential piece of kit, but which ones are the best?
For around 850 USD, the Redrock Micro Follow Focus v2 package is faultless. The only problem with a system like this is that you are limited to where you can use it. Pretty much, tripod only. It won’t work handheld, on a steadicam unit like the Merlin and you wouldn’t be able to use it on a crane.
Cinevate also do a Durus Follow Focus system which looks a solid build. Haven’t used it myself so I can’t comment. But at 1,200 USD, it’s somewhat pricey.
Wireless follow focus is a lot more expensive as you can imagine, but they possess a much wider range of use. Redrock Micro now do a wireless follow focus system called the microRemote. It’s availability was supposed to be this summer, but we haven’t seen it available as yet. It also seems expensive, but it looks very slick indeed.
A great value wireless remote and one that is on my wish list right now is the Hocus Focus Wireless Remote. It’s been around for a while now and was independently designed and manufactured by an enthusiast. It has slowly been developed over a number of years and is reasonably good value at £1250 for the complete system.
With wireless remotes, however, you need to be careful of sound. There is a motor involved and they make noise! Check out some reviews before you buy.
Speaking of sound, the 5D mark II has inputs for sound, although I never use them. There are a few 2nd system products on the market that link into the 5D audio inputs but to be honest, I have found a myriad of reasons why I can’t use them. You can watch this video to see a review of such systems including the ‘JuicedLink’ which was the overall winner after tests. But even using that system interferes with me using my Zacuto Z-Finder system.
My solution is still to use the onboard recorded sound to sync up with my 2nd system sound which I always run whenever doing any important gig. However using the 5D to record production sound is not an option for me. I think one of the 5Ds greatest assets is its size and the ability to get into tight close encounters when filming. Rigging it with XLR cables and what not is simply reducing that advantage all the time and, to be honest, it isn’t worth it. The Canon 5D2 is a product that was designed preominantly to produce images, not sound.