This experimental short film was shot using the HDSLR camera, Canon EOS 7D. My brother bought one recently for photography and I have borrowed it to try it out and understand what the HDSLR craze is all about.
Unfortunately, he only has the kit lens, EF-S 18-135mm 1:3.5-5.6 IS zoom lens and a EF 50mm 1:1.8 II prime lens. It would have been nice to try out some sharp and fast Canon L lens.
The footages are captured at West Coast Park in Singapore. I chose it as my test location because of the unique contrast formed between one of the world’s busiest sea port and a recreational park. One of my tests was also to check out the low light capability of Canon 7D and I thought the West Coast Park being west, would be ideal to witness the sunset.
Singaporeans are generally camera-shy and in my attempts to be less “in-their-face”, I had employed a lot of zooms from a distance, thus often missing the coveted shallow depth of field. Nevertheless, I have tried to cover most scenarios such as shallow DOF, “bokeh”, timelapse and slow motion.
After the tests, I have learnt more about the HDSLR workflow and I must say my feelings about HDSLR videography are mixed. The camera is first and foremost designed as a still camera and it is a pain in the ass to use it as a video tool. On the other hand, the large sensor and interchangeable lens have given us more creative latitude at an affordable price.
The following are some of my comments regarding the test shoot:
A) Focusing
Focusing is a pain. Even though the 3″ LCD screen is sharp, it is still too small to tell if your images are in focus. Most pros use an external LCD monitor via HDMI out, but I don’t have one with me. I have tried both methods of pressing the zoom button (press once to zoom 5x and twice to zoom 10x) and switching the lens to AF and use the shutter button to do an initial autofocus. Often, my subjects have already moved and gone out-of-focus by the time I finished focusing. The LCD screen is also fixed and I have to literally crawl on the ground to get a low angle shot. The narrow focus ring and lack of damping obviously didn’t help as seen in the jerky focus change in one scene.
B) Low Light Capibility
This is the amazing part. I am very impressed with the low light capabilities. I was using Philip Bloom’s recommended settings and set a neutral profile, shutter speed at 1/50 (I shot at 25fps) and widest possible apertures. So the variable was mainly ISO and I had used ISO 100 up to 6400 (6400 is too noisy) as the sun sets. The slow motion scene at the end was at ISO 3200. However, we can see that there are some noise (more of chroma noise), especially around the skin. Again, I didn’t see the noise in the small LCD live view, but it became obvious when viewed on my Apple Cinema Display. “Bokeh” scene was at ISO 6400 but it was okay because it was too defocused to tell any noise.
C) Editing
Again, it was a pain converting the H.264 MPEG4 clips to ProRes 422 (yes, I edit in Final Cut Pro) using MPEG Streamclip (don’t mention Compressor… it just kept crashing with batch). It was really slow…… Once converted to ProRes, we get the advantages of editing in a 4:2:2 intraframe format. As we could only get the slow motion (i.e shoot 720p50 and conform to 25fps) at 1280 x 720 resolution, I output my final video in 720p although I shot everything else in 1080p25. This is how I could get even better zooms, simulate tracking and even correct a scene with a bit of rotation.
D) Aliasing
This is a major turn-off. This test is quite hard on 7D due to the many fine lines of the shipyards. Just pan or tilt the 7D a little and all the aliasing shows. Barry Green tested the 7D to be about 600 TV lines, which is halfway between a SD and a 720p HD videocam. The rest is as what Barry calls, fake details. So HDSLR videographers need to know the limitations and use their tools accordingly.
HDSLR’s strengths lie in their large sensors and interchangeable lens which give us new creative possibilities. I am not sure if I would use it for commerical work other than for cinematic shoots where I have time to set it up. We haven’t even mentioned the audio, recording length and rolling shutter problems. But then again, if you only have a HDSLR on a trip, why not shoot some very nice footages while looking like a tourist.
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