Big is not always best

I know, there are about a million innuendos with a statement like this but being a grown mature adult obviously none of these would cross my mind! One of the phrases that I’m happy to bore people with is my dogma of ‘if it records an image and is the correct tool I’ll use it’. This has meant that I have thrown a minicam off a cliff for a pov suicide, recorded webcam style footage on my phone, hung Go Pros pretty much everywhere and shot some drama inserts for a doc/drama on S8. Recently I have shot a couple of films where we have chosen to use a 5D over an Epic or Alexa. So why would we be insane and make a choice like that? What are the parameters for choosing an acquisition tool? My first question is, what are the requirements of the highest quality destination? Is it for theatre release, or 4K screen, or HD or internet – Obviously theatre release or 4K screen rules out any lower quality formats automatically, I then look at any particular visual requirements, do we need a particularly shallow depth of field, or wide dof, are we shooting high contrast, high framerate, is there any effects work or greenscreen etc. Finally I think about the practicalities, what sort of space do we have to shoot in, how much time, how many crew, is there lots of travel, what data wrangling do we have and what is the final workflow?

So back to my two most recent 5D films. The first was a collaboration with Chris Crow who I first worked with on Viking – The Darkest Day. He is an amazing director and we are gradually starting the prep for ‘The Lighthouse’, a fully funded feature to be shot later this year which will be very dark. He wanted to shoot a pop promo for a band called Folk Grinder. The band wanted something moody. This tied in well with us as we also wanted to start thinking about what tools we might use to’ distress’ the picture on Lighthouse. We decided to play around with ‘lens wacking’ (shooting with the lens disconnected from the camera body so that you get flare from behind the lens and extremely select focus/distortion). I knew that the primary delivery format would be for the internet with possible broadcast at up to 1080 resolution. I knew that we would be working outside near lots of water and would have to work quickly but also have the sensor exposed to the elements. I also knew that we would be using a wide range of lenses that included old Canon FD lenses and a lensbaby as well as all the usual suspects, that we would be handheld and that I would need to be able to hold the camera and lens separately, meaning the camera body had to be lightweight. The 5D seemed the perfect choice. Here’s the film;

The second film was a brand film for high style fashion company Belstaff. This was directed by long time collaborator and great director, Nic Cornwall who I’ve had the good fortune and pleasure of working with for many years. On the face of it I would normally have shot this on an Alexa or Epic. The pictures needed to be stylish and hark back to a heritage of artisan tradition and quality. However, there were two complications; firstly we had to shoot the film twice, once in and aspect ratio of 9:16 for the in store screens and once at 16:9 for conventional play out on screens and web. Secondly we had to shoot in store whilst it was open to the public. Again highest quality play out was to be 1080 and we had to be as small a unit as possible as the store was worried we would clutter the place up! I was also aware that we would not have as much control of the background as I would like because we could not switch store lights on and off so we decided to use the shallowest depth of field that we could attain. At this point it was already looking like the 5D with it’s huge sensor might be the perfect choice. What sealed it was when we also considered that with a small crew and lightweight camera support we had to be able to rotate the camera 90 degrees, pretty much between every shot, so as to enable the 9:16 and 16:9 aspect ratios. The filming went smoothly and I’m pretty sure we could not have achieved it with the physically larger bodies of the RED or Alexa. I’ll let you be the judge, here is the 9:16 version.

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