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Old May 25th, 2010, 05:33 PM   #1
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Practicality of 5D for documentary use?

Let me begin by apologizing. I'm probably being somewhat lazy. This has probably been discussed ad nauseum here and elsewhere, but I am considering making the investment in the 5D mark II, and would love to hear some opinions and experiences.....

I've been shooting for a couple/few years. I'm not an amateur, but I wouldn't consider myself a seasoned professional by any means. I have mostly been shooting with fixed lens cameras such as the HVX and the EX-1. I know how to frame a shot, get a good exposure, light for interviews, am decent at "pulling" focus, etc. I definitely lack a lot of technical knowledge however, when it comes to things such as sensors, lenses, compression, etc.

A project (someone else's) that I've been working on almost full-time has recently come to an end, and I am looking to make myself available as a (mostly documentary) shooter for hire as well as start working on my own project(s). I own a nice light kit for interviews, decent tripod, monopod, lav and shotgun mics, etc., but I do not have a camera.

I do have some money to invest, if it makes sense, and am considering the 5D. I'm realistic about a 5D package eventually costing upwards of $10k by the time I invest in a couple lenses, and stabilization rigs, follow focus, etc., but I wouldn't want to spend much more than that.

The 5d is also very appealing to me as a still camera. I'm a (mostly) amateur but avid still photographer who wouldn't mind upgrading to a full-frame dslr for both traveling/personal use, and would also like to begin putting myself out there as a professional still photographer in addition to a (video) shooter.

So, in a lot of ways, the 5D seems like the perfect camera. Although, I am fully aware that the 5d, like every camera, has it's draw-backs.
I am concerned about the overall practicality of using this camera to shoot documentary type footage. I shoot everything from 'formal' sit-down lit interviews, to verite, to b-roll, to run-and-gun/man-on-the-street type interviews, etc.

My main concerns are:

(1) general ergonomics. I know that I will need some sort of stabilization rig for anything off a tripod, but is that enough?

(2) focusing. how practical is it to get a good focus with such shallow depth of field off tripod, outdoors, while me and the subject(s) are moving, etc., even with some sort of stabilization rig, follow focus, and hood for the lcd? i'm prepared to practice a lot, but is it a lost cause?

(3) audio. can i achieve "professional enough" sound recording through the camera itself?

i'd love to hear any thoughts or experience considering any or all of these issues, and i thank you in advance.
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Old May 25th, 2010, 06:51 PM   #2
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Old May 27th, 2010, 04:51 PM   #3
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1. I have used the 5D handheld with some success. I use the neckstrap as additional support by holding the camera out away from my face tight up against the strap. I hold my arms snug against my torso and try to move my head, torso, and camera all as one. It is probably better to have a simple rig like the Zacuto targetshooter for handheld work.

2. I don't have any trouble focusing in general but I find my eyes need a little help. I wear weak reading glasses now and have no trouble seeing the right focus points even on the little LCD. You can alternatively get a z-finder or lcdvf but I like to shoot from odd angles sometimes and those viewfinder eyepieces cover the screen.

3. Yes. You will need a good mic system and a juicedlink adapter. Turn the audio to manual and put the level way down so the 5D is not amplifying the signal with its own noisy internals. With the juicedlink, feed a very strong signal to the camera and adjust levels with the external preamp instead of the camera. It is also easy to sync external sound using the pluraleyes software available for FCP or Sony Vegas.
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Old May 27th, 2010, 05:37 PM   #4
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I've been investigating these cameras a bit myself lately...

I'm curious if you think the 7D's smaller sensor is too much of a compromise? It seems a slight bit more video-friendly in some ways...
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Old May 27th, 2010, 07:59 PM   #5
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your concerns

Focus; stop down the lenses to f8 and use a wide lens this will give you plenty of DOF with moving subjects.
Audio; Use a rode video mic or similar to get decent in cam sound.
Stabilizing; A zacuto rig or similar combined with a IS lens will be fine, the best lens I have found so far is the canon 24-105 f4L IS for run & gun shooting

I just got done with a ten day run & gun shoot following a bunch of cyclists who rode over 800 miles to raise money for charity. We used the Rode mics ( two shooters ) for off the cuff sound bites where our sound recordist was busy or not on the scene quick enough and they work well, just make sure you are close to the audio source.

A zfinder and rig will give you a nice stable shot which is improved with an IS lens but the IS lens can tend to jump if panning quick. Focus is always tricky and probably the hardest thing to do with the dslrs.
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Old May 27th, 2010, 10:13 PM   #6
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Todd,

I have both a 5d2 and an XLH1, and an HV30. More and more the 5d2 is the camera I reach for. But when I shoot interview footage, I'm much more comfortable with the H1. It has built in XLR, and you can easily monitor audio. Currently, when I use the 5d2 and need audio I use a Zoom H4 and sync in post. I have to admit that there are times when I've screwed up and not hit record on the Zoom, and had to reshoot a take or two. Fortunately, none of my gaffs were either critical or embarrassing, though it could easily happen. I also shoot weddings and run all the audio to the H1, and use the 5d2 mostly untethered for beauty shots.

I love my 5d2 to death, but sometimes a camcorder is a quicker, easier solution. Especially in situations where you're not looking for beauty, just function, especially in run-n-gun situations. For what you're doing, you could pick up an XHA1 for 2500 for your interview type stuff, and a 5d2 for the same, and pick up a couple of nice lenses, and have all bases covered.
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Old May 28th, 2010, 02:09 AM   #7
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To answer Tim's question: No, the 7D is not a huge compromise. I'm not sure if it has manual audio gain control, but it's sensor is quite good for it's size. I think the consensus is that it's not even half a stop slower.
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Old May 28th, 2010, 02:20 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Todd Sheridan View Post
(1) general ergonomics. I know that I will need some sort of stabilization rig for anything off a tripod, but is that enough?
Yes, but you'll need to tinker around to get it to your liking. See my post below on the making-of my documentary. IMHO what Redrock, Zacuto, etc sell is not one-size-fits-all.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Todd Sheridan View Post
(2) focusing. how practical is it to get a good focus with such shallow depth of field off tripod, outdoors, while me and the subject(s) are moving, etc., even with some sort of stabilization rig, follow focus, and hood for the lcd? i'm prepared to practice a lot, but is it a lost cause?
Not practical. On the 5D, shoot at f/5.6 or above. Trial and error - it takes lots of practice.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Todd Sheridan View Post
(3) audio. can i achieve "professional enough" sound recording through the camera itself?
Yes, but you'll need a Juicedlink CX231 or equivalent + Rode microphone. Consider lavalier mics for interviews.

I used 5D's to shoot my recent documentary project about Japanese youth culture, Children of Enlightenment:

Here's a look into the making-of:
Peter H Chang’s trailer for a new 5DmkII doc ‘Children of Enlightenment’ DSLR News Shooter

These cameras are great for fast-paced shoots once you get used to their quirks.
Here are two more recent "documentary" shoots:
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Old May 28th, 2010, 03:45 PM   #9
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I haven't found any mics, even the very best, to be good enough when cabled through the 5D. That's why I record seperately via zoom H4, or plug other mics and radio mics into the H4. The nice thing about the Sony WRT & WRR systems is that you can also plug in headphones.
I must admit though, that I often miss the ease of recording multi-mic interviews with camcorders like the XL2 and H1.
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Old May 29th, 2010, 09:12 PM   #10
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gracias

thanks everyone for the feedback. i definitely appreciate it.

one thing that i didn't ask about is exposure. i'd love to hear feedback/experience on getting a decent exposure "in the field" by "eyeing it" on the lcd, without using a light meter, etc.

practical?
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Old May 30th, 2010, 12:13 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Todd Sheridan View Post
thanks everyone for the feedback. i definitely appreciate it.

one thing that i didn't ask about is exposure. i'd love to hear feedback/experience on getting a decent exposure "in the field" by "eyeing it" on the lcd, without using a light meter, etc.

practical?
"Eyeing it" is all I've ever done with the 5d2, I might bracket the exposure sometimes. It depends to on the critical nature of what you're shooting. If you've got the time and gear then use a larger monitor, or meter it. Or use a loupe. I recently picked up some Fader ND filters and will probably pick up a loupe, as I'm not as confident with the LCD reading with the ND's.
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Old May 30th, 2010, 09:43 AM   #12
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exposure question

one more, probably stupid, question, but.....

as far as stopping down to control depth of field, i'm wondering how much shutter speed can be adjusted in order to get the correct exposure without affecting the 'look' as far as motion blur, etc. goes.

in other words, if i'm running around outdoors shooting moving subjects, and want to shoot wide and keep the aperture at f8, how much leeway do i have adjusting shutter speed so f8 is the correct exposure?
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Old May 30th, 2010, 10:37 AM   #13
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It all depends on chosen subjects, light levels, speed of subject movements, steadiness of camera, speed of pans etc., and ultimately what you are trying to achieve and how far beyond the norm you are willing to except.

F/8 & 1/50th for example is not that difficult to achieve and maintain in a variety of light levels with NDs and PL filters, but if you need to bump that shutter speed while maintaining aperture at f/8 and haven't got the time to change angles, or add extra NDs to cope with fast changing light levels, or are presented with an unrepeatable few moments of action...just do it, or bump the ISO if you don't want to let the shutter speed rise.
Some fast action can look better filmed at higher shutter speeds and sometimes the staccato affect matches the moment. It all depends on a variety of factors, which in the end you've got to choose which fits your aims and goals. The best advice is not to get confused by an overload of varied opinions or to read too many 'how-to-books. Just simply go out there and practice, practice, practice...
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Old May 31st, 2010, 04:56 PM   #14
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On the 5D2, I use this approach "on the street":

* If it's daylight, I apply a 3 stop ND filter and possibly a polarizer. Remove them if it's dark.
* Keep the shutter at 1/50 for a standard look. Use 1/60 under North American lights.
* Set the aperture you desire.
* Use Magic Lantern zebras to see where you clip. Let the sky or hard reflections blow out, but try to capture everything else. If you have time, you can set the zebras to 0xb000 for adjusting face highlights, but "on the street" I just keep it at 0xf000 to see what will get clipped.
* Set the gain between 100 and 1250 ISO.

If you can't get the right exposure within those parameters, sacrifice aperture or shutter speed, depending on your goals. That becomes an artistic choice.

Also, if it's a sunny day with lots of highlights, definitely go with a natural picture style with minimum contrast. If it's a cloudy day with flat light, consider more contrast. Sure, the overcast sky will blow out, but it will make your subjects more interesting and give you more bits in the skin tones.
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