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Old December 27th, 2010, 09:37 AM   #1
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Settings for Video in Low Light

Hi everyone,

I'm a new owner of the 5d mark 2 with the 24-105 lens and I've been messing around with it for a couple of days. I got it, primarily, for use in event cinematography - especially for its low light capabilities in comparison to my XH-A1 and HV30s. As a video camera I have experience with shutter/exposure/aperture and the like. But when it comes to ISO I'm feeling completely lost. I don't know the first thing about how to combine these tools/settings for quality, low noise, low light video shooting on the 5d. I've shot in the dark at at an ISO of 1600 and there's quite a bit of noise which I know won't come as a complete suprise to anyone.

I understand this is probably a basic question, and I've searched the web using all kinds of search terms to try and find out how people handle their settings for a low light situation. If anyone can provide guidance or even point me to a webpage that can give a newbie some down to earth, layman's explanation of combining the settings, I'd really appreciate it.

BTW, I shoot 30p I will use a camera light if necessary. But it looks like some of the video I've seen of wedding receptions is shot with only ambient light and it looks good (I could be wrong about only ambient light being used?) I'd love to be able to wander a dance floor and shoot people without a light so they just act naturally (read mostly really bad dancing).

Thanks very much.
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Old December 27th, 2010, 11:12 AM   #2
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The 24-105 is an f/4.0 lens. The 5D2 performs quite well in low light, but not with such a slow lens. Unless I had a lot of light, I'd never shoot with anything slower than f/2.8, and with available light you'll need lenses that are f/2.0 or preferably faster. We shoot receptions with our own lighting, we don't rely on available light, which would be inadequate. And don't forget that your video lights aren't just for illumination but also for simply controlling the light - the basis of cinematography.

So basically either invest in a lighting set-up or some faster lenses.

Other than than, shoot wide open and in your case with a shutter speed of 1/60th. Use a flat colour profile to retain detail in blacks.
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Old December 27th, 2010, 11:23 AM   #3
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Just the other day, I shot some test footage with a 17-40 lens, which also has a maximum aperture of f4, while driving on a street, with just the light of the street lamps and the results are just amazingly good. No noise at all. I also use the 5D MkII for my business, concert photography, always at 1600 ISO and also there, the noise is almost non-existant.

So if you have excessive noise in your footage at 1600 ISO, there must be something else wrong. Severely underexposed, perhaps? Or wrong white balance ?

The 5D mkII is world famous for it's good signal-noise ratio, and that's what I use it for, as well as a stills camera as as videocam (mainly B-cam on a Merlin steadycam).

Should work perfectly for you too.
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Old December 27th, 2010, 11:42 AM   #4
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It all depends on your subject matter and the way you want your 'end results' to look like.

I shoot a lot of low light video at dusk or during darkness, and even though I own fast lenses I rarely shoot wide-open. If I need extreme shallow depth of field, yes, I will shoot wide-open, but I more often require plenty of DOF in the picture even at dusk, so will stop down the lens if I can, without upping the ISO too far into the 'noise' zone.

I prefer to film in natural light, but will sometimes use an extra on-camera video light and open up the lens aperture, or up ISO until some of the 'dusk' light is matched with the artificial light, just as you would with stills photography.

I've also found that footage filmed in extreme low light levels with the 5D Mark II at fairly high ISO - that looks terrible when you open up the raw HD files on your computer - can often be saved simply by lowering Gamma levels drastically during post editing until all or most of the background noise becomes smooth black.
A really noisy scene can be made to look very good with almost pure clean blacks without losing too much detail in the main subjects - Not of course with all my footage, but it works enough to let me know that it can sometimes be worthwhile to continue filming in available 'murk', and to capture footage that would otherwise have never been attempted with other video cameras.
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Old December 27th, 2010, 01:37 PM   #5
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Mike,

As Erik said, for wedding reception work you will likely need a much faster lens. I picked up a 50mm f/1.4 for low light. It's a pretty cheap lens, relatively speaking. Though I'm looking for something wider. I use a 17-40 f/4, and it really is way too slow for poorly lit conditions, and my 70-200 f/2.8 is only usable on a tripod. Even at that, the difference between f1.4 and f2.8 in low light is significant, never mind f4.

This clip was all shot (handheld) with the 50mm f/1.4. It's not great stuff but it was a family wedding and I was just messing around. It was the first time I'd used the 5d, and the 17-40 was not cutting it. I don't recall the ISO, but if anything I was a little hot still. The point is, with a fast lens combined with this cam, you can really shoot in places where you absolutely needed additional lighting with traditional cameras.
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Old December 27th, 2010, 04:12 PM   #6
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Thanks guys. I appreciate the responses. Alhough I knew I was in for a steep learning curve, I never knew how different a SLR would be from my video camera - with my XH I just tweak some dials for aperture/exposure, set the frame rate and I'm filming away. Now there's f-stop speeds, fast and slow lenses, ISOs, etc.

Ken, I looked into the 50mm f1/4 because I'd heard some others note that it's pretty good in low light so I'm going to be getting one tonight. Do you mind telling me how you have your settings in that reception material you posted. If so, I can gin them up once I get the 1.4 lens and then use that as a good starting point to begin understanding where to go from there.

Tony, great info - thank you for that. I'll try the gamma trick and see how that helps out with my footage.

Luc, I have to admit I'm shooting on full automatic so the camera is doing everything. It's only because I have no idea how to use the camera yet, and don't know which settings to tweak in full manual. It's definitely my goal to shoot entirely manual once I have a decent grip of the camera.

Erik, I'm all over controlling light. I'll probably be still using external lighting even with a 1.4 if needed. I just want to be able to use as little as possible. Like I said, the best receptions I shoot are ones that have enough light from uplighting and DJ systems that I can make my way around the dance floor and have no one even see me filming them.

Thanks again all.
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Old December 27th, 2010, 10:01 PM   #7
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Just did a ton of research on Youtube for the best lens when I buy my 5D in a few weeks and I have settled on the Canon 24-70mm 2.8. It's about $250.00 more than the 24-105 but the low light ability and the better DOF ability really sold me.

I shoot all commercial spots and I currently own the Canon XH A1s and it is a noise machine in low and even slightly low light without question even if all the settings are optimized.

I can't wait to get my 5D!
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Old December 28th, 2010, 02:49 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike Hammond View Post

Luc, I have to admit I'm shooting on full automatic so the camera is doing everything. It's only because I have no idea how to use the camera yet, and don't know which settings to tweak in full manual. It's definitely my goal to shoot entirely manual once I have a decent grip of the camera.
OK Mike,

what do you mean by 'full automatic'? Dial on 'P'? That's the worst solution you can choose! If you don't want to work on manual for the time being, please use 'A' for 'aperture preference' when shooting in low light conditions. Then choose aperture full open. This way the camera will never close it down to a smaller stop, which it could - and sometimes would - in 'P'. And set the ISO fixed to 1600 in low light conditions.

But of course, a camera like this needs to be controlled fully manually to take profit of all it's blessings. And there are many...

I had the 50mm 1,4 before, but I sold it because it's a very hard lens, with - for my taste - too much contrast. Plus 50mm is not an interesting angle for the kind of shooting I'm doing with the 5D mkII (steadycam).
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Old December 28th, 2010, 05:22 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Luc De Wandel View Post
OK Mike,

what do you mean by 'full automatic'? Dial on 'P'? That's the worst solution you can choose! If you don't want to work on manual for the time being, please use 'A' for 'aperture preference' when shooting in low light conditions. Then choose aperture full open. This way the camera will never close it down to a smaller stop, which it could - and sometimes would - in 'P'. And set the ISO fixed to 1600 in low light conditions.

But of course, a camera like this needs to be controlled fully manually to take profit of all it's blessings. And there are many...
Using aperture priority will lead to some weird footage as the shutter speed will be varied to get the correct exposure. The shutter speed when shooting video should almost always be set to 1/50 (for us in PAL land) or 1/60 for the US.
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Old December 28th, 2010, 05:38 AM   #10
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Agreed, Nigel, but in low light situations this is still better than having the camera in 'full auto' changing the ISO or/and the shutter speed.But as I said: full manual is the only decent way to go.
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Old December 28th, 2010, 06:29 AM   #11
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If you use AV (Aperture Priority) just point the camera at an average-lit scene and then press the Exposure Lock button. This works very well and I use it a lot for both stills and video.

Sometimes I use TV (Shutter Priority) for times when maintaining the shutter speed (such as 50th) is more important than a required aperture setting.

When I need everything locked at a preset aperture, shutter and ISO Value, then I'll use full Manual. I generally set the ISO to 160 when shooting in decent light as this gives the cleanest possible resolution.
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Old December 28th, 2010, 12:02 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike Hammond View Post
Luc, I have to admit I'm shooting on full automatic so the camera is doing everything. It's only because I have no idea how to use the camera yet, and don't know which settings to tweak in full manual. It's definitely my goal to shoot entirely manual once I have a decent grip of the camera.
Assuming you know what you are doing with regular video cameras it should only take you a day of messing around to figure another camera out. Don't waste time trying to figure out how to work around issues cause by the automatics, spend that time more productively learning how to use it in manual mode and you will get far better / more predictable results.

There are really only three things to learn.

• Shutter speed - which for you will be stuck at 1/60 most of the time

• Aperture - F4 is too slow indoors for most things - but if you need it on longer focal lengths for good DOF then the third option (ISO) is your only solution just like gain on a regular video cam. F1.4 can still give reasonable DOF if you are focussed a good distance away. We keep a chart / table I made up for all our lenses with us as a quick reference guide for DOF.

• ISO. I've shot the 5D2 at all ISO settings up to 2500 and got acceptable results with the help of Neat Video. Above that is useful in a pinch. For first dance I usually keep lights with us but don't always need them.

After that the manual K settings for white balance are a god send compared to regular video cameras.

For dark receptions we tend to use the 24 f1.4 (5D2) and 35 f1.4 (7D) with options of the 50 1.4 and 135 f2. The 70-200 f2.8 is the fall back when we are too far away but this presents big DOF problems at the longer focal lengths when wide open. If any one is moving back and forth during the speeches you can have serious focus problems. When there is reasonable light I tend to stick the 24-70 f2.8 on the 5D giving some zoom options (where we can't zoom with out feet) but the 24-105L stays in the bag for video (we use it for some photos), because I'm really not impressed with it.
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Old December 28th, 2010, 04:54 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Danny Winn View Post
Just did a ton of research on Youtube for the best lens when I buy my 5D in a few weeks and I have settled on the Canon 24-70mm 2.8. It's about $250.00 more than the 24-105 but the low light ability and the better DOF ability really sold me.

I shoot all commercial spots and I currently own the Canon XH A1s and it is a noise machine in low and even slightly low light without question even if all the settings are optimized.

I can't wait to get my 5D!
Danny the DOF will be less wide open you understand right?
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Old December 28th, 2010, 05:29 PM   #14
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It's taken me a long time and a lot of buying and selling to get to the best work flow for me in terms of different lenses and levels of light. I think I've finally arrived at what works best for me personally. But this is entirely subjective and depends of course on what kind of work you do.

For low light work, I tend to stick to my fast primes, which are all manual Nikons and Zeiss glass in the mid-focal ranges 28 - 85mm - I don't own anything slower than f2 here and I absolutely love my Nikon 50/1.2 which I can only use with the Z-finder strapped on. For medium and good light I add my Canon glass to the mix which are zooms on opposite ends of the focal ranges. I have a 17-40/f4 and a 70-200/f2.8. I forgot to mention I do have one exception to this which is the excellent Canon EF L 14mm/2.8, (my new baby!) as I now need an ultra wide.

Even though some folk here have attempted to disprove any discrepencies between various ISO settings on the 5D2, I'm still not convinced and tend to stick only to the 'awkward' ISO settings. 160, 320, 640, 1250, etc. There are reasons for this which have had plenty of coverage in other threads, so won't bother going into here.

Good luck!
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Old December 29th, 2010, 02:26 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Mike Hammond View Post
Ken, I looked into the 50mm f1/4 because I'd heard some others note that it's pretty good in low light so I'm going to be getting one tonight. Do you mind telling me how you have your settings in that reception material you posted. If so, I can gin them up once I get the 1.4 lens and then use that as a good starting point to begin understanding where to go from there.
Hey Mike, just to get back to you, I don't know if you did get the 50mm f/1.4, it's handy to have for a relatively cheap price, though as others have mentioned, it's not wide enough to fly on a glidecam type of set-up. I always shoot in full manual and then play with either aperture or shuttter depending on what i'm trying to do. And almost always dial in the WB on the K meter. If I had the extra coin I'd get the 24-70 f/2.8. In the meantime, I'm keeping an eye out for one of the wider f/1.4 primes as well. Also picked up a couple of Fader ND filters (a 58mm and a 77mm), these are real handy for bright white dresses in the summer.
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