Is it possible to shoot an entire TV series on just a 5D ?

Well really, do I actually WANT to shoot a series on a 5D ?

I’m attached to a TV series that is in pre-production right now that seems likely to go this way. (I can’t name the series just yet)

It is a comedy skewed series and the principals involved are also in front of the camera.  They have previously worked in a very micro-indie way and this scale of production will be quite a difference from the way they have previously been shooting.

Mindful of that, the director, producer and I were keen to find a way to be reactive and very mobile.  The show will also be very location based with lots of moves so we need to be able to move very quickly into a location and be up and running with the minimum of fuss.

When the idea of shooting with the 5D was first floated my initial reaction was, quite frankly, horror.  I’d been happy with using the 5D’s on Offspring as a C and D camera, but to use them as the main shooting camera was another thing entirely.

But…I thought about it.  After a few days I realised that the 5D would allow us to be more discreet in the many locations we’d be shooting with.  I started thinking that I should try to embrace the camera for all it’s good for and see if it would work.  The show’s visual style was trending towards naturalistic and observational, basically to allow us the most room to have a very small crew footprint.

So I proposed shooting a test.  I organised to shoot a couple of scenes from the show in the principal location and I shot them using three different cameras; a Canon 1Dmk4 (in lieu of a 5D), a RED MX and a Sony EX3.    The scenes were all daylight and a mix of interior and exterior.

As well as looking at the end results, this would be as much about testing the cameras in the actual shooting environment and with the talent and Director (whom I haven’t’ worked with before).

Deluxe laid up the footage after it was cut into discrete sequences.  Working with the colourist we simply tried to balance the material out, without creating a look.

I was surprised.  The 1D material got very very close to the RED MX material in terms of colour and dynamic range.  The scenes all had a reasonable amount of contrast and I was really expecting the RED MX to be a more clear winner.  The 1D ended up pretty much matching and keeping up with the RED and only seemed to be a little softer overall.  The EX3 looked completely different, as one would expect.

We did find that there was a little more crawl in the darker shades on both the 1D and EX material, but it wasn’t a huge problem, as was likely more a function of compression more than anything.

And on set, the director and the talent both preferred working with the 1D the most.  I Actually had the RED on a monopod and tried to make it as compact as possible, but it was still a little awkward to manage and the cast noticed this.

As soon as I’m allowed, I’ll post some footage from these tests, but it was really informative.  It’s really exciting to think about a different way of approaching a show and shooting on a DSLR will certainly be a challenge.  I’ve already talked to the principals about the downsides and as a compromise, I think we’ll be shooting without on-set monitoring at all.  This requires a huge leap of faith from the director and production.

Again, this leverages the advantages of shooting with a camera like a 5D.  No cables, means more freedom.  I’ve looked at some of the rigs around and I’m just seeing them mainly as a negative.  Anything that makes the camera bulkier and larger will be harder to operate over a day.  I really like the form factor of just the body itself, which is what I’m used to after Offspring.

Monitoring is the Achilles heel of these cameras.  The fact the already compromised monitor on the back TURNS OFF when you plug in a HDMI is a pain.  I can’t stand the idea of carrying the larger 7″ monitors as an operating monitor.  Again, just an extra weight and pain to carry ! Hopefully, I can just use the excellent Zfinder and that’s it.

The only other must have when shooting on DSLR’s in compact mode like this is image stabilising lenses.  It’s just so damn hard to hand hold these cameras for extended periods of time.  The Canon IS lenses will go a long way to knocking out some of the higher frequency vibration.  I may end up looking at something like the Zacuto Striker, a good compromise on making it easier without the bulkiness….

About johnbrawley

Director Of Photography striving to create compelling images
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One Response to Is it possible to shoot an entire TV series on just a 5D ?

  1. Pingback: A challenge….Can directors work without a video split ? | johnbrawley

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