Canon 5D mk3 as a documentary tool

When I bought a 5D mk3 just before Christmas, the justification was really the fact that my old Canon F1 still a camera has lain unused for around 6 years and I have never fully embraced the digital photography revolution, instead relying on my iphone.

Increasingly my directing work entails shooting publicity stills at better quality than an iphone can manage and I have missed the control over aperture, shutter speed and shallow depth of field of an SLR.

After working with a Canon 7D as a (very much secondary) camera on the African Masters shoots late last year, I decided a 5D would cover the stills needs and I wanted to explore the possibilities of using it for the kind of actuality shooting that I do.

So I was a 5D noob when I took the camera on a recent shoot to India as a stills camera and second camera to the Sony PMW-200 workhorse.

I had it loaded with the latest magic lantern hacked firmware, which provided the much needed focus peaking and zebras while I was relying on the built-in LCD.

I didn’t shoot any crucial material on the 5D, rather taking it out when I wasn’t shooting on the Sony.

I found the narrow depth of field tricky at times but fell in love with the look. The shape of the camera is of course wrong for hand held video but I can see that with an EVF and a shoulder stock it could work pretty well.

I was blown away by the low light performance and include a short sequence here as an example.

I don’t know enough about the technical imaging differences. But images from the Canon at high ISO seem much less noisy than the Sony at high gain settings.

A piece of advice that documentary master Phil Agland once gave at the Sheffield documentary festival was to “let it be dark” when shooting scenes in low light but in order for that to work (he was shooting on super 16mm) you need enough light sensitivity to pick up the available light without turning the majority of the frame into a boiling sea of gain. I think this camera might be able to deliver in that regard.

The compression used in the 5D means it doesn’t fulfil the 50mbps requirement of European broadcasters for HD, I’m not sure what they would say if you can tweak the bitrate in Magic Lantern.

I am interested in accessories that could turn the 5D from a second camera into a documentary tool. An electronic viewfinder, external mic and a shoulder brace seem to be the minimum additions.

By | 2017-04-27T16:43:34+00:00 January 21st, 2014|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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A documentary-maker specializing in actuality shooting to tell real stories.

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