Canon's next generation Full Frame CMOS sensor records 5.9K with over sampling for exceptionally high quality 4K footage.
US-based cinematographer Nancy Schreiber has two Sundance Cinematography awards and more than 100 credits to her name, including ABC's The Family, HBO's The Comeback and FX's Better Things. In 2017, she was the first woman to be honoured with the American Society of Cinematographers President's Award, and recently she became the first cinematographer to shoot a film with Canon's new full-frame EOS C700 FF.
Nancy was commissioned by Canon to shoot the three-and-a-half-minute film A Dishful of Dollars, putting the Canon EOS C700 FF through a range of challenges including shooting high-contrast scenes, action in low light and a variety of skin tones. Set in a basement boxing gym and on the streets in an industrial area of Los Angeles, the film demonstrates the cinematic feel provided by the video camera's full-frame sensor, as well as its broad-ranging tonality and advanced colour science. Here, Nancy reflects on the experience of shooting with Canon's new powerhouse for cinematographers.
What was your brief for A Dishful of Dollars?
"The director, Nigel Dick, had both a comprehensive shot list and storyboard list that we had to get through, because he wanted this film to have a story. It's not just a camera test; we really wanted the two main characters to have a connection, emotionally. It's about a challenge which starts when they're boxing and develops into a bike race with a competition to throw dollars into a dish. They're friends and they challenge each other. It was very important to have a story that made sense and wasn't just about showcasing the camera's attributes. So we needed to get all those shots, and we did, but we had to shoot it all in two days and didn't have a lot of time for take-twos."
Which features of the new video camera were you most excited about?
"Because full-frame camera sensors are now all the rage, I was excited to work with a full-frame video camera from Canon. I was thrilled to be able to test anamorphic lenses and also spherical lenses that would cover a large sensor. I've always liked anamorphics – it helps us make sure the audience is seeing what we want them to see. So to have anamorphics combined with full-frame was fantastic.
"On the second day of the shoot we used a variety of anamorphics for the exterior motorcycle footage, and on the first day, in the interior of the boxing gym, we used a wide range of non-anamorphic lenses that would cover the sensor, including Canon's new 20mm cine prime, the Canon CN-E20mm T1.5 L F."
"I was very excited about the Canon EOS C700 FF being a really ergonomic motion picture and television camera. For my body, some cine cameras can be too heavy to operate handheld, but this is incredibly lightweight. It has a real OLED eyepiece, and the camera could fit on my shoulder, well-balanced. This has not been the case for many digital cameras. I started my career with film cameras, and even if they were heavy, they were balanced well.
"The way the menus are laid out is also intuitive. All of the buttons that you can assign are right on the side of the camera. On the day when we shot the exterior scenes, we had a large amount of setups and were really rushed for time, and it was useful to be able to quickly push a button that was assigned to Waveform Monitor. I also like to use false colour when I don't have a lot of time for metering, and that was easily available.
"I really liked that the camera could be moved easily between Steadicam and dolly. There weren't so many brackets that we had to remove to go from one to the other. In the past, when planning a day of shooting, we used to have to factor in that it would take 20 minutes to convert from Steadicam to conventional, and often we would put all the Steadicam shots together for that reason. But with the Canon EOS C700 FF we didn't have to do that – the camera just moved quickly and easily from one to the other."
You shot 5.9K – how was that?
"Yes, we shot RAW at 5.9K with a Codex capture drive. The film was to be shown in 4K so we were able to push in on some frames – although as a cinematographer I have to point out that we don't like the idea of just punching in at will instead of shooting close-ups. We had one shot of the woman boxer where we punched in, with supervised framing, and I was impressed. There was no noise, and it held up contrast- and colour-wise.
"There's something to be said for larger pixels in terms of better latitude. But I didn't do a side-by side test – we were shooting real scenes. I'll be looking forward to doing an extensive camera test in the future.
"Of course the film has been down-res'd for online, and it looks pretty good in HD. So many people don't ever get to see 4K or 6K, and seeing it online in HD, it really held up."
Tell us about shooting those very contrasty, dark scenes in the basement.
"We were filming in the boxing ring using some 2K Xenon lights that made these lovely shafts when we added smoke, and they were eight stops over key. I did very little lighting of the actors, mostly with bounce back from the Xenons and the occasional fill, just so I could see their eyes. I was impressed that the camera handled that much of a stop difference – the latitude was really impressive. In terms of colour rendition, we had three different skin tones and they just fell easily into place when we went to colour grading."
You also used some vivid colours in the outdoor scenes.
"We had purposely picked wardrobe and motorcycles that were extremely saturated, and we were anxious to see how the colour saturation held up. It's often the trend today to have muted, earth-tone colours, but still there are lots of period films and some current-day films that do want saturated colours. For example, the red in wardrobe and the bike didn't bleed, which tends to happen with the colour red. We really pushed the colours, and we were impressed with how well they held up to true saturation when using the Canon EOS C700 FF."
What was the biggest challenge on the shoot?
"Probably the motorcycle shoot. We were filming on a Grip Trix car, which is one of the fastest electric cars of its kind, and shooting horizontally with the motorcycles going right to left. It was hard because motorcycles are really fast and it was a challenge to keep the bikes in frame as we passed the moving cars that were strobing in the foreground. Actually, we were impressed that there wasn't a lot of strobing. Our stuntwoman did a wheelie, and we only had three tries to get it and then we had to move on because we were pressed for time. The bike didn't go up on its back tyre for two of those tries, but when it finally did, we got it. There would not have been time to do a retake, and fortunately we didn't need to."
How did you shoot the slow-motion scene?
"We shot 60 frames per second and 120 frames per second, and we had to drop down as the camera doesn't record slow motion in 5.9K, but we were very pleased, and we didn't see any loss of quality. It was easy to blend the slow-motion footage with the rest – the images cut in nicely. You might see more noise, but you see that no matter what you're shooting with, because there's a certain texture to shooting slow motion."
Were you able to make good use of the 10 stops of built-in filters?"I used the feature outside because the camera is so fast, and I wanted to keep the ISO at a constant 800 throughout for the best performance of the camera, in terms of capturing highlights and lowlights. It's useful to have ND filters built-in so there's no change in colour, which can happen with certain glass filters."
Were you monitoring the HDR output on-set?
"No, we were monitoring with beautiful Canon 4K monitors. What people need to understand is that there needs to be a fully separate grade when you shoot for HDR. We as cinematographers like to keep large areas of the frame dark by choice, and HDR is seeing into shadows where we don't necessarily want to see. We need to make another grade to make sure we're not seeing into the areas we prefer to keep dark. It's true that there is more latitude at the high end, which is desirable. But sometimes we want things to blow out. So we didn't monitor HDR output on-set; once I had done the first colour grade, we brought in an HDR monitor from Canon."
Will you be using the Canon EOS C700 FF again?
"I'll certainly look to use it again, and I'm sure many of my fellow cinematographers will as well. It's definitely Canon's best cinema camera to date. I have many friends who own a Canon EOS C300 Mark II and it's ubiquitous out there in the documentary world, but I think the Canon EOS C700 FF will get some serious consideration by people needing to shoot 4K, also in motion pictures and television. I think Canon has a good shot to really enter that arena now."
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