Posted by on Jul 23, 2011

As canon DSLR got overall popular the last couple of years, i took the time to take the Canon 5d for a spin for two days, in order to analyze it´s possibility for creating visual fx with this setup for further projects.

I´m not a professional camera man myself, but i have some background in still photography from university and from courses i took, so i mainly focus on the performance of the camera for usage in visual fx and color grading.

Camera handling:

First of all, it´s a still camera and although it offers a lot of possibility for good moneys worth there are several limitations that simply come from the fact that it was purely built to be a still camera and only on second occasion for usage as a film camera.

I have to say I only used a “naked” 5d without any viewfinder, follow focus, matte box, or shoulder rig and after the two days this fact cleared up for my that without these accessories the camera itself is barely usable visual fx, because of several reasons:

Being built as a still camera it is supposed to be used like that, meaning that you use the viewfinde r to shoot your images. Using live mode it´s only possible to shoot video via the lcd which results in several drawbacks:

-you end up in a unnatural position below eye level, because this is more comfortable and practicable that using it on eye level via the viewfinder.

-without contact to the body, lacking stability is a key issue which results in unsteady images and “micro-jittering” that cannot be fully removed in post by stabilizing the footage. Also the Viewfinder serves as a means of putting your focus completely into the image, without it you experience much more of the surrounding, which can be distracting. Also the lcd can be hard to see and focusing is a challenge as well in such position and even can result in additional jitter.

Shooting in the worst conditions without stabilizing, viewfinder and follow focus especially when you stabilize the footage in post you can see the sudden “smearing” from the jittering. For stabilizing in post as well as for camera tracking this can get you into trouble, because of the sudden motion blur trackers can fail and the overal matchmoving solution can be off.
Here´s a sequence to prove a point: shot handheld without any kind of stabilizer, shoulder mount or tripod, when you heavily stabilize your footage in post, you clearly see some unsharp frames which can result in Problems for Tracking and postproduction. In my opinion, without any accessories, the camera used handheld is close to be not usable in the field.

There is almost no way of keeping the camera still enough to avoid those effects without any rig/tripod. There´s no way of removing these kind of artifacts (“jello effect”). As for tracking (2d and 3d) this can be a huge problem, because single frames get a lot of motion blur and several trackers might lose their steady track.

Shutter speed:

As a shutter speed of 1/50 is recommended for video recording in order to resemble motion blur of a film camera, shortening the shutter speed will alter the general look of the image to an extend that the images will be unnaturally sharp, similar to the invasion scene at the beach of “Saving Private Ryan”. So although shortening the shutter speed is helping with this issue it should remain an aesthetic choice when to use it, not a quick technical fix.
Especially for stabilizing and 3d tracking this is one of the most prominent problems when you don´t use a proper tripod, shoulder mount or stabilizer.

Lens distortion:

This is a general thing in visual fx, but as with any other camera. Lens distortion, depending on the quality of the lens you use,  is almost always an issue. It’s essential to record all the information  concerning the lens like focal length, f-stop and shutter speed as well as generating undistortion profiles for the focal lengths you are shooting with, otherwise any computer generated material you might added  will simply be off at least on the edges, depending on the lenses characteristics.

There has been a big Buzz about accessories and gear and after testing the camera without any additional gear i find that there ´s a reason for that and it can definitely help compensate for some flaws of the camera and the facts that it´s a still camera, besides it video capabilities.
At first it feels weird that you have to put a lot of extra gear onto the camera to work professionally with it, but as it´s designed as a still camera, those things add up in making it more usable as a video recording device. There are a lot of cameras out there that surpass the Canon Dslrs in usability, general handling and image quality, but concerning the pricetag and resulting pleasant image you can get out of the camera it´s a tradeoff that a lot of people are willing to take.


Concluding i think the contemporary Canon DSLRs were a big step into the direction that independent filmmakers wanted to go to: A full format 35mm sized sensor with interchangeable lenses, affordable with an easy workflow for editing and postproduction. On the other hand they lack a lot of features concerning handiness, audio recording capabilities and uncompressed recording, but i consider them a major step into the right direction and we will look forward into the new generation of affordable film cameras that will certainly get one step closer in all those fields where independent filmmakers would always be dreaming of. I´m curious about the new generation of Cameras that are coming out in the next months/years.