I just completed my very first HD video project! Well, that is not completely accurate. Since my Sony PD-170 camera gave up the ghost a couple of years ago, I have dabbled in HD video with a prosumer JVC camera. It was a decent system and shot full 1080P video, but it just didn’t have the control and lenses that I am used to. So I did a few videos here and there but nothing I was all that proud of. They looked OK but just not at the level I expected for pro quality work.
I had been planning to purchase a new Sony HD cam but I wasn’t wild about what you had to pay for what you got. Initially most of the HD cams still had a tape based workflow, and I HATE dealing with tapes. I knew that technology was going to be dead soon and hated to spend $6-$10K on a soon to be obsolete technology. I almost purchased a Sony EX3 but those are right at $10K and still fairly big to tote around. So I just kept waiting and finally made the move to the DSLR market with the Canon 5Dmk2.
I am SO happy I waited. There are a few limitations of the 5Dmk2 you have to work around, but the payoff is an awesome interchangable lens camera with full HD 1080P, a tapeless workflow, and a feel and handling like my Nikon DSLR’s.
For the past couple of weeks I have been getting my system rigged up and figuring out how to work with the 5D. It is quite a bit different than older camcorders like the PD-170 and you have to work around some of the issues involved. But my, my, the image quality is absolutely outstanding and easily makes up for all the limitations of the camera. I see now why they are starting to shoot TV shows and full length digital movies with the camera.
A few things I learned shooting with the 5dmk2 this past week:
1) Focus is CRITICAL. With my Sony PD-170 and my prosumer camcorders, they used a smaller chip with built in lenses. Hence the depth of field was plenty wide all and you needed to do was get the focus close and it would work fine. Plus you were dislpaying on a 720×480 screen so it was hard to tell if things were tack sharp anyway. Not so with the 5Dmk2. It has a full frame 35mm sensor and I am using fast Canon and Nikon prime lenses, so the depth of field can be millimeters. In other words, you can have a shot with the tip of their nose in focus and their eyes out of focus, and that doesn’t work. And since we are displaying the footage in high definition on a 50″ screen, anything that is not focused spot on is easily noticable. And the 5dmk2 is hard to focus anyway, so that is one of the major challenges with the camera. I have some work to do here. I ended up with footage that was unusuable since it looked in focus on the LCD screen but would be slightly out of focus on the subject and this would be clearly visible in the final product. I think an external LCD monitor and some type of manual focus rig is going to help here.
2) Audio wasn’t the problem I thought it would be. I was really worried about the audio capabilities of the 5Dmk2. Basically they suck. But the funny thing is, I knew that going in so I prepared for it. I recorded audio with an external Marantz recorder, using a couple of good quality microphones, and synced things up in post. This turned out better in the long run, since I had much better audio quality than using a shotgun mike on the camera or a lav mike on my subjects. It was more work up front but the audio quality was much better and more consistent. The audio on the 5Dmk2 still sucks, but knowing that I have an even better workaround now.
3) I need a steadycam. There is just no way to shoot such a small, light camera handheld. I could get away with that on the PD-170, but no way with the 5D. I see some videographers building these big rigs that make the 5D system as big or bigger than much larger pro cameras, but to me that kind of defeats the purpose of having such a small, powerful camera. So for now I shoot on a tripod or worst a monopod, and will soon end up getting some kind of steadycam for movement shots.
4) Need more STORAGE! Wow, HD video takes a HUGE amount of storage. I am used to working large high quality still images. I have a 4TB RAID 5 sever in my office on a gigabit Ethernet network, with several very powerful workstations accessing the images. But that setup just cannot handle the amount of storage needed for HD video. I talked to a friend who is also doing HD video and he said he buys 1TB drives by the dozen. So I ended up getting some 1TB drives and trying to figure out my backup strategy without a RAID server. I will be working on getting my computer systems to handle all this storage. My friend said he has about 40TB of storage in his studio!! Luckily I have a strong IT background so that is no big deal.
Unfortunately my first HD video is private so I cannot show it on the public Internet, but everyone who sees it is amazed and also invariably sheds a tear when they see the video. Even with HD video, the storyline is still paramount. You MUST have a good storyline and all the other stuff are just tools to better tell the story.