The high quality and superior design of Canon's cameras and lenses make them the go-to kit for today's best documentary filmmakers. The results speak for themselves: at the 2019 Academy Awards, announced in February, all the nominees in the Best Feature Documentary category were shot using Canon equipment.
The winning movie, Free Solo, plus the four other nominated films (RBG, Of Fathers and Sons, Hale County This Morning This Evening, and Minding the Gap) were all made using cameras and lenses from Canon's range of Cinema EOS and DSLR kit.
The equipment performed well in the often-demanding conditions in which the Oscar-nominated filmmakers worked. Subjects ranged from a perilous cliff climb to life in an Islamic caliphate.
Free Solo is a compelling documentary about Alex Honnold and his ascent of the 3,000-foot granite rockface of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, USA. Alex is one of the world's best free solo climbers, and this extraordinary climb was achieved without any ropes, harnesses or other equipment.
The film's co-director, co-producer and director of photography, Jimmy Chin, says the main reason he chose Canon was its high level of performance. "We knew that we wanted to shoot with real cinema cameras and real cinema lenses and really push the craft of the film," he says.
"The EOS C300 Mark II was an obvious choice for us. We knew we wanted to shoot for a big cinematic experience, so we were shooting in 4K. We needed to have a camera that was easy to use, that was very dependable. Also a big advantage for us is that it is a great vérité camera."
Shooting took place in a range of locations, from high on California's El Capitan to the cramped interior spaces of Alex's van, so a range of prime and zoom lenses were needed. They included Canon Cinema Primes, the CINE-SERVO 17-120mm, Compact Cinema Zooms, CN-E 14.5-60mm and EF lenses. For capturing the climactic free solo climb itself, Jimmy used one of the "big guns" in the Canon range, the CINE-SERVO 50-1000mm lens.
"Ultimately, the film looks beautiful because of the Cinema cameras and Cinema lenses we were able to use," he says.
Claudia Raschke, director of photography on the Oscar-nominated RBG, says Canon equipment was essential to that film's appearance, too. It's a documentary about US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ("RBG") and was shot using Canon EOS C300 Mark II cameras. "They are lightweight, I can move around quickly, they have a fantastic sensor – I can use the craft to support the story," Claudia says.
She chose to shoot with Cinema EOS primes and zooms partly because she wanted to accurately capture details in Ruth Bader Ginsburg's physical appearance. "Her skin tone was very striking and I really wanted to make sure I could reproduce that and create this incredible glow that she carries," Claudia continues. "One of the things that really struck me was the amount of reflectance [that Canon lenses capture] within the skin tone. It just kind of blew me away."
Also nominated were Of Fathers and Sons, which gives a rare insight into life in an Islamic caliphate, and Minding the Gap, which documents the lives of three young men growing up in an American 'Rust Belt' town. Both were shot on a Canon EOS C300. Finally, Hale County This Morning, This Evening, which gives an intimate view of life in an African American community in Alabama, was shot on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III.