After using his Canon EOS 5D Mark IV for a commercial TV project, filmmaker Fergus Kennedy set out to see how far he could push the camera creatively. Fergus was originally a marine biologist, and he still makes films about the natural world. But he is increasingly working in stills photography and video for a range of clients across television and advertising, and has particularly focused on using drones to capture dramatic aerial shots.
Fergus’s new project was a personal one, giving him the freedom to develop his own ideas. He and his brother Nick, who was the camera operator, wanted to push the possibilities and see what they could achieve. Fergus realised that the EOS 5D Mark IV’s Canon Log upgrade would be of great benefit with some of the challenging conditions of drone shooting. Canon Log adds the ability to capture more of the dynamic range from the sensor, which can then be utilised when grading in post-production to achieve a specific look and match footage from different cameras. It’s a very powerful facility that is now the norm for professional cinematographers, and having it on the EOS 5D Mark IV makes it a serious digital filmmaking tool.
“In the past I had used the Canon XC10 for some drone shooting in 4K,” explains Fergus. “It was very good, a nice light camera. But the EOS 5D Mark IV also shoots high-resolution stills and can take advantage of the excellent and comprehensive selection of EF lenses, so its range of uses is greater. We wanted to make a video depicting fast-action sports using matched cuts, which meant we needed the best quality and grading flexibility in post-production. With Canon Log on hand, the EOS 5D Mark IV could deliver this.”
"The EOS 5D Mark IV is a very capable video camera, offering 4K and now Canon Log with a firmware upgrade service"
“The EOS 5D Mark IV is a very capable video camera, offering 4K and now Canon Log with a firmware upgrade service,” adds Fergus. “We could have used the C300 Mark II – that would have fitted on our drones. However, the EOS 5D Mark IV is lighter, so we could have longer flying times.”
Fergus faced quite a few challenges with this project. For a start, matching shots across different activities in a variety of locations would be problematic. This would be hard enough to do with such fast-paced action, but even more so when they were flying the drone in a dense forest.
One of the biggest challenges surfaced while filming a kite surfer in action. “We were on our fifth flight,” explains Fergus. “The drone was at about 5m altitude and around 200m out to sea, when it lost power, but not completely. It wouldn’t respond to putting the throttle up, and sank slowly into the water, never to be seen again.” Fergus reckons one of the cells in the main flight battery failed. Luckily, an insurance claim later and they were back up in the air. “The new drone has six batteries rather than one,” adds Fergus. “So, if one fails now, it won't go down!”
“This shoot required the careful orchestration of the activities of three people – the drone pilot, the camera operator, and the athlete we were shooting,” continues Fergus. “All three had to get the timing just right, which was tricky – we ended up having to do each shot about 20 times to perfectly capture the action.” The EOS 5D Mark IV’s reliability and flexibility proved invaluable, giving Fergus and his team the confidence that every shot the trio executed would be captured by the camera beautifully.
“The lighting conditions posed many potential issues,” adds Fergus. “The forest was dappled with deep shade and very bright highlights. Over the land, if you've got a reasonably bright sky, the ground is in shadow, so you need to dig into shadows without blowing out highlights. Over the sea there are lots of points of reflected bright light. This is all quite taxing of the dynamic range, latitude and codec on a camera, because a given exposure might work well for the bright areas but not for the shadows, and vice versa. If you're taking stills you can deal with that by shooting RAW. But when shooting video, you need as much latitude as possible to make dynamics look attractive in post. This is where the arrival of Canon Log on the EOS 5D Mark IV has been so beneficial, since it gives you that latitude.”
The EOS 5D Mark IV that Fergus and Nick mounted on the drone was equipped with a single lens, a Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM, which covered all their needs. “Video was shot in 4K at 30 frames per second and a 1/50th shutter,” adds Fergus. “We used a variety of apertures depending on the overall light level, although a ND filter was also added to the lens when the conditions were very bright.”
“We shot at ISO 400 most of the time, except for when the light dropped, where we went up to 3,200 ISO,” explains Fergus. “You get the optimum latitude from Canon Log at ISO 400, as much as 12 stops. However, one feature that makes Canon Log even easier to use is that you can also enable the View Assist preview to get an idea of how the footage might look after grading. We were also able to feed this out via the camera’s HDMI output to the gimbal and transfer this wirelessly at 1080p to the monitors on the ground. It’s hard to tell when viewing native Canon Log if you're crushing shadows or blowing out highlights, so View Assist is really useful to help avoid this, even if the final grade that you use is a bit different.”
"...The EOS 5D Mark IV can easily operate as a B-camera alongside Canon Cinema EOS cameras."
For Fergus, the increased video resolution of the EOS 5D Mark IV was the initial reason to buy the camera, but this has now been enhanced with the arrival of Canon Log. “Clients are increasingly asking for 4K,” he explains. “But you also have that extra leeway for cropping in post. Having Canon Log extends that flexibility even further. You can use similar Look-Up-Tables (LUTs) to the C100 and C300. These LUTs apply a predefined grade to the footage when you need to combine footage from multiple cameras. In fact, we have tried using the same LUTs as a C300 and the footage matches really well. The EOS 5D Mark IV can easily operate as a B-camera alongside Canon Cinema EOS cameras.”
With this shoot, Fergus converted the native M-JPEG footage shot by the EOS 5D Mark IV in 4K to ProRes format before importing into Adobe Premiere Pro editing software, for smoother playback. The native 4K file is recorded at a very healthy 500Mbits/sec data rate, and ProRes reduces this to something more manageable so that editing hardware and software can handle with ease. “You don’t really lose anything if you convert to a high-quality version of ProRes, because the original footage is so good,” enthuses Fergus.
“We were using the Lumetri grading tools in Premiere Pro. Due to the extremely varied lighting conditions, we were grading each shot individually, but using a wide dynamic range LUT as a starting point. We then tweaked the curves, shadows, highlights, whites, and saturation. It wasn't enormously involved or labour intensive to work with the footage. We didn't feel like we needed to recover anything lost, nor were we looking for a heavily stylised look. It was more naturalistic, so we were more focused on bringing out the best in each shot.”
Fergus plans to make extensive use of the EOS 5D Mark IV’s increased capabilities in future projects. “For me, it is my workhorse — I use the camera day in and day out for stills and now on a drone for stills and video. I've owned EOS 5Ds since the original one, and they've always been totally reliable as they have travelled around the world with me. This week I'm buying an underwater housing so the Mark IV can come with me when diving in Indonesia later in the year. With the contrasts in light and shade you get underwater, Canon Log mode will be invaluable there too.”
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