Shooting with Freddie on the 7D

Hey lady-bros and bros.

I've had only a couple gigs since I've been back, and so far I've been lucky enough to shoot on the Canon 5D and the 7D. For those who are unfamiliar, Canon has come out with several DSLR cameras that shoot both stills and HD 1080 video. There are a few options, the most popular being (from most expensive to least) the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, the Canon EOS 7D, and the Canon EOS Rebel T2i.

If you're thinking about shooting with DSLR's or just want to know more (and get comparisons of the cameras) go check out DSLRVideoShooter.com's 10 Must Read HDSLR Guides For Filmmakers list, as well as NoFilmSchool.com's DSLR Cinematography Guide. There is a lot of information out there, and these are good consolidated places to start.

Why Shoot Video on DSLR?

Well I guess, first, what IS a DSLR?
A Digital Single Lens Reflex camera is a digital version of an SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera. An SLR has a moving shutter and mirror system so that you see the exact frame you are about to shoot very close to the moment of exposure, where as in earlier cameras, the viewfinder was an approximation of what your shutter would expose. On top of having a comparable look to 35mm exposures, DLSR's also have the advantage of having interchangeable lenses.

Until now, these cameras were only used for stills. There are hundreds of articles listing the pros and cons of shooting video on these cameras. I'm not going to get into that here, but instead look at what I noticed when I was tossed one of these cameras and told to start shooting. I personally love shooting on Canon's DSLR's.

Here's the latest thing I got to shoot using the 7D:

Freddie (known better as freddiew on youtube) is a friend from the beginning of our days at USC's film school. He and our group of friends have been making short films and videos for the heck of it probably since our first semester of freshman year. His youtube career started as a "wouldn't this be hilarious" video of him playing guitar hero, then a follow-up video (that I also happened to shoot) made in response to the millions of views and comments that unexpectedly followed.

I've been continually annoying the shit out of Freddie to let me shoot with him and Brandon on their videos once I got back to Los Angeles, and a couple weeks ago my moment finally came via text message: "Are you free this week?"


The shoot was for one day down at our friends Kevin and Chrissie's awesome place. From what I gathered, Freddie and Brandon come up with a basic plan and mode of attack beforehand, discussing the important elements that absolutely need to be hit and leaving the smaller details of shooting for the set. And they move very quickly on set. (This is pretty great for me, as I love days when I am too busy to sit down or have time to get tired.)

Per Freddie's request, with me I brought some of my DSLR lenses that I usually use with my old Rebel (18-55mm f3.5, 75-300mm f4.0, 50mm f1.8), my AC kit, my two roommates [nicknamed Cullen and Batman for this blog] and Cullen's huge arsenal of airsoft guns. On a hunch I grabbed my fisheye adaptor lens. This proved to be an awesome hunch, namely because the shot we used it for at 0:24 looks totally great and cracks me up.


Here's the lens, and the lens in front of my little webcam (I'm sitting the same distance away in both pictures). Using an adaptor ring, it screws onto the lens on your camera. You can see it in action here at 0:47 as well as a lovely shot of my hand and Brandon's knee. The lens is used for maybe one or two other shots, and you can tell by how the edges of the frame are distorted into a curve.

Because of the nature of the scene and the effects they wanted, Freddie wanted to stay wide with a wide depth of field. I kept my 18-55mm zoom on and mostly stayed around 18mm when not on the fisheye. Inside we only had window light and a bounce to work with, so I kept the ISO pretty damn high so I could stop up the aperture (I tried for an f8.0 if I could swing it) and kept the shutter speed between 1/60 and 1/120. We were shooting 1080 24p for most of the shots, except for a few select action shots that we shot at 60p. [Note: if you need slow motion, go for the 7D. 5D doesn't have the 60p shooting rate.]

I love the controls on the 7D for all this. It's weird at first transferring my video thinking to SLR thinking, but because I spent so much time on my own SLR, it became instantly intuitive and I barely had to think when I wanted settings changed. I was able to predict how the camera would respond to what I was telling it to do pretty quickly. The menu was also very intuitive and I actually prefer the 7D camera body and menu to the 5D. (I might write more about this later when I actually have the two cameras or manuals in front of me to reference.)

Using my normal DSLR lenses was a bit of a pain though. Common DSLR lenses are not made for follow-focusing. With film lenses, you have markings on the side that you can reference for distance in feet. If your subject is eight feet away, you can set your lens at 8 feet and your subject will be in focus within a reasonable amount. So if your subject moves to four feet away in the scene, you can pull the focus on your lens to match and know exactly where correct focus will be. On my little zoom, there are no markings of the kind. For the dolly shot that begins at 0:13 (and ends around 0:22) we set the camera on a towel on the floor, started super close on Freddie's ear, and slid the camera back, then reversed it in post. Despite our wider DOF, the distance threw Freddie's ear out of focus when we got to the ending point of the move. So I set the focus on his ear close-up first, marked a reference point (on the non-moving part of my lens) with a red grease pencil. Then I made a distance mark on the moving part, pulled the camera back to its ending mark, refocused, made another distance mark for the new focus, and then used the two pencil marks and their relation to the reference point I made to pull the focus as Brandon pulled the camera back while shooting. (Grease pencils are great for this. Marks clean off super easy and it's gentle on your lenses.) So the good thing is, it's still relatively easy to use your cheap DSLR lenses when you're on a budget, even if it's a bit of a pain.

Another thing I love about shooting on the DSLR's is the size of the camera body itself. Take a look at the shot at 0:37. We follow Nicole back through the living room and through the window to outside. Basically we put the camera onto a tripod (a sturdy high-quality one, mind you) and tilted the head completely sideways, so when you lay the tripod on its side, the camera will face straight on. Kevin held the tripod legs next to me to my left, I held the camera, and we walked backward in pace with Nicole, and pushed the camera out the window to Brandon. It took a few practice tries but it was relatively simple and I love the feel the shot gives the scene. Also, it made running around after Freddie a bit easier.

One thing I noticed was the Freddie and Brandon favored the Panasonic HVX for effects-heavy shots. This is because of the nature of the 7D CMOS sensor, which scans each line of resolution from top to bottom. This creates a slight, wiggly "jello" like movement when the camera moves back and forth, making tracking for effects extremely difficult. Cameras with a CCD sensor are much better for this.

Most of the people who have worked with me know that I hate monitors and LCD viewers and prefer to focus through the viewfinder. With the 7D, the only way to shoot video is to use the Live View on the LCD screen, or output to a monitor (which we didn't have). This was a little vexing at first, as it's a relatively small screen compared to a monitor and I kept double guessing my focus. Luckily there is a magnification option you can use that magnifies the image and lets you focus more accurately. It only slows you down for a moment and I got the hang of it pretty quickly. The live view is a pretty accurate depiction of what your image looks like (versus some LCD screens on camcorders that muck up details in regards to exposure latitude and color).

I would also like to note that all of the footage inside was shot on a very high ISO and the grain still remained relatively low, and due to the compression of youtube, is virtually invisible. But at that high ISO, the noise would definitely be problematic if your final format is higher quality. Talking with Freddie, he said for shooting that requires wide DOF, he doesn't favor the DSLR's. Their DOF seems to be naturally shallower, thus requiring a higher-than-usual ISO in low light in order to stop up aperture and keep shutter speed consistent, thus adding more noise. Comparing the footage, Freddie said the shots we took with the HVX indoors had significantly less noise. The conclusion: the 7D is great for shallower focus, relatively smooth or still shots, shots that do not require detailed effects, and does better with action when there is much more available light (i.e. outside daylight). But on the whole, if you're allowed to open up your aperture, the Canon DSLR's have amazing low-light capabilities.

I'd also like to note that the Canon 7D can only shoot continuously for 12 minutes at a time. This is normally not a problem, as most films don't need 12 minute-long takes. But it would be problematic for documentary-style projects.

Other than that, I feel that the quality of the video is fantastic, playback is easy. Having the all the options for lenses that Canon offers also is the biggest draw for me. You easily get beautiful 35mm-esque DOF and the freedom of high quality, interchangeable lenses without the hassle of using something like a LETUS adaptor, which I've used before on the EX3. While the Letus looked fantastic, it cut down a lot of light before it reached the lens, and it was heavy, requiring extra equipment, adding bulk and eating up time in setting up.

Also, I would never rely on the 7D for sound, but having it does make syncing easier. (A lot of the shots were also recorded with a mic on the HVX).

The shoot overall was awesome, fast paced and fun. Freddie and Brandon are great to work with, and you can tell by how upbeat and up for everything the actors and crew are when we're shooting. And the old VW bus was awesome.

Here's Freddie's Behind The Scenes video for the shoot. Most of the effects are addressed there. I'm working with him on a couple lighting tutorials, so you'll see me again on his behind the scenes channel in the future.


Elle said...

It looked great. I figured it was 7d because of the jello, but it was only very faint. Honestly though, I'd toss the 18-55, that thing is a piece of junk. The 50mm is the best lens you have.

A note about the menus: for 5d video was an afterthought, whereas 7d was built to have video as a main feature. IMO all future Canon DSLRs will have the 7d menus & controls.

Oh yeah, and if you guys need a second 7d on any shoots, let me know!

LH said...

I fucking love the 7D menu and set up. It's awesome.

And agreed- the 18-55 zoom that comes with the canon kits are pretty lame. I almost never use mine. But the widest prime we had I think was a 35, and we needed something wider.

Elle we need to meet up and talk cameras!

Joshua said...

I want to say thank you to you for sharing the above information. Many people don’t have any clue on shooting video with DSLR, I’m one of them. So it is very obvious that I’m not a video expert. I’m still learning the right way on how to shoot video.

Margaret said...

I have the same camera with you. And I also have a Nikon camera types. In my opinion, this is very good camera and the lens of this camera is really very clear. And the result of pictures from this camera is also very good. I've seen the video that you post. And I like it a lot. It's really very entertaining and very interesting.

The Photography Indonesia said...

Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)