Canon EF 24-105mm f4 L IS USM Lens

When it comes to lenses for my DSLR’s I’ve invested in some lovely primes, my Canon 50mm 1.2, 24mm 1.4 & 35mm 1.4 L series lenses are all low light wonders and produce gorgeous looking footage from the 5D and 7D. When I was purchasing these lenses I did consider going for a medium zoom and owned a Canon 24 – 70 2.8 for while but decided to return that in favour of the primes simply because in low light those extra few stops do make a huge difference.

I also own a Canon 70 – 200 2.8 IS lens which is fantastic, quite often I’ll prefer the results from that over my primes it really depends on what it is I’m shooting and the type of result I’m looking for. The Image Stabiliser on that lens is excellent and even though it makes lot of noise it makes handholding such a long lens quite easy.

One time when primes become a bit of a pain though is for event work. I took my 5D along with the 50 and 24 to my recent shoot for Harley-Davidson in St Tropez and although both lenses produced nice results, it seemed that the moment I swapped the lenses a shot would present itself where I felt like I wanted to swap them again. I really don’t like swapping lenses more than I have to in the field as it’s way too easy for grit, dust and other nasties to get inside the cameras.

So, for my next event for Harley which takes place in Barcelona next weekend I’ve decided to try out the Canon EF 24-105mm f4 L IS USM Zoom. Now at F4 this is by no means a fast lens, it’s not going to be on my 5D when I head out in the evenings but for daytime use I think it’s going to be a lovely lens giving me a nice range to work with without swapping lenses. It’s also not going to deliver the extremely shallow depth of field that my primes can, but again that’s not something I really need for handheld work at events.

When choosing this lens I considered another 24 – 70 2.8, but the 24-105 has some advantages over the 24-70 which are very important for event work. Firstly, and most importantly it has IS (Image Stabilisation) which works wonders for handheld video use. Dealing with camera shake is one of the hardest things about working with DSLR’s so having IS helps a lot. When I get back from Barcelona I’ll post some examples of how much it helps.

The other advantage the 24-105 has over the 24-70 is that it’s quite a lot lighter, for event work carrying the 5D around as well as my EX1 weight can be tricky, the less weight I have to carry the better.

The 24-70 at f2.8 is obviously a few stops faster than the 24-105 and if you need a wide zoom to work in lower light situations as well then it would be a better choice. Even f2.8 can be a bit limiting in low light though so I’ll stick to my 50mm f1.2 and 24mm f1.4 for that.

The lens has literally just turned up this morning so I haven’t had much time with it yet, but from my first impressions it looks like it’ll work a treat, the IS makes a huge difference and I can get shots which don’t look like handheld shots at all. As with all of Canon’s L Series lenses it appears to be built well and ready for the challenge ahead.

Although a lot quieter than the 70-200 the noise from IS on this lens would probably still be noticeable if using an on camera mic but for most of my usage that’s not a big issue as I generally use an external recorder for anything where I’m going to need the sound.

I’ll post more when I return from Barcelona and let you know how it worked out.

The Canon EF-24-105 F4 IS can be purchased in the USA from B&H for $1,059

In the UK Warehouse Express sell it for £929.99

The result of the DSLR revolution, or the end of it?

I’m very excited to be seeing more news being announced about Sony’s answer to the DSLR revolution. This new camera which is expected to be available before NAB 2011 could give us all the benefits of using a large 35mm sensor along with fast SLR lenses as well as the practical solutions normally found in dedicated video cameras such as better monitoring, xlr sound inputs and a pro codec to work with.

I personally think we’ll see the buzz return to the traditional video camera manufacturers 12 months from now, which is quite an interesting thought considering that the whole aftermarket manufacturing industry currently seems to have gone DSLR crazy. A dedicated 35mm video sensor would be designed with HD video formats in mind so would no doubt avoid the line twitter / aliasing issues which are the result of DSLR’s sensors providing too much resolution. DSLR’s are always going to have to cater to photographers first.

Canon or even Nikon may be planning on delivering an uncompressed full res video output from a DSLR, but they are always going to have to deal with sensors that are designed with still images in mind and provide work arounds to the huge resolutions involved.

I think the whole DSLR thing has been fantastic, it gave the video giants a big kick up the behind and made them move forward a lot faster than that might have done otherwise. They seem to be moving though so it’s going to be very interesting to see which direction they go in.

I did plan on investing in an EX1r for this years event work but I think I’m going to try and make my trusty 3 year old EX1 last one more season now and see what Sony do with this new camera and what they mean by “more affordable”.

The thought of an XDCAM-EX or better body offering the features of an EX1r but using a 35mm sensor along with the possibility to use various types of 35mm lenses is really exciting. It’s hard to know if that’s what Sony have in mind at present, but it would certainly get the attention of all those videographers out there who have jumped on the DSLR band wagon and invested money in 35mm glass.

Euro Festival 2010 part 2 – The Event

Read Part 1 – Preparation and the ride to the event

EX1 – over-cranking and audio
I shot the majority of this event using my EX1. I normally shoot these at 720/25p and switch on S&Q motion (overcrank) from time to time when I want some slow motion footage. The only problem with this approach is that the EX1 doesn ‘t record any audio when running S&Q. I ran into a problem last year when the client asked for audio from part of a sequence I ‘d shot in slow-mo so needed another approach this year.

I decided to do two things differently, firstly I took along my Zoom H4n audio recorder and whenever possible asked the guys running the sound desks to give me a feed so that I could have a non-stop audio recording regardless of what I did with the camera. I also decided to shoot the whole event in 720/50p mode so that I could create slow-mo in post using cinema tools and be able to use the footage on a 25p timeline with audio should I need it.

Shooting at 720/50 when you know you ‘re delivery will be at 25p means you have to be careful with shutter speeds. I normally have my shutter on the EX1 set to 180 degrees which results in each frame being exposed for 1/50th second. If I left that setting the same when shooting at 720/50 each frame would only be exposed for 1/100th of a second.

Because I planned to export the video back to 25p I turned the shutter off, effectively giving each frame 1/50th of a second of exposure giving it the same amount of motion blur as 25p in the hope it would produce similar results once reduced to 720/25. This theory didn ‘t really work out that well, when I imported my 50p clips into a 25p timeline the footage didn ‘t look as fluid as I ‘d normally expect from 25p. Edited on a 720/50p timeline the footage played correctly, but when exported out at 25p I still wasn ‘t overly happy with the results. I ‘ll need to look into this one a bit further.

One other downside to the 720/50 route to slow-mo is that cinema tools can ‘t conform XDCAM-EX footage, it needs to be transcoded to Pro-Res first which could take a lot of time considering I had hours of footage. I handled this by going through the footage and creating a sequence with all my favourite shots in which I then exported out as a 720/50p ProRes file which was then conformed in Cinema Tools and reimported for use in my edit.

Custom bike tracking shots
I used my 5D & glidetrack shooter rig during the events custom bike show. As well as being a very light and portable rig for tracking shots the results are some of the nicest looking custom bike shots I ‘ve managed at an event so far, I ‘ll definitely be using it again. Using the Manfrotto 394 quick release plates to switch between tripod and ground shots worked a treat too.

Using the Canon 5D
I made the decision before leaving to shoot this event that I was going to shoot the majority of it on my Sony EX1 with the exception being the tracking shots on the glidetrack.

I did however also want to experiment with the 5D so I ventured out a couple of times with it on a DV Multirig. One area where the 5D shines is in low light environments so I took it instead of the EX1 when I headed out to film a couple of bands and the party goers watching them. Shots such as bar scenes and people dancing on the beach being lit by the stage lights were brought to life by the 5D where the EX1 would have either been dark shadows or a grainy mess. I did however discover a limitation with the 5D that I wasn ‘t aware of before this event.

I was shooting some guys riding Harleys through the event ground with their headlights on and noticed black dots appearing in the middle of the headlights. On reviewing the footage these black dots appear anywhere in the image that ‘s ultra bright. This also happened on occasion when shooting the bands and a stage light would shine on the camera, the light would become a small black spot on the image.

I ‘ve mixed up things quite a bit in the event video, to me the 5D shots are all very obvious but I ‘m not sure they always represent the best looking images. The tracking shots of the custom bikes look good, but some of the crowd shots from the event have a kind of ‘mobile phone’ look about them rather than the deep focus, ultra clear HD images that the EX1 usually gathers.

Manfrotto Monopod
This was the first event I ‘ve shot where I took the Manfrotto monopod along. In theory the monopod should be ideal in this environment as it ‘s fairly low profile and yet allows for steady panning or tilting shots when required. In use though I found the monopod to be a bit of a failure. It was easier to carry than something like my Miller DS-2o tripod but I found it quite useless for trying to get smooth panning shots. Fast pans were a little better, but trying to pan slowly resulted in a kind of clicking action from the fluid cartridge in the base that was very visible in the resulting footage. I won ‘t be taking it again.

My workflow changed slightly at this event mainly due to the use of the Nexto DI NVS2500. For footage offloads I continued what I ‘d started on the ride to the event by offloading my media cards to the NVS at the end of each day and then syncing it to an external drive.

I did have one scary moment when the external drive I was using developed some kind of fault that could only be fixed by formatting it and re-syncing. This took a couple of hours to complete, during which time I felt particularly vulnerable knowing the footage was solely on the NVS hard drive but the device performed perfectly and allowed me to re-sync my data once the external drive had been reformatted.

All in all the shooting at the event went well, I had no major problems with equipment etc. The weather even started to look up, we had the occasional shower but it stayed dry for the most part with a fair amount of sun thrown in.

Shooting for “Adrift’

I spent yesterday down on the coast shooting for “Adrift”, a short film I’m putting together with Peter Naylor. I’d like to say a big thank you to Justin Smith, Ryan Sutton, Liam Hind & Jamie Crown who came along to help out on the shoot. I didn’t realise quite how much we were going to be expecting of them until we got to the beach and realised that the location was quite a trek from the car park.

Justin, Ryan, Liam & Jamie not only carried much of the gear to our base camp but were happy to do the trip four times in total ferrying loads of gear around including a Jib which isn’t an easy thing to be carrying on a sandy beach on a steaming hot day. We were also on location at 6am, not easy for most of us but especially alien to students!

I’d also like to thank our Actors, Sally and Mya who were fantastic, my friend Tim for helping out with props and Sylvia for preparing a huge supply of food and drink for us all.

I don’t want to give too much away about the story for now, but here’s a few frame grabs and some BTS stills I grabbed while carrying the 5D around.

Harley-Davidson Eurofestival 2010 – part 1

After three weeks of working on this project I’m finally at a point where I have some time to write about it. I’m going to be posting my report in three parts, starting with this one which is all about the preparation and the ride to the event near St Tropez.

The plan with the project was to shoot footage for a short documentary about a group of Harley riders making the trip from the UK to the Event in St Tropez via the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and of course with the last part of the journey through France. Once at the destination I also needed to be able to cover the event for Harley-Davidson so that they could post video clips on their gallery website soon after the event.

Choosing the right bike
I too was riding a motorcycle so I had to spend a lot of time choosing the kit and the bike that would allow me to work efficiently with the minimum of gear. As you’ve probably seen from my previous posts I chose the BMW GS Adventure for this job as it offered everything I needed. Most important was plenty of fully waterproof luggage capacity, the GS was especially great in this department with it’s three fully waterproof aluminium boxes on the back, a tank bag and a lot of tie down points for things like tripods.

I hired the bike for two weeks from Superbike Rental who I have to say were fantastic. The bike was pretty much brand new and the service I received from them was second to none, I highly recommend them if you’re looking to hire a motorcycle in the UK.

The GSA was fantastic to ride, it was fitted with a full satnav system which proved to be invaluable at times but by far the best feature for this trip was it’s heated hand grips, I didn’t expect to be saying that when I hired the bike!

Camera options
When it came to choosing cameras I was torn between shooting with my trusty Sony EX1 or going with just my Canon DSLR’s. My initial thoughts were that main benefit of going with the Canon’s would be the small size and portability of the little cameras as well as the ability to gather some shallow depth of field footage which I know would work well with the subject matter at times.

After much thought and some testing however I felt that shooting everything with a DSLR wasn’t going to be practical for the project, the main reason for this was the inability to view the LCD from low angles and that I needed to have the ability to shoot both wide and on telephoto without swapping lenses. I know there are lenses out there that could offer this functionality but I wanted to work with what I already own, which are mostly prime lenses other than my 70-200 2.8. Packing 3 or 4 primes soon makes the DSLR package less compact than something like an EX1 as well.

In the end I decided to use the best of both. I packed my EX1 along with a shotgun mic and batteries in one of the bikes panniers and then put the 5D fitted with my 50mm 1.2 prime in the the tank bag. This turned out to be a really practical solution because if I needed to grab a shot quickly I simply had to stop the bike and grab the 5D from the tank bag without getting off.

Occasionally I’d go ahead of the group and they’d give me a few minutes to get set up before passing me, for those shots I tended to grab the EX1 and shoot at 50fps giving me the option of slowmo in post.

Zoe fitted with a GoPro HD Hero

I also took two GoPro HD Hero’s with me, the plan for these was to move them around between riders and grab shots of the riders as well as POV shots. This worked pretty well although the plan was a bit thwarted by the weather, more about that in a bit. I build a mount using a Manfrotto super-clamp and a cine-arm which worked well for positioning the camera in different locations on the bikes.

As well as the cameras I obviously needed to take a few other bit’s and pieces on the bike. I was able to send some gear ahead of me in a flight case but I wouldn’t get that until i arrived at the event so I needed to make sure I had all the basics with me for the riding phase. On the bike I had chargers, various cables, a shotgun mic, my NVS2500, two 500GB hard drives, my Miller DS20 tripod, my Glidetrack Shooter, Rode videomic, ND fader & other filters for the 5D, rain covers for both cameras, an LED light, a 5 way power outlet with a Euro adapter fitted, my Zoom H4n and all of the required bits and bobs that those things need.

My kit filled the top box and the biggest pannier on the right side of the bike, the pannier on the left had my clothes and shoes inside with the tripod and glidetrack strapped on top in a Manfrotto tripod bag.

Data Wrangling
I didn’t want to take my laptop on the bike as a 17″ macBook Pro isn’t the most compact of machines and space was very limited. So, for on the road backups and card emptying duties I used my Nexto Di NVS2500. The NVS worked a treat throughout the whole trip, I’d simply offload every card I’d used during the day and then do a sync of the data on NVS onto an external drive. Once the footage was on the NVS and a backup drive I would empty the cards ready for the next days shooting. I used a 500GB lacie drive for syncing which was powered by one of my Sony BPU-60’s using the adapter supplied by Nexto.

The only time I really missed my laptop when offloading footage was just to be able to view a selection of clips to reinforce to myself that I had the data before deleting the clips from my media cards. To be fair the NVS can do this with SxS cards from the EX1 but at this time I couldn’t do the same with 5D or GoPro footage. I think this is something Nexto will be adding at a later date though. Using GoPro’s is especially hard without a laptop as you have no way at all to see what you’ve recorded. Luckily one of the riders brought along a small macbook so I was able to check the GoPro footage a couple of times.

Batteries & Charging
On the bike I had 2 x Sony BPU-60’s 6 x Canon Lp-E6’s, and 6 x GoPro batteries. The Canon & Sony batteries were easy to stay on top off, I didn’t use a whole battery in either the Canon or the Sony in any given day. In fact I only charged those once during the riding phase of the trip.

The GoPro batteries on the other hand were more of a challenge because I used all of the batteries up each day. To charge a GoPro battery it needs to be in the camera itself which then needs to be connected to a USB port. If I’d had a laptop with me this wouldn’t have been a huge issue but without one it became my biggest challenge each night.

I used a standard iPhone charger to power the GoPro’s as it uses a standard 5v USB output. I planned to take two of those but for some reason forgot one so ended up constantly battling to swap batteries in a goPro during the evenings and night-times in order to get as many batteries charged as possible ready for the next day.

Shooting the riding out phase of the trip
During the planning of this trip I was more than aware that there was a chance that we could get some rain at times so I went to a lot of trouble to make sure my kit could be made watertight. I had all my kit in BMW’s watertight pannier bags which fit inside the also watertight panniers. Boy did that turn out to be a wise decision!

During the ride to St Tropez we rarely saw the sun, it was generally cloudy / stormy weather with pleanty of rain thrown in for good measure, not just regular everyday rain either but torrential rain, hail, extreme winds, cold and even lighting tried it’s best to stop us in our tracks!

The BMW’s waterproof panniers kept everything nice and dry, but the additional waterproof liners were also great because when I had to open the panniers I could do so without the contents getting soaked by the rain. The only things that really suffered a few soakings were my Miller tripod and the glidetrack as the manfrotto tripod bag strapped to the pannier on the left of the bike wasn’t waterproof at all.

The weather was a nightmare on the cameras, the GoPro’s are waterproof, but the footage doesn’t look great with rain drops running across the lens and they have a tendency to fog up when it’s raining too which renders the footage useless. It’s quite demoralising to position a camera on a rider or a bike and then check it an hour later after riding through some amazing scenery to find it had fogged up within the first few minutes.

I still managed to get some nice footage on the 5D and EX1 but the cameras can only capture what’s on front of them which most of the time was just cold wet people riding dirty bikes under dull grey skies. Not exactly what I had in mind for this project.

We rode through some fantastic places, over mountains and through impressive gorges that on a better day would have looked stunning so we did do some exciting stuff, it just didn’t look that good on camera when we were there unfortunately. At one point we were in the alps and the temperate got down to 2 degrees. enough to make the BMW give me an ice warning!

So all in all the shooting of the ride out to St Tropez was defeated by the weather. I did get some nice shots but certainly not enough to make the documentary I’d planned. Maybe the trip home would provide more options, better weather and chances of some decent footage?

In part 2 I’ll be talking about my workflow at the event, my thoughts on using the 5D for event work and how the glidetrack shooter enabled me to offer something new for the client.