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Technical

Flying high: filming an air display with the EOS C700

May 2017

When Kevin Blanc was asked to shoot an air show on the mountain tops of Switzerland, he took the opportunity to try out Canon’s new flagship EOS C700 digital cinema camera. CPN writer James Morris found out whether it was all plane sailing...

The Patrouille Suisse Air Show is an event connected with the FIS Alpine World Ski Championship in St. Moritz, for which SWISS is the airline partner. Kevin Blanc’s company LAUSCHSICHT has been the leading moving image agency for SWISS for a while, and has created a host of content, including “The people behind SWISS”, which we reported on here. So it was the obvious choice to create a piece about the Patrouille air show, which for the first time would be set against the bracing backdrop of the Swiss Alps.

© LAUSCHSICHT
© LAUSCHSICHT

The EOS C300 Mark II once again proved invaluable to Kevin Blanc, in particular its 4K performance that proved the perfect match alongside the C700.

“SWISS wanted to capture this event,” explains Blanc. “But they didn’t want to focus on their partnership with the World Ski Championship. They wanted the piece to be about the fascination of the air show itself. It was our suggestion to focus on the beauty and precision. It was our response to the brief.” Blanc was considering a number of different cameras for the shoot, a process that led him to using the EOS C700.

“We needed multiple cameras”, explains Blanc. “With this kind of project, you try to eliminate all the variables - weather problems, logistics, and with the fact that as it's a world championship there are lots of problems with security. It's a management project much more than a creative one in the beginning. You need to figure out what positions you want to be at, and put together a plan for if the weather is bad, or you can’t get to a certain shooting location. In that situation, you need a super-reliable camera.”

Choosing the EOS C700

The shooting setup included small action cameras inside the aircraft, plus LAUSCHSICHT’s own EOS C300 Mark II on one peak. But they needed a second camera on another peak. “We wanted to go beyond 100fps initially, because of the idea of freezing the motion,” explains Blanc. “We hadn’t realised the C700 would be an option. We evaluated cameras from other vendors, but had a real issue with tracking focus. We were shooting in the mountains with hazy weather and white aircraft against a white mountain background at a distance of 5-10km. It was really hard to focus!”

© LAUSCHSICHT
© LAUSCHSICHT

The EOS C700’s OLED viewfinder, exceptional autofocus ability with long lenses and it’s highly efficient battery life made it invaluable during the filming.

Blanc thought the C700’s autofocus and focus assist would be useful in this context, but it actually turned out to be essential. “Manual follow focus with the 800mm lens we were using was close to impossible,” argues Blanc. “There was just one or two millimetres between in focus and out of focus. If you want to follow planes and have a steady pan, it’s really hard to do focus at the same time, too. The C700 allowed me to shoot without the crop factor at 120fps, and you can still use focus assist, although the autofocus is not available at more than 60fps. In fact, we compared the two, and decided we would rather use 4K 60p with autofocus, than 2K 120p without. It was much more important to have the picture in focus. We could play with framing in post because the film was put out in 2K.”

“The optimum situation would have been to use a dedicated focus puller, and the CN20x 50 IAS H E1/P1 lens, which was made for this kind of application,” continues Blanc. “But that wasn’t an option due to the location constraints of this shoot. The key feature the C700 offered over the C300 Mark II was that it allowed 4K at 60p, alongside all the things that we love about the C300 Mark II.”

But there were other advantages as well. “The C700 is very efficient in terms of power, compared to other camera systems for example,” argues Blanc. “The V-mount means you can have a large battery, and four hours of continuous shooting. In fact, I didn’t charge it during the production!” The C700’s viewfinder was another benefit. “The OLED viewfinder is quite exceptional. You have controls around it – a little joystick and some buttons. The reason why I combined this with an external screen was to have options, depending on the pan I was using. With the autofocus doing such a good job, I was able to concentrate on framing and finding the planes in the sky. The white snowy conditions weren’t such an issue.”

Preparation and setup

In order to get ready for the shoot, Blanc trained for a few days trying to follow helicopters. “Using a fixed focal lens is not the easiest way of dealing with the situation,” explains Blanc. “A plane will make a beautiful turn only once, so you have to catch it. At one point the formation was flying over my head. I was filming them, how they approached me, then realised that I can't film right over my head, I would have to turn and point upwards, hoping to catch the planes blindly. It was a lucky moment that I managed it. You see that shot in the film.”

© LAUSCHSICHT
© LAUSCHSICHT

Kevin Blanc was able to track the aircrafts’ approach using a flight tracking app on his smartphone that showed the precise location as they flew over the mountains.

The C300 Mark II they were using was set to 2K 60p, but was positioned closer to the action with a smaller lens. This was mainly an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM zoom, so framing and panning were easier. “With both cameras we were using the default ISO,” adds Blanc. “The aperture was set around f/8, because if you go too high you lose the autofocus. The built-in neutral density was four stops, with the shutter at 180 degrees, to go a bit sharper and avoid problems in case we had to stabilise. At 60p that means a shutter speed of 1/120sec.” The C700 was primarily used with an EF800mm f/5.6L IS USM super telephoto. However, an EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x zoom was used on a shot or two, and an EF24mm f/1.4L prime employed for handheld stuff.

Flexible choices with the C700

“The C700 is not ideal for every job due to its size,” admits Blanc “But with this project it was great. The C700 has a lot of features that are useful on larger setups with a larger crew. We used it as lightweight as possible. It's cool that you can have such a camera and still use it as a one-man shoulder mounted thing. It has fast switching of neutral density, and fast boot times - below 10s, which is much better than other systems. These are critical in a documentary situation. The layout of the camera is just like a C300 Mark II, only larger, so very easy to use. I had no problems adapting. If you know the C100 Mark II or C300 Mark II, you could just turn on the C700 and use it in almost the same way.”

“Aside from offering 4K at 60p, shooting 120fps in 2K with C700 uses the whole sensor, rather than a crop, so the picture is still really sharp,” enthuses Blanc. “If you shoot 4K and rescale to 2K it isn't any difference as it's just as sharp. With the C700 you have this sharpness at 120fps, with the C300 Mark II you have this at 60fps without cropping. If you go beyond this it oversamples. The C700 is like the C300 Mark II with more processing power. I’m extremely interested in the C700’s capabilities in combination with the Codex Recorder.”

© LAUSCHSICHT
© LAUSCHSICHT

The impressive specification of the EOS C700 allows for excellent sharpness, even at high frame rates, plus recording to CFast 2.0™ card internally.

Blanc stuck with Canon Log 2 for the project, rather than exploring the Log 3 option that the C700 offers. “I'm fine in post with Log 2. I got used to it from the C300 Mark II. Log 3 is a bit friendlier to preview without a lookup table, but if you have a LUT on it anyway, and have small HD screens with LUT settings you can turn off and on, you can make sure you’re not overexposing and the picture is bright enough. The Log mode isn’t so important as long as you capture everything the camera can, and know where the waveform starts and ends in the Log you’re using. I understand why they came up with Log 3, though, because it's easier to use.”

The footage Blanc shot on the C700 fitted very well into his workflow. “It didn't feel any difference from the C300,” enthuses Blanc. “We never had trouble with the C300, and matching was the same. It's the same look. We recorded to CFast 2.0™ cards internally, with the Canon XF-AVC codec, and didn't use any external recorder. We generally do editing with native footage, not a proxy, although sometimes we use Premiere Pro's proxy workflow, because you can bake in the LUT with proxies. We’re using DaVinci Resolve for grading.”

First impressions...

“I absolutely would use the C700 again, if the setup is static,” agrees Blanc. “I like the extra power, and wish the C300 had this kind of power. The C700 becomes the real C700 with the Codex external recorder. Then we're talking 4K or 4.5K at 120fps, and then it's in the game with RED and ARRI. If you want to stay with the Canon look, and enjoy the autofocus options, boot times, and power consumption, then there is no option but the C700."

“The size and the setup are clearly designed as an A camera, and modularity is built for this kind of application. We used it more like a high-end ENG camera. But it will shine in larger setups, where the C300 won’t because the operator can't stand on the other side, and doesn’t have the high-end shooting modes. Of course, it has Canon’s reliability too. In a situation where you have to eliminate uncertainties, having a camera that just works is really beneficial. That allows you to worry about the important creative stuff.”

Kevin Blanc’s technical kitbag

Cameras:

EOS C700
EOS C300 Mark II

Lenses:

EF24mm f/1.4L II USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x
EF800mm f/5.6L IS USM

Biography: Kevin Blanc

Kevin Blanc

Kevin Blanc comes from a computer scientist background, but wanted to take these skills in a creative direction. So when he came to London from Switzerland to learn English, his host family introduced him to Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication, where he enrolled in the Moving Image Design course. After graduating in 2006 – and a little beforehand – he worked for Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen (Swiss Radio and TV). Then, in 2009, he founded LAUSCHSICHT with Alain Renold, who also studied Moving Image Design at Ravensbourne. LAUSCHSICHT has won numerous ADC Awards, including Gold, 12 Best of Swiss Web awards, and was shortlisted for Cannes Cyber Lions. Alongside SWISS, clients include Zurich bank, Volkswagen, UBS, Swisscom, MSN and ASUS.



Showcase

Filming with the EF800mm f/5.6L IS USM telephoto requires strong hands and a camera capable of delivering precise focusing. The C700 proved more than a match.