Entering a new dimension: shooting 3D with the EOS C500
© Matthias Fend/Red Bull Content Pool
Filmmaker Odise Rexhaj put a host of 4K digital cinema cameras through their paces recently to find the best one for a stereo 3D shoot for Red Bull Media House. CPN writer James Morris explains how the Canon EOS C500 shone through the pack...
Whilst shooting 3D may have lost some of its novelty in the last couple of years, shooting 4K is very much on the ascendency. Put the two together and you have cinematography that is right from the bleeding edge. This was what filmmaker Odise Rexhaj wanted to achieve for an upcoming project called Circus Time which he was asked to shoot for Red Bull Media House. His quest for the right camera for the job led him to the Canon EOS C500, which fulfilled all his requirements to give the project wings.
"Prior to the Circus Time project I wanted to test the camera gear," explains Rexhaj. "I wanted to find out which camera I should be using in the end, and if this camera would really provide the performance and ability we needed." Some of the key features he was looking for were dynamic range, 10- to 12-bit colour depth and a decent low light performance. The range of possibilities was small, as only a limited number of appropriate cameras can produce 4K RAW footage. "When shooting stereo 3D the main important thing, besides picture quality is to have a small and lightweight camera. All these key factors needed to be clarified before we could proceed with the core project."
In order to evaluate the possibilities, Rexhaj organised a test shoot. The location of the test shoot was a 300-year-old beer factory near Salzburg with a high ceilinged, empty room, some graffiti on the walls and furnished only with a small wooden stage. "The location seemed abandoned and neglected, which was great for what we were aiming for," he reflected. "The technical conditions for the shoot, though, were difficult due to white walls on one side and the dark shadowy areas of the wooden stage on the other side." This contrast in brightness would normally provide a challenge, even for the best cameras.
Choosing the right camera...
Logistics decided, Rexhaj and his team finally started to prepare for the upcoming production. Many of the major companies, including Canon, Sony, and RED have at least one camera capable of shooting 4K RAW footage. This meant that Rexhaj had to ensure that he picked the best one from each manufacturer to cover all technical and creative demands, and ensure the best decision.
"Our most important criteria was the overall image quality, followed by the form factor and finally the post-production workflow," explains Rexhaj. "Due to the fact that our master file would be in UHD we really needed the best picture." After performing several test runs with the cameras it became clear that the best picture didn’t necessarily need to have the highest pixel resolution or the highest dynamic range. Although Rexhaj was not intending to use 2K or 2.8K video up-scaled to 4K, it proved more important to have the right look, rather than just the extra pixels of 4K.
However, Rexhaj also acknowledges that 4K will be a game-changer for the way we encounter our audiovisual content. "Whilst watching 4K video on an 84in TV, I realized pretty fast that a new way of consuming moving pictures on TV is on its way," he argues. "The continuous extension of TV screens results in a closer viewing experience, which means we are getting even more intimate with the content that we are watching - comparable with cinema - except that the brightness of the image is better. Therefore we had to ensure a picture that was not a documentary capture of the moment. If we did this it would never look filmic on these screens. This was the most important factor to consider when deciding on which camera to use." Comparing all the camera models on test, only the Canon EOS C500 had this special look. "It's hard to express this in words," muses Rexhaj.
However, there were other factors in its favour as well. "Because we wanted to be able to move the setup easily and fast, the form factor was very important. In this regard, the Canon was a clear winner due to the possibility to undock the Codex recorder from the 3D rig and be able to place them anywhere else." Having the right power supply was essential as well. "With one Anton Bauer battery pack you are able to run a Canon C500 for hours," explains Rexhaj. This is further enhanced by the C500's low power consumption for its class.
Producing the test shoot
With the initial choice out of the way, it was time to try the camera out in a more detailed and concerted approach. "Usually, a typical test shoot is more or less focused on defining the weakest part of a camera," explains Rexhaj. "We do this to understand how a camera performs in general and to learn how to avoid any failures during the full production." However, Rexhaj warmed to the C500 immediately after he began using it. "As soon as I started shooting with the C500 I felt familiar and comfortable with it and consequently we decided to produce a short clip from the shoot instead of a traditional test."
To spice up the test shoot and to be able to cover some real action in front of the camera, Rexhaj asked Freeride bike athlete Thomas Oehler to perform some stunts for the production. The crew on site consisted of Rexhaj and Florian Edenberger operating the camera rig, as well as two additional helping hands supporting them in their movement around the space. Rexhaj's major tasks included directing, cinematography, stereography and general storytelling.
The 3D setup comprised two Canon EOS C500 cameras, two Codex Onboard S recorders, and a series of Canon L-series EF prime lenses including 14mm, 24mm, 50mm and 85mm units, plus a cvolution 3D Lens Remote System from cmotion. Although the setup for a 3D shot can take longer than the shoot itself, synchronizing the C500s turned out to be very easy. "It only took me 2 minutes to genlock and run them in sync," enthuses Rexhaj. "Beside the genlock sync, the Canon C500 supports 3D recording with a reverse scan mode, which is a key function when shooting on a beam-splitter 3D rig."
In a beam-splitter rig, the left camera shoots through the mirror whereas the right one captures the mirrored picture. A reverse scan avoids ending up with asynchronous rolling shutter by flipping the image horizontally or vertically. "Thanks to reverse scan I was able to match both cameras without using any external picture converter," explains Rexhaj.
The C500's diminutive proportions paid other dividends, too. "Because of the lightweight setup and simplicity of operating with both the camera and the recorder, we were able to complete a one minute 40-second clip in 4K in Stereo 3D with the smallest crew involved in a 4K Stereo 3D production ever!" exclaims Rexhaj. "What was previously meant to be kind of a test chart shoot finally resulted in a nice, short action clip of a Freeride biker."
Despite the pioneering combination of 4K and stereo 3D, the post-production workflow didn't prove problematic. "Post-production was a standard procedure and didn't feel any different to the workflows of any other format," explains Rexhaj. "The final footage contained 4K RAW files, which we imported into DaVinci Resolve."
When shooting 4K footage to an external recorder, the C500 also captures HD clips internally using a 50Mbits per second MPEG2 codec. "Since this was a test shoot the possibility to have HD proxies from the camera helped us a lot, as we ended up with 1TB of RAW footage from each camera. Having those proxy clips meant we were able to start editing right away. Usually you are only allowed to call them proxies in a 4K shoot, because those HD images are just as perfect as the 4K images. The only difference is they are HD!" Audio didn't enter the postproduction equation, however, as the shoot did not use any natural sound from the location.
The overall editing process was performed in HD on Final Cut Pro X. "After the edit was finished we exported an XML file, which afterwards got imported into DaVinci Resolve, where we hosted our RAW material," elaborates Rexhaj. "Importing the XML and conforming it to the RAW footage was just as easy as importing a normal project." Footage had been captured using Canon Log mode, for a wide, flexible dynamic range. This also helped cope with the high contrast in brightness at the shoot location. "In DaVinci we did a conservative colour correction and the mastering in 3D. For monitoring we were connected via HDMI to an 84in LG 4K TV."
The end results speak for themselves. Rexhaj is now adamant that the Canon EOS C500 will be the perfect choice for the full Circus Time shoot, which CPN will be reporting on when completed. "After we finished our ‘Brauhaus’ test and presented it in 4K as well as stereo 3D I was convinced that we had found the perfectly matching camera for our upcoming shoot," he enthuses. "It's going to look like a dream!"
2x Canon EOS C500
2x Canon EF14mm f/2.8L II USM
2x Canon EF24mm f/1.4L II USM
2x Canon EF50mm f/1.2L USM
2x Canon EF85mm f/1.2L II USM
2x Codex Onboard S recorders
cmotion cvolution 3D lens remote system
Biography: Odise Rexhaj
© Katja Bresch
Odise Rexhaj is a Kosovo-born stereo 3D filmmaking specialist who lives and works in Austria, and works for Red Bull Media House as a Colourist. He shot his first feature film, Eagles Screech, in 1999, and after a series of short films and TV projects, completed work on the documentary feature Kosova, One Way Ticket to Babylon in 2008. However, since 2006 he began devoting his attention to stereo 3D projects, as director and producer. Whilst he primarily works as a feature film and documentary director, he has also worked as colour grader on Bullit: The Documentary, as well as with time lapse photography and as a cinematographer on a number of productions. He has written a series of novels, too, including the award-winning Labyrinths.