Mikel Prieto shoots a Maserati video with the EOS C300
© Mikel Prieto/Maserati S.p.A.
For Spanish photographer and filmmaker Mikel Prieto, a commission from Maserati to produce a two-minute film and a set of still images for its new GranCabrio Sport and GranCabrio MC cars was to put him and his EOS C300 Digital Cinema Camera to the ultimate test. CPN writer Pablo Carballo finds out more…
Mikel Prieto had heard a lot about the EOS C300 but had never actually used one before the Maserati shoot. “When we got the job with Maserati the C300 hadn’t been out long, so we were eager to work with it, to check its quality, to find out more about the much-talked gamma curve and so on,” he recalls. Its performance left him more than happy. “The resulting quality was stunning,” he reveals.
“We have been working with Canon for so long that we are now very familiar with the quality achievable from the equipment, the sensors, optics and so on,” he explains. “We also took our own cameras so we were covered anyway. To some extent, we sort of ventured out with a new camera, but only after having read and asked a lot about it. In the end, it all turned out perfect.”
In terms of using the equipment, Prieto had a plan. He explains: “The EOS C300 would be used as the main camera, then we had the EOS 5D Mark III for supporting shots and action scenes such as the car speeding round a bend, where we would set up several cameras. We also got some stills with it, too. As for the EOS-1D X, we used it as the main photo camera for the still shots we needed to take, but we also recorded some clips with it whenever the cameraman thought it was appropriate. In the end we used HD footage taken from all three of the cameras to complete the final commercial.”
Looking back, Prieto quickly agrees that compatibility with the rest of the EOS system was one of the main assets of the EOS C300. But there was much more to it than that. “The overall quality was awesome, even though we used EF lenses rather than Cine lenses,” he reveals. The adaptation process did not take long, either. “Since we were used to the EOS 5D Mark III, which we had used for so many videos, our first impression was that, naturally, this was a bit bigger, but it had a lot of familiarity with an EOS product, too. After only a few hours, everything felt great.”
“In my view, the major advantages when comparing with other cameras are the built-in screen, the ND filters – which mean that you do not need to use filter holders – and the audio inputs for professional microphones. Before I used the C300 I had filmed mostly with the EOS 5D Mark III – and I have to say there is a rather big difference,” he smiles.
Locations and logistics
The original idea for this Maserati marketing video, says Prieto, revolved around a story of a rivalry among both cars. “One would be shot in a desert area, and the other one near the sea with a greener landscape. We had an array of shooting options and locations and finally decided that the best choice was Almería, in Southern Spain. We had the Tabernas Desert, but we also had the ocean and the mountain roads nearby. We went there one month in advance, in order to find the best locations, and once we got the thumbs up from the client, we made a more accurate storyboard.”
The shoot took 10 days in total. The team was made up of two cameramen and one assistant for the main video, with another one working on the all-important behind-the-scenes video. Mikel Prieto was in charge of the coordination and photography while two producers, Maserati’s marketing manager, a car engineer (to take care of mechanical issues), two professional drivers and the lorry driver made up the crew. “Quite a big team, actually,” Prieto recalls.
The recording format chosen for the EOS C300 was Full HD (1920x1080) at 50Mbps. The settings would vary depending on the scene, as Prieto explains. “We used manual focus all the time when shooting video. Everything else depended on what we were filming, but as a rule we would try and take all possible advantage from ISO sensitivity, typically working with an ISO of 320. We used a variety of shutter speeds and, very importantly, we made an effort to benefit from the depth-of-field that the lenses allowed for, thus getting images with a really amazing soft focus.”
Talking about lenses, they had taken quite a few of them – nine in total, and they all proved useful. Prieto reveals: “We worked with pretty much the entire EF lens range, particularly those with the Image Stabilizer, as many of the shots were taken with cars on the move so we needed as smoother a shot as possible. Since we were recording with several cameras at the same time, sometimes we would jokingly fight about who would take this or that lens. For instance, the EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM was very much in demand – it’s an amazing piece of glass, a very special lens; it provides you with impressive soft focus both for details and general views. And so was the new EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, which we liked a lot. Both these lenses gave an aesthetic touch that I truly believe you cannot get with other lenses.”
The Cinema EOS advantage
When it comes to portraying sports cars like Maserati, portraying an impression of their speed is obviously a key factor in the brief. Prieto reflects on the performance of the EOS C300 with this in mind: “It worked nicely in terms of keeping up with the cars at speed. We would try and shoot using shutter speeds of 1/50sec or less, in order to get an impression of speed in the wheels and tyres, the asphalt and the surrounding landscape, and the resulting quality was great.”
“But the best thing was the camera handling,” he continues. “We would be shooting from another car, sometimes holding and moving the camera with a single hand using just the strap, and it proved very agile in that situation. We could change angles quickly and move with the subject which was crucial. Thanks to the C300’s size and weight you could place the camera wherever you felt like.”
Then there was the question of light, which is also crucial for a car shoot when showing its lines and immaculate paintwork is vital. Working in Almería in August, the team felt quite safe that they would enjoy fair weather. “We had taken some external lights with us, just in case, but we ended up using daylight almost all the time. We used reflectors for the video and flash for just a few pictures, but that was all,” he explains. “When shooting cars, it is essential to work at dawn and dusk. We would get up before sunrise, find the shooting location, set up our equipment and get everything ready in time because it is only at that point in the morning or evening that you can best capture the car in all its glory. All those details and nuances that engineers and designers work hard to get right, we try to capture on camera.”
“At the end of every working day,” Prieto explains, “we would download all the shot material to two different hard disks so that we were properly backed up. The next day, while we were out filming again, one team member would stay and select shots and scenes, so this would allow us to follow the checklist we had drafted with the client on the storyboard. Even if we double checked the shots after taking them, either on the camera itself or on external screens, this would help us ensure that we did not leave anything out. The same process was followed with still pictures, too.”
Post-production was addressed using Adobe Premiere. The team set up a soundtrack and then started editing the scenes using the music as a reference.
The workflow with the C300 was very swift, according to Prieto. “We only needed to download the plug-ins to ensure compatibility and everything went really well. Also, the dynamic range was a great help here, as it allowed us to recover darker images. For instance, one of the cars was white with a black interior – and such contrast is difficult to solve in terms of light. It also had tiny blue highlights that we wanted to show. This meant we had to do a lot of fine-tuning, and we could do that thanks to the Canon Log Gamma feature. The cameramen told me that they had used this functionality and that it had come in particularly handy when retouching images in order to raise the light levels of darkened footage and still images from the cameras.”
The final selection of good shots consisted of more than 40 minutes worth of material, from which they had to edit down to two. “We had such an enormous amount of good footage that we ended up making a separate video of the red car [the GranCabrio Sport] on its own”, Prieto recalls. “Our client also liked the behind the scenes video, too. They had never seen something like that, where all our work was shown.”
The results - and some experiences
“The quality and versatility achieved with the C300 is pretty amazing to me, taking into account its size,” says Prieto when considering the final materials. These comprise the video and pictures of the two cars, plus the mentioned extra clip of one of them. The main video was released during the Paris Motor Show 2012, alongside the official unveiling of the new convertibles.
Mikel Prieto acknowledges that there was hard work behind that final, polished two-minute clip. And there were also a few anecdotes, too, such as the difficulties of finding a hotel in the area with a parking lot big enough to host the trailer containing the cars; the couple of early mornings lost because of the car being too low for a certain place that had been planned, or the secrecy that the whole team had to keep with regards to the new models – the cars had not been publicly released yet and the design was still unknown, so they had to be covered up with tarpaulins when shooting was paused.
Prieto also recalls a very particular moment: “After one of those long work days, which had started at 4am, a few of us stayed behind at night in order to try the time-lapse technique, where we had locked an EOS-1D X off on a tripod, taking a shot every few seconds. We intended to capture the stars moving across the sky while framing the car at the same time. So, while the camera was taking shots, we stayed for a couple of hours in the middle of the desert, lying there, looking at the stars, with this unbelievable view. It was an amazing moment which we would not have been able to experience otherwise.”
Moving from stills to video
So was the EOS C300 good enough to use again? It was indeed, according to Prieto. “We have another shoot for Maserati at a racetrack in a few days, and we are going to use basically the same equipment, with the EOS C300 as the main camera. Our client is really happy with the results it delivers.”
Mikel Prieto feels that the C300 helps expand his business into the world of video with ease: “Since our main professional background is photography, and being very experienced as we are with cameras such as the EOS 5D Mark III and EOS-1D X, the EOS C300 makes our transition to video that much easier. We are familiar with Canon’s optics, sensors, handling and so on. So everything else is a lot simpler.”
The move has proved productive: “In two years, we have done a huge amount of videos for a variety of brands such as Maserati and Audi. And, thanks to the versatility of these cameras, we have been able to get shots that really amaze the viewer.”
He is also confident that the C300 has had a positive impact on his business. “The best thing is that we can offer our clients both videos and still photographs, all of them taken at the same time. Good time management is one of our main priorities, and it is the reason why our clients are happy with our work. We supply video and photographs quickly, and what allows us to do this is entirely down to the speed of these cameras; it would be impossible otherwise. Say you are taking a video – just touch a button, and you are ready to take a still image. Or the other way around. You cannot get that using other equipment. It is almost like offering two for the price of one – all of it with an amazing quality,” he states.
He points out further advantages business wise. “There is another good thing about this equipment that we are using – you can address both high-budget and low-budget projects. You can adapt yourself. We recently made a video for Subaru, and it was made with just two of us with two EOS 5D Mark IIIs and our lenses. The result was really good. The video was impressive and the client loved it.”
“When we first arrived in Italy for a Maserati shoot,” Prieto recalls, “and Maserati saw these two guys coming towards them with their tiny cameras and lenses… well, they were a bit surprised. But when they saw the result, they were stunned. The driver had just been involved in a shoot for Ferrari in California with some Hollywood director, and he said that our result was at the same quality level – but their budget was 100 times higher. They had 50 people working on the shoot for two weeks, including a helicopter, catering and so on. Whereas we were just a team of two, plus our radio controlled oktokopter, and a tracking rail!”
He explains: “This technology means that we can compete in terms of quality with much bigger production companies and therefore aim for major projects. Of course it is important to have resources, but when you see the final result, you understand that your imagination, the locations you manage to find and your drive and passion are also really crucial factors.”
Mikel Prieto’s equipment for the Maserati shoot
EOS 5D Mark III
EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM
EF50mm f/1.2L USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
EF85mm f/1.2L II USM
EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM
EF300mm f/4L IS USM
Speedlite 580EX flash
1m and 2m slider rails for filming
Biography: Mikel Prieto
© Mikel Prieto
As a professional photographer and filmmaker, Spanish-born Mikel Prieto has worked in several areas of photography – from architecture and landscapes to photojournalism. But his real love is cars, and his links with the automotive industry runs in the family: his father was a sports car driver, so the idea of speeding on wheels was always around while he was growing up. When he turned 18, he moved to Madrid to study photography and shortly after, he started as an assistant to a professional photographer who happened to be a car photographer. Sure enough, both passions naturally came together. Prieto has been shooting cars for 15 years and now runs his own business, MKProducciones. His mastery of the various techniques to capture speed has won him an international list of clients, who chose him for the quality of his work, and his ability to deliver rapid results.