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Peak performance: filming in 4K on Everest

August 2016

Altitude sickness. Frostbite. Avalanches. Reaching the summit of Mount Everest is fraught with danger and for most of us, climbing it is an achievement we will only ever experience through the work of cameramen like Germany’s Philip Flämig. He reached the summit in May 2016 and relied on the EOS 300 Mark II to tell his team’s incredible tale. CPN Web Editor Deniz Dirim talks to Flämig about how he balanced professional filming with highly technical mountaineering and became the first to film the majestic mountain in 4K.

Philip Flämig first fell in love with the mountains as a three year old, skiing between his father’s legs. Skiing inspired climbing and by his early 20s he found himself in the middle of a movement. “Like many sports at this time [late 90s], there was an anti-establishment movement,” Flämig tells me. “If you don’t want to work, you go climbing and do something useless for society, just having in mind to climb the most difficult mountain.” It is apparent that mountaineering is in many ways a deeply private affair for Flämig; a special experience not to be interrupted. Although Flämig has been a cameraman for 20 years, he only started combining climbing with professional filming five years ago. “When I started, it was not professionalised and not commercialised so much. You had some famous climbers like Reinhold Messner and Sir Edmund Hillary who were in the public as the big mountaineers but beside that it had something like the hippies who didn’t want to be part of the society; living in our own style. And by that, we started to climb harder and harder.”

© Lukas Furtenbach
© Lukas Furtenbach

Climbing underneath Lhotse, the fourth highest mountain in the world. Flämig would climb ahead of his crew, carrying the extra equipment weight, to film the expedition.

Flämig’s trip was lead by Lukas Furtenbach, his “mountain buddy” and partner in production company FF Film. Furtenbach is active in arranging alpine climbs and, when planning an expedition to Mount Everest, was approached by popular German TV station ProSieben to film the adventure. Their experience will eventually be broadcast in October 3, 2016 on ProSieben MAXX as a 2 hour-documentary on the protagonist climbers, and possibly a cinema version to be screened at film festivals. Weighing the immense challenges of such an undertaking, Furtenbach turned to Flämig for the near impossible task. Their team consisted of eight people [expedition leader, guides, climbers, and a doctor], six of whom reached the top. With temperatures of -50 degrees Celsius due to wind, the conditions dealt with to reach the 8,848-metre summit were as treacherous as ever, but speaking to Flämig it is clear his team focused on a common goal. “A very experienced mountain guide [in our team] was in charge of bringing the clients up. He got into the problems. He froze his toes and four of his toes were taken off at the end. Very sad. But he reached the top.”

Only the essentials

While the films’ protagonists concentrated on their performance, Flämig grappled with another technical dimension: documenting the experience. Knowing full well that anything from the weight of equipment to exposure to the elements during workflow were crucial to survival on the unpredictable mountain, Flämig relied on Canon gear for the once in a lifetime journey. He stripped down on gear the higher they reached, leaving the EOS 5D Mark III and various lenses at base camp, and then more gear at camp four, and then only the essentials to the top of Mount Everest: the EOS C300 Mark II, the XC10, and three EF lenses: 8-15mm, 16-35mm, 24-105mm and a tripod. “The restriction is safety. I have to figure out how much can I carry. And I am responsible for the Sherpa who is with me up there. To give you the weight, the tripod alone was 5 kilograms. Just the body of the camera – I took everything off – 3 lenses and batteries.”

Along with being the first to film the mountain in 4K, Flämig is also one of the few who took a tripod to the summit. “For the C300 Mark II I took a tripod from Sachtler with me. That was a big decision because a tripod is heavy and I think there haven’t been a lot of tripods on the top of Everest. It’s something very unique. That means a lot of footage that is shot up there is a little bit shaky. If you talk about David Breashears, (director of the 1998 IMAX film, Everest] they had a tripod but they were 20 people - I was by myself.”

© Lukas Furtenbach
© Lukas Furtenbach

Philip Flämig filming at the base camp with the EOS C300 Mark II.

A highly experienced cameraman, Flämig was no stranger to the Cinema EOS system. “I worked with all different Canon cameras before; I’m a Canon guy,” he explains. For filming the ascent to Mount Everest, Flämig’s first priority was capturing the footage in 4K. The EOS C300 Mark II and XC10 both offer full HD and 4K shooting but equally important was the assurance of a tight workflow that would decrease risks during the dangerous expedition. Speaking on his decision for the EOS C300 Mark II he shares: “I wanted to have a heavy duty camera with a small footprint. This camera has a good build. Even handheld I could do my job.”

Handling in extreme conditions

The EOS C300 Mark II and XC10’s autofocus capabilities were crucial to overcoming Flämig’s challenges when filming while climbing. “I couldn’t shoot the whole time with clothes, sometimes I had to perform a lens change so taking off my gloves was a big risk for me. So I was trying to avoid that. But if you have a camera that can do the focusing just with pressing a button it is very helpful. I personally like to focus myself [manually], but if you have AF in certain moments, like when you have to stop yourself from not falling down it is a big help.” While the EOS C300 Mark II was Flämig’s primary camera of choice, the XC10 was an aid for situations where handheld meant using one hand only. “The XC10 is a camera I use when it goes into very technical mountaineering. I can shoot with one hand and I really enjoy the AF system, with the touchscreen that I can use in complicated technical mountain climbing. It’s heavy duty and it works really well in that environment.”

In the whiteness atop the mountain the EOS C300 Mark II’s built-in ND filters were also a big advantage. “The EOS C300 Mark II has four ND filters, before it was three [in the C300]. It was not at all an issue to get the right exposure - that was easy. The big problem for me as a cameraman in high altitude is taking off your goggles because of fog blindness and the cold. Most of the time I kept my eyes closed because of the goggles and then put it on the viewfinder to see how it works or I looked with my goggles through the viewfinder because I know the camera after a while and I know where the exposure is so I can control the picture all the time. I wanted to have a good viewfinder which is definitely the case with the C300 Mark II.”

© Lukas Furtenbach
© Lukas Furtenbach

Philip Flämig carrying his tripod (five kilos) up the Khumbu Glacier.

Commenting on the customisable camera buttons offered by the C300 Mark II, Flämig shares: “I used these buttons a lot; they are helpful. I was assigning some of the buttons for certain things like one-shot AF, focus peaking and other things. I always press the button before I shoot and look at the peaking. Also that you can put the light on, that’s a new feature. Everything you can do to make your handling easier - up where it can be an adventure - is a big help.”

Staying charged

The last thing you want in any filming situation is to run out of battery and Flämig was happy to avoid this completely throughout his five-day climb. He shares his tips for staying charged on the mountain: “I know, I tested it; these batteries they last forever. Battery issue was a big thing. You have to be dependent for five days on one power supply because you can’t charge. Especially because we had to wait for one day because of the weather over 8000 metres [at Camp 4]. The battery issue [with the EOS C300 Mark II and XC10] was not at all a problem. You have to take the batteries in your wallet with your body warmth. I didn’t put them all the time on me, but [two hours or so] before you shoot with them. It can be freezing cold and they don’t lose charge! They recover when they get warm. So I always had two batteries on me, the rest are the spare batteries. The camera was sometimes on my shoulder exposed to everything so I put the battery in there and then it took some moments until the power really reached the camera, but it didn’t let me down.”

© Lukas Furtenbach
© Lukas Furtenbach

A rescue situation at the on the Island Peak, Nepal.

With no space or time for external recording, it was imperative for Flämig to produce the best quality at every opportunity. The EOS C300 Mark II’s Canon Log2 gamma profile offers a wide dynamic range - up to 15 stops - which Flämig say guaranteed the highest possibilities in grading during post-production. Having filmed solely in Log2, he says: “They are very satisfied in the editing studio, right now they are in the editing process. When you shoot in this environment every picture is a big effort and we wanted to have the best results out of it.”

On top of the world

Flämig’s workflow was dictated not only by the weather conditions but also by his team’s determined pace. Even carrying extra equipment, Flämig tells me, “On the way up to the summit one thing was for sure, I couldn’t ask anyone to wait for me. On certain places on the mountain I could say ‘please wait, go up and let them pass’. The last day was so important for many people that you have to capture the moment and see what’s happening. So I had to go faster.”

With the pressures of filming in extreme conditions, I wonder whether Flämig was able to have his private moment to enjoy his first true love – mountaineering – without interruption. After all he has been climbing most his life, and this is Mount Everest: the mountain of all mountains. So how did it feel, not just being the first cameraman up there in two years, but simply having conquered the world’s highest mountain? “I’m still processing what happened there. I have to say I was very concentrated on doing my filming. I couldn’t bring myself into this. Sometimes it’s like a flowing feeling when you do climbing, where you get in the zone, so you are concentrated, but on the other hand you have a lot of emotions going through you. I couldn’t do this because I was filming. I had to wait and then suddenly I was on these very famous spots. We started at sunset and arrived at sunrise. I reached the top and I didn’t stop filming. I said I needed to do it right now: everything. And after 1.5 hours on the top, which was a very long period to be up there, I knew we had everything. My Sherpa, who was carrying part of my equipment, and the others wanted to go down. I said, ‘No I don’t want to, I need one moment where I can really reflect and enjoy things.’ So they left me and I was going up the last 20 metres again and there I had my private moment looking to this fantastic landscape: you look to Tibet, you look to Nepal, and you see India and China. And I left a little present up there, my little daughter’s sock that I was carrying with me. I put it there and I had a really emotional moment.”

Philip Flämig’s Kitbag

Taken to the summit:




EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM
EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM
EF24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 STM


Tripod Sachtler FSB 6 with Speedlock

Left at Camp 4:


EF24mm f/1.4L USM
EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

Left at Base camp:


EOS 5D Mark II


EF16-35mm f/2.8L USM
TS-E17mm f/4L
EF50mm f/1.2L USM
EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM

Biografía: Philip Flämig

Philip Flämig

In his early days Philip Flämig was a super 8 ‘filmmaker’. His father had a braun nizo camera that he took over. Pretty soon his family called him respectful ‘filmfuzzi’ because he always had the camera in his hands and was talking about the best light. Later he started to take pictures with his (his fathers) Canon F-1. Flämig studied the science of theatre in Munich and was going to go into journalism. But one year he a took trip to New York, found himself working as a camera operator and liked it. Since then, he has been working as a DoP for all kind of films – documentaries, commercials and short films. In the last five years he has combined his mountaineering experience with filmmaking. Still, he doesn’t see himself as a specialised mountain filmmaker and keeps his working scope as open as possible.