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Technique

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Leap of faith:
capturing hurdler Gabriel Odujobi with the EOS C300 Mark II

May 2016

When visual storyteller Simeon Quarrie got his hands on a pre-production sample of the Canon EOS C300 Mark II, he put it through its paces, creating a video portrait of British hurdler Gabriel Odujobi which you can watch by clicking on the image above. CPN writer James Morris finds out how the camera fared, and what Quarrie learned from the experience.

"I wanted to get across the effort Odujobi put in when training, at the Lee Valley Athletics Centre in London," explains Quarrie. "What does he do to warm up? How does he focus his mind? The camera also had capabilities I wanted to try out, in particular 15 stops of latitude available from Canon Log2." This was because conditions were going to pose a particular challenge. The location was an indoor arena, but with a lot of natural light and glass, so the outside was visible. The weather was changing, with the exterior view ranging from cloudy to bright, which was problematic alongside Odujobi's complexion.

"There was a difficult tonal range to contend with," argues Quarrie. "But I didn't want to use any lighting. Two shots required a reflector, but that was it. This would push the camera's capability. The other key thing was the autofocus. I had decided I didn't want to bring a focus puller. I wanted to do my own project, for my own soul and passion."

Despite the fact that he had a pre-production camera, Quarrie was confident that it would do the job. Since he was working with a sporting celebrity, this was important, and also essential with the small production team he was using of just himself and an assistant. He was able to provide some direction to Odujobi, but once the athlete was warmed up he had to get on with his routine, and the camera had to be ready to capture events as they unfolded. But it was more than just being able to grab shots quickly that attracted Quarrie to the C300 Mark II. It was the way the camera captured footage combined with the ease of operation that impressed him.

© Simeon Quarrie / Canon Europe

Please click on the image above to go behind the scenes on the making of a video portrait of British hurdler Gabriel Odujobi, shot with a pre-production Canon EOS C300 Mark II.

"Canon has a particular look that I love", enthuses Quarrie. "The dynamic range is essential, as I was going for a natural light style. I already have an EOS-1D C, so I wanted 4K quality, and Canon Log. However, I also wanted the ergonomics of a larger C-series camera, such as the top handle, the flexibility to mount it on a shoulder rig or a gimbal, and of course being able to plug in XLR microphones to pick up audio whilst Odujobi was warming up. I love that the body is big enough to grip and hold. I want stability in a camera, and like the slight additional weight over the original C300. But it wasn't so big that I couldn't fit it on a gimbal for stabilisation."

A Manfrotto Sympla rig, hacked to work with the C300 Mark II, was used for shoulder work when he wanted a bit of motion and inertia. Otherwise, he shot handheld, using the top handle. This was invaluable when he wanted to get low down to floor. It also came in particularly handy for the first shot of the video, when he was sitting behind Odujobi in the stands, which required a small compact camera. He was able to get so close it was almost a point-of-view shot. For a number of shots in the video, Quarrie wanted smooth dynamic camera movement, so he decided to use the C300 Mark II rigged onto the Freefly Systems MoVI M10 and then handed it to a team member who hopped onto a bicycle to allow the camera to keep up with Odujobi's lightning pace. Meanwhile Quarrie controlled its rotation with the Freefly Systems MIMIC.

Shooting setup, lens choice and autofocus

Since Quarrie was looking for the greatest latitude possible, he chose to complete the entire shoot in Canon Log2. All footage was captured in 4K, recording to the C300 Mark II's internal CFast slots. "I kept to a shutter speed of 1/50th, and shot at the widest apertures possible, trying to break the autofocus," he explains. "I was using ISO 800 virtually all the time, because I wanted to keep it native, with just a couple of ISO 1600 shots."

© Lauschsicht © Lauschsicht
© Simeon Quarrie / Canon Europe

Please use the slider in the image above to compare ungraded footage with the final graded image of British hurdler Gabriel Odujobi, shot with a pre-production Canon EOS C300 Mark II. Note how detail is kept in the highlight as well as shadow areas; a tribute to the camera's extraordinary 15-stop dynamic range when shooting in Canon Log2.

When it came to lenses, Quarrie opted not to employ the Canon Cinema lenses. "I wanted to have autofocus, and the reduced size and weight of the EF glass," he argues. Only three EF lenses were used - the 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, the 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, and the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM. "I didn't have a favourite. With the MoVI I used the 16-35 to get wide drama and the 70-200 zoom lens allowed us create compression with a shallow depth of field. The 24-70 was used on the shoulder rig."

The Canon EOS C300 Mark II's built-in ND filters also proved to be a tremendously useful feature, but Quarrie found the autofocus even more handy. "It was shockingly good," he enthuses. "The shoot would have cost more money if I'd got somebody in for focus. We used the face priority setting. So as soon as the subject's face was locked, it would stay focused, which was very convenient.

"We put it through its paces. We were shooting at f/2.8, with the camera on a moving bicycle and the athlete was moving too. That wouldn't normally have been possible without a focus puller. I also shot Odujobi whilst he was on the starting blocks, and I was walking towards him. At f/2.8, that should have to have been a static shot if I didn't have a focus puller, but it was made possible by the autofocus. There was only one shot when it struggled with his face, so I switched to focus with the selectable area box."

© Lauschsicht © Lauschsicht
© Simeon Quarrie / Canon Europe

By using the slider to move across the image above, you can compare the ungraded footage with the graded image of British hurdler Gabriel Odujobi, shot with a pre-production Canon EOS C300 Mark II. Note how the colours remain clean and accurate.

Quarrie also changed the speed of the autofocus response, making it faster for some sequences and slower for others. "When the distance between Gabriel and the camera was changing frequently, I set the autofocus to fast and responsive," he explains. "At other times I wanted things a bit softer and more fluid, so I slowed the autofocus down. Whatever settings I selected it didn't ever feel or look like a digital, mechanical autofocus system that's juddering in and out. It's fluid. You can't see the step change. If you watched this without seeing the behind the scenes footage you would think it was shot with a full production crew including a focus puller, with a lot of planning and a lot of equipment. But it was just me, my talented assistant Kornel, and the camera!"

Lighting, latitude and Canon Log2

The illumination on the shoot was challenging. "It was not very bright in the arena," explains Quarrie. "It wasn't dark, but nowhere near as bright as it was outside. I was essentially working with a hard backlight from the windows, which was difficult for autofocus, and our subject was dark, which made it even harder, due to the contrast - a black guy standing in front of a bright window! But I still had exposure on the face and detail outside, on the ungraded Canon Log2 footage and after grading. It was great because in the video you can see the exterior as well as the interior. We could see him nicely exposed, but also the change in light outside from clouds, green trees. That worked very, very well."

However, Quarrie does admit that Canon Log2 requires a bit of getting used to, and an adjustment in exposure strategy compared to the original Canon Log. "If I was shooting the video now I would have exposed the video brighter than I did," he explains. "I exposed this shoot like I did with the previous Canon Log, but this is not the best way to work with the C300 Mark II in Canon Log2. The extra latitude is especially strong in highlights. You can now push the detail more to the highlights. But I exposed more towards the middle range."

Quarrie argues that understanding this is key to getting the most out of the Canon EOS C300 Mark II. "You need to know when to use Canon Log2, and you need to know how to benefit from it. I did benefit on this shoot, but would have benefitted more by pushing the exposure up. We have since done a test with ISO 25,500, exposed for the highlights, and had a surprisingly noise free picture, but the same scene slightly under exposed at ISO 800 would have produced a noisier picture. We made this discovery more recently, since owning a full production version of the camera. If I went back to the shoot again, I'd change my approach by exposing brighter with the ISO. With some cameras the native ISO presents the best dynamic range, and the dynamic range drops as you go up the ISO scale. But with the C300 Mark II, as you go up the ISO above ISO 800 the dynamic range is maintained."

Grading and Editing with the C300 Mark II

Use of a wide dynamic range option like Canon Log2 does have implications for post-production. "I graded with Da Vinci Resolve to get the look, whilst maintaining the highlights and very slightly lifted shadows to demonstrate dynamic range," continues Quarrie. "Due to my unfamiliarity with Canon Log2 on this pre-production model, we shot underexposed, because I was overly concerned with preserving the highlights. This approach created noise in the shadows, which included his skin tones. To reduce the noise, I'd ideally need to bring the shadows down. However, here bringing down the blacks substantially would have crushed his skin tone and hair. Did it hinder us in creating an amazing product? No, but we could have made our life easier. My lesson: shoot up, to bring the shadows down.

© Lauschsicht © Lauschsicht
© Simeon Quarrie / Canon Europe

Compare ungraded footage with the final graded image of British hurdler Gabriel Odujobi at speed, shot with a pre-production Canon EOS C300 Mark II. Simply move the slider from right to left and back again to see the results.

"With every camera system you have to learn its personality. Canon cameras come set up extremely well out of the blocks, which was why I was able to pull a pre-production camera out of the box and get a great result. But with every camera you need to get to know it to find its sweet spots. Many people have not learned how to gain from shooting in Canon Log2 yet. Not every situation needs it. You should consider sticking with the regular Canon Log in more of a low light environment, where you don't need such a wide dynamic range. In a bright, highly contrasted environment, or perhaps when you are in control and artificially lighting a scene, I'd go for Canon Log2. You get around 12 stops of latitude with Canon Log and 15 with Canon Log2."

Quarrie was editing in Final Cut Pro X with MXF files natively. He graded with ProRes files, although he also tried directly with the MXF files and both worked file. DaVinci output ProRes HQ, which was then taken back into the timeline. "This was a painless, normal workflow," says Quarrie. "I saw the benefits of the 10-bit 4K files when grading. I could tell there was more colour in the image and I saw the difference compared to the 1D C. I added Look-Up Tables (LUTs) to the video, creative LUTs, pushed things around in DaVinci, and created three or four grades for fun!"

The Canon look and Quarrie's visual brand

"The C300 Mark II is now a permanent resident in my kit list," admits Quarrie. "The three days I spent with the preproduction unit started a love affair, after which I was lusting for it. Every shoot after that I was imagining how it would look with the C300 Mark II. Coming from the XL1 and XL2, I went via DSLR and now back. I now have the benefits of both. I can get a DSLR look outdoors. I get the options of 1080p slow motion at 100 frames per second (with PAL). In addition I have the ability to record two streams of 4K on the body, a master copy and a backup, and the ability to have a Shogun recorder on the body, and then HD reference on SD. I get autofocus, and a look straight out of the camera that is the best look Canon has created yet, in part due to Canon Log2. My business has benefitted from that look. It has become the look of my brand and the look that my video is known for."

Simeon Quarrie's technical kitbag

Camera:

Canon C300 Mark II

Lenses:

Canon EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
Canon EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
Canon EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

Accessories:

Freefly Systems MoVI M10 gimbal rig
Freefly Systems MIMIC remote controller
Manfrotto Sympla shoulder mount
Rode NTG 3 shotgun microphone

Biographie: Simeon Quarrie

Simeon Quarrie

Simeon Quarrie was working as a Web designer when he started shooting weddings with a Canon XL1. He progressed to become a wedding videographer capturing high-end wedding videos and stills. He then developed a team called Vivida with emphasis on storytelling. His clients now range from small to large business, including Barclays, Unilever, BP, GlaxoSmithKline, Nestle, GE and Mars. Vivida has become a small agency, mostly focused on video for businesses, and he no longer shoots weddings.