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Filming dance at the theatre in low light with the EOS-1D C

Filming dance at the theatre in low light with the EOS-1D C

© Chris Scott/Getty Images/Sadler’s Wells/BB Promotions

July 2013

The EOS-1D C 4K DSLR is pretty unique in the Canon Cinema EOS System line-up of cameras and EF Cinema lenses. It has some outstanding features for shooting video, which enabled Getty Images’ filmmaker Chris Scott to achieve a greater level of intimacy in dance videography. CPN writer James Morris reports…

The DSLR’s ability to capture video has revolutionised filmmaking and spawned a whole new genre of filming equipment and techniques. At the top of this DSLR tree is the EOS-1D C, which brings 4K video capture to the Canon EOS digital camera range. Trying out its capabilities recently was Chris Scott, video content producer for Getty Images in London, UK, who worked with the Sadler's Wells Theatre in London to produce some stunning dance videography, showing glimpses from behind-the-scenes that have rarely been seen before in video.

© Chris Scott/Getty Images/Sadler’s Wells/Tango Fire

Please click the image above to watch Chris Scott’s film of the The Tango Fire Company of Buenos Aires, performing at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, UK.

Although the EOS-1D C's headline feature for video is its ability to shoot at 4K resolution, Scott has been taking advantage of another of the camera's special features – high definition video at 50 frames per second. “Shooting 50 progressive frames at 1080p allows me to achieve beautiful slow motion,” he explains. “I needed the slow motion capability to capture the grace and beauty of the dancers. It was absolutely paramount. Using the EOS-1D C meant I could do that without having to go down to 720p as is the case with so many other cameras.”

© Chris Scott/Getty Images/Sadler's Wells/BB Promotions

The low-light performance of the EOS-1D C and its ability to cope with contrast changes made it the perfect filmmaking tool.

Chris Scott chose not to record at the EOS-1D C's 4K resolution most of the time so he could use the higher frame rate – with the 50p high definition allowing smooth motion when slowed down to 25 frames per second. “I used the 4K format in some of the wider shots so you could leave the frame open and then re-frame in post-production by cropping, without losing any high definition quality,” adds Scott. “But there is a limitation on the amount of footage you can record in 4K with the EOS-1D C. If you knew what you were getting it could be used more, but the variable action in dance means you can't use it so frequently. You have to grab as much footage as you can to get the best shots, so you tend to shoot a lot.”

During his eight years with Getty Images, Scott has generated many hours of stock footage, covering big entertainment events, and other newsworthy occasions in London and around the world. He has developed a production strategy based around Electronic News Gathering (ENG) techniques, which suit the speed of shooting this kind of coverage. He creates stock footage in a timely fashion, so it is available to accompany a current story. For example, at the recent premiere of the new Superman movie 'Man of Steel', he shot B-roll and celebrity interviews with his team. However, he found clients like Cartier and L'Oreal were looking for footage in line with the visual quality of their advertising productions. So Scott wanted to create a new product that was visually striking – just like an advertisement.

Quality results – a dream come true

The beauty of the EOS-1D C is in its size and handling. Because it’s a DSLR, it allowed Chris to shoot editorial content like film. For him, cameras such as the EOS-1D C have shown the beginnings of fulfilling this dream.

“I'm trying to bring the aesthetic of film and the immediacy of news gathering together,” Scott explains. "This is where the relationship with the Sadler's Wells Theatre came in. My father was a theatre manager, and I've had a fondness for dance since my childhood."

© Chris Scott/Getty Images/Sadler's Wells/BB Promotions

Using Canon’s L-series EF lenses guaranteed the highest quality footage, even when the lenses were working at their widest aperture.

Scott admired the work of Getty-represented photographer Ian Gavan with the English National Ballet, and wanted to replicate Gavan's intimate dance stills in video. “Gavan's work illustrates an important point about photography – that what gets you the great shots is obtaining a unique access to the subject, and that comes from building a relationship. Gavan has really achieved this by being allowed backstage and elsewhere within the English National Ballet.”

Shooting styles and technique

Scott has had to alter his shooting strategies to fit the context, however. In particular, he found the stage wings were the perfect place to catch the action, but also places of intense activity as the dancers assembled. “The confines of the space meant that traditional video gear just wasn't an option,” reveals Scott. “If you get in the way, you will interrupt the action, or even cause an injury, and lose the access that provides the most compelling shots.” So a DSLR on a light multi-stage monopod proved to be the perfect tool. “It's small and quick – you get your shot and get out of the way.”

The need for a small rig so he could get into tight spots also meant that Scott didn't opt for the external recorders supported by the EOS-1D C's HDMI port, which can output broadcast-quality uncompressed 4:2:2-colour video. Instead, he relied on the internal storage and default recording format, which is H.264 encoded into a QuickTime .mov file. He was trying to have the same footprint as a photographer and not get noticed, so the dancers would behave as naturally as possible in his presence, and just get on with their work.

The Canon EOS-1D C is a groundbreaking 4K digital cinema DSLR that retains the exceptional stills performance of its EOS-1D X sister camera.

The incredible sensitivity afforded by the EOS-1D C was also a key factor. “It was pitch black in some of the locations, and yet the high ISO levels the camera can handle means low light shooting is amazing,” explains Scott. “You can use ISO 6400 and get a clear image, with pretty much no graininess at all. No traditional video camera could see a thing in the light levels I was working in. The lighting conditions did pose some constraints, though. The aperture was wide open all the time at f/2.8 so I had to be careful with focusing,” he recalls. “I also didn't like to make the shutter speed too high, generally 1/50th [of a second] to avoid odd effects. With an entirely artificially-lit environment, you get strobing or banding if you don't use a direct multiple of 50Hz.”

Apart from the EOS-1D C, Scott's shooting kit for the Sadler's Wells productions also included an EOS 5D Mark III DSLR as a secondary camera. This was clamped to a post or low down on a GorillaPod. Taking a lead from his news gathering background, Scott always shoots from two different angles to provide a variety of shots of the same activities – and to avoid missing any of the action. For this project, his main lens was the ever-popular and highly flexible Canon EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, with the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM for telephoto work. For a variety of other shots, he also used the EF50mm f/1.4 USM to maximise low light capabilities and the EF16-35mm f/2.8L USM for wide angle work – a necessity in the occasionally cramped shooting conditions of the stage wings.

Scott added only a few extra peripherals to his kit, to keep his set-up light and flexible. A Zacuto Z-Finder Pro 3x was essential to ensure crisp focus. “There is no peaking on the camera's built-in LCD screen, so you can put the Z-Finder to your head to ensure the focus is just right,” explains Scott. The other essential extra was a hand-held audio recorder, in the shape of the industry-standard Zoom H4n. “Sound is as important as the visuals,” he adds. “The creaking on floorboards, the announcing of people coming onto stage – it all helps give the footage the right atmosphere.”

© Chris Scott/Getty Images/BB Promotions

Please click the image above to watch Chris Scott’s film of the Ballet Revolución ballet company, performing at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, UK.

He didn't use the camera's built-in audio, despite the improvements in this area with Canon's EOS-1D C and 5D Mark III cameras, which now include manual level control. Instead, he synchronised the separately recorded audio in Final Cut using the Red Giant/Singular Software utility PluralEyes.

The EOS-1D C's post-production workflow didn't prove problematic at all. Although Scott had been recording in the standard H.264-encoded MOV files to the camera's internal memory, he transcoded these to Apple Pro Res to make editing more fluid. The Long GOP format of H.264 means it can be problematic when editing, particularly with Final Cut. “It's massively important to be able to get footage out into an easily editable format,” argues Scott. He has considered an external recorder using the camera's HDMI port, as it can produce broadcast-quality data rates, but the extra bulk wouldn't have suited the 'run and gun' nature of the Sadler's Wells shoots. He was also shooting using the Canon Log Gamma setting, since he needed to do a lot of work on the footage during post-production, and the extra latitude this affords (12 stops of dynamic range) was a necessity.

“The high key lighting on stage contrasting with the gloomy wings from which I was shooting, plus the subtly lit dancers as they waited in the wings, meant I needed every stop of latitude available,” he advised. “The Canon Log [Gamma setting] made capturing the highest dynamic range possible.”

© Chris Scott/Getty Images/Sadler's Wells/Tango Fire

Space behind-the-scenes at Sadler’s Wells was cramped, chaotic and frenetic. The EOS-1D C, thanks to its DSLR dimensions, coped perfectly.

For experienced photographers, the EOS-1D C has another benefit – its handling. “You have the familiarity of an EOS camera,” explains Scott. “You know exactly where your buttons are in the pitch black with just muscle memory. It's a bit bigger than a regular EOS, because of the integrated battery grip, but this provides a counter-balance weight that makes it more stable. The screen is great, too. You need to be able to rely on that screen when shooting video, especially with the Z-Finder fitted.”

Scott has also taken the DSLR to Cannes for video work. He goes there every year to cover the event editorially for Getty Images, capturing a mixture of red carpet interviews, press conferences, parties, celebrity events, and commissioned assignments. However, he didn't get to shoot with the EOS-1D C as much as he wanted. The wash of flash photography at an event like this can make rolling shutter issues particularly pronounced. He used the DSLR as a second camera instead, clamping it to the wall to capture time-lapse sequences.

“The EOS system fulfils everything that I've always wanted in a movie camera,” concludes Scott. “It has changed the industry. Everybody who wanted to make video the way films are made now has the ability to do that. You just couldn't shoot this kind of footage a few years ago. That's the main reason I wanted to do it. I saw incredible photos with beautiful light, and wanted to do the same with video. That's what it's all about at the end of the day: painting with light.”

Biographie: Chris Scott

Chris Scott

Chris Scott is a video content producer for Getty Images and is based in London, UK. As a multimedia producer, Chris combines imagery with audio and footage to tell stories, share experiences and entertain. His experience as a lighting cameraman, video editor and stills photographer enable him to produce engaging multimedia stories which, through Getty Images, are sold to clients all over the world.