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Aronofsky used Canon DSLRs on Black Swan

Being fans of Darren Aronofsky’s work, we’re anxiously awaiting the opening of his latest feature Black Swan. Like Aronofsky’s previous films, this was also shot by his DP Matthew Libatique.

American Cinematographer brings a very interesting interview with Libatique in their latest issue. This time around the talented DP decided to bring out the Canon 7D to shoot some of the scenes, in addition to the Super 16 and Arri cameras.

Libatique on working with the 7D:

The 7D has more depth of field than the 5D, but I needed that because I didn’t have a follow-focus unit and needed to work really fast. I shot everything documentary-style. I did all the focus pulls by hand, and we’d just look at it on the camera’s monitor. I ended up shooting on a Canon 24mm lens at 1,600 ASA to get as much depth of field as possible at a stop of T81⁄2.

Using HDSLR cameras for documentaries

I decided to get into the world of DSLR-video earlier this year. I had already done some documentary work with a Sony HDV camera, the HDR-FX7, but found that I wanted more control over depth of field and look than the prosumer type camcorder gave. I read up on the Canon 5D and 7D, and saw some clips and examples of what people did with these cameras. I quickly came to appreciate Philip Bloom´s blog, as he really started pushing the envelope on what these cameras could achieve in HD-video. I enjoyed reading about his experiences at the Skywalker Rach, when Lucasfilm flew him over to California in the autumn of 2009, to demonstrate the scope and abilities of these cameras.

I picked up the 7D later that winter. I decided to go for the 7D rather than the 5D mainly because of the price tag. The 5D was out of both my employers and my own price range, but researching the 7D online, I found that it would be more than good enough for my requirements. I worked on a short documentary back then, and was eager to see if I could put the 7D to work right away.

I decided to not use the 7D for that project. The reason was, I didn´t quite have the time to get to know the camera and get comfortable with it, before shooting began. So I decided to use our Sony HDR-FX7 once again. Not an amazing camera, by any means. But I´m quite content with its HD performance, and by now I´m so familiar with the camera that working with it feels easy. Most of the shooting was interviews, and to get a loose and easy feel I shot a lot of the interviews handheld. I used a Røde Stereomic, which gave me a good soundtrack. Had the budget been larger, I would have mic’ed the interview better. But to stay on budget I had to do both sound and camera myself, and so I opted for the easiest solution.

Now that I´m more familiar with the 7D – would I have used it for interviews at this point? Well, yes and no. I would have preferred to have two cameras covering the interview. One HDV-cam doing master shots, and the 7D for closeups and cutaways. That being said, it´s definitely possible to use HDSLRs for interviews. You just have to be a little more prepared than usual. Here are some key points:

  • remember the 12 minute limit. Start and stop recording to start a new file on the CF-card
  • have enough CF-cards
  • backup batteries
  • be very conscious about choosing your lens, and lighting your subject. Don´t go overboard with a shallow depth of field just because you can. With an f-stop of at least 5.6 you´ll be safe.
  • You definitely need to record sound separately. The Canon DSLRs just aren´t good enough soundwise for professional use. I use a Røde videomic that I plug into my 7D, but that really isn´t enough for interviews.
  • Finally, invest in a LCD viewfinder if that´s within your budget. This really helps your focusing, as well as giving you the stability to go handheld once in a while. I use the moderately priced LCDVF, while most people seem to prefer the pricier Zacuto Z-Finder.

Functionality of the LCDVF

After the Philip Bloom Masterclass

This week I attended a masterclass with DSLR-video guru Philip Bloom in Oslo. Bloom has quickly become the go-to-guy when it comes to Canon’s excellent HD-DSLRs with 1080p video. The buzz is mainly over the 5DmkII and the 7D models – with the 5D already being used in big professional productions.

Bloom took a very concrete and practical approach to the subject. He took us through the DSLR workflow, and presented solutions to the various problems you could bump into – like rolling shutter and moire. The masterclass was held in an excellent movie theatre complete with a 4k projector, so Bloom spiced his lecture with several videoclips. We saw a couple of minutes of the much dicussed season finale of House, that was shot on three 5DmkII cameras, as well as a handful of Philips own short films, also available on his website.

How did these cameras perform on the big screen?

Amazingly well!

Undoubtedly the next generation of Canon HDSLRs will see further progress in video capabilities. In many ways we’re witnessing a video revolution here – and not surprisingly some grumpy naysayers are unhappy with the changes. How somebody can manage to be unhappy with small and relatively affordable cameras with excellent video capabilities, I really can’t explain. Of course the DSLRs aren’t perfect and still have issues with audio, codecs, bad HDMI-out, and so on. But it’s just plain stupid to focus on the small problems when the opportunities are so amazing.

Here’s an interview that NRKbeta did with Philip Bloom in Oslo this week:

NRKbeta interview and article on Philip Bloom (in Norwegian).

A look at the Canon EOS 7D

Canon EOS 7D on Howcast

Interview With Lucasfilm’s Rick McCallum

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