by Jeff Gatesman
I have shot a feature film called No Ordinary Hero with the new Canon 5D Mk III using the clean video output to an Atomos Ninja 2 and recording to ProRes 422 Hq. This was a conscious choice for several reasons, the main one being that we have a dozen or so FX shots, mostly green screen composites and we needed the fattest “negative” our low-budget film could afford.
I will get to the meat of the subject with camera setup and recorder settings in a moment but first let me start by addressing the fat “negative” statement (and unless you are going straight from your camera output to a finished product you need to be thinking of the files as a camera negative, or at least a starting point for your final look) because when Canon came out with the firmware update on April 30 that allowed for clean video out via HDMI on the 5D Mk III, I read a few posts where people visually compared the h.264 video from the camera to the 422 video recorded by the Ninja. The conclusion that there was no discernible difference visually between the files is as expected–the codecs were doing their job, compressing and decompressing the file so that in the end they look like HD video. This is not the point of recording 422 Hq over h.264. The reason for recording the raw video to 422 Hq is to get as much information as possible for the post workflow in order to be able to cut keys easily, and color time the final film without the degradation that begins with a lossy codec like h.264.
If you compare the two codecs you can easily see the difference: h.264 is an 8-bit codec using 4:2:0 chroma subsampling, and the Ninja 2 records Pro Res 422 Hq at 10 bits using 4:2:2 chroma subsampling. A simplified comparison is that the identical files as recorded from the 5D Mk III on cf card vs the Ninja 2 weigh in at 129 MB vs 863 MB respectively. That is almost 7 times as much information in the Pro Res files. In order to make the files so miniscule, the h.264 codec has to throw away valuable information during the compression process and rely on interpolation to recreate it during decompression. You can see the effects of a lossy codec by viewing the frame grabs below, taken from the actual footage from No Ordinary Hero and cropped at 100%.
Marie sees Saints. Not Jesus in a slice of toast or a cloud formation of the Three Wise men; no,in Marie’s case Moses brings his stone tablet to her dinner party, St. John blows leaves in her back yard, she even has a full conversation with the Virgin Mary and her newly born, yet fully grown, baby Jesus. This may all seem odd for some people, but Marie has been on a path of devoted Christian Faith since childhood, until one catastrophic moment, one devastating turn in her life, reveals her to not be the person she had thought herself to be.
Pre-production for the latest feature film I am working on has begun in and around Shreveport, LA, a city built on oil money which seems to be fairly wet, with lush green landscapes and some of the prettiest sunsets I have seen in awhile. Hopefully I will find an interesting point of view of this place over the next 2 months and, through my lens, bring it to you.
A lot of the buildings seem to be crumbling well before their time in this part of the country, as if they get saturated with all the humidity and rain, and then the real storms come through and just tear open the already weakened structures.
And then there are the mosquitos. This Pump Jack is deep in some woods near Oil City, LA and apparently the center of all things Mosquito. In this photo Ken Ballantine, our Best Boy, models the latest in personal Mosquito attire. They are so thick in this wood that they practically create a haze in the air, in fact they are so dense that you cannot eliminate their bites, you can only minimize them.
I got my new 5D Mark II a few days ago and I haven’t been as thrilled by new machinery as I have been about this in quite awhile. Without getting into all the really cool things that make this camera great (see any one of a million articles already published on the internet or in magazines), I have my own needs for this device and one of them is the ability to shoot 1080i HD video with my own compliment of Canon glass and get luscious, shallow DOF shots. Mostly I will be using the camera to shoot episodes of the firehouse cooking show Feeding The Fire, and the biggest concern for me has been sound, so I found a solution that works best for me.
The problems with sound on the 5D mark II is the tiny internal mic that picks up everything in a large radius around the camera, which is not good for recording dialogue, or anything else you want to use as a soundtrack for that matter, and the camera’s lack of control over audio recording, leaving the user with the less than desirable auto-gain only. The latter seems to be solved by a firmware update being offered by Magic Lantern. I say that is seems to be solved because the firmware is not quite ready for general release (see their wiki for more info), but it looks very hopeful as the option to give us audio control until Canon comes around to the idea, but if the history of the L1 sound issues are any indication, they will be in no hurry.
The solution for me seemed simple enough: I have a short shotgun mic that has been working great for me for years, and so I got a hot-shoe mounted shock mount to hold the mic above the lens, but needed a power supply for it. I wanted to stay away from the manufactured adapter boxes by Beachtek and Juiced because I think they are pretty pricey and relatively noisy. So I went with a clean sounding PSC 48V phantom power supply and a balanced to stereo mini plug adapter made by the good folks at Coffee Sound in Los Angeles. This gave me the ability to record clean audio, but the physical setup was to have the 48V PH on my belt with cables going from mic, to belt and back to the camera. I immediately thought of the high repair bills as I imagined all the ways this setup could cause the little mini plug to be ripped from the camera, not to mention the sheer inconvenience of it all, especially shooting documentary style when speed is all important.
So I opened the 48V PH box to get a look at where the electronics where and where I could punch some holes. A couple of minutes with some drill bits, a 2″ 1/4-20 screw and a locking ring to keep it from falling out, some flat cork, and I had a way to attach it nicely to the bottom of my camera. One more hole and a 1/2″ screw and I had the quickplate for my tripod attached to the bottom of the box and I was ready to go.
I just shot an episode of Feeding The Fire in River Grove, IL and this setup worked great. The images are incredible: the shallow depth of field give it a rich texture and the sound is just perfect.