We had a little discussion with James Barber the creator of this beautiful little Canon Rebel T2i/550D movie and asked him to give us a little bit of feedback on how he was liking the T2i. We got more than we thought we'd get, but it is all great information. So here's the movie (which we featured on planet5D Cinema a few days ago – go there if you want to give James' movie a star rating and feedback please).
“This is a short that evolved out of a camera test. The whole thing was a collaboration between Creativesunshine (a production company that specializes in movement and dance on-screen) and myself (eager to test out the new 550D). Our lovely actress: Nikita Mitchell nikitamitchell.com
I don't have a Zacuto Z-finder or an LCDVF or anything, so I was quite concerned about pulling focus and even just setting focus, but to be honest, this hasn't proved to be a problem. Maybe the wider screen of the 550D lets you see just a little better. If I look closely, I can see if something is in/out of focus. The brightness of the screen was no problem either. It wasn't the brightest sunny day (thin thin veil of cloud sometimes), but it was bright and the screen kept up. That said, a monitor would have been handy for the very low angle shots (we rehearsed the take, but then shot blind as I couldn't follow the small screen at that speed).
We used ND to keep the aperture wide open… between 1.4 and 2.8 depending on the blur we wanted. We used tiffen 4×4 filters in a matte box which we just attached to the front of the lens – no support rods were necessary on the relatively short lenses. I will be buying some in the near future for flexibility though. We had a .6 and a .9. We had a couple of other filters along for the ride which we didn't use.
The field of flowers was some park in Wimbledon… I don't know the name and lost my bearings on the way. The patch of flowers was smaller than it looks though – clever framing makes it look bigger.
Camera movement was handled by a small skateboard dolly and a tripod and a little mini-crane or boom rather. The tracking shot of her twirling around was actually hand-held because we didn't have time to set up the dolly again for that shot. For the boom, a monitor would have been reeaaally useful – because again, we rehearsed a few times and then shot blind. It's impressive the results this can yield though, if you're not too much of a control freak. I find monitors on-set can slow down a production immeasurably. Much faster work can be done with a DoP the director trusts. That's how it was here, and the whole thing was very fast and the results are fantastic. Occasionally we'd go over a take to check it was the right idea, but generally, it went very fast.
The camera aided this speed – it's actually really easy to use. After everything is set to manual, all the settings are easily changed with the Q-button, while things like aperture and ISO are easily changed as they have their own buttons. I missed the rear dial control of the 5D and 7D for about 5min. After that, I really didn't care. I even kind of like the button approach of the 550D. It's pretty much impossible to nudge a setting like you can do with the rear control wheel.
A kelvin white-balance would be useful, but just using the old video trick of a white-balance on something white works even better, even if it takes a second to switch to photo mode, take the photo, set the WB to that photo, then go back to video. Auto WB is surprisingly good on this camera though (though I didn't use it on this occasion).
Camera settings wise: I just used the camera's Neutral colour settings – none of the superflat or custom picture styles. It looked amazing straight out of the camera. I was really tempted to use it ungraded (beautiful soft look), but just added the tiniest hint of saturation, warmth and contrast to make it pop a touch more.
I didn't run into any of the overheating issues some folks have. I don't know if it's because I'm using that fast Transcend 16gb class 10 SD cards… buffering is never a problem. Maybe too much buffering exacerbates the problem? Consequently I have run into a heat issue… but even then, it was surprising after reading how ‘bad' it was. I was shooting in a dance studio. It was really hot and really humid (after a class of 30 or so had been dancing for two hours). I was shooting almost continuously without turning the camera off for about 30min when I got a heat warning. I simply turned the camera off between takes, and it went away. Perhaps with summer coming, it'll pop up more… but I think if you just power-down between takes, it's probably a non-issue. Also, if you work with people who're used to film and not HD video… they are used to a little downtime between shots.
This camera can also roll really quickly – very useful. I can snatch shots (like the final shot) where everything just looks lovely and it wasn't a planned take.
I have found with the higher-resolution or bigger screen (wider, so more of the 16×9 shot over more pixels), that following focus is really not so tricky. I've shot a few things with unpredictable movement in the past week, and just followed it myself (no separate focus puller), by just turning the lens barrel (no follow focus rig). It's not a perfect solution. A good follow focus rig would be much easier. And a good focus-puller pulling between measured marks with actors hitting those marks would be ideal. If the actor missed the mark, a nice 7-inch monitor would be nice, with peaking, to help the focus puller. But in a non-ideal world where you're shooting fast and light – it's actually possible to focus just on this screen.
We knew we would be slowing down a lot of the shots to give it a sort of imaginary, light, lyrical quality (I always need slow-motion to be motivated… otherwise it's gratuitous). So we shot most of it at 60fps (some at 50fps to see if there was a noticeable difference in the motion. Shutter mostly stuck at 125 for ‘natural' motion blur (the whole 180 shutter thing). Some of the faster movements we experimented with higher shutter speeds. I can't remember which ended up in the video. Jello-cam just didn't really seem to be a problem. So long as the footage is stabilized somehow (even a hand-held stabilizer or a shoulder rig or even a picked up tripod) makes a world of difference. Quick pans or rotational instability causes horrid jello-cam… just don't use either, and you'll be fine. I've never been a fan of whip-pans anyway.
Editing… I did it before I got the FCP plugin, so I just used an MPEG Streamclip batch to convert the files to Prores 422. Then I conformed them all to 25fps in Cinema Tools, then started editing. Colouring just done in Colour (wish they'd change the name to a less common word – would help in searches. Same as Motion).
That's about it. If anyone has any questions, I'll get back to people when I can.”
Wow, thanks James! Quite a good bit of help for our readers!