On this anniversary of the first public appearance of the Canon 5D Mark II, I found myself thinking about why I write for planet5D and how the choice to do so stemmed directly from my experiences with my own 5D II. I am not so sure any of this might be of the slightest interest to anyone except for me and my BFF, and I am not entirely convinced about myself either.
As for her, she is well over the events of that time. Right now she is looking for other things to do in life and would rather forget about the ten years or so that she spent at Canon working in their R&D department. I will, however, be eternally grateful to her and to Canon for my return to photography and moviemaking.
One day way back when, she sent me an email telling me to go look at something amazing. The amazing turned out to be Vincent LaForet’s short movie Reverie, shot on a borrowed, pre-release 5D Mark II. A seismic shift was about to occur for me and for thousands of others around the world, in the twin realms of stills and video.
I had been away from hands-on, professional level photography for far too many years, after succumbing to severe photochemical-induced dermatitis. I had been away from hands-on moviemaking even longer.
The first digital camera I had used was an 8”x10” camera located in a studio down a side street in Soho, for shooting some products for a last minute composite. Over the years since, friends would loan me the latest Nikon or Canon and encourage me to try them out. Nothing came close to what I desired in a digital camera.
Neither did the 5D Mark II. But it was heading in the right direction. I had never been an SLR person, not even when freelancing for one of the biggest glossy magazine publishers and was handed a backpack of SLRs and lenses on my first day. I gratefully accepted them, stored them in my locker then went on location with the cameras I preferred and on which I had constructed my style.
The other photographers either laughed at or admired my choice in photography equipment – 4”x5” view cameras, 35mm and 120-format rangefinders and a twin-lens reflex. My improvised collection of non-flash, continuous-output lights puzzled them all.
The movie cameras I was accustomed to were a different thing again – classic 16mm, Super 16mm and Super 8 cat-on-a-shoulder models or something closer to the look of the Digital Bolex D16.
Given that history, Canon’s 5D Mark II looked like a kludge. Which it was, from a moviemaking point of view. What excited me about it as a movie camera was not the quality of its video output – which was clearly compromised – but the fact that it recorded onto cards and not tapes.
I had a camcorder, purchased for a documentary feature that then became the subject of conflict and censorship at prime ministerial level, but the prospect of ingesting then storing a vast collection of tapes horrified me more than a little.
On my BFF’s well-qualified advice, I bought a Canon 5D Mark II, a Mac and some other essential items after receiving an unexpected endowment then began working out how everything fit together, and how to get it to work something like the way I had been used to in my early moviemaking days.
I was stymied. Visits to all the movie production supply and rental companies in a suburb down the railway line and closer to the city yielded frustration at best. None of them had heard of the gear I was reading about online. Their focus then and for several years to come was on the big stuff favored by the Hollywood movie crews shooting over here.
I made too many poor choices for lack of decent information. It proved impossible to see the gear I was reading about, to try it before buying, and I could only buy what I thought I needed from overseas then anyway. My endowment ran out and I was still being stymied far too often. If SLRs were anything but my favorite cameras as a magazine photographer, then DSLRs were even less so as a born-again would-be moviemaker.
I only began making the sorts of digital photographs I had been dreaming of when the Fujifilm X100 finally appeared. Something similar happened for making movies after I tried out a Panasonic Lumix GH4. These two eureka moments were my breakthroughs to creating the still and moving images that were closest to my best work in the analog era.
But still, the really useful information, the joined-up-thinking, as a good friend puts it, continued to prove elusive. There is too little of it even now.
When my BFF’s niece dropped by unannounced from the uttermost west, on a jaunt with some inheritance money, I could show and tell about the hardware and software she needed to make the self-funded dramas her heart was set on shooting.
That information about a joined-up set of production gear was, she told me, lacking at the universities and colleges in the city where she lives and so she was going it alone. As I had, when I was a student there myself, then a university teacher, then a would-be documentary maker researching, writing then wending my way through the torturous trails of film financing and public broadcaster commissioning.
When the opportunity came to write for planet5D came, I took it. I had seen how communicating well can be the perfect incentive for learning, several times before, as a teacher and when writing for a magazine I had conceived and co-founded. And it has proved to be so yet again.
I remain in search of the really useful information, the joined-up-thinking that makes the sort of moviemaking I need to do possible in an affordable, accessible way. I try to provide it when I can even though I may not be located in the best part of the world to do so. Local access to good, in-depth information and the right gear to try and to write about remains more challenging than it should be.
This effort was triggered by the arrival of the Canon 5D Mark II and more by what it was not, rather than what it was. We have entered an era where others are delivering on the promise that Canon hinted at with a camera that shot video almost as an afterthought, to deliver on a promise to Reuters of a camera their photographers could shoot a little video on as well as an awful lot of photographs.
I keep my Canon 5D Mark II in a box, unused for over a year now, though its standard kit zoom lens sometimes sees the light of day as an adapted long zoom on my GH4. Its size and weight is quite a contrast to my GH4’s native MFT standard zoom lens. The days of carting huge, heavy cases and cameras around the planet are over for me and I don’t regret it one bit.
(cover photo credit: snap from B&H)