sorry we are a little late to the review party, we wanted to make sure we had shot several pieces with the camera and really put it through the paces. before we start, i do want to say that we aren’t going to be posting noise samples, sharpness comparisons, or other such pixel peeping. not that that information isn’t important to know about or to consider when choosing any camera, it just wasn’t what we or our clients are looking at when we chose this camera.
Ray and P. filming Trombone Shorty with 5D MK3 for the Final Four Open [photo - Tyler Kaufman / CBS]
what we’ve done thus far with the 5D MK3
this review is based on how the 5D Mark3 has performed in the field and for the types of shoots we have been on lately. thus far we’ve shot several pieces for CBS with the MK3. the first was an 8 min feature on the Chardon High School shooting called ‘One Heartbeat‘ that aired Saturday night before the Final Four games. we also helped shoot both the Saturday and Monday night opens – Monday’s which aired on CBS to about 15 million people. Through these three pieces, the MK3 footage has been cut in with Varicam, Epic, Alexa, and broadcast footage. while assisting on the edit on the backlot at the Superdome, several producers walked through and saw the pieces we were working on. one commented on the Saturday open in particular (the Trombone Shorty piece) and asked how the footage was treated as it looked so good. at that point, it was still straight out of the camera. while working on the Monday night open the look of the MK3 was so preferred over broadcast that several broadcast shots were actually rotoscoped and the backgrounds softened to try and get them to be a closer match. in short, the image we have gotten out of the MK3 has been very well received and has already aired in handful of pieces for CBS with no complaints – aside from us not always holding the shot long enough :)
why we choose DSLR for our films and our issues with them
let’s rewind a bit and look at A Game of Honor, which was shot almost entirely on the Canon 1D MKIV, and why we chose that camera as well as the challenges we had. first and foremost, we love DSLR technology because of the intimacy it brings. we can be closer to our characters, move faster than ever before and…
…get into places others can’t. all of this is arguably paramount, for us at least, to the image that the camera provides – both form factor and image are important of course. if content is king, then a DSLR allows for more content in the same time, more diversity in the content, and much less camera awareness when filming in event scenarios (as all of these CBS shoots were).
P. on the court with 5D MK3 on the Steadicam Zephyr [photo - Tyler Kaufman / CBS]
we have both an Epic and Scarlet but chose to shoot these pieces on the MK3 because of how it allows us to tell stories more so than the imagery it provides – so keep that in mind with anything you read in this review. our biggest challenges on A Game of Honor were moire/aliasing on wide shots, lack of timecode for syncing, and on camera audio. one of my favourite shots in the film is a 14mm shot at 60P as the cadets throw their hats in the air during graduation. if you look closely at the stadium seating in the background, you can see quite a bit of moire. it was something that the colourist on the film did his best to minimize before it premiered, but ultimately there is only so much that can be done. shooting a documentary with so many shooters and shoot days meant a ton of footage was always coming in. when sound was recorded separately, it often became very daunting to sync all of it in the Avid. plural eyes is a solution that works on a small scale, but working in an Avid environment with thousands of audio and video files it wasn’t the right solution. our shooting style and the types of shoots we were on often prevented us the luxury of slating, so audio sync was not an easy task and something that we all constantly tried to make more efficient. A Game of Honor was nominated for a sports Emmy for best camera work so that tells me that we did something right with our approach and camera choice, it means the platform is definitely working for our team, but in terms of being a great solution for our client – CBS – it was more of a love/hate relationship with the camera. they loved the image and the results we were getting, but the workflow issues with audio and transcoding as well as some of the moire plagued wides leveled out their reception to the DSLR platform.
why we love the MK3
with all the TV work we’ve been doing lately for CBS, NFLN, and FOX our task is to provide great storytelling, great imagery, and an easy experience for them to work with what we shoot. the Epic and Scarlet provide great images – absolutely stunning with an incredible amount of room to move in post – but the workflow isn’t the right fit as a main camera for many television applications. the Sony F3 (which we once owned) and the Canon C300 are sort of in-between options offering more robust features at a medium price point and size. with the added features also comes an increase in size and complexity. yes a C300 is fast and the image may be great, but we still aren’t as fast as a MKIV and now a MK3 on a monopod. does that difference really matter? for us, it absolutely does. on Monday we found ourselves looking for a couple pickups shots for the Final Four Open before it went to air that night. one of the biggest pickups was shots was of Kansas arriving to the Superdome. the team bus pulls up to the back, players get off and straight onto golf carts where they are whisked off to the locker rooms. when you have a window of opportunity that is less than a minute long, seconds matter and the MK3 gives us precious seconds that we haven’t found in any other platform (as did the MKIV before this).
moire and aliasing // shooting the French Quarter in New Orleans as well as the Superdome presented quite the challenge for our wides. many shots we got i think we would have had to re-work due to moire. technology is at it’s best when it recedes into the background and just lets you do your thing. with the MK3 we were able to roll in several situations with tight brick patterns or empty stadium seating that we never could have in the past. moire did pop-up from time to time, but in every case it looked like a pattern so fine that almost any camera would have issues with it. from what i’ve read, part of the improvement in moire and aliasing comes at the cost of sharpness. this absolutely may be true, and from the looks of the detailed samples posted that is in fact the case, but in practical use when playing back the footage cut right in with Alexa, side by side on a 50″ LCD, nobody commented on a lack of sharpness (while they definitely would have noticed moire). again, i’m not trying to suggest that there aren’t difference between the MK3 and Alexa (or Epic for that matter) or that the MK3 image couldn’t be sharper but i am saying that everybody loved what they saw and when mixed with these other cameras, the MK3 still got all the attention.
timecode // the timecode functions on the MK3 are fairly basic – they allow you to set the type of timecode you’d like, such as free run, and preset a starting timecode. whether you are recording separate sound or trying to get a sync on multiple cameras (as we did with multiple MK3s or with our Epic) even this basic timecode and manually jamming got us very close, much quicker than ever before. had we been dealing with a ton of footage and audio files, this timecode could have saved days if not weeks of logging and syncing. this functionality certainly helps on a commercial set where sound is almost always recorded separately. in an event setting, many have lived without it for quite some time now and others may not know what to do with timecode, but whether you use plural eyes or not, there is always value in having your video and audio files syncs as closely as possible.
recording times // while we rarely ran into issues with the 12 minute recording limit before, in shooting interviews having up to 30 minutes recording time definitely was helpful. we did a series of interviews in Chardon and Harrisburg for the CBS feature and having that extra time made it easier to roll one take for the whole interview and also made it easier to sync up once in post to the audio file. while this wasn’t a crucial addition to the MK3, it definitely is one of those things that makes your shooting life a little easier and definitely saves you some time.
lowlight // the lowlight ability of the MK3 is definitely very strong. with that being said, the MKIV we are used to was also quite good in low light and we rarely had to push it to the limits. doing any sort of event or doc work, having the best low light is always a huge addition and the MK3 really performs in this area. for the Sunday night NCAA game tease we filmed Trombone Shorty while he and his band performed at the House of Blues. we were filming him while he perfumed in front of a paying crowd so we had to be quick, try and be discreet, and we couldn’t modify the lighting. with one take of the song, Ray and i moved quickly with our monopods and got footage in a dark club that excited us as well as Gareth and Christian (the producer and editor on the project). [iPhone photo - Gareth Hughes / CBS]
LCD screen // the display on the MK3 is a nice step up from previous generations. it definitely feels very sharp and vibrant and is slightly larger (so keep that in mind for accessories such as a Zacuto Z-finder). when it comes to actual shooting, i don’t believe the LCD size or sharpness made focus significantly easier, but it definitely gives a nice image to look at. one minor, yet large improvement to the viewing experience is that the video is no longer masked with low opacity grey bars at the top and bottom and instead is shown at the proper 16X9 ratio. more than once we’ve composed a shot while taking in the area underneath the grey bars and it feels much more natural to see only what you are recording. the histogram option is definitely a nice addition (coming from a MKIV) but it would be nice to have it available while recording. the general LCD info options give you several options from no info to basic info to a ton of info, and options are always good, but it would be great to be able to customize what you see. the option with the most amount of info ends up covering up the majority of the screen but the basic info leaves a fair amount out. the challenge becomes properly seeing your shot with so much info on the screen (which does minimize when you start rolling) or trying to make due with less info to keep your screen clear.
compression // the new recording options – high and low compression – are an interesting feature to add. for all of the CBS pieces we shot in high compression because the footage was heading to an Avid environment and would need to be converted regardless of which mode we chose. from all the Canon literature i’ve read, it appears that low compression is mostly about making it easier in post but not about recording a cleaner image with more detail. while working inside FCP7 (which is admittedly out of date for a newer files coming off the camera) there did not seem to be an advantage for the low compression mode. the ability to avoid transcoding is definitely enticing but we need to do more testing on our end to see just how smoothly it will play in various editors. we’ve read a fair amount about others shooting in low-compression and reporting codec noise. in the couple scenes we shot in that mode it was not something that we noticed, but there were darker night time scenes and we didn’t blow up individual frame to fully compare. so our take on the new recording formats are that it is a step in the right direction but it is yet to be seen, for us, if the new options will actually save time and will become the option we roll with.
what we would have loved to see in the MK3
while definitely an improvement over the MK2, the biggest question and criticism others have is whether it is enough of an improvement. there are a couple things we would have loved to see included in the MK3 and we hope we may see in future releases.
the white balance shift function is a huge feature we are always working to dial in the closet image to what we’d like as possible. it can be rather time consuming to make changes to your white balance shift and then need to exit the menu to see the effect. in shooting the Miami Marlin’s this past weekend there was a need to dial green out of the image (due to the reflected light off the grass) and it takes a fair amount of time to try one setting, review it, then try another. if the LCD showed a preview of your correction that would be much more efficient. if it allowed for a comparison with no shift, that would be extremely helpful and let you get an even cleaner image in many event situations.
while we appreciate the additional recording format options added into the MK3 I would have loved to see the effort put more into a higher quality recording versus a more edit friendly one. sure RAW would be amazing, but also not likely in a camera at this level. even if Canon brought their recording options from the XF cameras and C300 it would be a nice improvement while still keep files sizes, and therefore bandwidth, minimized.
the addition of timecode is definitely a big one, but having more options to sync your cameras together and sync to your audio would have been a more compete addition. there are likely other solutions to this that we aren’t aware of, but it is great to work with the sync port on the Epic and have it quickly and easily match timecode with our Sound Devices field recorder.
filming at Jackson Square with a SmallHD Dp6 and the 5D MK3 [photo - Tyler Kaufman / CBS]
the LCD also saw some improvements but it still remains very difficult to view outdoors in bright sun. a Z-finder or other monitoring solution really feels essential when shooting outside. keeping the camera and gear minimal while being able to shoot in a variety of situations is the hallmark of DSLR shooting to us. being able to see the LCD better in bright sun would then further the run and gun nature of the MK3 and would be a huge addition for us. as a side note, if you do find yourself without a Z-finder, the histograms are a great option to check that your image is properly exposed in any lighting condition. an articulating LCD is also something that would be advantageous for many of us buying this mainly for the video mode. operating the MK3 on a slider is always possible, but it’s ruined more than a couple sets of clothes in order to get the perfect shot. while talking about LCD improvements, we could also add in the ability to get an HDMI feed while still viewing the onboard LCD this is very helpful for steadicam operating so your an see your bottom monitor (which makes it much easier to see where you are going). this would also be a huge addition on a commercial set so that others can see the image you’re getting.
for what we’ve been doing lately, the MK3 gets our recommendation hands down. it lets us continue to work inside the same platform while providing a better image and also eliminating or reducing some very problematic issues such as moire. with that recommendation, keep in mind we have been doing a lot of television work lately where the form factor and mobility are huge, and where the best image straight out of camera is such an asset. if you’re shooting something like a NCAA open to air on TV, it’s well worth the upgrade even if some of the features may be considered by some to be minimal upgrades. in other words, the pile of small improvements make a big difference for what we do and for the shoots we are working on, we’ll take all the improvements we can get while still working within the DSLR platform. if you find yourself shooting a different types of films, you’ll need to investigate what the right choice is for you. if you are doing doc or commercial work, the advantages are well worth the upgrade in most cases. if we were to re-shoot A Game of Honor, we would want to use the MK3 in place of every other DSLR used (MKIV, 7D, MK2). if you are shooting weddings, the upgrade question becomes a little tougher to navigate. I would look at how many of the features will make your work better as well as how much time you feel it might save you. with weddings, efficiency is such a huge part of keeping up. an improved image with improved workflow options may end up saving a large amount of time over the course of the year. what i can say for sure is that we love our MK3s and we’ll be adding more as well. i can’t see us shooting much this year on the 7D or MKIVs.
you can see the feature, ‘One Heartbeat’ we shot for CBS here on CBS Sports’ website.
cinematography by stillmotion (aside from the varicam and news footage)
directed by Pete Radovich, CBS
edited by Jonathan Katz, CBS
field produced by Gareth Hughes, CBS
cinematography by stillmotion
interviews shot by John Tipton
lighting by Midwest Grip and Lighting Co.
produced by Gareth Hughes, Steve Karasik, Pete Radovich, CBS
directed and edited by Christian Winters, CBS