Recently we got a call from our agency friends at Carbone Smolan Agency. They were working on a film for a group of management consultants called the Boston Consulting Group.
Our first thought was, “What the heck is a management consultant?”
Turns out their teams come in and consult on large, complex decisions that corporations around the world may need to make. Think mergers, expansions, cost cutting, policy, and so many other things where an outside, experienced point of view would be vital.
BCG needed a well produced, impactful recruitment film that would get across everything that their research had illuminated.
That’s why they were on the phone with us.
The Carbone Smolan Agency would handle the research phase of the project and come up with clear objectives for the film. From there they wanted us to help build a narrative that effectively got these across in an understandable, smooth, and impactful way.
We were up for the challenge!
As we started to plan out what gear and camera we would need, they gave us more information about what they had in mind.
Consideration #1: We’d be working with real employees to tell this story and we knew we’re be shooting in functioning office environments in the middle of the day. With million to billion dollar projects happening, we couldn’t shut down the office to make our film and we needed to ensure we kept everybody’s time to a minimum.
This told us that we need a small, quick, and flexible camera system – most likely some form of DSLR.
Along those lines, we needed a camera that didn’t require a ton of additional accessories to really perform well. Things such as rails, a follow focus, and matte boxes are all very valuable but wouldn’t fit for many parts of this story.
Consideration #2: BCG is working on projects that have a large impact across the world, and this piece would be shown in on-campus theaters at schools, such as Harvard, across the country.
Because of this intended use, we wanted an image quality that would hold up on a larger screen and one that would match in strength the power of the work they are doing.
Consideration #3: Their Chicago office, one of the locations we would be filming in, was on the 46th-48th floors in downtown and featured floor to ceiling windows. This told us that we would need a camera that could handle a high dynamic range as we would almost always be shooting into a window.
We also knew we would need a camera that could resolve an incredible amount of detail as many shots would take advantage of a 46th floor view overlooking the city.
Consideration #4: Finally, working with real employees, we also knew there would be a fair amount of interviews across all of the characters and that we would want a camera that could handle long recording times and is a good fit for a sit-down interview.
So there we have it. That was the information we were given up front, and the considerations we wanted to take into account.
To recap, our story called for a camera that was:
- Small, fast, and flexible
- Wouldn’t require a ton of accessories
- Offered a very strong image
- Could handle shots with a ton of fine detail in them
- Offered an increased dynamic range
- Good fit for several longer interviews
Once we mapped out what we needed, we asked ourselves the same question we always do at this point…
Joyce reviewing storyboards before production begins.
Is there a perfect camera for this story?
As we looked at the bigger picture we considered the Red route with our Epic or Scarlet, possibly going very small with the MK3, or going to something that is more designed as a video camera than a DSLR yet quicker and more nimble than the Red platform- a C300.
But none of these camera seems to fit just right.
And that’s when we it hit us – the Canon 1DC.
It felt like it was made for this story. Well set-up for each of the considerations we wanted on this shoot.
So we shot an email to Canon. We told them what we were looking for and how the Canon 1DC would be perfect for this shoot.
Canon was as excited as we were – and arranged for a prototype to use for our 5 production days in August.
The only challenge was, being a prototype, it arrived with no manuals in a pile of bubble wrap! Yikes!
Just in case we messed something up, we packed a backup C300, that could work in a pinch and also help takeover some of the longer interview set-ups. We could run audio into camera, it’s the next quickest thing to a DSLR, and it offers a very strong image. The piece was to be mastered in 2k and since our interviews were to be more mediums and tight shots with one angle, we felt that they would hold up very well next to the 1DC.
Our new-to-us C300 from LensProToGo and our bubble wrapped 1DC from Canon arrived about 36 hours before our first production day. Whew.
Joyce dug right in testing both for several hours, trying to match the images, and becoming very comfortable in going back and forth between the two.
After getting to handle the new Canon 1DC in a real field shoot – we got a great perspective on what we worked best us and what didn’t.
P. on the Steadicam Zephyr balanced with a 1DC and prototype Steadicam cage.
How does the Canon 1DC function in the field?
We are extremely familiar with Canon DSLRs (of course), but the 1DC is a new camera and we were excited to put it through the paces.
4K resolution in a DSLR body almost sounded too good to be true…so is it? Here are some thoughts from Joyce on actually working with the camera on the BCG shoot.
1. Small size, less intimidating set-up, comfortable form.
Our BCG characters are not actors, but rather real people being filmed in their every day environments. It was incredibly valuable to have a fast camera with such a small footprint so that allowed us to be as intimate as possible.
Very few of the people we’d shoot had any real experience being in front of the camera and while they didn’t have to deliver any lines, we really want them be comfortable so their scenes would still look and feel natural. This would have been more difficult to accomplish had we shot with larger more intimidating cameras such as the Red, Varicam or Alexa.
Think about it, the average person is far more used to a smaller, lighter camera than a huge rig being shoved in their face. This kind of thing can make or break an interview or a simple b-roll sequence.
In additional the smaller camera also translates into smaller tripods, smaller sliders, smaller batteries – the entire footprint is reduced – and that directly translates to how quickly we can move through and in between scenes.
We used it with L-series lenses on a monopod like we often do with other DSLRs but we’ve also had times where it was kitted up with geared cinema lenses, a mattebox, filters and a follow focus and we were still able to use it effectively on a monopod.
That speaks to the power of having this kind of versatility in a body this small.
It also takes the same long lasting batteries as the 1D MKIV and 1DX so its great not being plugged in all day and having to run cable everywhere (which would have been the Red route). The camera body is nearly identical to that of the 1D series cameras so it offers a large grip and feels great in your hand, especially when needing to go handheld as we did high up on the rock climbing wall.
At the time, it was one of the only 1DCs in North America and we had to strapped to our backs via a camera strap 50 feet in the air. there’s no way we could have done that with a Red Epic or Scarlet.
Rock climbing with the 1DC
2. Consistent, dependable reliability (even as a prototype)
As a prototype camera, we weren’t sure how it would perform, but for the most part it was incredibly reliable.
There were a few times where the camera froze up on me and once when it wouldn’t go into live view. The first time that happened on set, my heart skipped a beat or two. I was asked if I was ready to roll, with the client and talent present, and I couldn’t get the camera into live view!
I fumbled around with the buttons for a bit, but to no avail so I took a moment to calm myself down and thought – what would I do if this was a 1DX? I ended up just pulling the battery out and restarting that way and it worked perfectly afterwards. There was no need to reinstall firmware or send it back to the factory, all we had to do was simply turn it off and turn it back on.
The fact of the matter was between getting all the shooting permits and ridiculous types of insurance for each location, the ever unpredictable weather and talent availability we really only had a very short window of production time. In addition, filming in places such as open airports and fully functioning offices meant there was little room for equipment malfunction.
All these factors considered, we couldn’t have asked for a better prototype camera. We pulled it off with very little room for error. The reliability of the prototype was essential.
Joe sitting in as we prepare for an interview with Steven.
3. Impressive dynamic range and latitude
We have both a Red Epic and a Scarlet, both of which have fantastic dynamic range and latitude, so we were very curious as to how the 1DC would compare being that it’s not a RAW image, but rather records to motion jpeg.
Long story short, it held up very well in this tough environment. A good majority of the scenes were filmed in high rise offices with floor to ceiling windows everywhere so naturally we’d have a ton of light flooding in.
We brought the camera to scout the day before production and I remember doing a test shot of Ray with his back to the window and couldn’t believe my eyes – he was maybe just stop or two under exposed and there was still plenty of detail in the background – and this was without any lights in the room!
During production we often used a Profoto Daylight Air 800W HMI as our key light and in general that was enough to properly expose the talent in the office while holding detail in the bright image outside. There were even a handful of scenes shot unlit, event style, that held up quite well when looking at the balance between the image outside and the image inside.
While we didn’t do scientific tests with the camera it feels like what the 1DC offers is definitely a step up from the DSLRs that we came from (the MK3) in terms of latitude and dynamic range.
Prepping to shoot Hasan’s lifestyle scene – Scuba Diving!
4. Only minor moire, breathtaking sharpness and detail
When we first got the 5D3, we noticed an improvement in moire from the 1D MKIV.
So we were very interested in how the 1DC would handle fine patterns?
Again, we didn’t do scientific tests with it, but in using it for several shoots, we feel it performs noticeably better than the 5D3 and 1DX. Keep in mind that we are shooting at 4K, so the same pattern will be easier for the 1DC to resolve due to the extra resolution than it would be for a MK3 shooting at 1080P.
There were several times where I didn’t want to roll because I noticed the moire on the camera but was reminded that a lot of that is merely in the LCD. We had DIT on site so after quickly checking the image on our laptop we confirmed that the majority of issues with moire in fine patterns wasn’t really an issue at all and pressed on. This was a relief.
Sharpness, however, was something we very quickly noticed was improved in the 1DC. There were a few wide shots of the skyline and we couldn’t believe our eyes.
We were all blown away by the amount of detail in the thousands of tiny windows across the cityscape. They all held up beautifully and when you combine that with the reduced moire it really does makes for a lovely image.
A screen grab from the 1DC shot in 4K and scaled down for the web. Click on the image to download a full resolution frame grab from the 4K video.
A 1:1 crop of the image from the 1DC taken from the frame grab above. This is an example of what you would see if you viewed at 100% in your editor.
5. Beautiful LCD
The LCD on this thing feels very much in line with that of the 1DX.
Although considerably smaller than something like the Red touchscreen, the image is beautiful and more than enough for most applications. Even without a Z-finder we were comfortable just running off the lcd on the back of the camera and pulling focus that way in most of the scenes.
One thing we loved is the ability to now run an HDMI feed to an external monitor while keeping the image on the onboard LCD. This has huge applications on a commercial set when more than one person needs to see picture yet you want to stay small and mobile.
Being able to provide an external feed is standard for many cinema cameras and something we’ve always wanted to see in DSLRs so we were thrilled this has been incorporated on the 1DC. For this shoot, we often ran an HDMI cable into a SmallHD DP6 that was handheld by P. so he could see what I was shooting and offer feedback. It also allowed us to show the client and agency what we were shooting all while keeping the speed and mobility of a DSLR.
An overhead slider shot with the Cinevate Atlas30 as Sean draw’s a portrait.
6. Great performance even in lowlight
This isn’t the only camera with 4K resolution out in the market today and while many of them offer a beautiful image they often need A LOT of light.
The Red cameras are great for the right applications but they do require quite a bit of light and that certainly affects your production in both time and money.
What is unique about the 1DC is that it has the powerful lowlight capability of DSLRs combined with high 4K resolution.
Now that’s not to say that we wouldn’t light scenes with the 1DC. Light is so much more about shape and mood than it is about the amount of light you have. Almost everything we did with this film and the 1DC was lit but having the lowlight capabilities of a DSLR does mean that it requires less light should you find yourself in situations where that may be a challenge.
We wanted Steven’s watch repair scene in the living room to feel like it was later in the evening. We wanted it to be fairly dark with the exception of a couple of lights in the room, with only our talent properly lit and the background falling off.
All we needed was a small 1×1 litepanel for the key, a tiny LED blender for the hair and a 250w pro light for our background. The 1DC was at 320 ISO and there was plenty of light for us to film the scene.
Good for a DSLR, amazing for a 4K image in a DSLR body.
A frame grab from the film of Steven repairing old watches. Lit with a 1×1′ LitePanel and a Lowel Blender.
7. 4K resolution & what that meant for recording times
With the kind of resolution this thing pumps out, we were only getting about a minute of footage per every 4GBs of space. As a reference, the Red Epic at 5K resolution and 24 fps runs about 2.5GB/min. The size of the files are related to the codec used – motion jpg – and while that provides a great power in a DSLR body, it does mean you need to be prepared for some larger files.
This meant we needed quite a few cards to run this any amount of time. That wasn’t a problem for our particular shoot as things were storyboarded and we knew what we wanted. However it did mean that we had to be vigilant about pre-pro, cutting while adjusting settings and in general being more mindful of how long we need to roll.
The resolution also affected the type of CF cards we use. With the amount of data that needs to be captured, it is recommended that you use 1000X cards. We called our friends at Delkin and they were kind enough to send us a couple of prototype 1000X 64GB cards which worked beautifully.
The 1DC also has dual CF card slots so you can effectively get 16mins of footage on (2) 32GB cards before you have to swap to a new card. This still meant we had to have DIT on site but we really only needed to offload cards a handful of times throughout the day. The camera also allows you to mirror cards if you prefer to run it that way. With onsite DIT and playback, we never felt the need to mirror our recordings so this wasn’t tested.
Joe working on a new Retina Macbook Pro downloading 64GB of 1DC goodness, all through a USB3.0 reader.
8. Limited timecode options
The timecode sync options are the same as that of the 5D3, so while it is an improvement over older cameras like the 7D and 1D MKIV, it’s still fairly basic.
You can set it to elapsed time on a clip or free-run time for the shoot and that can often get us very close but there are no sync ports where we can easily jam timecode with an external recorder.
For this shoot we used the C300 for all of our interviews. The C300 has plenty of options for external audio to be ran into the camera and you can also sync up timecode with an external recorder. When we filmed A Game of Honor, not having synced audio was one of our biggest challenges and had the BCG project not been a fully produced, fully storyboarded shoot we would have ran into the same issues.
Pluraleyes is a great solution for quickly syncing your audio and picture in post. For this shoot we wanted to offer Andrew, from CSA, interview clips to review when we left – and that meant we wanted our audio and picture to be synced while recording. We ran audio straight into the C300 and then synced up our other source (boom) in post using Plural Eyes. We only used the 1DC for scenes where nat sound was needed and for that we chose the Rode Videomic Pro to keep us small and nimble.
Joe and his DIT setup downloading and prepping the 1DC files for the edit.
So what does the workflow look like?
The workflow for the 1DC was a big consideration when we first asked if we could get the camera.We’ve been warned that we might need an expensive post house to do our conversions and prepare the files for us. With such a big shoot and not a ton of time, we started to get cold feat.
So we got a small sample of footage, tried dropping it in Adobe Premiere and we were completely shocked when it played back, just like that. A prototype camera with a 4k resolution and a codec of motion jpg (which isn’t easy on a computer) and there it was playing just fine on a laptop!
We tried some grading and while that definitely slowed the performance, as expected, it still played back. As we knew this project would have a thorough post workflow, all footage was converted to ProRes in 4K using compressor and a homemade droplet. Compared to motion jpg that the 1DC records in, ProRes is a much more edit friendly format for both the edit and color process.
We brought the 4k ProRes files into Premiere and starting preparing a string out for each of our characters. The interviews were shot on C300 and these were brought in and formed the narrative.
A look inside Adobe Premiere with Magic Bullet Colorista II for the final phase of color timing.
When we got to the stage of adding in broll, we dropped the 4K files into the 1080P timeline with the C300 footage. Here we started to look at color and turned to Magic Bullet Colorista tool for an effective way to both correct the footage and add a mood where needed.
Mixing 1080P and 4k footage all in one timeline, adding grading from Colorista, and often resizing shots to make use of the extra resolution and it all played back just fine in Premiere… on a laptop.
This is a new Retina Macbook Pro, but that is quite a feat!
Overall, adjusting to this modified workflow was quick, easy, and the editing process was very smooth. it certainly wasn’t a challenge in post and felt surprisingly similar to any other edit, aside from the obvious bonuses of having that extra resolution when we needed it.
An example of how we used the 4K resolution on a 2K timeline to create jump cuts and a fast pace in the edit.
But does 4K resolution even matter if you have no intention of showing it that way?
If we are showing at 2K and simply scaling down the 4K image, does it make a difference?
For BCG we shot scenes from the 46th floor over the city of Chicago. That means an incredible amount of detail and capturing it in full 4K and bringing it down to 2K in the end means a stronger image than taking it in at 2K.
Not all your scenes or shots will have this much detail to really push what a 2K DSLR can do, but if you do find yourself in a scenario like this, that extra resolution adds to the end look.
Now there are also other things we can do with 4K if we are delivering in 2K. For BCG we used the extra resolution to zoom in, straighten shots, recompose, and generally just make our compositions stronger.
With that much extra resolution you quickly realize just how much wiggle room you have in post and its empowering. One of my favorite visual portions of the BCG piece is when Hasan speaks about the fast pace and tempo of their work and we use fast jump cuts to help communicate this (as illustrated above).
One take of a 12 second Steadicam shot ends up as 6 seconds in the final piece. It takes a lot of time to get 6 seconds of screen time and the extra resolution here really let us make so much more with the exact same shots.
The 4K image will make your 2K delivery look much better but the additional resolution opens up a ton of creative applications for other stories even if you aren’t delivering in 4k.
Joyce lining up her composition at the rock climbing wall.
What makes this camera worth the additional investment?
Instead of thinking about a camera in terms of the price point and feature list, we try to think of a camera in terms of story.
What camera fits this story best?
Remember, we greatly value the experience of filmmaking as much as what we produce and this becomes paramount working in an office environment with real employees.
We believe the 1DC is the fast and lean powerhouse.
To keep it lean and fast, it can’t be overly complex. That means that we don’t have a ton of video features that some may want, but it also means we can get so many of our settings (aperture, shutter, ISO, WB, WB shift, picture profile) dialed in very, very quickly.
At the same time, we get an incredibly strong 4k image!
The trade off? Large files and shorter recording times – both of these are not big story elements, they are simple logistics and workflow considerations.
The form factor of the 1DC let’s us tell intimate stories in a nimble way, while maintaining an incredible image.
For this piece with BCG, this was the right choice for the story.
We’ll have many projects in the future where we’ll want the image quality of 4k without having to reduce the speed or increase the size to that of a RED. The Epic or Scarlet may look fairly small but in reality they are rarely used without some heavy accessories.
The 1DC can be a very effective tool with nothing but a monopod, lens, and a variable ND filter. That is one small, fast, and versatile package.
Will we buy one? Absolutely.
Intimate, authentic stories are at our core and this camera is one of the best options out there to enable us to tell those.
There is so much talk about the Blackmagic Cinema camera and, while it looks like a great value, very little are questioning how the end rig will affect your speed and storytelling. In a produced setting, you can make the argument that this matters much less, but if you are shooting in anything less than produced – all of a sudden your speed and size matter (a lot).
RAW is great, but it’s not better than missing the shot or not being fully present in the moment. With the 1DC your camera can disappear and you can fully take in what is happening around you, allowing for more connected and proactive storytelling, all shot in 4K.
Remember a new tool rarely makes you a better storyteller, but the right mindset paired with a new tool can certainly push you further.
When you think about story, what is the most valuable aspect of a camera to you?
Leave a comment below and let us know!