Hovering Lights

Why Canon 5D3 RAW?

November 17, 2014

I was about to write this huge and complicated post explaining how I’d shoot my footage RAW with a 5D MkIII running Magic Lantern, but the guys at Cinema 5D did several posts regarding that workflow, and google or the Magic Lantern forum can help filling in whatever blanks you end up having while reading their articles, so I’ll just focus on the creative and technical reasons why I’m choosing to shoot with a DSLR instead of VFS’ Sony EX-1.

I’ve been photographing using DSLRs for about six years now, shooting video for four and raw video since it was beta testing (roughly one year ago), so, I’m kind of used to the benefits (as well as the quirks) of working with DSLRs. It’s not a quick thing, grab the camera and go shoot, takes some time to get used to its weight, focusing (which is always a tricky exercise) and fighting against rolling shutter, which can ruin great takes.

Anyway, let’s get to the point: I’m shooting in low light (take into account the time of day I’m shooting and the internal environments as well), with little to none extra lights, so the full frame sensor is a huge boost. Add that to how well the 5D3 handles high ISOs and we’re on a good track. This “extra” light will be useful to increase my shutter speed and help with tracking, getting rid of some unnecessary motion blur. Ok, these would be good reasons to weight the 5D3 against the EX-1, but Magic Lantern’s RAW capabilities make the choice really simple.

A warning: even though the CHOICE was simple, the process is VERY FAR from simple, and can go wrong at almost any point. Here’s a little something to read and discourage most people from this path.

Now, back to the good (and dangerous) stuff: with fast enough CF cards I can shoot around 20-25 seconds of 1920×1280 resolution, which is a bit larger than regular HD footage and provides me extra margin for cropping, reframing, place tracking markers and, if nothing else, extra bits and pieces of footage. If I want a continuous shot, I can go down to 1920×1152 and don’t worry about frame skipping at all. That would be just for safety: I don’t think I have any shots that run even 20 seconds long. These ‘short’ 25 seconds create files close to 4GB. This gives you an idea of how heavy these things will go in post.

In terms of metadata, the guys at Magic Lantern are really doing wonders with their file format. It stores EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF METADATA that a regular photo would (and regular video wouldn’t). Shutter, iris, ISO, WB, frame rate, resolution, focal length and focus distance. The awesome thing about the last two is if you change them, during the shot, the change is recorded. Let’s say I do a zoom in in the middle of my balcony shot. The MLV file will store how long my zoom was, and both my initial and final focal lenghts. No need to say these features only work with Canon EF lenses. Manual lenses don’t provide that kind of information to the camera body.

After shooting, the fun begins. From the MLV files I can render out rough proxies (for general editing) as well as Cinema DNG 14bit frames that can be processed by Adobe Camera Raw or any other similar programs for huge adjustments. From those DNGs I’ll render out two “default” passes for each shot, one with extra contrast and sharpness, to be used for tracking, and a very neutral and flat pass for the final compositing and grading.

Last year, when we shot Zona SSP, RAW recording was wild, we had no sound, and very likely to find green or pink messed up frames among the good ones, what could, very likely, ruin your shot. Even though, things turned out good. Now the MLV file format is capable of embedding sound (which avoided me some nightmares) to the recorded videos, and we do have decent real-time players for the files too. The previous workflow required everything to be converted and proxied BEFORE you could watch any of the footage. Let’s say it wasn’t the most comfortable thing to be completely in the dark about what you just shot. Checking the footage is much easier now, thanks to MLRawViewer.

For testing purposes (since I’m not just gonna wake up one day and go out to shoot my raw demo reel), I’m doing all the assignments from now on that require live footage this way. It’s my way of bulletproofing the workflow and make sure I won’t make any stupid mistakes when the shooting day comes.