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|| News Item: Posted 2009-03-10

Inappropriate Comments About the Revolutionary Canon 5D Mark II
Paul Myers likes the new camera.

By Paul Myers, Brooks Institute

Photo by Paul Myers

Photo by Paul Myers
No algorithms, no specs. Those are found in other places such as "other websites" or in the camera manual.

Never underestimate the manual, it is a beautiful document that everyone should read while you are waiting for the battery to charge when you first buy the camera, especially because this is a different machine than your other 5d. Besides that, the manual holds useful advice such as how to avoid going blind while photographing the sun or no choking on the camera strap (see warnings on pp. 219-220 of the instruction manual for the Canon 5D Mark II).

I have a couple of basic needs as a visual storyteller and the main one is that I don't want to think about my camera when I shoot. It should just be there and it should work. It should be a natural extension of my perception. I want the camera to be as close to my face as the color of my eyes so that in the moment of perception I am able to make a photo rather than worry about the machine.

A camera should allow me to see, to feel, and should never make me think beyond the basic mechanical functions of exposure and focus so that I can be present with the people.

And this is perhaps the most unnerving aspect of the 5D Mark II, because picking it up as a competent still photographer, thinking it is a still camera, everything is okay. When it is switched to video mode, we have a high-end 1080p30 tapeless video camera and perhaps we are still less than amateur videographers.

The wind just got knocked out of you; you are just starting out again in a new medium. But it is worse because it is a risk to produce a video as a professional in an environment where you have consistently produced a professional product as a photographer and not know for sure that you are making a great video the way you know for sure that you made a great photo. What will your editors think?

Risk it all. Make the bad videos and know that you are going to improve with each video because you know how to tell visual stories, you understand composition and light and flow of the story. You care about your subjects and about your reputation. Do not sacrifice your style or your compositions when making video; instead, use all this knowledge you have and add motion and sound to it.

Again, to make great video, you must practice shooting video. And editing video. It is not the limitations of this machine that are at fault, rather it is gross user error that seems to drive the majority of the complaints on other websites about this camera. Yes, it is that simple: shoot video more to make great video. This camera gives you another excuse to shoot video.

There is a decision you need to make. Are you photographing a moment or recording a moment in motion with video. You still must make this decision, no one else can. In January at the World Press Photo event held at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, Scott Anger, deputy video editor for the Los Angeles Times, mentioned during his talk that he is still searching for videos to hang on his wall. That there are photos he hangs on his wall, but he is still searching for a video to hang and that his goal at the Times is for his staff to create videos to hang on walls.

Finding the moment in the motion will lead to making videos to hang on your walls.

Maybe this 5D Mark II brings us a bit closer to this, time to get to work.

And when you first buy the camera, don't expect to let it out of its cage and not get mauled when you shoot video on deadline... There is a learning curve with this machine and you need to spend some time with it not only to learn how to use it but most importantly to decide how you want to use it.

Before we go any further: get over it, get sticks. When you shoot video you need a tripod. Though you may be steady shooting handheld, eventually you need a tripod. As they say in the video business, people move, things don't. A tripod makes this possible.

The wool over our eyes? There is none.

Photo by Paul Myers

Photo by Paul Myers
This camera is just like every other kicking DSLR, the files are beautiful though the color still seems better in the 5D compared with the 5D Mark II. But use this gift from Canon, this Mark II, in the darkest hole in the wall and this camera will make pictures and video that you can barely see with the naked eye. It rocks. Never mind ISO 6400, which is fine, ISO 2500 is where it is at, exquisite.

Give me an "N!"
I think the engineers at Canon realized they created a beast. A beast that is incredible under low light conditions, both with stills and video, so they took away our video exposure control and they left the audio a mess… they pulled their punches. No manual exposure controls for video, no monitor input for headphones, Auto Gain Control (AGC). They treated us like armatures so we would beg for the upgrade, planned obsolescence.

My pet peeve…
Canon destroyed the whole purpose of having a 99 percent optical viewfinder by rounding the edges of the viewfinder. The plastic actually covers the corners of the frame. You cannot see the corners of the frame because of the plastic edges, especially if you wear glasses when you shoot. I am still trying to figure out if I can disassemble my 5d and use the viewfinder on the Mark II or if I need to file out the edges so I can see the entire frame. It is really uncomfortable to shoot with on the fly, especially if you are not center composing and you are used to seeing a rectangle rather than an oval. I feel that this is a decision they are trying to make for us, one that leads to live view and the eventual disregard for the optical viewfinder, the same mentality with which they approach viewfinders in point and shoots.

Back to the AGC…
This camera has a hemorrhoid and it is called AGC (Auto Gain Control). "AGC" translates into English as "you are screwed if you want to record professional audio with the 5d Mark II." Why do you think everyone is creating these intense and beautiful music videos? The ambient is difficult to control with this camera and so using another audio file is one solution. The audio capabilities beyond the built in mono mic are severely limited by the AGC. This means that when using a wireless lav, a dynamic mic or a shotgun mic, when the sound that is in the foreground goes quiet, the AGC raises the levels until the sound evens out again, meaning, it raises the ambient, whether you wanted that or not. And, most of the time you do not want this to happen.

The easiest solution is to use another audio recorder and sync the sound. There is a variety out there including the Edirol R-09 or the Olympus LS-10, both of which I use on a regular basis and are solid machines for under $400. That's right, have your subject clap in the scene so you can line up your audio with your visual, just like in the movies, but remember to have the visual in the video or you will not be able to line up the sound.

Photo by Paul Myers

Photo by Paul Myers
A long shot…
Beach Tek is creating a unit for the 5D Mark II called the DXA-5D XLR adapter and is releasing it in April. It will allow you to input using XLR cables but it does not address the AGC issue so even with the XLR inputs, you are confined to having the camera control your audio and this is bad, bad like using a 600mm lens and having the camera control your auto focus bad. But it might work, lets see. On a positive note, it looks like Beach Tek is also going to compete with Sennshiser and Rode in the compact shotgun mic category so stay tuned. And, again, this does not fix the AGC in the 5d Mark II so do not expect different results when you use the Beach Tek with XLR cables with a shotgun mic (for example) versus using the same mic with an XLR to mini adapter. The cable is not the issue; the software in the camera is the problem.

Canon must fix the AGC. I don't know if this is a firmware upgrade or not but if it is they need to take care of us and deliver (or a hacker should deliver, please.) This is no surprise for Canon's track record if you remember that Canon's GL-2 video camera always relied on a Beach Tek for XLR inputs. Well, except the GL-2 did have monitor input for headphones, something the 5D Mark II lacks (and this is at least as bad as the AGC).

Video Exposure
It seems some people (basically everyone I know) want to attain that shallow depth of field look in the middle of the day. If you look back at Vincent Laforet's Reverie, notice how many shots were taken at mid-day or even in daylight. This camera is made for lowlight video, especially if you like shallow depth of field, it rocks. But in bright sunlight, you must compensate to achieve shallow depth of field since manual exposure control is not possible with this camera in the video mode.

That's right, manual exposure control is not possible in the video mode.

The way exposure works with video in the automatic mode is as follows: First ISO is changed, then shutter speed, and finally aperture. What does this mean for you out on the street? If you want your video with wide-open apertures, it is easy as long as you shoot in low light conditions. Low light is a blast with this camera. But in the middle of the day you will have some issues trying to shoot at f/2 or f/1.4. Just as you will have problems shooting with more depth of field in dark situations. Rudy Winston at Canon USA offers the following advice for compensating to achieve a shallow depth of field in bright conditions and more depth of field in darker conditions.

"So while you can't change the priority with which the camera makes adjustments, you can "cheat" a bit in terms of actual aperture used during video recording. If you know you want to use a fairly wide-open aperture, even in a brightly-lit area, if you initially point the camera at a darker part of the scene (something in shadow, etc.), and start video recording there and then quickly swing it around to your actual subject, the camera will initially pick a fairly wide lens opening to accommodate the darker area, and will try to hold it for as long as possible once you begin recording your actual subject. The same is true, in reverse, if you want a smaller aperture for more depth-of-field, and initially point the camera at a brighter subject/scene when you first begin recording."

I think Canon is brilliant for marketing the camera with a 24-105 f/4. This lens deals with a lot of these issues, without having to "cheat," if you think about it and especially in low light. With the image stablization, even at f/4 at ISO 6400 you should have no problem shooting, even in dive bars.

And yet there seems to be other ways to achieve these results…

Photo by Paul Myers

Photo by Paul Myers
Some people are using 5D Mark II with Nikon lenses. "Nikon Lenses" is code for "cheating" the aperture. Shoot with Nikon lenses with a converter for the bayonet mount and you bypass the suggested step to trick the camera because Nikon lenses allow for manual aperture adjustment, just change the aperture on the lens and the ISO and shutter speed will follow suit. I haven't tried this but it seems like people are pleased with their results based on the chatter. CHECK NIKON

No wonder Zeiss just started releasing a set of manual lenses with Canon mounts late last year…and though Jeff Chiu will disagree with me, there are no such things as UFOs, especially in the camera business. CHECK ZEISS

And then there are the neutral density filters…

The idea is to make it seem darker so the camera will compensate and open the aperture, and it works although you still lack control of the aperture. Some are saying a six-stop neutral density filter does the trick. I have a three stop and a 10-stop ND filter. The three stop doesn't do much for the depth of field, many people are using a six stop ND filter and I am happy with the 10 stop filter, it works pretty well, the lens is wide open in the middle of the day.

This camera is revolutionary. I am not thrilled with some of the limitations but they are not enough to excuse myself from using it on a daily basis. This camera marks a huge leap in possibilities for visual storytelling, especially for those of us who aspire to be flies on the wall, those of us who would do anything to be invisible for a couple of minutes now and then, just to tell a story.

Some useful websites:
5D Forum

Beach Tek

The EOScars

For cutting the video in Final Cut Pro

For Final Cut Pro and other tutorials:

Free tutorials at the Knight Digital Media Center:

(Paul Myers is a faculty member of the Visual Journalism Program at Brooks Institute in Ventura, CA. Prior to his arrival at Brooks, Myers worked for a variety of publications including newspapers in Freeport, IL and Marysville, CA.)

Related Links:
Paul's member page

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