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Are the Stars Out Tonight?

I’m realizing I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks other than earlier this evening. There have been assignments but I have also been gearing up for my first film assignment. It’s part of an annual report shoot. I’ll be creating a dozen environmental portraits (still images) and then producing/directing/shooting six short video pieces to accompany the annual report when it appears online.

The nature of the job is such that it is more cost effective to buy the needed equipment (HDslr, sound, continuous lights) than to rent because the work will be spread out over a significant amount of time.

Over the years I have owned between five and eight cameras at any one time. With the switch to digital that got whittled down to three and with the current generation of cameras, they’ve been rock solid, so I’ve only needed two. I shoot with Canon 1Ds Mark III’s. That body is pushing three years old so it does not have HD video.

Prior to this assignment I kept video as a professional option at arm’s length, even questioning the convergence of still and video. I was shooting video for myself but I was content knowing that when video reached the camera models I use, I would be able to dip my toe in then. Well… times change and so do clients’ expectations. With HD quality video becoming more prevalent in higher end dslr cameras and with the demand for video growing, clients are beginning to ask for and expect video.

So, for me, the first step was figuring out which camera body to get. In full disclosure, the film project I need to complete could be shot with a pro-level video camera. In fact, on a certain level it might be simpler that way. But if I’m going to do this I need to do it in a way which takes advantage of my current stable of lenses, my knowledge of still cameras, and sets me up for future projects. Those factors point toward getting a dslr with HD capabilities and which can create the shallow depth of field film look those cameras are known for.

Since I shoot Canon the options were the 7D, 5D Mark II, and the 1D Mark IV. I can’t go wrong with either of these for the upcoming assignment so it became a question of which will benefit me more after the assignment. Each camera has its strengths and weaknesses. The undisputed king is the 5D Mark II because of its full-frame sensor but it is also the most temperamental of the three. It doesn’t have the range of HD settings of the other two, it can be hard to focus, and it doesn’t play nice with external monitors once you start recording. It also does not have the build quality of the 7D or the 1D Mark IV.

In the end I went with the 1D Mark IV as much for it’s similarity to what I currently use as anything. Same body size, same build quality, same batteries, same accessories, same button layout. What it will add to my kit for the future is higher ISO capability along with the video strengths mentioned above. Would I rather have full-frame (the 1D Mark IV’s chip has a 1.3x factor)? Yes. Are the odds of Canon announcing a replacement for my current cameras, the 1Ds Mark III’s, this August good?  Yes, they are very good and, yes, it will probably have HD. But I need a camera now and one which can be vetted prior to this assignment starting.

While this has no bearing on the upcoming assignment – here’s a quick test of the 1D Mark IV’s low light capabilities:

This was shot a few nights ago, about 10PM. 1D Mark IV, handheld, 50mm f/1.2, @ 1.2, 1/50, 30p, 1080P, ISO 12800. The only tweak to the camera was to set the picture style to Neutral.

I am amazed you can see levels of detail in the trees, in the clouds, and those dots at the end are not noise. They are stars. Visit Vimeo to download an HD version.

March 13, 2011 – moved video to Vimeo.