Canon 5D MkII versus Film in the real world… the result?

This weekend I am on the Isle Of Man as part of their festival, which kicked off last night with an evening about short film making, indigenous film making and the sustainable future of creative film makers in the region. It was a terrific evening that was run by Dave Armstrong and his vivacious and charming other half, Christine Dehaven. In front of a packed audience in a state of the art cinema, we watched around seven or eight films and met with the film makers and backers. There was wine, nibbles and robust conversation about art versus commerce. We watched stuff shot on the Red, HDV, 5D MkII and ‘Gone Fishing’ which was shot on 35mm film. This gave me a real chance to compare formats in the real world.

The first film we watched was Ghost Girl, written and directed by Dave and also shot on the Canon 5D MkII. It was graded on FCP and mastered to BluRay. So how did it stand up against film and Red? Well to be fair, the Red material we saw was all from DVD and was still ‘work in progress’. So let’s skip over the Red material and head for the 5D MkII compared to film.

First off, I have to say that ‘Gone Fishing’ really did look superb on a 35mm print – rich, sharp, vibrant and of course film, so it didn’t need to try and look like film. It also benefited from being presented in cinemascope, so when projected the screen actually got wider (people gasped and giggled at this, it’s a great way to let people know they are in for something special).

Now to ‘Ghost Girl’.

The first thing that struck me was that 5D material has a very distinct look. It kind of looks like film, but it’s also very digital – clean and sharp.

You can also see that they shot in very low light situations giving the image a kind of ‘real’ feel, almost like you were there, but not in a bad way.

Finally, the amazing shallow depth of field and distinct handling style of the camera means that the DP needs to operate the camera in a different way to other cameras. This again creates a specific look that is very ‘in the moment’.

Occasionally a shot would look odd (not bad but different to film) and it would  pop me out of the narrative. These shots were something only the 5D could do and so looked photographically different to what one is used to seeing on TV and in theatres. I suspect this is part of the new format ‘look’ that is evolving.

Overall, I thought it looked terrific. Not film, sure. But not trying to be film either. And when I say not film, I also mean it can do things that film COULD NOT DO.

I spoke with the DP later and asked about the rolling shutter problem and he told me they never had any issues. It’s apparent that except in exceptional circumstance the rolling shutter problem is not really an issue. One needs to be aware of it, to keep an eye out for it, but not worry too much about it. And after all, every format has limitations.

It’s a no brainer. For micro budget film makers, the 5D is king in 2010. Add to that the benefit that most of your investment in kit would go on lenses and extras (like tripods etc) and you quickly realise that you are future proofed. When Canon release the next camera, you keep all your old kit and lenses and just replace the camera body. It also means you can buy a cheaper body too, maybe a 7D or 550D, and share lenses and kit, thus operating more than one camera on set for a fraction of the setup costs.

I guess I would love to see just how 5D material would stand up if post produced at a Soho facility and then mastered to a DCP for digital presentation (watch this space). OK above is one of Dave’s youtube 5D tutorials. Below is the other…

You can see more of Ghost Girl at

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones
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3 Responses to Canon 5D MkII versus Film in the real world… the result?

  1. James D September 10, 2010 at 11:11 am #

    Thanks, Chris. No more excuses – we all need to get off our asses and shoot a film (video).

  2. John Miguel King September 14, 2010 at 4:09 pm #

    I find the article’s title misleading. It’d make sense if there was a comparison, more technical information, but all we can see is a cool dude talking about his camera.

  3. Suki Singh September 15, 2010 at 11:32 am #

    Thanks for that Chris, really interesting. Just in post production with my feature EMULSION shot the 5D. I’ll let you when we are grading so you can see the footage on a broadcast monitor etc. Cheers, Sui.

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