In an ideal world, all professional filmmakers would have a main camera and an identical B-cam on every shoot – both set up the same, with the same lenses and codecs, for seamless integration. In reality, it is sometimes not possible to film on two top-tier Canon cinema cameras, so when a single camera just isn't enough, what are the alternatives? Opting for a different B-cam within the Canon range not only makes it possible to maintain a consistent look, but also offers distinct benefits, such as being able to take advantage of a smaller form-factor, different frame rates and enhanced low-light capabilities.
Brett Danton is a commercial filmmaker who has shot commercials for luxury car manufacturers, including Jaguar's F-PACE ad. He films on a Canon EOS C500 Mark II and uses a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III as his B-cam. The EOS-1D X Mark III has also proved to be a versatile B-cam for documentary filmmaker Alex Wykes, who pairs it with a Canon EOS C300 Mark II cinema camera on shoots that have taken him from the mountains of Russia to the Kalahari Desert. And documentary cameraman Dan Lightening – who has shot music videos for the Gallagher brothers, Nile Rodgers and Jamiroquai, as well as ads for leading brands – films on a Canon EOS C200, which works seamlessly alongside his Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.
Here, the three filmmakers discuss their favoured Canon A/B-cam combinations and the benefits of pairing models with compatible lenses and codecs on their demanding shoots.
It can be challenging to maintain a consistent look when shooting on different models, but rather than spending hours colour grading to match footage from different cameras, using two Canon cameras will help ensure that you capture footage with the same aesthetic and colour rendering.
When Dan Lightening filmed skateboarder Vladik Scholz at Balcombe Viaduct in West Sussex, he found it surprisingly easy to match his footage – despite filming in Cinema RAW Light on the Super 35mm Canon EOS C200 and in a standard non-Log codec on the full-frame Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.
"The footage cut together perfectly," he explains. "The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV has a really nice 30.4MP CMOS sensor. If you expose it correctly and shoot in environments that don't push the extremes too much, you get beautiful images – and there's enough there to tweak it in the grade."
The team put the Canon EOS C200 on a tripod and attached the EOS 5D Mark IV to a motorised gimbal, which gave them the speed they needed to capture not only the skateboarding action, but also the stunning scenery surrounding the viaduct.
If you’re shooting Log gamma with your A-cam for optimal dynamic range and editing flexibility, then it makes sense to have your B-cam doing the same. Canon Log options are supported by both Canon Cinema EOS cameras and hybrid EOS cameras – and two cameras using the same file format brings workflow advantages.
Canon Log is designed to deliver an 800% increase in dynamic range, minimising loss of detail in the darkest and brightest parts of the image, and the technology came into its own during Alex Wykes' heli-skiing shoot on the mountainous Kamchatka peninsula in Eastern Russia. He was putting the rugged Canon EOS-1D X Mark III through its paces alongside a Canon EOS C300 Mark II cinema camera.
"The H.265 codec is really good and stands up to grading very well, but we do documentary stuff, so we're not going really heavy into it – it's all quite natural," he says. "There's a lot of contrast and light when shooting snow, so you get a lot of reflections."
For ultimate flexibility and quality, Brett believes nothing beats shooting in RAW. "Filming in RAW is like shooting a digital negative. I shoot in Cinema RAW Light on the Canon EOS C500 Mark II, and I can also film in RAW on the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III. It's full RAW rather than Cinema RAW Light, so it's got an even higher data rate."
Despite the different file formats, the footage cut together flawlessly. "It probably took me five minutes to sort it out," Brett says. "The beauty of RAW is that you can decide what you want to do with it in post-production."
Being able to use the same lenses on both cameras has obvious benefits. Not only do you not have to invest in extra glass, it also keeps your overall kit size down. On both the mountain and the desert shoot, Alex found switching the same lens between the Canon EOS C300 Mark II and the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III offered increased flexibility.
The Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens extends the focal length of the full-frame DSLR to 560mm, and the Super 35mm cinema camera to just under 900mm. "A long focal length is important for shooting wildlife, and also in the snow because you have to film the other side of a valley," explains Alex.
Dan took it a step further, using a selection of Canon Cine Primes as well as EF Prime and EF Zoom lenses on his skateboarding shoot. "We used a real mixture of lenses," he says. "We had mainly a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM and a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens on the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, and then a mixture of zooms and primes on the Canon EOS C200. It gives great flexibility."
Selecting a more compact B-cam means it's possible to position it in places that your larger main camera may not be able to reach, enabling you to capture shots that might otherwise be impossible to get. Smaller B-cams are also better suited for use with a motorised gimbal system. Both these factors came into play when Brett was deciding which cameras to use to shoot an advertisement for a high-end furniture manufacturer.
"We built the entire ground floor of a house in a studio and shot all the main moves with a Canon EOS C500 Mark II on a Technocrane," he says. "Once the camera is on the crane and balanced up, it's quite a big job to pull it off. I'm always telling clients I need to get some close-ups, but they don't want to pay for a second EOS C500 Mark II and another operator. So, I put a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III on a gimbal, stuck it on autofocus, and shot what I could while they reset the main camera. I did that five or six times, and I got all the little close-ups that we needed. We cut the footage together, and it looked great."
Deciding on your B-cam is a chance to look at potential gaps in your set-up. You might want to think about a full-frame camera to complement your Super 35mm, or look for a camera that shoots at a higher frame rate or performs better in low light. Look for a model that offers something your A-cam doesn't, so it becomes an integral part of your kit.
For Alex, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III adds valuable additional options alongside his workhorse Canon EOS C300 Mark II. "The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III offers features such as super slow-motion in HD, which is great for quickly shooting social media footage that doesn't have to be in 4K, " he says. "It also has RAW video capture for when we're shooting promos and commercial stuff, and the full-frame sensor is amazing in low light. Having a different B-cam really makes sense."