ARTICLE

Quest for perfection: filming a car commercial with the Canon EOS C500 Mark II

A drone holding the Canon EOS C500 Mark II soars over the Spanish countryside capturing aerial shots of the Jaguar F-PACE.
When filming Jaguar's exhilarating F-PACE advert, filmmaker Brett Danton found that using the Canon EOS C500 Mark II instead of the larger EOS C700 FF meant the camera could be rigged up with monitors and follow-focus rigs, and stripped back to make it light enough to use on a drone to capture aerial shots. © Brett Danton

When it comes to shooting commercials for prestige car manufacturers, anything less than perfection is not good enough. The vehicles have to look flawless and the location awe-inspiring, bathed in incredible light. To generate excitement, a whole range of shots are needed, often in a very short space of time – everything from high-speed vehicle-to-vehicle shots and aerial captures, to panning and long-lens shots of the car in motion.

With no room for error and little time for reshoots, a car commercial is one of the most high-pressure commissions you can take on. So, when filmmaker Brett Danton was asked to shoot an advert for the F-PACE, Jaguar's luxury SUV, he needed a camera he could rely on, and he jumped at the chance to become the first to shoot with the Canon EOS C500 Mark II.

"Car clients are very particular," he says. "You can see anything that goes wrong, any reflections that aren't right. There's always lots of sky in the shots, so you can see any degradation there. It's a whole new level. Jaguar has a very specific list of cameras it will allow its commercials to be shot on, and it doesn't want silver cars to look grey. I had to get everything right first time."

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A real-world test

As a director, DOP and photographer working for iconic brands across the world, Brett is no stranger to the demands of this kind of shoot. "You have great locations and budgets, and all the toys to use," he says. For this shoot, this included the incredible remote-control Russian Arm camera mount that was fixed to the top of a car for high-speed tracking shots, as well as a drone and a variety of gimbals. "But it's tough on equipment. If you're going to break a camera, you're going to break it on a car shoot. If you want to test a camera properly, test it in the real world."

A total convert to Full-Frame shooting with the Canon EOS C700 FF Cinema EOS System camera, Brett loves the unique look of a large-sensor camera mated to fast Canon prime lenses shot at very wide apertures – aided by built-in ND filters to control the exposure. The new Canon EOS C500 Mark II shares the same 5.9K sensor as the Canon EOS C700 FF, which Brett knows and trusts. However, instead of having to use an external recorder to capture RAW files, it records Cinema RAW Light internally to dual CFexpress cards and can record Canon XF-AVC format with 2K 4:2:0 8-bit simultaneously to an SD card as a proxy. Brett has used the same Cinema RAW Light codec extensively in the Canon EOS C200 and understands the incredible quality and flexibility it gives in post.

A Russian Arm mounted on top of a black Jaguar holding the Canon EOS C500 Mark II in a gimbal to shoot the lead car, a silver Jaguar F-PACE.
"With the Jaguar shoot, we took the footage from the camera and dropped on an LUT to give the client a rough idea of how it was going to look, and I got the reaction I wanted – especially with the silver car, which looks incredible," says Brett. © Brett Danton

Using the Canon EOS C500 Mark II instead of the larger EOS C700 FF also meant the camera could be rigged up with monitors and follow-focus rigs, or stripped back to make it as light and compact as possible for use on a drone or gimbal. The camera was attached to a Russian Arm mounted on top of another Jaguar F-PACE to film the 'hero' car, as well as being mounted to a versatile Ronin 2 gimbal and then bolted to a drone.

The fast, user-interchangeable lens mount offered the ultimate in flexibility. It was quick and easy to swap between the latest Canon Sumire PL-mount primes, Canon CN-E primes and Canon EF-mount lenses, including super-telephotos that work perfectly with the advanced Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus.

Setting up the Canon EOS C500 Mark II to be attached to a drone.
"All the buttons on the Canon EOS C500 Mark II are in the same positions as Canon's other Cinema cameras, so I didn't have to think about using it. If I wanted waveforms, I knew where the button was. There are also a few extra buttons, such as one to change frame rate, which is great," says Brett. © Brett Danton
The Canon EOS C500 Mark II on the Ronin 2 gimbal ready for a day of shooting.
The Canon EOS C500 Mark II was attached to a Russian Arm mounted on top of a Jaguar F-PACE in order to film the 'hero' car. To get all the shots needed, the camera was also mounted to a Ronin 2 gimbal and bolted to a drone. © Brett Danton
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Familiarity and usability

Although the finished film looks as if it's been shot in the idyllic conditions befitting such a glamorous shoot, Brett says that couldn't be further from the truth. "The shoot was in Spain and they say it rains there six times a year – we had six days of rain and wind!"

With such a tight schedule, the pressure was on to get everything right first time. "The last thing we wanted to have to think about was the camera," he says. "All the buttons on the Canon EOS C500 Mark II are in the same positions as Canon's other Cinema cameras, so I didn't have to think about using it. If I wanted waveforms, I knew where the button was. There are also a few extra buttons, such as one to change frame rate, which is great." Rather than having to look through menus, high frame rate recording up to 50/60fps in 5.9K was just a click away.

Two men attach a super-telephoto lens to the Canon EOS C500 Mark II.
The camera's lens mount options meant Brett could rely on a versatile mix of Canon lenses, including super-telephotos that work perfectly with the advanced Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus. © Brett Danton

The camera's lens mount options meant Brett could rely on a versatile mix of Canon lenses, including Canon Sumire Prime Series lenses for the car tracking shots on the Russian Arm. "The Sumire Primes bring a filmic feel and give nice flares," he explains. "Using a Sumire to shoot the car coming towards you at dusk with its headlights on softens the image. The highlights on the metalwork gleam and there are flares from the headlights – just what I wanted."

Brett didn't have a full set of Canon Sumire Prime lenses, so for the drone shots he switched to the Canon CN-E14mm T3.1 L F Cinema Prime, one of his favourite lenses. While the Canon Sumire Primes he used had the default PL mount, the CN-E lenses use EF mounts, so the lens mount was changed on set in a matter of minutes. Then the benefits of the Canon system really came into play, as Brett switched to two Canon super-telephoto prime lenses: the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM and the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM (now succeeded by the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM).

"It was amazing," he says. "We were tracking the cars charging up mountains and the autofocus just kept everything sharp. I don't care how good a focus puller you are, if you're using a 300mm or 600mm lens wide open, it's a hard thing to get right – especially on a full-frame sensor. I use AF and focus assist; it's another tool to have in your toolbox.

"I've also played with face detection and it's very clever. The Canon EOS C500 Mark II doesn't suddenly stop focusing when the shot is sharp; the focus has a roll-off which gives it a more traditional look, like a focus puller feel. You can really notice it – it just makes it look right."

Impressive results

With a quick turnaround required for broadcast just days after filming, Brett did a quick colour grade before showing the client a rough cut for approval. "Shooting in available light is the best test of a camera's performance, but I look for an amazing image that the client is going to look at, say 'wow' and then book me again," he says. "With the Jaguar shoot, we took the footage from the camera and dropped on an LUT to give the client a rough idea of how it was going to look, and I got the reaction I wanted – especially with the silver car, which looks incredible.

"I shot everything in 5.9K as I wanted to see it on a big screen, and taking it down to 4K cleans it all up. The dynamic range is crazy, over 15 stops for sure. Filming in Cinema RAW Light, I shot at the base of ISO800 the entire time and in the edit added no noise reduction, yet I can't see any noise at all. The camera performed and made my life easy."

Post production editing of the Jaguar F-PACE advert by Brett Danton on a Canon 4K Professional Reference Display.
Editing the advert on a Canon 4K Professional Reference Display. "I shot at the base of ISO800 the entire time and in the edit added no noise reduction, yet I can't see any noise at all. The camera performed and made my life easy," says Brett. © Brett Danton

Brett was impressed with the results and says he'll be using the Canon EOS C500 Mark II in the future. "The EOS C500 Mark II has the same sensor as the EOS C700 FF, so there's consistent quality," he says. "You can build the camera to the shape you need to make it work for that particular environment. I'd use the Canon EOS C500 Mark II for 90% of my work now and go to the EOS C700 FF with its RAW recorder for SFX work when I need to pull out every last bit of data if the post house requests it, or if I need more choices on SDI output to send more signals out on set.

"The Canon EOS C500 Mark II is a camera I would now happily use for everything, either on its own or with the EOS C700 FF – everything matches up beautifully."

Written by Adam Duckworth


Brett Dantons's kitbag

Key kit for pro filmmaking

The Canon EOS C500 Mark II.

Cameras

Canon EOS C500 Mark II

New generation Cinema EOS System camera with 5.9K Full Frame CMOS Sensor in a compact body. "The last thing we wanted to have to think about was the camera," says Brett. "All the buttons are in the same positions as Canon's other Cinema cameras, so I didn't have to think about using it – if I wanted waveforms, I knew where the button was."

Lenses

Canon CN-E24mm T1.5 FP X

One of the Sumire Prime cine lens range with a specially designed 'cinematic look' and interchangeable PL mount. "The Sumire Primes bring a filmic feel and give nice flares," says Brett.

Canon CN-E35mm T1.3 FP X

One of the Sumire Prime cine lens range, offering fast aperture and precise manual control with a crafted focus bokeh aimed at careful creative expression.

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