After using his Canon EOS 5D Mark IV for a commercial TV project, filmmaker Fergus Kennedy set out to see how far he could push the camera creatively. Fergus was originally a marine biologist, and he still makes films about the natural world. But he is increasingly working in stills photography and video for a range of clients across television and advertising, and has particularly focused on using drones to capture dramatic aerial shots.
Fergus’s new project was a personal one, giving him the freedom to develop his own ideas. He and his brother Nick, who was the camera operator, wanted to push the possibilities and see what they could achieve. Fergus realised that the EOS 5D Mark IV’s Canon Log upgrade would be of great benefit with some of the challenging conditions of drone shooting. Canon Log adds the ability to capture more of the dynamic range from the sensor, which can then be utilised when grading in post-production to achieve a specific look and match footage from different cameras. It’s a very powerful facility that is now the norm for professional cinematographers, and having it on the EOS 5D Mark IV makes it a serious digital filmmaking tool.
“In the past I had used the Canon XC10 for some drone shooting in 4K,” explains Fergus. “It was very good, a nice light camera. But the EOS 5D Mark IV also shoots high-resolution stills and can take advantage of the excellent and comprehensive selection of EF lenses, so its range of uses is greater. We wanted to make a video depicting fast-action sports using matched cuts, which meant we needed the best quality and grading flexibility in post-production. With Canon Log on hand, the EOS 5D Mark IV could deliver this.”
“The EOS 5D Mark IV is a very capable video camera, offering 4K and now Canon Log with a firmware upgrade service,” adds Fergus. “We could have used the C300 Mark II – that would have fitted on our drones. However, the EOS 5D Mark IV is lighter, so we could have longer flying times.”
Flying over the obstacles
Fergus faced quite a few challenges with this project. For a start, matching shots across different activities in a variety of locations would be problematic. This would be hard enough to do with such fast-paced action, but even more so when they were flying the drone in a dense forest.
One of the biggest challenges surfaced while filming a kite surfer in action. “We were on our fifth flight,” explains Fergus. “The drone was at about 5m altitude and around 200m out to sea, when it lost power, but not completely. It wouldn’t respond to putting the throttle up, and sank slowly into the water, never to be seen again.” Fergus reckons one of the cells in the main flight battery failed. Luckily, an insurance claim later and they were back up in the air. “The new drone has six batteries rather than one,” adds Fergus. “So, if one fails now, it won't go down!”
“This shoot required the careful orchestration of the activities of three people – the drone pilot, the camera operator, and the athlete we were shooting,” continues Fergus. “All three had to get the timing just right, which was tricky – we ended up having to do each shot about 20 times to perfectly capture the action.” The EOS 5D Mark IV’s reliability and flexibility proved invaluable, giving Fergus and his team the confidence that every shot the trio executed would be captured by the camera beautifully.
“The lighting conditions posed many potential issues,” adds Fergus. “The forest was dappled with deep shade and very bright highlights. Over the land, if you've got a reasonably bright sky, the ground is in shadow, so you need to dig into shadows without blowing out highlights. Over the sea there are lots of points of reflected bright light. This is all quite taxing of the dynamic range, latitude and codec on a camera, because a given exposure might work well for the bright areas but not for the shadows, and vice versa. If you're taking stills you can deal with that by shooting RAW. But when shooting video, you need as much latitude as possible to make dynamics look attractive in post. This is where the arrival of Canon Log on the EOS 5D Mark IV has been so beneficial, since it gives you that latitude.”