When it comes to making a visually stunning film, style and aesthetics are some of the most important choices a cinematographer is faced with. Whether you're shooting a documentary-style reality piece or a dreamy, cinematic-style art film, there are lots of creative decisions to be made: cameras, lenses, filters and grading all make a difference. As well, of course, as how you shoot it in terms of composition, viewpoint and choice of aperture.
When filmmaker Steve Turvey was tasked with making a series of films about the cameras vloggers use, he had to make some critical decisions about how he wanted them to look. "There was a discussion about my footage being very obviously different to that of the vloggers, but I didn't want to jump around colour-wise," he says. "We decided to keep the colours relatively similar, but I shot almost everything wide open on fast lenses, so it looks very different. We made it obvious that we were cutting between cameras with a different viewpoint, such as over-the-shoulder establishing shots."
What helped Steve hugely in his plan to make the colours work together was that as a Canon user all his professional life, he was shooting and using footage from vloggers who also all use Canon cameras – albeit very different to the professional cinema cameras Steve is used to.
"I shoot everything on Canon – video and stills. I'm aware of the different models of camera and how they can work together effectively," explains Steve. "This project was to highlight the ease with which three vloggers can use three different Canon cameras to tell their stories – how each camera is suited to a different style of shooting."
Vlogger Sanne Vliegenthart, of Books & Quills, films with a Canon EOS 250D DLSR with a range of EF lenses; Ellie Spigariol, who vlogs as doyouknowellie, uses the compact Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II for its ease of use and portability; while fashion vlogger Joel Gallucks shoots on the mirrorless Canon EOS M50 with its interchangeable lenses. Steve was filming with the Canon EOS C300 Mark II, the Cinema EOS System camera he uses for the majority of his corporate travel and lifestyle work, as he knew it would give him the most flexibility when it came to matching colours with footage from the vloggers' cameras.
Steve went through the profiles of each camera to find a picture style that was a good match. "I went with the Wide DR setting," he says. "It wasn't exactly the same across all the cameras, but it was the closest for a consistent look. And it looks great in-camera, so we didn't have to do too much in post-processing. We were shooting at a medium bit rate of 50Mbps, and the footage was fantastic."
With the technical details set, the main challenge was finding a way to work in the same locations as the vloggers. "Shooting outside was pretty straightforward – Ellie only shot in available light, so we did too," Steve continues. "For the other shoots, the biggest issue was managing the light within a limited space. Sanne and Joel mostly shoot in their rooms, so I was using available light, but it was about making that work when I pulled back to show the space they were in. Having a large lens selection on the cinema camera helps a lot."
Steve decided to use the Super35mm Canon EOS C300 Mark II with a range of Canon Cine Primes and a couple of EF lenses. "The Canon EOS C300 Mark II has built-in ND filters for extra exposure control and better audio than smaller cameras," he says. "It's compact, versatile and easy to use. You don't need a big rig on it, it has a side handle grip and the menus are quick and easy to run through, so it's ideal if you have to move quickly between locations or shoot in fading light."
Steve used to shoot with earlier Cinema EOS models, but he loves the higher frame rates that the newer model offers. "With the Canon EOS C300 Mark II, you can shoot in higher frame rates in better quality, but the camera isn’t any bigger and it’s still compact and easy to use,” he says.
Steve shoots much of his footage at 50 frames per second (fps), so he can use it in real time or slow it down to half speed if necessary. "I stick to the 180-degree shutter speed rule to keep a nice amount of motion blur," he explains. "If you shoot at 25fps you eradicate the option for slow motion. If you run 50fps footage in real time, you will have a sharper image, so I add some motion blur in post-processing, editing in Adobe Premiere Pro CC."
Slow-motion can also be used to mask slight wobbles in hand-held footage. And his secret for keeping things as solid as possible when shooting off the tripod? "A steady hand!" he laughs. "When I frame up, I make sure any movement I'm putting in is controlled. Shooting at 50fps means you can smooth out all the bumps and shakes when you slow it down. I rarely use the camera on my shoulder, I tuck it under my right arm and use the handle to lock my elbow into my hips."
Given that he loves the flexibility and speed of handheld shooting, it may come as a surprise that Steve prefers the manual focus Canon Cine Prime lenses to the EF lenses with advanced Dual Pixel CMOS Autofocus. He shot most of the project on the CN-E35mm T1.5 L F, CN-E50mm T1.3 L F and CN-E85mm T1.3 L F lenses, because he just adores the look he gets from them.
He says, "The biggest advantage is the very fast maximum f-stop. With the camera's built-in ND you can open the lenses up and get a beautifully shallow depth of field. I wanted to keep everything super-soft and super-cinematic. I find the cine lenses flare better, and are a bit softer and milkier than the DSLR lenses – filmic rather than digital."
To keep everything in focus, even when hand-held, Steve used the peaking mode on the Canon EOS C300 Mark II. "It's really good. I always have a manual, hand follow-focus on the rails in the base plate, and use the peaking to make sure it's sharp," he says. "And the manual gearing feel of the cine lenses is really nice. The focus guide is a benefit, but sometimes you don't want the subject in focus all the time – it's nice to pull it in and out. I find full manual better for ultimate control."
Steve used the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens for super-detailed product shots during the vloggers' film, and the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM zoom for long shots when the 85mm wasn't tight enough. He controlled both manually and found it very easy to colour match the Canon EF lenses to the Cine Primes. "With Canon lenses, there's not that much between them. With other lenses, you may get into colour shifts," he says.
It's this intimate working knowledge of the Canon system that helps Steve work so effectively. And his experience with the Canon EOS C300 Mark II in so many different situations demonstrates just how versatile it can be.
"For the vloggers' shoots, we had a 7-inch external monitor on a BNC cable for the director to oversee exactly what I was doing," he says. "I never feel the need to use an external monitor. I use the in-camera waveform to expose because it's really accurate. If it's really bright, I use the built-in eyepiece.
"We record to the camera's CFast 2.0 memory cards rather than an external recorder. I try not to keep too much footage on one card, so I do a backup to two drives when we change location."
A final benefit of using the Canon EOS C300 Mark II for such high-pressure shoots is the quality and flexibility of the audio. "Although much of the final audio on this film was done as voiceover, we used a shotgun mic on camera and on a boom for the inside shots," says Steve. "The internal recording quality is great, as long as you have a decent camera-mounted mic. The dials to adjust your audio are super-easy to use. In fact, the whole camera is super-easy to use."