The DSLR revolution

I’ve been on this planet long enough to see some pretty cool technology changes, but none so cool as the current DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera line up. On my last two trips to Timor I took my new and already ‘trusty’ Canon 5D Mark 11 camera with all the trappings. It’s true to say that housed in my Red Rock Rig it looks like it’s on steroids.

Here’s my take on the camera and it’s operation in a pretty wild environment like Timor Leste.

PROS

Depth of field! You have got to love this camera with it’s full size sensor delivering stunning video that looks like it was shot on an HD camera in the $200,000 league!

Colour! The richness of the colours makes everything ‘sing’. Even with the ISO up to 1000 the camera delivers sharp, rich, simply beautiful pictures.

Versatility! There seems to be a ‘workaround’ for everything this camera may lack in the video department. Okay, the audio sucks with the ‘piss ant’ mini phono input, however with a little bit of a fiddle with my H4N Zoom digital audio recorder that takes XLR inputs, I seem to be able to get more than acceptable results from any shotgun and or lapel mics.

1080p Video! Yep, this is where the little camera shines. The quality that comes out the back end is sensational to say the least. I have never has any issues importing into FCP, merging the files with other video or losing files. Like any digital acquisition one has to be anal about ‘data wrangling’. During the last shoot in Timor, I managed to transfer all files on the run onto small portable 1 Terrabyte drives attached to my Macbook Pro (using a small cigarette plug power inverter to change the Macbook on the go). As soon as I reached a homestay (with power) I made a backup copy of everything onto another HERO drive. Over a 3 week period encountering unbelievable travel and weather conditions I managed not to lose a single file.

CONS

This is definitely not a ‘run’n gun’ camera. In Timor the humidity, the stark light, the humidity and the harsh shadows can do your head in with this camera. You simply need a little more time to get the right shot. The big issue I have had is the controlling iris as the sun comes in and out behind clouds. The camera has an iris control that ‘clicks’ or ‘steps’ up and down the f stops. No good for fine video recording! I have managed a workaround for this as well with a smooth variable neutral density filter in front of the lens. I simply use this to fine tune lighting fluctuations during an outside interview etc.

Having said all of this, next trip I plan to take something like the new Sony NEX-FS100U with the Super 35mm Sensor. This will get me out of some tight jams when I need to run and gun and monitor audio with the hassle of attached digital audio recorders etc. Once again it’s got few annoying feature however I reckon the two cameras will serve me well.

STILLS

Having spent a good deal of my life with large format Bronica, it took a little while to convince me that stills from a DSLR could compete. Of course these stills are comparable to 35mm film not the Bronica 6X4, however the results are startling and I’m still getting used to the speed that these canon lenses can ‘lock’ into auto focus! Here’s a couple of portraits taken in the highlands of Timor in the stinking heat at a moments notice.

 

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