Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Filming in RAW with the Canon 5D MKIII

James Miller is a film maker and a brave man. Only a brave man would get hold of a brand new $3000 camera and pull it apart without a manual or a safety net just to see if he can make it slightly better. But then this is a man who likes to take the lens off a camera while it is recording. He calls it lens whacking, I call it art and almost everyone else describes it as a certain guarantee violation and the actions of a man who has spent too much time in the sun, pixel peeping. Well he does call his company Miller and Miller which suggests a measure of schizophrenia.

James is a friend and business partner of Philip Bloom and a pioneer in the world of DSLR cameras. We met once but I doubt he will remember because at the time he was salivating over the recently released Canon C300 and cradling it like a child. Inwardly I'm sure he was harbouring thoughts of dismemberment and performing lewd operations using a mini hex key and a soldering iron. I imagine the gaps between the floorboards in his house are forever swallowing up the miniature screws that keep our cameras together - his are in one piece through the arts of origami and gaffer taping.

The results of this camera butchery can be seen on his website mmfilm and some of it is quite beautiful and really shouldn't be possible using the same camera that I own, namely the Canon 5D MKIII. But his latest experiment is one that I might be willing to try since it doesn't involve physical removal of parts and is provided by Magic Lantern, a group of people who produce software that runs inside many Canon cameras to give features that many of us would give our right testicle for. Fortunately there is no need for such drastic surgery because the software is free.

The latest version works on the 5D MKIII and seemingly doesn't turn the camera into a large paperweight but offers lots of useful options like an intervalometer and bulb ramping for time lapsers and zebra levels, waveform monitors and overlays for video shooters. A full list of functionality can be found here.

This week James released a short "film" on Vimeo called Genesis which was shot on a Canon 5D MKIII (previously taken apart in an earlier, seemingly successful experiment) with the Magic Lantern software installed. What I hadn't mentioned was that the ML software allows the camera to record its footage in a RAW format, Canon's own DNG, in a series of still frames, creating in effect a timelapse, albeit one with 25 frames per second - which eats up 4 GB every minute. This allowed the footage to be imported into After Effects using Adobe Camera RAW and its powerful grading functionality, which is the process I use for my timelapses found here

He then exported each clip as a ProRes video and edited in Adobe Premiere. Here is the wonderful video (now a Vimeo Staff Pick no less) entirely shot with a Canon 5D MKIII and a Canon 70-200 L IS II lens, please expand it to full screen or follow the above link to James' Vimeo page:

James appeared only to have shot this as a test, but some of the shots are pieces of art, technically superb and wonderfully framed. He mentions the use of IR contamination which is something most of us would avoid but James uses it on the evening sun to stunning effect. Even viewing the film compressed on Vimeo leaves me impressed and goes to prove that the better the source material the better the final video whether it is H.264 or Blu-ray.

James pushes the boundaries far further than us bi-testicled mortals and hopefully Canon will see that they shouldn't restrict the quality of their brilliant DSLRs to protect their high-end cameras, because Magic Lantern and James will bring the revolution to their door. I expect the 5D MKIII to be spitting out 4K video by the end of the year, it will just take a pioneer like James to make it happen. 

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