Almost all of my most recent documentaries for RAI and Mediaset have been made using this minimalist, self-contained equipment: that is, by carrying everything I needed in my backpack!
Being able to operate the camera without its handgrip (for this contingency Canon supplies, as part of its standard equipment, a small accessory: a thumb rest which can be screwed into the camera to replace the handgrip) turns out to be particularly useful from another point of view too: the use of the C300 on various kinds of supports, such as a mini-crane or steadycam, which aren't too heavy or bulky.
Many accessories of this kind have in fact been developed in recent years to provide filmmakers with cheap, light and portable creative equipment which is still able to give a minimum of cinematic flavour to the images; the problem is that in almost every case these accessories have been designed and produced bearing in mind just the HDSLR market, excluding the vast majority of prosumer video cameras, which weigh more than 3 or 4 kgs.
Without its accessories the C300 is instead much, much lighter.
In my own case, I use a rather particular custom-built crane that's lightweight and small enough for me to carry it in my backpack (this is a requirement that all my equipment must meet!). It's quick to set up even in unsteady conditions and it can reach at least up to a decent height of 3.20 – 3.50 metres.
Thanks to this crane I have no problems with the weight of the video camera (it's really sturdy and could potentially support much heavier cameras), but when you're in the mountains, in the desert or on a polar ice cap, the problem you come up against is finding the many kilograms of counterweight required to balance the crane. And that, of course, is something that you can't carry in your backpack.
I've noticed that by stripping the C300 completely of all accessories I need to reduce the weight of the ballast by at least 5 - 6 kgs, compared to around 15 – 17 kgs necessary for balancing the crane with the "complete" video camera. And in the field, where you make your ballast by filling a backpack with rocks, sand or ice, this is an important advantage. This is another reason why I can now take the crane with me on any trip, even the most extreme.
Obviously, as always, all that glitters is not gold! The price you have to pay for using the minimalist version of the C300 is the fact that it's impossible to do sound recordings with it.
This video camera, in fact, so as not to betray its "tough and spartan" PRO nature, has no built-in microphones and the two XLR audio inputs are positioned on the side of the monitor block. Therefore, if you don't mount the monitor, you can't connect a professional external microphone.
It's true that the main part of the camera also has a 3.5 mm mini-jack stereo input; but apart from the fact that using this makes you lose the "professionalism" of the XLR inputs and it doesn't support Phantom power, you're still left with the problem of needing to mount an external microphone, with no power supply, on the camera's sliding accessory-holder.
It therefore becomes indispensable to have an external audio recorder or an extra video camera equipped with built-in professional microphones available.
I know perfectly well that there are small, light microphones, without Phantom, equipped with stereo mini-jacks, that could be mounted directly on the C300's slide without significantly affecting the weight of the system, but.... and this is a BIG but.... at least as far as I'm concerned...
It would be "nonsense", out and out "production suicide" to put bad, amateur movie-quality audio together with the cinema-quality images that the C300 allows you to achieve. The film as a whole would be degraded to a low-level production.
And it would make it unjustifiable to spend the amount of money that a video camera like the C300 costs...
At the most, a small commercial microphone can turn out to be useful for making it easier to synchronize the video with the audio recorded using external recording devices.
The C300's modularity has another weak point that can't be considered unimportant: the monitor cable connections to the body of the camera.
They are well made and professional quality, but when being used for "tough" filming in the field they are exposed to being struck, pulled and twisted; and constant connection/disconnection doesn't seem to help them stay in one piece either... More than once I've had a problem with at least one of the 2 jacks non contacting perfectly and disconnecting the monitor and external microphone.
It's absolutely necessary to be really careful with them the whole time.
Even in moments of great agitation, in harsh environmental conditions, the assembly and disassembly of the monitor must always be done without rushing and without haste, because otherwise you risk ending up without what you need...
Another note of a practical nature must be made concerning the plastic casters that fasten both the monitor and the handgrip to the metal slides: you absolutely must avoid tightening them too much because they tend to "stick" and you'll go crazy when you try to unscrew them. In this case, too, the Canon engineers could have made a little more effort.
Ultimately, however, the Canon EOS C300 turns out to be an extraordinary companion for any filmmaker, and is always ready in any situation.
You throw it into your backpack and you're ready to go and shoot your film, in a position to fully concentrate on the scenes that you're aiming to capture.
Undeniably, a small slider, or mini dolly, is something that should never be missing from a filmmaker's equipment. Simply because it opens up a whole world of expressive potential; because it gives the shots a bit of the flavour of cinema, making them appear more professional; and because nowadays you can find types that suit everybody's tastes and budgets!
But the problem is always the same: which model should you choose, from the many that have recently inundated the market in the wake of the success of reflex videos?
Of course, there cannot be just one answer to this question. It depends on each person's needs and budget, although there are some general considerations that can be made regarding the features that a slider must have and which, when choosing one, must not be ignored.
As a general rule, the longer and heavier a slider is, the better it is.
The quieter and smoother-sliding it is, the better it is.
The more it can be customized and the more it can hold various types of accessories, the better it is.
But despite being important (almost obvious, I'd say...), this "wish list" should be interpreted on the basis of further considerations that come, instead, from practice and experience.
And it turns out that what seemed obvious and evident is not so obvious in the end...
Weight and length, in fact, never get along well with the requirements of ease of use which documentaries or TV productions in a "live filming" style almost always demand.
Not only – if the slider must also fit into the ski holder on my backpack and be carried together with the rest of my equipment (a requirement which by now I'm almost obsessive about concerning any piece of my equipment), then its size becomes a key factor.
In addition, the smoothest-sliding and most efficient sliders (as well as being expensive...) are generally very sturdy and suitable for work with heavier movie cameras; but for this precise reason they work best only with that type of weighty camera. It may seem strange, but without sufficient pressure the mini dolly's sliding base doesn't slide properly, and paradoxically, a highly expensive and sturdy slider could turn out to be quite disappointing and "bumpy" if used with a reflex or a video camera that's too lightweight for its pressure requirements.
Another thing that doesn't go well with the concept of a small, tough, reliable slider.... and one that passes the 'backpack test'..... is an excess of accessories (various knobs, pulling systems, release buttons and weight setting buttons, attachments for electric motors).
The Pocket Dolly v2.0 by Kessler Crane is a perfectly decent portable slider, designed and built keeping in mind the above considerations and with the usual high quality of this American manufacturer.
Its target are the more adventurous videomakers, the ones who often work on their own, and want to take a dolly with them wherever they go.
Although I don't consider the Pocket Dolly v2.0 to be the slider with the best overall performance, it has nevertheless become part of my personal standard equipment, because together with its good quality it is also extremely portable – and for me this is indispensable.
Indeed, since this slider is available in 3 versions that only differ in the length of the rails, the model that best suits my needs is the "Traveler", which is the halfway sized version: the shorter version ("Mini", length 53.9 cm; weight 2.13 kg) is definitely the easiest to carry, but the dolly’s maximum extension - just 33 cm – is really too small, almost useless, for me; the longer version ("Standard", length 100.3 cm; weight 3.4 kg) is, on the contrary, a little too bulky and heavy, without providing significant advantages in terms of operation. Its maximum extension of 78.7 cm, in fact, is far too much for a “rough and ready” slider to be used in the field.
All things considered, the "Traveler" (length 69.8 cm; weight 2.72 kg) is the best compromise between logistic requirements and functionality, even if its 48.2 cm extension lacks another 7 – 8 cm, which would make it ideal.
In addition to its small size and acceptable operating extension, the Pocket Dolly v2.0 "Traveler" also has another two features which, to my eyes, make it more appealign than many other lightweight sliders, despite the fact that it is more expensive: the first feature is the fact that it supports video cameras with a maximum weight of 6.8 kg and is thus suitable for many professional camcorders too, while the second is that it can be mounted on just one tripod (within certain limits...) so you don’t need to carry a second support around with you.
The v2.0 symbol is to indicate that the slider is equipped with a toothed belt drive system operated by a removable crank handle. This is an accessory that I would not recommend, because it allows smooth camera movement but only with a huge amount of effort and above all because, seeing as it sticks out towards the dolly, it ‘steals’ several centimetres of the video camera’s extension. It also increases the slider’s level of maintenance, its weight and ...its price. In the end, this accessory should only be chosen if you intend to equip the mini dolly with the expensive "elektraDRIVE" Time-Lapse motor control kit.
Nevertheless, aside from the “crank system”, the Pocket Dolly v2.0 is a sturdy and reliable slider that you’ll be able to count on in any circumstance and in all and any weather conditions. While shooting my documentaries all types of stuff has got between the wheels and the rails (dust, pebbles, twigs, grass), but even when I’ve only been able to give it a quick, perfunctory clean, it has carried on working smoothly as usual.
In the lower part, at both ends, in the middle and on the base, the dolly has various threaded holes of both 1/4" and 3/8", which can be used with a large variety of tripods, stands, video heads, detachable feet and every other imaginable accessory.
In conclusion, the Pocket Dolly v2.0 is a very well-made tool with perfectly satisfactory technical features, and it also has the merit of managing to meet my requirements as a documentary filmmaker trudging around with a heavy backpack.
On the other hand, if you intend to use it in a more conventional way, it probably isn’t the best choice; also because – especially in Europe – its price is a little too high and even the most basic accessories (like the adjustable base braking system or the perfectly ordinary adapter for mounting a flat-base video head) are only available separately, at prices that aren’t exactly competitive. And they’re not even always available here in Europe.
For a very small amount of money a friend of mine used his lathe to make me one of these adapters and he even made it exactly the thickness that I wanted...
Almost two years have gone by since the worldwide launch of the Canon EOS C300 Cinema series professional video camera, and a lot has already been said and written about this highly successful product.
Internet is full of reviews and tests that report on its technical features and underline this video camera’s extraordinary performance in terms of picture quality. It is, however, precisely for this reason that what you are about to read will not be the umpteenth article about the number of pixels of the sensor or the various video formats that the C300 can record in..
On the contrary, this post aims to tell you how it feels to work with this video camera, what results you can achieve with it (especially when producing documentaries) and above all what sensations it is capable of giving, after a year of passionate coexistence and the proof of the facts of using it for work in the field. That is, in environmental conditions which can be controlled much, much less and which are decidedly more demanding than a television studio or a film set.
In short, I’m going to tell you how the C300 can become the ideal companion for a documentary film maker, particularly a documentary maker who wants to deal with nature and tell its story.
First of all, it’s small, really small, to hold. Damned small and light! But...it’s not a reflex camera that also takes videos! Quite the opposite... It’s a proper PRO video camera that costs around € 15,000 and, even before you examine its technical features (sensor, codec, dynamic range, etc.), it is immediately clear that this is a broadcasting-quality – even movie-quality – cinecamera (the latest big Hollywood director who has used it is Ron Howard, for his recent film "Rush").
Its pedigree as a thoroughbred professional video camera is immediately made obvious thanks to:
• The quality of the material it’s made of;
• The presence of buttons and ferrules for the use and control of purely high-video functions (such as built-in filters, peaking, zebra pattern, on-screen crop marks or the waveform monitor/vectorscope), which are non-existent on reflex cameras;
• The replication of some of these (such as the Start/Stop button, the mini joystick for menu navigation and the diaphragm ferrule) in various parts of the camera to allow you to control it even in really difficult positions;
• The important possibility for the user to customize the various functions to the greatest extent, assigning them according to your needs to as many as 7 buttons and 2 ferrules distributed between the camera body and the handgrip;
• The powerful fan which is practically inaudible, so its noise never gets recorded by the microphone mounted on the camera;
• The beautiful adjustable viewfinder;
• And the presence of all the most important video inputs.
In a word, from the very first time you hold it, the high ergonomics of the C300 gives you the very pleasant and exciting feeling that you are holding a "powerful" device, with which you can feel ready to face any kind of videographic challenge, right up to the highest levels!
Because the ergonomics of the C300 are designed to maximize the camera’s efficiency and ease of use during professional shooting.
Other features that contribute in a crucial manner to this goal – even if their role is still rather unacknowledged – are the "well-known":
• and handgrip
which are completely removable and modular.
Since their first appearance these have given rise to a heated debate and what has been said and written about them is mainly that these "parts" which are not integrated into the camera body would have represented a weakpoint, both structural and conceptual, of the Eos C300 system.
And yet, in reality (above all if you’re a "one-man shooter"!), it is precisely this modularity, together with the camera’s extreme simplicity, that makes the C300 the only broadcast video camera with which you can truly say you’re immediately ready to shoot any type of scene, even if you’ve literally just taken it out of its package or your bag. Provided, of course, that you’ve charged the battery...
If you think about it, this is astonishing.
The flexibility of the camera’s handgrip, handle and monitor (which can all be assembled and adjusted in a large variety of different configurations) makes it practically unnecessary, or at least no longer indispensable, to use any type of rig and external accessory which, conversely, are essential with the C300’s direct competitors, particularly for freehand filming.
Obviously, if you’re shooting cinema or television drama scenes, even the C300 needs to be set up with all the necessary equipment, but if you’re shooting a reportage or nature documentary, walking around with a heavy backpack, you can simply forget about needing to carry an extra shoulder rig, handgrip kit, monitor or loupe.
Everything you need is already in the Canon EOS C300’s package.
A further – but not less important – crucial contribution is the Canon’s immeasurable range of EF photo lenses and Cinema lenses (both with EF and PL coupling), on the basis of which the C300 was launched. In particular, the photo lenses allow you to enjoy the renowned quality and brightness of Canon’s professional lenses, while at the same time adding an amount of weight to the video camera’s overall system which, with wide-angle lenses and medium telephoto lenses, is still only a few hundred grams. And if these lenses are also stabilized, freehand filming with the C300 becomes a thrilling experience!
By removing the monitor and the handle (a truly easy operation that takes a few seconds, and this is true for when you mount them, too) the C300 fit easily into my trusty old Tamrac photo bag which I’ve had for about a dozen years and which, once I became a professional filmmaker, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to use again...
And instead I dug it out of the attic precisely for a recent, rather demanding, shoot for RAI: this was an assignment to produce two documentaries about trekking with donkeys on the Alps. Translated into practical terms this meant several days of trekking in the mountains carrying all my video equipment in my backpack. And obviously this type of undertaking forced me to make a number of important decisions regarding what equipment to take with me – and how.
Several years ago as a photographer I climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, and my Tamrac Expedition 7 backpack did its duty perfectly, allowing me to take camera equipment and various lenses with me. It would be ideal to be able to do the same with the C300 on the Alps.
It goes without saying that the experiment was a success, and my bag managed to hold not just the camera itself but also 3 lenses, a technical mountain jacket, a 1-litre water flask and a mini-slider attached to the outside of the backpack.
What I want to point out, even at the risk of becoming repetitive, is that the C300 really is a "complete system" that doesn’t need any further essential accessories to make it operational. With two 64 Gb CF cards in the slots and a BP-955 spare battery you can film for a whole day, as long as you’re careful about using the battery wisely.
So, apart from a circular polarizing filter, a lens cleaning cloth and a few plastic trash bags (see January's TIP OF THE MONTH) I didn’t need to put anything else in my backpack!
That’s also thanks to the fact that the main video camera already has three excellent durable glass ND filters, respectively for 2, 4 and 6 brightness reduction stops.