Shooting a Feature FIlm With the Canon 5D Mark II: Challenges and Ingenious Workarounds

Andrew Disney is hoping to shoot Searching For Sonny, a feature film, entirely in HD on a 5D Mark II. But first, he had to solve several problems. Hint: it involves using Nikon lenses!

So far, Searching For Sonny is a screenplay and a trailer looking for help in getting made (you can sign a petition to that end on their site), but like any good indie filmmaker, Disney is planning on plunging forth, torpedos damned, with filming starting as early as the summer.

Before doing so, however, Disney and his crew had to figure out how to workaround a few of the 5D Mark II's most annoying limitations for filmmakers: no manual control over exposure settings during capture, and a lack of an efficient focusing system while shooting.

The first, geniously, was solved by doing something that will cause you poor souls who get caught up in the Nikon/Canon rivalry to squeal with glee: he simply bought a Nikon F mount to Canon EOS adaptor and stuck on an older Nikon 50mm lens with a mechanical aperture wheel. That way, with the 5D's exposure settings locked on an adequate value (at an adequately low-ISO), the photographer can simply stop down the lens to whichever value is needed automatically. Very smart.

As far as focusing, the solution seems a bit more labour intensive. For most of the shots you see in the trailer, the camera was mounted on a dolly for the push-in and pull-out shots—a scenario which is clearly too much for the 5D's practically non-existent auto focus, and too awkward to control manually by the photographer. So they rigged up some modified follow focus gear, which essentially attaches a huge geared wheel around the lens's focusing wheel, allowing it to be manipulated by someone who is not the photographer. Vincent La Foret used a similar system for his "Reverie" demo footage that wowed us when the 5D Mark II came out. Disney writes:

With the follow focus, the focus on the lens is controlled by gears. The gears are connected to a whip, and an assistant cameraman holds the whip which he would turn to get the desired focus...So, the AC just had to make a ton of focus marks and rehearse over and over again to get the focus pulls and racks right.

And on the quality:

The beautiful thing about this camera is how it shoots blacks. The blacks are deeper, truer, fuller, than most any other camera I've shot on.

Interestingly enough, Disney can't wait for the Lumix DMC-GH1 to come out, with its 1080p video at 24 fps and, more importantly, much more elegantly implemented (apparently) autofocus and exposure settings during capture, thanks to the Micro Four Thirds system's digital viewfinder.

Very fascinating stuff. And even if the trailer is a little too Wes Anderson-y for your tastes, you've got to admit it looks mighty fine, and the tech behind it is even cooler. [Searching For Sonny]

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