Monthly Archives: December 2012

Three tips on how to pick lenses for Canon HDSLR filmmaking

Spinal Tap Rerelease Poster courtesy of  WikipediaChoosing Your Canon Lens.

Spinal Tap is one of my favorite movies.  In it, Michael McKean makes the point that his amp goes to eleven.  (Even though “11″ is really the “10″ on the dial.)   There’s a parallel between Michael and the filmmakers who insist their lens must be an f 2.8 lens.  Let me explain.

The worship of an f 2.8 lens is a holdover from film days.  Film only went up to about 500 ISO.   An f 4 just wouldn’t do.  That was certainly true back in the day, because film stocks, with their relative low ISO’s begged for fast lenses.  Probably the epoch of this era was Stanley Kubrick and the lenses he had made to shoot ‘Barry Lyndon’.  (They are on exhibit at LACMA, which we’ll visit next week for another report on Lens Worship.)

But things have changed at least for digital SLR filmmaking.   Digital still photographers still need faster lenses because they’re shooting at 1/150th of a second.  Video lives between 1/60th and 1/50th of a second.  So digital filmmakers have less need for f 2.8 and f 2 lenses.  Since we now have Canon enabling clean digital film shots at ISO 2500 on the Canon 5D Mk III, we can live happily with an f 4 lens.  Here are some other pluses to consider before you choose a lens:


1) The f 4 lens lets us have an extra inch or two depth of field over the 2.8 lens. Isn’t that a blessing?  Or would you rather be out of focus more often and hope the director was so impressed with you bringing that big heavy 2.8 lens with you to the shoot that he won’t fire you?  Maybe if you supered across the bottom of the out of focus shot, “Pardon the fuzzy picture. But just so you know it was shot with a very expensive lens.”

2) if you really need to go to 2.8 and your lens only does f 4 you can always take your shutter speed from 1/50th to 1/30th and open up 2/3 of a stop.

3) If you check the MTF charts on the Canon site you’ll find that the f 4 lenses are better performers in microcontrast and resolution (according to Canon).

MTF graph 70-300mm f 4 - 5.6 L is usm

MTF chart - EF 70-200mm L is II USM

(Note the bottom graph has the wide (70mm) on the left, the top graph has the wide chart on the right)

An MTF chart is supposed to track a lens’ ability to render microcontrast and resolution.  Some say the charts aren’t relevant because your can’t see any difference.  But it’s the only scientific measurement I’m aware of and thus is a guide you can use for objective reality.  Decide for yourself in your own Canon lens tests.

Understanding MTF Charts

By the way, here’s how to read an MTF chart, according to Canon:


Between .8 – 1  Good Contrast

Below .6 indicates Problems


0 is the center (left side of the horizontal scale)

20 is the outer edge of the lens (right side of the horizontal scale)

Black Line is Wide Open

Blue Line is ½ way stopped down

Thin Black line = Resolution

Thin Blue Line = Resolution

Dotted Line = Quality of Bokeh (out of focus). 

You want dotted lines close together.

So as you shop for your next Canon lens, don’t close the door on the f 4s.

I’m convinced f 4 is the new 2.8.

And if you still have the thirst for f 2.8, I have some stickers I can send you to paste on your lens.  You can be like Spinal Tap with an amp that goes to eleven.


Ten Tips for Buying Lenses for Canon HDSLR filmmaking

Tips on Must Have Camera Lenses
When Canon lowered prices on select lenses many HDSLR filmmakers started considering their next purchase and giving their relatives baked goods for the holiday season.   Here are some quick tips for filmmakers.  They don’t necessarily apply to still photographers:
1) THE LENS IS FOR YOU.   Maybe you want to be a National Geographic photographer.  Me too.  But you don’t have to buy the lens that the guy in Alaska used to shoot the arctic wolf a half mile away.  If you do, you’re just buying a lens to be like him (or her).  Listen to their tips but make your own career choices.  One of our students at our December Canon Boot Camp brought a Canon 15mm f 2.8 fisheye.  He tends to shoot a lot of underwater film in underwater housings.  Great choice for him.
Fisheye of 1Dec2012 Canon Boot Camp at The Association
2) LIST WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO SHOOT WITH THE LENS. Base your lens choice on what you’ve been shooting in the past and what you’ll probably be shooting in the future. Look for a lens that’ll fit in your world.  If you shoot outdoor sports why are you buying a lens to shoot in deserted Mayan ruins?
3) ONLY ONE IMAGE WILL BE ON THE SCREEN.  Remember, no one will ever see your film next to another version of your film shot with another lens.  The audience should be watching the story and you should be working on your storytelling skills.  No one knows what cameras were used on most films, or cares for that matter.  Your audience is there for the story.
4) BUYING THE LENS WILL NOT LAND YOU A JOB. No matter which lens you buy, you still have to go out and find a client.  Those skills do not come in a box.
5) FILMMAKING IS ABOUT MOTION NOT FREEZING A MOMENT IN TIME. Film is tracking moving objects.  And it shoots usually at 1/50th or lower.  Shane Hurlbut likes to shoot at 1/40th.   I shoot at 1/30th sometimes.  Still photogs still need faster lenses because they’re shooting at 1/60th and higher. So a lens that will stop down to f 2.8 or f 2 is of great interest to the still photogs.
6) HOW CAN I GET BY WITHOUT F 2.8? By changing  your shutter speed from 1/50 to 1/30 gives you 2/3′d of a stop.  It will be so close to what the 2.8 lens sees as to be virtually indistinguishable.
7) YOU’RE GOING TO STOP DOWN ANYWAY TO CRUSH THE BLACKS.   Kodak never made motion picture film as fast as the ISO’s today.  So the thirst for f 2.8 is left over from the film days with its slow ISOs.  The Canon Mk III shoots fairly clean at ISO 2500.  Digital Filmmakers, wanting the “film look”, usually stop down anyway to “crush the blacks” and make it more like film.
8) L series – This is something worth the extra bucks.  Definitely look for this. See the non “L” lens below on the left compared to the “L” series 70-200mm f 4 is usm on the right.  The 70-300 mm was brighter in the middle with darker vignettes around the corners.  The L series zoom was exactly the same exposure all the way across.  Also note the purple edging and general softness.  You just don’t know how soft until you put them side by side under controlled conditions.  More of these tests are coming.
70-300 f 4-5.6 is usm vs. 70-200 f 4 is usm
9) IMAGE STABILIZATION – Another must have.  Worth every penny.  It corrects the jittery nature of handheld shots being captured at 1/40th or 1/50th of a second by the filmmaker.  Still photogs are freezing the action with their shutter speed (like they’ve done since the beginning).
10) TRY BEFORE YOU BUY – I’m on my third trip to Samys.  I bought the 70-200mm f 4. Then the f 2.8. I want to buy another lens but what I should have rented them first but I rushed to judgment because the $400 rebate ended Sunday, I thought, and I felt I had to go for it.  Turns out it runs to Jan 5, 2013 now.  I’m still testing lenses.  The tests will be up next week.
Falling in love with a lens doesn’t mean you have to take it home.  Date your lens first, i.e. just rent it for jobs you’re doing.  When you’ve had a chance to get to know it, then, you can propose marriage.


FOLLOW YOUR HEART.  It is smart to eview lens tests on the web but follow your own counsel.  If you love a lens, get it.  My first camera had three interchangeable lenses. The telephoto distorted the picture in the most beautiful way.  Sharpness was important but liking the lens comes first.  I’d love to run some film through that old camera.  Sorry I sold it.
Good luck.   If you’d like more lens comparisons, resolutions tests, etc.  go to our Vimeo site
It’s great to see objective data rather than listening to web “experts’” opinions.

DSLR Filmmakers Comment on the Canon Boot Camp

We take our DSLR Filmmaker training seriously.  So we always ask at the end of each Canon Boot Camp for feedback and comments, to take the training one step further.  This past weekend saw the conclusion to our December class. Here’s a couple interesting question we asked each participant, and some of the responses:


What goals did you set for this workshop?” and “Did you achieve your goal for the workshop?”:


DSLR Filmmaker Training at the Canon Boot CampGoal: How to operate the Canon 5D Mark II. How to achieve a cinematic look. Different types of lenses and what look they have.

Achieved?:  Yes I did.

Goal: Getting to know and being able to sue the canon 7D. Learn about possible set-ups with rigs and sound.

Achieved?: Yes! I still need much more practice, but I got the tools to go out on my own now.

Goal: (Not stated)

Achieved?: Absolutely!

(Hey, that just shows that even if you aren’t sure what you’re doing with your camera, you’ll still achieve something worthwhile by coming to the Canon Boot Camp! It’s that good.)


Goal: Further improve my knowledge of DSLR

Achieved?: Yes

Goal: Learn more about the camera’s settings, how to smoothly change focus, what some lighting setups are.

Achieved?: Yes!


The Canon Boot Camp on location

We’ve caught wind in the past that some classes about filmmaking tend to be a bit on the ego side, where the main topic is what the instructor has done in the past. We work hard to ensure that the class is about the students, not about the teachers.

This attitude is carried through by the entire Canon Boot Camp team. Just to be sure, we ask a final open question, “Anything else we didn’t ask you about, but you’d like to say?” So here’s a few parting comments that reflect the overall attitude and “air” of the Canon Boot Camp:


A big thanks to Fletch and all the other instructors. You were/are very helpful. Also, thanks to Nancy for the nice food spread.  R.R.

The instructors and support staff were great! Very friendly and helpful. I’m glad that we had a good ratio of students and instructors.  M.L.

Everyone was extremely accommodating & nice beyond my expectations. Thanks you! You treated everyone like family. A.H.

Thank you so much! This has been great fun, an exceptional atmosphere and a lot of valuable information.  C.M.


As always, we enjoyed having all y’all at our “home” and we’re looking forward to your future exploits, be they short, feature or commercial. All the best!

Your Canon Boot Camp Team

Canon Boot Camp in Action


If you’ve seen the Canon Boot Camp short, “The Sonnet”, you might not expect the plot of our newest short, “Killer”. These two films are worlds apart. While “The Sonnet” is sentimental and sensual, “The Killer” is bloody and thrilling.

This short took three Canon Boot Camp workshops to complete. With the intricate script, twists, and action sequence, we wanted to make sure that we’d get it right. This even included us going on location to a cemetery, a first for the Los Angeles workshops. As you may or may not know, “The Rose” was shot entirely on location in Prague by the Prague Canon Boot Camp. We hope to go on location more often with the workshop, especially since we are working with such lightweight and flexible Canon cameras.

In total, we had 24 filmmakers shoot this film with amazing and patient actors Anna Easteden, Carlos Reig-Plaza, and Hector Hank.

Join us for our monthly Canon camera classes and be part of this fun filmmaking experience!


The Canon Boot Camp is produced by The Association and is located in Burbank, CA.