Monthly Archives: February 2014

Focus tips for Canon HDSLR users


All of us filmmakers want to make films that are “delicious for the eye” to watch.  Being in focus is crucial.  But, we have a funny dichotomy in our love of sharp focus.  We want our lenses sharp as a tack, but not too sharp.
Before I go any further, let’s state that there are many types of filmmakers.  Each with their own rules.   I’m approaching this topic from my own filmmaking background and style.  Most of my career has been shooting cinéma-vérité style, even the luxurious films we did for Princess Cruises.  We had a small crew that moved fast. We had to get all the great shots of the shore excursions done by 6 p.m. when the ship sailed.  And the shots had to look pretty.
I’ve not shot feature motion pictures, but I have shot extra exciting footage that producers cut into their sizzle reels to take to Venice and Monte Carlo film festivals to get funding for their movies.  I’ve shot commercials and music videos (when they actually paid you).  So, I’m not a still photographer, I’m not a union cameraman.  I own my own production company, The Association and I teach a Canon Boot Camp for filmmakers wanting to use the Canon HDSLR to make their films.
Now, let’s talk about the wierd world of sharpness.
When I helped film Z.Z. Top’s videos (“Viva Las Vegas” 3,338,202 hits)
viva Las Vegas aerials
and  “Legs”) we would use Cooke Zooms on our 35mm film cameras because they were absolutely the sharpest.  Then, the first thing the director would have me do was put a black, french silk stocking on the back lens element and a 1/4 Black Pro Mist on the front.  Same thing for the Coors Light commercials of the beautiful hard bodies frolicking in the surf at St. Thomas.  The director wanted things sharp but also dreamy/creamy.   At that time, only geeks or amateurs shot sharp film.  Yuk.
Fast forward.  Today film is dead (or at least dying) for most of the projects I do.  But some of the film attitudes and edicts carry over among filmmakers.   We discuss them in our Canon DSLR Training workshops.  Digital filmmaking is racing toward the sharper and sharper image….more obnoxiously sharp.  (I keep waiting for the first D.P. to whisper to his tech to “soften that look a bit”.  Or better, “Can you put one of those black, silk French stockings on the back of the lens?” ) 4K, 6K, 12K.  Should we go sharper just because we can?
The thirst for sharpness, in my view, should be tempered with the pursuit of beauty and aesthetics.  Sharpness has its place.  Having a snap to the picture is good, but please just give me the glistening eyes, not the glistening pimples on the left cheek. We don’t want our beautiful actress having a coronary as she sees every single blemish and flaw in her complexion being crystal clear for all to see.  Nor will the smart director allow it.
The sharp image is good, but the sharper image may be too much.  So we return to the middle path approach.  A film that is sharp but dreamy too.  And this is what guided me as I wandered through the bargains Canon threw our way the last few weeks.  I bought the 70-200mm f 4.0 (some of the highest microcontrast and resolution ratings on the MTF graphs of all Canon zooms, higher than the f 2.8 version of the same lens.)  The salespeople went nuts.  “The 2.8 will blow the doors off the f 4.”
Yes, for a still photographer delivering 9,000 wedding photographs.  But all I care about is resolution, color rendition, bokeh and contrast.
But, to be fair,  I felt I should try the 70-200 f 2.8, one of Canon’s most worshipped lenses and see if it was that much better.  They both went to 200mm.  One was a f 2.8 and the other an f 4.  Maybe there’s more under the hood for the sports still photographer  who’s shooting thousands of stills a day, but for the filmmaker there’s not much else to the lens except is it noticeably sharper and handles color better.  I bought the f 2.8.   I’ll admit after I bought that lens, people treated me like a god.  I felt like a god.  I wanted to light two candles on either side of the L 2.8 lens.
But I needed the strength of a god to handhold it all day.  I began to wonder if I was getting a pound of sharpness for the extra pound of  weight.  Why pay twice as much if it’s not twice as sharp?  I did some tests and alas, it is not better, slightly warmer but certainly not twice as good.  I think the money went into the focusing mechanism and housing that could shoot thousands of exposures a day for ten years for the still photographer and be knocked over on the sidelines etc..  Digital filmmakers like me perhaps hit “ROLL” six times an hour.  This lens will last me six lifetimes.
From this example, I hope when you buy a lens you’ll remember you’re a digital filmmaker and not a still photographer.  The sales people will present lenses that still photographers will cut their arms off to have but really don’t bring much to the party for a filmmaker.  Then, again, you’ll have no trouble selling your 70-200mm f 2.8 L is II USM lens.   So there is that.
I know I must sound like the guy sitting at a table where escargot lovers are slurping down their escargot and I’m asking for a steak.   But I’m a steak guy.  Sorry.  I found the Canon EF 70-200mm f 4 L is usm lens an utter delight…flawless…incredibly sharp at night wide open.  (see results on our Vimeo page. )
And while I’m at it, if I’d shot night traffic at a f 2.8 wouldn’t my depth of field been shallower and the shot more out of focus? So I would have stopped down the f 2.8 lens to f 4 anyway.  So why lug around an extra pound for one f stop that I probably won’t use?

Camera DSLR Rigs for your Canon

There are DSLR Rigs and there are DSLR RigsThere’s a new gold rush.  It’s filmmakers taking up the Canon DSLRs to shoot 35mm quality films.

In the gold rush to Alaska, approximately 100,000 people rushed up to strike it rich between 1897 and 1899. Those who landed at Skagway encountered many merchants eager to sell them gear that they “must have” to insure their success.  Few bothered to tell the prospectors that the real gold fields were another 550 miles away. Or that it would probably take 30 trips, carrying 65-pound packs on their back to transport enough supplies to last a year, which is what the Canadian authorities demanded. Skagway was full of conmen who would set up a telegraph office to send messages back home.  The wires were strung out of town and stopped.

What does this have to do with camera rigs for the Canon DSLR?

Well, there are so many rigs invented and introduced that are perfect I think it’s Skagway all over again.

In our Canon Boot Camp we take the position that the shot should determine the mount you use. Not the other way around.

HAND-HELD SHOT - The shoulder mounted rig is just one option.  It’s good for the hand-held look. There are many beautifully-built rigs…Redrock and Zacuto lead the pack in strength and quality.  But only one rig really fills the bill if you have to hold the shot steady for longer than thirty seconds (that’s about how long a cameraperson can hold their breath.)  It’s the MultiRig by DvTec.  They have a rugged support pole descending from the main rig to a waistbelt which transfers the weight of the whole rig to your hips and your legs become your tripod legs so to speak. This liberates your hands.  You can drink a Guinness with your left hand and still shoot smoothly, which is why we call it the “Guinness Cam.”

I shot with it for 5 days at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We shot the street theater and other events in the venue. ALL hand-held. ALL day long. Starting 9 am. to 2 a.m.

SMOOTH, TV COMMERCIAL PRODUCTION SHOT – The professional dolly (Fisher or others) really shines here, when you’ve got a stable scene with pro actors who’ll hit their marks as you move the camera on the smooth dolly.  The downside is having to lay track. But on a stage the floor may be smooth enough.  Otherwise you can use 1 by 12 inch boards if the move is short.  But when we’re flying to a remote location and the budget’s tight we’ll just take a doorway dolly (using boards we buy at Home Depot for track) OR if the location is outside, we’ll rent a Chrysler Stow and Go. Your whole video production crew can ride to the shoot with the equipment.  Then, you offload, stow the seats and set up your camera platform (speed rail or 2 by 12 with a C clamp and tripod head.  This allows us to shoot out the side or the back tailgate. Let a little air out of the tires and it’s really pretty smooth.  We used it shooting on the airstrip for a pilot training video.

In a pinch you can use a wheelchair. We found this very effective on the cruise line shoots we did.  On land, almost any hotel has one you can borrow or rent for your shot.

LOW ANGLE (or tight quarters) – The CamCaddie rigs are great for these.  Designed and manufactured by Daniel McElderry, so he could shoot skateboard films, it’s a rugged compact rig at a great price.  The Alzo’s Transformer cage is tough, light and adaptable and low cost.

Cheapest and lightest Canon DSLR RIg availableCHEAPEST & LIGHTEST  & SMALLEST – This rig wins the day.  It is for short moves and tight quarters. Maybe you’re the last person on earth to hear about it but it’s great.  It’s the Canon cloth neckstrap that comes free with the camera.  If you pull the strap tight around your neck and press outward, you’ll find you have a pretty steady shot. You can tilt up and pan.  It’s good for short shots.

I didn’t begin to use it extensively until I was in a small plane trying to shoot.  There was no room for a shoulder rig (I’m 6’7″) and it wouldn’t have worked anyway because planes (and cars) hit little bumps and the camera lifts on its own.  So I slung the strap under my thigh and pulled up.  Now I had 260 pounds of mass (my body) stabilizing the unexpected bumps from the plane.  The shot came out smooth and controlled.  On the subway loop the strap through the handgrips and pull down, then brace yourself against a vertical pole and you’re solid as a rock.   I sometimes substitute a nylon strap with multiple loops in it  (get it in a climbing shop) and carabiners running into heavy tie-wraps into the Canon DSLR body so I can quickly lengthen and shorten the attachment points.

STEADICAM – Of course, the Big Daddy is the Steadicam.  This rig is out of most Canon DSLR filmmaker’s reach. And it’s actually too light for the rig.  We have a policy of not commenting on rigs we haven’t tried.  However, if you promise not to tell anybody, we had an old Steadicam Jr. we rigged to the Canon 5D Mark II and it works pretty well.  It’s lighter than the Glidecam.  Balancing is really easy because it has knobs to move the tray.  You’ll probably want to get an arm brace to save your arm.   Steadicam does have newer rigs but again, if we haven’t tried it personally we don’t comment.

The Gold Rush to Alaska was over in two years.  The Gold Rush to use the Canon DSLR 7D, 5D Mark II and Mark III is still going strong.  New gear is always appearing and we’re always willing to take a look but we suggest to mock up the shot first and then pick the rig to get the shot.  Not the other way around. And if you’re not sure a rig will work, rent it and see. Then, invest in it.  Too many filmmakers feel they have to buy first and then try it out.  You can rent from EVS in Burbank.  All the salespeople are actually camera operators and they can give you the straight story.




Canon 5D passes Green Screen Shoots with Flying Colors!

Tom Myrdahl, D.P. at The Association, sets up green screen shot.
You might hear opinions that the Canon 5D’s 4.2.0 color space can’t deliver good keys for green screen. Well, here’s the word from the trenches. Something you can count on. The Canon 5D MarkII’s green screen shots keyed beautifully. (for more data on 4.2.0 color space got to bottom of this article*)

The Association did green screen tests prior to the shoot and they looked great. So, the client gave us the “green light”.
Green Screen shot with Canon 5D.


We shot the green screen on location. The sun was our light source. So we could shoot at ISO 100. White cards below and to the sides of the talent gave a nice edge. As we tell our students in our Canon Bootcamps, always triple save your shots. So, while we were backing up the shots onto two other hard drives, we checked to make sure the key was good (see below).


We are shooting with the Canon 5D or 7D every week. Green screen, under water, on jibs, process trailers, motorcycles…and we’ve been nothing but pleased with the results.

THE “LOOK” of 35mm film for half the price…

Our clients love how the Canon maximizes their budget and gives them shots as pretty as 35mm film.


We totally agree with Gale Tattersall (D.P. on “House, M.D.”) and Shane Hurlbutt (D.P. on “Terminator: Salvation” and his famous “The Last Three Minutes”) – the Canon DSLR delivers images that bring the excitement back to fine filmmaking. The Canon delivers rich blacks with no noise in low light conditions.  It doesn’t do “video freak out” when a bright light source enters the frame. It has a delicious, short depth of field. Plus, editing is a snap.  This camera’s a game changer.

YOUR CHOICE: Take our Canon Camera Classes OR  Hire one of our trained Canon DSLR crews:

1) Learn the Canon DSLR at our Canon Boot Camp (
Hands-on training on the Canon HDSLR 5D and 7D
2) Or if you prefer, hire a fully trained crew to shoot your next production with the Canon DSLR. Our crews are creating custom video productions with it every week.

Either way, give us a call 818 841-9660.

It’s the future. It’s cool. And it’s here. Tested. Proven. Fantastic.

*….about 4.2.0 color space. The issue is dealt in depth in the blog <> , but the simple answer is “the workflow that works the best for us (for RedOne and 5D mark II footage) is to transcode the footage to ProRes 4.2.2.    Of course we could do 4.4.4 but we decided that it was a bit overkill, considering the fact that at the end, it will be at best some mpeg4 from the local broadcasters (digital tv).”“The reason why we convert the 5D files to ProRes is the ability the ProRes has to not deteriorate with generations (renders, movies, etc). Also, when everything is native to the sequence setting, rendering is kept to a minimum. Everything that has to be rendered also (subtitles, texts, pictures, etc) all look better when working in a prores sequence compared when we tried in a sequence with the native clips from the 5D (h264).”

FILMMAKERS DREAM COMES TRUE – Tack Sharp Focus with a Tap of the Screen

I’ll admit it.  I didn’t think the Canon 70D would live up to the hype.
So Canon Pro Marketing Specialist, Genaro Arroyo, challenged me to try out the 70D HDSLR.   I rolled my eyes expecting the auto focus to work haltingly…second-guessing itself…sliding back and forth at the wrong times etc..
Now I’m so sold you’ll think I’m on the Canon payroll.
This baby focused through some venetian blinds to the marquee of the famous Car Wash sign next to Warner Brothers Studios outside my office which I couldn’t even see. It’s at 2:02 into the video.
Canon 70D grabs focus through venetian blinds
Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve worked with ace Assistant Cameramen, Dave Gasperik, who can pull focus on a Lambourghini speeding at us at night at f/2.8,
lambo far  lambo close
I’m just saying the Canon engineers are shutting down the focusing problem just like they shut down 35mm film.    I don’t think they’ll stop until they get it done.  But decide for yourself.  Here are the tests I ran.
Anna Walk
Anna’s @ 0:05 
(above) The tests begin with tracking focus on our gorgeous actress, Anna Easteden, the star of 80% of our CineBootCamps films. She walks toward camera in a dimly lit restaurant using the EF-S 24-135mm STM lens the 70D comes with. PASS.
Test #2 – RESOLUTION compared 70D to 60D and Canon 5D MIII
@ 00:32
(above) I ran some resolution tests and grain tests.
First, I compared the 70D to the 5D Mark III just to see how close the 70D was to the 5D Mark III.   I used the EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II USM lens on the 5D Mark III.  I had to see the two side by side because the 18-135 EF-S STM lens on the 70D has some of the most impressive MTF specs of any Canon lens.  Both histograms were virtually identical even though the 70D looks darker.
MTF chart for EF-S 18-135mm f/.5-5.6 STM lens
(above) – MTF charts for EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM
70-200mm IS II lens MTF chart
(above)- MTF charts for EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II USM
I thought with that good a lens I might see 70D actually get close to the 5DM3.    Decide for yourself.
70D vs 60D with the same lens
Then, I had to see if the 60D would deliver even better results with the 70D’s STM lens.  The lens the 60D shipped with was a EF-S 18-135mm lens but has no step motor so I’m assuming it’s different glass.  The MTF chart on that lens seem to indicate it’s a different lens.
MTF charts on 60D lens
(above) – MTF charts for EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS
So, I tested the 70D to the 60D, each using the EF-S 18-135mm STM lens (@ 1:13) .
The 60D’s “special sauce” eliminated more “dancing grain in the blacks” at 300% enlargement. (1:25)
Test #3 – FIND and FOCUS using a 70-200mm
focus tests
I performed a more challenging “find and focus” test using the EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II USM lens on the 70D shooting hand-held, and not the EF-S 24-135mm STM lens. I didn’t know if 70-200 would focus smoothly when controlled by the 70D body.  Did it ever.  Fast; Crisp. Silent.
it was like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. (or to the younger filmmakers, Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke or whoever that guy was in the BeetleJuice suit.)
I panned to objects near and far. Kept it on Auto ISO (which reacted pretty fast as well.)
The 70D passed with flying colors…nailing focus in less than a second and often instantly.  It only got confused once by the reflection in a piece of glass. It even grabbed focus on something I couldn’t even see.  The Car Wash sign behind the half-closed venetian blinds at my office.
You’ve gotta see this video.
When you think of all the money people have spent on rigs and monitors to help them find focus you begin to appreciate the 70D more and more. Fact is, it will nail focus in three ways – by itself, or wait for you to tap the part of the screen you want in focus or find a smiley face or recognizable pattern to track.
It passed all tests to my satisfaction so I took it on a real world test.
In the real world shoot it did just as well.  We were doing the story of Angel Tree, an organization which offers to deliver presents to children of those in prison.  Mary Trujillo was the organizer.  You know how fast kids move and how easy it is to lose focus on a long lens.  Here’s a still from the video that I shot from twelve feet away. Gabriel at the door.
All it took to focus was a tap on the LCD screen. I never touched the focus ring. I could keep my hand on the zoom ring and just tap the part of the screen I wanted in focus. The 70D found focus positively in one motion…no driving past it and backing up or endlessly searching back and forth.
Canon has solved the number one problem that ruins filmmakers shots, i.e. out of focus.
Canon’s offering the upgraded AF sensor for the c100 cinema cameras. I can’t wait for the feature to be added to the 5DM3 or perhaps it’ll be the step up feature for the 5DM4.
Start saving up! This is too good a feature to not have on your camera when you’re shooting video.
(Fletch’s CineBootCamps now include the 70D in all their training materials and drills. Next boot camp is Feb. 22 & 23. We’ll be shooting the first episode of Season Two of ‘KILLER’.  Anna just killed her police detective husband with a tarantula when he wouldn’t stop risking her life with vigilante missions.  You see Anna loves to bring justice to the guilty. But her husband started sending her on missions to kill the innocent. And that was grounds for divorce.  But Anna’s Catholic and she doesn’t believe in divorce. So what’s a girl to do but let her pet tarantula do the job.)

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The secret of getting a cash settlement for a LEMON !

Cars are very sophisticated these days. But when your car dies on the freeway it doesn’t matter how sophisticated it is.  You’re in a life and death situation. And if you car’s a lemon, you better handle it.
women trapped on freeway
Defective cars are called lemons.  Back in the day, when they found a car that with a defect, the dealer could sometimes replace the part with a new one. But today’s cars have flaws deep inside the sophisticated computer systems that are hard if not impossible to diagnose.  Worse still, some of these flaws are unfixable.
So, even though the dealer may smilingly offer to fix the car there’s nothing he can do.  Why?  Because there is no way to fix these sophisticated vehicles. They are lemons. And the dealer is giving you the run around because they don’t want to refund you the purchase price of the car. So they’re just going to keep “trying” until you give up.
If you think you might have a lemon, call Norm Taylor. Norm’s the attorney who wrote the book on Lemon Law.  He’s honest, ethical and most of all, he’s beaten the big manufacturers and recovered zillions of dollars for his clients.  His number is (818) 244-3905.  Tell him Fletch sent you.  I can personally vouch for Norm. His website is
Here are some of the TV spots about the “Lemon Law” ripoffs going on today.

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