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Canon EOS 7D a Great Production Tool

By on Nov 9, 2009 in Blog, Print, Video | 1 comment

canon-eos-7d_4We’ve added a Canon EOS 7D to our production equipment inventory. Already, I’ve found multiple occasions to use it during the first week we’ve had it. It is a fabulous production tool. It also represents a major breakthrough in some respects, but it is not, as some would tell you, a fix-all for video production.

First of all, a few initial comments for anyone not familiar with the Canon EOS 7D, or why we’d write about it. This is a digital SLR (D-SLR) still camera that also happens to record lovely 1080p video images. It is one notch below the Canon 5D MKII, and is competitive with a number of other DSLRs on the market.

As a still camera, it offers a new 18 megapixel sensor, a fantastic three inch viewfinder that displays 100% of the frame (many cameras show 90 or 95% of the frame). It includes a flexible AF system with a dedicated processor for focusing – so it’s fast. The shutter system is also new, permitting an impressive 8 frames per second (in still mode). As with other Canon products, it features the EF / EF-S lens mount system. Sensitivity is also terrific, with Auto ISO (100 – 3200) or manual ISO from 100 – 6400 in 0.3 or 0.5 EV increments. It offers nearly all of the professional features you could imagine for a camera of this type, and a great place to see a review of its still capabilities is at dpreview.

As a video camera, it’s also pretty amazing. It has standard video outputs in both NTSC and PAL, plus HDMI output for HD video. It includes a built-in microphone and has an input for an external mic as well (mini plug). The camera will shoot 1920×1080 at 29.97, 25, or 23fps. It will shoot 1280×720 at 59.94, 50fps or even (but why?) 6340×480 at 59.94, 50fps. It records using H.264 in a QuickTime .Mov wrapper. Note however, that the QuickTime wrapper does not mean any NLE will recognize the footage. More on video reviews in a bit.

There are three ways to use this camera: As a still camera. As a video camera. As a film-style camera.

Image shot with EOS 7D - Battalion Chief Kawai

Image shot with EOS 7D - Battalion Chief Kawai

When using this as a still camera, it’s a joy. Many people wrestle with the Nikon vs. Canon brand issue. In my experience, I see both everywhere. However, it does seem that when you’re a portrait photographer, there are reasons to use Nikon products, and if you’re a journalist or sports photographer, Canon offers some benefits.

This camera is easy to hold. It’s easy to read. The menu system is a snap, and you can pre-set commonly used menu elements. As a result, getting high-quality stills is literally a snap. As a photographer, you can really focus (sorry!) on the image to be captured – framing, lighting, depth, etc. A fantastic review of the camera can be found at Rob Galbraith’s blog. Additional reviews for photographers can be found at Alexa.

As a video camera, this is a bit of a different animal. You can’t (obviously) shoot with a vertical orientation, as you can with stills. The camera is heavy to hold for video motion, and a tripod or camera rig is an absolute requirement over the long term. However, this doesn’t make it unusable in “camera format.” Some things work differently, but it is still quite capable with just Canon lens and related support gear. Simply put, you can point and shoot and get really nice images.

There are some things you can do to improve the immediate video capabilities of the camera. One is to add a proper microphone. Rode makes a stereo mic that mounts to the shoe and plugs into the body. We purchased a Rode with the camera and it has been fantastic. Philip Bloom, the noted British DP has recently produced a really nice video package with the 7D and the Rode mic – right here in California at Venice Beach. It’s a really nice video story and highlights the EOS 7D.

It’s when you think of the 7D as a film camera that it really changes the landscape (again, sorry!) for producers. This is a camera that starts at perhaps $2,000 with a nice lens. You can start to add various bits and pieces to it, including a mic, follow-focus, matte box, remote trigger, etc. Suddenly, it’s a complete motion picture camera rig – for less than $5,000. And the images it creates are full-on cinematic quality – no “cinema mode” crap either. To see a great example of the camera rigged for news video, check out this Matt Jasper 7D video clip.

The difference is the glass. This is a camera that allows total control over the Z-axis as well as the overall frame. As such, you can dial in a lovely depth of field that permits you to shoot video with a realistic, natural, film look. You can add a prime lens to the Canon. In fact, there are a few firms already making PL mount conversions. While that may only be useful to anyone who already owns a suite of PL glass, the knowledge that you can pick a lens for any specific shot is a breakthrough event for most videographers. In fact, if Panavision rented glass without a camera, you could really lose your mind. Check this out.

In my initial shoots with the 7D, I found the camera to be very balanced. The image was crisp and as with any HD camera, the critical issue was and is focus. But the ability to shoot with such a nice depth of field is eye-opening (I’m so sorry!). Even in the first day of shooting, I was thinking, “oh this is sweet!” as I was rolling chip. That’s another thing: no tape. The EOS 7D uses CF cards (UDMA only, type 6 or faster). And with a 32GB card, I can capture more than 80 minutes at the highest resolution.

We have been really busy with production the past few weeks, so publishing our own 7D clips will have to wait for a few weeks. Rest assured, however, that we will publish a variety of 7D clips. We’ll also share opinion regarding the workflow overall and our use with editing software.

In the meanwhile, here are some fantastic examples of the 7D at work:

Canon EOS 7D at 30p – by Philip Bloom

Dublin’s People – by Philip Bloom

Around Rome – by Shawn Landersz