A 'Game-Changer': Canon EOS Enables the Near-Impossible

 How does the U.S. Navy shoot a beautiful and dramatic 3-minute commercial in high-definition in just a few hours?
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How does the U.S. Navy shoot a beautiful and dramatic 3-minute commercial in high-definition in just a few hours?

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Shane Hurlbut shooting with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II Digital SLR For a recent production featuring a slow-motion footage of a Blackhawk helicopter cruising over Alpine terrain and rescuing an injured mountain climber trapped in a crevasse, an SLR is a big part of the answer—in this case the Canon EOS 5D Mark II Digital SLR camera under the supervision of the production’s director of photography, Shane Hurlbut.

The shoot shows the skills of a highly trained Navy rescue team, strapping the cvlimber into a gurney and lifting hi aboard the Blackhawk by a thin cable. And as Hurlbut explained, it could not have been made with any other camera system.

“It would have been impossible to shoot within the time parameters we faced,” Hurlbut said. “Nothing is as small and nimble as our Canon 5D Mark II camera packages. We rolled eight 5D Mark II cameras simultaneously in real-time. Re-loads and unlimited re-takes were not an option.”

Hurlbut used one Canon 5D Mark II onboard a Jet Ranger helicopter to shoot the Blackhawk in flight. Another camera operator aboard the Blackhawk took advantage of the 5D Mark II’s compact size to capture shots from inside its cockpit. He also shot breathtaking views by holding the 5D Mark II out the aircraft’s door, and by aiming straight down the rescue cable. Later, airlifted part-way up the mountain, Hurlbut and his camera assistant hiked another 1,000 feet carrying backpacks that held additional 5D Mark II’s, lenses, and a tripod. At the summit, Hurlbut shot the Blackhawk hovering overhead.

“If we had used motion-picture cameras it would have taken us half the day just to haul the gear up the mountain,” Hurlbut said. “What we accomplished was all because of the compact nature of the 5D Mark II and our ability to take advantage of its still-photography platform to make beautiful motion pictures. It was amazing what we were able to pull off in so short a time.”

What’s more, it was the second U.S. Navy commercial they shot that day. Several hours earlier, Hurlbut and his team used their Canon 5D Mark II cameras for an equally complex shoot of Navy swimmers making a helicopter rescue of a downed pilot in the ocean.

Hurlbut has captured moving images using practically every film and video format currently available. But he calls the EOS 5D Mark II Digital SLR a “game-changer” for several reasons.

“The first is its big CMOS sensor’s ability to collect light in widely varying ISO’s. It’s very clean up to 1600 ISO. Its light-gathering capability has a nice, very film-like gradient,” he said. “The 5D Mark II’s sensor also delivers ‘VistaVision’ depth of field. Not one digital HD camera out there will deliver that. I find that if you operate at the right f-stop with the 5D Mark II, you get a wonderful, shallow depth of field. You’re also getting skin tones unlike any delivered by other cameras. I don’t think the other manufacturers have put the kind of R&D into their cameras that Canon put into its 5D Mark II. Perhaps the biggest reason why the 5D Mark II is a game changer is because it’s so compact. You can capture perspectives with it that no other camera system can deliver.”

The camera’s compact design as crucial to his current production, Act of Valor, which depicts Navy SEAL covert ops in fast-paced action close-ups. Hurlbut has been shooting the movie in various locations around the world for the past year. The compact size of the 5D Mark II enables his six-man crew to transport an eight-camera production package in the overhead bins of airliners and avoid the risks of checking it as baggage. Passing through customs is also simplified, given that still cameras typically entail fewer restrictions than motion-picture cameras. Once on location, his crew of six goes into what Hurlbut called “platoon module,” with everyone carrying equipment and multi-tasking production duties. This includes shooting with the 5D Mark II.

“Whether they’re grips, gaffers, or loaders, they’re all members of my elite team,” Hurlbut commented. “They’re all co-collaborators and they’ve all used DSLRs. When I hand them a 5D Mark II camera they know what to do. It’s amazing the great footage they get.”

The compact size of the 5D Mark II also speeds production, allowing for many more set-ups per day than are possible with larger cameras. Hurlbut has his crew outfit their 5D Mark II cameras for different shooting configurations that he can switch to at a moment’s notice. These configurations are made possible with support rigs and accessories from such companies as Redrock Micro and Zacuto. Hurlbut has also designed his own custom base plates for mounting extra-large motion-picture lenses on the 5D Mark II.

Hurlbut believes the Canon 5D Mark II is destined to benefit the entire production industry.

“I have seen agency creatives get very excited by the 5D Mark II because its reduced cost and high film-like quality make storyboards that were once too expensive to shoot suddenly become affordable. Also, I think as more film studios begin to understand the power of the 5D Mark II platform they’ll change the way they think about making movies and episodic television.

In fact, it’s more than just a new camera in Hurlbut’s view. He called it part of a global revolution.

“The 5D Mark II is causing a paradigm shift in the production industry because it provides film-like quality combined with lightweight operation and amazing mobility,” he said. “It’s also affordable, so it’s giving a lot of people a voice who’ve never had one before. I think the style of filmmaking that’s going to come out of the use of the 5D Mark II will be a whole fresh new style that hasn’t even been named yet.”

A whole lot of Hurlbut's efforts are available for viewing on his website.

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