Shooting “Hansa” on Canon 5D Mark II

By Bikas Mishra • Published on January 1, 2013

“Hansa” cinematographer Sachin Kabir shares his experience of shooting the film on Canon 5D


Critically acclaimed “Hansa” that released recently is being appreciated for its look and feel. DearCinema spoke to the Director of Photography (DoP) of the film Sachin Kabir to find out about his choice of camera and other aspects of shooting the film:

Why did you choose to shoot “Hansa” on Canon 5D? If you can elaborate on the options considered and the reasons behind the final choice…  What are the limitations/advantages of shooting on 5D?

DoP Sachin kabir shooting "Hansa" on Canon 5D

The primary reason for shooting on the Canon 5D Mark II was the large sensor size which enabled a “film look”. The Canon 5D had been well tested by now and was making waves as a pioneering technology for low budget/independent film makers. It had a wide range of lenses plus light weight grips and rigs which allowed immense versatility and portability while filming.

The other options for filming would have been the HD ½” or 2/3” video cameras such as the Panasonic Vericam or CineAlta series, all of which give excellent pictures but are limited because of their excessive “depth of field” making the pictures more “video” than “film”. The Canon 5D is very versatile in low light conditions allowing us to use minimum lights and thereby cutting costs.

In its limitations, the 5D is restricted by a much lower exposure latitude and a higher contrast picture than cine. There are still some quirks with the 5D Mk II in terms of having to use the ISO in multiples of 160-320-480…to avoid aliasing and noise. In the zone III exposure areas, one does detect noise at times, especially if one uses the standard zoom lenses. This noise is far less visible if one uses Canon or Zeiss Prime Lenses. Initial versions of the Mk II also had a rolling shutter problem.

The immediate advantage is the ability to rig and shoot much faster than any other camera giving such high quality. At a pixel resolution of 1920×1080 the Canon 5D gives almost full 2k pictures with very minimum pixelation till theatre projection.

The H.264 codec which is used for recording the images is a transport codec and not really meant as a native codec to record images and has compatibility issues with some non linear editing systems. Though these issues are continuously being resolved.

The Canon Mk II is not suitable for recording high quality sound and one needs to gear up with a good external recorder.

How many people were part of the camera crew? What were their roles?

The camera crew comprised of two of us, the cinematographer and the focus puller. For the grips and rigs, the crew would generally lend their hands to set up any equipment.

What accessories, rigs etc. did you use with the camera?

All camera accessories and rigs were supplied by Embrace Video which included focus rig, matte box, track dolly, slider, mini jib, shoulder rig and glidecam. All the equipment was extremely light-weight and easy to rig up and de-rig. The equipment also took all the rough use and the difficult terrain very well.

Till what extent the shot-taking was dictated by the choice of camera?

Sachin Kabir shooting "Hansa" on Canon 5DThe narrative and the mood of the story and location determined the choice of frames and shot taking. The simplicity of the storytelling had to be replicated in the camera work to make it seamless with the narrative flow. The intention was not to distract from the story but to complement it.

What kind of lights did you use for night scenes? If you can share some insight into lighting for DSLR…

We had only four lights for the entire film and that too for only three days, unfortunately the light boys forgot to pack any Fresnel lights and I was severely limited by only “open face” lights which could not be focused. It was very difficult to cut the “spillage” from the walls and limit my lighting to only those areas I wanted to light up. I had one Kino Diva, two 600W open face and one 1kw open face (multi 10).

My suggestion for lighting for DSLR is to avoid being trapped by the “good in low light look” and use enough lights to over all fill the shadow areas and avoid noise in low light areas. The 5 D is very deceptive when one looks at its pictures in very low light, however it also leaves very little scope for any post work if one shoots at f 2.8 or below. It’s much better to pump up the overall light to about f4 at least to get better noise free pictures.

Any particular learning that you would like to share with people who are considering 5D for their films?

I would suggest do a test shoot and go through the entire post work flow before starting shooting. I have recently shot a film using the Canon 5D Mark III and I find it much improved in terms of latitude and contrast. The major difference is by using prime/block lenses and avoid using any of the standard Canon kit zoom lenses.

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