Philip Bloom(@philipbloom) Workshop Recap

Philip Bloom's Equipment
This past weekend I attended a workshop taught by Philip Bloom. It was hosted by The Boston Final Cut User Group and Rule Boston. The workshop was 7 hours packed full of information about how to use digital SLRs for film making. Being new to shooting with DSLRs, it was very helpful.

I want to share with you some of my take aways from the event. There was a lot of information covered so I’m only going to share what is relevant to a documentary film, like the one I am working on.


The two cameras we talked the most about were the Canon T2i, 7D and 5D Mark II. While there are a couple more cameras that are capable of doing full HD video, these three have the most options.

The main difference between the cameras is in image. This has to do with the size of the sensor used to record the images. The T2i and 7D use the same size sensor and produce a similar image. The 5D uses a full frame sensor that produces an athletic image like no other video camera. To see an example of this camera in action check out this year’s season finale of House.

The 7D does seem to have some more advantages over the 5D and that is probably the camera we will end up getting. Unless you love the look of the 5D, then the 7D should work just fine. I asked him if one was better for interviews and he said either one worked great.


Philip stressed that lenses are the biggest investment. Ideally you want a lens that will work on both the 7D and 5D. Since the sensors are different sizes, the optics change for each lens. I’m still trying to understand this myself but it’s something to research if you are going this route.

For interviewers he recommended the Canon EF 70-200mm because it’s light and works with both cameras. It’s very challenging to keep the camera still when shooting, so image stabilization is a must.


You will want to shoot in a very flat color. Turn the contrast and saturation all the way down. This will prevent loss of detail in the image and make it easier to color match the video in post production. A simple solution for color matching is Magic Bullet software. You can easily create a style for your film by draging and dropping effects onto your video.

If you are going shoot with moving subjects, you will need some extra equipment. It’s nearly impossible to get a stable image without it. Zacuto has a number of products for DSLR cameras that will make it easier to keep the camera still. One piece of equipment that was recommended by someone other than Philip was the LCD ViewFinder. It’s nicer the Zacuto version because it attaches by a small magnet stuck to the camera.


The take away here is DO NOT use the camera as your main source of audio. You can use it for reference audio but the quality is not good and there is no way to monitor it. You want to use an external recorder to capture the sounds and then sync the audio in post production. You can use PluralEyes software to easily match up the audio and video. It is so easy Philip was even able to give us a live demo and it worked perfectly.

For a recorder he recommends the Tascam DR100 over the Zoom H series. The main reason being that the Zoom recorders have problems closing files. You could lose an entire interview if you run out of power. The Tascam uses a rechargeable battery and two AA for backup. It also does not have the file closing issue.

Big Take Away

The biggest take away from the workshop was that Philip is basically a one man film crew. With these cameras he can create stunning imagery without all the equipment you would traditionally need.

This is great news for John and I because this is exactly the situation we are in. We want to create something that looks great without breaking the bank.

After this workshop I am excited about the possibilities and can’t wait to get started. I want to thank Philip and everyone else who made the event possible. It was just what I needed to put my project in perspective.

On the Cutting Edge: Digital Still Cameras for Film, Part 4

My new Canon T2i

In part 3 I talked about the drawbacks to using digital still cameras for film. In this part I’ll be talking about the equipment we are looking at.

Picking the Right Camera

We are looking at a number of the Canon’s high end still cameras, specifically the Canon T2i, 7D and 5D. Each of these cameras are capable of taking full 1080p HD video. Thats a technical way of saying they take video at the highest video quality commonly used. While there are other brands that are able to take high definition video, Canon cameras are more widely used for film projects.

Earlier this week I bought the Canon T2i. We probably will not be using this as our primary camera. There are some issues with focusing when using external equipment that would make it hard to use during the interviews. We would not want to do an entire interview only to find out later the focus was off.

The body is smaller than other cameras. This means it’s not as durable and it may not work with bigger lenses. I am getting this for more of a personal camera. It may also be used to film some “B role” material for the doc.

For our main camera we are looking at the 7D or 5D. These are the cameras most widely used for filming. They do not have the focusing issues of the T2i and have other additional features.

There are also rumors that Canon will be announcing a new camera geared more towards video in the coming weeks. It could have a rotating display among other advanced video features. Since we are not in a rush to make this movie there is a chance a newer camera will be exactly what we are looking for.

Learning the Equipment

In order to better understand how to shoot with these cameras I am attending an all day workshop with Philip Booom taking place this Saturday. I mentioned Philp Bloom in part 2 when I posted a video he did using these cameras. I’m very excited to be learning from the best. I think it will be a good experience and it will cover everything from what lenses we should use to editing.

On the Cutting Edge: Digital Still Cameras for Film, Part 3

Photo by v8media
In part 2 I talked about some of the advantages to using digital still camera for film. In this post I’ll be talking about the disadvantages to using this kind of camera.


Since this technology is so new there are going to be a lot of challenges. Most of the challenges that come from using a digital still camera involve its very sensitive focus.


Most of the cameras we are looking at do not have an autofocus that is usable for filming. A still camera’s autofocus is very different from a camcorders auto focus. A still camera is made to focus on a specific point, while a camcorder  is made to focus on a specific subject. Digital still cameras also have a very short focal length. This is the distance from the lens in which the subject is in focus. If a person is in focus two feet away from the camera and they move a foot in either direction they will be blurry. A camera operator must be very good at adjusting the focus as the subject moves around.

Moving Subjects

We have also heard that these cameras have a hard time dealing with a lot of movement. Part of the problem is the focus issue I just mentioned. The other problem is image stabilization. Holding a camera steady is very hard. Many camcorders have software that make this easier. Most digital still cameras do not.

Extra Equipment

Due to the problems mentioned here it is nearly impossible to create high quality video without extra equipment. This equipment is attached to the camera like the image above. It helps the operator maintain focus, improve audio and reduce movement. There is also a need to have a different lens. The main drawback here is that the extra equipment adds more to the price tag.

More to Come

I just want to point out that these issues are based on research and not hands on experience. We do not know how big these problems will be for our project. When we get more time with the cameras we will have a better idea.

On the Cutting Edge: Digital Still Cameras for Film, Part 2

In part 1 I talked about why we are looking at using digital still cameras for this documentary. In this post I’ll be talking about the advantages of using these cameras.

In order to make a proper assessment of this equipment we researched what the capabilities of these cameras were and why someone would want to use them.

Image Sensor

One of the big advantages of a still camera is the image sensors. They are designed to mimic film, and the imagery they produce is exceptional. They work very well in daylight and low light. There are some limitations in low lighting. If you need to film in very low light, then you may lose some image quality. However, for our project which consists of a lot of well lit interviews, we felt this was not a problem.

It’s a lot easier to show you what these cameras can do. Here are a couple of short videos that really highlight image quality of these digital still cameras.

This first video is from CrunchGear’s review of the T2i.

Canon T2i demo reel from CrunchGear on Vimeo.

The second video is by Philip Bloom who is a director of Photography and knows how to make these cameras shine. Shot with a Canon 7D and Canon 5D.

Skywalker Ranch from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.


Another big advantage to the digital still camera is their price. For example, a Canon T2i is about $900. On the higher end, a Canon 5D is about $2,500. These prices are for the camera body and a basic lens. In order to film this project we will need to buy lenses and rigging that will help get the best shot. The extras will bring the cost of equipment up but these cameras are still a lot less expensive than high definition camcorders that can be as much as $30,000.

One of the goals of this project is to produce something that could be shown on TV. Part of the challenge of this goal is making something of this quality can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. This can include equipment as well as salaries. So using this camera to do most of the filming is one strategy we are using to keep costs down.

Do They Stack Up?

It’s great that digital still cameras have high quality sensors and are reasonably priced, but how do they stack up against real film cameras? Well we are no experts in this field but we found some people who are.

If you are interested in a very geeky breakdown of how digital still camera stack up to film cameras I highly recommend Zacuto’s Great camera Showdown of 2010. It’s about an hour and half long and they put these cameras through a number of very scientific tests. Then they get feedback from various professional filmmakers. It’s interesting to see what these camera’s can do and the promise they hold.

Stay tuned for part 3 where I’ll talk about the disadvantages we found to using digital still cameras in a film.

On the Cutting Edge: The Equipment We Are Using, Part 1

With this project, John and I are trying out a number of innovative ideas. Besides open sourcing our thought process, we are looking at filming the documentary with some cutting edge technology. Traditionally, films are made with camcorders specifically designed for video. We are looking at cameras that where designed for still photography.
Photo by v8media

In the past, digital cameras have not been as good as film cameras because of the sensors they use. The sensors in digital cameras are usually smaller than 35mm film and are not as sensitive to light. As the technology has improved, so has the image quality. Now sensors are very close to reproducing film quality and one day could be better.

One feature that journalists and professionals had been asking for was the ability to record video. To satify their best customers, camera manufacturers added the ability to record high definition video. This had an unexpected effect.

Since the cameras had high quality lenses and sensors it was possible to produce professional looking video for a drastically lower price. The combination of lower cost and impressive looking video caught the eye of Hollywood. These cameras are just starting to be used in feature length films.

There are still some drawbacks to using these cameras because the technology is so new. However, there is also a lot of potential. John and I are excited about the possibilities. Stay tuned for part 2 where I’ll be talking about which cameras we are looking at and why.