Photog goes crazy, starts shooting video!

Posted on 22. Jun, 2009 by in Equipment, Everything, Techniques, Videos, Videos, Wildlife photography

I’ve been facinated by the new hybrid DSLRs that can shoot both still and video images.  And the video I saw from the 5D Mark II was really, really impressive.  It’s ability to produce high definition video at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels (1080p)  is really stunning.  I’m a bit of a movie fanatic and I think part of me harbours a fantasy of becoming a wildlife cinematographer.  All of that combined with Canon releasing new firmware for the 5D Mark II that gives you full manual control over your settings (shutter speed, aperture and ISO) gave me the push I needed to jump in with both feet.

When I make this confession to “average” folks they are confused why, if I’m so interested in wildlife cinematography, I didn’t just get myself some sort of consumer or prosumer grade high-definition video camera.  The big reason comes down to glass.  As a wildlife still photographer, I’m really comfortable working at high magnification factors with my large lenses and really enjoy the shallow depty-of-field that using those lenses affords me.  The ability to blur the area of an image or a video that isn’t in focus is a very useful technique for isolating the subject and drawing attention to it.  With the background and/or foreground blurred out, the viewer has no difficulty concentrating on the subject.  That’s an ability that most consumer or prosumer grade cameras don’t offer.

So now I’ve got myself a 5D Mark II, a battery grip and some extra batteries.  I head out to one of my favourite places for wildlife photography, Elk Island National Park just east of Edmonton, Alberta to see what I can accomplish.  I’m a person who researches things, almost to death.  And so I’ve learned that real cinematographers use equipment that is very specialized and a bit different than traditional still photographers use.

Where I have the latest greatest carbon fibre lightweight tripod from Gitzo, cinematographers tend to opt for heavier (and sturdier) tripods.  Where I can squeeze off sharp images at 1000mm and 1400mm, all the tricks I use to accomplish that don’t work for video work quite as well.  It seems that touching the lens for any reason (focussing, zooming, steadying) tends to impart wobble into the video.  So, there are a bunch of new tricks and techniques to learn and I’m really enjoying that.

I’m still using my Jobu Design BWG-Pro Gimbal head to support my big lens.  Most videography with large lenses is done from large fluid heads built for video work.  A gimbal head isn’t the traditional method of long lens wildlife cinematography, but I think I’ll be able to make it work pretty well.

I was at Elk Island a couple of weeks ago when I discovered a pair of Mountain Bluebirds nesting in a natural tree cavity.  I did some research on the brooding time and when the young would be able to leave the nest and knew I would be visiting around the right time.  I went two days in a row this week.  On the first the adults were actively feeding their young and while on the second, the young were making their leap of freedom and fledging from the nest.

While I did capture some still images of the birds, I primarily concentrated on video.  I’ve produced the following short’ish video to give you some idea as to the capabilities of the 5D Mark II for wildlife cinematography along with a sense of these wonderful Bluebirds.  One thing I find confusing about Mountain Bluebirds is their name.  They are primarily found on the prairie grasslands so where in the heck did their name come from?

In addition to being shot with the 5D Mark II, I used my Canon 500mm F4L IS lens along with the 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters giving me focal lengths of 700mm and 1000mm respectively.  The noise of forest around the birds was simply recorded using the built-in microphone on the 5D Mark II.  Audio is an area I’ll need to invest in further if I’m to continue on this crazy quest.

The video was edited in the video software I currently own, Adobe Premiere Elements and that was a learning adventure unto itself.  Take a look at the video and then I’d love to hear what you think.

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11 Responses to “Photog goes crazy, starts shooting video!”

  1. perich

    22. Jun, 2009

    All that’s missing is that old “Hinterland.. Who’s who” music.

  2. Ben Fredericson

    22. Jun, 2009

    The video is great. Nice work!

  3. Diane - Daily Walks

    26. Jun, 2009

    Thoroughly enjoyed this, Paul. Your photo talent translates very well into moving imagery. Pretty exciting about the 5DII and quality displayed here. Thank you for showing us the possibilities. I can see why you’d “go crazy!” with this tool.

  4. Mark Williams

    05. Jul, 2009

    Wow, really nice video. I almost bought the 5d last week but got the Panasonic HPX170 camcorder instead due to more controls. Watching your video was giving me second thoughts until I added up the cost of your lenses.
    Can’t wait to see more of your video work.

  5. Pierre-Yves St-Onge

    07. Jul, 2009

    Nice video, we feel like we are with those bird, liked the audio voiceover, put a lot of perspective to what I was watching.

    A little bit of shaking at the beginning of few takes but I just can imagine how things could be shaky at such extreme focal length. Nice to see locked-down shots since camera movement migth be impossible with your head (and frankly even with a proprer video head it would be hard at such magnification ratio).

    Nice editing, simple and clean. The rythm could be a bit faster but I understand you want a show as much footage as you can (since the images are really beautyfull).

    You should continue to go crazy 😀

    • Paul Burwell

      07. Jul, 2009

      Thank you for the comments. Those are all great observations.

      I’ve since purchased myself a remote release so I won’t have those jitters at the beginning of shots.



  6. Richard

    18. Jul, 2009


    Excellent. I know you’re using the firmware that allows for manual adjustment to the exposure, shutter, and focus. Can you walk us through that process? How much help does the camera give you.

    I used to edit a lot of television news video. Those jitters at the start of the shot are called “rough edges”. You should be able to edit your “in” point just beyond the slight camera movement.

    Thanks again for the posts.

    • Paul Burwell

      19. Jul, 2009


      Thank you for your comments.

      The shots were made under varying conditions, but in general I was shooting at ISO 400. The camera provides a simple meter to help with exposure and I exposed the video the same way I would stills. I used the camera’s assistance for auto focus and then fine tuned things myself. For these shots I was shooting as wide open as possible and then stopped down a 1/3 to compensate for any softness introduced by teleconverters. I was aiming for shutter speeds in excess of 1/500th of a second.

      I hope that helps.

  7. Name (required)

    13. Nov, 2010

    Very impressed with the bokah, and the overall sharpness. The sound wasn’t bad considering you were only using the onboard mike.
    The only critique I would give is your delivery and dialogue, a bit too formal and repetative. You need to vary the tone of your voice to generate more interest for your audience.
    Your technical skills are superb, WELL DONE!

    P.S. I also own the 5d, and love it. Hope to do some video in the near future, and would love to here your comments at that time. Thanks again for the “blue birds”, hope to see more video soon.



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