'Filming in My Backyard just got easier' – how life with a 5DmkII beats carrying a Betacam


To most visitors, Hong Kong it is just a shopping and restaurant bonanza with high fashion names on every street corner and food outlets everywhere. There are approximately 7 million of us packed into a small area with most of us living in high-rise building. To most people our backyards are the streets below where we live. To me 50% of Hong Kong land mass is My Backyard.

Unbeknown to most, just less than 50% of Hong Kong is a Country Park and to me this is where I work and spend most of my free time. Over the past 15 years the majority of my filming has been in these parks.

Sai Kung – The Lost Horizon from jingbar on Vimeo.

It is no easy task as the temperature and humidity in summer is extremely high. Summer temperatures reach mid 30’s C with humidity in high 90’s. This makes carrying a Betacam camera, Anton Bauer brick batteries, tripod and most importantly water and lunch a real burden. The parks are crossed by many hiking trails ranging from the longest, the McLehose Trail of 100km and the Wilson Trail and just behind the airport, the Lantau Trail. Over the years we have worked out that 3 people is the optimum, one carrying the tripod on a specially modified backpack frame as well as lunch, one carrying the water, she is the luckiest as the weight decreases as the day goes on and I am the one carrying the Betacam camera, lens, matte box and 2 Anton Bauer bricks together with time-lapse controller and hand held automatic radio time code logger, all packed tightly into a portabrace large backpack. The logger is a key part of the gear as our videos rely on using footage that we may have shot years ago (Country Parks rarely change in outlook over time). This logger grabs the time code, time and date every time we roll the camera, it is downloaded into excel and can be sorted and imported into FCP for easy digitizing. We now have 30 – 40,000 entries in excel.

Only once have we not reached our destination but we decided to abort the trip as we all were starting to be affected by heatstroke and it was decided it better to rest under a tree than later have to call out the emergency services. Normally our lunch location is determined by where we think we can shoot a good time lapse so the camera doesn’t get a break it just keeps on filming while we eat.

Bob with Betacam and now with 5DmkII/Right Photo by KK Hui

Bob with Betacam and now with 5DmkII/Right Photo by KK Hui

Jump forward now to 2009, what joy it was when Canon released their Canon 5D Mark 2, here we have what we have been dreaming about for years, a lightweight High Definition camera. The 5DM2 camera with batteries weighs less than one of our former brick batteries. Now tripod can be lighter, we still can do time-lapse, spare “tapes” are now small CF cards. Matte box has been a problem until friends at Genus have said they would make a prototype of the clamp on mattebox that could use my 4×5.65 graduated filters – Thanks.

All the crew is happy now, I have all my gear in a small backpack, and the only person complaining is the “water girl” she still starts off the day with the same weight as before.

As to logging, currently I am using Expression Media it is easy to use and grabs a thumbnail of each shot.

As a side note my hobby is bird photography, I can now get my trusty Canon 400mm F5.6 lens into the pack and shoot stills with the same camera – Thanks Canon for coming out with a great tool which now allows me to be more creative in my ultimate aim of creating Visitor Centre videos that will wow their audiences.

And now they have released the Canon 7D and I had thought I had reached my ultimate with the 5DM2, what will 2010 bring – I know what somebody hopes “lightweight water”

Canon 7D Test from jingbar on Vimeo.

Ungraded 7D test footage by Bob Thompson using a 50mm f1.8 at 1250 ISO


Posted on September 29th, 2009 by Bob Thompson | Category: Canon Eos5DmkII |

9 responses to "'Filming in My Backyard just got easier' – how life with a 5DmkII beats carrying a Betacam"

  1. Bela Says:
    September 29th, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    Bob, you are 100% correct. There is nary a better camera gear for you than one of these newfangled HD-SLRs.

    Most of what you shoot seem to be slow-moving or even non-moving ladscapes and nature shots, and for those a CMOS camera truly excells.

    It’s just when folks try to use these things for EVERYTHING, like for filming fast moving sequences and action shots, the images quickly fall apart, especially on a large screen,

    A few weeks ago I saw the screening of a just completed indie feature film at one of the larger post houses in NY. The screen was about 16 to 18ft wide. The whole film was shot with the Panny GH1 DSLR, and I can tell you, it looked wretched. I got such a huge doze of headache myself, I could not watch more than 30 minuutes of it, and many others have walked out to discuss it in the foyer, too.

    The CMOSsensor’s rolling shutter induced motion artifacts, amplified by the big screen, are nothing to sneeze at.

  2. Bob Thompson Says:
    September 29th, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Bela, thanks for the comments. Yes the style we have developed is “non moving landscapes” as some of the videos have narration and consequently we have 3 language versions, English, Cantonese, Mandarin and occasionally Japanese. The narrated video will then have subtitles and I have found that to have subtitles over moving shots is very distracting.

    The only thing I haven’t tried so far is using the DSLR’s for aerials, personally I like the weight of the Betacam as it has a stabilising effect. Maybe with the help of gyros I can avoid unnecessay wobbly.

    All the helicopter shots we do are hand-held as there are no “nose mounts” available. We fly very low, the pilot normally complaining of saltwater coming onto the helicopter, and the helicopter is skewded so that I can look straight ahead, it all adds up to an exciting ride.


  3. Bela Says:
    September 29th, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    I hear you with the weight, Bob. It is amazing to me how a S16 film camera with a 400-ft mag loaded can actually weigh LESS than a Panny Varicam!! Not to mention the little Aaton A-Minima that takes 200-ft/60-meter mags and weighs-in at only 2 kgs (maybe 3.5 pounds).

    Anyhow, I agree that you need to beef-up the DSLR’s weight, a 5.6 to 9-inch LCD monitor comes in handy, plus batteries, support, audio gear, maybe even a counterbalance. Yes, and I would gyro it as much as I can.

    In the chopper, have you used a hand-held small gyro, or are you just grabbing the camera by hand? I guess if you shoot at the widest angles, vibation should not be much of an issue.

    I just run into this on CNBC: “In HD quality tests done by Consumer Reports, neither point-and-shoots nor DSLRs have the same quality as the video that you’d get with even the lowest-end, or lowest-rated HD camcorder.”

    I must say, AVCHD would not be my first choice for compression, either. Panny’s AVC-Intra 100 codec is quite okay, and the 220Mb/sec data rate that you can record with the Aja Ki Pro ext. recorder (Apple ProRes 422 HQ) is even better.

  4. Bob Thompson Says:
    September 29th, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    Bela, Regarding the helicopter filming with Betacam, the camera is hand-held and a video feed goes to a small monitor that the assistant/producer holds so that they can check framing and stability. I don’t think that I will be able to use the 5DM2 or 7D in the helicopter because I currently place the betacam under my arm and additional support is from the my leg. I am sitting out in the slipstream with a foot on the skid bar. The pilot reduces the airspeed to what he thinks is minimum for the situation we are in. Obviously when only flying 30ft over the water he wants to keep the speed up in case of emergencies.

    If I use the 5D or 7D I will have to adopt a different method of holding the camera because it doesn’t have a swivel LCD ( I hope Canon hears this) so I would have to hold the camera around shoulder height but this may introduce more vibration.


  5. Bela Says:
    September 30th, 2009 at 9:00 am

    Bob, unless you rig the camera in a hand-held or chopper-frame held gyroscopic stabilizer, there will always be some vibration conveyed by any moving vehicle, of course.

    Why don’t you just attach an external LCD monitor to the 5D2 or 7D via the mini-HDMI OUT spigot and frame/focus the same way as you did with the Betacam SP camcorder? Even though you only get a 640×480 SD progressive image that way while recording, that should do the trick!

  6. Bob Thompson Says:
    September 30th, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Bela, Thanks for your suggestions.

    The slipstream will move the LCD monitor around too much, even with the betacam I take off the mic and lens sunshade so that the wind won’t catch it. Just the “bare bones” of the camera and a piece of rope around the carry handle in case anything happens.

  7. Bela Says:
    September 30th, 2009 at 9:51 am

    Bob, I hear you, but then how do you frame and focus if it is someone else safe inside the chopper who is looking at the monitor and not you? I would have thought that you could affix an LCD to the handlebar at least in a safe fashion, so it won’t get sucked out of the aircraft?

    I knew Laszlo Kovacs, ASC for many, many years, he told me many hairy stories with his various aerial shoots and things that went wrong.

  8. Bob Thompson Says:
    October 2nd, 2009 at 12:49 am


    I look through the Betacam viewfinder but it is sometimes difficult for me to tell if there is camera shake that’s why and second person is always a good idea. They have no say over the framing unless by mistake I don’t see a part of the helicopter or my foot in frame

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