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Aljazeera's Matthew Allard uses Canon Eos 7D to shoot the TV news

The Sword Maker & The Swordsman from Matthew Allard on Vimeo.

Shooting the Sword Maker and the Swordsman using the 7D rig attached to a Sachtler tripod

Shooting the Sword Maker and the Swordsman using the 7D rig attached to a Sachtler tripod

I bought a Canon 7D in Seoul during a work trip to South Korea last year. I have always been interested in trying new equipment and techniques to capture images. Previously to get the film look required an expensive film camera or buying something like a Letus 35mm adapter setup for a broadcast camera. Either way was very expensive and out of reach for most of us.

At Aljazeera we shoot on Sony XDCAM HD and while being a pretty good camera it gets let down with poor dynamic range, sharpness issues and bad depth of field. Working for a 24 hour Global news network the camera is great for the fast turn around of breaking news stories. Currently the work flow of a using a DSLR camera is not quick enough in most cases to meet these requirements. There are the problems with audio, transcoding, lack of full HDMI out and not being able to use a fluent zoom lens, these issues would probably most TV news networks away from wanting to use them. I have found working at Aljazeera that i have had quite a bit of freedom to try new cameras and ways of doing things. There are always conservative factions in most media organisations that don’t like anything new or different, but Aljazeera has been very supportive. Asia Correspondent Steve Chao has been fantastic and shown great patience in letting me use the 7D on certain stories, knowing full well that it takes a lot longer to shoot with than using our regular TV equipment. Aljazeera has been very pleased with the results and i hope that more people will follow my example and start using this sort of technology.

Matt in action with his regular Sony XDCAM kit

Matt in action with his regular Sony XDCAM kit

Recently Correspondent Steve Chao and I went to Taiwan to do a few stories and one of them was in Cheding in the south of Taiwan. It was a story on the dying tradition of sword making. Kuo Chang Shi has been a sword maker for more than 50 years and is the man who made the Green Destiny sword that featured in the the Oscar winning movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I decided to shoot it on the 7D because it suited the old, poorly lit workshop he was in and he would be dealing with fire so I would have to shoot in high contrast conditions. Anyone who has used an XDCAM will tell you that they are terrible in low light and cannot reproduce high dynamic range scenes.

I shot with the 7D in 720p/50fps. I did this for two reasons: I wanted to slow a lot of the material down to 25fps and it tends to work better if you are using it with any XDCAM vision. Our work cameras only shoot 50i (35mb/s) so when you shoot in 25p it doesn’t tend to blend in very well.

Using the 7D with Genus Mattebox to capture the atmosphere

Using the 7D with Genus Mattebox to capture the atmosphere

I initially had the idea to go to a temple to get some mood shots. This story was about old world traditions and customs. The incense burning and people praying would make a great introduction to the story. I didn’t set up much with the sword maker as what he does is very repetitive. I tend to prefer to let people do what they normally do and work around them. This way you get a more fluid natural look to your story. The shoot took about 4-5 hours to do. I was lucky enough to have one of the worlds top Tai Chi experts turn up to get his swords sharpened while we were filming. We politely asked him to demonstrate some moves for us which again looked great when slowed from 50fps to 25fps. I still record my audio on my broadcast cameras as I’m still waiting for either a Magic Lantern firmware upgrade or the new Juicelink system that is is pre production.

Once I’d finished the story I then imported the shots onto an external hard drive, then used MPEG Streamclip to convert them into Apple ProRes 422. There is a catch with doing this though, the file sizes created are enormous and you have to own a huge external hard drive. If I’m mixing 7D with other footage I usually convert them to XDCAM 1080i50 (35mbs) as that is the format my broadcast camera records in. The file sizes are a lot smaller when you do this however they take a lot longer to convert than turning them into ProRes 422. The advantage of doing this is that I don’t have to render the material if i’m dropping it onto a XDCAM timeline in FCP. Because this story was shot solely on a 7D I turned them into ProRes 422 and created a 720p/50fps timeline. I also turned most of my material from 50fps to 25fps using Cinema Tools so I had nice slow motion footage. I did this because I wanted to emphasise every little detail from the drifting of the smoke to the tiny bits of metal and sparks coming off the steel.

The whole edit took about 7-8 hours to do as I spent a lot of time fiddling with it and making slight adjustments – I was running five tracks of audio. I didn’t use any grading tool like Magic Bullet Looks and the camera was simply on the Standard setting. Once completed I had to export it as a Quicktime file and then bring it back into FCP. The reason for this was I had to turn it into an XDCAM sequence to be able to play out off the timeline through a Matrox MXO box than converts the signal into an HDSDI so i could record it onto an XDCAM F70 machine. I wish i could create a ProRes timeline and play it out as ProRes, but the approximately four year old work issued 17″ Macbook Pro cannot play a ProRes timeline out. Hopefully in the future I’ll be able to cut and output in ProRes because the quality is a lot better if you do it that way.

Click to see another Aljazeera film shot on the 7D

Click to see another Aljazeera film shot on the 7D

I’ve used the 7D for about 3 months now and am still getting used to it. I have a few basic items for it including a Genus mattebox and adaptor plate that lets me put the camera straight on my professional Sachtler 18P tripod. I still don’t have a viewfinder (although I just ordered a Zacuto Z-Finder) or anything for audio. I make do with the lights, audio and other equipment from my regular broadcast kit. I own a Canon 50mm f1.2 and a 16-35mm f2.8 and I hope to get a 70-200 eventually.

Overall I was happy with the result of the story. There are a lot of situations that i can think of, especially in news, where this camera would be useless for shooting with. That said it is certainly is a useful addition to my kit and something I will continue to use in the future.

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About Matthew Allard, Aljazeera Senior Field Cameraman, Kuala Lumpur:
Matt has been a Camera/Editor in TV news for 20 years, previously working for both Channel 9 and Channel 10 in Australia. Twice Network Ten Australia’s cameraman of the year as well as being a Walkley Finalist for outstanding camerawork in 2006 (for coverage of the Cronulla Race Riots) and a Logie Finalist for outstanding news coverage 2006 (Bali 9). He has covered news events in more than 30 countries, from major sporting events to terrorist bombings. Based out of the Kuala Lumpur broadcast centre in Malaysia he is an avid user and follower of new technology, shooting stories on HD broadcast cameras as well as new Canon DSLR’s.

Posted on January 11th, 2010 by Matthew Allard | Category: DSLR video news |

30 responses to "Aljazeera's Matthew Allard uses Canon Eos 7D to shoot the TV news"

  1. Soji Ogunnaike Says:
    January 11th, 2010 at 6:23 am

    It’s people like you that take so much time out of your busy schedules to share experiences and tips & tricks that keep our industry growing strong. Thanks a lot. This is awesome!

  2. Rob Imbs Says:
    January 11th, 2010 at 7:25 am

    As a fan of swords, it was sweet to see one being made. Great footage, thanks for sharing it.

  3. Kingofpunk Says:
    January 11th, 2010 at 11:08 am

    The canon DSLR give us really nice colors

  4. Qusay Says:
    January 11th, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    Thanks for sharing this

  5. Toby Price Says:
    January 11th, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    Really enjoying reading up on the experiences of proffesionals with this equipment, i’m very keen to start making some films using a simple DSLR rig.

    I’d be mainly editing on location, could I ask for a recommendation for a minimum spec of laptop for editing 7D footage, your advice would be much appreciated!

    Toby

  6. Matthew Allard Says:
    January 11th, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    Hi Toby,

    You basically need quite a fast powerful laptop to do HD video editing. If you want to cut in ProRes you will need at least at least a 15″ Macbook Pro running Final Cut Pro. I’m not an expert on pc’s but i do know that Alienware makes very good laptops for running editing programs like Avid. You will also need good external hard drives to put your vision on as the less work your laptops hard drive has to do the better.

  7. miguel Says:
    January 11th, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    One workflow question:
    If you have to mix HD resolutions between the 720 50p files of your 7d and 1080 50i of your XDCAM, when you convert the 720p to 1080i are you losing detail? Since you are broadcasting in 14:9 SD is not more eficient to convert the 1080 50i to 720 50p?

    thanks

  8. Matthew Allard Says:
    January 11th, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    Hi Miguel,
    Good question. You do lose detail by turning it back into 1080i50 XDCAM (35mb/s). As Aljazeera’s work flow is mainly all XDCAM it it easier for me to transmit it via Quicklink (FTP) or to burn it back on to an XDCAM disc. The MXO box I use to play out straight off an FCP timeline to HDSDI doesn’t have a 720p 50fps setting that isn’t uncompressed. It is therefore easier to make it 1080i. Aljazeera just turns it into MPEG 2 anyway once it gets put on the broadcast server.

  9. Toby Price Says:
    January 12th, 2010 at 1:31 am

    Hi Matthew,

    Thanks for your advice, it’s certainly a consideration dropping £1000 on a both a laptop and camera. I’ll take a look at the macs, as they seem to integrate video work far better than pc’s.

    Thanks again.

  10. Allen Reid Says:
    January 12th, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    Really enjoyed the piece. Look forward to seeing more.

  11. Richard Davis Says:
    January 14th, 2010 at 6:02 am

    Good story Mr. Allard. I too enjoy pushing the envelope and leaving preconceived notions in the trash heap. The 7d incorporates HDMI mini as I recall? I just purchased the new AJA Ki Pro, and am enjoying the hell out of it so far. Pro Res 422 is a fabulous aquisition / production tool. May I suggest you look into it, as it may be your missing link in producing more with the 7d.

  12. Richard Davis Says:
    January 14th, 2010 at 6:28 am

    Ouch. Was just told HDMI output on 7d is 480p? Tragic.

    • Dan Chung Says:
      January 14th, 2010 at 7:32 am

      Richard,
      The Aja Ki Pro is a great device which I’ve played with but sadly it does not offer much of an advantage with the 7D.

      The output from the 7D is actually 1080p but windowed to give a usable screen area of 1620 x 910. Sadly there will be a red dot when you record the output. If you are interested in uncompressed output look at the Syndicate tool http://www.syndicate.se/Default.aspx?Id=299

  13. Richard Davis Says:
    January 14th, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Thanks. Can’t say I have a client / producer who would accept this workflow + the transcoding for the sake of DOF. Someday.

  14. Chris Gibbs Says:
    January 15th, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    Lovely images and more importantly a beautiful soundtrack – thanks for sharing!

  15. Johnnie Says:
    January 16th, 2010 at 1:39 am

    All those professionals who do not understand or accept the revolution we are experiencing should watch this very well done video.

    Matthew, thanks for sharing!

    Johnnie

  16. видео ралли Says:
    January 17th, 2010 at 5:48 am

    Ваш сайт в опере не очень то корректо показывается, а так все отлично! спасибки вам за умные мысли!

  17. Gary Taylor Says:
    January 18th, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Hi,

    I understand you’re using HD broadcast cameras as well as the new Canon DSLR’s. Is the DSLR approved for HDTV broadcasting?

    Is the equipment suitable beyond the web? BBC approve the Red One and the Sony PDW 700 for independent producers, but the amount of DSLR users interested in producing documentaries, films and video-journalism, is that something they would seriously consider?

  18. Понравилась статья. Обязательно буду ждать продолжения. Эта тема конечно же интересна всем.

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