Dan Chung filming China's migrant children using the Canon 550D / T2i

Guardian reporter Tania Branigan and I have been wanting to make a report about the children of migrant workers for a while now. Although many of them were born in Beijing, their access to education and other services is limited because of China’s household registration system, the hukou. It basically divides citizens into urban and rural dwellers and assigns them various rights. It made more sense in the 1950s, when China was a planned economy, but has created huge problems now that tens of millions of Chinese farmers have moved to cities to find work. Because the hukou is inherited, their kids struggle to access basic services too.

I knew that the best way to tell this story would be through the life of a child. We were fortunate to find a great subject in eight-year-old Yuhui, whose parents will do anything to ensure she gets a good education. Like many migrant kids, she has not been able to get a place in a state school and instead goes to a privately-run place in the city.

We had been trying to set up a visit to the school for a while and as luck would have it managed to arrange it just as my 550D cameras arrived. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to try them out on an assignment. I wanted the video to mix conventional news reporting with documentary style.

The schoolchildren check out the 550D

The schoolchildren check out the 550D

For the shoot I used both my 550D cameras shooting at 1080/25p, one rigged for slider action and the other in a regular configuration. I had a good range of lenses with me. the Zeiss ZE 28mm f2, 50mm f1.4 and 85mm f1.4, the Tokina 11-16mm f2.8, a Canon 100mm 2.8 macro lens and a 135mm f2 Canon lens. To aid focus I fitted my Zacuto Z-finder – the same one I use with my other Canon cameras.

I chose to shoot using just natural light and work around it – the interiors were all between 200 and 800 asa at between f2.8 and F5.6 , avoiding the ultra shallow depth of field look. This was an aesthetic choice as I felt it just made the end result a bit more ‘real’.

The two sliders – my small Singapore-made one and a larger Glidetrack – were also critical to the look of the piece. For the uninitiated, these are metal rails with small carriages that move along them, simulating the look of a traditional tripod dolly over short distances. The longer Glidetrack was mounted on my Miller DS-20 at one end and a light stand at the other – this setup was used for most of the slides. My mini Singapore slider was used in tight spots or for putting straight onto a table for close up-sliding.

Unlike on many news assignments, I had the time to stay and shoot over a longer period. Once the children got used to me and my camera being in the classroom they settled down and this allowed me to get far more natural shots.

The Glidetrack and 550D ready for action

The Glidetrack and 550D ready for action

For the outside shots I used 4×4 glass ND filters in a Genus mattebox (with Sunshade removed to try and keep a low profile). I would normally use a Fader ND filter for speed but in this instance, with a little more time on my hands, I thought I would go for the best quality possible.

As with the 7D and 1DmkIV the mic input only has automatic gain control and is pretty useless for high quality audio. Instead I used my new Tascam DR-100 field recorder with a Sanken CS-1 mic attached via XLR. I then synced the sound with the in-camera audio using Bruce Sharpe’s amazing Pluraleyes software for Final Cut Pro.

Editing was quite straightforward. I converted the clips to Prores 422 LT using MpegStreamclip before dropping them into Final Cut Pro. While I don’t usually put much of a grade on my news videos I felt that this feature deserved to be slightly more stylised – nothing too drastic; just a bit of a film look with a slight vignette on most shots, all done in Magic Bullet looks.

In terms of subject and technique this is one of the most satisfying short news features I have done. The performance of the 550D was nothing short of stunning for such a small, inexpensive camera. To my mind the equipment is not the barrier to creating great-looking news videos any more; it’s all about investing time in learning the skills and coupling it with some good old fashioned journalism.

migrant kids 2 low

To read Tania Branigan’s story on Migrant workers on the Guardian click here


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Posted on March 15th, 2010 by Dan Chung | Category: Canon 550D / T2i, DSLR video news |

27 responses to "Dan Chung filming China's migrant children using the Canon 550D / T2i"

  1. Ivan Babko Says:
    March 15th, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Amazing! Dolly shots really make the whole piece more cinematic! It just made me want to rush and film something ASAP! Thanks a lot for inspiration Dan.

    BTW, is this 0.5m or 1m GlideTrack? Gonna order one soon.

  2. Ben Cain Says:
    March 15th, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    I agree. Very inspiring. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Peter Says:
    March 15th, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    China is doing themselves a huge disservice by cutting off a huge amount of it’s “Brain Pool”. Education plays a huge part in a countries progress, advance the old totalitarian ways and implement a better Communist Regimen with Capitalism tossed in, that way the old and new will work in harmony to become that “World Power” that every other nation will despise in a good way.

  4. Bayden Says:
    March 15th, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    Really beautiful Dan, amazing to see a news story presented in such a cinematic way. You’re raising the bar on video journalism to a whole new level. Well done.
    P.S Curious to know what you’re using to mount your field recorder to the camera.

  5. JJ Says:
    March 16th, 2010 at 7:41 am

    Anyone know how that Tascam DR-100 field recorder was mounted to be next to the camera?

  6. Henry Says:
    March 16th, 2010 at 10:54 am

    I think China is just trying to insure it will have another generation in the waiting to continue the development of Beijing, China.

    If they drop out of school early with limited qualifications, then they are ideal to follow in the footsteps of their parents and stay low-paying ‘migrant workers’.

    You have to ask yourself, why else wouldn’t they give them the same opportunities as other Beijing residents?

  7. Allen Says:
    March 17th, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    Really good looking story. A lot of people are going to love that cam. If I had a complaint it would be that the glide/dolly was used a LITTLE too much. Personally, I think it takes away when overused, but that’s just my opinion. Still, I loved the story and look forward to seeing more.

  8. Ron Ravensborg Says:
    March 18th, 2010 at 8:18 am


    I really love the civil war reenactment video. Very clever! BTW, have you had any problems with the video on the 550D/T2i cutting out on you?

    I experienced lots of trouble early on with the ‘microcenter’ branded SDHC Class 6 card — though never any trouble when i used this card for AVCHD recording on my hmc150 — with movie being terminated. NOT good when you’re trying to do ‘doc-style’ work.

    HOWEVER, i only encountered this problem at 1080 or 720, but not at SD speeds. Looking at the manual, it says that the average file size of a 1080 file runs about 330 MB/min, or 5.5 MB/sec. Whereas the SD video option creates an average file rate again, according to the manual — of 2.75 MB/sec.

    According to, The SD Speed Class Ratings specify the following minimum write speeds based on “the best fragmented state where no memory unit is occupied”:

    Class 4: 32 MBits/s (4 MByte/s)
    Class 6: 48 MBits/s (6 MByte/s)

    It would seem that the speeds for a Class 6 card run awfully close to the max for the card and the camera, thus a possible bottleneck for data, causing the camera to stop recording.

    I did a LOW-LEVEL format with the card a couple of times, then it worked much better. However, i did some checking into the speeds of the cards, and they list only the highest possible read speeds, not average write speeds.

    Feeling particularly surly, I found the ADATA (???) SDHC Class 10 Card (8 gb) for $24US at

    I haven’t opened it yet, but from what i’ve read, it seems that the actual average write speeds for the Class 10 card should be sufficient for the full 1080p video recording w/o suffering a buffer overrun.

    Any comments? thx.

    P.S. Are you based anywhere near Kunming? My cousin (a white guy) and his Danish wife live there. They speak some rippin good Mandarin!

  9. cjcarter Says:
    April 1st, 2010 at 10:06 am

    Hi Dan,
    I really appreciate this cinematic/documentary approach to world issues etc. I am gearing up for Spring and Summer filmmaking on the 550D and am looking to mount my Zoom H4n in a similar style via an L bracket. Any suggestions on bracket systems? What has worked well in the field?

    • Dan Chung Says:
      April 1st, 2010 at 8:37 pm

      There is a simple hotshoe mount available from Pinknoise systems that works OK, apart from that you might want to look at the new JAG35 dslr cage or a custom bracket

  10. dunner000 Says:
    April 15th, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    Dan, this was awesome. This piece had a great story, and great images to go with it. You should be proud of this piece, because it means something. Thanks for sharing.
    Patrick from StillMotion had a way of rigging his Zoom H4n to his 7D, and actually overriding the audio signal that was coming in, meaning, avoiding the auto gain control. The audio from a Rode mic hooked up to his Zoom was recorded on the Zoom, and the 7D’s card. Heard of it? Tried it?

  11. Geoffrey Bell Says:
    June 26th, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    Great vid Dan. I’m a journalism student looking to get one of these.

    I’ve seen you can get bundled lenses with the 550D but I’m wondering if it would be worth buying the body and getting a couple of quality lenses seperately?

    What lenses do you use the most?
    Is it worth getting a Tokina 11-16mm?



    • Dan Chung Says:
      June 30th, 2010 at 8:27 pm

      Geoffrey, I would recommend the Tokina and I’ve used it with the 550D no problem. Also consider a nice 50mm lens, either the Canon ones or a cheap old manual focus one with an adapter.

  12. Samuel Says:
    July 6th, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Hi Dan,
    This is one of my favorite canon films great research and locations. Just got two boring technical questions did you use glidetrack sd/hd 0.5 or 1 meter and what mount is that for your tascam.? Both these questions have really been buggin me can’t work it out from the pics. The tracks in the video look like 1meter but the picture looks like 0.5 meter. Newsy Thanks in advance.


    • Dan Chung Says:
      July 6th, 2010 at 7:54 pm

      Samuel, the Glidetrack is an older one actually. The new equivalent would be the SD in 1m length. I would go for the HD though if I had to buy one now. The recorder mount is a custom one I’m afraid, its a modified Manfrotto baseplate from a guy called Kang Swee in Singapore.

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