I spent the better part of 2010 reading blogs trying to decide if I wanted to take the DSLR plunge. After seeing how Dan Chung and Matthew Allard applied DSLR shooting to news stories I decided to give it a try. My first major decision was which camera to choose? It came down to the Canon 7D or the 5DmkII. I went with the 5DmkII because I like the larger sensor and the lack of a crop factor.
The next decision was how to handle the audio – in a news environment synching audio from an external recorder did not appeal to me. It’s one more step I’d rather not take during editing, especially if I’m under deadline. With that in mind, I went with the JuicedLink DT454 audio preamp and an Audio Technica AT875r camera mounted shotgun mic.
For my first story I decided on a visually rich setting. CNN.com has a periodic series on their Belief Blog called “Sacred Spaces” where difference houses of worship are profiled. I chose the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. Not only is the architecture unique and beautiful, it happens to be one of the ten largest churches in the world. Many of the interior scenes were shot at ISO 1250 in the dimly lit areas and ISO 640 in brighter areas. With the exception of the interview with Sister Miriam , only available light was used. The few exterior shots were stopped down with a Light Craft Workshop variable ND filter. For my dolly shots, I used a IndiSlider Mini, which I was not fully thrilled with but was good enough to execute a few smooth moves.
The editing was done with Final Cut Pro and I transcoded files using MPEG Streamclip. There was no color grading and I used the standard picture style in the 5DmkII menu.
I was happy with the story and the performance of the 5DmkII, especially in low light conditions but it clearly has limitations in a fast paced news world. I’m looking forward to another outing to see what I can improve upon but I will certainly choose my stories wisely.
Canon 14mm f2.8, Canon 24-70mm f2.8, Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS, Nikon 50mm f1.2 AIS (with adaptor for Canon mount)
JuicedLink DT454 audio adapter
Audio Technica AT875r Shotgun Mic
Sony ECM 77B Lav Mic
Light Craft Workshop variable ND filter
Fancier FT565T Carbon Fiber Tripod w/717AH head
Tony Umrani is a Washington, DC based photojournalist with CNN. He has shot news and documentaries for over 25 years and traveled to more than 50 countries. Currently, his main assignment is covering President Obama and the White House.