This past week I had two shoots in NYC for Image Source. I did my first shoot with them back in December and it was their first time using the Canon 5DMkII, but they were thrilled with what they got from it and liked the stuff I was shooting. The client I worked with on that shoot (Lisa Curesky) passed my name on to other art directors at Image Source and photographers they work with, which landed me these gigs. I went into these jobs pretty stoked as the content of these shoots (“beauty”) was different than what I am used to. I have certainly shot a ton of people with the goal of making them look as good as possible, but I don’t often shoot models in studios with makeup artists and all that. I was also stoked because I was being paired up with two high-end photographers, David Goldman and Christopher Robbins. Ever since my first shoot with Jack Hollingsworth back in December I have been collaborating more and more with photographers, and I love it! On top of that, the two directors had requested different cameras for each shoot, the Canon 5DMK2 for one and the Sony EX-1 for the other, and I was looking forward to comparing the two in fairly similar situations.
I loaded up my car with more gear than I could possibly use (and could possibly fit into my Mazda) and headed to NYC. The shoots were over two days, each with a different photographer, art director, studio and models. Each day also had a different concept and look. On the first day (working with David Goldman) the theme was a “Splash of Color”, where we wanted high-key glamour lighting with one dominant color in each shot, be it in the makeup or the props they used. On this shoot we used the Canon and lit the models with three Kino Flos “wrapped” around their faces. This gave us a very soft look. On the second day (working with Christopher Robbins) our concept was “Metal”. The makeup artist (the excellent Agata Helena) used shimmery, metallic makeup on the models and we lit for a more contrasty, dramatic look. On this shoot we used the Sony.
On both shoots we had two setups, one for shooting stills and one for shooting video. Since the photographers were lighting with strobes we couldn’t share our setups (and in fact we couldn’t shoot simultaneously as the strobes would mess up the video). Being new to working with photographers I enjoy watching how they setup, and even though some of their tools are different I think there is a lot to be learned from how they light for stills. (And I know they were both very interested in learning the video side of things so hopefully they picked up some tips and techniques from me too.) On both days they were shooting with a Hasselblad medium format digital camera (I am not sure the model) but I understand this is a camera with a price tag in the range of tens of thousands of dollars, and man did the images coming off that thing look great. Even on the raw images that were being displayed on the computer I had never seen anything quite so sharp. Working in a seemingly resolution-stunted format (even shooting HD video) I was a bit jealous of the clarity they could get when enlarging these images. Obviously the need for such a high resolution image on the motion side is somewhat limited, but still, I was a bit jealous.
Now on to my little camera comparison:
I have certainly been a huge fan of my EX-1 since I got it two years ago, but buying into the Canon DSLRs in the past six months has rekindled some of my passion for making images. Still every time I shoot with my Sony (which, actually, is more often than my Canon) I am blown away by how crisp and detailed the pictures are. So I was really looking forward to having these two shoots back to back as a little comparison. The bottom line is that they both look great. BUT, I found that working with the Sony was a lot easier on the second day for one major reason…. monitoring. I have a nice Dell HD plasma with a Blackmagic HD-Link box to send the HD-SDI from the Sony into the DVI of the monitor. This box also has hardware in it to calibrate this screen much like a more expensive production monitor. This gives me EXCELLENT feedback on my color, exposure, etc. It really feels like what you see is what you get. Plus the LCD on the EX-1 itself, is both high resolution with great color rendition so even that alone is a great monitor. The Dell also has an HDMI port so I had planned (since we were in a stationary, studio environment) to use the larger monitor with the Canon as well, but I find that the image I get on the Dell looks much more muted and less contrasty than what I “think” I am getting based off the Canon’s LCD (plus my experience with the camera). So while it is fine for framing and focus it is harder to use it to adjust white balance or exposure. David and I both decided that we would just use the small LCD on the back of the Canon, instead of the Dell (which unfortunately shuts off the camera’s LCD when plugged in….otherwise we’d use both). Due to the lack of “proper” video camera features like color bars (for calibrating an external monitor) or histograms (for checking focus) I find that I can get the images close on the Canon, but that I need to do a bit more work in post to adjust the color and levels of the image than I would have to with the Sony. In this case shooting against a flat white background, I found it harder to assess the exposure level on the background, and in post I ended up having to bring up the level considerably more than I thought. (It’s possible these cameras are going to make me relearn how to use an external light meter…. an item fairly foreign to most video shooters.)
Regardless, once I tweaked the colors and levels a bit, I really love the images out of the Canon. Are they better? That’s certainly subjective. The Sony is certainly a sharper, more detailed image, and it’s harder to get a shallower depth of field, but that said, with these subjects we didn’t necessarily want shallow focus (both photographers were shooting in the f11 to f16 range, after all). I did really like the look of the Canon on the close-up shots, and the ability to put a long, macro lens (the 100mm) creates a look that I cannot achieve on the Sony. But it’s very comforting to shoot where you know what you are getting based on what is on the screen.
But the images speak for themselves, and I think most will agree that they both look quite nice. I cut together this 90-second video of selects from both shoots. I think it’s pretty easy to distinguish the two cameras, but the Canon is the one on the brighter white background. Enjoy!