Canon on The Racetrack

On Canon Europe’s website they posted a film called Racetrack and a Making of video to accompany it along with a lengthy press releases about the project.

Since its announcement at Photokina 2008 the Canon EOS 5D Mark II has been the trailblazing camera for shooting Full High Definition video with a DSLR camera. In a similar manner Canon’s XF-series of HD camcorders offered a huge leap forward in the capabilities of Canon’s camcorder range thanks to a broadcast quality MPEG-2 4:2:2 codec and CF card recording. Richard Walch and Bryce Gubler used a combination of the EOS 5D Mark II and the XF305 camcorder to shoot the fast-action kart film, ‘The Racetrack’.

The short of it is that Canon wants to show off the capabilties of the new Canon XF 350 camcorder. Since DSLRs are the flavor of the era and the XF 350 is not one, Racetrack pairs the camcorder with the Canon 5D Mark II in an effort to show that the cameras have complimentary strengths (and cut well together). The article details the benefits of the small form factor of the 5D, its lens arsenal, and shallow depth of field prowess, while the XF 305 boasts zoom lens versatility, manual and auto controls, and all the bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from a pro camcorder. To top it off it’s BBC approved for broadcast, and both cameras shoot on compact flash cards.

We’ve been scoping out the XF 305 and it’s little brother the XF 300 since we saw their first prototypes at the FCP Supermeet a couple of years ago in San Francisco. We are Canon people with an arsenal of two Canon XH-A1 HDV cameras, a Canon 7D, and a small HV40 that we use as a deck for the A1s. We love our 7D, but as we’ve mentioned before, it’s not good for everything. Sometimes we need the versatility of a real camcorder, and the 305/300 is a contender for our next purchase (if we don’t swing over to the Panasonic AF100).

With that said, this marketing attempt was a little disappointing. That is not a comment on the filmmakers or the cameras, they all performed well. Watch the film, it looks great…

…but that link is our first gripe. Canon is behaving like it is unaware of social media with an internet marketing attempt that denies social sharability. The videos cannot be easily embedded. The photos have draconian copyright markers, with pop-ups warning the user not to share them… Isn’t that the point of web marketing… to share?

We digress.

The actual footage looks great. The filmmakers Bryce Gubler and Richard Walch did a superb job making go kart racing beautiful (even on a rainy day). The Making of video is interesting as well. We even picked up a low angle/ dolly trick by fastening a DSLR to a monopod, holding it upside down and low to the ground, and then following your subject on a dolly, four wheeler, skateboard, whatever.

Having said all that, the take away was 5Ds look AMAZING, which we already knew. The performance of the XF 305 is a little less certain. Without doubt, the footage from the camcorder looks good, and cuts well with the 5D, but it does not look amazing.

The bottom line is that everyone was expecting a large sensor DSLR-like camcorder from Canon, and they gave us a traditional video camera. For certain, it’s one of the best camcorders we’ve ever seen. It matches and in most cases out performs all the cameras in its class that have come before it… but who really cares at this point? That ship has sailed. Sony and Panasonic are offering large sensor, DSLR-like camcorders right now. The Panasonic AF100 hybrid camera is even priced less that the XF 305. How did Canon miss the boat on this one?

We took advantage of the EOS 5D Mark II, because it’s so small, and put it on the kart. Compared to other cameras you can put it almost anywhere – it allows you to shoot angles you couldn’t with a conventional video camera. There were three cameras mounted on the kart – the back one to show the other driver you’re going against; the one to the left giving you a 90-degree portrait shot of the driver while he’s in the action, and the front camera facing the point of view of the driver – it’s all shot at the same time.

The EOS 5D Mark II has a full frame sensor that’s the heart of the camera, the low depth-of-field really makes it possible to get very creative, there’s the choice of EF lenses going from 14mm to 800mm, the compact body that you can make use of and do things with that you could not do with a bigger camera…

Exactly. Racetrack could have been made with a variety of HD or HDV cameras that are not the XF 305, but the same probably couldn’t be said about the 5D. That is essentially the argument they make in the article when they say,

If you put HDV and the 4:2:2 codec together most people might not see the difference but where they will see the benefit is in post – that’s the huge benefit. Another note that cameramen should know is that a lot of broadcasters won’t accept cameras that shoot at less than 50Mbps and have 4:2:2 colour sampling, so it’s a huge benefit.

In other words, it’s not the look of the image, it’s the codec, which is broadcast standard. That’s a valid point, but is it worth the investment?

Later in the article Gubler points out that,

A lot of how we used the two cameras was we would essentially set up a scene – Richard would be behind the 5D Mark II and we would be in parallel, shooting with the XF305 for details just so that we had images, and the rhythm and flow that we wanted for the edit. All of the dolly shots were with the EOS 5D Mark II and then we used the XF305 to get quick details and cutaways.

Here they are essentially saying that they used the 305 as a B cam “just so [they] had the images”.  A $7500 B cam, to a $3300 A cam, with the benefit of a broadcast quality codec that does not exist in the DSLR that it’s being paired with is not a very convincing argument. …unfortunately. We are still Canon fans, but the jury is out on the XF 305. We’ll keep watching.

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