Shooting video with a Canon 5dMKII – Part 1

When I first got the 5dMKII last winter, the camera world was buzzing about the incredible HD video that it can shoot as well as the beautiful 21MP images. This will be great I thought, I can shoot some videos in between shooting photos. When it actually came down to it though, nice idea as it is, I didn’t have the time mid-winter to learn about shooting video and editing HD video or learn about all the weird idiosyncrasies that the 5d’s video has. I made a couple of short videos that never turned out how I expected and then pretty much gave up on it until I had some time to sit down and figure it all out.

Every year in the Autumn downtime before winter I sit down and try and teach myself a new skill. Up this year was naturally DSLR video shooting and editing with Final Cut Pro. There’s a few things you need to be aware of, and a couple of problems to solve when shooting with the 5d so i’d better write it all down so you guys can give it s shot too.

The 5dMKII generates 1080p video files at 30fps in h.264 codec. Only one out of these three things is actually a good thing. Video people will look at 30fps and assume that I mean the NTSC standard of 29.97fps because it’s often shortened to 30fps when talked about. Wrong. For some reason Canon decided to use an actual 30fps so that is something you need to bear in mind if you are shooting with any other cameras that shoot at 29.97 and intend to mix footage and audio together. For me though, right now that wasn’t a huge problem and 30fps is just fine for web content which was my initial goal.

What was a problem though was the h.264 format of the files. H.264 is typically used as a finishing format, it’s a codec used to compress movie files when you export them from an editing program like Final Cut or Avid (if you are on a PC). The codec is NOT designed to be edited with and Final Cut will not handle it very well if you try. Importing native h.264 files into FCP will have it breathing like its having a heart attack in no time. Nothing renders in real time and a few seconds of footage requires a 5 minute render every time you make the smallest of changes. This is what put me off the most when i first experimented with the video back in the winter.

First what you need to do is become familiar with some sort of transcoding program that will convert all of your h.264 video into a format that will Final Cut can handle at speed. If you have Final Cut then you should also have Apple Compressor and this is certainly one program that can handle the task. Another option though is a fantastic piece of freeware called MPEG Streamclip. You can download it from their website HERE.

For batch processing a large number of files, I actually preferred using MPEG Streamclip for the job and it’s not at all as daunting as it may sound. Which format you convert to will depend on your intended output for your project. Are you aiming to make production quality TV shows, DVDs or just simply some web content at a scaled down size? If you want to make the highest quality available to you, it is generally considered that converting to Apple ProRes 422 is the best option. You will need Final Cut 6 or later though to have access to this codec. Converting all the h.264 files is more or less a case of just dragging and dropping the files into Compressor or Streamclip and selecting the relevant setting from the menus. I wont go into detail about that as its fairly self explanatory once you have the program in front of you. Converting to ProRes format will roughly quadruple the size of your video files though, so if you go down that route, make sure you have some serious disc space available and a powerhouse of a computer to edit with…

If you are looking for a smaller file size then converting to AIC (Apple intermediate codec) is a great option. File size is roughly half that of ProRes, it is very very hard to tell the difference between the two and AIC files are handled very quickly in Final Cut. This is the option that I chose to work with for my project.

At this point i’m going to leave it here for now as this is getting quite long. I have just finished editing a quick 5 minute short that I shot while I was going through this learning process and I will upload that to the web shortly, along with some more information on things I discovered whilst learning to shoot video with the 5d.

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Dan Carr

Founder of Shutter Muse, full time photographer and creative educator. Dan lives in the Canadian Yukon, but his wanderlust often sends him in search of images all around the world to meet the needs of clients and readers alike.

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