Yet another article about the Canon S95
Over the past few months, any of you who have been following my posts here would be aware of how much I enjoy working with Canon’s S95 camera. Many of you have probably read these articles. Yes, to be honest, rarely have I posted anything here recently without mentioning it. It’s that good. In fact I even discovered recently that Wired magazine included the Canon S95 in their top ten gadgets of 2010 list, which for a compact pocket sized digital camera is quite a compliment. It seems the photography guys like it as much as those of us using it mostly for video.
That said, I’m not really writing this article to explain the features of the Canon S95 that make it appealing. But more so the creative freedom it allows me, combined with the software I’m using. That being Sony Vegas Pro, along with all the plugins I use within Vegas.
So what has inspired me to write this?
I just finished a video the other day for an emcee by the name of Giz. Currently I’m just waiting for his approval to ensure he’s happy with it before posting the video. What made this a new experience for me was that the entire video was shot at night without any proper lighting. I took along my 3x 800w red head lighting which I was hoping to use, but as soon as I turned one on in his apartment, the halogen globe exploded! As a warning to anyone using these type of lights, never remove the wire mesh face covering them.
The exploding red head light freaked me out enough to not even attempt using them again that night. Instead I used a couple of standard energy saver light bulbs. These worked well, even with the S95. But that’s not the interesting part! I needed to shoot a scene in a bedroom there which had no lighting and a light bulb socket that didn’t work. The solution? Candles! Yes, candles, not even an ideal light source for more powerful cameras than the S95. But combined with the LED light on the back of Giz’s iPhone4, the candles worked surprisingly well. The combination also provided an interesting mix of colour. Warm tones from the candles and a nice blue tone from the iPhone4. And the noise levels from the S95? Very minimal. You’ll see for yourself soon in the video when I post it, how well it worked.
The next challenge was the pool scene. We needed shots of Vanessa who sang the chorus by the side of the pool. I thought there would be lights around the pool, but no, there weren’t! There were lights inside the pool itself, but outside, nothing but complete darkness. How was I going to shoot anything? Giz made the suggestion of using the mobile phone LED. With no other option, I agreed. For this I think it might have been the Blackberry we used this time? Amazingly, that tiny LED did a decent enough job of lighting her. For one take I even held the phone in one hand and camera in the other.
Cleaning up the extremely low light Canon S95 footage
When it came time to edit, I noticed those shots were actually fairly dark and noisy, but thankfully not too noisy to work with. So once synced up with the music, I used Neat Video to clean them up and rendered each to a new track in Vegas. Neat Video did an amazing job of cleaning up the noise. Now to cut a long story short, looking at the final completed video, I doubt too many people would guess those shots were lit using a mobile phone. Of course there were a few other video plugins I used to achieve the final look.
Essentially what this provides me with is a certain sense of freedom, that I’m able to shoot video almost anywhere without the need for bulky or expensive gear. With a camera that I can carry in my pocket that is so small, I’ll most probably never need to worry about obtaining a shooting permit to shoot in public. The camera itself is also free of problems more expensive cameras suffer from, such as rolling shutter artefacts including skew and the inability to shoot scenes containing camera flashes, moire, a problem that current Canon DSLR video footage suffers from, and of course the need to change lenses. Professional video shooters will always dismiss these cameras as not being good enough for serious work. Of course I disagree, and have the results to back up my claim.
Having a system in place like this that allows us to work freely, is a huge benefit. When everything runs as smoothly as this, and requires minimal effort, we’re free to concentrate on being more creative. This was never always the case with my previous camera rig, the Canon HV20 & SG Pro 35mm adapter. Both fine bits of gear, but there were times things just didn’t work out so well. Shots that looked great on the HV20′s LCD screen would end up being slightly out of focus when viewed on my computer monitor at home. The solution, a large external LCD monitor perhaps? When shooting a high budget feature film, I can see the need, but for me, a large additional piece of gear to carry around would only slow me down.
What about the Canon S95′s lack of shallow depth of field?
This would the biggest concern for most people. Over the past couple of years almost every video shooter out there has jumped on the video DSLR bandwagon for that shallow depth of field. In a way, I think this popularity has forced me to go in the opposite direction to stay unique. Plus, not having to deal with focus issues has made my job so much simpler. Especially shooting vocalists moving around varying their distance from the camera. Now I don’t have to worry about any of that. I don’t feel the lack of blurry backgrounds and bokeh has really made much difference either. That said, I still always end up including shallow DOF shots in my videos regardless. Although with the S95, this is usually achieved by setting the camera to macro and shooting quite close to the subject.
Many will still argue that anything shot with a nice shallow depth of field will still look better. In a lot of cases yes, but not having that option will force you to work differently. A lot of the the time I may frame my shots differently. I see it as being an alternate look. There was a great tv show that was on last year called Rubicon. One thing I noticed about the show was the lack of shallow depth of field. Regardless, it looked great! Comparing it with my own videos for example, I actually prefer the look I’m getting from the Canon S95 right now, than a large percentage of what I shot using the HV20 and SG Pro. Shooting a few videos on the Ixy 510 IS last year including this one, really opened my eyes to the fact that I could shoot videos that looked just as nice without the shallow DOF. And thanks go out to Eugenia for bringing these small Canon cameras to my attention in the first place. Even the Canon 550D (T2i), I shot a video on one of those using the guy’s own camera that I am still editing, but the look still didn’t impress me as much.
Compared to a proper video camera?
A few people maybe wondering why I don’t go back to shooting with a normal video camera if that shallow DOF look is no longer important to me? Well, one of the best things about these pocket sized cameras is that they’re so much simpler to shoot with, with shakey shots rarely ever being an issue. There are times I’ve had shots that look like they were done using a steadicam. Plus, camcorders just don’t feel natural to hold. Any of them, from those like the HV20 to larger models such as Panasonic HVX200. And anything you need to mount on your should I would personally find to be quite restricting. With a shoulder mounted camera, how would I shoot anything where I start at the feet and lift the camera to face level? I find such shots extremely simple to achieve with small pocket sized cameras like the Canon S95.
So once again, that’s the kind of freedom I’m talking about here. Being able to grab almost any shot I’m after without worrying about focus issues, positioning of the camera, or even lighting. With this said, I am on the lookout for a nice portable lighting solution to give my shots that extra boost when on location. Possibly an LED light panel.
Anyway, enough talk about the Canon S95. I better get back to work and finish editing a few of these other videos! If you have any questions, comments, or you’re a DSLR or professional video shooter and want to let me know how unprofessional I am for using such a camera, please leave leave me a message below