Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Canon 5D Mark II Carries America's Favorite TV Show

Greg Yaitanes, the Director of Photography for the Fox series "House," shot the entire season six finale with Canon 5D Mark II cameras. Taking this creative leap of faith, he proved that HDSLR cameras can perform far beyond videoing a family vacation at the beach - that they have the technical chops to carry one of America's most popular TV shows.

But why would a well-known DP, who works with the best equipment money can buy, decide to shoot a whole TV episode with HDSLRs? Yaitanes's reason can be summed up in just a few words: low-light capability; light, compact camera bodies; and shallow depth of field.

The season six finale was mostly shot on a set designed to look like a building had collapsed, so Hugh Laurie acted in a cramped hole for much of the episode's filming. Because this set just didn't have the space for large film cameras and lighting equipment, Yaitanes decided to give the 5D Mark II (a relatively small camera known for its low-light capability) a chance to strut its stuff. Shooting with the 5D Mark II, Yaitenes worked around the set, instead of making the set move around him and a bulky film camera. Canon glass was also used during the filming of this episode, sculpting Laurie's battered face out of the crushed concrete around him with the chisel of shallow depth of field. Overall, the shallow depth of field gives the episode a feeling of intimacy, mainly because this visual story-telling device lets the audience see Hugh Laurie's emotional reactions up-close and personal.

Watching the "House" season six finale, and then reading several interviews Yaitanes gave about his experience with the 5D Mark II, I am convinced that HDSLRs can make interesting TV. The trick to using this technology for TV is accepting what it can't do, and using what it can do to the fullest. Like Yaitanes said in an interview he did with Philip Bloom (a movie director who has used Canon 5Ds and 1Ds to make movies), "You can try to fight these things away (i.e. banding and motion blur) and wish they weren’t there, but then you’re just comparing that aesthetic to something else." In other words, the cinematic flaws inherent to HDSLRs (when seen as an aesthetic unique to HDSLR technology) can become a part of the story-telling process. If looked at in this way, the momentary motion blur that's part and parcel to shooting with Canon glass can become a character within the story, just as the graininess of 35mm film is in the film noir genre.

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