Not the Camera of Choice? Filming the War in Syria With a Canon 5D Mark III

Great guest post by cameraman Miguel Toran on DSLR News Shooter: On a recent assignment in Syria his camera of choice for this kind of — the Sony EX1 — was not an option this time. So he turned to the Canon 5D Mark III he just bought a few weeks earlier.

Lenses? He settled for the 16-35mm F2.8 and 24-70mm F2.8. No tripod or monopod. He would have preferred to take the 24-105mm F4 instead of the 24-70mm, but didn’t have it with him. And the 70-200mm F2.8 was way too heavy to take. So much for traveling as a cameraman. Add spare cameras, audio recorder, mic, wireless microphone system and filters.

So how did the Canon 5D Mark III perform? Well, Toran was struggling:

We all know it is a great camera, with stunning HD and nice depth of field and amazing in low light. I had loads of fun shooting with it in Syria. But let’s be fair, it is not the perfect camera to take to this kind of environment when you are doing news. Most of the problems we all have with these cameras get multiplied when shooting in a hostile area.

Problems being:

Reason 1: Where Is My Iris Ring?

It was very sunny and all the time we were going from bright areas to shade, from small cars to the trunk of a pickup, from open streets into pitch-black apartments… Dialing a new exposure in an ND filter is not as smooth as doing it through the lens iris ring on the broadcast cameras. Most of the time I would get one of my fingers in front of the lens, ruining the shot… On top of that, to screw the filter on and off every time you get into a house is a headache.

Reason 2: I Miss You, Audio Channel 2

The Rode VideoMic Pro was on the camera all the time. But if something happened and the reporter wanted to do a piece to camera or an interview, I was supposed to plug the Sennheiser wireless in to get proper voice track. Unfortunately, there was usually no time to start changing mics. So we had to record the reporter’s audio in the Tascam she was carrying and later sync it. By the way, the VideoMic Pro breaks down so easily… Mine broke the first day of the assignment. God bless gaffer tape.

Reason 3: Transcoding, 1%

Prior to July it was very difficult to send the packages from inside the country because government forces could pinpoint your satphone location and shell it, as it seems happened to Marie Colvin. So you had to take all your footage back to Turkey and edit and feed from there. This time the area north of Aleppo was quite safe and we could cut and send inside the country. But before editing we had to transcode 40 to 80GB of daily footage. Slow. Very slow, even using the 5DtoRGB software. The problem was not the amount of time it could take; the problem was the constant power cuts. Sometimes we had only six or eight hours of electricity per day: not enough to transcode, sync the audio, edit, compress and feed.

Toran’s conclusion:

This is why I think for this assignment small broadcast cameras like the Sony NX-70, the Canon XF-105 or the JVC HM150 would have done a better job. Maybe you don’t get the depth of field and you will miss the super wide angle of the 16-35mm, but at least you are assured almost 100% of the shots recorded will be usable.

(Excerpts are from Miguel Toran Films the War in Syria for Al Jazeera English — Using a Canon 5D Mark III, published by DSLR News Shooter on September 10, 2012.)

  • di0nysus

    variable neutral density filter would have helped. Can you not split the channels with a dual mono to stereo plug? Can you not edit it in premier in h.264?