For the independent filmmaker having to juggle small budgets and lofty client expectations, making the right equipment choice is crucial. If there's room for only one main camera on the production's balance sheet, that camera needs to produce consistently high-quality results, day in, day out.
There are advantages to going back to basics and working with a setup that has a single camera and perhaps a backup body. Minimal kit makes it easier to plan each shoot, as the lighting and sound can be considered from one angle at a time. There's also a lot less to set up and strip down when moving between locations.
Here, Canon Ambassador Joel Santos, independent filmmakers Faisal Hashmi and Olivier Sarbil, and wedding and corporate videographer Emma Wilson share how Canon cameras, from the Canon EOS C300 Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS C300 Mark III) to hybrid DSLRs, allow them to bring their creative visions to life – while shooting solo.
When French filmmaker Olivier Sarbil embedded with Iraqi special forces to shoot a documentary for American channel PBS about the struggle to recapture Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), he had to keep his kitbag to a minimum, and packed a Canon EOS C300 Mark II.
"I had only one camera for Mosul," he says. "Because I shoot hand-held most of the time, I need to keep the camera as compact and light as possible. I don't think many other cameras would have been able to last eight months if they weren't as strong or as well sealed as the Canon EOS C300 Mark II."
The size and feel of this setup was a particular benefit to Olivier's work. "I love the ergonomics of the Canon EOS C300 Mark II, and being able to put one prime lens or a small Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM lens on it was amazing. I loved working in stills photography, so it was natural for me to use EF lenses on a video camera."
In order to ensure consistency in his imagery, while he had just the one body, Olivier took five Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM lenses with him in case any got damaged. He also carried five BP-A30 batteries and aimed to use no more than two a day, not knowing when he'd next be able to charge them.
As well as being sure his camera could withstand the punishing desert dust and the demands of frontline filming, Olivier was confident in the quality of the footage he was capturing. "The Canon EOS C300 Mark II is capable of delivering beautiful pictures – I've always been impressed by the amazing skin tones and its 15-stop dynamic range," he says. "It's the full package: robust, ergonomic, and it helps me achieve the type of look I've visualised." His resulting film, titled Mosul, went on to win an Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography: Documentary.
A lean and lightweight form factor might be a less pressing need for narrative films, but value for money is definitely key when you're working on micro-budget productions. This is where cameras such as the Canon EOS C100 Mark II and the Canon EOS C200 really deliver.
UAE-based independent filmmaker Faisal Hashmi has been using the Canon EOS C200 as his workhorse camera since August 2017. He borrowed a pre-production model from Canon to shoot Skipped, a short science-fiction comedy film that had an equally short 12-hour shoot.
"I ended up buying a Canon EOS C200 and I've been using it ever since to shoot award-winning narrative short films, corporate videos and commercials of different sizes," he says. "It's been a great fit for all of them, whether it's the quick turnaround with the MP4 codec, or being able to push the grade to get something extremely cinematic using Cinema RAW Light."
Faisal is a one-man filmmaking band on many of his projects, and he says that keeping things simple with a single Canon EOS C200 setup works best for him. "Occasionally I'll have a smaller second camera if the work requires it, but otherwise it's the Canon EOS C200 that serves me well," he says.
"The Dual Pixel AF with face-detection has been a lifesaver, to the point that I almost entirely rely on it for corporate shoots. I shot an entire narrative short film with it because it was set outdoors in bright light and I couldn't rely on my monitor alone to judge the focus. It's a godsend for one-man filmmakers like me."
When you're working with just one or two cameras, their reliability is vital. This is especially true if you're going to be on the road, days from the nearest camera repair shop or battery charging point. "You can have the best camera in the world, you can shoot Log and get the exposure and focusing right, but none of that matters if the camera fails," says travel photographer and filmmaker Joel Santos, whose travel documentaries are shown on primetime television in his home country of Portugal."My gear has faced volcanic ash and freezing temperatures in Guatemala, sandstorms in South Sudan, high humidity in Benin, rain in Costa Rica and blizzards in Iceland. I've used my cameras for all kinds of filmmaking situations in almost every continent, and they've performed flawlessly."
Joel is often on the road for weeks at a time, and far afield, as he was when he filmed and photographed the last remaining Chinese cormorant fishermen. When travelling alone, his core kit comprises two Canon EOS R camera bodies and Canon's 'trinity' of f/2.8 RF zooms – a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens, a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens and a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens – along with the versatile Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM lens. He also carries seven LP-E6N batteries and says he usually never uses more than two per camera per day.
"I'm usually working in remote places with people I don't know, and I have to quickly gain their trust," Joel says. "I have to ensure that my gear is not only lightweight, but also not intimidating. I don't carry external recorders or monitors, or lots of audio recording equipment, as I need people to see me as just a regular guy taking photos. That's why the Canon EOS R full-frame mirrorless system is perfect for me."
Being able to shoot discreetly is also important to wedding and corporate videographer Emma Wilson. Based in Switzerland, the former BBC video journalist uses a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and a Canon EOS R as her second camera on her Story of Your Day short films, both of which enable her to remain unobtrusive.
"As they're small cameras and I'm not on a gimbal running around the place, I'm able to capture the action unfolding naturally and tell the story of a wedding in an intimate way," she says. "People always come up to me and ask me to take their picture, as they don't realise I'm filming!"
Even though Emma's main cameras are 4K capable, her final delivery is in Full HD. "I sometimes shoot in 4K, especially if I feel that in the edit I might want to reframe a shot. I had to do a helicopter shoot recently, and not only did the 1:1 pixel crop for 4K capture on my cameras give a tighter image with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 USM lens, I was able to punch into a Full HD frame during the edit – to the point where you could see the pilot looking out of the helicopter's window."