CD: Jon, you’re known for your portrait and architectural still photography. Tell me a bit about your exploration into the world of DSLR video and beyond. How did it happen and why?
The Light Inside – Students from the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Dance at Princeton University imagine, commit, reach, and soar.
© Jon Roemer
Jon Roemer: It came about specifically because a client pushed for me to do it. They had an annual report project for which I would be doing the portraits. They requested that I also do the video which was interviews with some of the subjects.
I had done filmmaking in college and I had an eye on the industry shift toward video work and toward hybrid assignments containing both stills + video. But I was shooting with non-hybrid cameras. This was 2010 and I had Canon 1Ds Mark III’s. I had assumed I would dip my toe into the video waters once a camera upgrade came along which had both stills and video but this project pushed me to do it sooner
I did estimate the project outsourcing the video portion to a friend who is a corporate video producer but that didn’t fly with the client. They insisted that I do it.
While I could have shot the job with a prosumer video camera I decided it was time to get a DSLR. It made more sense to differentiate myself rather than go the easy route.
Now, three years later, video/filmmaking projects are 50% of my work. I’ve come to love it. It’s an invigorating challenge and a welcome change after many years of stills work.
CD: What were the challenges in shifting from a still photographic mindset to mastering new technologies, approaches, lighting and client needs?
Fellowship Hall, Zion Lutheran Church. McAuliffe + Carroll Architects. June, 2012.
Jon Roemer: There are many challenges because it’s a completely different medium. While you still need to know about cameras, lenses, aperture, and shutter speed. You are now adding in video compression codecs, time, movement, continuous lighting, and sound. You need different gear and you need a different mindset. If doing the editing you also need to get up to speed on non-linear editors (NLE’s) and the editing process.
In terms of mastering all of this I won’t claim to have done that! It’s only been three years and I’m only just getting started. That said, I did jump in with a lot of preparation. I spent about three months getting up speed. This included getting the hybrid camera, a Canon 1D Mark IV, starting to shoot and edit, and to work with sound. I devoured every web site I could for information, read a couple of books on DSLR filmmaking, did a lot of dry runs and took a couple of web based courses. I created four or five videos before the client assignment mentioned above even started.
One thing that surprised me was that despite not having thought about making movies since college (in the mid-eighties) and despite the shift to digital, the principles of late 20th century film-based filmmaking are still intact in the digital age. Those principles were incredibly helpful in understanding the concepts behind digital filmmaking. Two examples from sound and editing. Back in college we worked with the 16mm movie cameras and the sound was recorded separately. It then had to be synched in post. Digital filmmaking with a DSLR is exactly the same. Sound is best done recorded via an external recorder.
Similarly, back in college we would edit on an edit table and you would physically cut the film to make the edits. With an NLE you don’t physically cut anything but… it’s extremely helpful to have the old process in your head as you shoot and work with an NLE. Want to understand a cross dissolve and why it needs longer clips to create? There’s no better way than thinking of the film clips overlapping.
CD: How do you feel your strengths as a still photographer have contributed to your abilities as a video shooter?
Jon Roemer: One unwritten rule of late is that many stills shooters who have transitioned to video tend to compose their shots with a finer attention to detail than many video only shooters. I think that holds true and many clients have told me it as well.
So, if you come to this as I have with many years experience as a stills shooter and having developed a way of seeing it will help give a strong foundation to your video work.
I also think that my stills experience which taught me to work quickly and be flexible helps immensely with video. It is especially true now that very high quality video can be created with small crews and working with or supplementing ambient light.
CD: The El El Frijoles video was a personal project. How did that come about and do you think you will ever tire of Lobster Burritos? What has been the feedback to that project?
In the woods of Maine in a barn in the middle of nowhere, resides some of the best Mexican food you’ll find anywhere. A documentary about El El Frijoles and its owners, Michael Rossney and Michele Levesque.
© Jon Roemer
Jon Roemer: The El El Frijoles project came about because I asked to do it. Pretty simple. It seemed like a great opportunity to create an interesting piece and Michael and Michele, the owners of El El Frijoles, were receptive to the idea.
Beyond that, I have always loved capturing people doing and creating. With stills, I used to do work for Julliard. I would photograph dance, opera, music and master classes. To capture subjects who were so into what they were doing, so creative at it, and producing such beautiful work. It was a joy. To find that subject matter with a video piece is every bit a thrill.
Michael and Michele are doing that at El El Frijoles. It’s unique, it’s an experience, it’s a work of art, and it’s about quality through and through.
No, I will never tire of lobster burritos or their steak burritos or their chicken burritos… I was just in Maine for two weeks and we ate there three or four times!
The feedback for the project has been great. Pretty much universal praise and that’s despite a six minute running time and no music until the end. Michael has told me that most of the customers coming in have seen the video and mention it. I was congratulated by some of El El’s patrons this summer while at the restaurant and Michael and Michele have just had their busiest summer ever – often having to close early because of demand outstripping supplies. It’s great knowing that I have helped spur things along in my own small way.
CD: You are totally a Canon guy. Tell me the differences between the 5D DSLR run and gun approach versus stepping up to the C300 and you feel it is important to shoot with the dedicated video camera (benefits, etc.)?
Village Voice columnist Michael Musto and club kids (Michael Alig and James St. James and others) at the Tunnel nightclub. New York, New York. Fall, 1987.
Jon Roemer: First, I don’t know that I think of myself as a “Canon guy.” That may seem odd from a guy who currently only owns Canon gear but having come of age in the film days, having shot with Nikon for close to twenty years, having also shot with three different makes of medium format and with large format, I’m a photographer first and foremost. Canon has been the best fit for me the past decade or so. I think it’s a great company, great gear, and great customer service. But, hopefully, if I’m successful at what I do my work defines itself, not what I used to create it.
That said, I do get your question. Canon currently offers a range of video capture, from DSLRs to their Cinema Series. It’s somewhat unique in that regard. Sony may be the only company with a similar product line. Why choose a DSLR over a dedicated video camera? Why did I make the jump to getting a C300, one of Canon’s dedicated video cameras?
When DSLRs first appeared on the scene their primary advantage was the large chip. Far larger than the imaging chip video cameras provided and even larger than the negative size of most movie film formats. It enabled getting a look in video which had never been possible and at a far lower cost than one could ever get with film.
Since then camera manufacturers have responded creating dedicated video cameras which are based, for the most part, on the standard movie film format, Super35. It has a lens factor of about 1.5x when compared to full-frame 35mm film. So, while not capable of as shallow a depth of field as a full-frame 35mm DSLR it is the exactly the same depth of field you have seen forever in most Hollywood movies.
Today, I think the advantage of a DSLR is the lower price point and the fact that the general public does not see them as movie cameras. It’s much easier to fly under the radar when shooting with one. The disadvantage of a DSLR is that it’s a stills camera first with video as an afterthought. It requires attachments to make it viable, it does not have professional ports for attaching cables, it’s inherent video quality is somewhat compromised, it’s susceptible to rolling shutter, moire and artifacts. It does not have industry standard tools for video exposure or focus like waveforms, zebras, or peaking.
A dedicated large chip video camera like the Canon C300 corrects all of the faults you find with a DSLR. Rolling shutter, moire and artifacts are virtually non-existant. It has professional ports (e.g. XLR, SDI) and it does not require attachments like finders grafted onto screens. It simplifies the filming process with built-in ND filters, a necessity in filmmaking and far quicker to use than adding ND’s to the lens on a DSLR. The image quality is also outstanding. It has a chip engineered for one purpose, video. And in the case of the C300, it’s a 4k chip feeding a 1080P image in such a way that the camera is not de-bayering the image data in the manner of a DSLR. So, it’s image quality is unlike anything you’ll ever get from a DSLR.
For me the C300 was practically a no brainer. It takes all of my Canon lenses and it is compatible with all of my memory cards (CompactFlash.) I can run sound into the camera saving the need to sync it in post. The camera comes with everything you need including an external display. It’s standard batteries last a whopping three hours. Plus, even almost two years after it came out it is still the only camera to offer an in-camera high data rate professional codec (50 MBps) without the need for any external attachments. It’s ready to hit the ground running and it can run stripped down (the form factor is like a Hasselblad or a Mamiya RZ) or built up to any level.
It is a great camera. What gets me the most is the image quality and the dynamic range. Clients see that, too. Most every one has told me they see a difference in the videos and, to be honest, most of them have no idea what make or model camera I work with.
At this point, I have Canon 1D X’s for stills or video plus the C300 for video. For 99% of my video work I’ll go to the C300 but there are certain jobs where the 1D X may be a better fit. If the assignment requires a more fully weatherproofed camera or if I need to be incognito a DSLR is still less likely to draw attention.
What’s in Jon Roemer’s bag?
Lenses… many, maybe too many:
- Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
- Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift
- Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM
- Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Tilt-Shift
- Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM
- Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
- Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM
- Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift
- Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM
- Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM
- Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift
- Canon Ef 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
- Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM
Flash & Lighting:
- Canon Speedlite 600EX- RT
- Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter
- Profoto Acute B2 600 AirS/R Power Rack w/Pocket Wizard
- Profoto Acute 2R – 1200 Power Supply (90-260V)
- Profoto Acute 2-D4 Flash Head
- Litepanels 1×1 Daylight Spot
- Litepanels 1×1 Daylight Flood
- Litepanels SolaENG Fresnels
- Think Tank Photo – Airport Security v2.0 Rolling Camera Bag
- Think Tank Photo – Logistics Manager 30 Rolling Gear Case
Jon’s Additional Comments:
- Really Right Stuff “L” brackets for cameras and clamps for tripods & monopods.
- Apple in the field and in the studio.
- Profoto Lighting for stills. Especially love my AcuteB 600r battery power packs!
- Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT, wireless radio controlled flashes for when you have to go strobist.
- Sachtler Fluid head for video.
- Manfrotto Fluid Monopod for video.
- Kessler Cineslider and Stealth slider for video.
- Kessler Kwik release for video tripods & monopods.
- Apple Aperture to edit, optimize, and process raw still files.
- Adobe Photoshop for when you need layers and more complex controls.
- Final Cut Pro X for video editing.
- iPhone – indispensable: weather and sun position apps, maps, email, quick searches, etc.
- Audioengine A5+ speakers with a Schiit DAC for incredible music in the studio and for great sound for editing.