The first US TV commercial shot on a Canon 5D Mark II (part 1) – J!NX Clothing

by Lan Bui on July 9, 2009

In a few days the TV commercial we shot for J!NX will air on TV. We (The Bui Brothers) shot the entire commercial on a Canon 5D Mark II. In this post we want to talk a little about the good, the bad and everything in-between that we encountered while shooting a TV commercial on a DSLR.

JINX Logo

Taken from www.JINX.com:
“J!NX is a clothing brand heavily influenced by gaming and geeky interests.”

First, we want to thank Steve Woolf and Zadi Diaz from Smashface for bringing us on to be the directors of photography and sound for this TV commercial. We also want to thank J!NX for being so awesome, Tracie Cotta for providing excellent makeup and style, and Sarah Atwood for keeping things together!

Here is a look the team that made the first US TV commercial shot on a Canon 5D mk 2:

Steve Woolf HeadshotZadi Diaz photoSarah Atwood photo
Tracie Cotta photo
The Bui Brothers photo

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The Good

Let’s start by talking about the good. The good actually started with excellent planning by Steve and Zadi… they had a great script written and a very thorough shot list… also it didn’t hurt that Zadi was the main subject of the commercial… and we know each other and have shot together (photo, not video) before. Also, we decided to bring along a 26″ HDTV as an external monitor. Although bulky and not that easy to move around the set, we were able to focus extremely easily on such a large screen. Pull focus is not easy, ever… but it’s really difficult to nail any kind of focus at all on the 3″ screen on the 5D mark II. All we needed was the TV and an HDMI cable, and we had a giant monitor.

26 inch large HD monitor with Canon 5D Mark II

Of course another part of the good is that the files that come out of the 5D mark II are AMAZING. While reviewing footage on the huge monitor… we were always very pleased. This helped move the shoot along well as everyone was literally stoked with every shot we reviewed. Using the 100mm macro let us really get in tight with ridiculous shots of minute details… able to focus in on words on a MacBook Pro monitor to the point where you could see the pixels on the screen. Of course, with the larger scenes, it was all about lighting. Colored gels, a hallmark of Smashface/Epic Fu style… really have the background some interest… and of course… color.

Another amazing thing is that even at high ISOs the footage is still fantastic. This means that if you are lighting your sets on a budget, you have a lot more flexibility. We were lighting most everything with a couple Arri 350s and an Arri 600 fresnel… which would actually be tough in some situations with, for instance, an HVX200 which we’ve also shot with. You just don’t need that much light, and our travel kit will now include just a bunch of Lowell Omni lights and a Tota or two. Small, light and more than bright enough for the amazing and wonderful light-sucking sensor in the 5d mark II.

Lighting with a Canon 5D mark II

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The Bad

Then there was the bad. First, worst, and FIXED NOW (thank you Canon!)… at the time the 5D mark II didn’t have any manual control… so we were going from shot to shot trying to match exposure of the last shot… which was pretty much impossible. It was frustrating enough while shooting… I can only imagine how tough it was to edit. Not only did we not have manual control, but we were sticking ourselves with wide-open because attempting to control the aperture with the set, DOF preview, and unlock lens method just wasn’t worth it… so we just went with the wide-open unlocked lens solution.

So the shutter speed and ISO pretty much changed itself from shot to shot… we were able to lock it with exposure lock, but not set it.

(NOTE: now that the manual controls have been fixed with the Canon 5d mark II firmware update, this is not an issue at all. We have since shot another television commercial, and it was a perfect experience)

Another issue has to do with the way the 5d mark II handles its HDMI output. I am not sure what Canon was thinking… and whether or not this can be fixed with another firmware update… but basically you only have the proper aspect ratio while reviewing clips you’ve already shot. While setting up your shot everything is super squeezed, and while actually recording it’s stretched. This isn’t a huge issue, especially once you’re used to it, but if you’re working with clients who aren’t able to visualize what things are going to look like when they are perfect… it may be tough for them to approve and like a shot without you shooting some footage and playing it back for them.

Canon 5D Mark II HDMI screen problem

Canon 5D Mark II HDMI screen problem

We also had a couple cases where there was something in the frame that we didn’t notice because it was covered by the overlaid display data… something to note.

Using the giant HDTV was great when it was already in place and we were using it to focus, but not so good when it was time to move to the next shot. Bigger isn’t always better… and we actually had a much better (and EXTREMELY economical) solution for our next commercial that we’ll talk about in that post.

Audio. Yes, audio is an issue with the 5D mark II. There is no way to disable the auto-regulation that goes on… and the only solution we’ve heard of is by Beachtek and has to do with outputting a continuous tone into one channel in order to keep the levels… well… level (UPDATE: We have learned about a few more solutions, a follow up blog post will be made about this). If you are shooting something for the web… and the audio isn’t that important or is going to be well masked by other sounds or by music… go ahead and do it. If you are shooting a television commercial as we were… find another option.

We opted to record audio through a Sennheiser MKE-66 shotgun microphone into a Firepod into a Macbook pro into Final Cut. We recorded into the ADR module, because it was easy to set up and use… and it worked perfectly. Luckily we only needed audio for the “talking head” segments, so there was minimal syncing that was needed. This went perfectly… but we also now have a much better solution for this that we’ll talk about in the next post.

Vu Bui with Canon 5D mark II

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Conclusion

The Canon 5D mark II was literally perfect for the television commercial shoot (if you don’t count the exposure problems which have been fixed)… we just needed to learn a little bit about the things that need to be done surrounding the camera to get the best out of it. The commercial looks fantastic and will air soon and be available online, at which time we’ll post it on this blog as well.

We shot all of the talking head shots tripod mounted and locked down… and most of the B-roll (which is most of the commercial) either handheld directly on the camera or on a gorrilla pod which offered a small amount of stabilization but left the real-life movement we were looking for.

There were quite a few challenges we ran into, and some minor inconveniences… almost all of which have been completely solved for us. We’ll talk about all the new devices, software and workarounds we are using now in the next post… which took our next commercial shoot to the literal next level.

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  • http://www.philipbloom.co.uk/ philip bloom

    Good blog guys. V informative.

    My biggest issues have monitoring like you on location so a big tv is not an option and nailing that exposure. I would love to use the magic dragon firmware but still too scared! Can’t brick my camera. I use it most days!!

    Will there be a way us non US residents will be able to see it?

    P

    • http://www.LanBui.com Lan Bui

      Hey Philip!

      Yeah, the firmware hacks are tempting…

      I think I saw you mention you have a smallHD monitor, how is that with the 5dmkII?

      Oh, and yes… the commercial will be posted on our blog as soon as we can.

      • http://www.philipbloom.co.uk/ philip bloom

        it’s “OK” they are issues and they are working on fixing them…mostly in the blacks

  • http://www.philipbloom.co.uk philip bloom

    Good blog guys. V informative.

    My biggest issues have monitoring like you on location so a big tv is not an option and nailing that exposure. I would love to use the magic dragon firmware but still too scared! Can’t brick my camera. I use it most days!!

    Will there be a way us non US residents will be able to see it?

    P

    • http://www.LanBui.com Lan Bui

      Hey Philip!

      Yeah, the firmware hacks are tempting…

      I think I saw you mention you have a smallHD monitor, how is that with the 5dmkII?

      Oh, and yes… the commercial will be posted on our blog as soon as we can.

      • http://www.philipbloom.co.uk philip bloom

        it’s “OK” they are issues and they are working on fixing them…mostly in the blacks

  • http://stevegarfield.com/ steve garfield

    Great post! Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to seeing the commercial.

    • http://www.LanBui.com Lan Bui

      Thanks Steve!

  • http://stevegarfield.com steve garfield

    Great post! Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to seeing the commercial.

    • http://www.LanBui.com Lan Bui

      Thanks Steve!

  • http://newsphotojournalist.wordpress.com/ Spencer T

    Thanks for the information. I’ve been curious how the Canon 5D would do in real world situations for video. I am coming from a video background so it’s nice to see how the technology is advancing. finally gotten a “smaller” camera (the Panasonic HVX200A HD) which is better on the shoulders but has a lens that does not give much control. Sounds like the 5D offers the versatility of real lenses and in turn does a great job. I am looking forward to seeing the commercial to see how it turns out.

    • http://vubui.com/ vubui

      Thanks Spencer, yeah it has its limitations for sure, but once you start learning them and figuring out the ways around them (which we’ll talk about a lot in our next post about it) you can really start doing some amazing work.

      There is still a need for cams like the HVX200 which we still use for some work… but the 5D is becoming increasingly useful and is replacing our other cameras for almost (but not quite) everything.

      Also I still do all my steadicam work on a little Canon HV20 on a Steadicam Merlin. Easy, light and portable… except when there’s wind.

  • http://newsphotojournalist.wordpress.com Spencer T

    Thanks for the information. I’ve been curious how the Canon 5D would do in real world situations for video. I am coming from a video background so it’s nice to see how the technology is advancing. finally gotten a “smaller” camera (the Panasonic HVX200A HD) which is better on the shoulders but has a lens that does not give much control. Sounds like the 5D offers the versatility of real lenses and in turn does a great job. I am looking forward to seeing the commercial to see how it turns out.

    • http://vubui.com vubui

      Thanks Spencer, yeah it has its limitations for sure, but once you start learning them and figuring out the ways around them (which we’ll talk about a lot in our next post about it) you can really start doing some amazing work.

      There is still a need for cams like the HVX200 which we still use for some work… but the 5D is becoming increasingly useful and is replacing our other cameras for almost (but not quite) everything.

      Also I still do all my steadicam work on a little Canon HV20 on a Steadicam Merlin. Easy, light and portable… except when there’s wind.

  • http://www.ryelj.com/ Ryel j

    So when are you going head to head with Antoine Fuqua? I like the post… can’t wait to see the footage.

    • http://www.LanBui.com Lan Bui

      Thanks for the compliment!

      Actually Steve Woolf directed this one, so I think Steve would have to go head to hear with Antoine. We would love to back Steve up with some bad-ass cinematography though!!!

  • http://www.ryelj.com Ryel j

    So when are you going head to head with Antoine Fuqua? I like the post… can’t wait to see the footage.

    • http://www.LanBui.com Lan Bui

      Thanks for the compliment!

      Actually Steve Woolf directed this one, so I think Steve would have to go head to hear with Antoine. We would love to back Steve up with some bad-ass cinematography though!!!

  • http://pbinderphotography.blogspot.com/ Patrick Binder

    Setting the lens to manual focus and pressing the magnify button on the back of the camera can’t give good enough results to see if you are focused on the 3″ screen? Or is it just too much of a pain?

    I wish I could zoom in on the video when the lens is set to autofocus because you never really need to go to manual mode on the lens with full-time manual focus lenses.

    • http://www.LanBui.com Lan Bui

      Yeah, using the zoom feature is ok for focusing with it. The reason for the monitor is so we have a good clear image of what we are shooting, it helps a lot for focusing too, but it is much more helpful than just that.

      It also helps viewing when the camera is at an awkward angle, and gives everyone something big and clear to see. The director loves it, the makeup artist can watch for shine, the stylist can watch for wrinkles in clothes or misplaced accessories… the list goes on and on…

  • http://pbinderphotography.blogspot.com/ Patrick Binder

    Setting the lens to manual focus and pressing the magnify button on the back of the camera can’t give good enough results to see if you are focused on the 3″ screen? Or is it just too much of a pain?

    I wish I could zoom in on the video when the lens is set to autofocus because you never really need to go to manual mode on the lens with full-time manual focus lenses.

    • http://www.LanBui.com Lan Bui

      Yeah, using the zoom feature is ok for focusing with it. The reason for the monitor is so we have a good clear image of what we are shooting, it helps a lot for focusing too, but it is much more helpful than just that.

      It also helps viewing when the camera is at an awkward angle, and gives everyone something big and clear to see. The director loves it, the makeup artist can watch for shine, the stylist can watch for wrinkles in clothes or misplaced accessories… the list goes on and on…

  • http://pbinderphotography.blogspot.com/ Patrick Binder

    I decided to look up about the hacked firmware and see if there was anything new on it since I looked at it before Canon’s new firmware. Looks pretty interesting. It doesn’t store the firmware in the camera, it just runs it from the CF card.

    “Magic Lantern isn’t actually written to the 5D Mark II’s ROM. Rather, it is run off the camera’s CF card and loaded into RAM after selecting “Update firmware” from the menu. This means when the camera reboots, the RAM is flushed and the camera reverts to the Canon firmware. For this reason Magic Lantern is unlikely to brick your camera, and there have been no reports of it doing so, but with all hacks of this sort there is always a risk.”

    from GizMag:
    http://www.gizmag.com/magic-lantern-firmware/12123/

    • http://www.LanBui.com Lan Bui

      Oh wow! Thanks for that information!!!

      I’m still hesitant… maybe on a backup 5D MK II we can try it out.

      • http://pbinderphotography.blogspot.com/ Patrick Binder

        I know. I hacked the original Canon Rebel (300D) 5 years ago with a custom firmware and never had problems…but a little more hesitant on a body I use to make my living.

      • http://www.philipbloom.co.uk/ philip bloom

        that’s my issue. I want to do it but am terrified of being the one that bricks his! got a big paid gig in Delhi coming up and don’t want a disaster

        • http://vubui.com/ vubui

          I completely understand, man.

          It would be great if we could all afford 3 bodies… main, backup, tester… but um… yeah I have to eat and stuff as well.

          But if you do it I can’t wait to hear the results!

  • http://pbinderphotography.blogspot.com/ Patrick Binder

    I decided to look up about the hacked firmware and see if there was anything new on it since I looked at it before Canon’s new firmware. Looks pretty interesting. It doesn’t store the firmware in the camera, it just runs it from the CF card.

    “Magic Lantern isn’t actually written to the 5D Mark II’s ROM. Rather, it is run off the camera’s CF card and loaded into RAM after selecting “Update firmware” from the menu. This means when the camera reboots, the RAM is flushed and the camera reverts to the Canon firmware. For this reason Magic Lantern is unlikely to brick your camera, and there have been no reports of it doing so, but with all hacks of this sort there is always a risk.”

    from GizMag:
    http://www.gizmag.com/magic-lantern-firmware/12123/

    • http://www.LanBui.com Lan Bui

      Oh wow! Thanks for that information!!!

      I’m still hesitant… maybe on a backup 5D MK II we can try it out.

      • http://pbinderphotography.blogspot.com/ Patrick Binder

        I know. I hacked the original Canon Rebel (300D) 5 years ago with a custom firmware and never had problems…but a little more hesitant on a body I use to make my living.

      • http://www.philipbloom.co.uk philip bloom

        that’s my issue. I want to do it but am terrified of being the one that bricks his! got a big paid gig in Delhi coming up and don’t want a disaster

        • http://vubui.com vubui

          I completely understand, man.

          It would be great if we could all afford 3 bodies… main, backup, tester… but um… yeah I have to eat and stuff as well.

          But if you do it I can’t wait to hear the results!

  • http://jillianmodernblog.com/ Tony Z.

    Fantastic work you two!! Very cool to see the video aspect of that beautiful camera. Every time I see Jill using hers I start to “techno envy” drool. I can’t wait for the commercial release.

    • http://vubui.com/ vubui

      Thanks Tony! I think you pretty much just need to get one.

      I actually hear the kidney market is pretty strong these days.

  • http://jillianmodernblog.com Tony Z.

    Fantastic work you two!! Very cool to see the video aspect of that beautiful camera. Every time I see Jill using hers I start to “techno envy” drool. I can’t wait for the commercial release.

    • http://vubui.com vubui

      Thanks Tony! I think you pretty much just need to get one.

      I actually hear the kidney market is pretty strong these days.

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  • Christopher Robinson

    I thought about whether or not I should post this, because I don’t want to be the inevitable party pooper, but Stu Maschwitz already did a US commercial with the 5Dii, and he isn’t even sure it’s the first or not. There’s been about a dozen non-US ones. Anyway, it’s a small matter, but given that it’s the headline of the post I thought I should mention it.

    Maybe say the first *national* commercial (nationally shown) or something.

    Good luck with your shoot, and thanks for sharing all your information and experience.

    take care,
    Chris

    • http://www.LanBui.com Lan Bui

      Hey Chris! Thanks for that information. I’m out right now but will update our post once I get back and have a chance to check it out.

      Any chance you could post a link here to it?

  • Christopher Robinson

    I thought about whether or not I should post this, because I don’t want to be the inevitable party pooper, but Stu Maschwitz already did a US commercial with the 5Dii, and he isn’t even sure it’s the first or not. There’s been about a dozen non-US ones. Anyway, it’s a small matter, but given that it’s the headline of the post I thought I should mention it.

    Maybe say the first *national* commercial (nationally shown) or something.

    Good luck with your shoot, and thanks for sharing all your information and experience.

    take care,
    Chris

    • http://www.LanBui.com Lan Bui

      Hey Chris! Thanks for that information. I’m out right now but will update our post once I get back and have a chance to check it out.

      Any chance you could post a link here to it?

  • http://thebackpackr.com/ Alex TheBackpackr.com

    Woohooo, I’m glad to see more real-life work showcased. At http://weddingstory.com.my we are now mixing Panasonic HMC-150 and 5D Mark II footage – the pull focus is awesome!

    For kicks, we took the 5D Mark II out and used it for a contest submission, and WE WON AN IPHONE! :) – even though the sensor was a tad dusty *sheepish look*

    View it here: http://thebackpackr.com/mcdonalds-mcvalue-lunch-short-film/

  • http://thebackpackr.com Alex TheBackpackr.com

    Woohooo, I’m glad to see more real-life work showcased. At http://weddingstory.com.my we are now mixing Panasonic HMC-150 and 5D Mark II footage – the pull focus is awesome!

    For kicks, we took the 5D Mark II out and used it for a contest submission, and WE WON AN IPHONE! :) – even though the sensor was a tad dusty *sheepish look*

    View it here: http://thebackpackr.com/mcdonalds-mcvalue-lunch-short-film/

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  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PASgid0CFQc pedro de la fiesta

    We shot this pop promo on a 5d mk 2 at the end of July. Its getting a lot of airplay too.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PASgid0CFQc

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PASgid0CFQc pedro de la fiesta

    We shot this pop promo on a 5d mk 2 at the end of July. Its getting a lot of airplay too.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PASgid0CFQc

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  • Itamsdelit

    Its amazing what the 5d does . the pictures are just outstanding. Haven used it comparatively with the HVX 2OO i think its amazing. I really find the lens of the HVX irritating as your eyes might have to fall off before you get a good focus especially in low lighting conditions.

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