Bling For Your Canon 5D Mark II

A little while back a colleague of mine took my aside and asked me to research accessories for the Canon 5D Mark 2.They where to be featured on a display at this years NAB show in Las Vegas. Allow me to pontificate a little bit. I firmly believe that the desire to make moving images is a natural progression for the still photographer. It’s a whole new canvas to paint wondrous masterpieces on. Truly, imagination is the limit. You have so many new ways to tell a story, so many subtle tricks to use that amount to key elements in the final piece. In these times artist enjoy near limitless methods to express their vision to the world. So when the 5D Mark 2 was announced, I could not wait to get my hands on it. My anticipation was further exacerbated by the release of Vincent Laforet’s “Reverie”. What an amazing showcase for the ability and potential of this camera. I digress.Few things in my professional career have influenced me as much as The “Qatsi” movies (Koyaanisqatsi in particular) and Ron Fricke’s Baraka. These movies made me want to go out and spend hours at a time shooting time lapse. More specifically I fell in love with Ron Fricke’s motion portraits. Koyaanisqatsi features some really amazing ones. The point of this whole rant is that up until now the projects and experiments I had in mothballs due to whatever technology was current but inadequate became thing of the past thanks to the new 5D. I know the 5D MK2 has its detractors, and it has some caveats. The point of this article is not to address the 5D’s shortcomings, or it’s strengths for that matter. I see it as a watershed product that will usher in a whole new era and approach to image making. Enough pontificating.

When my colleague asked me to research accessories, I was a little stumped. I am so used to thinking about Digital SLR’s as just that. Accessories to me are things like memory cards, batteries, filters, cleaning supplies. So I was thinking, what would somebody shooting video on the 5D need. After a little thinking cap time it occurred to me that one of the coolest things you can do with video the new 5D, its great big sensor, and cadre of fast glass is”pull focus”. ” Pulling Focus” is a common technique used in film making, basically it is changing focus from one subject to another during the shot. So after a little bit of hunting I came across a manufacturer by the name of Zacuto.

Zacuto DSLR Indie Kit

Zacuto DSLR Indie Kit

This kit allows you to do amazing things with your Canon 5D Mark 2. You are like a true Hollywood DP with this bad boy. Once your camera is mounted to the baseplate you are using the new 5D like a high end shoulder mount video camera. It is also counterweighted in the back so it’s nice and balanced, it will help to make much smoother hand held camera moves. The Z-focus module in the front will allow you to do pull focus with just about any lens you can mount on the camera.

So, I guess right about now you want to see some results, some test footage if you will.. Well sorry.. I’m not really into testing out cool gear.. Just kidding! The people over at Zacuto are very cool, and sent me a DSLR Indie Kit to evaluate. The first thing I’ll say is that Zacuto knows what they are doing. All their products are made in the USA and made extremely well. The fit and finish is beautiful. The kit assembles very easily and I found no need for instruction. After I was set up I grabbed Angelia for some Pull Focus goodness, shooting on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Canon 5D Mark II on Zacuto DSLR Indie Rig Minus Counterweight.

Canon 5D Mark II on Zacuto DSLR Indie Rig Minus Counterweight.

It is quite interesting to use the Zwhip to focus the lens rather then using the focus on the lens itself. I’m sure you could imagine how difficult it would be to get an acceptable shot if you had to focus on the lens while hand holding the camera. One of the nice features of the Z-focus is the white plastic ring on the side. This allows you to a dry erase marker to mark you focus points. This ensures repeatable takes when pulling focus during a scene. The caveat with this system doesn’t lie with the Zacuto. It’s an amazing system, and works exactly as it is supposed to. The caveat lies with certain Canon lenses. The 24 -70 f 2.8, 105 F2 and 85 f1.2 I was shooting with lack hard stops. Meaning the focus ring keeps spinning after you’ve gone passed minimum or infinity focus. Also the throw on these lenses is quite long. Depending on the distance between your focusing points you may easily find yourself having the turn the focus puller again.That sort of ruins the continuity of a pull focus shot. Still I was quite happy with the results. There are many work arounds for this situation. Not the least of which is simply finding other prime lenses with a shorter throw and hard stops. Did I mention that this system costs a little over 3k? Well, this is where perspective reigns supreme. This is what products of this caliber and level of use cost. They have always cost this much. They are deigned to be used and tortured, and withstand the rigors of heavy Hollywood style use. Think about this though. What is the least expensive camera that shoots HD video on a full frame sensor cost?? I’ll give you a hint. Starts with R ends with ED. A 5D MK2 with a full compliment of lenses and the Zacuto system still falls well short of what the Red with everything you need to use it costs. One last thing I highly recommend with this system. A small monitor mounted to the Zacuto and connected to the 5D will make your life so much easier.

One last video I would like to share is a quick one I grabbed of Angelia while we where waiting for the train. Even if your not using the Z-focus mechnasim for pull focus it, it is so much easier and precise to use while in video mode then the conventional focus on the lens.

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