The Avengers Joins the Growing List of DSLR Feature Films

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

As we learned from Cinemtographer Shane Hurlbut during our first episode of Doddle TALKS Tech, if you’re shooting an action film and you want a shot that’s guaranteed to task your camera in the process, you go with a Canon 5D Mk. II DSLR.  Act of Valor was shot almost exclusively on one.  And the list of other films that are starting to use the digital camera platform is growing and now includes Joss Whedon’s THE AVENGERS, which not only used the 5D Mk. II, but also the Canon 7D as well.   So, with so many filmmakers choosing to trust their films to these low budget, but high quality, options, are other more expensive platforms in danger of going the way of the dinosaur?

“The cameras’ small size was a major advantage to us,” said Seamus McGarvey, Cinematographer of The Avengers. “We were able to place them in tight locations that were really close to the big stunts, which would be too risky to do with bigger cameras that would require an operator and two assistants”

Probably not, but there’s no denying that if a director can get that golden shot that’s definitely going to thrash the camera, it’s must better to ruin a $3500 5D Mk. II or a $1700 7D then it is to a RED Epic that could cost 10 times as much.  And it also means you can get some serious coverage without breaking the camera budget.  The Avengers used 5 Canon 5D Mk. IIs and 2 Canon 7Ds for their action scenes, placing them in angles that you simply couldn’t risk a more expensive setup and still get the shot you want.  And it also allowed the film crew to get overall coverage in fewer takes and move on to the next setup, which is something every Line Producer loves to hear.

“We are thrilled that the EOS 5D Mark II and 7D Digital SLR cameras were called to action on the set of ‘Marvel’s The Avengers,’ said Yuichi Ishizuka, executive vice president and general manager, Imaging Technologies and Communications Group, Canon U.S.A. “We designed these cameras with versatility and flexibility in mind, and their ability to record beautiful 1920 x 1080 HD video, coupled with their compact size, make them an ideal fit for filmmakers looking to capture tight action shots.”

Pretty impressive, especially if you look at the specs of the two platforms side by side:

Canon EOS 7D Canon EOS 5D MkII
Sensor type CMOS CMOS
Sensor size 22.3 x 14.9 mm (3.32 cm²) 36 x 24 mm (8.64 cm²)
Sensor resolution 5184 x 3456 5616 x 3744
Effective pixels 18.0 MP 21.1 MP
Pixel density 5.4 MP/cm² 2.4 MP/cm²
Pixel Size (pitch) 4.3 microns 6.4 microns
Low resolution modes 5184 x 3456, 3888 x 2592, 3456 x 2304, 2592 x 1728 4080 x 2720, 2784 x 1856, 5616 x 3744, 3861 x 2574, 2784 x 1856
ISO rating 100-6400 in full or 1/3 stops, expandable to 12800 100 – 6400 in full or 1/3 stops, expandable to 50, 12800 and 25600
Auto Focus TTL-CT-SIR AF-dedicated CMOS, 19-point all cross-type AF (f/2.8 at center: Dual Cross Sensor) TTL-CT-SIR AF-dedicated CMOS, 9 AF Points (1 Cross Type) + 6 AF Assist Points
White balance Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten Light, White Fluorescent Light, Flash, Custom, Color Temperature Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten Light, White Fluorescent Light, Flash, Custom, Color Temperature
Shutter Speeds 1/8000 – 30 sec 1/8000 – 30 sec
Shutter Durability 150,000 cycles 150,000 cycles
Exposure compensation -5 to +5 EV in 1/3 EV or 1/2 EV steps (only 3 stops shown in viewfinder) -2 to +2 EV in 1/3 EV or 1/2 EV steps
Metering 63 area Eval, Center weighted, Partial, Spot 35 area eval, center weighted, partial, spot
Lens mount Canon EOS EF and EF-S Canon EOS EF
Video 1920 x 1080: 30fps / 24 fps / 25fps, 1280 x 720 (HD): 60fps / 50fps, 640 x 480 (SD): 60fps/ 50fps 1920 x1080 @ 30fps,  640 x 480 @ 30fps
Video Manual Exposure Control Shutter Speed and Aperture Shutter Speed and aperture
Storage types Compact Flash (Type I or II), UDMA, Compact Flash (Type I or II), UDMA,
Uncompressed formats RAW, sRAW RAW, sRAW1, sRAW2
HDMI output Yes Yes

But not everyone is convinced.  Some  think that the spread of using the Canon DSLR platform is more of a marketing ploy that is long on praise, and short on criticism for the shortcomings of the platform, namely it’s moire issues and compression formats that require exensive post production to create a usable image.

I view it as a real shame that some filmmakers have become almost like manufacturer mouthpieces rather than pushing them to improve. One of the reason the 5D Mark III stayed almost identical to its predecessor is because the pros advising Canon on it are so positive, like a bunch of yes men. – EOSHD Blog

EOSHD cites a rival filmmaker by the name of Jeff Gibbs (Bowling for Concubine, Farenheit 9/11), who says that consumer grade Canon Vixia’s have have more resolution than Canon’s new 5D Mark III.  Well, I’m not so sure.  Still, to be fair, there’s no secret that in order to make the footage suitable for the big screen that it has to be massaged in post.  Hurlbut told me that in shooting for Act of Valor, that there was a steep learning curve on how to get the most out of the 5D Mk. II DIGIC IV CMOS chip, but by the end of production they were shooting on all cylinders.  And, admittedly, it also required using a new plugin from Cinnafilm called Dark Energy, to strip the footage from the 5D Mk. II of it’s mpeg4 compression so that editors could incorporate it fully into the film.

But I say SO WHAT?  The fact is that you can look at the image on the screen and not really see a dime’s worth of difference.  Nobody I know has come out of the Avengers or Act of Valor and complained about the footage from the 5D or even the 7D.  And even though it costs nearly five times as much, the new EOS Cinema 1D-C 4K DSLR will make things even better.  So while some may have issue with how the camera platform is marketed, there can be no debate that it’s doing the job and doing it cheaper than ever.  And maybe it’s those who are pushing the more expensive platforms who are taking greater issue.

Hat Tip – FilmTools

About James DeRuvo

James has a multi-faceted career that spans radio, film and publishing. A writer about the technology in the video industry for nearly 20 years, James is also an award winning film director, having garnered a Telly Award for his short film Searching for Inspiration. He's also worked as a producer of many talk radio programs in Los Angeles with topics ranging from entertainment to travel to technology.