Full frame mirrorless camera that opens up new creative opportunities for photographers and filmmakers.
Nicolai Brix is visibly relieved as he sits down in front of the set being slowly dismantled by the set designer. It’s been a long day’s shoot, and a special shoot: Canon invited him to be the first filmmaker to try out the full-frame mirrorless EOS R System, and Nicolai admits that he felt nervous at the start of the day.
"Of course I felt the pressure," says the experienced videographer, who counts BMW, Maersk, the BBC and Warner Bros among his clients. "The drive for me is stories. I can’t just do something, I need to tell stories."
He's speaking on the set of a short film he has just shot in a large, old warehouse by the dock in his home city Odense, Denmark. The film follows Susanne Nielsen, a Danish graphic designer who specialises in textile prints, working on new fabric designs. It focuses on her creative approach to developing new trends and styles while having fun, being herself and living her values.
Ordinarily, Nicolai works with the Canon Cinema EOS lineup, but for this occasion he shot the personal project using only the EOS R body, in combination with the RF 50mm F1.2L USM and RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lenses. He also used his existing Canon L-series lenses, which are all compatible with the EOS R system by using the Control Ring Mount Adapter EF-EOS R.
"It’s a small camera, but that actually gave me the opportunity to shoot some new angles. It changed my vision in a good way," says Nicolai excitedly. As a storyteller, this is what matters to him – the ability to express himself, to get a message across.
Nicolai draws on a colourful past of various jobs that have all in some way been about communicating to an audience. As a 17-year-old, Nicolai began an apprenticeship as a forester on the Danish island of Bornholm, where part of his job was to teach visiting school classes about the nature around them. Later, after finishing his military service, he became a sergeant in charge of training new recruits. But he always dreamt of being a photographer, and turned that dream into reality by starting as a freelancer. He went on to become a staff photographer on Politiken, a leading Danish newspaper.
At Politiken, Nicolai was one of the first to volunteer when the newspaper started producing online video content. He credits his early adoption of video as one of the reasons he has come out unscathed from a tough decade in the newspaper industry, where many stills photographers have had to find new career paths. Now, Nicolai runs the production company B-Visuals and has a mix of commercial and editorial clients.
Drawing on his skills as a storyteller, photographer and filmmaker, Nicolai talks about his latest personal project and first experiences with the Canon EOS R System.
"I found video more fun to do because I could tell whole stories, and that’s what drives me. The general skills to spot a story, do the research and choose how to present it – that’s a thing you do a lot when you’re a photojournalist, and I’ve been able to use that to my advantage.
"The video industry is a booming business, but in some cases the growing demand for video content means that as long as it’s moving images, it’s considered good enough. It’s a big challenge to get the clients to understand how important it is to work with your message, too."
When Canon contacted me about the EOS R System I was kind of surprised, because I maybe expected mirrorless, but I didn’t expect a whole new system, with lenses and adapters. Having the Canon Control Ring Mount Adapter EF-EOS R means that I can use my whole system of Canon EF lenses on the new body. And the adapter has a ring so you can program a function onto your old EF lenses, just like you can with the new Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM and Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lenses.
"I programmed it for my aperture, so within reach of my thumb I was able to adjust autofocus, manual focus, the focus ring and the aperture – and that’s a completely new way to operate. It meant I was able to change my settings really quickly. And if you use an old EF lens without stabilisation, you get the EOS R’s digital image stabilisation, and that’s a huge advantage – the camera actually improves my existing lenses."
"The EOS R is a small camera if you compare it to a DSLR, but the grip is actually really, really good. I haven’t had a body where my hand just fitted like this for a long time, so the camera is easy to handle despite its small size. Another important thing is the layout. The new multi-function bar enables you to work faster because you can assign any function to it. I put the ISO on the multi-function bar and it meant that I was able to use the ring on the lens to adjust my aperture, and then use my thumb on the grip to adjust my ISO. It means I’m not held back by my camera, and that’s especially important on an assignment like this, when I’m filming someone who is doing her work."
"It’s a short commercial film about a graphic designer, Susanne Nielsen, who makes textile prints for different fashion houses around the world. When I try to find a story about a person, I always try to dig deeper, so I interviewed Susanne for three or four hours the first time we met. I found out that her most important tool when preparing and presenting work to her clients is a moodboard, so my idea was to have her create a giant moodboard about herself. In the end, when you see the finished board, it reveals a message."
"I made a very simple rig. I attached a recorder to a baseplate with a simple bracket and I put a quick-lock on the camera, so I could take it off the rig to shoot stills easily. I shot 90% of the film using a monopod, so I could get this handheld feel but still have stability. It was an easy and efficient way to work."
"We chose to shoot the film in a big, old warehouse, where I had hoped lots of natural light would flood this big space, but getting it to look natural was a challenge. We solved the problem using a combination of lighting and camera technique. We had two big lights behind diffusers acting like our natural sun, and I used a high ISO if I had to use a smaller aperture. I used everything between ISO100 and 10000, and it looks clean compared to what you could expect with such high ISO."
"We were able to get on to an elevated walkway under the rafters to get a top-down view, but the space was cramped up there and I had to shoot handheld. The in-body stabilisation of the Canon EOS R really helped me there. I can see that especially when I use longer lenses, it helps me to keep them still. That aerial shot is my favourite shot from the whole day – it looks so good, and the camera helped me to get that.
"Another thing I noticed while shooting from above was how useful the focus tracking function is. I was able to touch the screen to mark Susanne, who was working down below, and even if I walked past the wooden beams on the walkway in front of me, the tracking picked her up again."
"I started to use the Dual Pixel autofocus on my other cinema cameras, and to have the same autofocus system on a small body like the Canon EOS R is such a help.
“I think 90% of the shots for this project were shot with autofocus. It’s just amazing how you can pull the focus on the touchscreen – it’s so smooth and you can adjust the speeds. I’d say Dual Pixel autofocus is one of the single most important things to have changed the way I’m working."
"I was told that the Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens would be special and I looked forward to trying it. And I have to say, I haven’t seen an f/1.2 lens perform like that in my whole career. It’s a very fast lens, and the quality and design is beautiful. At first I wanted to only use that lens because, as a photographer, I love the shallow depth of field.
"However, when we shot from up above on the walkway, I used the Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens. That lens is so sharp and the way it compressed the image was a real eye-opener. So in the beginning I tended to use the Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM but in the end I shot a lot with the Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM, too. I think that will be a great daily working lens."
"Shooting with Canon Log, you get really beautiful 10-bit files. The skin tones are just phenomenal. You can’t always get the settings right for every single shot, and it’s in the editing stage that you realise just how much each file can hold, and how much you can push them to get what you want. I shot some test samples and tried to break them apart in a colour grading suite, and we had to push it a lot before anything happened.
"And having seen the final film graded, I know that I’d have no qualms using the EOS R as a B-camera – or even an A-camera, on assignments where I’m travelling or want to be discreet."
"I normally work with the Canon Cinema EOS lineup, but I really do see a purpose for the EOS R System because it’s smaller and it can do stills as well as video. Sometimes, I have assignments where I have to travel or just work really fast, and the Canon EOS R would be perfect because it has the video capabilities I need, such as the 10-bit C-Log that I don’t have on my DSLRs.
"I want the best quality, so I won’t work with a camera that can’t shoot 10-bit and do Canon Log, because I need the dynamic range it gives me. The Canon EOS R is a future-proof camera because 4K is getting more and more wanted by clients, so it will definitely be a useful system for me."
"I already have a story lined up about some really cool-looking custom motorbike builders. The camera would help me shoot the story because it’s small and easy to work with. I could mount it on a small gimbal and ride with the bikers and get the shots in motion, where working with a bigger camera would be very difficult. Even driving 80-100 kilometres per hour I’d still get sharp shots, I’m sure of it."
Since Nicolai worked with the EOS R on this shoot, prior to the camera’s launch in September 2018, a firmware update has added additional features for filmmakers. These include eye-detection AF, to help ensure that subjects’ eyes are clearly in focus, and the ability to use a small AF frame size, regardless of which Movie Servo AF setting is selected.
The key kit pros use to take their photographs
Full frame mirrorless camera that opens up new creative opportunities for photographers and filmmakers.
50mm f/1.2 prime lens for supreme sharpness, plus remarkable low-light performance.
Lightweight 24-105mm f/4 L-series zoom offering a wide zoom range with impressive versatility.