(December 9, 2014) Check the resumes of media and entertainment executives and other production professionals, and it’s likely that many are graduates of the Film & Television Department of Boston University’s College of Communication. The college offers degree programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels for approximately 350 students annually, with instruction that includes hands-on experience using the latest professional production technologies. Students begin their training on entry-level gear, and gradually work their way up to using high-end equipment, which includes a large complement of Cinema cameras, digital SLR cameras, and lenses made by Canon U.S.A., Inc., a leader in digital imaging solutions.
Boston University Associate Professor, Television, Geoff Poister explaining the lens features of a Canon Rebel T2i HD SLR camera.
“Graduate programs are focused, and include a thesis film,” explained Charles Merzbacher, Associate Professor and Director of Production at BU. “The undergraduate degree, however, does not differentiate between film, television, writing, or production studies. Undergrads choose from various ‘ladders’ of courses, and they can either be generalists or specialists – that’s really a matter of their own individual needs. Undergrads have an option among advanced production courses and workshops, including a new across-the-board introductory course called ‘Screen Language,’ which examines composition, sequence, and the fundamentals of visual storytelling. This course uses the Canon EOS M digital camera. Then as students progress they move from that to the large-sensor Canon cameras, including the EOS Rebel models, EOS 7D, and the EOS 5D Mark II and EOS 5D Mark III. In the intermediate/advanced-level courses they move further up to the Canon EOS C100 Cinema camera.”
“Currently we run about six entry-level production courses each semester, with 15 students in each class, and we have about 35 Canon EOS Rebel cameras,” added Geoff Poister, Associate Professor, Television. “Our Canon EOS Rebel T2i kits also include Canon EF 20mm, EF 50mm, and EF 100mm prime lenses.”
The Film & Television department’s large-sensor Canon cameras provide the shallow cinematic depth of field and lens compatibility essential to the department’s core film-production program, which is geared toward fiction filmmaking. These Canon cameras and lenses predominate at the Film & Television department for multiple reasons, as its professors explained.
“Canon has been one of the industry leaders in the DSLR space right out of the gate since the EOS 5D Mark II, and that’s where we started,” Merzbacher recalled. “We also had a large number of Canon cameras and lenses in our Photojournalism department, so we were able to draw on that gear for our department as well, and it provided an economy of scale in being able to combine resources. Also, when you have an HD camera that starts out as a still camera, it gives you the opportunity to work incrementally in terms of mastering your skills because you can start by taking still pictures and then move up to making moving images.”
“Another reason why we have heavily gone with Canon DSLRs in our department is because they shoot excellent, good-looking cinematic digital images,” added Film Professor Sam Kauffmann. “We want to make our students’ instruction true to cinema style, and emulate the way we taught them back when we used film cameras. This means emphasizing image composition and what’s in front of the camera. One of the challenges about these large-chip CMOS cameras is their shallow depth of field, which is good because students need to learn how to keep things in focus when actors are moving all over the set, and the camera may even be moving as well.”
“These DSLRs enable us to teach filmmaking by starting with the fundamentals of photography, uncluttered by the need to move the camera or have action,” Poister added. “We can explain lenses and f/stops and ISO, which are the first things students need to understand. We can start the class by having students shoot still photos that we can discuss. Then they can move up from there to motion images with the same camera, so it’s a huge advantage of using Canon DSLR cameras in the entry-level production classes.”
EOS C100 Advantages
The tiered education structure of the BU Film & Television department progresses from entry-level Canon consumer EOS M cameras up to Canon consumer and professional HD-capable DSLR cameras, to the Canon EOS C100 Cinema camera. As Kauffmann explained, the features of the EOS C100 camera are well suited to the department’s cinema-style curriculum.
“As students move from beginning to more advanced courses, they progress from the Canon EOS Rebel or the EOS7D to the EOS C100 camera,” he said. “There are a lot of things to like about that EOS C100 because it’s designed ergonomically as a film-style camera, as opposed to being designed as a still camera. For example, instead of featuring still photographer shutter speeds – of 160th, 150th, or whatever – you can choose a shutter angle. In cinema we are used to a 180-degree shutter angle. The white balancing is also much more sophisticated than in the lower-end cameras. You can even choose to set the specific degrees Kelvin that you want. We also like the fact that time code and user bits can be very easily set to time-of-day and free-run; if we have multiple cameras they can all be set at the same time, we can hit START, and we will know when every shot from each camera is taken.”
“Another great feature of the Canon EOS C100 camera is how easy it is to take all of your settings and save them to an SD card that you can then reload into the camera at a later date,” Kauffmann added. “In a school setting, where a lot of different students with their own setting preferences are constantly taking different cameras out, it’s very convenient to be able to upload your own settings and have the camera set-up just the way you like it without having to go through dozens of menu settings.”
The Right Lenses
Lenses for each of the Canon EOS C100 Cinema camera packages that the Film & Television department provides to its students are drawn from its inventory of more than 500 Canon EF-Series models. They include: the EF 20mm f/2.8 USM and EF 35mm f/1.4L USM wide-angle lenses; the EF 50mm f/1.2L USM, EF 85mm f/1.8 USM, and EF 100mm f/2 USM standard and medium telephoto lenses; the EF 17-40mm f/4L USM and EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM ultra-wide zoom lenses; the EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM ultra-wide angle lens; EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM telephoto zoom lens; the EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM telephoto lens; and the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM standard zoom lens.
“Back when we taught filmmaking using film cameras, we always used prime lenses, and that has continued to be the case now that we are shooting digitally,” Merzbacher noted. “In my personal productions, I have also frequently used some of the excellent Canon L-Series zoom lenses. In particular, I’ve shot a lot with the Canon 70-200 EF lens, which has been the workhorse for me over many years.
As both the professional production industry and the BU Film & Television department have experienced during the past decade, the transition from emulsion-based imaging to digital filmmaking has yielded many benefits. Cameras have become lighter, less expensive, and more accessible, film-processing and telecine costs have been eliminated, and digital technologies have greatly simplified editing and distribution. Despite these benefits, however, the department’s professors caution that the fundamentals of filmmaking education still apply.
“Their lower relative cost makes it easier for students to assemble a cast and crew, grab a camera, some lights, and go shoot something,” Kauffmann observed. “It’s also easier to do re-shoots, which wasn’t the case with film.”
“This gear has opened a lot of doors in terms of the sheer number of cameras that we can put out in the field now, as opposed to when we were using film,” Merzbacher stated. “But as a note of caution that I know my colleagues can all relate to, we still spend a lot of time working on getting students to exercise the level of control that will result in great work. That doesn’t happen by just pressing a button. Digital cameras might appear to be easy to use, but you need just as much technical expertise to shoot with digital as you did with film. There’s a full range of challenges necessary to do great motion pictures with these cameras. When you’re using the Canon EOS C100 with all its Cinema settings, you really need a technical understanding to know what that camera is all about and what it does to make great images.”
“The Canon cameras are liberating, and we try to harness that fact into good storytelling,” noted Jan Egleson, Associate Professor of the Practice of Film and Television. “If the tool is easier to master then it means that the basic skill – the craft of storytelling – should come to the fore.”
“Hopefully what all that means is that the students will take the time they’ve gained with digital and put it into the storytelling, art direction, and acting,” Kauffmann elaborated.
“I just graded a graduate thesis project by a young woman who went to China to shoot a profile of a person that refused to give up his home amid Shanghai’s redevelopment,” Poister added. “It was shot on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLR camera, and her storytelling – the beauty of the shots and the intimacy that it helped create between the viewer and the subject – elevated it to a level where the camera really was able to help create a powerful profile. I think that if the same story were shot ten years ago on a similarly priced videotape camera it wouldn’t have worked as well. The advancement of the image quality, the texture, and the ability to engage more with human subjects are among the benefits of these new digital tools, which can improve storytelling, even for a documentary.”
“One more thing we want to mention is that Canon has very generously been providing awards to student filmmakers in our annual Redstone Film Festival,” Egleson concluded. “Equipment awards are a great boon to the filmmakers, and a push for them to continue shooting and making films. We are very grateful to Canon for doing that and we hope we can keep building on that. It’s an important part of what we do.”