Consider this before you shoot RAW on a Canon 5D mark III

August 14th, 2014 Jump to Comment Section 75

Shooting RAW on the Canon 5D mark III DSLR is still very popular. You get stunning 14-bit moving images for a fraction of the price of a “real” RAW camera and the advantages of a full-frame sensor that is good in lowlight. But like many other shooters I learned that it’s not always a good idea to use the 5D mark III RAW for a project. Here I’d like to share some points to consider.

I recently wrote an article outlining the latest development on the Magic Lantern RAW hack for the 5D mark III: Shooting RAW on a Canon 5D mark III in 2014 – What you have to know
In this article I mentioned that using the 5D mark III as a RAW camera is not suitable for productions with bigger budgets as the workflow will slow you down and it is not laid out for professional production. I’d like to elaborate on that.

Certainly there are many great features Magic Lantern RAW provides aside from RAW itself like it improves the overall usability of the camera, runs independently on an SD card, gives you more camera information (eg.: battery status), zebras, peaking, etc.
If you’re interested to shoot RAW on a Canon 5D mark III then we have a step-by-step guide for that: LINK

Above the text here’s a little advert I recently shot on the Canon 5D mark III with its RAW functionality.

Planning and pulling off this project as a 2-man crew was fun and also challenging. But I didn’t expect the camera I chose would slow down the production so much. After this project I realised that it could be unwise to choose Magic Lantern RAW for some commercial productions, so I thought I should share the experience since we’ve written a lot about that camera on cinema5D so far.

In summary I think out of the 2 weeks I needed to shoot this project I lost about 4 days to the 5D. In other words I think I would have been 4 days faster with an Arri ALEXA for example. In a production environment booking even a small crew for 4 additional days usually costs more than renting a more expensive camera. This is of course a different situation and decision from project to project, so let me just share some of the points to consider.

What to consider:

  • The 5D mark III was not designed to be a RAW cinema camera. It is a photo camera and its ergonomics will not always work for you.
  • RAW means a lot of data, means more time and storage needed. And working with image sequences…
  • Accurately checking data can mean downloading and transcoding first, which can be time consuming. On-camera playback is limited.
  • We had a card failure on a Lexar 1000x card. It fried.
  • Exposure displayed is not always right.
  • No timecode.
  • Bugs. Camera freezes. Resets settings…
  • complicated RAW workflow

Production notes:

image013Above I mentioned the most important things I ran into during my production and now I’ll go into those in more detail.

IMG_2770The idea of this production was to put the bonsai tree into a stylised environment to convey how many factors are necessary for life to work. For that I shot each transition to the next stage as a RAW sequence and merged them in post. RAW gave me the control over colours that I needed which I pushed to the extremes. For example at no point was the tree actually brown as it is shown at the beginning and also it wasn’t as green as it is at the end.

image015The 5D mark III was not designed to be a RAW cinema camera

A cinema camera’s ergonomics work great because its designers spent years to perfect it. The Arri products are a symbol for that approach and the 5D mark III is just a photo camera that lacks exactly this aspect. In a demanding shooting environment it can in my experience not hold up to the standards and will slow you down in one or another way that you didn’t expect.

image014Accurately checking data can mean downloading and transcoding first

One of the biggest issues for me during this production was to check and evaluate recorded data. I had to check that the transitions were seamless and that everything was 100% there before I went on to build the next stage. Even with the new and updated in-camera playback feature it is not easy to tell how well a shot has turned out.
2So what has to be done is ejecting the card, getting the footage into the editing machine, transcoding (which can take a while) and only then you’re able to use the data in your editing software. This was a hassle to say the least. And when you have to do it 100 times a day then you see that you lose a lot of time.
If checking the data is critical, and the built in preview is not enough, then the 5D mark III RAW will definitely slow you down.

There is a new app that allows you to preview RAW files on your computer directly from the card. The app is called MlRAWviewer and we talk about it in the Tips section here. The app might help you preview files more quickly, but it is still very buggy (tried version 1.1.7 and 1.2.2 which still crashed on my machine).

For many shoots the limited new playback functionality mentioned here might be sufficient, but if you’ve got a client who wants to see the results it might be difficult to use the 5D mark III RAW.

We had a card failure on a Lexar 1000x card.

We’re not sure how it happened. The Lexar cards are usually quite ok and eventually Lexar replaced the card within a week. But when a card fries on the mark III then there’s no way to get it back as on other more secure systems.

Exposure displayed is not always right.

The image displayed on the live-view screen is not correct in terms of exposure. The RAW recorded actually seems darker.

No timecode.

Developers are working on embedding timecode in the RAW footage, but so far there is no usable method to use it. This can make workflows and syncing sound more difficult. An option is to use the sound that is embedded in the new .MLV format (more on that here).

Bugs. Camera freezes. Resets settings…

It happened sometimes during the shoot. The camera freezes and the only way to get it to work again is to remove the battery. This happened more often than we wished for and slows you down. Luckily it usually happened between takes. Unfortunately when the camera had one of these lockups it also reset some settings, including where it saved the files. So then we recorded to the wrong card, the camera froze again, etc. This slowed me down a lot and can be embarassing in front of a client.

There are other bugs each new firmware version brings. Others get resolved.

Complicated RAW workflow

In your considerations about the right camera you shouldn’t forget the complicated RAW workflow required when you use the 5D mark III. I just mention this because some people forget that shooting RAW means a lot more data and work involved. But this is also true for other cameras that shoot in a RAW format. Since the recent updates and new apps to convert RAW files the workflow on the 5D mark III has been made less complicated. You’ll find more details in our 5D mark III RAW guide.

Final Thoughts

The 5D mark III RAW can certainly be a valid tool to create stunning footage, there’s no question about that. If you’re a single operator shooter and if you have a tight budget, if you do an indie production or just want to create something beautiful with limited possibilities, then the 5D mark III can get you far.

But I would not recommend the 5D mark III Magic Lantern RAW hack to professional and commercial productions. If you’re not specifically in need for a very small, full-frame, RAW camera then I’d recommend to choose a different tool.

I hope you could benefit from the information in this post. If you have any questions I’ll answer them in the comments.



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