ARTICLE

Tracking Arctic cod from sea to plate with the Canon EOS C500 Mark II

Roberto Palozzi, lit by a spotlight, films in the twilight inside a huge wooden frame covered in air-drying fish.
When the coronavirus pandemic forced him to delay his plans to shoot in Antarctica, Italian documentary filmmaker Roberto Palozzi travelled to northern Norway instead – in freezing February conditions – to track the journey of one of Italy's favourite foods: dried cod. He filmed his adventure using the Canon EOS C500 Mark II.

From the icy waters of the Lofoten Islands in the Norwegian Sea to fine dining restaurants in Italy, dried cod makes a formidable journey. It's a journey that Italian scientist, documentary maker and television presenter Roberto Palozzi brought to the screen, tackling snowstorms and freezing temperatures deep inside the Arctic Circle in the process.

After beginning his career as a photographer and writer for an Italian photography magazine, Roberto found himself gravitating towards moving images, inspired by his love of David Attenborough documentaries. When he had a chance to travel to Antarctica 15 years ago to study seals for his PhD in evolutionary biology and animal ecology, he took a video camera with him – and kickstarted his career in filmmaking.

Roberto now runs video production company Erebus Productions and works on programmes for Italian television channels, fusing his background in science with his love of the natural world. With his plans to shoot a major production in Antarctica this year postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, Roberto started looking for other stories closer to home.

"I needed to test a camera that I could use in Antarctica next year," Roberto says. "I needed a camera with very high cinematic quality that I could use in harsh environments. I came back with the feeling that there is currently no better camera for documentary makers than the Canon EOS C500 Mark II."

Here Roberto shares how the Full Frame Cinema EOS camera helped him tell the story of cod fishing communities in northern Norway's remote Lofoten Islands archipelago.

A rugged adventure partner

Some 85% of the stockfish – unsalted, dried fish, often cod – from the Lofoten Islands makes its way to Italy, where it is an enduringly popular dish. Roberto wanted to show the origins of this food, tracing the journey from sea to plate.

Shooting in the depths of the Arctic winter in February, he and his team faced extreme conditions, from freezing temperatures to limited daylight hours. Roberto needed a camera that would stand up to the challenges posed by the hostile environment.

"I love the images that come out from the Canon EOS C500 Mark II, but this didn't surprise me," he says. "I was sure the image would be fantastic – it's 5.9K, Full Frame, 60p RAW. My doubts were not about the quality of the image, but whether the camera was tough enough for shooting action documentaries in harsh environments.

Roberto Palozzi kneels by an EOS C500 Mark II on a tripod in a snowstorm.
Weather conditions during the shoot were difficult, with frequent heavy rain and snow. For Roberto, it was crucial that his camera could continue to perform in the harshest environments.
A fishing boat moored next to a row of wooden buildings in a snowstorm.
The filmmakers also had to contend with limited hours of daylight, and poor light even then – but the EOS C500 Mark II proved equal to the challenge.
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"We used this camera for a week in heavy snow, rain, temperatures of -7°C, with ice everywhere, from sunrise to sunset. It's like having a racing car with Formula 1 performance but with the driveability and reliability of a city car. It's a camera for making cinematic films, but you can put it under pressure. This camera has been wet and frozen yet it worked perfectly – and in the end, the results were stunning.

The ergonomics of the Canon EOS C500 Mark II also impressed Roberto, which he says makes the camera ideal for his field of action and wildlife documentaries. "The Cinema EOS Series has a modularity that is simply fantastic and, in the EOS C500 Mark II, the modularity has reached a level that was unimaginable a few years ago.

"I used the Canon EOS C300 [now succeeded by the EOS C300 Mark III] for seven years and I was really in love with that camera. I doubted whether the EOS C500 Mark II would give me the same comfort in my hand. Obviously, the EOS C500 Mark II is a bit bigger and heavier, but I could hold it all day long, for 12 hours."

Roberto Palozzi with an EOS C500 Mark II and EOS C200 on tripods inside a huge wooden frame covered in fish.
Roberto filmed the fish drying in the open air in huge numbers on vast timber frames larger than the buildings in which people live and work.

A 5-axis internal stabilization system

A key sequence in the fishing story involved filming fishermen returning to a small village dock at night, when it was almost completely dark outside. The boxes of freshly-caught cod are passed from the boats directly into a small factory, where the fish are cleaned, cut and packaged up on ice for sale. Capturing this process involved following the fish from the darkness into the neon-lit factory, at speed.

A drone hoding a Canon EOS C500 Mark II hovers over a bend in a mountain road.

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"It was a very challenging situation for the camera," says Roberto, who was using the EOS C500 Mark II with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens. "This is the king of portrait lenses, which is not usually much loved for video. But for 85% of the time in that situation, I used that lens. I literally ran back and forth from the boats to the factory. I followed the same fish from the boat to the final box. I didn't use a lens with [optical] stabilization, so the camera's internal stabilization made all the difference."

The Canon EOS C500 Mark II is the first Cinema EOS camera to incorporate Electronic Image Stabilization (E-IS) in the camera body. The 5-axis camera shake correction system can also be employed when using lenses with no electronic lens communication, by manually inputting the focal length.

The camera's stunning sensor, meanwhile, meant that even under demanding lighting conditions, Roberto used no more than ISO2000, shooting at f/1.8 and f/2.0 rather than pushing the lens to its limit of f/1.2. "I could feel the effectiveness of the Full Frame sensor in that situation," he says. "Full Frame is a different look from Super 35mm. With the EOS C500 Mark II, not only do we have Full Frame, but the output is beautiful. At least to my eyes, it's better than any other that I've seen in my career."

Roberto Palozzi films with an EOS C500 Mark II on a tripod looking out over a frozen landscape.
Roberto was delighted with the Canon EOS C500 Mark II's versatility, resilience and ease of use in the most challenging of conditions.
A fishing boat on the glistening water at dusk, with mountains silhouetted behind.
"It's fundamental to continue to use manual focus in our job," says Roberto, "but there are some situations in which a very good autofocus, like the one we have now on the Canon EOS C500 Mark II and the Canon EOS C300 Mark III, gives you something more."

Autofocus and colour science to rely on

When shooting moving boats at sea, Roberto put the camera's Dual Pixel CMOS AF to the test. "We were on the coast filming the fishing boats coming back from open sea heading into dock, following them coming towards us. The focus obviously changed every second. I'm used to using manual focus, but for this the autofocus was fantastic.

"We were using a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens [now succeeded by the EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM], so a very long lens. We filmed the boats from when they appeared small until we could see the faces of the fishermen inside the boats, and the camera never lost the focus, even while it was snowing heavily. The autofocus is a fantastic tool that you can use to get much better results."

For his demanding shoot, Roberto packed a diverse kitbag of L-series lenses covering a wide focal range. With a preference for zooms, for the versatility they offer him in the field, his kitbag included a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens, a Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM lens and a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens, as well as a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens.

Roberto Palozzi films low to the snowy ground inside a huge wooden frame covered in air-drying fish.
Roberto has used Canon EOS C300 series cameras for seven years and loves them – but even though the Canon EOS C500 Mark II is "a bit bigger and heavier, I could hold it all day long, for 12 hours," he says.
Roberto Palozzi filming with a Canon EOS C500 Mark II, with air-drying fish in the background.
The Canon EOS C500 Mark II is the first camera in the Cinema EOS range with the ability to record 5.9K Cinema RAW Light on CFexpress cards. This meant Roberto could leave much of his cumbersome extra gear at home without compromising his workflow.

The team's B-camera was a Canon EOS C200, making it possible to shoot Cinema RAW Light across the two cameras. While final delivery was in HD for broadcast, Roberto filmed 50-50 in 5.9K and 4K and maintained editing in a 4K timeline throughout the project. Having found the 5.9K files easy to edit from the EOS C500 Mark II, he's settled on a high quality, high resolution workflow.

"I will always shoot only in Cinema RAW Light now – I'm not going back," he says. "It gives you other possibilities. I don't want to use Cinema RAW Light in order to be approximate in my filming because I can adjust everything in post-production. That's not a good attitude for filming. Cinema RAW Light is something special, so I have to think how to use it when I film so I can make improvements in post."

From the vast ice shelves through to thousands of rows of air-drying fish, the Lofoten Islands documentary captured the wilds of this remote part of the world with stunning clarity. "What the Canon EOS C500 Mark II has more than any other camera in the world is the ease of getting this result," says Roberto. "You have a fantastic cinematographic result but in a very easy way. You can open the box, put the card in and go and shoot.

"For those of us making action and wildlife documentaries, it is simply amazing to have a very small camera with everything you need for that kind of shooting. There is currently no better camera for documentary makers."

Yazar Lucy Fulford


Roberto Palozzi’s kitbag

The key kit pros use to make their documentary films

Roberto Palozzi with an EOS C500 Mark II and EOS C200 on tripods in a snowy landscape.

Video cameras

Canon EOS C500 Mark II

With a 5.9K Full Frame sensor packed into a newly developed, compact and reliable Cinema EOS body, this camera provides new inspiration and great flexibility for all cinematographers. "There is currently no better camera for documentary makers," says Roberto.

Lenses

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