SPORTS & ACTION

Shooting immersive 3D VR videos with Canon's revolutionary dual fisheye lens

Discover how outdoor photographer and filmmaker Martin Bissig teamed his EOS R5 with Canon's breakthrough RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens to shoot immersive VR action footage.
A man rides a bicycle in a snowy scene with steep, snow-covered mountains behind, wearing a helmet with a camera rigged to the front.

"The Canon EOS R5 with RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens makes a great way to jump into 3D VR, and it's an easy option for someone inexperienced in VR like me to try it out," says outdoor photographer and filmmaker Martin Bissig. "I already own the camera, and the lens doesn't cost a fortune. It has opened a new field of business for me, and I see a huge potential in it." View Martin's rendered 180° VR showreel on YouTube – and try panning in every direction!

Destination sports such as skiing, ski touring and paragliding are as much about the setting as the physical activity, but a video will tend to do justice to only one of these elements at a time. What if you could experience the action in immersive 3D VR, with the freedom to look around a full 180°?

Mountain biking enthusiast and Canon Ambassador Martin Bissig built his outdoor photography career with the mountainous region of Davos in Switzerland on his doorstep. His startling images of extreme biking terrain and daring riders such as trials cyclist Danny MacAskill have been published in more than 20 countries, for clients including National Geographic and Red Bull. Whether up his local mountains in Switzerland, further afield atop Croatian cliffs or in the wind-carved sandy deserts of Oman, Martin is known for the jaw-dropping scenery in his photos. Both the extreme sports activities and surrounding environment are crucial story components for his clients in the experiences industry, and the challenge for Martin is to bring both these elements to life.

"When I go out on shoots in nature, it's not something you can easily recreate with photos and video, because you miss the 3D look and that sense of being surrounded by the scenery," he says. This has all changed with the revolutionary Canon RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens designed for shooting stereoscopic 180° VR.

"As a professional, I'm always adventurous and curious to try out new technologies, techniques and gear," Martin says. "I don't know of any other lens like this, and Canon's EOS VR System gives me everything I need to shoot VR. With the EOS R5 and the EOS VR Utility application from Canon, this system allows me as a photographer and filmmaker to jump into a new field of work."

For his first production with the dual fisheye lens, teamed with the EOS R5 he uses regularly, Martin shot an immersive stereoscopic 3D 180° VR video for the Davos tourism board to showcase some of the winter activities possible amidst stunning snow-covered mountains, including cycling, snowshoeing, ski touring, skiing, paragliding and sledding.

Two side-by-side aerial fisheye images of snow-covered mountain scenery, with the paraglider's feet visible in the foreground and canopy above.

Filming with the RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens on a compatible camera such as the EOS R5 makes it possible to record two perfectly-aligned left-eye and right-eye views side-by-side onto the camera's sensor. This radically simplifies the process of capturing stereoscopic 3D VR footage, because there is no need to painstakingly align and synchronise separate cameras, match colour response and exposure characteristics, or stitch separate images together.

Powerful and portable

The EOS R5 teamed with the RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens can create high-resolution 3D VR videos with excellent dynamic range and colour reproduction thanks to the capability of the EOS R5's 8K full-frame sensor. This is the kind of video quality previously possible only by using hefty multi-camera rigs with lengthy set-up times – things that are simply not an option when shooting action on the move, on a deadline, across physically demanding terrain.

"I shoot 75% stills to 25% videos, and after two years with the EOS R5 it is still the best camera I have ever used for the work that I do, when it comes to image quality, speed, size and weight," says Martin. "Now having the possibility to attach the VR lens and transform my favourite mirrorless camera into a VR camera, that's amazing!

"I was surprised when I saw how small and compact the lens is, which makes it super easy for me to carry the kit around and put on a gimbal," he adds.

Martin found that as well as being lightweight and portable, the camera and lens both functioned perfectly in the cold, high-altitude conditions and didn't require protective covers or cases. This freed him to experiment with different camera techniques, including handheld, gimbal and helmet mounts. "I didn't use a tripod at all," he says, "because it doesn't fit with my concept of moving with the subject and letting the viewer explore the area."

Generally, while shooting, Martin is also actively taking part – when his subject is on a bike, so is he. "I want the viewer to feel that they are in the scene and on the bike. What better way to do that than to show them what I saw with my own eyes, holding the handlebars and cycling through the snow? That wouldn't have worked with a gimbal, so that's why I mounted the kit onto a specialised helmet."

For activities where he was on foot, such as ski touring, a gimbal provided smooth movement. For paragliding videos, Martin was only able to shoot handheld for safety reasons. "You are able to shoot sports videos with this setup that simply aren't possible with larger rigs," he says. "You cannot get any smaller and lighter than this [professional] setup that I was using.”

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Two people on mountain bikes ride through the snow. The one at the back is wearing a helmet with a camera rigged on the front.

Through trial and error, Martin discovered how far he needed to be from his subject and how much camera movement would be tolerable for viewers of the finished footage without inducing nausea. By sticking to the simple principles he developed, he found that the EOS R5 paired with the RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens made capturing 3D 180° VR easier than ever before.

A man stands against a snowy background and white sky, wearing a helmet with a camera rigged to the front and counterweights on the back.

"When I knew I was going to shoot VR and I wanted to give the viewer the experience of being on the bike, I knew I had to mount the camera and lens at my eye level, so I imported a specialised helmet for that specific bike shot," Martin says. "There is a counterweight on the back to balance the camera and lens. The setup was possible only with this camera and lens – it wouldn't even have been possible with the EOS R5 C, which is fractionally bigger."

Mastering 3D VR movement

"What I like most about the concept of VR for sports is this: when you are moving in a really special environment where action is taking place, the viewer has the freedom to look around 180° and check it out," Martin says. "The athlete or sport itself is not the centre of attention, but the whole of the scene."

It took Martin some trial and error to get the balance right between subject and scenery. "For the 3D effect, I found it worked best with the subject in action being around two metres away, with an attractive view in the background to show the beauty of nature."

Working so close to active subjects while he was also on the move required constant communication, and some experimentation with camera movement. Martin found that limiting the speed of his subject and the degree of camera movement helped distinguish immersive 3D VR videos from those that are nauseating to watch. After all, the camera is on the move, but headset-wearing viewers are stationary.

Limited movement made some of the activities, such as skiing, much harder to capture, and others such as snowshoeing and mountain biking much easier. "I found it works best if I follow the subject smoothly, moving forwards, which is the direction that you would naturally walk. If you move backwards with the subject coming towards you, it doesn't feel natural for the viewer."

Martin also had to resist the urge to pan around the scene. With an effective field of view of around 180°, the camera takes it all in without this. "As a cameraman," Martin says, "you have to fight the temptation to move around with the camera and look at the scenery. That would be a mistake. You should keep the camera as stable as possible and let the viewer decide afterwards where he or she wants to look in the frame. If the camera moves around then so does the footage without the viewer turning their head, making it difficult for them to follow the movements.”

A Canon EOS R5 camera with a Canon RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens positioned on a mossy surface next to fallen autumn leaves.

New horizons: meet the groundbreaking virtual reality lens

Creating high-quality and immersive three-dimensional 180° VR content is easier than ever with the Canon RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens.
A man holds out a gimbal with a camera on the end, filming a woman holding ski poles, against a mountainous snowy background.

The captured field of view of the Canon RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens is approximately 190° (with a final processed output of 180°), so for handheld action videos with the camera mounted on a gimbal it needs to be held away from the body with the handle behind the camera to make sure that the gimbal itself doesn't creep into the shot.

A man in outdoor clothing and helmet with a camera bag strapped to his front holds up a camera with dual fisheye lens.

For shooting videos in bright conditions like the snowy mountains, it is possible to slide an ND filter directly into the built-in rear gelatin filter holder of the RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens to control exposure.

Ready for the headset

Martin usually shoots regular 4K video, but 3D VR with the dual fisheye lens requires the camera's maximum 8K resolution to produce a high resolution 3D VR file with a final output file size of 4K per eye. That's because the inputs from the dual lenses, which replicate the left and right eye views, are simultaneously recorded onto the EOS R5's sensor, side by side.

To get headset-ready, the left- and right-eye circular fisheye images need to be swapped over in position and converted into two flat, square side-by-side 4K images (known as an equirectangular projection, used for VR output) using the Canon EOS VR Utility software. The exported VR file can then be edited using any suitable video editing application. Alternatively, Canon's EOS VR Plugin for Adobe Premiere Pro* can be used instead to simplify this whole process into one step, by automatically converting the original dual fisheye image and importing it directly into Adobe Premiere Pro's media window at the same time. Once the conversion is done, a regular video editing workflow takes over. "I shoot video with the EOS R5 in Canon Log 3 with the BT2020 colour space, plus Canon LUTs profile to convert straight into Rec. 709 standard footage," Martin says. "If you know how to colour grade regular footage from your camera, there's no real difference when colour grading VR footage. No additional knowledge is needed – it's that easy."

Before the final edit, Martin uploaded some of that day's videos to his headset to evaluate which sequences worked best in 3D VR. He found that the kit worked especially well in the smooth paragliding scenes he had shot, where the viewer can look all around at the equipment and down through his legs to the distant landscape beyond for a real first person view (FPV) experience. Fast movement was more challenging. In one sequence when the skier crossed in front of the camera, the EOS R5's 8K selected frame rate of 25fps (PAL) struggled to create smooth subject movement. The RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens can be used with the EOS R5 C, which offers 8K at 30fps, or 60fps (using RAW LT with an external power supply and requiring a different RAW workflow/third-party VR conversion application), but this becomes a larger and less nimble setup, while for Martin it was the portability as much as the quality of the camera and lens that made immersive sports videos possible.

A man and woman stand on mountain bikes in snow with mountains in the background, both looking at the camera. She is wearing a helmet with snow goggles pulled down, and he is wearing a helmet with a camera rigged on the front.

In the past, professional stereoscopic 180° VR capture would have required unwieldy multi-camera rigs. The compact, single-mount design of the RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens, paired with a compatible high-resolution full-frame camera such as the EOS R5, has enabled Martin to create more immersive VR action experiences than ever before.

Two side-by-side fisheye images of a person sledding downhill, with snow-covered mountains in the distance. The filmmaker's handlebars and feet are visible in the foreground.

The RF 5.2mm F2.8L DUAL FISHEYE lens is dust- and splash-resistant, with fluorine coatings to repel water and dirt on the lens surface, so it's ready for the action. Paired with the EOS R5, the lens makes it possible to capture two offset fisheye images, perfectly synchronised and recorded side-by-side, with no additional stitching required.

"For its size, the image quality of the lens with an EOS R5 is amazing," he says. "There was never a point when looking at the footage I wished for more detail, certainly with the current hardware and quality of the VR glasses.

"I was shooting outside in a sunny environment with an aperture around f/13, so I had a depth of field from my feet to infinity, and all the detail was crystal-clear and sharp. But while the quality of detail is important, you are so drawn into the three-dimensional world that you are looking around to experience the whole scene rather than looking at how sharp the details are. It feels so realistic, and you are transported into that scene."

Martin compiled two or three clips from each activity into a final video no longer than two minutes for comfortable viewing. "I now have a showreel that I can share for potential clients to view on a headset. This is the closest you can possibly get to experiencing an area and activity, and that is going to be the future.

"I would say that we are in the early adoption days of VR, and I think this technology has huge potential in the outdoors, tourism and destination industries."

*Adobe and Adobe Premiere are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe in the United States and/or other countries.

Yazar Tim Coleman


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