From the colourful classic cars and faded façades of Havana, through to the bright beaches and sun-bleached houses of Baracoa near the eastern tip of the island of Cuba, and on to Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and beyond, a lively film explores the people, culture and stunning scenery of the cocoa-growing regions of Central and South America.
To realise his vision in La Música del Cacao – The Music of Cocoa – director Xosé Luis Carneiro called on Alfonso Parra as Director of Photography. Alfonso, who hails from Madrid, Spain, has made some 36 narrative drama and documentary feature films and shorts, as well as many TV series and commercials for brands like Renault and Coca-Cola. With a shelf full of awards, Alfonso is also Professor of Digital Cinematography at the International School of Film and Television in Cuba.
Alfonso has used a wide range of Canon Cinema EOS cameras, from the Canon EOS C100 (now succeeded by the Canon EOS C100 Mark II) through to Canon EOS C700, and when it came to choosing equipment for this project he wanted a simple camera for fast, run-and-gun shooting. It had to be compact, yet have a large sensor to ensure excellent low-light performance and to allow a cinematic-style shallow depth of field. It had to produce 4K files in a professional-quality format, with a wide dynamic range to capture highlights and shadows in challenging natural light conditions.
The Canon XF705 4K UHD camcorder more than fit the bill, thanks to its large 1.0-inch CMOS image sensor and 10-bit output. With a wide-angle L-series lens with 15x optical zoom, offering a focal length equivalent to 25.5-382.5mm, it has outstanding optics, including a nine-blade iris to create smooth out-of-focus areas while reducing flare.
"We were shooting for up to 12 hours a day, so thankful the camera is light," says Alfonso. "The buttons are intuitive to operate and well placed, and I liked the operation of the zoom and other lens rings." The traditional triple control rings allowed Alfonso to work in the style he is used to, while five-axis Optical Image Stabilization helped keep hand-held shots steady.
Here, Alfonso outlines what made the Canon XF705 the right camera choice for his documentary and how it enhances the craft of filmmaking.
Alfonso strives to bring a filmic aesthetic to his footage and says the Canon XF705's 1.0-Type CMOS sensor delivers this natural feel. "The sensor is the heart of the camera, and an increase in size means a greater number of pixels, which improves resolution and texture for a look that's more organic and natural, without the look of a typical digital camera," he says.
"I see three aspects of improvement in colour over previous cameras of this type: the colour depth is 10-bits, the colour sampling is 4:2:2, and you can use a Rec. 2020 colour space. All of these factors make colours more natural, with subtler tonal variations and a more organic look
The Canon XF705's large sensor means an increase in pixel size and an improvement in sensitivity – something Alfonso needed, especially when shooting in low light. "A larger sensor captures more photons, which reduces noise," he says. "It increases the latitude that the camera can capture, by being able to see more in the shadows with less noise.
"I have always liked how Canon treats noise, as it has a more analogue look rather than a garish, artificial 'digital' look. To make a documentary like this without artificial light, the sensitivity of the camera is extremely important. I have shot scenes at up to 12dB gain without the noise being a nuisance. You can see detail in the shadow areas even when the exposure is set for highlights. The Canon XF705's low noise level allows shadows to have consistency, depth and texture."
The Canon XF705 is the first professional camcorder to incorporate the latest XF-HEVC H.265 codec, which improves the efficiency of recording, especially in 4K. This supports 4K 60p recording with stunning quality and colours, as well as the option to slow the footage down. It's in broadcast-ready MXF format with four times the efficiency of MPEG-2.
"The greatest benefit of the camera is 4K UHD at 10-bits, 4:2:2 with the Rec. 2020 colour space and Canon Log 3 gamma curve," says Alfonso. "In order to record all this information, Canon has the HEVC codec, which records at up to 160Mbps onto SD cards. This is amazing, and even more so after seeing the results on a big screen in grading. There are fewer compression artefacts than with the conventional H.264 XF-AVC, and the H.265 takes up much less space too."
For natural-looking images, the Canon XF705 offers Wide DR Gamma for a wide dynamic range, smooth tones and virtually no blown-out highlights. For HDR shooting there are Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) and Perceptual Quantization (PQ) HDR formats. But for maximum dynamic range, the Canon XF705 has Canon Log 3, which Alfonso used extensively.
The logarithmic curve can provide up to 12-stops of dynamic range, which gives filmmakers a lot of flexibility. "Being a logarithmic curve, it allows capture of a greater range of brightness than even the HLG or PQ curve," says Alfonso. "In general use it captures about five stops above the medium grey and another five more or less below the grey, although in the shadows, the curve allows you to see up to six stops."
Canon's Dual Pixel CMOS AF system gives precise and reliable focus tracking and face detection, plus easy focus point selection enabled by the 4-inch touchscreen LCD monitor. There's also Face Detection AF, and manual focusing is easy thanks to an on-screen Focus Guide.
Alfonso may have been brought up on all-manual focusing but says he is a convert to the Canon technology. "I use autofocus a lot of the time, including tracking, which is very easy to do with the camera's touchscreen. You can touch the subject area and the system follows it with very high precision. This proves vital for hand-held camera tracking."
The Canon XF705 offers the capacity to stream straight from camera, thanks to its wired and wireless connectivity, which enables footage to be transmitted via FTP for editing or live streaming. While shooting La Música del Cacao, Alfonso didn't have the need to live stream, as he was recording footage for the documentary onto cards on location, but it's a feature he is keen to explore more.
Background transfer of video files via FTP links is also possible from the Canon XF705, while the camera can be accessed and controlled remotely from a web browser on a laptop or a compatible smart device. It makes the Canon XF705 a thoroughly modern camcorder that can be used for everything from broadcasting to documentary filmmaking, at the very highest level.
A new firmware update takes the Canon XF705 further, expanding the camera's capabilities. New features include support for recording 4K UHD in XF-AVC for those whose workflow does not accommodate XF-HEVC, as well as support for MP4 recording and HDR at high frame rates, up to 100p (PAL) or 120p (NTSC). Also, 50i is also now supported in Full HD, which is ideal for broadcast environments.
Other new functionality includes 720/60P HD-SDI 4:2:2 output, Browser remote via Ethernet support, and improved Advanced Zoom Quality. 1ch/3ch or 2ch/4ch combination is now possible with the audio dial, as well as controlling Channel 3 by reassigning Channel 2 control via the menu.