ARTICLE

Nicolai Brix reveals a filmmaker’s first work with the Canon EOS R system

Filmmaker Nicolai Brix tried out the Canon EOS R system to document the creative journey of Danish fabric designer Susanne Nielsen. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens. © Paul Hackett

"The drive for me is stories. I can’t just do something, I need to tell stories," says Nicolai Brix.
He's speaking on the set of a short film he has just shot in a large, old warehouse by the dock in his home city Odense, Denmark. The film follows Susanne Nielsen, a Danish graphic designer who specialises in textile prints, working on new fabric designs. It focuses on her creative approach to developing new trends and styles while having fun, being herself and living her values.

Nicolai is visibly relieved as he sits down in front of the set being slowly dismantled by the set designer. It’s been a long day’s shoot, and a special shoot: Canon invited him to be the first filmmaker to try out the full-frame mirrorless EOS R system, and Nicolai admits that he felt nervous at the start of the day.

"Of course I felt the pressure," says the experienced videographer, who counts BMW, Maersk, the BBC and Warner Bros among his clients.

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Ordinarily, Nicolai works with the Canon Cinema EOS lineup, but for this occasion he shot the personal project using only the EOS R body, in combination with the RF 50mm f/1.2L USM and RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lenses. He also used his existing Canon L-series lenses, which are all compatible with the EOS R system using its Control Ring Mount Adapter EF-EOS R EF mount adaptor.

"It’s a small camera, but that actually gave me the opportunity to shoot some new angles. It changed my vision in a good way," says Nicolai excitedly. As a storyteller, this is what matters to him – the ability to express himself, to get a message across.

The 40-year-old Canon Ambassador draws on a colourful past of various jobs that have all in some way been about communicating to an audience. As a 17-year-old, Nicolai began an apprenticeship as a forester on the Danish island of Bornholm, where part of his job was to teach visiting school classes about the nature around them. Later, after finishing his military service, he became a sergeant in charge of training new recruits. But he always dreamt of being a photographer, and turned that dream into reality by starting as a freelancer. He went on to become a staff photographer on Politiken, a leading Danish newspaper.

At Politiken, Nicolai was one of the first to volunteer when the newspaper started producing online video content. He credits his early adoption of video as one of the reasons he has come out unscathed from a tough decade in the newspaper industry, where many stills photographers have had to find new career paths. Now, Nicolai runs the production company B-Visuals and has a mix of commercial and editorial clients.

Drawing on his skills as a storyteller, photographer and filmmaker, Nicolai talks about his latest personal project and first experiences with the Canon EOS R system.

What did video give you that stills didn’t?

"I found video more fun to do because I could tell whole stories, and that’s what drives me. The general skills to spot a story, do the research and choose how to present it – that’s a thing you do a lot when you’re a photojournalist, and I’ve been able to use that to my advantage.

"The video industry is a booming business, but in some cases the growing demand for video content means that as long as it’s moving images, it’s considered good enough. It’s a big challenge to get the clients to understand how important it is to work with your message, too."

What were your first thoughts when you tried the Canon EOS R system?

"When Canon contacted me about the EOS R system I was kind of surprised, because I maybe expected mirrorless, but I didn’t expect a whole new system, with lenses and adaptors. Having the Canon Control Ring Mount Adapter EF-EOS R adaptor means that I can use my whole system of Canon EF lenses on the new body. And the adaptor has a ring so you can program a function onto your old EF lenses, just like you can with the new Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM and Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lenses.

"I programmed it for my aperture, so within reach of my thumb I was able to adjust autofocus, manual focus, the focus ring and the aperture – and that’s a completely new way to operate. It meant I was able to change my settings really quickly. And if you use an old EF lens without stabilisation, you get the EOS R’s digital image stabilisation, and that’s a huge advantage – the camera actually improves my existing lenses."

In a large, deserted warehouse, with wooden walkways at one side and directly above, a woman works at a cluttered table in the middle distance in front of a vertical board filled with pictures.
The shoot took place in a large warehouse, with the EOS R system’s leading low-light performance resulting in cleaner footage than Nicolai expected. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens. © Nicolai Brix

What was it like working with such a small body?

"The EOS R is a small camera if you compare it to a DSLR, but the grip is actually really, really good. I haven’t had a body where my hand just fitted like this for a long time, so the camera is easy to handle despite its small size. Another important thing is the layout. The new multi-function bar enables you to work faster because you can assign any function to it. I put the ISO on the multi-function bar and it meant that I was able to use the ring on the lens to adjust my aperture, and then use my thumb on the grip to adjust my ISO. It means I’m not held back by my camera, and that’s especially important on an assignment like this, when I’m filming someone who is doing her work."

How did you come up with the story for the film?

"It’s a short commercial film about a graphic designer, Susanne Nielsen, who makes textile prints for different fashion houses around the world. When I try to find a story about a person, I always try to dig deeper, so I interviewed Susanne for three or four hours the first time we met. I found out that her most important tool when preparing and presenting work to her clients is a moodboard, so my idea was to have her create a giant moodboard about herself. In the end, when you see the finished board, it reveals a message."

A view over Nicolai Brix’s right shoulder as he looks at the screen on the back of a Canon EOS R, with his right thumb on the controls. The same image also appears on a larger additional screen attached to the camera. In the background is a cluttered craft table, with Susanne Nielsen standing behind it.
Nicolai found it invaluable that the full-frame mirrorless Canon EOS R is capable of capturing 10-bit Canon Log images as well as 4K video footage. This shot was taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens. © Paul Hackett

How was the Canon EOS R rigged during the shoot?

"I made a very simple rig. I attached a recorder to a baseplate with a simple bracket and I put a quick-lock on the camera, so I could take it off the rig to shoot stills easily. I shot 90% of the film using a monopod, so I could get this handheld feel but still have stability. It was an easy and efficient way to work."

What was the biggest challenge on the shoot?

"We chose to shoot the film in a big, old warehouse, where I had hoped lots of natural light would flood this big space, but getting it to look natural was a challenge. We solved the problem using a combination of lighting and camera technique. We had two big lights behind diffusers acting like our natural sun, and I used a high ISO if I had to use a smaller aperture. I used everything between ISO100 and 10000, and it looks clean compared to what you could expect with such high ISO."

A view from almost directly above Susanne Nielsen, looking down on her craft table as she works at it, standing to the left. The table is filled with craft and drawing materials, sketches, colourful ribbons and objects.
With built-in image stabilisation and highly effective focus tracking, the EOS R made it easy to get unusual angles. “I was able to touch the screen to mark Susanne, who was working down below, and even if I walked past the wooden beams on the walkway in front of me, the tracking picked her up again," says Nicolai. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens. © Nicolai Brix

One of the shots was taken from above. How did you do that?

"We were able to get on to an elevated walkway under the rafters to get a top-down view, but the space was cramped up there and I had to shoot handheld. The in-body stabilisation of the Canon EOS R really helped me there. I can see that especially when I use longer lenses, it helps me to keep them still. That aerial shot is my favourite shot from the whole day – it looks so good, and the camera helped me to get that.

"Another thing I noticed while shooting from above was how useful the focus tracking function is. I was able to touch the screen to mark Susanne, who was working down below, and even if I walked past the wooden beams on the walkway in front of me, the tracking picked her up again."

A filmmaker’s right-hand index finger taps the screen on the back of a Canon EOS R; the image of Susanne Nielsen working at her craft table is seen also on a larger additional monitor attached to the left-hand side.
In addition to offering Dual Pixel CMOS AF, the Canon EOS R gives filmmakers the ability to pull focus on the screen with exceptional ease. “I’d say Dual Pixel autofocus is maybe one of the single most important things to have changed the way I’m working," says Nicolai. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens. © Paul Hackett

So you weren’t afraid to use autofocus on an assignment?

"I started to use the Dual Pixel autofocus on my other cinema cameras, and to have the same autofocus system on a small body like the Canon EOS R is such a help.

“I think 90% of the shots for this project were shot with autofocus. It’s just amazing how you can pull the focus on the touchscreen – it’s so smooth and you can adjust the speeds. I’d say Dual Pixel autofocus is one of the single most important things to have changed the way I’m working."

A Canon EOS R viewed from the front left as Nicolai Brix stands behind it changing its lens. He is holding the lensless camera steady on its stand with his left hand while he holds a lens in his right.
Changing lenses on a shoot with the full-frame Canon EOS R is no problem – unlike on other mirrorless cameras, the sensor is automatically protected when you switch the camera off and remove the lens. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens. © Paul Hackett

What was your impression of the RF 50mm f/1.2L USM and RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lenses?

"I was told that the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens would be special and I looked forward to trying it. And I have to say, I haven’t seen an f/1.2 lens perform like that in my whole career. It’s a very fast lens, and the quality and design is beautiful. At first I wanted to only use that lens because, as a photographer, I love the shallow depth of field.

However, when we shot from up above on the walkway, I used the Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens. That lens is so sharp and the way it compressed the image was a real eye-opener. So in the beginning I tended to use the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM but in the end I shot a lot with the Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM, too. I think that will be a great daily working lens."

How does the quality of the footage hold up, from a professional’s perspective?

"Shooting with Canon Log, you get really beautiful 10-bit files. The skin tones are just phenomenal. You can’t always get the settings right for every single shot, and it’s in the editing stage that you realise just how much each file can hold, and how much you can push them to get what you want. I shot some test samples and tried to break them apart in a colour grading suite, and we had to push it a lot before anything happened.

"And having seen the final film graded, I know that I’d have no qualms using the EOS R as a B-camera – or even an A-camera, on assignments where I’m travelling or want to be discreet."

A close-up view from behind and to the right of a Canon EOS R, with the photographer’s right hand at its side.
The ground-breaking new EOS R system is part of the EOS family, so offers all the benefits of the familiar EOS handling and menu systems. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens. © Paul Hackett

Why would a professional videographer use a full-frame mirrorless system?

"I normally work with the Canon Cinema EOS lineup, but I really do see a purpose for the EOS R system because it’s smaller and it can do stills as well as video. Sometimes, I have assignments where I have to travel or just work really fast, and the Canon EOS R would be perfect because it has the video capabilities I need, such as the 10-bit C-Log that I don’t have on my DSLRs.

"I want the best quality, so I won’t work with a camera that can’t shoot 10-bit and do Canon Log, because I need the dynamic range it gives me. The Canon EOS R is a future-proof camera because 4K is getting more and more wanted by clients, so it will definitely be a useful system for me."

What would you like to do next with the EOS R system?

"I already have a story lined up about some really cool-looking custom motorbike builders. The camera would help me shoot the story because it’s small and easy to work with. I could mount it on a small gimbal and ride with the bikers and get the shots in motion, where working with a bigger camera would be very difficult. Even driving 80-100 kilometres per hour I’d still get sharp shots, I’m sure of it."



Nicolai Brix’s five tips for filming with the EOS R system


  1. "Make use of the Live View screen for stills. I’m not very tall, and with the tilting screen I can raise the camera far above and still see what I’ve got in the frame, and use the touchscreen to focus."
  2. "Use the focus tracking. This is a feature that I’ve really missed on other cinema cameras. Tracking focus on the screen with your finger is super easy, and it works."
  3. "When you’re using an external recorder, make sure you don’t build too much onto it. If you do, you’ll leave the camera locked in and lose the flexibility of being able to use it for both video and stills."
  4. "Take time to program your camera. Everything can be customised on the Canon EOS R – I programmed the button next to the shutter to change between Live View and the electronic viewfinder. I also programmed white balance onto the exposure button on the back of the camera."
  5. "One big problem with other mirrorless cameras is that the shutter isn’t closed when you change lenses. With the Canon EOS R, it does close, as long as you remember to switch off the camera before changing lenses. This makes a big difference on location, because it helps prevent getting dust and dirt into the system."

Test and try the full-frame mirrorless Canon EOS R system at photokina in Cologne, Germany, from 26 to 29 September.

A Canon EOS R, along with various lenses and accessories laid out on a table-top.
In addition to a new range of superlative EOS R lenses, the compact Canon EOS R is compatible with all EF and EF-S lenses thanks to its easy-to-use adaptors. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens. © Paul Hackett

Автор Kathrine Anker


Nicolai Brix’s kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

Nicolai Brix’s kitbag

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