How filming full-frame influences cinematography

Filmmaker Juan Luis Cabellos shares how the Canon EOS C500 Mark II's full-frame sensor enables him to create beautiful cinematic imagery, direct the viewer's attention and tell his stories.
A man holding an EOS C500 Mark II on a gimbal, filming in a forest.

"Working with a full-frame camera gives you the chance to work with a narrower depth of field, and that is because of the size of the sensor itself," says Juan Luis Cabellos. "To get the same angle of view as Super 35mm with full-frame cameras, you need to work with longer lenses and consequently less depth of field. With this option, you can be much more precise about what you want to get in focus." © Juan Luis Cabellos

The full-frame look is a favourite of many cinematographers – but it can impact the creative vision itself. "One of the coolest things about using a full-frame sensor is that it subtly modifies the way we visually tell stories," says Spanish DoP Juan Luis Cabellos AEC.

Juan Luis has worked his way up in the industry, starting as a loader working on commercials and music videos, then assistant camera on documentaries and into television. He remains inspired by his earlier work in documentary, and says "Travelling around the world was a pretty incredible experience and influenced how I understand light." Today Juan Luis is a proud member of the Spanish Society of Cinematographers (AEC) and shoots commercials and TV series.

His latest production, an Amazon Original series called El Desafio ETA, showcases the struggle between the Spanish police and the Basque separatist group ETA. On such high-end productions, there's no space to make mistakes, leading Juan Luis to make careful choices about the equipment he uses. "When something new is released, I look for its weak points, as I'm always trying to get the best image," he says.

When he first used the Canon EOS C500 Mark II, three things stood out immediately: "the full-frame look, the Cinema RAW Light files and the Sumire Prime lenses." With its 5.9K full-frame sensor, the ability to record Cinema RAW Light at 12-bit or XF-AVC 4:2:2 at 10-bit, and compatibility with both EF and PL mount lenses, it's a formidable filmmaking partner.

Drawing on his experiences shooting with the EOS C500 Mark II, Juan Luis explains the creative as well as practical benefits of shooting full-frame.

Juan Luis Cabellos filming an interior.

Pairing the Canon EOS C500 Mark II with Sumire Prime lenses elevated his visual output, says Juan Luis. "For me, the most important thing is the warmth and the skin tone resolution. Movies are 90% about faces, so the lenses you are working with are very important. All cameras today have a very high level of technology in capturing images, but the lenses make the difference." © Juan Luis Cabellos

A Canon EOS C500 Mark II cinema camera.

The Canon EOS C500 Mark II features an interchangeable lens mount, which can be changed from EF to PL mount, allowing the use of a wide range of lenses on the market, including Canon's Sumire Prime range, known for their soft rendering of skin tones.

Unprecedented image quality

Full-frame sensors have long been a mainstay of stills cameras, but have only relatively recently arrived in cinema cameras, setting new standards for image quality. Shooting at up to 5.9K with internal recording, the Canon EOS C500 Mark II can deliver footage rich in detail.

"The first thing I would emphasise is the image quality," says Juan Luis. "This camera offers interesting colours full of nuance, a wide dynamic range with good performance in both high and low light and an excellent signal-to-noise ratio. I love the way Canon understands the quality of the image in all aspects, not only the resolution, because of course here we are in 5.9K, which is gorgeous, but you also have quality in the pixels. That makes a difference for me."

The ability to capture at 5.9K makes it possible to output oversampled 4K footage to deliver a very sharp result, as well as flexibility to crop in on the frame and stabilise shots in post. Shooting at 12-bit also gives smoother gradients and more headroom for manipulation in post than 10-bit. "This factor definitely places the EOS C500 Mark II on a higher level than any other camera in its range," says Juan Luis.

In addition to the quality of the files, he also enjoys the camera's size and handling. "I like to work with cameras that make my life easy," he laughs. "At an operational level the camera couldn't be easier. It's ergonomic, it's comfortable to use, and it has a simple interface. You can customise the functions of many assignable buttons, and the exposure and focusing tools are easy and standardised."

Internal ND filters allow for exposure to be adjusted without drastic adjustments to light, while the camera's compact size makes it possible to use it across a range of shooting scenarios, from small spaces like cars or lifts through to mounting on drones.

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Juan Luis Cabellos directs a cinematographer filming a woman lying on a bed looking at her mobile phone, with other crew members on set.

On a busy set, compact size and light weight help make a camera easy to use. But much more important is the creative flexibility that a full-frame sensor gives you. © Juan Luis Cabellos

Juan Luis Cabellos filming on set with a cinema camera suspended in a filming rig.

"I strongly believe that the mood of the film must be resolved on set, but having a good capacity in post makes easier to get exactly what you want," says Juan Luis. "Shooting in Cinema RAW Light means it's easier to get nuance in the colours. RAW files give me confidence that the final colour grade will be much more precise and interesting." © Juan Luis Cabellos

New creative possibilities from a change of perspective

Full-frame goes beyond such technical considerations, however, to have a notable impact on storytelling itself, says Juan Luis. "There is an interesting change of perspective because full-frame cameras require the use of lenses with a higher focal length for viewing angles equivalent to Super 35mm. When working with lenses with a higher focal length, the depth of field can be reduced to really narrow edges."

This allows cinematographers to direct the viewer's attention in a more precise way, Juan Luis explains, and also emphasise a three-dimensional feeling because both the foreground and the background appear more out of focus relative to the subject.

"Often the most important thing for a film or TV series is what happens between the characters, so the background is irrelevant," says Juan Luis. "Working with full-frame cameras, it's very easy to blur the background so the audience can't be distracted. It's not just emphasising the story, it's really enhancing the storytelling process."

It's something Juan Luis found when using the EOS C500 Mark II to shoot a Spanish commercial telling the story of a girl whose grandmother passes away. "In my first meeting with the director we agreed we needed to be focused and close to the characters," he says. "The most relevant thing was how they coped with that sad situation, so the backgrounds are pretty much blurred all the time in order to get the viewers' attention on the actors.

"Full-frame helped me to do that easier than a Super 35mm sensor. I think with both systems, Super 35mm or full-frame, it should depend on the script. I'm convinced that the cinema techniques should be always at the service of the story."

On a full-frame cinema camera like the EOS C500 Mark II, the larger sensor utilises the entire image area of full-frame lenses, offering a change of perspective with a wider field of view compared to the same lenses mounted on cameras with Super 35mm sensors, which crop the image. While this requires longer focal length lenses for tighter crops on full-frame cameras, the trade-off is more than outweighed when using wide-angles, where moderate wide-angle lenses provide their true focal length without a crop factor, in effect turning into dramatic ultra wide lenses.

With interchangeable EF and PL lens mounts, the Canon EOS C500 Mark II can use a range of lenses. Juan Luis, however, has his own favourites. "Sumire Prime lenses have been a great discovery," he says. "They are both warm and soft, with very controlled contrast.

Filmmaker Ben Sherlock with the Canon EOS C500 Mark II.

Comparing two cinematic powerhouses

Documentary filmmaker Ben Sherlock explores what the Super 35mm EOS C300 Mark III and the full-frame EOS C500 Mark II offer in the field.

"In drama or advertising, one of the most important things is to take care of the close-ups. When people look at an image, they are looking at the faces, and our job is to make those faces interesting for the audience. Sumire Primes make that job easy, because they show the skin tones and textures so well."

Juan Luis also loves the way Sumire Prime lenses create elegant circular light flares. "The bokeh, in the background, blurs lights into a circle," he says. "Because the Sumire Primes have 11 blades, you don't see a geometric shape – lights in the background are beautiful circles. Everybody is looking for the proper personality for the job. The Sumire Primes have their own personality and I think that's a very nice thing."

Filmmaker Juan Luis Cabellos filming outdoors with a camera mounted on a tripod.

"The full-frame look basically means that you can easily blur what you need to in order to control viewers' attention," says Juan Luis. "We can direct the viewer's attention in a more precise way to those elements or characters that they are investing in." © Juan Luis Cabellos

The Canon EOS C500 Mark II cinema camera on a rail rig.

The larger full-frame sensor on the Canon EOS C500 Mark II offers a wide dynamic range and high performance across low and bright light. The larger sensor also delivers a more pronounced shallow depth of field that allows filmmakers to direct the viewer's attention in a very precise way.

Flexibility in post

Filming full-frame means taking advantage of the larger sensor to utilise the entire field of view of full-frame lenses, and shooting at 12-bit enables you to capture greater dynamic range and more tonal detail, so it makes sense to choose a recording format that will also record as much information as possible. When shooting on the EOS C500 Mark II, Juan Luis chose Canon's efficient Cinema RAW Light format, giving him maximum flexibility in post. Offering all the benefits of RAW processing, such as detail in the highlights and shadows, but with smaller files, Cinema RAW Light is a very practical choice.

While Juan Luis always tries to capture the look or feeling of his work on-set, he appreciates having options later when editing. "Working with Cinema RAW Light files allows a great freedom of action, since the work that can be done in post-production is much greater than working with a processed codec," he says. "It allows for more precise and nuanced interventions on colour grading, and there is a bigger margin for error.

"The quality of the file is more important to me than the resolution. In this case, we have the best of both worlds – a high resolution and a very good codec. The Cinema RAW Light file at 12-bit makes a real difference. Smaller codecs run out of options.

"If you're looking for beautiful colour and skin tones, great dynamic range and solid ergonomics, then the Canon EOS C500 Mark II is the camera for your production," Juan Luis concludes. "And, of course, the Sumire Primes are the perfect combination to create beautiful images."

Lucy Fulford

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