Ski Film Technology: Shooting with HDSLR

Warren Miller Entertainment, Level 1, and Dendrite Studios discuss how this technology has changed their shooting style.
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The opening sequence in Dendrite Studios trailer for “Out of the Shadows” is stunningly clear and captivating. The film introduces us to a group of skiers who have been “in the shadows” too long. Using a high-definition single lens reflex (HDSLR) camera, the faces of the skiers artistically come in and out of focus and we are drawn into the story.

When the Canon 5D Mark II launched onto the photography scene in 2008, the game was forever changed. It was the first digital single lens reflex camera that could also record video in full high-definition, and photographers across the world snatched one up. Level 1 Productions shot some footage with a Canon 5D for last years film, Refresh, and this year, they added the 7D to their equipment arsenal. Both are significantly less expensive than traditional video cameras, and are delivering stunning results.

The primary advantage to shooting with HDSLR cameras is the lens quality. “You can get a more professional-looking image based on the glass quality and the lenses,” says Josh Berman of Level 1 Productions. “The average video camera glass is inferior to 35mm lenses or lenses we are used to seeing in Hollywood.” Athan Merrick from Dendrite Studios agrees. “No matter how expensive the camera is, a bad piece of glass makes the camera worthless.” The ability to change out a telephoto and wide-angle lens also offers more possibilities when it comes to getting the shot.

Although these cameras are smaller and less unwieldy than traditional film cameras, their capabilities are still limited. “They work well for scenic and lifestyle footage, but they are hard to use for shooting action,” Berman says. Josh Haskins, line producer for Warren Miller Entertainment, explains that “these cameras don’t handle fast pans or tilts very well, and it’s tough to hold focus in bright environments.” They’re affordable (the Canon 5D Mark II starts at $2,500, relatively inexpensive compared to a professional film camera), but can’t keep up with all the technical demands of ski film companies. For videographers looking to break into filming, these are a great option, but they can't compete with traditional video cameras for shooting action.

So how much HDSLR footage can we expect from this years crop of films? Film companies with bigger budgets, like Warren Miller, will have only around 10 percent of their footage from these cameras, although WME did shoot an entire segment in the Republic of Georgia on two Canon 7D’s. Level 1’s Eye trip consists of 30-40 percent of footage from an HDSLR— primarily scenic shots and lifestyle footage. However, for smaller shops like Dendrite Studios, these cameras offer an affordable way to snag high-quality footage. “If we had the budget we would shoot on professional level cameras. HDSLR's allowed us to create the visual realm that we were seeking for the film without breaking the bank.”

Out of the Shadows Trailer - 2010 HD Ski Film by Dendrite Studios from Dendrite Studios on Vimeo.

Level 1 Eye Trip Official Trailer from Level 1 on Vimeo.


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Warren Miller is arguably the most iconic figure in the world of skiing. His annual ski films are regarded as celebrations of the beginning of each ski season. It all started in 1946 when Miller and a friend moved to Sun Valley, ID, lived in the parking lot in a teardrop trailer and earned money as ski instructors. In their free time, the two would film each other in order to critique their ski techniques. In the summer, they did the same thing while surfing off the California coast. Miller showed his ski and surf films to friends and told stories and jokes while they watched. After receiving countless invitations from friends to show his films and narrate them at parties, he realized he could make his hobby his business. In 1949, he founded Warren Miller Entertainment and began his long-standing tradition of producing an annual, feature-length ski film. He toured his film around to theaters near ski towns each year, often showing it at night, so he could shoot the next year’s footage during the day. Before long, Miller was showing his films in 130 cities a year. In the late 1990s, Miller stepped aside from his hands-on production of the film, but one is still produced annually in his name. Since 1950, Warren Miller Entertainment has produced 59 feature-length ski films—and still counting.

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