Setting up your Canon 5D MKII (and MKIII etc.)

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 A month ago I decided to put this piece on the ideal way to set up your Canon 5D MKII for video.    I had an inclination that the release of the 5D MKIII was imminent – but these settings and principles behind them (although the menus will change) will more than likely apply just as well to that camera.  These settings also apply to all Canon HDSLRs as well.  I make sure to set up all of my cameras to the exact same picture profile and settings at the start of any shoot (and to ensure that the color temperature settings and exposure setting are identical as well) during multi-cam shoots.

The 5D MKII came out nearly 4 years ago – but this is still one of the single most common questions I get to this day as new people are continually entering the HDSLR world.  I also find that many professionals aren’t aware of many of these settings themselves and I thought: "Better late than never."    So here are the settings that I have used with the Canon 5D MKII – and a comparison between the standard picture profile, the profile I recommend, and the Technicolor profile with some examples on grading.   (INFO on where to download the Technicolor profileinstructions on how to install from Technicolor and LUT buddy.)

You should see the picture style settings as a starting point that works for almost all circumstances.  Personally I almost never stray from the settings myself.   However you should feel free to change the contrast and saturation settings for certain situations – but never the sharpness in my opinion (you always want to keep that all the way down to give you the most filmic results.)    These settings are meant to work well for web, broadcast televisions and motion pictures – but will require grading (color correction) to add saturation and contrast back in.   The idea is to capture the flattest image possible with the most amount of detail and range of exposure possible.  Given that the Canon 5Ds compress the video image (it’s not capturing RAW) – you need to make sure you don’t crush the blacks or blow out the highlights as you won’t be able to correct for that in post.    You can always add contrast and saturation back to an image in post- doing the opposite is significantly more difficult especially off of the compressed file that the Canon 5Ds produce.

Here are written instructions and commentary for setting up your camera:

First – set your camera to Manual.

Go into Menus.  Scroll over to the second icon that looks like a wrench.  From there go into the Live View Menu, make sure to choose "Movie+Stills" and also make sure that you have selected "Movie Display."  This enables your live view for video recording.

Next scroll down to the "Movie Record Size" and make sure you have this set to "1920×1080 24p."  Now you are recording your movies in full HD at a digital frame rate most similar to that of film.

Next enter the camera settings menu (the orange icon that looks like a camera) and scroll down to the image menu.  The third setting within this menu is called "Highlight Tone Priority."  Make sure to disable this.  With HTP enabled, your camera only goes down to an ISO of 200, and you will want the option of shooting at those lower, additional ISO’s.  Check out this thread at Cinema 5D for some great examples on how HTP affects your image.

While shooting you will want to shoot at multiples of ISO 160 (only available if Highlight Tone Priority is disabled) or the closest available number (as 1250 is not a multiple of 160, but the closest there is to 1280).  I recommend this is because the 5D mk II uses digital noise to step between ISO’s.  Technically, the camera is native on the ISO’s that are multiples of 100.  For the ISO’s in-between, the camera digitally pushes or pulls one of these native ISO’s.  For instance, ISO 125 is really ISO 100 with a digital exposure push, and ISO 160 is really ISO 200 with a digital exposure pull.  As a result, 160 and its multiples look the "cleanest" because its really a native ISO rating with the exposure pulled down, which hides more of the digital noise.

Keep your shutter speed at 50.  This best approximates the shutter of a film camera – which is 180 degrees.  Each time you shoot a frame with a  film camera, the shutter makes one full rotation.  So if you are shooting a standard 24 frames per second, then a 180 degree shutter is covering the film plane for half of that amount of time – or 1/48th of a second.  A shutter speed of 50 means that the DSLR’s shutter is staying open for 1/50th of a second, which is as close as possible as we can get to 1/48th of a second on these cameras.  This will help your images maintain the approximate look of film because motion (and motion blur) will be recorded similarly.

Next we are going to set our picture profile to settings that I recommend.  Go back to your menu and go to the second red icon that looks like a camera.  Scroll down to picture style and enter that sub-menu.  Here you will see a number of pre-set picture styles (including "Standard" which is demoed in the above video).  Skip there and go down to "User Def. 1" and press "info" to edit the profile.   You can then set the picture style to "Neutral" (this isn’t necessary, but will take care of the next step for you).  Make sure that "Sharpness" is turned all the way down.  Set "Contrast" to a setting of "-4," and "Saturation" to a setting of "-2."  Reducing these settings will give you flatter image with more latitude and more room to work/grade in post.  The flatter image will be harder to focus, which is why I also recommend the Zacuto Z-Finder to assist in shooting off the back LCD.  

And there you go – now your 5D is set up to  best capture video.  Happy shooting.