VMIThe extreme low light Canon ME20F-SH (4m ASA) has been used by Off the Fence Productions on assignment for Vulcan Production to support the US TV premiere of Naledi: One Little Elephant.
Off The Fence was required to film some follow-up update stories as well as social media segments leading up to the new season of Nature on PBS/WNET this fall.
The brief was to film stories about the elephants and other wildlife at Abu Camp in Botswana, as well as capture the daily lives of the elephant handlers who work there.
“It's not every day a cameraman has up-close access to a family of elephants 24 hours a day,” explains director of photography Lee Jackson. “In our experiences filming Naledi, some of the most dramatic scenes - including a live birth of a baby elephant - were filmed at night on infrared cameras. This time, we wanted something different, something original. We wanted to have our night footage in colour with more depth in our images. After doing some research we found that Canon had launched the ME20 camera and VMI had one of the first rentals available.”
The main camera used on location in Okavango Delta was the Sony PXW FS7 with the Canon ME20 deployed for low light and night time wildlife with Sony A7s for gyro shots.
“Before heading out, VMI showed one of our directors, Geoff Luck, the camera when it was collected in Bristol,” explains Jackson. “They were extremely clued up and informative on the limits of the camera. When it was collected, VMI had it set up in one of their camera booths and quickly showed Geoff what db we should work with and which ones to avoid. We found that certain db worked better than others while 52000db was our limit.”
The crew filmed for 66 days and were with the elephants around the clock 24/7. “We had help from some of the elephant handlers when we slept or when I was alone, but mostly myself and my AC worked in shifts so that we never had a camera down in case of unexpected behaviour,” says Jackson.
He recorded HD at 25p to the Odyssey 7Q+ with most of the night filming performed on a tripod.
“We were pleasantly surprised at the low light capabilities and low noise at higher ISOs. Our max db was 48 sometimes we did push to 52db,” he informs. “Our post guys did some noise reduction with some of our early footage and reported back with promising results. This allowed us to push some of our shots, especially when there was no moonlight.”
With very little ambient light from the nearby elephant handler’s accommodations, the crew also used two LED 1x1 panels at a distance dimmed right down, when there was no moon.
Says Jackson, “One thing that stands out for me is getting to watch the elephant’s behaviour throughout the night. They don’t sleep that much even in captivity they do feed throughout the night, and are generally restless. The ME20 allowed us to observe this almost nocturnal behaviour which you wouldn’t normally see as our eye sight in these low light conditions wouldn’t allow any vision.”