It was a challenge unlike any cinematographer Zac Nicholson had ever faced. Asked by director/co-producer Janet Tobias to film scenes deep within a narrow cave for an incredible true story of human survival, Nicholson relied on the compact size and exceptional low-light performance of the EOS C300 cinema camera from Canon, U.S.A., Inc., a leader in digital imaging. A second unit director and one of several cinematographers on Tobias’ film No Place on Earth, Nicholson’s assignment was to re-create scenes showing how 38 Ukrainian Jews hid from the Nazis for 18 months in what today is recognized as the longest underground survival in recorded human history. No Place on Earth took two years to produce and combines re-enactments and interviews with four elderly survivors to tell a remarkable story of courage and endurance.
“I would take one of the actors deep into the cave and go through crevasses that you couldn’t even get lighting equipment into,” Nicholson explained in describing the photography of a scene depicting the exploration of the cave by the refugees. “These are places that are physically challenging even without a camera. There are ultra-compact cameras available, but I used the Canon EOS C300 because these images had to look great on big screens in movie theatres. I use only candles for lighting many of those scenes because that’s what they had in the caves during the war. Those candle-lit EOS C300 camera shots are in the film, and they look beautiful, and it was only the compact size and low-light capabilities of the EOS C300 camera that made them possible.”
“The Canon EOS C300 camera enabled Zac to maneuver in the caves as a very mobile second unit,” Tobias elaborated. “There are a number of quite intimate images that I think are very important for conveying the emotional message of the film that were captured with the EOS C300 camera. These included images of children. The simple set-ups made possible by the compact EOS C300 camera enabled the children to be very natural in re-creating the experience of everything from play to fear inside the cave. We were also able to capture scenes of climbing and digging in very tight spaces high up inside a shaft that would have involved unbelievably expensive and complex rigging had we used a larger camera. The Canon EOS C300 camera is an incredibly nimble camera with a beautiful image and it was invaluable to us on both budgetary and artistic levels.”
Equipped with a Canon Super 35mm CMOS sensor, revolutionary Canon DIGIC DV III image processor and a 50 Mbps 4:2:2 MPEG-2 codec for superb cinematic picture quality, the Canon EOS C300 digital cinema camera is engineered to deliver full 1920 x 1080 HD and a selectable ISO range up to 20,000 for exceptional low-light performance. With a camera body weighing just over 3 lbs., the C300 can accommodate virtually any shooting setup, from highly mobile run-and-gun situations to elaborate production rigs (the C300 is compatible with a host of major third-party shooting accessories).
“I love the challenge of boundaries and obstacles in filmmaking,” Nicholson added. “We were dealing with a harsh environment that didn’t really ‘want’ us to be filming in it, and we used illumination that wasn’t made for motion capture, yet the EOS C300 camera delivered great results. The candles and oil lanterns we used for certain scenes also served as ‘practicals’ that could be photographed for realism. Plus, I was directing actors that didn’t speak English, so giving them a prop such as a candle and allowing them to explore with it, and then being able to capture those images made for great footage.”
Multiple cinematographers working with separate teams in Hungary, Slovakia, and the Ukraine used a variety of professional digital movie cameras to shoot No Place on Earth. Nicholson had originally been asked by Tobias to shoot behind-the-scenes content with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital SLR camera. Some of that footage later became integral to the film’s climax. Then when the Canon EOS C300 became available Nicholson purchased that camera, and it became the camera of choice for capturing even more key scenes.
“I had been using the Canon EOS 5D Mark II for a lot of my own documentaries and narrative experimental work,” Nicholson said. “I think Canon was the first to understand what they had created for filmmakers in the DSLR market, and then to push that beyond its boundaries into new areas. For a long time I had been waiting for something I would be comfortable shooting movies with that didn’t use film. The EOS C300 camera was what I had been waiting for. I have heard other filmmakers praise the EOS C300 camera, and everything I saw from it was extraordinary. Plus, I’d be able to use my Canon EF lenses with the EOS C300 camera. As soon as the EOS C300 camera became available I bought one, and it has exceeded my expectations. I have been shooting with it ever since and it’s basically been my workhorse, the camera I hope to shoot with every single time I go out. There were a lot of things that we did with the EOS C300 camera for No Place on Earth that were in environments that were so difficult to shoot in that we could not have physically or logistically done them with a larger digital cinematography camera, especially one requiring assistants. The EOS C300 camera provides a small, almost DSLR-like shape and structure, which is highly portable and maneuverable, and yet it gives you a sensor that can match those of the larger digital cinema cameras.”
“...the Canon EOS C300 camera gave me creativity and opened possibilities I didn’t have before.” Nicholson noted.