Spike Lee documentary captured with Canon DSLRs

Five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, director Spike Lee returned to document the city’s ongoing recovery efforts for HBO. In his second documentary on the subject, Lee used a pair of Canon (opens in new tab) DSLR cameras to capture the project in 720p HD video.

The two-part documentary, titled “If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise,” was shot using several film and video formats to achieve a variety of looks. Included among the HD cameras used were Canon EOS-1D Mark IV and EOS 7D digital SLRs, cameras that have become increasingly popular with videographers seeking the look of film in their video.

Cliff Charles, the director of photography, used the DSLRs for “run-and-gun shots” at the highest resolution. Because the city itself was a character in the documentary, much of the landscape shooting was also done with the DSLRs.

The 1D Mark IV’s body weight is slightly more than 2lbs with a 16.1-megapixel APS-H-size CMOS sensor measuring 28.7mm x 19mm. The 7D’s body weight is a lighter 1.8lbs, and the camera body itself is smaller with an 18-megapixel APS-C-size CMOS sensor measuring 22.2mm x 14.8mm. This allows camera operators to carry multiple cameras at once, with various lenses attached for unique perspectives while on the move.

For run-and-gun applications, the Canon 7D was preferred because of its lighter weight. Its smaller sensor offers more depth of field, which helps get shots quickly and in focus. For more composed imagery, such as landscapes, the 1D Mark IV was preferred because its larger sensor provides higher resolution. Both cameras were used extensively during the shooting of the documentary.

Because so many crew members knew how to use DSLRs, virtually everyone on the crew shot video. This included Spike Lee, who used the 7D camera. Also, because of the DSLR form factor, few recognized it was being used to shoot video. This came in handy even during Mardi Gras, which is famous for its uninhibited revelry.