Dara O’Briain’s Science Club

A new six-part science series presented by Dara O Briain, featuring reporters and expert guests,on BBC Two this autumn. Each week the team will take a single subject and examine it from lots of different and unexpected angles – from extinction to sex, Einstein to space exploration and brain chemistry to music – all underpinned by first-class science.

Dara O’Briain’s Science Club is one of the first programmes from the BBC’s Specialist Factual department to shoot with the Canon C300 large sensor video camera.

The location features are all shot on the C300, with some B-roll supplied by Canon XF305’s for speed and continuity in post production. The edited films are then inter-cut with broadcast HD cameras in an as-live studio setup. The transition between the studio cameras and the C300 films in the final programme is seamless.

Lighting-cameraman Mark Langton has been working on the location features and putting a C300 kit from Shooting Partners through its paces.

Dynamic range

‘Back in July 2012 I was asked to shoot some pilot stories for a new BBC Science programme. The director was very eager to use the new C300 because he wanted to get away from the usual ENG camera look, give it the shallow focus treatment and try any other tricks I could think of. I suggested shooting everything in Canon Log Gamma setting to increase the dynamic range and allow more flexibility at the grading stage. At the time I didn’t realise what a good decision that was: the first shoot was in Edinburgh Zoo in bright sunlight that would otherwise have caused severe, hard contrast problems but the extended dynamic of the C300’s Log Gamma smoothed out the image, leaving me free to expose to the highlights and yet still retain ample detail in the shadows. That’s an area where a conventional 3-chip broadcast camera would struggle. It was soon agreed that the rest of the series would be shot in the same way.


Bespoke kit solutions

The compactness of the kit was also an issue as I would have to carry it all myself, there would be no luxury of a camera assistant on these shoots. Setup time was also a factor; I would not have the time to keep swapping prime lenses and adjusting the matte box. In essence I was required to use it with the same speed and agility of ENG camera – something that wasn’t high on Canon’s list when they first conceived the C300. This is where Shooting Partners had already predicted the issues and practicalities with this kind of setup, and offered me a bespoke solution using components from different manufacturers: a selection of fast L-series Canon zoom lenses rated at f2.8, a modular Zacuto shoulder rig and a very useful lens-mounted matte box from TLS (true lens services) were all part of the standard kit. It might sound trivial but having the matte box attached to the lens instead of the 15mm bars saves a lot of time, thus increasing productivity. (and that keeps the director happy). Also, using zooms is a far faster way of working. You really only need a prime lens with a speed of f1.4 – f1.8 if you’re shooting in a dimly lit room, 90% of all other situations can be covered with good zooms.

My only addition to the standard kit was a 5.6” LCD HD monitor to act as my primary viewfinder for critical focus, leaving the C300’s LCD available for the director to view over my shoulder. I had tried an EVF (electronic viewfinder) with this rig and realized early on that it wasn’t going to work for me as there just wasn’t enough detail. Therefore I would suggest a monitor like the TV Logic VFM-056WP as a handy addition that compliments the C300 and makes life much easier.

The C300 handled the transition from cinema camera to ENG camera with flying colours proving it can stand shoulder to shoulder with the big boys but also allow more room for creative freedom too.

Dara O’Briain’s Science Club is a BBC Production


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