Back To Listings RSS Print

HDSLR Revolution: House Party

One week warning: "House" episode shot entirely with Canon 5D MkIIs

By Adam Wilt | May 10, 2010

Ready or not, here they come: HD-capable DSLRs are being used for high-end productions, despite their various shortcomings. One of the boldest such experiments is the 17 May episode of the FOX TV drama "House", shot entirely with Canon 5D Mk IIs using stock Canon stills lenses.

Read up. Prepare. Watch. There will be a test afterwards, so pay attention.

Philip Bloom has an hour-long audio interview with "House" exec producer and episode director Greg Yaitanes about choosing and using the 5D Mk II; there's also a transcript of the interview, which is much more readable if you run it through Readability first. You can also see a two minute teaser trailer.

Will this episode of "House" be a triumph of the loose, organic, yet filmic style that HDSLRs allow, with eerily isolating shallow depth of field, intimate angles impossible with bulkier cameras, and breathtaking examples of low-light derring-do? Or will it be a dog's breakfast of sloppy shakycam, blown focus, unwanted aliasing, and distracting color moir©?

Or will it be all of these things inextricably blended together, because that's the nature of HDSLR shooting?

"House" airs in most US markets at 8:00pm on the FOX network. See tonight's conventionally-captured episode "Baggage" to set a baseline for expectations, then watch next Monday, 17 May, for the 5D Mk II episode "Help Me". We may all learn something, eh?

Watch it over-the-air in HD for best results. If you miss out, or aren't in the US, episodes hit the web 8 days after their air date (Flash required).

Even if you're not into formulaic doctor shows, "House" has two things going for it: British actor Hugh Laurie playing a cranky bastard with an American accent, and an elegant title sequence with a Massive Attack soundtrack.

And yes: I recycled a picture of a Canon 7D with a cine lens, instead of taking a fresh picture of a 5D with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, a setup actually used in the show. I'm sorry. I am a bad person, I know.

16 CFR Part 255 Disclosure
No material connection exists between me and FOX, Canon, and/or Philip Bloom, and none of those entities has offered me any consideration or compensation for mentioning them.

I don't particularly like the TV show "House", aside from the title sequence and the presence of Hugh Laurie.

I own a Canon 5D MkII and several lenses that I paid for on the open market like any other schlub.
Editor's Choice
PVC Exclusive
From our Sponsors

Share This

Back To Listings RSS Print

Get articles like this in your inbox: Sign Up


Carl Olson: | May, 10, 2010

In addition to Philip Blooms interview with Greg Yaitanes, you may want to listen to my conversation with Gale Tattersal, the DP and Cinematographer for House MD. Gales gives a fascinating account of why and how he used the 5DM2 for this episode.

RobShaver: | May, 13, 2010

Hi Adam,

What do you think about the fact that the H.264 license limitations require that any DSLR cameras using it should not be used for commercial purposes?

Jobs is shoving HTML5 down our throats. If H.264 becomes the official codec then we could be in for trouble. MEG-LA says we can use it on the Internet for free, until 2015, but only for personal use.

I just bought a Canon T2i with the intention of using it commercially. Since I’m small potatoes I’m sure it won’t affect me, but still ... it rankles me. Patents and copyrights are stifling innovation, not promoting it.

Since you’re a professional, I thought you might want to blog on how you think it might affect other pros.

Man I’m getting a Scarlet as soon as they come out. I’m guessing that Red owns all the IP in it. But who knows.



Bruce A Johnson: | May, 14, 2010

Dog’s Breakfast?

Adam Wilt: | May, 14, 2010

RobShaver: The last time I worked on a project involving MPEG encoding, the VP of Engineering spent about two weeks with company and MPEGLA lawyers just deciphering the pre-existing licensing terms to figure out what we could and could not do, and how much it would cost us. I only have postgraduate engineering training, not legal training, so I am clearly not qualified to comment intelligently on MPEGLA licensing terms.

However, I will be reviewing cameras (Canon 5D & 7D, Panasonic HPX370) that have the questionable license terms attached, so I’ll kick that question upstairs to the product management of both companies and see what they say.

“Jobs is shoving HTML5 down our throats”. Even it it’s true, that doesn’t make it bad; we desperately need a modern web standard. No video codec is fixed in the standard (a mistake, IMHO), with both h.264 and Ogg Theora as options. Some will support 264; some will support Theora; some will support both.  If I had to pick a winner today, I’d vote for h.264: better performance, wider support, and it’s not necessarily true that Theora is patent-unencumbered.

What happens in 2015 and beyond will be interesting. If MPEGLA makes as much of a dog’s breakfast of it as they did with MPEG-4 licensing (which MPEGLA folks admitted at WWDC a number of years ago: got too greedy, killed what could have been a golden goose), then all I can hope is that by that point we’ll either an alternative codec with less draconian terms, or we’ll all have such high-speed connections that we can send uncompressed! (I am however not holding my breath.)

Bruce: “Dog’s breakfast” = a mess.

Adam Wilt: | May, 14, 2010

Engadget has a somewhat calmer article about the AVC licensing kerfuffle. (Reading it sparked a flashback to that project I was referring to; our general conclusion at the time was that the license agreements were written in the broadest, most aggressive terms possible, but written in such a way that mere humans couldn’t make head or tail out of them: call it the MPEGLA Lawyers Full Employment Act.)

There’s another good writeup on CNET.

What I take away from these is that our Canons are currently legal, royalty-payment-free video cameras for professional use and will still be legal video cameras in 5 years time (and if not, well, they shoot pretty decent stills, too!).

Sectaguy: | May, 18, 2010

Just saw the episode. I saw two or three fast pans but I didn’t notice the rolling shutter issue. Anybody else noticed this? Wonder how they pulled it off. By the way, I also saw trouble focusing.

Adam Wilt: | May, 21, 2010

I find the Canons don’t have a problem with rolling shutter—sure, it’s there, but most of the time you can pull off a fast pan without image skew being so bad as to be noticeable if you aren’t looking for it.

Of course, they might have deskewed the image in post. Comments on CML indicate that considerable fixups were done in post to compensate for camera shortcomings.

I saw a fair bit of columnar high-gain noise in the blacks, a lot of shots that were almost in focus, and some (surprisingly chroma-moir

Rob: | September, 02, 2010

This web site needs anti-spam features. It’s clear that some bot found the words “dog” and “breakfast” in a single post, so it spammed the comments.

I hope you’ve banned irvinelmo by now. It was hard for me to figure out how to post comments on this site. I can’t imagine they create accounts automatically.

Adam Wilt: | September, 02, 2010

irvinelmo’s comment spam (deleted as soon as I received notification of it) was unusual in its use of proper grammar and its length. Most of the comment spam consists of generic praise for an article, typically with fractured grammar and various misspellings.

My suspicion is that the bulk of it is posted by low-wage pieceworkers (possibly in other countries) hired by some insufficiently-prinicipled marketing / SEO company or another, but I have no proof. It may be that a bot finds the keywords and then supplies URLs to humans, but again, I’m just guessin’.

When I get notified of a comment on an article I’ve written (notifications typically arrive about one or two hours afterwards, but sometimes they arrive after bedtime and I don’t see them until the next day), I check to see if it’s spam, and delete it forthwith. I then forward the spammer’s address to PVC’s webmaster so that he can lock it out. But as most of the spam is from .gmail or .yahoo throwaway accounts, it’s like a game of whack-a-mole. Bop one on the head, two more show up.

(If Hormel made a spam-like product from moles, would it be called spole?)

Rob: | September, 02, 2010

It’s true I haven’t seen much SPAM on these forums and clearly you’re watching it closely ... you responded to my post in 10 minutes. smile

Here’s some more info on the H.264 front:

“What MPEG-LA announced is that their current moratorium on charging fees for the transmission of H.264 content, previously extended through 2015 for uses that don’t charge users, is now permanent. You still have to pay for a license for H.264 if you want to make things that create it, consume it, or your business model for distributing it is direct rather than indirect.”

(Mike Shaver, no relation)

So the H.264 licensing must still be considered by professionals. If I publish in a different codec, I wonder if it’s a factor if H.264 is used anywhere in the process?

Vincent la Foret had a post about this which lead me to Mike’s post.’s+Blog)

By the way, I think it’s valuable that these comment threads keep growing and collecting, I hope, pertinent new information. It becomes a valuable searchable repository. So I’m glad you leave the comments open.

Not to mention the great articles themselves. Thanks for all you do and share with us.



Please login or register to comment