When Jonathan Constantinou gave up his job as a government lobbyist in Washington DC to pursue his dream of a career in filmmaking, it was hardly surprising that he would find himself working on high-end documentaries for TV programmes such as the UK's BBC Panorama – the world's longest-running current affairs show. But while juggling news with corporate and commercial work, Jonathan began to develop a passion for filming with moving cameras.
"Whether it be drone flying, motion control or stabilised gimbals, that sensation of movement allows you to tell a far more effective story," he says. "It doesn't matter what genre I'm working in, I like to add a bit of cinematic movement."
It was this passion for action that saw Jonathan bouncing along on a fast-moving speedboat, filming incredibly powerful boats racing in the Fortitudo Property Poole Bay 100, for a charity film: Life at 100 Knots.
Nothing can prepare you for the sheer noise and spectacle of the race, remembers Jonathan. "For me, the absolute best part is the boats going full throttle from a rolling start. I was on a safety boat and I thought that was fast, but these boats go much faster, getting in each other's way and bouncing around. The noise and the speed is just incredible. It is a really visceral experience."
As the shoot was a charity project, there was no budget to hire a professional gimbal system and the three-strong team that would be needed to operate it. Jonathan knew that making the film was going to be a high-speed adventure ride – and he would have to deliver it all by himself.
As it turned out, it wasn't just solo shooting that Jonathan had to contend with, but crashing waves, full-throttle action and constantly changing light – an incredibly tough environment for any filmmaker to work in. But Jonathan was confident his Canon EOS C300 Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS C300 Mark III) paired with a Canon CN-E18-80mm T4.4 L IS KAS S lens and mounted on a motorised gimbal, would create a versatile shooting rig for capturing smooth high-speed footage.
"I needed a special camera to cope with all the types of filming I do, and the Canon EOS C300 Mark II has been perfect," says Jonathan. "Then, when the large-format Canon CN-E18-80mm T4.4 L IS KAS S lens was released, I knew it would be game-changing. It's a very compact and affordable high-end servo zoom."
The Canon ZSG-C10 remote zoom grip, designed specifically for use with Canon's CN-E Compact Servo lenses, enables super-smooth remote activation of the zoom servo and one-shot AF. Connected to the lens body via a 20-pin cable, it can be operated while mounted on the lens barrel, or detached from the lens and used handheld or mounted to your rig. The versatility of the servo grip makes the lens suitable for a whole range of shooting situations.
"Being able to operate the zoom with the grip, while the focus and iris is automated through your camera, is incredible. Using it on the motorised gimbal has enabled me to work in jobs that previously couldn't support the budget for a professional gimbal system, so it's opened up a whole new market for me," says Jonathan.
Jonathan knew changing lenses or batteries mid-race would be difficult, but he was confident the zoom range and battery power on the Canon EOS C300 Mark II would be enough to keep the whole system running all day. He used the medium +4 speed setting on the Canon ZSG-C10 remote zoom grip so he had fingertip control to vary the focal length when necessary. He also wore a support harness and mounted the Canon EOS C300 Mark II's monitor to the gimbal's top ring.
"Sometimes I wanted to shoot in standard 4K, sometimes at 1080p for half-speed slow motion, so I was fiddling around in the menus in between the boats circling," says Jonathan. "If you shoot in 50p you can still use the AF, and then you can conform it to 25 frames in post for slow motion. It was so great to have full control of all the camera functions on the monitor. It's such a simple system and everything is contained: the camera is powering itself, the gimbal is powering itself, and off you go."
Many filmmakers prefer manual control but the fast-changing conditions meant Jonathan put all his trust in Canon's Dual Pixel CMOS AF, with 80% vertical and 80% horizontal coverage, and auto exposure to keep his pictures sharp and correctly exposed. "On the AF, I selected the 'large box' option, with slow speed and slow response – the setting was -1 for both," says Jonathan. "So it did track focus, but if anything came in front of or behind the subject, rather than jumping, it gradually rolled in and out. And given the speed of everything else that's moving in the frame, you never notice any focus jumps. You can see it tracking focus, especially in 4K. You can see the boats come into the shot, then the AF grabs onto them – they become that little bit sharper and just pop."
Jonathan set the exposure to match the changing conditions and took advantage of the Canon EOS C300 Mark II's built-in ND filters. "I programmed the iris to +1EV, because I was largely shooting in backlight, and I set a low response, so it wouldn't slam shut really quickly if the light changed," he says. "It was very gradual, so that was cool. I used two stops of ND, as even though it was a really bright day it was typically sitting around f/5 to f/8, but I had the option to open up to f/4 or to close down to f/22 if needed. That gave me flexibility. You don't realise there's a change of exposure, because it's really subtle and smooth."
To give flexibility in the grade and capture the most dynamic range, Jonathan set the Canon EOS C300 Mark II to Canon Log 2, cinema gamut with the neutral colour matrix. "Basically it's the default settings for Canon Log 2. I'm not a colourist, but I pushed the images hard. The XF-AVC codec held up really well. Unless the client demands otherwise, I will continue to shoot XF-AVC. It just works so well."
Combining the rugged Canon EOS C300 Mark II, Canon CN-E18-80mm T4.4 L IS KAS S lens and ZSG-C10 remote zoom grip, and using the camera's AF and auto exposure system, offered a simple yet effective way for Jonathan to shoot a tough assignment without a big crew. "I like things sleek and integrated, and this project was a chance for me to show that technology is at a point where we can trust it."
But for a man who admits he gets queasy even on big ferries, perhaps Jonathan's greatest achievement was shooting his stunning film while managing to avoid getting ill. "You're out in the open and you're bouncing around, and you're going that fast you can't see where you're going," he laughs. "And I didn't even get seasick!"