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Oscars success: all 2019 Academy Award-nominated feature documentary films shot on Canon

Before undertaking the free climb documented in the Canon-filmed and Oscar-winning movie Free Solo, Alex Honnold (in red) climbs the Salathe Route on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, USA, along with fellow climber Conrad Anker. © Jimmy Chin Productions

The high quality and superior design of Canon's cameras and lenses make them the go-to kit for today's best documentary filmmakers. The results speak for themselves: at the 2019 Academy Awards, announced in February, all the nominees in the Best Feature Documentary category were shot using Canon equipment.

The winning movie, Free Solo, plus the four other nominated films (RBG, Of Fathers and Sons, Hale County This Morning This Evening, and Minding the Gap) were all made using cameras and lenses from Canon's range of Cinema EOS and DSLR kit.

Climber Alex Honnold talks with two other climbers on a ledge in the sheer cliff face of El Capitan before his free solo attempt.
Alex Honnold meets fellow climbers as he abseils El Capitan's Freerider route to practise before his free solo attempt. © Jimmy Chin Productions

The equipment performed well in the often-demanding conditions in which the Oscar-nominated filmmakers worked. Subjects ranged from a perilous cliff climb to life in an Islamic caliphate.

Free Solo is a compelling documentary about Alex Honnold and his ascent of the 3,000-foot granite rockface of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, USA. Alex is one of the world's best free solo climbers, and this extraordinary climb was achieved without any ropes, harnesses or other equipment.

It was filmed over a two-year period using three Canon camera bodies: a Canon EOS C300 Mark II, a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and a Canon XC10.

The film's co-director, co-producer and director of photography, Jimmy Chin, says the main reason he chose Canon was its high level of performance. "We knew that we wanted to shoot with real cinema cameras and real cinema lenses and really push the craft of the film," he says.

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"The EOS C300 Mark II was an obvious choice for us. We knew we wanted to shoot for a big cinematic experience, so we were shooting in 4K. We needed to have a camera that was easy to use, that was very dependable. Also a big advantage for us is that it is a great vérité camera."

Shooting took place in a range of locations, from high on California's El Capitan to the cramped interior spaces of Alex's van, so a range of prime and zoom lenses were needed. They included Canon Cinema Primes, the CINE-SERVO 17-120mm, Compact Cinema Zooms, CN-E 14.5-60mm and EF lenses. For capturing the climactic free solo climb itself, Jimmy used one of the "big guns" in the Canon range, the CINE-SERVO 50-1000mm lens.

"Ultimately, the film looks beautiful because of the Cinema cameras and Cinema lenses we were able to use," he says.

Cinematographer Jimmy Chin dangles in mid air as he films, with the hills of Yosemite National Park lit by the sunset behind him.
Free Solo co-director, co-producer and Director of Photography Jimmy Chin shooting on location. Jimmy is himself an accomplished climber – an essential skill for making the film. © Jimmy Chin Productions
Ropes and climbing equipment laid out over a rocky clearing as two of the crew pack up after filming.
Alex Honnold climbed El Capitan's Freerider line with no equipment, but documenting him doing so required plenty of gear, as is evident in this shot of the crew sorting and packing up all the ropes and climbing equipment they used. © Jimmy Chin Productions
A side-on portrait of an Iraqi Special Operations Forces soldier wearing a helmet.

Filming on the frontline with the EOS C300 Mark II

French documentary-maker Olivier Sarbil talks about making the award-winning film Mosul.

Claudia Raschke, director of photography on the Oscar-nominated RBG, says Canon equipment was essential to that film's appearance, too. It's a documentary about US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ("RBG") and was shot using Canon EOS C300 Mark II cameras. "They are lightweight, I can move around quickly, they have a fantastic sensor – I can use the craft to support the story," Claudia says.

She chose to shoot with Cinema EOS primes and zooms partly because she wanted to accurately capture details in Ruth Bader Ginsburg's physical appearance. "Her skin tone was very striking and I really wanted to make sure I could reproduce that and create this incredible glow that she carries," Claudia continues. "One of the things that really struck me was the amount of reflectance [that Canon lenses capture] within the skin tone. It just kind of blew me away."

Also nominated were Of Fathers and Sons, which gives a rare insight into life in an Islamic caliphate, and Minding the Gap, which documents the lives of three young men growing up in an American 'Rust Belt' town. Both were shot on a Canon EOS C300. Finally, Hale County This Morning, This Evening, which gives an intimate view of life in an African American community in Alabama, was shot on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

Autors David Clark


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