Tutoring in Norway: Wildlife and the Northern Lights using Canon

A trip to Norway with Canon kit to help tutor aspiring wildlife filmmakers for UK based wildlife filmmaking group Wildeye and our Norwegian host Bernhard Paussett of Norsk NaturfilmOur mission – to film the wildlife and Northern Lights.

We stayed at Sandsoy Fort (an abandoned coastal fort now fitted out for visitors) on the northwest coast of Norway, where the wild landscape would not have been out of place in Lord of the Rings. Here mountain ranges cloaked in thick snow roll out as far as the eye can see, while all around, sister islands reach from the waves to the sky in equally epic proportions. Surrounded by such rugged beauty this white wilderness is truly a stunning place to visit.

The conditions at this time of the year are extreme to say the least. With temperatures dropping to -11% it was going to be a challenge. At these temperatures communication from brain to fingers can be short lived so the right clothing is essential if fingers are to remain in good working order around a camera.

I had to take cameras that were capable of capturing dancing skies and fleeting wildlife, were compact enough for travel while rugged enough to withstand the conditions. A key consideration was that the kit also had to have a form factor and ergonomics easy enough for students to pick up quickly. I settled on a couple of Canon cameras, the EOS C100 with 3 lenses and the fixed lens XF100 camcorder. Both cameras use the same menus, which saved buckets of student learning time, both are good on and off a tripod, and both are excellent professional entry point video cameras in different ways. The XF100 records affordable broadcast spec 50mbps in a small 10x optical zoom equipped body that is great for instant reaction or run and gun shooting, while the C100 delivers stunning professional images from a 35mm film equivalent super 35mm sensor. The result – great low-light functionality and the ability to craft depth of field to the nth degree if you’re feeling arty!

For lenses I chose the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM for landscape wides, time-lapses and of course the Northern Lights, and the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM for mid range through the day shots of just about anything. Good choices. Both are fast – not that that is too much of a concern with the low-light capabilities of the C100 – have a constant aperture throughout the focal range, and deliver crisp, sharp, professional images at the drop of a hat. The telephoto end was taken care of with a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM. Not as fast as the other two but more than capable of doing a fine job steeling intimate wildlife close ups. I’m not afraid to say it, but I really do like this two camera set up.

The C100 is a giant of a camera in a small body. Yes it is the smaller cousin of the C300 and has a more consumer based codec in the 24mbps AVCHD, but it’s what it does and how it lets you do it that I like. In AVCHD the C100 packs a punch. It’s not just about numbers where mbps are concerned, its about compression. And the C100 does it well. For me, and this is only my opinion, even at 24 mbps this cameras codec is better than, say, an older Sony EX1 using XDCAM at 35mbps. You can of course also add an external drive via the HDMI output to up your bit rate above and beyond broadcast specifications if you wish – though I wouldn’t get hung up about it for the majority of uses.

By day we saw moose, seals hauled up on icy rocks and numerous seabirds fishing in the fertile sea. By night we chased the lights. The Canon XF100 even had time to demonstrate it’s interval record ability shooting time-lapse of the early evening clouds drifting into night. The sky teased us with false promises on more than one occasion. We were set, necks craned at the sky until finally, on the last night, it came. First a green band, then another. It wasn’t the most spectacular display ever witnessed but it did arrive and we saw it.

Knee deep in snow, lungs bursting with cold fresh air, it was a magical trip