Canon has introduced a game-changer when it comes to shooting VR 180 video (virtual reality). This comes in the shape of its RF 5.2mm dual fish eye lens (staggering $1,999) and is capable of shooting stereoscopically in 3D. Combined with the powerhouse hybrid mirrorless camera body, the Canon EOS R5c (here), the result is incredibly powerful and pretty straightforward to use.
In this article, we will be exploring exactly how to shoot a VR 180 video with this equipment, using a music video as an example. We started this series with an article about preparing for a VR 180 video shoot if you want to learn more.
Table of contents
- Setting up for shooting VR 180 videos with the Canon EOS R5c
- VR 180 video: Initial Camera set-up
- Focusing techniques for the Dual Fisheye Lens
- Camera settings for shooting VR 180 Video
- Lighting techniques for VR 180 video
- Camera placement strategies for captivating VR 180 video content
- The Importance of Blocking in VR 180 Shoots – Optimizing Perspectives
Setting up for shooting VR 180 videos with the Canon EOS R5c
It is possible to take the Canon EOS R5c out of the box and start shooting straight away. However, there are several considerations and set-up options that will make shooting VR 180 video much easier from the outset. You should approach shooting VR 180 videos more as if you were shooting film.
By this, I mean that you need to plan more carefully in advance than you might ordinarily. You want to eliminate wasted takes and files as much as possible. Have a shot list or storyboard and practice blocking to eliminate the amount of wasted footage as much as possible.
You will be shooting 8K RAW 60fps video, which has a bitrate of 2600 Mbps. These are extremely heavy files in terms of memory and storage. If you are not careful, you will quickly fill up memory cards during the shoot and waste valuable time downloading and exporting/converting the footage later on.
For the Paris shoot, we shot the song on four different bridges and did just two whole takes on each bridge. That was it. Everything had been planned, the audio pre-recorded and rehearsed well in advance.
Filming this sort of footage is expensive in terms of memory space. For this shoot, we used a couple of ProGrade 650GB Cobalt memory cards (you can get them here). This setup allowed us to capture approximately 15 minutes of footage per card.
Yes, you read that correctly! A 650GB memory card will only let you film 15 minutes of 8K RAW video. This is why we need to shift our mindset into thinking more economically. These memory cards are lightning-fast, allowing a massive amount of information to be transmitted and written effectively. This may be digital, but the gigabytes aren’t cheap!
If you want to, you can use an SD card in the second card slot to record either separate audio or film proxies at the same time. Again, I would use a large capacity and very fast card.
As mentioned in the previous article, you will need an external power source to be able to shoot in 8K RAW on this camera. Without it, the camera simply will not function in this mode. Once the external power source is plugged in, you will see the letters ‘PD’ appear on the screen. We shared a few options for compatible power banks when we talked about power banks and LED video lights.
VR 180 video: Initial Camera set-up
For most of us, the lens will be usable straight out of the box. However, the first time you use it, you should make sure that the two lenses are in alignment with one another. To do this, you can check the focus on each lens by switching between the two by tapping the touch screen. If it is the same, then no problem, you can move on. If you use the green arrow focus guide, it is very easy to tell if they are both the same.
However, if they aren’t equally in focus, you can use the little wrench included in the box to make minute adjustments to one of the lenses under a covered flap near the focus ring. This will adjust one of the lenses until it is the same.
Focusing techniques for the Dual Fisheye Lens
I would recommend turning focus peaking on. You can find it using the button on the far bottom left of the touch screen. Here, you have the option to use two different types of focus peaking. I like to use red, although you can change the color if necessary.
It’s helpful to turn on the zebra stripes for exposure. Unless you are using an external monitor, it can be difficult to notice small details that might be blown out. There are two options: zebra 1 for skin tones (Change the setting in the menu 6th tab 5th sub-menu to 75+5), and zebra 2 for overall (change to 85% in the menu).
You can check your exposure levels are correct by reducing your settings until just before the zebra lines appear on skin tones. That’s a good guide that you have the correct exposure.
Because you are shooting in CLog 3, you do need to over-expose (or expose to the right) a little, and these settings will help achieve correct exposure. It’s good practice to shoot in LOG because you can take full advantage of the power of shooting RAW video and use LUTs and colour grades in post-production.
Now that you have all of these settings, it is very simple to focus the lens. Simply turn the focus ring manually and use the touchscreen to move the focus point to where you want it. The minimum focus distance of this lens is 8 inches.
Zooming in to focus
One particularly baffling part about this camera is that you cannot zoom in to check the focus when you are shooting in 8K. You have to change to 4K in order to zoom in. Then you need to remember to change back to 8K before you shoot. It’s annoying, really, but that’s how it is.
For a detailed video on camera set-up, check out this excellent video from VR expert Hugh Hou:
Camera settings for shooting VR 180 Video
For VR to work properly in a headset, you must shoot in 8K resolution. 4K simply is not enough because the image gets divided in half. 8K becomes 4K in each eye and is the closest to how the human eye sees.
Canon has just announced that the dual fisheye lens will now work with the EOS R6 mark II camera body. However, that camera will only shoot up to 4K video. While the R5 and R5c are more expensive than the R6 mark II, this is a big consideration to take into account.
You can see in this test video (with street cats) that we shot at 4K resolution. The quality simply is not high enough:
You want to be shooting at 60fps, if at all possible. Admittedly we shot the church videos at 30fps due to technical issues. Because the musicians were seated and not moving around much, this wasn’t an issue. If you have large amounts of movement, anything less than 60fps can cause nausea in viewers watching on headsets.
Camera settings for high quality VR 180 video output:
- RAW LT (8K)
- CLog 3
- Aperture: f/5.6 – f/8 will give the sharpest results for this lens
- Shutter speed: 120fps
- ISO: This camera has dual gain ISO, so its native ISO is actually 800. This is a great starting point if shooting indoors. For outdoors, consider using an ND filter from Kolari.
Lighting techniques for VR 180 video
Lighting techniques for VR 180 videos are not so different from shooting normal videos, apart from one major difference: distance.
You will have to make a choice between making the lighting part of your scene or having the lighting far enough away that it is outside of the frame. We went for a combination of lighting in the church performance.
We used two COB LED lights from Aputure at a large distance from the subject. This meant that they were outside of the 180-degree frame of the lens. We used hard lighting with just a small reflector as a modifier. We did this so that if they were captured in any of the scenes, they would look more like on-stage lighting that you would find during a concert.
The other option is to create your lighting using ambient and/or motivated lighting. This can be very effective, and it helps create a nice ambience. Although we were shooting in the morning, the church had very little natural daylight, so we used the lights in the church to help illuminate the ornate ceiling and side chapels. This provided enough ambient lighting to make the scene visually interesting without detracting too much from the main performers.
Remember that part of the fun about VR is that the viewer gets to explore the world by themselves. The more interesting you can make the environment, the better.
Because you are shooting on a very wide-angle lens with a small focal length, everything in the image will be in focus. This means that you cannot rely on shallow depth of field to achieve separation between your subject and background. You can achieve this through lighting and colour.
We asked the musicians to wear a particular colour so that it complemented the colours already in the church. The orange tones of the string instrument contrasted well with the pale blues of the ceiling.
In a previous experiment, we shot our subject in a green tropical print shirt in a park surrounded by green bushes and trees. They were almost completely camouflaged. This was an important lesson. After this, we always tried to use colours opposite on the colour wheel to help our subjects stand out.
You can see in this video that the subject is wearing purple to contrast with the green background, and it works much better.
Camera placement strategies for captivating VR 180 video content
The first rule of camera placement when shooting VR 180 is to remember that you need to stay behind the camera, or you will be in the frame. This goes for anything you don’t want in the shot: lights, assistants, reflectors, hands, and tripod legs. The 180 degrees goes in both directions in a sphere, not just on a horizontal plane.
This was by far the most difficult aspect of shooting VR 180, particularly as for each take, we moved the camera for a different shot. We then had to move everything out of the frame.
In order to avoid getting the tripod legs in the frame, we used a horizontal pole tripod attachment. This is usually designed for shooting top-down products or food. However, it worked remarkably well. Any other option would have shown the legs of the tripod in the shot.
Remember: You will need counterweights to balance the other end of the pole as the camera and lens are heavy and are completely unbalanced, stuck out on a limb.
We used a variety of different objects, from sandbags and gym weights (worked the best), to bags of paella rice in a shopping bag (worked extremely well, modular, tastier, though less professional looking) and my camera backpack, which worked in a pinch (couldn’t take my weights on the plane!).
For the Paris shoot, we didn’t worry about passers-by because it added to the informal style of the video. We did, however, enlist an assistant to make sure that people stayed away from the camera equipment and cello and didn’t walk in front of the lens when filming.
Avoid unwanted shadows
You also have to be mindful of the camera’s shadow being in the shot. Admittedly, there was no way to avoid this for some of our takes, and unfortunately, the camera shadow is visible. For future shoots, I would plan ahead even more to eliminate this possibility.
Camera angle and placement for VR 180 videos
The camera must always be kept horizontal for the VR effect to work. The optimal subject-to-lens distance is 3.5-15 feet (about 1-5 meters). You want your main subject to be firmly within this distance. Otherwise, they will get lost in the background.
Your main action should be happening within the center 120 degrees of the frame, and the rectangular guide on the back of the camera display is a great reminder to try to keep your subject within this. This frame is what will be visible in the frame without the viewer having to move their head around.
By carefully placing your ‘hero’ within this frame, you minimise distortion and ensure that your viewer can easily see the main subject without having to hunt around.
The Importance of Blocking in VR 180 Shoots – Optimizing Perspectives
One of the biggest challenges of shooting a music performance video in VR 180 is not being able to rely on camera movement to create intimacy and excitement. Traditional music performance videos incorporate a mixture of close-up shots and include lots of camera movement to heighten the sensation of ‘being there’.
As mentioned in the previous article, with VR, you don’t need to fake this intimacy. The whole point of a VR experience is that the viewer feels fully immersed in the video and has the autonomy to look around and discover different perspectives for themselves.
Additionally, you cannot move the camera. A little forward and back smooth dolly motion is possible if you have the equipment. However, anything side to side, panning or twisting, can quickly disorient the viewer and give them nausea and motion sickness. I’d prefer that my viewers didn’t vomit when they watched my videos, so we played it safe!
This does, unfortunately, have the possibility of creating too much of a ‘lean back’ experience and could become boring. To try to counter this, we used several different camera angles. Again, due to the extremely wide angle of the lens (and only having one camera), we achieved this through multiple takes and having the musicians performing to playback, a pre-recorded performance which we then synced in post.
For a real immersive experience, you ideally want the audio to be ambisonic 3D surround audio. That means that when the viewer turns their head, the audio reflects that movement, as it would in real life. This, however, is a whole other topic!
Our primary concern with the audio was to record great audio that the musicians would be proud of. In hindsight, we should have added some ambient audio recorded from the bustling streets of Paris to add an extra dimension and make the video more immersive. I will be exploring the audio possibilities further in the future.
In general, filming to playback worked very well, although I am still unsure how I would tackle filming a live VR 180 music video performance. It would be impossible not to include elements that you don’t want inside the frame, particularly if you are using multiple cameras.
If your video is of a more storytelling example, then I would approach it like a theatre director or from the perspective of shooting a single take. The subjects need to know their marks and actually rehearse so that when it comes time to shoot, everyone is where they have to be.
This aspect of shooting VR is very exciting, and I have found it to be an interesting cross between live theatre and traditional filmmaking.
After the shoot, all that is left is to edit your videos into something the viewers can enjoy. But of course, it’s a little bit more complicated than that!
In the final part of this series, we will cover post-processing and editing a VR 180 video.
For now, here is the final video we shot in Paris. For best results, watch on a headset in 8K here.
What is the best camera angle for a 180 VR video?
The only angle you want to shoot 180 VR video is on a horizontal plane in landscape orientation. This keeps the lens in the position that is most similar to our eyes. With VR, the viewer moves the perspective around, but the camera does not move.
What is the best lens-to-subject distance for a 180 VR video?
The optimal subject distance for the Canon EOS 5.2mm dual fisheye lens is 3.5 – 15 feet (approx. 1 – 4.5 metres)
How do I focus the Canon RF Dual Fisheye 3D VR Lens?
This lens is essentially a manual lens from a focusing aspect. You need to zoom in and focus the lens by turning the focus ring. Use focus peaking to see which areas of the image are in focus.
Canon truly has outdone itself by developing this camera and lens combo. It’s easy and straightforward to use almost out of the box. However, there are a few important things to set up and take into consideration.
You need to approach VR 180 filming in a different way than shooting 2D videos. Additionally, you need to have plenty of memory and disk backup space when shooting the extremely heavy 8K RAW files. You also need a solid plan.
If you have these things in place, then shooting VR 180 video is extremely fun and rewarding. I believe that we are on the front end of this technology, and we will see a lot of exciting content in this format in the near future.
Creating a comprehensive series like this is not trivial. We were supported by a few partners who helped us with gear. A shout-out goes out to Canon for lending DIYP the camera and lens. A big thank you to Pro Grade for supplying the incredibly fast cards. Kolari! Thanks for the filters. Adobe, cheers for the Premiere Pro licence. Blackmagic, thanks for Davinci. If you read through this part, thank you as well for allowing us to acknowledge the support we get. You know the saying, it takes a village to write a series.
[BTS images: Rosie Mayell ]