Last year, Canon introduced the Wall-E-like RF 5.2mm dual fish-eye lens, and most of us were baffled. While there was some VR 180 video chat, it was not really clear what was this $1,999.00 lens for? Also, why has Canon spent a huge budget developing this? Similarly, when Canon launched the EOS R5 ($3,899.00) and Canon EOS R5C ($3,999.00) camera bodies, they proudly announced that they shot 8K RAW video.
Why do we even need 8K RAW video, we asked? Most of us don’t have computers powerful enough to edit it, and our videos are mostly consumed on social media on mobile phones anyway. What was the point? Of course, most of us hadn’t even considered shooting VR 180 at this point, of course.
[Full VR 180 Series: Preparation | Shooting (coming soon) | Post Processing (coming soon)]
Table of contents
- What is a VR 180 video (Virtual Reality)? – An Introduction to Immersive Filmmaking
- VR vs 2D Video Shooting – Exploring the Differences and Challenges
- Essential Gear for VR Filmmaking
- Choosing the Perfect Venue
- Key Considerations for shooting a Seamless VR 180 Video Shoot
All those questions were answered last year when I tried a Virtual Reality (VR) headset that allowed you to walk around an artist’s studio in Finland. Of course, the footage was shot on the Canon R5c and dual fish eye lens.
That experience was, quite simply, astounding. I was instantly hooked, my imagination racing about where this leap in technology would take us. How could ordinary photographers and filmmakers like myself use this to create virtual reality experiences with minimal gear?
Virtual reality has been around for quite some time already. However, it has remained fairly niche and confined to mainly the video game and art installation genres (and *cough* adult entertainment, I’m told). With the launch of this new gear, it was as if Canon had democratized the VR 180 world to allow the humble solo creative to play too.
With a ‘relatively’ small investment, how could ordinary photographers and filmmakers like myself use this to create virtual reality experiences with minimal gear? I decided to find out.
What is a VR 180 video (Virtual Reality)? – An Introduction to Immersive Filmmaking
Virtual reality is an advanced technology that puts users in a digital environment, blurring the line between the physical world and the virtual. By wearing VR headsets (like this one), users can interact with and experience scenarios that feel like real-life situations or transport them to imaginary worlds.
VR can either be 360 degrees or 180 degrees. The Canon fish eye lens shoots 180 degrees, meaning that the field of view that can be experienced by the viewer is 180 degrees.
Virtual reality has applications across many different fields, including gaming, education, medical training, therapy, architecture, and entertainment. It is revolutionizing how people watch and interact with digital content.
To say that this is new is not really doing justice to those people pioneering this technology. I soon discovered that there are very few people taking advantage of this. It sometimes felt as though I was feeling my way through the dark. This video below explains the potential of VR far better than I ever could:
Similarly to AI, this technology is evolving at a fast pace. Even in the short time I had the camera and lens, I witnessed huge surges in the number of people using it and exploring the capabilities of the camera and lens. In short, I was impressed by what this camera is capable of.
VR vs 2D Video Shooting – Exploring the Differences and Challenges
I decided I wanted to shoot some music videos in VR 180 since I am somewhat specialised in that field and have experience with shooting traditional music videos. It would be exciting to see what we could create.
However, I soon discovered that there are several important considerations to shooting VR 180.
180 VR video: A storytelling point of view
There are three approaches to storytelling in VR 180. The audience can be viewed in one of the three following ways:
- Passive viewer. This is similar to a concert experience where the viewer is passively watching the action unfold.
- Side-kick character. This is more common in VR video games, where the viewer is part of the story and can interact and make decisions. It’s harder to do from a video perspective, but it is the most immersive experience.
- The guest. This is like a happy medium between the passive viewer and the side-kick where the 4th wall is broken. Other characters and subjects make direct eye contact with the viewer and invite them into the story. Generally, in VR, this feels the most natural and allows the viewer time to look around and explore by themselves without it being completely controlled by them.
You cannot rely on close-ups or camera movement to tell the story. One of the biggest limitations of VR is that the camera needs to remain mostly static. A little slow forward or backwards movement is ok. However, any sideways movement can trigger nausea in viewers, especially if viewed on a headset.
I try to think of shooting VR as more similar to a theatrical stage than a traditional video or cinema approach. You can have several different things happening at once in different parts of the frame to tell the story, for example.
This video explains everything really well:
180 VR video: camera position, lighting and location
The other considerations are mostly logistical. Because the angle of the lens is so wide, it causes several limitations to shooting.
The 180 degrees goes in both a horizontal and a vertical plane, meaning that huge amounts of the environment will be in the frame. Care must be taken to keep all unwanted elements behind the camera. Otherwise, they will appear in the final footage. This includes lighting, assistants, hands, and even tripod legs.
Because your light sources could be in the frame, you need to view them as part of the set. We used ours as hard direct sources of light not dissimilar to stage lighting. This fitted the concept of a music video well. You could also explore practical lighting incorporating the lighting within the scene.
Similarly, the choice of location and subject matter needs to be considered carefully. Again, because of the extreme wide angle and short focal length, much of the scene will be in focus and will appear quite distant.
It is easy to lose the subject in a busy background, especially if the subject is a similar colour. Clever use of colour contrast and contrasting lighting can help with this aspect considerably.
You can see from one of our early test shoots here how the subject disappears in the undergrowth because they are wearing similar colours.
Essential Gear for VR Filmmaking
The Canon R5C
The Canon R5C is quite simply a beast of a camera. Canon even integrated fans to keep the sensor cool under the load of shooting 8K RAW video. This is not a lightweight travel camera. I would use it solely for serious filming or in a studio set-up.
The specs tell you everything. The camera is a true hybrid between stills and video. With the flick of a switch, you can move seamlessly between the two different setups. Each has its own menu and custom settings.
It is perfect for anyone who must shoot both. For me, it has always been a problem to shoot video and stills in the same shoot because of constantly changing settings. This camera 100% solves that problem.
The stills end of the camera was completely familiar to me, having shot Canon for over 15 years now. However, the video end was daunting, to say the least. The menu is extensive, with 13 different custom function buttons that you can assign.
The touchscreen allows you to quickly change almost every parameter, from exposure settings to video format to focus peaking and frame rate. Once you get the hang of it, it’s very slick.
The camera can shoot RAW video up to 60 fps, which is what we would be using to shoot the VR project. To say that these files are heavy would be a massive understatement.
RF 5.2 mm f/2.8 Dual Fisheye Lens
To shoot VR, you do need a dual fish eye lens. And Canon is about the only one who makes them. Canon has made this incredibly simple and has the two lenses set up at exactly the correct distance apart to mimic how the human eyes work together.
You can adjust each lens separately if you need to tweak the focus of one of them with the alum wrench included, although I found that the lens was accurate right out of the box.
It’s almost a case of ‘plugin and play’, so to speak.
Sturdy Tripod plus boom arm
The lens shoots a view of 180 degrees, which includes up and down as well as left and right. Because of this, we need to eliminate the legs of the tripod in the field of view. To achieve this, we must use some kind of arm or boom that positions the camera away from the legs.
I used a Manfrotto tripod arm that I would usually use for shooting top-down still-life shots. This worked well and was remarkably stable, although you will need some counterweights to balance the heavy camera.
A longer boom arm would be better, but then you are running into more stability issues, particularly if shooting outdoors. Then you also need to be aware of wind problems.
I used a variety of different things as counterweights, from paella rice to sugar, to real weights and my camera bag. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, but more about that in article two, where you can see my ‘shitty rig’ in its full glory!
PD Battery pack
One of the disadvantages of this camera is that it is power-hungry. The battery lasts for very little time, so an external power source is not just recommended but compulsory.
In fact, the R5C cannot shoot the RAW video modes or use the dual fish eye lens without an external power source. Any USB PD power source should work well, provided it has at least 45w 3.0A and 9v. It connects via the USB C port.
Alternative solutions are to plug directly into the mains (not recommended, yikes!). Although a dummy battery does exist for the R5c it’s not recommended for the 8K video shooting. The USB PD is a far better option.
If I actually owned this camera, I would have invested in a camera cage for attaching all the extra bits, such as the power supply.
For these videos, I didn’t need to attach a microphone. However, it would certainly be useful to have an on-camera monitor display to enlarge the screen and fine-tune the focus since there is no ability to zoom in when shooting in RAW video mode.
Memory Cards and card reader
The Canon R5c and Canon R5 both have dual memory card slots. The main slot is for a CFexpress Type-B, and the second is for a regular SD card.
For the CF express, Canon recommends the ProGrade Digital Cobalt line, with a minimum of 325GB memory. Honestly, I found that this wasn’t a big enough memory for shooting in 8K, you only get around 15 minutes of shoot time with this size card.
I upgraded to using two ProGrade 650GB cards which worked perfectly for the entire shoot. ProGrade has since released even larger 1 and 2-TB cards which would also be extremely useful for shooting 8K video.
For the SD card, you can use that for shooting proxies if you wish in 4K. Get the fastest card you can afford, and a minimum of 125 GB or larger would be best.
It’s advisable to use a fast memory card reader to transfer the footage from card to computer. The RAW files are too heavy to be sent directly from the camera. We used a ProGrade Digital card reader.
Optional: Kolari Filters
One of the disadvantages of the fish eye lens is that its spherical shape means that you cannot use the traditional front-of-lens filters with it. Instead, you have to use ND filters that fit in front of the sensor in the interior of the camera. Canon recommends Kolari filters which come in various degrees of Neutral density.
Choosing the Perfect Venue
As mentioned above, choosing an interesting location to shoot in is probably one of the most important decisions to make in shooting a VR 180 video. The location needs to be interesting enough that viewers will be curious enough to want to look around and explore the environment.
Interesting architecture or interiors, epic outdoor scenes or well-known vistas could all be great options to shoot in. We chose to shoot one video in a baroque church with finely painted ceiling details so that viewers could look up and examine the fine interior.
Key Considerations for shooting a Seamless VR 180 Video Shoot
- Use the correct equipment and get the camera extended away from the tripod
- Find an interesting location to shoot in
- Be smart about your lighting
- Keep unwanted elements out of the frame by keeping them behind the camera at all times
- Don’t approach VR 180 videos in the same way that you would shoot a normal video.
- What are the best settings for a 180 VR video shoot? – For the highest quality output video, you need to be shooting in 8K RAW for maximum resolution.
- What lens do you need for a 180 VR video? – If shooting with the Canon R5 or R5C, you need to use the 5.2mm dual fish eye lens. Otherwise, there are other camera brands that will allow you to create VR 180 videos, such as the Z-Cam K1 Pro.
- Can I use the Dual Fisheye Lens with my Canon Cameras? – You can only use the RF 5.2mm dual fisheye lens with either the Canon R5 or the Canon R5C bodies. It will not function with any other mirrorless or DSLR cameras.
- What’s the best YouTube VR software? – You can use the Google VR injector software, which inputs the code needed to upload VR videos to YouTube. The link will be included in the third article of this series about post-processing.
- Can I shoot VR 180 videos on a budget? – Yes, there are budget options available. You can also shoot VR 360 videos on devices such as the Insta 360, and there is a DIY option for creating a dual lens with two of these small cameras.
Canon has made shooting high-resolution and quality VR 180 videos simple, relatively cheap, and somewhat easy (easier than ever before, at least!) with the introduction of their dual fisheye lens. This technology is incredibly cutting-edge, and the possibilities for creating these videos are pretty exciting.
However, there is a learning curve and a relatively high initial spend on equipment straight off the bat. On top of the handy camera and lens combo kit that Canon has launched that costs $5499, you will also need to spend around $1000 in memory cards, $70 on a card reader, another $50 on a USB PD power supply, and an additional $100ish on a tripod arm. And that’s not even getting into the costs of post-processing the footage, which we will cover in a later article.
But in my opinion, it’s all worth it. This camera and lens are truly spectacular. VR180 videos are pretty addictive!
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. 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 ]