8.03.2020

A few thoughts on the newest hysteria: cameras overheating while shooting esoteric video.


Many years ago I was a still photographer on a movie set here in Austin. I worked around a large crew of people and we basically just overwhelmed locations when we came to film. This was during the days of only film cinematography; no digital. It was a hot Summer and most of the production was done in evenings and at night. Most of the day time work was spent doing the interior scenes that were part of the project. 

But after reading some current/new camera reviews and watching people pontificate about the "horrors" of an 8K consumer camera having the temerity to overheat, I remembered going with the crew to a location out on Hwy. 290 West, just outside of Austin, to film a scene with a couple of train cars in the background. We went at midday. 

The lighting crew had been on site for hours, setting up 18K lights and various huge diffusion scrims as balance lights for the ultra-bright Texas sun (pre- any air pollution). Once the camera crew and the director arrived the DP, the director and the AC roughed in the angle of view and camera position for the first shot and then quickly retreated to an air conditioned RV while people further down the pay scale got to work. The first thing the crew did was position the camera, figure out the framing and then erect a open sided tent over the camera to shield both the camera and the operators (camera op + focus puller) from the direct sun. 

Then they set up the director's station and put a tent up over that. 

I thought the tent over the camera, to block the radiant heat of the sun, was solely for the comfort of the camera crew. As a working photographer no one up to that point had ever thought of putting up some shade for me while I was working on a shot but --- I've planned for it on every exterior shot since...

So, in some downtime I teased the camera crew about the tent. They were not amused. They slowly and carefully explained to me that movie film gets degraded by heat. Heat from anything. It's like slow motion mayonnaise in direct sun. It will eventually have color shifts and increased grain and other junk happen. And if the film gets damaged nothing else matters. A great take is meaningless. Brilliant acting is wasted. Etc. 

Since the movie film, when attached to a big cinema camera, is in a black metal film magazine, you can imagine that the interior temps of that black box skyrockets if you leave it out in the sun. A simple method of reducing the temperatures by a minimum of 20 degrees (as compared with direct sunlight) is to always keep the gear and the film in the shade. Even if you have to make shade.

When the Red series of cinema cameras came out movie production made its real move into digital. I got to shoot stills on some motion projects (mostly TV commercials) where Red cameras were the primary digital camera used on the project. Those camera, which fully outfitted cost somewhere in the $50,000 range ( lens additional ) would all overheat. If it was Summer then the cameras were overheating. The large sensors and the high bit rates pretty much guaranteed it.

And these are cameras that have built-in cooling fans. The data throughput heated up these 4K and 5K cameras like little toaster ovens. And the first line of defense was to always, ALWAYS  keep them out of the direct sun. Some D.P.s and camera crews kept their Reds in big coolers till it was time to shoot. Others figured out clever ways to attach ice packs around the cameras. Several very famous directors, who loved the look they could get out of the raw movie files, demanded that the productions working on their movies rent two or three Red cameras so that when one overheated they could cycle the second one in. And then the third. 

But the first line of defense was a tent over the top. If the shot was a moving shot on a dolly the grips would devise an articulated arm and some clamps and position foam core or some other white board to ride along over the top of the camera. For shade. I know I'm beating a dead horse here but the message is: motion cameras hate direct sun. Movie cameras hate direct sun. So, by extension........ Canon R5 cameras, when used to shoot high bit rate motion.....hate direct sun. 

I have a movie camera called a Sigma fp. It doesn't overheat. It was designed not to overheat. But when I use it for advertising stills or to shoot video clips out in the sun I bring a C-Stand, a side arm, a couple clamps and a 60 inch diameter white umbrella. The umbrella gets positioned over the camera and lens. If I can swing it I steal some shade from the rig for me as well. The Sigma fp was also designed with a big external heat sink and a non-moving (no mechanical image stabilization) sensor. But I would still put it under an umbrella or a tent if I was shooting in full sun. 
Will's spicy BBQ sauce. 

Many V-Loggers and reviewers have been critical of Canon for making a camera that can shoot 8K but when doing so might overheat. Commenters are already trumpeting the "deal-killer" words. You would have thought Canon put out a camera on which the lenses randomly fall off without warning. The same people who wouldn't be dumb enough to leave a fish sandwich with extra mayonnaise, or sushi, out in a plastic Baggie™ in sun for two hours before eating it are expecting a camera with tech forward features to fair much better. 

Here's an interesting workaround for all the people who are mortified by an 8K camera overheating in full sun: Try blocking direct infra-red light from hitting any part of the camera. Seriously. Then, do what all the Black Magic, Sigma fp and other professional owners do when they need to shoot higher spec video settings which heat up their cameras --- use an external digital recorder, like an Atomos, and benefit from not writing to the card in the camera (which takes more processing power, which generates more heat). If possible, power the camera from an external power supply so the battery and everything around it in the camera doesn't heat up. 

I don't really have an opinion about whether or not people need to shoot 8K video but I do know that they should be smart about doing so if they really need or want to do it. If 8K is mission critical then so is shade, an external recorder and some common sense. You can buy a car that will go 140 mph at red line. And you can drive it flat out with the air conditioning on full. I can more or less guarantee you that if you choose to drive that way in Texas on an August afternoon your engine will reach it's limits sooner than you think and you'll have a lot more to worry about than waiting for your consumer camera to cool down enough to work again. Just a thought. 

I've shot video with Sonys that overheat. The one that was most abused but never shut down, or even flashed a warning, was the RX10-3. I never had a Nikon D810 shut down either. But I when I was shooting those cameras we were using the smallish codecs provided by Sony and Nikon. Not a fire hose high, and complex data stream.

I lent a camera to a writer once. He ran afoul of a homeless person he was no doubt badgering for a photo and the camera went sailing high into the air, stopping only when it impacted with an asphalt road. The camera was totaled. The writer was huffy. He suggested that camera makers should build sturdier cameras if they wanted to call their cameras "professional."

No one ever lent him a camera again. 

From everything I've heard from the more rational camera users I know the R5 is an extremely good photography camera and goes (at least) toe-to-toe with the likes of the Panasonic S1R or the Sony A7R4. If you use it properly you can get some amazingly good video files from it as well. But once you veer off into esoterica you have to understand that limitations apply. You have to leverage what the camera can do with mindful use strategies and good set engineering. 

Otherwise you're just red-lining your gear to see where the break points are. And you're the one who will ultimately suffer. 

I'd love to have a Canon R5 and the 24-105mm RF zoom. I bet it's incredible. I'd shoot video with it too. But I'd first educate myself about the best ways to make it all work. Sad that people are so....unwilling to learn. 

Tent. Tent everything. Walking on the surface of Mercury? Be sure to bring a metallized umbrella to hold over yourself and protect you from the sun. Oh, and make sure your Nikes don't melt....


Does anyone remember when computer chips overheated and IBM started making machines with liquid cooling? Really. Even Apple had a model with liquid cooled chips. I liked mine. It kept my feet warm in the winter..... but the fan noise was still bad.

I predict (tongue in cheek) that all hybrid, mirrorless cameras will come with liquid cooled sensors and built-in fans in two years or less. And I predict that Tether Tools will have a $300 white umbrella that attaches over your camera in the next month or so. And I predict a company in China will have pretty much the same thing a couple months later for a lot less money. 

Stay cool. That goes for your cameras too!!!

19 comments:

Mark the tog said...

I completely agree. Those complaining imply they are involving a sophisticated and demanding commercial project yet they choose to use every shortcut they can.
My clients are always surprised by the time it takes to set up a shoot as they are convinced I would walk on set with my “pro” camera, snap a few frames and call it a wrap.
I shoot stills exclusively but I do understand that shooting to an external recorder is the best way to avoid overheating. This was even mentioned in DPRs review. And if you are a video god you are using an external recorder right?

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

And keeping direct sun off your camera and lens! Pro stuff, I guess. Like using sunscreen and wearing a hat...

Anonymous said...

I accidentally dropped my Canon 5DmkIV into a volcano and I'm pissed that it didn't survive. Weather sealed my ass.

ODL Designs said...

Good write up Kirk, this culture of disappointment and complaint gets tiresome. Solve your problems, don't expect others to solve them for you.

When you mentioned a heat sink I remembered the em1x, I was certain, and now it seems wrong, that Olympus would use that platform with cooling and dual chips to produce a stellar video camera... I can still hope :)

typingtalker said...

Those that can do. Those that can't whine (or winge) on the internet.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I didn’t realize this was an issue that could be managed ( if you could afford multiple backup cameras, monitors, and had a crew to carry all of the extra gear). Still, it would be far from ideal for a lot of hybrid shooters.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Maybe...but a lot (a LOT) of people using hybrids for video ARE using external digital recorders...which cure most of the heat problems. And a fair amount of them are also using external power supplies...

Nothing is ever ideal. Especially when the perfect camera (an Arri Alexa???) cost more than most new cars...

Lots of ellipses tonight...

All issues can be managed once the parameters are recognized. A lazy carpenter blames his tools...

TBan said...

Ah, the voice of reason. Of course you’d probably get flamed to death by the forum idiots who probably never have done serious cinema work.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Thanks TBan! Working with the stuff for eight to ten hours a day on a project is a much more effective motivation for finding out how to optimize.

JC said...

This blog entry reminded me of something I've meant to say for a while. Judging by your taste for color and your interest in video, I believe you would be fascinated (in a technical and aesthetic sense) by the video in Netflix series "Umbrella Academy." I suspect the story itself would skizz you out (it's based on a fantasy/sci-fi comic book) but the video shots themselves are pretty amazing and sometimes Kirk-like. For a taste, start with season 2, which is set in Dallas, Tx, just before the Kennedy assassination. You won't understand the story without seeing season 1, but the video...

Alan Fairley said...

And one of my pet peeves is the fashion mandate that camera bags and backpacks should be black. (Gear in a black bag is about 20 degrees hotter than in a white bag.) Back in the day, I just painted my 4x5 field camera backpack white. Domke about the only manufacturer who had a lick of sense on that issue.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Hey Alan, I hear you. When we go out on location I bring along a silver fabric that's made by Chimera for the 48 by 48 inch frames. Whenever I have to put a black bag in the sun I drape the silver fabric on top.

I also have a large Domke camera bag that is a light tan color. You used to be able to buy most of their bags in either black or tan. It makes a difference.

Thanks!

scott kirkpatrick said...

Mirrorless cameras that stop when driven hard on a 100 degree day are not just making 8K videos. I've been hearing anguished purchasers of 40-60 MPixel wonders whose new toys freeze when shooting steadily, chimping constantly, and maybe running in continuous shooting mode, which is just as punishing as video. And if the camera just sits there unresponding, no error message showing, while it waits to feel better, they can be quite unhappy.

Question -- is it customary for a camera to explain that it's taking a break to cool down, or do they just freeze?

Terry Manning said...

I think video bloggers / YouTubers have ruined camera releases and camera marketing. I'm sure the manufacturers cater to them because of the growth potential of that market versus the market for traditional and primarily still shooters, but I get TIRED of seeing every new camera "specced to death" because it doesn't meet vloggers' increasingly unrealistic expectations. It's insane to me that ANYONE would buy a camera with a DSLR or mirrorless form factor to shoot unlimited 4K or 8K footage. Why not just buy a high-end camcorder and leave the smaller bodies to those of us who appreciate them? And what's the WORKFLOW for that much data? Where do you STORE it?!? I'd be more than happy with most cameras out now as long as I could shoot the occasional video clip. But these vloggers seem to get thrills from shooting down what appear to be excellent cameras. p.s. Six months from now there'll be a wave of "Maybe I spoke too hastily" videos about the R5 and R6, wherein they admit the cameras work better than they initially thought. I'd bet good money on that.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Scott, most of the cameras (sony, canon, nikon) show a warning signal in the finder or on the rear screen before they shut down. So, yes, they do show an error message.

Most high res cameras that are accused of freezing are probably just spending time writing huge files to slow, cheap, older UHS-I SD cards....

If you upgrade the cameras you'll probably want to upgrade the memory cards. I'm current using QXD cards and CFast cards in my four bigger Lumix cameras. They read and write as fast as the cameras.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Terry, I don't begrudge people using hybrid cameras (basically regular still cameras) to do video with but they do need to recognize that there are some limitations. I get great files from the S1 cameras but I don't expect to get super high data rates from those cameras. If a client needed some super res files I'm pretty sure the video rental houses still exist. Likewise, if I needed vector scopes, wave form monitors and locked time code I'd find many (most) of the hybrid cameras to be very limited.

A high end "camcorder" for pro work, to my mind is something like the Sony FS7 or FS9 but by the time you trick out one of those cameras to be functional and ready to shoot you are looking at well over $10K.

I can do the same kind of work with an S1 but I'll need some workarounds like screw on ND filters instead of internal NDs. I'll need to add pro microphone adapters and, if I want to shoot higher data rates an external recorder is indicated. You just have to know that going into a project with a compromise camera. You can make it competitive but it takes time, energy and some kludgey looking add ons.

I do think that both the R6 and R5 will be some of Canon's most successful cameras. At least within the current market conditions.

scott kirkpatrick said...

The Sony QXD cards that the S1 and S1R take are really nice to have when uploading to my laptop. The difference between them and even UHS-II conventional cards is like night and day. But $$$, and they can't be used in any other camera that I have.

Michael said...

A refreshingly smart review. Thanks!

tnargs said...

Enjoyable tongue-in-cheek reminiscing there, Kirk. Thank you for the enjoyable read.

Not sure if your emphasis on direct sunlight was also tongue-in-cheek, though, or maybe you don't know how the R5 does its party trick.

No direct sunlight required.

Canon's warning notice says 23 degrees C -- that's indoors, in the shade, with the air-con on. And DPR tests say it 'meets that' level, and dies.

DPR have, I think, tried hard to be fair. They gave it an honest test in a range of situations, wrote an article, continued with testing, revised the article, and what does their bottom line say?

"Expect to shoot line-skipped 30p for the bulk of your footage."

I would be surprised, tongue-out-of-cheek, if you would be delighted with having to live with that working conclusion.

cheers
Arg