What my video camera means to me: journalist Elisa Iannacone

Journalist and cinematographer Elisa Iannacone reveals what she looks for in a camera and shares her shooting experiences with the Canon EOS C70 and XA55.
A video still showing journalist and cinematographer Elisa Iannacone filming with the Canon XA55 camcorder while cliff camping in Wales.

Journalist and cinematographer Elisa Iannacone travels the world covering war and natural disasters so she needs kit that she can rely on, and that can withstand tough conditions. To test the autofocus and image stabilisation capabilities of the Canon EOS C70 and the Canon XA55 camcorder, she took both cameras on an overnight camping trip, which would involve her filming from a tiny, portable ledge suspended from the edge of a cliff.

"When you tell a story in a way that's unexpected, you start to reframe people's views on it, and suddenly an audience that was once quite passive – because they feel like they've seen that image many times – becomes curious," says journalist and documentary cinematographer Elisa Iannacone. It's a belief that has driven her to create a diverse portfolio of work, shooting videos and documentaries in more than 30 countries and across six continents.

A trained cinematographer, Elisa's work has featured in National Geographic, Newsweek and VICE magazine and on BBC World News. Drawn to human rights stories and underreported issues, she has covered war zones and natural disasters, from domestic violence in Iraqi refugee camps to the devastation of Cyclone Idai in Mozambique in 2019.

Two children standing next to a river covered in algae and lined by palm trees.

Cyclone Idai made landfall near the city of Beira in Mozambique, killing hundreds of people and destroying property and crops. Elisa's Mozambique work was shot on a Canon EOS 7D (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 7D Mark II) but she says she will now do more filming with the Canon EOS C70, "just because of the different kinds of output, quality and control that it has". Taken on a Canon EOS 7D with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 41mm, 1/250, f/10 and ISO250. © Elisa Iannacone

A man with dreadlocks playing a drum in a destroyed rehearsal studio in Beira, Mozambique.

While in Mozambique, Elisa connected with a group of artists who had lost all their musical instruments and documented their struggle to cope. Domingos Manuel Francisco is pictured playing a drum in the ruins of the group's rehearsal studio. Taken on a Canon EOS 7D with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 24mm, 1/400 sec, f/3.2 and ISO250. © Elisa Iannacone

"I didn't really know what I was going to find," she recalls, on arriving in the city of Beira, Mozambique, 90% of which had been destroyed by the storm. Connecting with a group of artists who had lost their musical instruments, she was able to tell a wider story of the devastation through the lens of their personal experience. "I try to find stories that are beyond the facts – for me, that story felt so meaningful."

Elisa has also dedicated six years to The Spiral of Containment, a long-term multimedia project that addresses the impact of sexual violence and finds ways for survivors to express themselves visually "through the realm of the imagination". Exhibited at Bargehouse at OXO Tower Wharf in London, England, the immersive art installation is set to become a touring exhibition.

Here, Elisa reveals the kit that she relies on in the field, and shares her experiences shooting with the Canon EOS C70 and the Canon XA55 camcorder.

A woman in a bright red dress walking in front of a façade of a ruined castle. Orange smoke billows from the castle windows.

"I like finding a different way of telling a story – to generate new interest in something that perhaps we've seen hundreds of times," says Elisa. In her multimedia project, The Spiral of Containment, she used creative concepts and vivid colours to photograph survivors of sexual assault. "I hate it when we re-victimise the victim; when we present someone that's already been through a lot in a black and white, photojournalistic way," she says. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens. © Elisa Iannacone

Elisa Iannacone holding her Canon camera while standing thigh deep in water.

Elisa photographing an image from The Spiral of Containment, thigh deep in water. "You want equipment that you can trust, that's reliable, and that's not going to let you down," says Elisa. "You need to make sure that the camera's doing exactly what you need it to do. You want technology to be your ally, not your enemy."

The demands of a solo shooter

Working in the field as a journalist and documentary filmmaker, Elisa is often on her own. Having the right kit is crucial for her creative output – and for her safety. "Working in these environments is challenging and you need equipment you can rely on," she says. "Rugged equipment is really helpful: sometimes you're in a protest and you have to run; sometimes you have to climb a wall and you don't have anyone to pass stuff to. It's important to have portable and lightweight cameras – when you're in those situations, every dead battery weighs you down."

Elisa looks for a reliable camera which packs high-quality pixels into a compact body. "As a solo shooter, you want to make sure that you're not going to have to pay huge attention to any one department because basically you're juggling all of them. You need a camera that's responsive, that becomes an extension of your body.

"The expectation now is that you're going to deliver high quality, fast turnarounds with less people. With Covid-19, we're seeing much smaller crews, so you need technology to be your ally."

Elisa was forced to rely on her kit more than usual when, due to Covid-19 safety measures, she was asked to film an interview remotely with an elderly Holocaust survivor. "Luckily, I was working with a Canon XA55 with serious auto-focusing skills, and I was able to track it from a separate room," she says. "The Dual Pixel AF was on face priority. It locked on to her and it worked perfectly."

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Journalist and documentary cinematographer Elisa Iannacone smiles at the camera during a studio interview.

Comparing cameras: cliff camping

Elisa had been using a Canon EOS C300 Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS C300 Mark III), a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and a Canon EOS 7D to shoot her news and documentary footage. However, she was one of the first professionals to shoot with the Canon EOS C70, filming with Canon's smallest Cinema EOS camera and a Canon XA55 on a cliff camp in Wales.

The overnight shoot allowed Elisa to trial the low-light and infrared capabilities of both cameras. Dangling from ropes and balancing on a portaledge was a good test for the cameras' autofocus and image stabilisation features.

Elisa was immediately drawn to the small form factor of the EOS C70, a key requirement for journalists working in sensitive environments. "A compact camera is very helpful because you might need to hide it underneath a burka," she says. "You don't want to call attention to yourself. Sometimes it's not just about your own safety, it's about putting other people at ease. When you come in with big kit, lights and everything, people can be intimidated.

"Even though the EOS C70 is a cinema camera, it's just so compact – it's amazing how much is inside of that body. The ability to work with RF lenses is great because the communication between the lens and the body is faster than with other lenses, which means that the [accuracy] of your image is that much higher."

Journalist Elisa Iannacone sitting on a portaledge suspended from the side of a cliff in Wales.

Elisa sitting on a portaledge while cliff camping in Wales. "I wanted to test the Canon EOS C70 and the Canon XA55 in a strange environment," she says. "I wanted to see how easy it was to get them to respond when you're dangling from ropes, trying to balance."

Journalist Elisa Iannacone filming from the edge of a cliff with a Canon XA55 camcorder.

The highly compact and lightweight Canon XA55 offers a high quality 4K UHD image. The Dual Pixel CMOS AF and 15x optical zoom came into their own while Elisa was filming a boat sailing off into the sunset.

Being able to shoot 120fps at full cinema 4K allowed Elisa to capture smooth footage of mountain bikers as they shot around a bend, and with full autofocus. "I didn't know this person was coming… and the camera just auto focused, even in slow motion."

The Canon XA55, meanwhile, offered Elisa 4K UHD across a wide focal length, from 25.5-282.5mm, and Dual Pixel AF, which she used to track a high-speed boat. "It was sailing into the sunset where you have those highlights, and you also have the darkness in the waves, so having that latitude is really nice," she says.

"Sometimes a zoom lens is exactly what you want. In a quickly changing situation, sometimes you need a safe vantage point and to be able to swing in very, very quickly. Overall, it's a really good camera, quite portable. And it's got XLR inputs, which are great for audio."

Filmmaker imeon Quarrie filming with the Canon EOS C70 camera.

Shooting on a budget with the Canon EOS C70

Filmmaker Simeon Quarrie explains how the smallest Cinema EOS camera enables filmmakers to deliver more with less.
Elisa Iannacone kneels behind a tripod mounted with a Canon camera in a dusty Iraqi street.

Elisa working in Iraq – she often finds herself in hostile environments where the situation can change quickly and she needs to be prepared for the unexpected. "Having kit with long-lasting batteries and that's portable enough to keep you nimble is paramount," she says.

A female Iraqi refugee in a patterned dress and headscarf standing against a plain, dark background.

"When you're operating in a refugee camp, particularly the ones that I visited in Iraq, not only do you need the right equipment, but you also have to brace yourself emotionally. A lot of the stories that you're going to hear are very, very painful. You need to be strong enough for yourself, and strong enough for the people that are telling their story," says Elisa. Taken on a Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 24mm, 1/125, f/2.8 and ISO640. © Elisa Iannacone

Versatile codecs and standout dynamic range

With a wealth of recording formats, the Canon EOS C70 offers journalists versatility in the field. "I was shooting XF-AVC 4:2:2 10-bit, but you can shoot other codecs that are about half the weight of XF-AVC, which, if you need to edit something on your laptop and turn it around very quickly, is very helpful," says Elisa. "I love the fact that you can output straight to PQ and HLG, because it saves you time on colour correct. If you want to go to broadcast, you've already got the industry standard."

The camera's standout DGO sensor, the same as that found in its Cinema EOS stablemate, the Canon EOS C300 Mark III, offers 16+ stops of dynamic range when shooting in Canon Log 2. Paired with the camera's built-in ND filters, this gives powerful control over light. As well as being able to shoot past sunset and extract detail from the rocks and waves with just the light of the moon, Elisa could see practical applications for her work in hostile environments.

"Turning on a light can attract attention and make a situation dangerous – for yourself, and for the people that you're interviewing," she says. "You need a camera that's going to be able to read into the shadows. The more latitude you have the better, and this camera did not disappoint.

"The beauty of the internal ND filters is that I can actually control my lighting situation. I can get a more beautiful depth of field and have that bokeh effect. I can control that with a little knob, which is awesome. A camera such as the EOS C70, where you can rely on the autofocus and image stabilisation, then have such a vast choice in terms of output, makes your life a lot easier. It's really just an excellent body."

Lucy Fulford

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