ARTICLE

Capturing the extreme sport of BASE jumping with Canon Cinema EOS cameras

Director Regan Hall shares how the Canon EOS C500 Mark II, EOS C300 Mark III and EOS R5 offered a new perspective on filming adventure sports.
A man filming on a mountain in the Swiss Alps with a Canon Cinema EOS camera.

New Zealand/British director Regan Hall's latest project is a documentary series about extreme sports that seeks to capture the human spirit behind the incredible action. His first film – the only one shot so far because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, in full compliance with the rules in force in Switzerland, Croatia and Italy at the time – focuses on BASE jumping. "The BASE jumping community was not used to seeing a film crew with Netflix-approved cameras at the exit points, so it was quite a venture," says Regan. "We saw some beautiful, beautiful vistas."

Climbing a ridge, with snow-capped Swiss mountains in the background, a group of thrill-seekers head to the edge of the peak – and then jump, soaring through the air supported only by their bodysuits. This is wingsuit BASE jumping, one of the most daring and dangerous extreme sports.

BASE stands for the four categories of fixed objects people jump from: Buildings, Antennas, Spans (that is, bridges) and Earth (in this case, cliffs). After free-falling, jumpers deploy a parachute, but the sport is made even more extreme by using a wingsuit. After they jump, the wingsuit inflates, allowing jumpers to achieve human-powered flight, free-falling for longer before opening a parachute.

"BASE jumping is a crazy sport for anyone looking at it from the outside," says director Regan Hall, who joined the adrenaline-fuelled action in the Alps for his new extreme sports documentary series, along with a small crew. As well as directing features and TV drama including Fast Girls, Ash vs Evil Dead and the Baghdad-set short film 3 Hours, Regan has spent the past decade working on fashion and beauty commercials, shooting the likes of Rihanna and Halle Berry for brands including Versace and Revlon. But his true love is long-form storytelling.

"This was a chance for me to apply my storytelling and visual skills to a subject that is often only ever seen in sports photography or in one-minute montages on Instagram," he says. "I wanted to delve into the complex human stories behind such high-octane clips."

Shooting on a Canon EOS C500 Mark II, an EOS C300 Mark III and an EOS R5 offered Regan and his team, who also travelled to Croatia and Italy for the shoot, a compact cinematic package to capture the soaring action.
A Canon Cinema EOS camera with a 30-105mm lens.

A flexible filmmaking set up

"We had some unique requirements for this shoot," says DoP Marek Klucar, a cinematographer from Slovakia and long-time collaborator of Regan's. "We had to be a very minimalistic and unobtrusive crew and get equipment to locations accessible only by hike, yet still deliver a high production value... Canon managed to tick all the boxes."

Marek was initially drawn towards the Canon EOS C500 Mark II for its small form factor and autofocus capabilities. "By using still lenses combined with Dual Pixel Autofocus, we could avoid having a focus puller," he says. "The full-frame sensor was also key to achieving images with pleasing depth of field, even when paired with wider angle lenses."
As the project developed, a Canon EOS C300 Mark III, an EOS R5 and a suite of lenses, including Sumire Primes and Cine Zooms, were added to the production. "We had about five different camera setups, all customised to the situation," says Regan. "The ambition was cinematic images in the documentary run-and-gun style setup."

The Canon EOS C300 Mark III quickly became their primary body, often paired with a Canon CN-E30-105mm T2.8 L S/SP lens to pick out the daredevils in the sky. "The EOS C300 Mark III complemented the EOS C500 Mark II perfectly, with its astonishing 16 stops of dynamic range and up to 120fps slow motion," says Marek, who also appreciated the fact both bodies are approved to make content for Netflix. "A Super 35mm camera paired with the compact cinema zoom lens gave us nice documentary zoom range. For the beauty shots we would switch to Sumire Primes, which gave us smooth bokeh and beautiful skin tones."

They shot in Cinema RAW Light on both the Cinema EOS cameras, while recording 2K proxies allowed the team to review dailies despite their remote location. "We'll be finishing this in 4K and it's about not just having the resolution, but also the cinematic quality," says Regan. "That's where Canon's camera technology and lens aesthetics really combine nicely."

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A man filming with a Canon camera and a woman holding a boom mic on a bright day in the Swiss Alps.

Lauterbrunnen, in the Swiss Alps, draws adventure sports enthusiasts, thanks to its stunning vistas and wide, open valley with sheer drops, perfect for BASE jumping – and action photography.

A figure in a wingsuit leaps into the abyss in the Swiss Alps as two crew members film from the clifftop.

Having kit that was light and portable enough to carry across elevated, steep and often narrow terrain, while still offering cinematic quality, was absolutely paramount. "The BASE jumpers take the short way down, but we had to trek in and out with the equipment," says Regan. Photo by Chris McDougall

The human side to a daredevil sport

The nature of BASE jumping lends itself to epic scenery, and the Alpine location of Lauterbrunnen, a municipality in the Swiss mountains, was no exception. "Lauterbrunnen is an adventure sport mecca," says Regan. "It's a big, beautiful valley with sheer drops on either side and chocolate-box chalets."

It's also where Chris McDougall, a veteran BASE jumper and award-winning skydiver, calls home. "There aren't many veterans of the sport, because it's so dangerous," says Regan. "At first he seems a loose character with a death wish. But you soon get to know that he's actually a very methodical, serious jumper who has dedicated his later years to teaching a new generation of jumpers safer ways to do the sport."

Chris has been BASE jumping for more than 20 years, and the film charts his highs and lows, including the deaths of many close friends and a former partner. "He's certainly been touched by both glory and tragedy," says Regan.
Filmmaker Ben Sherlock with the Canon EOS C500 Mark II.

Comparing two cinematic powerhouses

Documentary filmmaker Ben Sherlock explores what the Canon Super 35mm EOS C300 Mark III and the full-frame Canon EOS C500 Mark II offer in the field.
A man standing in a wingsuit on a mountain outcrop in the Swiss Alps. Several snow-capped peaks can be seen in the distance behind him.

The story of Chris McDougall, a veteran BASE jumper and award-winning skydiver, forms the backbone of the film, which is part of a wider series about what motivates extreme sportspeople. "Chris was wonderful in opening up his life story to us," says Regan. Photo by Richard Davies

A man shooting with a Canon Cinema EOS camera and a telephoto lens on a tripod.

Nicola Cavalazzi, a camera operator on the film, capturing BASE jumpers soaring across the sky with a Canon camera and telephoto lens. "The Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens became a really useful all-round zoom. It allowed us to be on an opposite cliff or sitting in the valley filming the jumpers from the ground," says Regan.

The best time for jumps is at sunrise and sunset, when the wind is at its calmest, so the crew had some early starts for the 45-minute trek up perilous mountain passes to the jumpers' exit points. At the top of these mountains, the Canon EOS R5 came into its own, thanks to its high bitrate, large resolution and facial tracking packed into a small body. "A gimbal-mounted camera allowed us to create some cinematic tracking movements, even in the middle of a forest or on a cliff," says Regan.

Shooting in 8K, with 4K proxies, meant dealing with large file sizes, but ensured that the footage matched up to the cinema cameras. "All of the cameras worked really well together," Regan continues. "The hardware and cameras are all really complementary."

The jumpers came in waves, so the crew had about 30 minutes of intense filming, followed by a few hours of waiting. "So, as well as the tension and drama as people were jumping, we also managed to enjoy the serenity of the Swiss Alps," says Regan.
Three men gathered among the trees filming an interview, with a lightbox and Canon camera set up on a tripod.

In addition to action scenes, the crew also recorded interviews around a campfire, capturing atmospheric footage that took advantage of the cinematic qualities of the Canon EOS C500 Mark II.

A man holding a Canon EOS R5 camera with an EF 24-70mm lens.

The Canon EOS R5, outstanding for video as well as for sports and action photography, offered the documentary team Face Tracking AF to keep their moving subjects in sharp focus. "It was also a really great camera to have gimbal-mounted or to use as a backup video camera – or to shoot some really nice stills," says Regan.

New cinematic perspectives

As well as the high-octane shots, the crew also recorded interviews and slow motion around a campfire on the Canon EOS C500 Mark II. "We got some really nice colours, flickers and sparks, which added to the atmosphere," says Regan. "That's the advantage of kit like this – it allows you to create cinematic, atmospheric, slow-motion depth of field and bokeh that wasn't available for documentary shooters three or four years ago. It's really exciting."

Regan hopes to have shown a different side to the sport, which he feels is easily misrepresented online and in sports photography. "You think it's a wonderful, exciting adventure, but when you talk to people like Chris, you learn the trauma, heartache and angst behind the joy, exhilaration and adrenaline."

This is the first in a planned series of films the team is making based around adventure tourism and personalities around the globe, although the project is on hold at the moment because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. When travel restrictions ease, Regan is looking forward to continuing an endeavour that combines two of his big passions: filmmaking and outdoor adventure.

"I'm from New Zealand and grew up with a love for nature and the outdoors. I've always loved getting out and about, especially if a camera is on my shoulder."

Even with his considerable experience, however, this shoot did present some unique challenges. "I hate heights," he laughs. "I had a few moments, stepping on the edge of a precipice with a Canon EOS C300 Mark III strapped to my shoulder, thinking: 'What am I doing?' I had to just suck it up – after all, I was surrounded by a dozen people about to jump off that mountain. It was a great way to stretch my adventurous spirit."

Írta: Lucy Fulford


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