Cold, dark, exhilarating: filming the Noordkaap Challenge on the Canon EOS C200

Professional kite surfer Kevin Langeree with his board in front of an Aurora Borealis-filled sky. Photo by Humberto Tan.
As filmmaker Michael Zomer and his Noordkaap Challenge team travelled in a car across snow, the Northern Lights lit up the sky, and photographer Humberto Tan was able to quickly take what pro kite surfer Kevin Langeree called "the money shot". Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM lens at 11mm, 30 secs, f/4.5 and ISO1250. © Humberto Tan

Dangerously icy conditions with temperatures as low as -20°C, minimal kit, and only two hours of light per day – shooting kite surfing in the depths of a Norwegian winter is far from a typical filmmaking job.

Experienced outdoor cameraman Michael Zomer has shot extreme sports all over the world but was pushed to the limit when filming pro kite surfer Kevin Langeree in the dangerous conditions of the Barents Sea at North Cape, Norway, the most northerly point in Europe. Kevin travelled to North Cape (or Noordkaap) as part of the Noordkaap Challenge, a charity adventure challenge. When filming the challenge, Michael and his Canon EOS C200 faced a number of tests themselves.

"The hardest thing was that everything had to fall into place, especially the weather, because we were always chasing the light," Michael says. "We had two or three days to make it happen. If the wind is not blowing, there's no kite surfing. If the wind is blowing too hard, there's also no kite surfing. So it has to be perfect.

"When we arrived at North Cape, there was a huge storm and nobody wanted to take us out. So it was a big mission. We were running up against time because of the limited daylight that we had. I also had to do everything myself, and carry everything."

Key kit for the adventure

Choosing the right kit was an essential part of Michael's planning. He selected two zooms, a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM and a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens to focus in on the kite surfer in the ocean. This minimises the need for lens swaps and provides a large range of focal lengths without compromising quality. "I wish I could have taken a 400mm lens," he adds, "but it wasn't possible as I was shooting alone. I had to record sound, direct, produce and film, all at the same time. I couldn't tell the kite surfer to wait while I swapped lenses."

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The choice of a reliable camera was crucial – it had to be portable, light and easy to use in a hurry, and to offer fast frame rates, perform well at high ISOs and most of all, to have a long battery life.

"When it's so cold, batteries die quickly even though I keep them in my jacket pocket to stay warm. So I needed a camera that had a long battery life instead of carrying spares and swapping them," says Michael. "The obvious choice was the Canon EOS C200 , as I could go a whole day on one battery." The Super 35-size sensor is not only amazing at controlling noise, but extends the range of the lenses to give even more reach.

"With so much going on, I could really count on the equipment instead of having to worry about it. I could just grab it, and it worked. Because of the really fast start-up time, I didn't miss any moments. When I saw something happening that looked interesting, I switched on the camera and started shooting. I didn't have to worry about whether I had enough battery life or whether there was enough light. I could just shoot 'run-and-gun' style. That's a real benefit."

Filmmaker Michael Zomer, holding a Canon EOS C200, stands with his back to the viewer on a grassy field. Photo by Andrew Walkinshaw.
Michael always shoots handheld, so he needed a camera that was light and portable but also with all the key features he needed. The Canon EOS C200 was ideal. © Andrew Walkinshaw

Shooting in a handheld style

You only have to watch Michael's films for a short time to realise he certainly has his own style, with many shots using a loose, handheld look to bring a real-world edge.

"I make films in my style – that's why I always shoot handheld instead of using gimbals and tripods," he says. "With my handheld footage, I throw in some in and out of focus breathing, so you get the feeling that you were actually there.

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"And besides that, it's also just handy to do with this camera. You can you throw it to your chest, or keep it low, because you can angle the screen so easily. You can put it on your shoulder or have it in front of your face. It basically can do it all.

"I like to throw it underneath my arm and cradle it against my side to hold it steady, then flip the screen so I can see it from top-down.

"When I want to create gimbal kind of moving shots, I shoot at 60fps and I use my body movements. Then I put the footage into slow motion so it becomes steadier, and throw in an image stabiliser in post-production." With the Canon EOS C200 offering even faster 120fps in HD as well as 4K/ 50p shooting, it's a dream camera for someone shooting action, too.

Having no external recorder, no external monitor, follow-focus, matte box or gimbal helps Michael keep his gear streamlined. "I don't want to have a camera dressed up like a Christmas tree. I think I'm good at creating really beautiful things with only the basic kit. Keep it simple for maximum creativity."

Two cars drive at night with the sky above them illuminated by the green Northern Lights. Photo by Humberto Tan.
As well as shooting kite surfing in the freezing waters of the Barents Sea, Michael and his team couldn't help but stop and take a few shots of the mesmerising Northern Lights. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM lens at 18mm, 15 secs, f/4 and ISO1250. © Humberto Tan

Working in Cinema RAW Light

One of the Canon EOS C200's unique features for such a small camera is that it saves Cinema RAW Light format to CFast 2.0 cards to give the ultimate in quality and flexibility in post. So it might come as a surprise that Michael decided not to shoot RAW but stick with the XF-AVC codec because he didn't feel the need to use a more data-hungry format.

"I shot in 1080p, because the output of the video was to be 1080p and I needed a lot of slow motion, up to 120fps," he says. "I see the benefits of shooting 4K, but we were on a road trip, so I wanted to keep my data low. It meant a far faster upload at the end of each day."

Despite the lower bit rate, the Canon EOS C200 can shoot in WideDR and Canon Log to maximise dynamic range, and the footage was incredibly detailed and rich, with subtle tones and very low noise despite much of it being shot in low light.

Filmmaker Michael Zomer and professional kite surfer Kevin Langeree standing on the side of the road in front of a snow bank laughing. Photo by Humberto Tan.
Michael was impressed by the Canon EOS C200's low-light performance. Sometimes he ended up filming with just the light from a smartphone screen. © Humberto Tan

Low light challenges

"Most of the time I was shooting in low light, because the sun rises just a little bit above the horizon for a couple of hours and then goes down again. So it's not even fully daylight," Michael says. "It's a really weird, mysterious kind of light but it's beautiful. And I was surprised by how good the Canon EOS C200 was at dealing with it."

Michael did end up pushing the ISO, sometimes even filming with just the light from a phone screen. "I told Kevin to check the weather forecast on his mobile phone, and that light was enough for me to film in. Otherwise it was totally pitch black."

When you are shooting in very low light, it can be tough to get your subject in focus. Michael soon learned to rely on the Dual Pixel CMOS Autofocus on the camera, as well as the advanced Face Detection AF.

"The autofocus is a huge benefit. Not having to focus manually felt a bit weird at first, but I was really, really surprised by the AF of the Canon EOS C200. And I used the face detection, which impressed me too," he says. "It allowed me to be more focused on keeping the camera steady, instead of also having to pull the focus."

Natural audio capture

The Canon EOS C200's advanced audio recording also helped Michael when it came to capturing CD-quality sound. "The camera has two XLR ports, so I had two wireless microphones on different channels. I also had a small shotgun mic on the camera, which I could quickly plug in. But there were situations, for example, when we had to talk with a fisherman and I wanted to have it pure, not clipping a microphone on."

With such compact kit, Michael did afford himself one luxury for shooting video – to take along his trusty Canon EOS-1D X DSLR (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III), which of course uses the same EF lens mount as the Canon EOS C200. He used this to shoot time-lapses that captured the majesty of the Northern Lights.

This footage provides a serene and colourful counterpoint to all the fast action of kite surfing, and shows the other-worldly beauty of the location. You could almost forget it was so cold.

Autor Adam Duckworth

Michael Zomer's kitbag

The key kit pros use to film their documentaries

The Canon EOS C200 Cinema Camera.



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