Filming behind-the-scenes on a Tahitian surf shoot with the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

A Canon EOS-1D X Mark III rigged for filming.
Cinematographer Nick Kennedy rigged up the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III to full cinema-style spec, complete with an electronic viewfinder plugged into the HDMI socket and external microphones connected for pro-quality audio. © Fergus Kennedy

A surfer leaps onto his board and carves a perfect arc on the azure blue water, the foaming spray forming a bright halo as it catches the sunlight bathing the idyllic island of Tahiti, French Polynesia. Against a backdrop of palm trees lining the black volcanic ash beaches, a photographer is also in the water, right in the thick of the action. The powerful waves break over a coral reef that can tear the unwary to shreds.

The surfer is 17-year-old prodigy Kauli Vaast, riding one of the world's most challenging waves, and the man capturing the scene is celebrated surf and underwater photographer Ben Thouard, armed with Canon's flagship action camera, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III. To document the pair and the daring photographic feat, British filmmaker Nick Kennedy also put the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III to work, filming in the South Pacific sunshine.

Cine cam specs, compact DSLR body

When Nick set out to film a behind-the-scenes video of the surf shoot, he knew it would ask a lot of his kit. His camera needed to be able to record everything from high-energy action to subtle sunset scenes. He needed to capture detail ranging from black wetsuits to bright highlights on the water, requiring a wide dynamic range and a robust codec. Shooting something so unpredictable demanded incredible autofocus and super slow-motion to make the most of every second of footage.

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His camera needed to be compact and rugged enough to work with on the water, totally reliable, and waterproof enough not to require a housing all the time. It had to be capable of using a wide range of lenses, and to have a long battery life.

That list of must-haves mixes the best of high-end cinema cameras such as the Canon EOS C500 Mark II with the speed and agility of a more compact, sports-focused DSLR. The launch of the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III brings this together in a single camera for the first time.

"When you're shooting surfing, you're often on a wobbling boat or in the water, and you need to know the camera can keep up," says Nick. "It has to keep focus, of course, and having 120fps in HD is really important because everything happens so fast that you need to extend those moments as long as you can. Recording 4K at 60p is crucial, too. It's essential the camera has Canon Log built in to retain maximum dynamic range.

"The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is unique because it has the specs – all the features I needed to shoot the entire film."

Nick Kennedy and Ben Thouard underwater with cameras in underwater housings.
Nick Kennedy found the rugged, weather-resistant Canon EOS-1D X Mark III had all the features and specs he required for his entire shoot. © Fergus Kennedy

Full-frame 4K and a new standard for filmmaking

The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III sets new standards for video. It's the first Canon stills camera with full-frame 4K and 12-bit 5.5K RAW movie recording internally, enabling incredibly detailed, oversampled 4K video. Canon Log footage is captured as 10-bit HEVC/H.265 files in the MP4 format for incredible colour rendition.

Surfer Kauli Vaast inside the tube of a breaking wave, photographed by Ben Thouard with a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III.

Capturing surf action with the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

Surf photographer Ben Thouard photographs the action in the dramatic waters of Tahiti with Canon's flagship pro DSLR.

"Having 10-bit 4:2:2 C-Log internal is amazing, because it's a production-ready format, plus you're getting all this detail in a pretty small file size," says Nick. "We shot roughly half the time in 4K/60p and half in 120fps HD. The HEVC codec is amazing and has as much detail and flexibility as I ever need. It's super sharp, crisp, has loads of detail and grades beautifully."

RAW does offer the ultimate in quality, allowing maximum detail to be drawn out of every frame, but Nick's preferred way of working is to use Canon Log, which can be recorded to the twin internal CFexpress memory cards.

"You can record 5.5K RAW to one card and it'll shoot a 4K proxy of it to the other, so you can get into the edit straight away and then just develop the bits of the RAW you need," he explains. "The camera makes workflow so easy.

"Even without RAW, the 4K/60 and slow-motion HD footage looks incredible. I was comfortably shooting up to ISO3200 in the evenings, where it performed well, with so little noise. Most of the footage was shot at ISO400, because when you're shooting Canon Log, that's the ideal for maximum dynamic range."

Surfer Kauli Vaast leaps over a wave, photographed by Ben Thouard.
One of Ben Thouard’s dramatic stills from the surf shoot shows the variable light conditions that he and Nick worked in. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens at 420mm, 1/2000 sec, f/6.3 and ISO800. © Ben Thouard

Detail in highlights and shadows

The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III's ability to retain both highlight and shadow detail across 12 stops, coupled with its incredibly fast autofocus system using Canon's Dual Pixel CMOS AF, meant Nick's crew could push their creativity. This became particularly clear when the camera was used in the water, handheld inside an underwater housing.

"When it's brightly lit, the foam of the water has loads of specular highlights – just a mass of bright white – and the surfers are wearing black wetsuits," says Nick. "If you didn't have Canon Log in that situation, something is going to be either over- or under exposed, and that is made much worse when you're shooting in the water.

"The guys in the water do these transition shots all the time, where you're going from above the water holding the camera, seeing the surfer coming towards you, then they duck underwater and you see the surfer from underneath. But when you go underwater, you lose two stops of light, so shooting C-Log and being able to get that all correctly exposed in one shot is amazing."

Shooting underwater also means you have to change where you focus, because of the way light bends in the water. "The camera has to change focus really fast and get it right," Nick explains. "We were shooting shallow depth of field on a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens and the camera's autofocus would find the right part of the frame and track with it. I don't know how you could do it without the AF."

Three photographers underwater with cameras in underwater housings, with waves swirling around them.
The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III's ability to use Canon Log meant Nick was able to capture all the detail and dynamic range he wanted even when he ducked under the surface. © Fergus Kennedy

Nick used a variety of Canon lenses for the shoot, including the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM and EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM. A EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM was used for many of the underwater shots.

Although the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III has Movie Digital 5-axis Image Stabilization, Nick preferred to use the IS on the lenses that have it, or to mount the camera on a motorised gimbal for tracking shots, such as when filming photographer Ben speeding along on a jet ski.

For the majority of the handheld shots, Nick rigged up the camera to full cinema-style spec, complete with an electronic viewfinder plugged into the HDMI socket and radio mics running in for audio. "This way, the whole rig balances nicely on the shoulder and it's solid. I used the histogram to get the exposure right, and the camera has a Log View Assist mode, so you can see what the footage might look like when it's finished. When configured like this, it's a proper cinema camera with no compromises."

After days of intense shooting, then being blown away by the results once in the edit, Nick is a huge fan of the camera as a top-quality tool for shooting movies. "The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is easily good enough to shoot a complete film," he says. "You're going to see people making some really amazing sports and outdoors films on that camera. It's got everything you need to shoot a documentary on it, just ready to go."

Written by Adam Duckworth

Nick Kennedy's kitbag

The key kit pros use to capture their videos

A Canon EOS-1D X Mark III and lenses on a well-used hard case with an underwater camera housing, flippers and other kit.


Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

The successor to the EOS-1D X Mark II flagship pro DSLR respected by sports and wildlife photographers the world over. Featuring an AF sensor with 28 times more resolution than its predecessor.


Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

A professional-quality standard zoom that offers outstanding image quality and a fast f/2.8 aperture throughout its zoom range.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

With its incredible f/1.2 maximum aperture, the super fast EF 50mm f/1.2L USM is a consummate low-light performer. A lens that allows fine creative control over focusing and depth of field.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM

A modern classic, this fast-aperture telephoto zoom lens is a favourite with photographers in virtually every genre. It’s now even better in bright light, and engineered to perform in the most challenging conditions.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

A compact, high-performance 100-400mm zoom lens that’s ideal for those shooting sports, action and wildlife photography. A 4-stop Image Stabilizer and high-quality optics deliver superb sharpness.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM

Capture stunning landscapes and architectural images using this compact and lightweight, high-performance, f/4 fixed aperture, ultra wide-angle zoom lens with Image Stabilizer. Ideal for professionals and enthusiasts.

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