Although a full-size ENG camera is plainly visible when the production team goes knocking on catfish doors, several smaller, more mobile Canon cameras are also present to provide comprehensive, intimate coverage. These cameras – which are also used to document discussions between the participants filmed in parks, cafes, and homes – include three Canon PowerShot S110 Digital Compact Cameras, two Canon XF105 High Definition camcorders, and an Canon XA25 High Definition camcorder.
“Our shooting style is cinema vérité, but for the 21st Century,” states DP/co-host Max Joseph. “Cinema vérité depends on lightweight film cameras, and our Canon HD cameras are so compact and lightweight we can shoot with more of them and go to more places than ever before. Larger cameras usually make people self-conscious, but smaller cameras are easily overlooked. These Canon cameras allow us to shoot in public without calling a lot of attention to ourselves, which is very important for this show. Our production style evolved from the 2010 film Catfish movie, which also used small cameras. These cameras are also all digital, which allows us to shoot for longer times and keep them rolling to record whatever happens.”
The spontaneous events in Catfish are typically captured from four simultaneous angles, with Joseph usually shooting with an additional fifth camera. “I have worked on other multi-camera shows, but never one where the co-host was also a camera operator,” notes DP John DeTarsio. “Max often uses a Canon PowerShot S110 in video mode. It’s a consumer camera, but you can use it almost anywhere, and the angles he’s able to get and the intimacy he is able to capture with his co-host and the characters provides some of Catfish’s best shots.”
A pocket-size digital still camera weighing just seven ounces, the Canon PowerShot S110 is equipped with a 12.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor and a Canon DIGIC 5 Image Processor and can capture full 1080p HD video with stereo sound. The camera also has a 24mm wide-angle lens with a 5x optical zoom. Joseph also uses a Canon XF105 professional HD camcorder for more demanding shots, he explained.
“The Canon XF105 is the biggest of our Canon cameras, but it’s really not very big at all,” Joseph elaborates. “I love using it for the more dynamic scenes where I know I can work the camera a little more, scenes where I know I need to be able to use the zoom to alternate between close and wide shots, and also when I know I can manually control the focus.”
“We went with the Canon XF105 because it’s so easy to hold,” DeTarsio added. “We put the XF105 in Max’s hands for hours at a time, every day. He’s performing on camera while also being a camera operator, and with this camera he’s able to do it. I searched high and low to find the right camera for him to use. When he first held the XF105 he said, ‘Okay, this is great.’ ”
Compact and weighing less than 3 lbs., the Canon XF105 HD camcorder features Canon’s advanced XF Codec and DIGIC DV III image processor for exceptional 1920x1080 HD. The XF105 also has a Genuine Canon 10x HD zoom lens for superb optical performance. In addition to the XF105 and the PowerShot S110, the third Canon camera in the Catfish arsenal is the XA25 professional HD camcorder.
“There are things that I really love about the Canon XA25 camcorder,” DeTarsio explained. “It’s small and rides well in the palm of your hand. It also has a 20x zoom lens and its image stabilization is amazing, especially when we’re following the hosts’ car from a ‘chase car’ and shooting with the Canon XF105 on a beanbag on the dashboard. The Canon XA25’s 3.5-inch screen is great; you can still view it outside in the bright sunshine. Its ability to detect, focus, and follow faces is incredible, and its picture quality is mind-boggling.”
The Canon XA25 HD camcorder weighs 1.7 lbs., employs both MP4 and AVCHD codecs for full 1920x1080HD, and – in addition to the 20x zoom lens, SuperRange Optical Image Stabilization, 3.5-inch OLED screen, and Face Detection AF referenced by DeTarsio – also features a 2.91 Megapixel full HD CMOS sensor and Canon DIGIC DV 4 Image Processor for superb image capture. Given the high performance of all three of the Canon HD cameras employed by Catfish, Joseph admits the team sometimes must pause to decide on which camera to use for a particular situation.
“It’s like choosing which weapon is best for the battle,” he said. “If it’s an intimate scene where I need to be very focused and interact with whatever we are shooting, I’ll choose the Canon PowerShot S110 because it’s unobtrusive and lets me stay ‘in the moment’ very easily without constantly having to check the frame. If the moment lends itself to a wider shot and I can hang back a little – as in the ‘confrontation scenes,’ where the catfish and the hopeful first meet each another – I will go with the Canon XF105 or the Canon XA25 because I’ll have more control over the image and I can really shoot the way I would shoot a scene in a documentary.”
In addition to exterior shots of hopefuls driving and knocking on catfish doors, many interior scenes are also integral to the show. These include sequences filmed in hotel rooms, where the ever-traveling co-hosts research catfish backgrounds and video-chat with hopefuls, and scenes shot in the homes of these participants.
“I like placing cameras around the room so I can get every reaction at the same time without searching with my one spare camera to find the right moment,” DeTarsio confides. “These Canon HD cameras are so inexpensive we can afford to have up to five of them rolling simultaneously. They’re lightweight, too, so I can put them practically anywhere – on a beanbag atop a coffee pot for a really good angle, on a couch for a wide shot, and in my own hands so I can capture every emotion as it’s happening.”
Five cameras shooting long takes quickly adds up to a lot of footage, but post production on Catfish is a well-oiled machine, DeTarsio reports. “We can roll up to 40 or 50 hours of SD and CF cards for each episode,” he admits. “Although it took some time to figure out how to integrate the 24p frame rate of the PowerShot S110 into the 30p footage of all the other cameras, our post people did a great job figuring out the editing workflow and now all our files just drop right into place. The show looks small, but it’s a huge operation with lots and lots of people that contribute to getting it done.”
DeTarsio also has high praise for the low-light capabilities of their Canon PowerShot S110 still cameras and XF105 and XA25 professional HD camcorders. The various high-sensitivity CMOS imagers and Canon DIGIC image processors in all three models make high ISO shooting practical.
“The low-light features of these Canon cameras are an amazing attribute,” he informed. “They allow us to shoot in any situation at a moment’s notice. Often times we’ll go into houses where the lighting is very dark, but the combination of the iris, shutter speed, the gain will allow us to shoot indoors and adapt to the environment very quickly. We seldom use any lights other than windows, so we get a very documentary style.”
“These cameras allow us to light sparsely, travel lightly, and capture the environments that are right in front of us, all of which is quite important when you’re making a reality television series,” Joseph adds. “I believe that what really drives a good story is capturing great images and watching what happens on a human being’s face, watching their body language, and watching people interact. Capturing that, and being present in the moment, is a lot more important than setting up a ton of lights and getting everything perfect. I’m happy to sacrifice a staged, polished look for something that's a little more raw, honest and authentic. I think it serves the show’s purpose perfectly.”
“I also like the fact that the cameras are sturdy and durable,” Joseph concludes. “To me the point of a camera is that it should be small and tough enough to be ready to whip out and shoot at a moment’s notice. Canon consistently makes quality products. This brand enables me to do my job better and more effectively than I could imagine. I hope to keep using Canon cameras for a long time.”