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Rugby at the roof of the world: filming an Everest world record with the Canon EOS C200

A Canon EOS C200 camera in front of ice and snow at Mount Everest's South Base Camp in Nepal.
When documentary filmmaker and World Rugby TV producer Sam Tongue was tasked with filming two world record rugby attempts on Mount Everest, his experience shooting in extreme locations meant he was confident the 4K Canon EOS C200 was up to the task. © Sam Tongue

As the final whistle blew, 16 rugby players celebrated. But this was no ordinary match – it had been played on a glacier in Nepal 6,331 metres above sea level, in the shadow of mighty Mount Everest. The exhausted team were celebrating because they had just broken the world record for the highest game of rugby ever played.

There to capture all the action of the Everest Rugby Challenge was documentary filmmaker and World Rugby TV producer Sam Tongue. He's no stranger to working in challenging environments, having filmed the most northerly game of rugby ever played, at the Magnetic North Pole in Canada, in 2015. For this latest record-breaking expedition, he packed a camera he knew he could rely on in extreme conditions, the Canon EOS C200, with two Canon cinema lenses, a Canon CN-E18-80mm T4.4 L IS KAS S and a Canon CN-E70-200mm T4.4 L IS. His behind the scenes video (below) and the following interview shows some of the challenges he tackled on the trip.

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It was only after he'd thrown himself into the project that Sam realised what he faced – a 24-day trip to film two world record attempts in the Himalayas for World Rugby TV, where extreme temperatures would test his equipment to the limit and the altitude could trigger acute mountain sickness at any moment.

"It was one of those situations where you say yes and think about the reality of it after," he says. "I lost sleep in the build-up to it. You feel a lot of responsibility when you're the person, in an official capacity, capturing footage that certifies two world records. The other limiting factor was that there was only one of me, a lone cameraman, and [understanding the risks] I didn't know if I was going to make it."

Sam shared this physical and mental challenge with 26 teammates, including professional rugby players Lee Mears, Ollie Phillips, Shane Williams and Tamara Taylor. The group aimed to set two world records – for the highest game of full-contact rugby and the highest game of touch rugby in history – while raising money for Wooden Spoon, a charity founded by rugby professionals that helps disadvantaged and disabled children.

Colourful prayer flags at Mount Everest's South Base Camp in Nepal.
The team trekked to South Base Camp for the first world-record attempt: a game of touch rugby at 5,119 metres. © Sam Tongue
Filmmaker Sam Tongue holds a Canon EOS C200 video camera in front of Mount Everest.
Filmmaker Sam Tongue says he lost sleep ahead of the challenge. "It was one of those situations where you say yes and think about the reality of it after," he says. © Sam Tongue

Choosing the right kit for the job

Filming a two-part documentary on the Everest Rugby Challenge in some of the world's toughest conditions was always going to be a formidable task, but Sam's previous experience shooting in sub-zero temperatures had taught him the importance of having the right kit.

"If everyone has to wait for the cameraman, you're not going to be popular," he says. "I needed kit that would not allow me to fall behind. It was about making it as lightweight as possible, while maintaining the overall quality and look that we were trying to achieve."

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The compact Canon EOS C200 offered Sam a modular solution with maximum flexibility in the field, as well as a good quality microphone with phantom power and an XLR connector. "The built-in viewfinder was very important for doing a stripped-down rig – when you strip down the Canon EOS C200, the weight is great; and when you rig it up, the ability to add the Canon EVF-V70 viewfinder makes it a good solution.

"Stripped down and with Canon CN-E lenses on the front, you could balance the camera on a flat palm and it was comfortable enough to walk for 10+ hours per day."

He found the Canon CN-E18-80mm T4.4 L IS KAS S and Canon CN-E70-200mm T4.4 L IS lenses offered a notable advantage in the cold over his usual lenses. "Having a big focus ring, big zoom ring and big iris control makes a real difference because you don't have to take your gloves off," he says. "I'm a complete convert to Canon CN-E lenses because of that level of control. You can also put an electric zoom on if you want. That was the part of the kit I was really coveting."

A player's-eye-view from the playing field of a try being scored on a snowfield with rocky peaks rising from the snow behind.
Despite the thin atmosphere, his Canon EOS C200 rig was light enough for Sam to take part in the action to capture a player's-eye-view of a try during the highest game of full-contact rugby ever played, at an altitude of 6,331 metres. © Sam Tongue

Coping with the cold on the roof of the world

The team's journey began with an eight-day trek to South Base Camp at Mount Everest, their home for six days and the location of their first world-record attempt: the highest ever game of touch rugby, at an altitude of 5,119 metres.

The Canon EOS C200 has an exceptional operating temperature range of approximately –5°C to 45°C at 60% relative humidity. But surrounded by snow and ice, Sam had to ensure he protected both himself and his equipment from the plummeting temperatures. In order to be able to access all the camera settings, Sam wore gloves that allowed him to use the touchscreen as well as the buttons. Preparation was key: "It's all about having the right settings assigned to buttons that are around your hand and where you need them the most," Sam says. "You need to know that you won't have to take your gloves off to go into a menu."

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Keeping his equipment warm and dry was as important as protecting his hands. "When I wasn't using the camera, it was small enough to put in my bag, and my bag had hand warmers in it," says Sam. He also found a surprisingly everyday method for protecting the camera from the effects of wind chill when in use: "If you shoot with an ordinary rain cover, it's also windproof," he says.

"And what people say about keeping batteries warm is important: they die much more quickly in cold temperatures. You sleep with the most important things in your sleeping bag, and I had 13 batteries with me."

Working in such remote locations meant Sam couldn't recharge batteries or reformat memory cards, which had an impact on some of his technical choices. In particular, he had to limit the amount of data he produced. "I chose not to shoot exclusively in 4K – the output was going to be HD broadcast anyway," he says. "I mixed between 4K Cinema RAW Light and 8-bit internal recording." He opted for 4K where he wanted the two benefits you gain from shooting in 4K: the ability to reframe in post-production, and the ability to shoot wider.

A Canon EOS C200 camera set up on a tripod to film a rugby match in the shadow of a snow-covered mountain.
The Canon EOS C200's built-in ND filters were useful for combating the glare from so much bright white snow, especially when shooting wide to accommodate the action on the makeshift rugby pitch and the mountain looming in the background. © Sam Tongue
A Canon EOS C200 video camera on a rock.
"The built-in viewfinder was very important for doing a stripped-down rig," says Sam. "When you strip down the Canon EOS C200, the weight is great; and when you rig it up, the ability to add the Canon EVF-V70 viewfinder makes it a good solution." © Sam Tongue

Built-in ND filters and Dual Pixel CMOS AF

When it came to capturing the sheer scale of the landscape, stopping down the lens and using the Canon EOS C200's built-in ND filters proved incredibly useful. With vast amounts of bright snow, maintaining good exposure was always going to be a challenge. To ensure he was capturing maximum dynamic range in such high-contrast conditions, Sam shot exclusively in Canon Log and used the built-in ND filters to maximise depth of field.

"Even with six stops of ND built-in, when you get snow glare on the lens it's still bright," he explains. "It's all about keeping the iris as closed as possible. You're filming at T11 if you can, and in this situation there's lots of light."

In order to clearly see what he was filming in so much light, Sam sealed his eye either around the built-in viewfinder or, when using a larger rig, the additional Canon EVF-V70 viewfinder, powered by the camera. "It's a lovely EVF," he says. "The ability to put it on the rig and balance it evenly made for much nicer shots."

When filming both the trek and the fast-paced rugby action, the Canon EOS C200's Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology came into its own. The AF tracking over 80% of the frame, both horizontally and vertically, helped Sam keep shots in sharp focus. This was particularly important on wide shots. "As a cameraman, understanding when you might need the help of AF is crucial," says Sam. "When the rig is stripped down and you're wide open at 18mm, knowing stuff is in focus is really hard, so some of the walking sequences are shot using the autofocus."

As well as capturing the emotion and the action shots, Sam also spent some time shooting creatively, including time-lapse footage of clouds rolling in across the mountains and slow-motion footage – useful material for joining shots when editing. "You can approach joining shots in a lot of different ways," he says. "I'm a big fan of having movement in shots, and a good way of achieving that is by adding slow motion. Experience teaches you how best to approach what's happening around you and what the most creative option might be."

As much as this expedition was about the journey, its focus was the destination. The second world record attempt took place on the East Rongbuk Glacier, the gateway to the north face of the mountain, and thought to be the highest place on the planet with enough space for a full-size rugby pitch. The 16 players battled knee-deep snow, glacial ice and extreme altitude for the ultimate prize – setting the world record for the highest-ever game of rugby, 6,331 metres up Everest.

Autor: Jack Everitt


Sam Tongue's kitbag

The key kit pros use to shoot video

Filmmaker Sam Tongue holds a Canon EOS C200 cinema camera on his shoulder fitted with a Canon CN-E18-80mm T4.4 L IS KAS S lens.

Camera

Canon EOS C200

A compact and versatile high-performance camera for a wide range of shooters that captures sharp 4K 50P images. "I could have it nice and compact, with the ability to scale it up to a bigger rig if necessary," says Sam.

Lenses

Accessory

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