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‘The Last Patrol’: Revisiting America and Recording the Journey with Canon’s EOS C300

“What I needed was, basically, the ultimate camera,” says director Sebastian Junger.

Academy Award-nominated director Sebastian Junger and cinematographer Rudy Valdez chose Canon EOS Digital Cinema cameras and lenses for their documentary The Last Patrol, the final installment in Junger’s trilogy of war documentaries. The film, which premiered on HBO in November, was shot with Canon’s EOS C300 Digital Cinema camera. Valdez rounded out his kit with a set of Canon Cinema prime lenses.

A few years ago, filmmaker Sebastian Junger planned a 300-mile walk from Washington, D.C., to New York City along Amtrak railroad lines with his close friend, acclaimed war reporter Tim Hetherington. After Hetherington was killed covering the Libyan civil war in 2011, Junger decided to take the same trip, joined instead by Guillermo Cervera, a Spanish photojournalist who was at Hetherington’s side when he died, and combat veterans Brendan O’Byrne and Dave Roels.

Photo by Guillermo Cervera/HBO.

The goal of this journey, chronicled in The Last Patrol, was to get to know America again after a decade of war and discuss why combat is so incredibly hard to give up.

Junger chose railroad lines because, he believes, “they go straight through the middle of everything,” including ghettos, suburbs, farms and woods, and offer the only way to see the country from the inside out. Because hiking along the tracks is illegal, they moved with a purposeful invisibility designed to echo the isolation felt by many who return from war.

The group decided not to take tents, since brightly-colored nylon attracts too much attention. Instead, they slept under bridges, in abandoned buildings or simply in the woods. This high-speed vagrancy saw them bathing in rivers, getting water out of creeks, cooking over open fires and talking their way past motorcycle gangs, cops and suspicious homeowners.

The men lived outdoors and carried all of their own supplies, which presented an unusual challenge for the filmmakers.

Photo by Guillermo Cervera/HBO.

“What I needed was, basically, the ultimate camera,” says Junger. “Not too heavy, easy to use with numb fingers, good in low light, rugged if you throw yourself in a ditch, and something that delivers absolutely gorgeous cinematography.”

After a search, Junger and Valdez determined the Cinema EOS C300 would be the best camera for the job, able to deliver a consistent, top-of-the-line image under rough conditions. “The EOS C300 camera seemed like it was designed specifically for this project,” says Valdez. “It’s a lightweight camera with a large sensor that works really well in low light. With the added bonus of being able to shoot in Canon Log, it ended up being a pretty easy decision.”

Carrying the EOS C300 digital cinema camera on his back during the entire trek, Valdez shot using only natural light while the former soldiers and combat journalists dodged rail security and hiked terrain as varied as dense wilderness and urban streets.

The images Valdez captured exceeded Junger’s expectations: “When we watched the material, I was absolutely speechless. It all absolutely glowed with a kind of meaning. That glow came from the machine we were shooting on.