Monday, February 28, 2011

Letus Carbon Fiber Hawk LCD Loupe review

FINALLY ! I have to admit this review has been delayed due to a number of things from simply being busy at work to some personal events I had to deal with. Well here it is, and I'm going to talk about some things you won't see mentioned in another reviews of this product. I know that because I've read most of them. The fact is I did buy this product based on those reviews and in some places I'll agree, and in others, well I'll get to them in a bit.

 

Letus CF Hawk LCD Viewfinder loupe

Shot on my iphone... 

 
Unlike some reviews which are based on very limited use on the reviewer's part, I've had the unit for several months, and done quite a bit of shooting with it. I think that gives me a much better perspective on the good and bad points of this product.
 
In the same class as the Letus Hawk is the Zacuto Z finder. The Z finder has been the product to compare everyone else to. In terms of price  ( $375 on Letus website ) the Hawk is just a couple dollars cheaper then the Z finder, which means neither is cheap. 
 
The Hawk is available in the sleek sexy carbon fiber version, or cast aluminum. I went for the CF version because I liked its looks better, and CF materials are better to handle and work with when you shoot in the cold.
 

Optics

 
First and foremost is that the quality of the optics is great. The 3 lens optical assembly is sharp, and you can see pixels. Now there are some other loupes out there that make like seeing pixels is some how bad. The truth is they simply aren't as sharp. Its no picnic trying to judge focus off the back the of the camera's LCD with or without a loupe but having a soft loupe doesn't help. At the very least, the loupe should be sharp enough to let you see the screen as clearly as possible even if that does mean being able to see the pixels. If you can't, how else can you really tell when you got focus as sharp as possible ? you can't. 
 
The optics are setup with a 2.75X magnification. It seems ok, to perhaps slightly large in my view with experience on real broadcast cameras. I found I did need to look side to side sometimes to really pay attention to what was going on. 
 
Now lets talk about some problems of the optics. First is that eye point of the lens assembly is a bit high, at least for me. By that I mean that I found my best focus on the screen was keeping my eye 1/2" to 1" away from what would be considered the proper up close position where you were in contact with the eyecup.
 
 My vision for middle range to distance is normal. When you place your eye to the VF, your eyes should be focused for infinity for best fit and focus. This isn't just a textbook ideal, its a very practical requirement when shooting hand held when you'll want a loupe the most. If you are shooting anything fast moving you always shoot with both eyes open to see whats going on. This lets you be able to react to what is going on, especially if that means getting out of the away of some one or some thing ! If I focused my eyes a bit closer I could get good focus. Likewise, if I pulled the entire hood assembly back a 1/2 inch that also worked ok. Letus does not have a spacer kit like Zacuto does, so there isn't any simple way to mount the hood further back, but I have an idea on how to make one. 
 
I found that the CF lens hood cut off the sides of the viewfinder on my 60D. No amount of messing around would get me complete side to side coverage with the hood mounted as close as it could be to the screen. However, if I could mount the hood back a bit, then it would cover the entire area. I'd estimate that I lost about 3% of the left and right side. Its enough to not be able to see the last bar on the battery meter.  Ok, so I checked their website today : they now offer an aluminum 3:2 model for the tXi and 60D series cameras. When I bought mine this wasn't an option. To their credit, the hood housing is $99. You can unscrew the optics an move it over to the hood you need. Now that is cool to accommodate folks who update their camera bodies. 
 
Another problem with the eyepiece is that will will fog up outside when used in cold environments if you get your eye too close. This can make shooting miserable, and you run the risk of getting enough fog on the glass to have it freeze on really cold days. So there are no antifog coatings on the glass, nor is there any ventilation in the eyecup to let moisture from your eye out. It might be interesting to try some antifog treatments to see if any of them improve this. Having shot on numerous big video cameras, this is a common problem, but it seems compounded with the Hawk because there is little physical air volume to disperse or reduce moisture in the air from your eye.
 

Eyecup

 
I'm not going to beat them up to much on this one as they are aware of it : the eyecup is just too small. If all you ever used was a consumer camera, its huge, its great. If you have every used a pro video camera you'll know its about half the size of a proper eye cup.
 

Mounting

 
This all brings me to what is clearly the weakest part of the product, the mount that holds hood on. V1 of the product had used thumbscrews which was quickly replaced by the V2 quick release mount. The mount does work but it really leaves a lot to be desired. First its simply loose. The hood has wiggle room in the mount and no way to adjust it out. This probably wouldn't be so bad if the mount let the hood get snug onto the LCD screen. Well no matter what I did to adjust the mount, I could not get the hood to sit snug and flat against the screen. Part of the problem is that when you tighten down on the allen screws, it causes the parts to move a bit. Some small washers would help here. 
 
The allen head bolts used in the mounts just plain old junk. They are low quality soft steel parts. Even without much use, one of the allen heads has rounded out on me. They don't send you any spares. These bolts should be upgraded to hardened stainless steel parts for durability since they are so small. However, before you run off to the hardware store to find some, keep in mind the FIRST Hawk VF I had in fact had one stripped out screw hole from the factory. Unless Letus is having quality hardened inserts used on the hood, using hard grade bolts could strip this tiny holes out. The only option would be to drill and tape the holes for the next bolt size up, or replace the unit. 
 
So The first Hawk I had was replaced a couple of days after I got it due to the stripped hole.
 
My solution to the play has been to run some 1/4" dark gray foam weather stripping around the edge of the unit. The soft foam blacks the light out while taking up the space between the screen and the hood very nicely.  It also gets rid of the play from the mount. The hood does have a rubber bumper on it, but on 3 of the units I've had, none of them have been glued on as they are supposed to be. This makes it super easy to loose the piece, and weather stripping be your fix unless Letus sends you a replacement. You could probably glue it on with ACC / Crazy Glue or epoxy.
 
Now I bet you just said, " what do you mean I've had 3 units ? " 
 
Ok here is the story. The first Hawk I got had a stripped out mounting hole on the hood. Letus replaced it promptly. The second unit had good bolt holes, and it also had the quick release that the first unit was supposed to ship with. However after several weeks an odd blemish developed inside the lens assembly. It was perhaps some fungus or mold that grew on what I'd guess to be a tiny partial finger print. The blemish was maybe 1/8" or so round and visible when looking through the unit. Letus replaced that one too, which is how I got to number 3. Their factory seems to have some quality control problems I hope are fixed by now.
 
So do you think I'm done talking about the hood mount ? no ! There's more unfortunately.
 
Letus Bad Alignment
 
Another problem with the mount's quick release is that it extends _below_ the bottom of the Hawk base plate. The base plate itself is a nicely machined hunk of aluminum which keeps the plate's mounting hole on center with the camera's mounting hole. This is critical for use with matte boxes that expect the lens to be centered on the rails. 
 
Now back to the quick release mount. If you have a base plate thats around the same size of the Hawk base plate you are fine. If you are using something like a long sliding base like I have, which extends several inches behind the camera you now have a clearance problem. At best you can stick the Hawk's quick release mount in about 1/3 of the way before it will jam against the base plate. The way the entire thing is designed, you'd have to add 1/16" to 1/8" of shim _underneath_ the hawk base plate to push it up higher from the rails base plate to get the quick release mount to go in square. There is nothing you can do to file the quick release mount down that wouldn't seriously compromise its structure. The fix on Letus's end is to make the base plate thicker so it clears properly. 
 
I might consider adding some rubber or make a shim for the baseplate myself, but then that means adjusting the height of all the long lens supports I have on my rails. Thats a tedious pain with my setup I'd prefer to skip having done it twice already. If you have an easy to height adjust camera mount, this probably isn't a big deal.
 
Speaking of the baseplate for the Hawk, it has yet another problem. While its well made, it has no lip or curve on the top of it, the part that contacts the camera to prevent the camera from twisting. A lot of new plates which go onto the camera now have this critical feature. Without it, you'll find that every several uses you'll need to tighten the Hawk baseplate screw. Its a simple slotted screw that requires a screwdriver or thin coin to tighten properly. It would be great if they went to a tool-less  design. This isn't a problem thats just Letus's, but just about every camera base plate has this same problem. If you don't use big lenses and move around a lot, you'll probably be ok and not notice this.
 

Conclusion

 
Letus needs to overhaul its base plate design. For $375 I have really mixed feelings about this product. The optics themselves are great and deliver a sharp image. The flaw of this product its the baseplate that makes using it with certain configurations far from ideal, and really not something I'm comfortable with giving a thumbs up on for the price. I should not have to be using weather stripping to fix the mount problems. On the other hand, if you find the Z finder or other loupe's soft, the Hawk may well be worth a look if you are using a small cameras base plate and won't run into the problems that I did.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Steve Forde Is the New After Effects Product Manager

Interesting breaking news : Steve Forde is now the After Effects Product Manager. Congrats... official announcement here

How To DIY Fix Your Intuos 2 Wacom Pen Button in 30 Seconds

I've got an Intuos 2 tablet that I "restored" a few years ago by getting a new pen surface for it, and some replacement pen nibs. While all of that works fine, the button on the pen simply falls out every ten minutes making using it far less then ideal, but hey it works. I finally got curious and frustrated enough to find a really really simple fix that has made the pen perfectly usable again, and the button hasn't fallen out since !

Monday, February 21, 2011

THM File Remover App released today

Tired of all those THM files from your dslr cluttering things up ? THM remover will zap them away. Download THM remover here. Mac only 10.6.x only.  Now just so I told you so - the THM files do contain some metadata relevent to the mov - ISO, f Stop, ect. However if this data has no long term value to you... blasting them away as clutter is ok. Also be aware of the very fine utility  QTchange V1.6 that does all sorts of handy things like using the file creation time accurate to the second from the THM file to set the MOV's timecode track. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Arri Alexa Goes V3.0

Arri is now officially at V3.0 on the Alexa software. Its been an impressive series of upgrades for such a new camera. Unlike RED which most folks consider the worst of the good cameras, the Alexa started out with a good reputation which continues to build. 

Avid Announces Major Product Updates Today

 
Avid updated its products today as follows releasing MC 5.5, Symphony 5.5 and NewsCutter 9.5. These updates bring more third-party hardware and format support. Additionally added features include :
AJA Io Express now joins the Matrox MXO2 Mini monitoring option introduced with Media Composer 5
MC 5.5 supports native HDCAM SR Lite - you can now move SR media over gigabit
New Nitris DX AVC-Intra video accelerator for boosting speed and performance during online edits
Euphonix control surface support
The updates are  scheduled to ship on March 8.
Not a bad way to head into NAB with a new product version out a few weeks prior.

Monday, February 14, 2011

GoPro LCD Is In My Hands ! UPDATED REVIEW

Hey its here ! Review tonite, with some video showing it in action. 
 
GoPro LCD Screen1GoPro LCD packaging
 
 
GoPro took at least one year to produce their promised LCD screen for the HD series camera. They have been close to fabling RED for vaporware on this one. Now that I got my hands on one of the first ones, was it worth it ?
 
YES ! It just snaps onto the back of the camera body. The image quality for a screen that's barely 2 inches is fine. Since the GoPro cameras don't offer any exposure control except metering pattern, worrying about any sort of critical exposure evaluation would pretty much be pointless. That said, the image on the screen does seem rather good. Color also seems pretty decent and you can have some basic idea of what the camera is recording. The main purpose is of course to simply be able to see what you are actually shooting, and in this job it works very well. If the image seems too small, you can always grab the loupe from your dslr to enlarge it for a quick peak. I'm sure by next week some one will have a bracket to adapt and existing loupe to the camera, and block out stray light.
 
One of the best surprises about the new screen is the ON SCREEN MENU for camera operation. You now get menus in real english, full real words to set the various camera settings that had been odd abbreviations on the front display of the camera. This alone is worth buying at least one screen for, just to use in setting up multiple cameras.
 
One thing I'm surprised at though is there isn't a booster battery available. Yes the LCD does suck the power down faster then without it. There is a menu item to power the display off after 60 sec automatically, even if the camera is in record. This of course should greatly prolong battery life. If you need the screen back on, just hit the button on the side of the viewfinder.
 
Besides the screen itself, the packaging also includes FOUR new case backs - water proof / not water proof versions X standard case and wrist strap case. I had no idea the wrist strap case was  different, but I guess it is. Changing the case backs is simply a matter of snapping the existing one off, and snapping the new one on. When I bought the screen, I also added on a skeleton case - the one with open sides to use the video and USB connections while the camera is mounted. I had no problem swapping the backs around.
 
The LCD screen also supports sound - it has a speaker in it. It works fine during playback. In typical ( and not so great ) GoPro fashion, the LCD button also multifunctions as pause / play while in play back mode, as well as a way to toggle that mode on. No wonder you need a cheat sheet with this cameras to figure them out. Most of that though has been eliminated due to the on screen real words menu system.
In order to get the LCD screen to function, you have to update the camera's firmware. This process is pretty painless in terms of copying one file onto the SD card, and then a series of button holds / presses on the camera. The video explaining how to do it takes longer then the normal process.
 
One thing I will note - after the firmware update, I was shooting a stage show rehearsal. This would be tungsten light. Normally the camera white balances very well, but in this case, with pretty even unfiltered light on the main stage area, the camera went plain old green. It was bad to say the least. thankfully this was a quick B roll shot that wasn't critical to the project, and I'm sure I can correct it to be more neutral. In the end though it should of been more on. I'm not sure if I just hit something odd in that lighting, or if the firmware changed how the camera white balances, but I've never had a white balance problem with the camera in general once it locked onto the color temp. I guess I'll need to do a few more tests to find out.
 
Overall, the new screen is great. It delivers what its supposed to and makes these cameras so much easier to use now. 

Techincolor LA downsizing

Technicolor is shutting down its Hollywood facility, putting 360 people out on the street. This is due in part to their loosing a contract to Deluxe for handling Universal's work. They are opening a new facility, but only hiring back about 100 people when it opens. LA Times article . Part of the reduction is also due to falling demand in film processing. There simply isn't any other work around to make up for the loss with Universal. Many of us may be saying good riddance to that last century medium called film, but its also taking away some needed jobs as well. Hopefully every one finds something new. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Zeiss Zoom 15.5-45mm T2.6

Old news ? only if you heard about it and I bet most folks haven't.  Ziess has a 15.5mm-45mm T2.6 cine style lens with interchangeable mounts, PL  EF and F. 
 
zeiss 15.5 45mm cine zoom
15.5mm is quite cool for APS-C sensor cameras, and full frame ones. However, 45mm is pretty short for most users. Realistically 70mm on the long end, to maybe 100mm would make for a one lens fits most uses application. Perhaps this is why they haven't really pushed this lens, plus its only $29K. All that said, its a fairly compact lens for this type of glass.
 
16.5 110 zeiss zoom
 
There is a 16.5-100 2.6, but it is a huge piece of glass. the same can be assumed for the price too. You could never really hope to use this lens hand held, except maybe on a full steadicam rig.So the perfect dslr lens still remains an elusive item. Yes Olympus has a f2 zoom, but is 4/3's sensor lens, so no go there. I'm sure eventually we'll have a f2 20-100mm lens thats reasonable priced and reasonably sized.

Monday, February 07, 2011

New Canon t3 / t3i / 1100D /600 D / X50 announced : Updated

Coming fast & furious from canon is another new camera ! However, the different models are not be equal - see below
 
 
Say it isn't so ! this is crazy. Good thing these things are cheap enough to pay for with one job. This time its an update on the consumer side of things. Updated to the pro 5D and 7D are really over due, but who knows what spring and NAB will bring.
Specs on the new camera :
 
  • Superior 12-megapixel image quality
  • On-screen Feature Guide
  • Creative Auto and Basic+
  • HD video capture
  • ISO 100-6400 sensitivity
  • Wide-area 9-point AF system
  • 63-zone iFCL exposure metering
  • 6.8cm (2.7”), 230,000-dot screen
  • Use with all EF and EF-S lenses
Now read carefully : EOS Movie allows users to record Full HD (1920x1080p) movies on the EOS 600D and HD (1280x720p) movies on the EOS 1100D. 
 
The EOS 600D ( and it appears t3i ) offers full manual control of exposure and frame rates of 30, 25 and 24 fps at full resolution, with 60 and 50 fps available at 720p resolution. The EOS 1100D has a choice of 30 and 25 fps frame rates.

When filming Full HD footage with the EOS 600D, Movie Digital Zoom can be used to magnify the centre of the sensor by 3-10x while maintaining Full HD quality. 
 
The 600D has a digital zoom mode when shooting HD... cool !
 
The 1100D however it seems only shoots 720P. Thats what the initial canon specs said. We'll see if this is accurate. I'm suspecting its true, as a way of trimming a feature or two to keep the price in line. One review post the specs as 
 
• 1280 x 720 (29.97, 25 fps)

• Max duration 17min, Max file size 4GB
 
UPDATE
 
The Rebel T3 has a 12.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor, a DIGIC 4 image processor, shoots at 3 fps and shoots HD video at 30p. This implies 720 mode video, part of the confusing specs out there. The ISO sensitivity ranges from 100-6400, and it also has a 2.7″ LCD (230,000-dot).
 
The Rebel T3i  has an 18MP APS-C CMOS sensor, a DIGIC 4 image processor, 3.7 fps, full HD video (30p-24p-25p), HD (60p-50p) and SD video (30p-25p) with full manual exposure control, ISO range of 100-6400, 3″ LCD with 1.04-million dots.

 

Thursday, February 03, 2011

GoPro Is Finally Shipping the LCD Screens !

GoPro  is finally shipping their promised LCD screen, $79.99. Kit includes 4 different backs for the difference camera cases. I ordered mine today, let you know how it works when it shows up in a few days. However, there was no booster battery on sale... these guys are seriously giving RED a run for the money on vaporware / forever late in shipping announced products. ok, ok, it is finally shipping. 

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

QTindex Remover Released

I"m pleased to announce that QTindex Remover is now available FREE !

If you use Premiere Pro or AE CS2/3/4/5 this mini app will remove all those qtindex, cfa and pek files in a single simple operation.
 
UPDATE: I just added mpgindex
 
Specs
Mac only, tested on 10.6.6, it should work on 10.6.x
QTi can clean up entire drives in a single operation because it will navigate and clean sub folders.
You can directly select groups of files and folders in the file requester.
All files are moved to the Trash. You still have to empty the trash manually. This operation can not be undone. Pick and choose carefully what you process !
If you need a new file type added, let me know.

Limitations

Doesn't currently work on remote network drives, only local drives. This may be fixable, it may not be ( easily ).

Questions

 
Will there be a PC version ? Probably not unless I get a lot of requests and can make a few dollars for the effort.
 
Will you fix network volume clean up ? Maybe, if its not too hard and doesn't require a complete redo of the app.
 
Will it hurt my good files ? Probably not, but no promises made its perfectly safe. Please inspect your trash before you empty it to be sure. I"m not responsible if it trashes your irreplacable media or other files. Use at your own risk.
 
WIll it work on 10.5.x or lower ? Try it and let me know.
 
Price ? FREE.
 
Comments & suggestions welcome. Enjoy a cleaner hard drive !
 

DOWNLOAD QTindex REMOVER V1

Online Store Is Now Here

I am happy to announce that we finally have a very simple online store up. Our first products are all of the Singular Software titles and they are available now - Plural Eyes and Dual Eyes Stand Alone. 

If you plan to buy any of these products, please consider buying them here to help support the site. Doing the in depth and often one of a kind reviews and research takes a lot of time and effort.  Just today we wrote a clean up utility for mac that I think all of you will find really useful in removing files left over from Premiere Pro and AE projects. After our quick 1 day of beta testing, it should be released Thurs sometime pending feedback. Its FREE.  

I'd also like to say that the traffic on this site continues to grow and its been pretty amazing. I'd like to think its about quality original content and quick, short, to the point reviews and comments that don't waste your time getting to what counts. Thanks for support, this year should be even better then last !

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Premiere Pro / AE Clean Up App Coming Tomorrow

Using Premiere Pro or AE CS 4 or CS 5 ? 

Noticed a lot of index / cfa / pek files sitting around ?

Want an automatic way of getting rid of them ?

Come back tomorrow :)

JVC Introduces a new HD camera

A new camera based on the HD100 / 200 / 700 series of cameras. Maybe these cameras aren't in vogue like dslr's, unless you work in broadcast TV or a lot of other work where a more conventional  form factor camera works better. That's heresy isn't it  for the dslr crowd !

 

JVC has announced the release of a new entry to its camera lineup, the GY-HM750U Pro-HD camcorder. The unit is designed for ENG, sports, documentary and other location capture work, and features a compact shoulder-mount design, as well as SDHC memory card storage. 

“High definition has not yet been standardized in many markets, and a vital segment of broadcasters don’t have the infrastructure to deliver HD from the field,” said Craig Yanagi, JVC’s national marketing and brand manager. “That’s why the new GY-HM750U offers the flexibility to record in 480i as well as a variety of HD formats. It can fulfill current SD needs while providing a seamless transition to HD in the future, all with the fastest and most efficient workflow available in the industry today.”

The new camcorder includes a dual card slot for SDHC storage, and may also be used with an optional SxS recorder. The GY-HM170U also provides ready-to-edit native files for Apple Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere and other popular NLE systems. It can also store SD content as standard DV files. The camcorder also available with JVC’s KA-AS790 ASI output module that permits direct connection between the camera and a microwave or satellite transmitter. 

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