Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Review of the Atomos Ninja Blade HDMI Recorder and Monitor

Yet another review right before NAB. Busy week between shooting and getting ready, then off to the show ! See you there.

Monday, January 13, 2014

ProRes 422 VS AVChd 24

Click on image for full size frame

 

Real image from real job in progress right now. 1080p24 ProRes 422 (record on ninja2 via HDMI ) vs AVChd 24 on C100. Winner is ? You tell me ! both images are keyed using Ultra Keyer in Premiere Pro CC 7.2. Do you see any real difference ? Look hard. Guess what, on a still frame there is no real difference. When playing I can see some compression artifacts in the AVChd version but they are small. Both key equally as well. Impossible ? no. The green means that the AVChd codec isn't working nearly as hard as if it had an image filled with detail to compress. The codec is working easy and produced some great results for what it was even with 4:2:0 color space. This of course comes back to what I say a lot - get it right in camera and even a 8bit 4:2:0 GOP codec can be ok. Its only when you start pushing that codec with extreme color corrections, too much detail and motion that it can fall apart. Under these circumstances 422 intraframe codecs may do better. may do better, maybe not. I'm not totally sold that just because its more bits that it will produce a better image automatically. In fact given the GOP efficiency it might not matter.

Sometimes I think I see some very minor differences in the skin tones. I think the ProRes has a bit more gradation than the AVChd....sometimes. I can see the noise in the image is a bit cleaner in ProRes vs some compression artifacts in the AVChd. This is watching the images on a 42" LG screen closer than I should be looking.

Do you know what I'd like to see ? a short GOP h.264 codec of say 5 frames, 4:2:2 and 10bit. Certainly possible in the spec, you just have to set your encoder to do it. With this sort of compression at 150-200mbits I bet it would make for very reasonable file sizes and outstanding quality. You could even push it to 12bit for RAW recording. Anyone tried it yet ?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

My LED LIghts - Not Your Cheap eBay Specials

I've been talking about these lights for a while and using them on jobs, getting to know them. Above I'm mixing in the quad 48 LED emitter with an HMI while using a dual 24 emitter as a back light. How can you use an LED light as a back light from 10 feet away ? well because these lights actually are focused and throw the light a pretty decent distance. They aren't like the common panel light with simple wide angle LED's of various grades of quality. Below is a look at what makes them work from the inside :

You can see the LED emitters and the nice photograde polycarbonate lenses that diffuse the direct sources a bit. You can also see the big custom anodized heat sinks. These lights are made from modules of 12 LED's to make 12, 24 and 48 emitter units. The circuit boards the LED's  are soldered into are are made not of typical fiberglass but METAL ! Your read that right, medical spec product here. This greatly adds to sinking the heat the LED's make. The boards themselves are glued with a special heating conducting silicone glue that's VERY expensive but does the perfect job in securing things and conducting the heat away.  Mil spec product like is never cheap, but it always works great.

While LED's get billed as "cool" lights, they do in fact make heat. They typically emit heat towards the back of the unit. If you don't get rid of the heat you burn the LED's out rather quickly. So heat management is important to LEDs and thats why these lights are made so well. These units have no fans which is a major boost in keeping a reliable life thanks to this mil spec fabrication. The heat sinks will get warm during operation, but never hot.

Next are the CREE high CRI of 94 LED's. They aren't cheap to say the least, but that's what it takes right now to create an LED light of true cinema quality. If you take high per unit cost X 24 or 48 emitters you can see how the price of these lights gets up there. 

The benefits of high CRI is important. While you can filter out green with gels ( minor light loss ) or camera white balance ( sometimes ) you run into problems with mixed sources. If you mix sources the only option is minus green gels in 1/8, 1/4 or 1/2 values.

The other place CRI makes a difference is in gelling the lights to other color temps. These lights are 4300K. That might seem odd but that was done because these LED's have the highest CRI possible right now and thats the color temp they are made in. Going to 5200-5600K would drop the CRI. I have a 5600K LED that if you gel it to 3200 goes pretty visible green because of its spikey performance. That's a CHEAP ebay light. Using a 4300K light also works perfect in a lot of office environments lit with overhead florescent lights. Often all I'm using in these situations are diffusion.  4300 also means minimal light loss when going to 5200 or 3200. SInce these lights have throw to them gelling doesn't hurt very much. Even when using correction gels I still have these lights dimmed to 50% or 75% ! 

I love the compact size. 2 of the dual lights with power supplied and AC power cables are easy to travel with including airline friendly case. I could easily put 3 lights into a case and still be under 50lbs. If that matters, this is a big deal. 

Another thing I like are the dual ball swivel locks on the back. They make positioning and aiming these easy. Yes light a fresnel light they do need to be aimed to hit what you want to light up. Here is a look below at them on a shoot I did a few days ago for a national sports network at Lambough Field. 

In the background of the camera shot there its all 3200K tungsten. In the foreground there was a mix of tungsten and 6000K daylight. We went direct with the 4300K which got the background a little bit warm but still nice. The daylight that was spilling into the talent was simply washed away. You can see how these lights are throwing from 6-8 ft back from the talent. There's not wasted light being dumped all over the place like panel lights... not that I don't have some panel lights and have uses for them too !

The entire power draw is an amazing 60W per light. This easily could of been a dual 500 or 1K tungsten & gel shot or 400W HMI's. They are also dimmed to about 80% for better balance with the background.

These lights have a XLR4 DC 12V input for alternate power options. I haven't gotten around yet to getting some Anton Bauer plates with XLR4's on them but I will eventually. a 120W Hytron will run these for 2 hrs straight. Given the nature of live shots, we could shoot all day just turning them on when needed. Without the warm up of HMI's you can go live at a moments notice if you get the call.

Above : Another ESPN shoot at Lambau Field With Bob Holzman as talent, Chris Hibben on camera. I have the quad 48 working as key, and the 24's as fill and hair light. The big flex fill is bouncing back in some good light and blocking out some bad light. Went live quite a few times during the day with Packers updates. 

Another nonobvious feature of these lights are the internal driver boards. They make 250fps safe light. Try that with cheap LED's and even some of the expensive ones and you won't be happy, you'll have flicker. While shooting high speed isn't something you do everyday, its nice to know these can play in the mix up to a reasonable point. 

 The problem has been that most people expect these lights are $300 because of the cheap panel lights coming out of China. The problem is the parts in these lights cost more than that, never mind labor, machining, anodize and powder coating, and even, well, how about some profit so the lights can stay on and bills get paid ? Of course the question I'm going to ask - what would you be WILLING to pay for quality like this ? Post a comment and let me know, maybe there are one or two left you can have for yourself !

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Canon C100 With Vintage Telephoto Lenses

I know its been a while ! Check out some crazy cheap vintage lenses on my C100 and see if they measure up.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Shooting With The Canon 24-105 F4 L On C100

The Canon 24-105 F4 L is a pretty common lens. Canon had a bundle deal with the C100 and lots of others have picked this lens up along the way from their DSLR gear or other deals. So while I've worked with the lens before, this was my first time operating with it for the better part of the day rather than it being on some one else's rig. 

First, yes its optical performance from wide to maybe 70mm is good, even wide open.

Next this is the first time I've had an IS lens and operating without a rig. Usually I've run into this lens with proper camera support that runs the gamut of gear. It was also me hand holding this lens. Now in the past I've used my rokinon 14mm cine on a 60D plus LCD VF with great success. Never had a problem keeping that setup steady and it was critical for making a lot of B roll on a project last year when the big camera couldn't work. I also work with the OM 50mm often in similar config for shooting close ups like in my soon to be released short film. That said, I'd never go past 50mm. Today I'm out shooting at 80-105mm, IS on, and getting really good shots. Shots I have no right to be getting even though I'm pretty steady to begin with. Oh I hear the I told you so's starting already. Honestly I've never had a need to shoot hand held like this before and I wasn't using a full size camera. I've always had some sort of camera support or lens combo that I could work with. So here I am shooting panning shots of a car driving down a country road at 105mm and, well, it looks _almost_ as good as if it had been shot on a tripod...or maybe a tripod that wasn't the best. There are points where you can see the IS sort of max out and then catch up, but by and large if I had tried this shot w/o IS it simply would not of been usable hand held. So I'm something of a convert now to IS for SOME shooting situations. I'm considering adding an IS / AF lens to my collection with the upcoming C100 continous focus upgrade simply for reality / doc shooting. For my normal type of work, this really isn't something I'd ever worry about.

Thats all the good about the 24-105. Now what I find unacceptable. The lens goes seriously dark at the 105 long end. Its not a 1/2 stop, its more like 1 to 2 stops dark. Marked as an L lens with constant F through out the zoom range this is a real misrepresentation. No surprised there are so many of them up on ebay. Its a good starter lens, but no one deserving an L designation. Ok, its got some rubber rings on it for weather sealing. That's great, that's valuable for some shooters, but its not a critical feature for everyone. If I can come into it for $500 on a canon deal I'd consider possibly keeping it but I think there are other options. One option is the canon 17-55 F2.8. Much better match for typical shooting on a S35 size sensor, an extra stop of light never hurts and makes for better bokeh

The AF on this lens also tended to hunt around. I was never thrilled with my now gone Tamron 17-50 2.8 ( see the review ) and how it was slow for AF. Perhaps the AF upgrade to the C100 will make the lens better, but in simple shooting condition - head and shoulders shot, outside in overcast light, distant simple sky and field background the lens hunted around. I manual focused every shot because it was way faster. Sure that F4 doesn't help but I had a high enough ISO in daylight this should not of been an issue.

There you go. A lens with some real pluses and minuses. If the pluses like weather sealing are critical to you, the focal length range works for what you do, you shoot a lot of bare bones hand held and the slower F4 doesn't bother you this might be an ok lens.  Me, I'm gonna try the Canon 17-55. Anyone care to say how their experience with this lens is ?

Monday, September 30, 2013

New C100 Baseplate by Berkey Systems

As I posted a week or so ago the C100 didn't fit my other rig on the baseplate I had. I did some searching. No I did a LOT of searching. Google image search turned up any number of images but I was being picky.

1. The C series cameras has a high lens center point, so you need a very low baseplate to make all your parts work like matte box and follow focus

2. I wanted a baseplate that had 2 points of locking contact per rod - this stops the rods from turning when you have a single rod attachment like monitor connected

3. great build quality if possible

There were a number of baseplates out there that could work. Some required a bridge plate to mount on adding another $75-$150 to the price. They also shipped from China with 2-4 weeks of shipping which wouldn't work for something happening this weekend !

Google search revealed this baseplate : Berkey Systems - it was made specifically for C series cameras, had 2 points of grab on the rails, all METAL construction, looked great in the pix, had a bottom that worked with my QR tripod plate or Arri baseplate with 17mm offset.

Downside ? one guess, it was pricey compared to the China imports, but !

I contacted Berkey systems. The owner of the company replied to my email a couple of hours later, answered my questions and even gave me 2 video clips to cover me. That's customer service ! Now Berkey Systems probably doesn't come to mind like a few other companies that make camera support gear but they have been around for 20 years ! A lot of what they make is grip gear for gags - rods, rails, joiners, corners to create practical rigs for on set use. However they also have nice collection of camera support items as well. 

In emailing with Brian Berkey he talked about how they go through at least several versions of a product to get it right. This baseplate is a perfect example. It will grab your C series camera not just with the 1/4" and 3/8" threads, but also the 2 locking pins in the base. It fits like OEM gear should ! The fit and feel here are simply great. The top plate is held down with 6 allens so you can change it out, or the 1/4 or 3/8 screws if they every get damaged. You can access BOTH of the attachment screws from the bottom of the unit. The 2 grabbing screws are in fact Allen bolts they custom make. Berkey Systems supplied a ball head Allen driver with the baseplate to make adding this to any camera easy. 

Once you mount the base plate onto the C series camera, its simply love. It fits, its not too big, not too small, it has just enough heft to let you know its there. Using high grade aluminum you'll see the details they added to this. For example each side of the plate can add either a 15mm rod clamp or Arri Rosette compatible mount.

Add a 15mm rod for building a cage, adding a monitor or whatever other gak you need. The Arri compatible rosette is another option for grips or handles. They are easy to add or remove with the supplied Allen bolts. If you look close you can see there is a relief in the machining of the side mounts. This means even if your bolts get loose, the mounts will still stay  locked in place and not let you down. Its this sort of mil spec durable thoughtfulness that lets this thing ask the price it does. Really its not out of line with a few other top end companies asking about the same !

Once I slipped my stainless steel rods through from my old rig, then slid on the follow focus and matte box it was magic. My old set up didn't really make the rods 100% parallel. I always had this odd fight to slide stuff on or off, up or down the rods. This base plate is dead perfect parallel. My matte box mount bracket and follow focus slipped up and down the rods when loose with perfect ease. No more pulling and tugging ! I don't often praise a praise a product like this, so you know this is the real deal, something special and made in the USA.

Finding out that they are based near Minneapolis MN a couple of hours from me was bonus. Given my choice to send my money anywhere, I choose to send it close to home and get some totally first class camera support ! I'm perfectly happy with this product, which happens how often ? right... just get one for your C series camera and you wont' think twice about money more than well spent.

Monday, September 16, 2013

C100 At Night

This is just a frame from some test shooting I did this weekend in Chicago. Quite simply put, this camera performs amazingly well in low light. I'm not even close to showing you what it will do with this shot. All I'll say right now is that I've used a lot of cameras and shot a lot of film and nothing makes images this clean at these light levels. I have a rough cut put together right now of the footage from this weekend and hopefully over the next couple of days I'll finish it up. The hard part will be getting some music youtube's copyright droids won't flag. That part has gotten pretty tiring while I see copyrighted material being monetized all the time and you know the poster digitized the content from VHS.... oh well, Iet me stay focused on shooting more tests. There have been several surprises in this process of getting to know the camera. The first is that the factory preset for C log artificially floats the black levels at what amounts to NTSC black level of 7.5 IRE to 13 IRE. Its more than annoying, its wasting precious gradation in an 8 bit format. I'm tweaking out a new Log setting to get around this. Back to work for me now !

Saturday, August 24, 2013

C100 vs 5D mk3 RAW

This is the last week for the Canon C100 $1000 off deal. I came upon this very interesting comparison of a C100 recording to Ninja2 in ProRes vs 5D mk3 recording 14bit RAW via ML. Are there differences ? yes if you really look. I suspect some of them are simply due to the zoom lens on the 5D having a bit more flare going on. Other than that they are near identical to the casual viewer. All interesting as I consider what my next camera upgrade will be.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Its Just Pure Crap - Some 3rd Party GoPro Mounting Hardware

I have a shoot I'm doing prep for. I need to mount some GoPro's on racing mountian bikes. I've been doing testing with a few 3rd party mounting options to get better angles. We all like cheap, some of these were cheap, some weren't. 

First up is this 200mm ( about 7" ) extension bracket. While the plastic seems similar to what the real GoPro stuff is made from, it flexes. In any use where vibration is a problem, like say bikes taking bumps and jumps this just won't work. It vibrates around too much. Its possible there are some uses for helmet mounting that might be ok, but certainly not for my purposes.  It did get the camera to good positions for shots when in use. Bottom line : get the more expensive aluminum ones which really don't cost that much more.

Here are some samples from that bracket.

 

 

Next up is this clamp. I have a real black maffer clamp with ball head I use to mount GoPros and it works great. This mount looked much smaller and better able to grip round surfaces. It looked metal. Its not. Its plastic. While that wasn't so bad because it did offer what seemed to be good grip, the mounting point wiggled around pretty badly. I tried to tighten the mounted screw in it which helped a little bit, but still wiggly. I also tried a commerical grade plastic cement which had no effect. Bottom line, its junk and don't waste your money. Its rare for me to say this about a product but this one is useless.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sketchpad - 1962 !

As much as we think we are on the cutting edge of things lets go take a look back nearly 50 years to what is the first interactive graphics / drawing app. Its worth watching because it does some stuff we STILL don't have in apps like AE. Also consider that the cmputer running this was probably in the range of 1-4MHZ of processing speed on a big mainframe. Your smart phone would of been the world's faster super computer back then ! There are a couple of videos to check out from back then too.

In part 2, 3D !

Friday, May 10, 2013

GoPro Hero 3 Low Light Test

Part 2 of my tests on the new GoPro Hero 3. Low light had always been the enemy of the Hero 1 so lets see how well the Hero3 does. Some surprising results.

Friday, May 03, 2013

GoPro Hero 1 2 and 3 Camera Shoot Out

What do you do when you have a GoPro Hero 1, Hero 2 and brand new  GoPro HERO3: Black Edition ? Have a camera shoot out of course ! I'm still working my way through this but here is the first quick test. We took Josiah Winteroff's blue BMW M3 out for a spin with all three cameras mounted side by side on the roof. Tried to aim them all the same but the Hero1 was a bit off. Eitherway it still worked out ok.

The WiFi control and monitoring app for the Hero3 and Wifi back equiped H1 and H2 is great. It makes changing camera settings so much easier and faster. Monitoring itself though has an easy 4-5 sec lag which is fustrating. It means make an adjustment... wait... wait... there it is. Good ? not quite, fiddle around, wait... wait... Ok got it. Its way better than nothing but for setting cameras up you just might want to consider having a small monitor with HDMI in. That said, the Wifi app is still great and I'm happy to have it for everything else including starting and stopping cameras. The other thing I'll add is that setting up the Wifi on the units is a bit tedious. You really have to RTFM the first time or two until you have the drill down. Using the GoPro aka Cinestudio computer app is part of the deal. Once you make it thru the setup, connecting is normally pretty reliable and takes 5 to 10 secs for camera to iPhone to connect. This is a great app to justify you next iPad purchase !

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Jupiter-9 85mm F2 Review

 

 
There are some lenses of legend in this world and the Jupiter 9 is one of them. It fortunately doesn't come with a huge price tag with careful shopping, often between $100 to $150 depending on condition. They are also apparently still being made new ( at least new as of 2007 ) for not much more, around $200 to $240. It seems that ebay is probably the best place to find them right now. New may mean made in the last 2-4 years.
 
Legend ?
Why is this lens one of legend ? because of its 15 blade iris that makes a perfect circle even stopped down. You will never see hexagons or octagons from this lens. It also renders a very nice bokeh when focused close. Early versions of this lens seemed to create swirly bokeh but the one I have doesn't. My lens seems in this respect more modern and perhaps more well behaved.
First some background. This lens is basically a copy of a Zeiss Sonnar 85mm f/2 lens from pre WWII. There are at least 5 versions of the Jupitar 9 starting with the oldest silver ones made in the 50's and 60's thru the black version that appeared around 1980. Part of this is due to the fact that they were built in 3 different factories over the years with the optical formula being kept the same. However the mechanics changed and the exact glass formulations used changed. This is evidenced in how different versions produce different color reproduction when compared side by side. 
 
The Quick Incomplete History of this Lens
 
Black MC Jupiter-9, M42. Made in 2000+ in Lytarkino
Black Jupiter-9 M42 Made in the 80's - The one I have dates to 1986. I has a smooth focus barrel and preset iris. 
Black Jupiter-9, M39 Made in 1960's in Lytarkino. This one may have the knuckled focusing ring which was common of lenses of that era. It may be referred to as "type 1". There are versions made for rangefinder cameras that you probably don't want as they may lack an aperture stop down ring. The camera is supposed to do this instead through the lens mount.
Silver ( Aluminum ) Jupiter-9, M39  Made in 1965 in Lytarkino
Silver ( aluminum ) Jupiter-9, M42 Pre 1980's
There is also a Kiev mount version, Leica ( LTM ) and possibly a Nikon mount version out there in the older versions.
 With new versions of this lens it may indeed come with a M42 to EF or Nikon mount from the factory.  The factory website show the specs on this lens http://lzos.ru  however it doesn't appear that this lens is currently in production. I suspect they probably do batches of this lens every so often once stock is gone.
I realize a great deal of this is vague, but finding authoritative information on these lenses is hard. This is do in part because of their long history and so many versions.
 
The Differences ?
 
The general consensus out there is : 
MC ( MultiCoat ) version: strong soft focus effect at f/2 with halos around bright objects. Very sharp at f/2.8. Flares in contrasty light, but less than both SC versions.
Black Body: no soft focus wide open. Sharp at f/2. Very sharp at f/2.8. This lens is very prone to flare in contrasty light. 
Silver: no soft focus effect; reasonably soft wide open; rather sharp at f/2.8. It's very similar to the black version; might be copy variation or prior service history that made this lens softer than the black M39 version. 
Production of the black and silver ones seems to of perhaps overlapped.
Another note : the older silver ones  may have backwards focus throw compared to normal canon / cine / video lenses. The black one I have has normal throw, but in buying one you need to be careful as I have seen ones that focus backwards.
The quality of these lenses can vary a LOT from the original manufacturing to simply how the lens lived out its life : was it well cared for or not. When shopping for a lens be aware that many Russian lens sellers will say a lens is in good condition when its not. Really look at the pictures carefully because some of the older lenses are in pretty bad shape. Pass on them and get a better one. Be prepared that you may not get a good version and  will need to deal with that.
 
Being made in 3 different factories over the course of 60 years there are lots of variations out there. If you don't like one copy try another or three if you must. 
 
My Jupiter 9 Cicra 1986
 
My experience with my lens is that it does have that diffused glow wide open. It seems sometimes prone to flare that can be ugly. Its not the sharpest lens wide open by any means and there in lies its magic. By being soft wide open and having a diffuse glow its a great portrait lens. For moving pictures its the lens you use in an image piece where you are looking for a more emotional or glamorous  look. This lens has its uses for stylized softer looks. Stopped down it does improve… well at least some versions do. Mine still looks a bit glowing stopped down. 
 
This glow also tends to reduce low in contrast. Thats good thing for expanding dynamic range of your camera. It can tame some high contrast lighting with less or no supplemental lighting  even if its just a fill card. At times you can produce some very artistic almost painting like images with this lens that are simply amazing. Here is an example of flat light + lens diffusion + ice on trees.
 
 
 
 
Handling
 
The iris is marked on the front of the lens rather than on the lens "top" facing the user when mounted on the camera. There is a preset iris ring which actually has the numbers on it. Actually stopping the lens down requires turning another very slender ring right above it, closer to the lens mount. The activation ring is really skinny and hard to feel when shooting and you more often wind up grabbing the preset ring instead. That said, the activation ring does provide stepless iris changes which is great, if you can actually grab it. I have to say I do hate the iris stops being marked on the front of the lens too. I makes handling tricky.
 
 
Focus it smooth and pretty accurate. I had no problem handling it with gloves on outside in the cold. However, you might find some copies of this lens are a bit stiff for follow focus use and may want to use a small gear on the focus drive. Be aware that some versions of this lens focus the wrong way, while others focus the standard cine way. Be careful when buying one and look at the pictures of it carefully. 
 
Image Samples
So, what does this lens look like ? here is a series of matched shots at 3 iris settings to get an idea, along with some other samples. 
So what can I say except very tasty here ?  Certainly this lens can make interesting "modern" images. Of note - the strobing from the canon sensor. Unlike film which would of made a continuos blur, the camera seems to be reading the sensor 5 times in this exposure of maybe 1/4 sec and combining them. Not the most organic look, not much you can change about that. I've had this result regardless of lens. 
Bokeh ?
Again just a pure sample of wide open bokeh thats quite nice. Stopping down those rings stlll stay round which is something that puts this lens in its own class regardless of price.
click for fill size image
So where is that famed look ? take a look at how wide open this lens makes a diffused look. Once you stop it down... quite a  bit it gets sharp.
click for fill size image
 
 
Yet you can still get some very nice shots. This is NOT a lens for when you need a super clean image unless you can stop down to F8 or so. Please keep in mind that MY copy may not be anything like yours. A silver lens may be sharper but have more circular bokeh while a version made 20 years later may do something else. Also expect that not all sellers in the RU are rating these lenses as well as they should. So look at pix carefully.
 
Here is another street shot that I liked... sharpness is there as well as the look.
 
Click For full size image
 
Here is a shot that came from 1080 video, but shows the lens more wide open and its more diffused look.
 
 
Flare 
 
This lens like to flare. Often its organic and lively, sometimes it just completely washes out the image. In the image below it looks like reasonably normal contrast. In the original image the black level was more like medium gray. Either way I thought this image showed off some interesting flare this lens can produce
 
 
click for fill size image
 
 
Should You Get One ?
 
If you are looking for a clean look wide open, this is not your lens. Even stopped down a bit its still got some diffusion. On the other hand if you are looking for very pleasing people images that are soft and glowing you may really like this lens. It can certainly take the digital edge off. As always, know what you want to get in an image when picking gear. I still plan to add a Rokinon Cine 85mm 1.5 to my collection sometime soon as a complement to this lens. Instead of viewing some gear as either or decisions, sometimes both is better !

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Shooting On The FS700

Last week had me shooting near Charlotte NC with Brad Keselowski in his shop doing a bunch of product endorsements. Shoot ran fine. I want to thank Steve Kahn of Edit On The Hudson  for helping me out on the first rate crew and gear. I used a FS700 for this shoot with my Rokinon 35 1.5 Cine on the front for most of the shots. Mounting this required me to pick up a fotodiox EF to NEX adapter which worked fine. Second camera was one of my 60D's with OM 50 1.5 + Kenko 1.4X extender doing close ups.  

So what  about that FS700 ? well we had tons of lights - my HMI's and LED's handled the job easily, plus a couple extra rental LED lights. This lighting was not at all challenging for the camera. The images where nice and sharp, no moire or aliasing to be seen.

Was there anything I didn't like ? Yes. In several setups Brad had a yellow shirt on. The camera completely blocked it up into solid color. Reading the red channel it was 255 ! Not happy. I looked at the blue and green channels and saw they still had gradation in them. So I ran those shots thru Resolve 9 for fixing. I used the RGB channel mixer to borrow some luma from the blue and green channels, applied a soft circle wipe and qualifier to limit the effect to his shirt, pulled down the highlights a bit and now I had something looking like a shirt rather than a yellow blob. On one level I'm happy the camera simply didn't burn it out to white but on the other I wish it had handled it better. The problem was we had Brad for a very limited amount of time and I just couldn't go digging into menu's to mess with knee point, slope and maybe saturation levels. We just had to get shots done ! 

Audio

Its nice having 2 XLR's on the camera. The camera oddly gives you the choice of PCM 48K 16bit or compressed audio... not sure why you'd want compressed audio in this day and age. Sound otherwise was ok. Wish it had 24bit and AES input as options. 

Media and Codec

Uses SD cards, I'm happy. in 24FPS the data rate is 24mbit/sec which is about the same as canon. The only difference was at the end of the shoot where both cameras rolled together, the 60D had shoot 30G of media while the FS700 had only shot 12G. That was weird but it looks ok. I guess Sony has a better encoder. A 32gb SD card means a lot of shooting space.

The down side here was MXF. I like simple QT files from Canon, I don't like folder based MXF. Its just a problem format. For some odd reason Prem Pro CS 6.0.2 on MY machine didn't open the files. On another machine running the same software, but 10.7.5 rather than 10.8.2 CS 6.0.2 they worked fine. I dearly wish this camera wrote either QT or single file MXF without the folder structure nonsense that 10.8.x may be messing with.

Would I buy this camera ? maybe... I need to spend more time with it get a better sense of how it works and get some better tweaked settings.

Friday, January 18, 2013

GoPro Battery Charger

If you have a GoPro camera or three like me... well charging has always been a down fall.  Its silly to use camera's as a charger, but thats exactly what I've seen the GoPro crew itself do. They can afford using a camera to be a charger.... Most of us have another idea. Poking around on amazon I found a known name - Wasabi Power to be offering a GoPro battery charger AND 2 batteries for... $20. I'm in. 

So far so good. The charger seems to work ok. I'm going to try out the batteries tomorrow and see if they hold up.... and GoPro should seriously get their act together on battery charging offer this charger and something that holds 4-8 batteries at a time.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

6D vs 5Dmk2 vs 5Dmk3 Moire and Aliasing Test From Mitch@Planet5D

First I want to say THANK YOU to Mitch for doing a nice simple shoot out and that got solid results. You can see for yourself, but the news is this : the 6D moire's and aliases about the same as the 5Dmk2. Sometimes its a little worse but with a slightly sharper picture and sometimes its better. The Mk3 does better,  but not by huge amounts. 

Again Canon thinks we're a bunch of dumb schmucks who'll pay anything for one of their video capable large sensor cameras that makes video images with out problems. HELLO ! we are not stupid. 

Here is my bet. Come Jan or Feb there will be a 70D based on all the clearance sales going on with the 60D. the 70D will basically be slightly better video but basically not acceptable when compared to the competition. I'd love to buy another canon camera... if it was right. The GH3 is interesting, but I don't think its quite got the dynamic range. However for the price, its shipping now, it does look very good it may be my next purchase. The BMD camera looks great... but that sensor is smaller than I'd like and many people would like. I may have one here to play with in the future.

Meanwhile I'm getting a lot of work at the moment which is great, but of course I'm making very little progress on editing those video reviews I shot a week or so ago and I have a couple new tasty lenses I want to share with every one. More news tomorrow about the doc I worked on Return To Pearl.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Meyer Optik 50 1.8 Review Live

Here you go ! Lots of shots actually taken with the lens including a side by side of where I shot this.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

DR-680 VS Sound Devices 702 VS Juicedlink Mixer ?

I'm sure you all know I'm a big fan of the Tascam DR-680 recorder. Its a great unit for the price, even if the price was double what they wanted for it. Now another name out there is JuicedLink. Its not exactly a name that inspires quality pro product but in fact I found this review out there that was pretty surprising. Its done by the founder of Juicelink so its a bit of a blatent ad for their product, but I think its ok because their product does way better than what anyone would expect. It compares a bunch of audio devices from recording audio direct on a dslr to a SD 702. The DR-680 is in the mix along with a Zoom h4n and of course their mixer feeding a dslr directly. The comparison results are pretty clear to hear even with youtube compressed audio. The results are about 6 or 7 minutes in, but listening to the testing setup isn't bad either because its really a pretty solid test with some surprising results.... that the DR-680 has VERY quite preamps and compares very closely to the 702, and that using the JuicedLink mixer direct into a dslr also does very well. Their secret ? gaining the audio up in their mixer so that you have to reduce gain in the dslr to minimum. Their preamps are a LOT cleaner so this seemingly odd gain structure actually works ok.  After this test... they really need to change the name of their company to something that sounds more professional. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Rokinon / Samyang / Vivitar 14mm 2.8 Lens Review and Test

I don't think I've ever met a lens that was too wide for me. My current widest lens is 17-50 2.8 Tamron and that had me looking for a wider lens. I decided to check out the Rokinon 14mm 2.8 after having a positive experience with another one of their lenses, the 35 1.4.

 
 
I took this lens out for some tests at first, then it went out on a trip to Pearl Harbor documenting a bunch of WW2 vets. They were visiting the places they had been when the attack occurred. On this shoot we had several cameras including a full size panasonic HPX500 P2 camera, a AF100 with 14-24 Nikon, a couple of GoPros, D800 and my 60D with 2 lenses. I brought the Rokinon 14 2.8 and a vintage OM 50 1.4 because I had to travel light. I was doing a mix of B camera and audio with full gear. 
 

 
In practice I used the 14 2.8 for just about everything I shot. It was the widest lens we had on the shoot and it came in handy for getting wide shots everywhere from planes to buses to wide scenic shots. I also found that with a Letus LCD loupe on the camera, I could easily hand hold this barebones setup just fine. I had steady shots without too much effort and without any bug bulky shoulder rig. This proved invaluable for shooting discreetly in one or two places where it was required. It also made shooting in tight places like planes and busses much easier.
 
Since this is a pretty wide lens even on a APS-C camera, you have to get close. This is not a lens for the timid that want to hold back and have distance. Its a lens for getting into the middle of it and seeing the big picture up close.
 
The Good
 
The Rokinon 14mm 2.8 has a built in lens shade as one might expect with this sort of a lens and it seems to work fine. The lens cap is a cup style one that covers the entire shade. Its overall size is compact within reason but still big enough you can focus or mount a gear on the focus ring.
 

Build Quality

Plastic outer barrel with aluminum internals. Unlike the 35 1.4, when you shake this lens nothing moves around. It seems like a very solid build overall. The Canon EF mount though has no contacts or chip in the mount. While this might seem ok for a manual lens, they should put in a chip that tells the body the focal length and wide open apeture of the lens. Total cost would be a dollar or two for them and it should be there. As note, they do have some other mounts like Nikon that do have contacts and some basic info is sent to the body.
 
The iris does have click stops because its a still lens. However, they aren't nearly as stiff or distinct as other lenses. With some practice you can get some almost smooth iris changes while shooting that shouldn't be too noticeable.
 

Focus

The focus ring has a nice 270 deg spin. Thats just like a real cine lens and I wish more lenses would do this. This allows the lens to focus to just under 1ft which in a practical sense is about 6" from the front of the lens. Just for kicks I tried my shortest extension tube to see if I could go closer. Using a 7mm extension I found my close focus was literally the front of the lens's front element. Guess an extension tube is useless. That said, stopping down a bit should get you that last bit of close focus if you need it.
 
Now the weird part, the lens focuses past infinity. It has an infinity mark on the barrel, then a hard stop about another 4 or 5 deg further past it. While focus past infinity is common with really long lenses, I'm not sure why this lens can focus past infinity for any practical real reason.
 
 
rokinon samyang 14mm 2.8 lens barrel

No Depth of Field Markings

Speechless. Why ? It wouldn't of cost them anything to do. There is other printing on the ring where the markings would of gone. Depth of field markings are critical when looking to easily find your hyper focal length or to have a quick reference to if you can hold critical depth of focus. No IR focus mark either. 
 

Optical Performance

This lens offered very nice optical performance. 5K stills from my 60D that I used to shoot a bunch of time-lapse shots where great, even at 2.8. For video purposes this lens also performed very well. An interesting note is that when shooting video I was often stopped down to F11 or F16. This seems to of slightly softened the image a bit but that was ok. The resulted in rarely seeing any aliasing or moire. I mean in maybe 100 plus shots I saw something once or twice that was generally minor.
 
In this video I used the lens to shoot all the timelapse / light writing shots. It worked very very well for this.
 

 
This lens does cover full frame sensors, but I don't have a full frame camera to test with. All my shots where done on a APS-C sized camera and my out to the corners results where good.
 
One word of caution : I've heard that the overall QA on these lenses can vary quite a bit. If you buy one and its not sharp or seems to have another odd optical problem like one side of the image is soft, simply return it for another copy. This is based on some comments I found that where 2 years old. Its entirely possibly that Samyang / Rokinon has gotten their QA act together and its a problem of the past.
 

Linearity

There are a couple of image samples on the web where somebody shoots dead square on something like closet door which shows up some pin cushion distortions on this lens. If you need to shoot with a pure rectilinear lens, this may not be your lens of choice. In the real world however, I know I don't take shots like this. In the sample video I included a couple of shots showing ceiling girders in an aircraft hanger. I didn't see anything out of place that would of made me unhappy at all. I think the conclusion here is that most real world shots won't show the problem. Overall the rectilinear nature of this lens at APS-C size is perfectly fine especially considering the price.
 

The Bad

No drop in filter slot. Why would you care ? well just try putting a filter on the front of the lens - you basically can't unless it involves gaffer tape. You also have to have a large filter as well. Typically with really wide angle lenses there would be a drop in filter slot on the lens, or even a thin gel filter holder on the back of the lens mount. For video of course you would want an ND filter. Shooting with a APS-C sensor you could probably put a  filter right on the inside of the lens shade. However you would need to be careful about reflections from the filter and flare bouncing around from the open edges. 
 
I really tried to shoot more towards 5.6 or 8, but I was usually at F11 or F16 and turning the shutter speed up to get good exposure outside. So in the sample video I was shooting at 250th to 600th shutter. While 250th makes for the music video effect going higher is generally not so nice.  What I didn't have time to do is apply something like ReelSmart Motion Blur to the clip to try and add motion blur back in. This of course exposes a general dslr problem, lack of low ISO's like 64 or 25 for these sorts of situations. I was at 160 most of the time when shooting under normal outside light.
 
What I was able to do was mount the 14mm up with my matte box. I have a large "wide angle safe" swing away setup. With some fiddling around I was able to push the lens into the matte box a bit and be safe on the sides. I think I still had room to drop in one filter. thankfully my matte box can take 4X5.65 wide filters so I at least had a shot of NDing this lens down for setups where I had the full rig. However when going hand held bare bones, I would of been looking for a 82mm ND 1.2 to tape onto the front of the lens which I didn't happen to have.
 

Conclusion

The Rokinon 14mm 2.8 a great lens. Solid build, good optical performance, compact size, full frame coverage and reasonable price with very minor compromises. The camera brand lenses are 3X the price so I can easily live with the minor compromises.

This is also a great timelapse lens. I shot some stars at night and the down town city shots with it. Its wide enough to get a big chunk of the sky in, or tall buildings across the street. 

Its a fun lens to shoot with when you need to be minimal. Put on your LCD VF and get your shots.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Vintage Lens Video Shoot Out Review Thursday !

Ya I know I've been a bit disgraceful in not getting this done. Its been a long daunting project and I sat on it for 2 months because I expected to have a 24 1.4 lens in my paws to add to the testing collection. Well that part didn't work out, but the rest of the review did. I finished my edit on it today and want to sit on it for a day for final clean ups before letting out.  Some surprising results, at least for some as 30 year old vintage glass goes against modern multicoated ashperics  ! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Tascam DR-40 Recorder Review

Tascam DR-40 Audio Recorder

 
The Tascam DR-40 is another entry into the basic audio recorder category. It can record up to 4 tracks at once - the two internal mics and / or the two external outputs. While you can record 96khz 24bit thats probably a bit of a waste and 48K 24bit is all you'll really need. My main interest in this unit was to add it to my sound bag when working with my mixer to add on board recording. While I do have a DR-680 that I really like, its big in comparison and I was looking for a small light solution. I normally either have the mixer or DR-680 in the bag at any given time, not both.
 
The DR-40 is compact enough for the job running on 3 internal AA batteries for hours. It uses standard SD cards for recording that easily go in and out of the side of the unit. It comes in fact with batteries and a 2gb card to get you recording as soon as you open the box. While 2gb is ok, I had a 8gb card I used instead. I formatted the card in the recorder before using it for the first time as the DR-40 does want to have its own folder. It records standard  WAV, BWAV and MP3 files. The DR-40 will function as a USB SD card reader so you can directly access the SD card and dump the sound files onto your mac or pc.
 
 
Out of the box you'll note the 2 built-in mics have wire metal bumper guards. With the mics facing in they will do the job as I carried this unit around for a couple of days in my pocket and all was well. 
 
There are several side switches and buttons on the front. If you have worked with other Tascam products the menus will be familiar. They are simple and easy to figure out without reading the manual for the most part. Even just playing around with the unit for a few minutes I ran thru all the options and pretty much figured out what I needed to get the unit setup the way I wanted. The actual LCD display itself is reasonably contrasty and has a backlight with programable stay on time. Also of note is that the REC button has a nice plastic ring around it lit by a LED that makes it easy to see you are ready to record or all ready rolling.  Getting into record is basically instant and there is a pre-record feature if you need or want it.
 
The manual is available here http://tascam.com/content/downloads/products/706/e_dr-40_om_va.pdf and I'd suggest taking a few minutes to go through it. 
 
Phantom Power : Yes this unit has phantom power which is selectable for either 48V or 24V. When you turn phantom power on via the side switch the unit will prompt you on the front display to enable it. This is both a safety precaution and to prevent higher power consumption on the unit by accident. Running phantom power tends to use up a lot of battery power. This is true on ANY device that must convert 4-12V up to 48V, not just the Tascam
 
 
The HOLD Switch : Located on the side of the unit is a hold switch. Its a good idea when you are in record, moving around and want to be sure you stay in record. The problem is if you move the switch, by accident of course, into the hold position with the power off.  The unit will not come on if the hold switch is on. It will act like its dead or your batteries are. It took me several minutes to catch this one and get the DR-40 to turn on after changing the batteries twice. I suppose one might be able to argue this feature could save an accidental power on and your batteries. 
 
 
Sound Quality
 
I put a Schoeps CMC-64 into the inputs direct using 48V phantom power. It worked, it sounded pretty good. You could record dialog and be happy for a lot of work.  I'd best describe it as having more bottom end and less high end. Less detail in comparison to feeding it with my mixer. 
 
The preamps have a very low noise floor and the mic itself is pretty quite. So if your main criteria is noise levels, these preamps pass with flying colors. 
 
So note this : I screwed up these tests a bit. I recorded low levels because the meters in the unit ( see below ) are really kind of deceptive. Literally 80% of the meters are dedicated to what looks like the area below -18db. The last 20% is the range  you really care about, the range of  -18db to 0db. What looked like good healthy levels was in fact recorded by me low. Live and burn sometimes, that's why you do tests ! That said, my error wasn't the worst. In fact I'd say in all fairness it represents the sort of error I think a lot of people could of made using the unit for the first time. Know your gear, right ? 
 
Putting my mess up aside, boosting the low recording levels with 18-24db of gain was still very clean compared to some other recorders I've used. If I had to test how quiet the preamps really are, this was a great test… I just hadn't intended to do smiley. Please keep this in mind when listening to the recording samples.
 
 
 In comparison, using my FP33 to feed line level into the DR-40  had a more accurate sound. It had more detail in the upper end. I'm pretty sure I had the low cuts on the mixer turned on so I probably biased the recording samples a bit in them having less bottom end. 
 
 
 Line level sounded cleaner which is almost to be expected. My mixer has transformer isolated inputs and outputs along with a lot of head room if properly powered. So using this unit with an external mixer or pre map and feeding it line level is probably the best thing to do for best sound quality. If you are using this for recoding podcasts or news a mic on the direct input will be fine. I"m being critically picky here and in reality most folks will probably be happy with the built in pre maps for everyday recording.
 
The built in mics are also ok. They seem to have a lot of gain which makes them seem more sensitive than I think they really are. The built in mics sound decent. They are good enough for quick ambient recording or typical news gathering, especially if kept close enough. Of course keeping a mic close enough is important no matter what mic you have. Good mic placement is 50% of the game at least !
 
 
 
 There are furry wind covers you get get if you want to use the DR-40 outside. Tascam does not provide any basic foam windscreen though I'm sure some foam is inside the head of each mic. If wind rumble is a problem you can engage the low cut filter with 3 different cut in points as a starting point. 
 
With the 2 built in mics you can record with them facing each other at 90 degs or flip them to face out. The unit will detect this and ask you to change from XY to AB recording modes. The DR-40 also supports MS recording and playback. I could easily picture facing them outwards for hand held interview recording.
 
The one down side is that the built in mics will pick up handing noise. So if you hand hold the unit don't be rubbing your fingers on it or otherwise messing with it. Perhaps a pair of thin gloves might help if you really have to. I did use the unit a couple of times to get some ambient material with out a problem.
 
 
Recording modes 
 
The DR-40 can record in a variety of modes including :  X/Y or A/B stereo, MS stereo, Ch3/4 dual (linked), CH3/4 separate, any combination of 1/2 internal mics and or 3/4 external inputs, and can even record in a basic overdub mode playing 2 channels while recording. You can record 44.1, 48 and 96khz in 16 or 24 bits to various file formats. 
 
The DR-40 also has a built in safety recording feature. You can record from any input pair and then record 2 more channels from the same source with some level of input reduction. This is the sort of split level records I'll manually do sometimes when things are very unpredictable and you expect you may have hot levels you aren't ready for. Safety is good !
 
Another very cool feature is the ability to add delay in ms to the external inputs. This is to compensate for delay when using external mics ( or board feed ) far away in comparison the internal mics so sound is in sync. 
 
Here is a sample of the MP3 192kbits recording from the unit. I'm not thrilled with compression quality at all. Also consider I did boost the levels up which is aggravating, but if you did this on your job - MP3 recording format and levels a bit low you may not be happy with this.
 
 
 
 
Input Processing
 
There several compression / limiting modes on the inputs. The manual is really a bit fuzzy on these, but they sound like none, hard peak limiting, auto levels and "limiting" thats more like soft compression. I didn't have a lot of time to mess with these so you'll want to try them on your own. I went with the hard peak limiting as I was usually using a mixer in front of the DR-40 and letting its limiters do the real work when needed.
 
There is a peak LED indicator on the front of the unit which is a nice help. As long as you don't see it more than flash once in a while you should be good.
 
 
Input Levels
 
Every recorder seems to be a bit different. When working with my FP33 I set tone to +4db analog and then set the DR-40 to what I thought was -18db. This gives me about 14db of headroom before the FP33 limiters kick in and a couple more db before hitting digital 0. This seems to get reasonably good levels for me. The DR-40 seems to have a bit more gain on the inputs at line level as I set its internal input levels all the way down. Perhaps its set up for -20db consumer line level, or the Tascam engineers found that people tend to record levels that are a bit too low ( like I did the first time around ) and always want more gain. I didn't have that problem with my mixer feeding the unit line level. Given how clean the preamps are this is a reasonable plan to give the user more gain when they could use it. 
 
The meters on the DR-40 seemed pretty responsive and well tuned. Interesting side note :  buried in a menu  there is  a tuner function in the DR-40 !
 
What was strange though was that the actual recording levels of the 48K 16bit wav files seem to be a lot lower than what the meters where telling me. This was true in both direct feed and mixer feed. I found myself applying 18-24db of gain in premiere pro to the clips to get them into the -18db to -12db range for normal dialog and what I thought I had been recording. 
 
As I noted, this was my mistake by misreading the meters. Dear Tascam, please change the meter markings. Make the left 30% -128db to about -24db and use the rest of the meter space for -24db to 0. That would be a lot more useful !
 
When I did bring the levels up they where clean thanks in part to Premiere Pro's high quality audio handling. Usable for most work but I should of gotten better levels in the files. Next time !
 
Output
 
The DR-40 pretty much does everything  you'd want - playback 2 or 4 mix down channels with mix level and pan, M/S decode, delay effects and even variable speed playback. The only down side ? the only output is the 3.5mm headphone jack. There is a small speaker on the back of the unit for quick checks though.
 
Power
 
The unit runs for several hours on 3 internal AA batteries. I never managed to drain my rechargeables during testing of several  hours on and off. I did watch the battery meter and it seemed accurate so I changed out on one bar rather than taking it all the way down.  Tascam sells an external battery pack if you need extended recording time.
 
As for external power connector, there is none. OK, not the usual coaxial power connector just about everything has including other small Tascam recorders. Instead the choice was to use the USB port. I think this is a poor choice on every level. While you can power it from your laptop, or use a 12V->5V USB power adapter or wall power to USB adapter its far from being the ideal power connector. I'd tried it and it does work, but it won't charge the internal batteries if you are using recharables and you should be. I'd recommend finding a right angle mini USB cable if you are regularly going to power this unit externally.
 
Sync
 
If you shoot dslr's that's about a 12 minute take per roll. Sync in my tests at 70deg F was 3500 samples or so off. At 24 fps its 2000 samples per frame or 2002.02 samples @ 23.976 but I like easy math. My measured distance was 3571 samples or nearly 2 frames difference at 12 minutes. Bummer because thats a noticeable sync difference. On the other hand, what do you expect for $150 or so? My DR-680 which costs 5X more does hold sync out to 12 minutes with a drift of about a 1/2 frame. What can I say, you get what you pay for ! Just be glad you're not schlepping a Nagra around with its 10 D cells. So the bottom line is this recorder won't hold usable sync for more than about 6 minutes at 24fps. At 30fps this would be 20% shorter before hitting 1 frames. 
 
You could use this for sync sound, but you would be cutting your clip every 5 to 6 minus to slip it forwards a frame and then patch the gap. While this is possible to deal with it would not be my personal choice. Its also possible Plural Eyes can deal with the sync slippage too but I'm not sure this. If it can, or FCP X can the DR-40 may be very workable and affordable for you.
 
Conclusion
 
Its a great little recorder thats very affordable. Its perfect for simple recording work like taking a board feed of your band or news gathering. Its small size lets it fit in your pocket. Where the  unit falls down is for sync sound over a few minutes. Its possible that with  some variance in manufacturing you might get a unit that holds sync tighter or not. I don't know. Either way the Tascam DR-40 should meet a lot of people's needs for a small high quality inexpensive audio recorder.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sennheiser HD280 Headphones Review

 

Sennheiser HD 280 Headphones 

 
Headphones, especially ones for field production really aren't glamor items the way high end mics are. In fact its one place I see people often going with whatever is cheapest rather than what is good. Good headphones are very basic and essential tool for monitoring your recording where it counts most - at the initial recording. 
 
Perhaps the most common headphones I see out there are the Sony 7506's folding headphones. They are certainly very common for good reason: decent sound, reasonable price, they fold up small and the other guys and gals all seem to be using them. They are something of a standard. However I think the "everybody uses them" think more than the rest is why they are so common. Personally having used them, I can't say I'm thrilled with them. Why ? well for starters they are always falling off your head. That one thing alone drives me crazy because try booming on the run and all of a sudden your 'phones are hanging over your shoulder in the middle of a shot. Then there is the fact they have pretty poor isolation which means cranking the volume up. This is very bad for your ears, and when working close to your subject there can be bleed or feedback.
 
Enter the Sennheiser HD 280's for about the same price, give or take literally a couple dollars.
 
 
What I Like About Them
They Stay On Your Head. Go ahead, run with them on and they stay put until you take them off. Look up, down, around and they are still on. If you wear a hat with a brim, they'll also still stay on. This is a huge advantage over many other sets of 'phones in the market. I've even split worn them. That means putting just one side on your ear, the other on the side of your head. This way you can also slip on a set of intercoms too at the same time. This is very valuable when doing live TV shots in the field and you need to hear the truck, the director and your own sound all at once.
 
The other major advantage of these headphones is their isolation The HD 280's are a closed style design. They offer 32db of isolation blocking out external sound. This lets you monitor with lower levels which is better for your ears. It also helps a lot in deciding if background noise is really intruding too much into your good sound or not. Lower monitoring levels is a very good thing that you should not underestimate, especially if you do sound as a part of your income.
 

Sound Quality

The overall sound quality is very good with specs of 8hz-25khz, although no graph is supplied. However, thats still way more than good enough for normal dialog and music recording. They tend to be reasonably neutral sounding with minimal sound coloring. This is good because you want headphones that tell you the truth about what you are getting.
 
 
 

Real World Use

 
In everyday use, I find they are very honest about what I am getting. They are detailed and don't color the sound in any significant way. This means I'll usually hear even really small stuff in them that you'll not normally notice in the edit room even with decent speakers. Its always better to hear everything and be able to decide if it matters rather than not. You eventually learn to know what matters and what doesn't.  The improved isolation is a part of this experience. By reducing external noise you get a much better sense about what you are getting without having to over crank the volume to hear that. Saving your ears is a big deal, especially if audio is a part of your normal income making.
 
 
Durability

I have one pair that lives in my audio bag full time. They store into my Petrol Pegz-1's front compartment and then route to either my FP33 mixer or DR-680 recorder. I swap out the mixer or recorder depending on the job. I've been using one pair now for several years. They have worked literally in falling snow, rain and hot summer sun without a problem. Thats what you expect. Even with several years of use, they have very minimal signs of wear. 

If you do managed to shred up the ear pads, they are replaceable.
 
The HD 280's have a 1/8" ( 3.5mm ) jack as its native connector. Included in the box is a screw on adapter to get you to 1/4" if you need it. This is the same 1/4" screw on adapter that is used on Sony's. If I have any complaint, its going to be that the connector is a straight connection rather than a 90 degree one. I know most headphones come this way and its not great because it makes them much more easy to break. For these headphones and just about any I highly recommend putting a 90 deg adapter on them. There are even 1/8 to 1/4" adapters if you look around a bit. Generally speaking if you find them online they are pretty cheap so getting 2 or 3 is often a good idea to have a spare or for your other headphones you may have around. 
 
 
Recommendation
 
I'm doing audio for national networks ( live feeds and ENG ) and there are no excuses or second chances. You get it right or you don't work again for them. In this kind of high stakes environment you tools have to work correctly every time. A quality set of headphones has to be a sound person's most important tool after their mic and mixer. For once its nice not to go broke for quality gear that performs. Its certainly easy to spend a lot more for pro level headphones, but the HD 280's are real performers that work day in day out and won't break the bank. Its nice to have reliable quality gear at a very reasonable price. 

DaVinci Series All On One Page

This week I got around to gathering up all the DaVinci Resolve Series Videos onto one page for quick and easy reference. They are here and in the menu's above under software.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Shooting Vertical Video ? These guys think its a bad idea

Monday, May 21, 2012

Whats Missing In Creative Suite 6 Master Collection ?

 

What's missing in Creative Suite CS6 Master Collection ? Catalyst is ! its become Muse which is available as far as I can tell only through Creative Cloud. Now I know most video folks aren't touching hardcore web authoring apps, but there are days I do. As much as video is a big component of what I do from shooting to editing to finishing, it still has to be delivered. To that end I'm delivering most projects to the web. Being able to produce interfaces or sites that integrate video content has become important to what I do. I had messed around with Catalyst but never quite got anything done with it as I hit some short comings in the product. I hoped ( expected ) that 2.0 would fix them. Alas its been snatched out of my hands. If you want it, you have to go to the cloud.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Samyang / Rokinon / Vivitar / Bower 35 1.4 Lens Review : UPDATED 2X

 Lets get to something from my vintage vs new lens shoot out I did a few weeks ago - A review on the Samyang / Rokinon 35 1.4 Lens.

 
I've been using the Rokinon version of this lens for several months. Its become one of my favorite lenses. Lets take a look why and go into the details of the various versions of this lens that are out there. I'm also NOT pulling punches on where this lens comes up short because there are some places that it does. These areas may or may not matter to you.
 
Samyang is officially the company that makes this lens, but its sold under several other names and companies including Rokinon, Vivitar and Bower.There are probably a few others out there as well. 
 

Is There A Difference Between Vendor Brands Besides Price ?

 
YES ! besides price, there is one main difference. Its which direction the lens focuses in. If you shoot Nikon with its backwards ( to everyone else ) focus turn, then you'll be ok with the Samyang OEM branded version of this lens. If you shoot Canon, cine glass and most other brands, then you'll want the Rokinon version because it focuses in the normal direction. Bower may focus either way depending on the lot it seems and Vivitar focuses backwards.
 

The Good

 
Lets get right to the point, freaking awesome optical performance ! I'm thrilled with it. Even wide open its a great performer for the price. Ok, so a Canon L lens _will_ be a bit better, but 2X-3X the price better ? Thats up to you. If you make your living competing with 20 other shooters for the same shot, or get top dollar for your day rate and $ doesn't matter, go ahead and just get the Canon. For everyone else who might prefer more value for their money, this lens is a no brainer. Its sharp and contrasty wide open. Yes there is some CA / diffusion, but its very minimal compared to a lot of older glass. You'll instantly see how nice it is in comparison. This is pretty close to the L glass in overall performance without the big price.
 

Its Manual Focus

 
Yup ! no AF here to talk about. A nice 180 deg turn of the lens barrel. Smooth and silky with hard stops, this is real. Internal focus means the lens barrel stays at a constant length and the front doesn't rotate. This lens works great with a short extension tube for closer focusing. 
 
Focusing on this lens is a pleasure for its range and smoothness. A very big plus here. Another more expensive lens has only a 90ish degree focus turn. 
 

Beyond Infinity

 
Ok this is weird but my lens focuses past infinity. Long lenses will do this because when they get cold, parts contract, you need the extra range to focus to actual infinity. However, I can't think of any reason why this lens does so except poor factory calibration. Maybe its something due to the internal focus, but I doubt it. Seems like less than ideal QA. UPDATE I've done some poking around the web and it seems this is just how this lens is made.  Its not a deal breaker, but if you spin the lens to the infinity hard stop expecting it to be sharp, it won't be. Thats REALLY REALLY bad for people shooting stills in fast moving situations where you expect hitting the hard stop means you are at infinity. Instead you HAVE to look at the lens to set it there or use the LCD screen with magnify on to see critical focus. 
 
 
Lens Markings
 
This probably isn't something you'll see written up, but since this is a very much a manual lens I need to bring it up. The focus markings are really skimpy. I have no idea why because it makes no sense. Look at this close up shot. Why can't 5, 7 and 20 ft be marked ? its not like it would cost any money. It makes the well done depth of field markings next to useless for even modest work. Its this sort of stupid short coming that can make or break a product. If the optical performance of this lens was any less, this would be part of my reason to to NOT buy this lens. Seriously, DoF markings on a fully manual lens matter and cheating here is, well, leaving me speechless.
 
I'll also note, no IR focus mark. Ok, thats SERIOUSLY old school to talk about IR film,but some folks do mod dslr's and remove the IR filter. The mark should be there. I'll GUESS its around 2.8 to 5.6 on the RIGHT side of the focus mark. Really, it would of cost NOTHING to included it !
 
 
 

Something Is Shaking Inside

 
I've confirmed this on 2 copies of this lens. Shake the lens, something is wobbling around inside. WTF moment for sure. It seems like the floating focus elements have some play. I'm not talking about shaking this lens like a paint mixer, but just some easy up and down motion. The sort of motion you might get when shooting from a car, boat or plane. Could this wobbling mess you your image ?  I don't know because I haven't tried, yet !  

UPDATE 

There was something wrong with the lens. I sent it to Rokinon and they "repaired" it by simply replacing it with a new one. THANKS ! that's what good service should be and without any hassle. Also note I now have the cine version of the lens and will be doing a review of it shortly.
 

Plastic !

 
The lens front is plastic. Bummer. Not a deal breaker but disappointing. Upside ? filters will tend to not get stuck as often and will be easier to get out when over done. The lens itself is constructed of plastic externally, aluminum internally. This reduces the weight of the lens.
 
To be sure its a big handful of glass so a I've got no complaints. We've have plastic made lenses for years and they seem  to hold up just fine. Plastic is also nicer to handle in cold conditions. I had no problems putting a focus gear on this. Also consider how much the big name lens makers also are making theirs out of plastic too.... 
 
 
 

Iris Ring

 
Its got click stops. For stills, this is ok. For Cine work, there is a DeClicked Cine version. All that really means is that a small single round steel ball isn't installed into the iris ring control. Really thats it, no magic here to "declick" an iris ring. Why do they charge extra for leaving something out ? The Cine version is available as a Samyang branded lens.
 
rokinon model sample example 35 1.4
 
Shallow enough depth of field ? wide open 60D @ ISO 160. With manual focus and DoF of about 2-3 inches, you better be on the money. Going to 2.8 might be your friend if you need a little margin for safety.

 Optical Performance

 
Its awesome for the price. Its Sharp where you want it, and fall off depth of field blur where you want it. At 1.4 focus carefully ! Your margin of error is about 1 inch. Ok, gory details now -
 
vivitar rokinon 35 1.4 lens chart resolution test
 
Wide Open 1.4 above. All sharp, some loss of contrast as to be expected. This is pretty minimal compared to a lot of other lenses out there and is great performance.
 
 
F5.6 What else is there to say ? Its SHARP and CONTRASTY
 
 

BOKEH

Another odd point of this lens. Dead center Bokeh looks great as you'd expect. Going off center, the highlights gain this odd off shape expression I'd call cat eyes. This ONLY happens wide open or close to it. Stopping down a bit makes octogons. There is also the "wooly" effect at times in the highlights. Its some sort of interference pattern most likely cause because 2 lens elements are not aligned perfectly. Its nothing that has an adverse effect on normal image quality, but it does show up the way it does in my examples.
 
samyang rokinon 35 1.4 bokeh wide open
 
The wide open "cat eyes". These are street lights far away. I'm focused to minimum distance making the effect most noticeable. Also note the 'wooly' effect.
 
normal bokeh samyang vivitar 35 1.4 stopped down
 
Stop down and the cat eyes effect goes away making much more symmetrical highlights. This shot is full frame 1080 shrunk down.
 
 
Here is a larger section showing the wooly effect again in 1080. Double click for a larger full frame image. 
 

Conclusion

 
Speaking of cat eyes, are you going to argue with this shot ? Yes this lens has that sort of personality that just grabs you. Its the look that defined the start of the dslr revolution with its ultra shallow DoF effects that got everyone excited. Its the lens that will change how you shoot if you have never worked wide open at 1.4 before.
 
This lens has some flaws to be sure. Would that stop me from buying it ? no. Its still a great deal compared to other 35 1.4's. Some compromises are to be expected, but none here will stop you from making great images. Ok, maybe the focus past infinity thing could become a pain, but once you get used to it, its not the end of the world.
 
I'm shooting a lot with this lens these days including some quick portrait work. For video its a great lens that's between being wide or long, yet if you go wide open has "the look" of longer glass.  I'm thrilled with it despite its shortcomings which are not major, just annoying.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Carey Dissmore Does A Great Review on the Avid Artist Control Panel

A good review on what might well be a must have for using DaVinci Resolve. Check it out !

Monday, March 05, 2012

You May Have Metamerism Failure. Whats that ?

Huh you just said ? If you look at monitors all day and have concerns about color accuracy of the monitors then check this  out.  Now what about your eyes ? They can be fooled in surprising ways. This video produced by Flanders Scientific ( the folks that make high end color monitors ) have the explanations for questions like what your screens all look different. 

 

A new episode of In Production is coming up tues !

 

What about the Canon 5D MkIII ?

I think the near universal opinion has been "Thats nice but its a good year late.... and what about clean out HDMI ?" I'd say that pretty much sums it up.

Don't get me wrong, the 5D IS a great camera. The MkIII has lots of great new features to like and will make production with it better. Its just not quite the mark every one was expecting Canon to hit after the C300. As has been pointed out, Canon has by overpricing the C300 is now in competition with itself the wrong way. We know Canon could make dslr's with video quality completely on par with the C300, but will they ? The problem is, their  competitors have no such hang ups. In the words of the late Steve Jobs "If you aren't prepared to cannibalize yourself, your competition is." Well said. 

Also let me point out that the MkII is now cheaper. If you put that antialiasing filter into the camera, its probably just as good as the new one if not better with the exception of low light performance. If you need those extra 2 stops the new camera has, well go it. If it doesn't matter, then your old camera is still perfectly good. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Next Episode Of In Production Tomorrow

The next installment of our look at Davinci Resolve will be out tomorrow !

In other news some server problems have kept me from getting any updates out over the last few days. 

Last, another project I've had on the burner for a while now has been a bit stuck. I've been wanting to do a lens shoot out but have not been able to get a model for the shoot. Crazy I know as usually thats not a problem, but it has this time around for some reason. So I am working on it !

Monday, February 06, 2012

Tamron 17-50 2.8 Lens Review

Its funny how I never got around to talking about this lens. It was the first lens I got along with the 70-200 2.8. 

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Can a $25 or $100 Lens Make A Nice Image ?

Yes ! I shot this with a Vivitar 24mm F2.0 lens that I got for $25. Looking on eBay I see its going for more like $250+. I got a bargain for once, and a really nice lens ! Its entirely possible you may come into this lens nearly as cheap.  Before you plunge big dollars into something with a C name on it, consider what else is out there. Many a vintage lens will still make a wonderful image.  This was shot in a little inlet on Lake Winnebago, WI. 

The next image was shot with a Vivitar / Tokina 400mm 5.6. Maybe not quite as sharp as I'd like, but I was hand holding it at 125th shutter or so and high ISO. Even still it held nice contrast on severe back lighting. Ok, truth be told I did pay around $100 for the 400mm, but even still a bargain compared to alternatives. 

The point is I got into dslr imaging because I was intrigued with making high quality video ( and some stills ) for cheap. I'm thrilled I DIDN'T spend thousands on gLamour gLass and found some great lenses that work just fine. Ok, Ok, yes, yes, that gLamour Luxury glass will do better, no doubt but I'm just not making images were clients will ever know, care or see the difference. Its nice not to be gear poor for a change ! Seriously, quit pixel peeping and make some great images.

 

vivitar 24 F2.0 lens sample test example

Vivitar 24 F2.0

tokina vivitar 400mm 5.6

Vivitar 400 5.6 Hand Held at about 250th, 5.6

Vivitar 35-105 3.5

vivitar tokina 35-105 3.5 lens sample test ice water image

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Xmas Treat ! New Vintage Lens Support

I've been working on this project  for a month or so dropping a few hint pix along the way. This is my new support for my 400mm lens. 

Its wood you might say ? well why not ? The top is mahogany while the 60mm rod slider is brazillian cherry inlaid with maple. All the hardware went vintage being hand made in brass. I though why not go steampunk retro vintage ! Really this was much more interesting then a hunk of aluminum.  Whats more, if you ever have to work in the cold, I"ll take handing wood over metal any day. Besides I think a fine vintage lens deserves an equally fitting accessory. It goes back to a time when cameras where made completely out of material like this.

What makes this unique is the lateral adjustment though. Until you have mounted a lens at 1 Ft (.3m) long you won't understand. Its pretty easy to have the camera body mounted slightly off and with a short normal length lens its not a big deal. With a big lens like this though a tiny bit off means remounting the camera body to get it perfectly straight. With a lateral adjustment though I just move the support over which is much faster and easier way of working.

Will I make one for you ? maybe. drop me an email.

steampunk retro lens support wood brass

brazillian cherry lens support

lens support for 400

lens support close up 60mm rod support

back of lens support

Images shot using OM 50 1.4 and when needed a 14mm Opteka Extension Tube

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tamron 70-200 2.8 Lens Review

Finally here ! no picking on me for how long it took. I've just been busy !  Anyway this is a look at the lens I use for a major portion of my shooting, especially interviews.  I also graded this in DaVinci Resolve which was a real pleasure. In fact this was one of my learning projects for Resolve which is part of why it took me so long. I was learning, making a few mistakes along the way, and then, suddenly, it was done :) !

Take a look.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What is it ? part 2

Hmmm... looks interesting, doesn't it ? Big reveal in a day or two... just need time to make some pix !

lens support custom old time steam punk brass cherry

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Opteka Extension Tubes

What are extension tubes ? A very affordable and simple way of getting marco shots using the lenses you already have. Here is a quick review and tutorial on using extensions tubes. The set I'm using is from Opteka but these are identical - Vivitar Macro Extension Tube Set (Set of 3) for Canon

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Matrox MAX Video Review :UPDATED

Here you go - a hands on review of Matrox's MAX faster then real time H264 encoder technology. I'll reveal some unexpected great surprises about this hardware like the drivers which continue to expand the MAX encoder's abilities like noise reduction that doesn't hurt encoding speed.

UPDATE I added screen shots of different encodes to the video showing the MAX encodes vs Apple software encodes. Its quite a difference.

 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

DaVinci Resolve Lite First Look Review : Update 2.5

I've been using Color on and off for a couple of years. It's a solid tool that draws from other grading apps but yet is still a 1.0 app. It has its short comings like random failures to render clips in its que, even when it seems to process them. 

Colorista II in the NLE timeline has been a great help, but OGL just isn't up to powering a realtime video app, at least not on a mac. ATI GPU's do seem to do better than nVidia's with this plugin in the hardware I've had in my hands.
 
A month ago FCP X comes out, and color is killed off. FCP X's claims of having integrated color fall a bit flat. So what should you do ? How about a free grading app with 25 years of development behind it ? DaVinci Resolve.
 
UPDATE 2 : Jack Tunnicliffe of Java Post has shared some insights which I've added to the end of this review.
 
 
So here is the crash course review :
 
It works, and works well. Its got some NLE tools, I/O tools, and conform tools. Many trace their roots back to the old school days of offline / online editing on tape, EDL's from edit controllers or early NLE's like Avid and Media100. Resolve does have its quirks though, like you have to import your media into it, BEFORE you import your XML.. ideally. I found if you did that, import of FCP XML worked better.  I will say that Resolve did import Steve's FCP Project From Hell - a benchmark timeline that will make or break any FCP XML importer. It has in fact been used to test a few XML importers that are out there right now :). The TL is long, 90 minutes long, its complicated with 7 layers, and it has over 1200 camera source clips plus a few dozen QT VFX shots and filters on EVERY shot. If you can import this XML, you can import anything. Resolve, after one crash, took the project in and worked fine.
 
The UI is certainly different than color. Its curves are smaller, especially when color is in dual monitor display. This was a bit surprising to say the least. However, they also lacked Color's bad habit - that an adjustment in one part of the curve changes other sections past other points in the  curve. They also don't let  you drag the ends around the way other curves work. I'm not sure I'm thrilled with them, but thats how it is for now.
 
All the basic tools work, and work well. The track balls are easy to adjust with a tablet and I think are easier to work than color. It took very little effort to get some fast easy corrections and looks with the basic color wheels and Lift / Gamma / Gain adjustments. 
 
The power windows / masks  for seconderies worked better than color and had more options. Direct on screen controls where more comprehensive and smooth. The keyframes, or in DaVinci terminology "marked and dissolved" smoothly. I did find one wierd thing with softening that created a ring rather than a solid center that feathered out. Increasing the feather got rid of it, but it acted weird. NOTE : This appears to be related to my Quadro FX 4000 card as my MBP with nVidia 9600 worked ok. BlackMagic is looking into this.
 
For the most part, I sat down and just used Resolve without reading the manual. Some of that I'll attribute to just years of experience, but I think it also says the app is pretty  intuitive once you get past some of its oddly named features. If you have worked with smoke or flame, then you'll understand the UI and its media browsers ( aka library ) pretty easily. 
 
The Not So Good
 
Stiff hardware requirements.  Decklink claims in the included docs that the discontinued nVidia GT285 will provide the best level of performance for a single card on mac. Next best is the very pricey Quadro FX 4800, and last but not least the new Quadro FX 4000. Honestly I know the QFX4000 is a screaming performer that I've seen knock the 4800 flat. However, it seems that somewhere drivers or the app itself is just not optimized for this hardware. I've had some conflicting info since I originally wrote this, but the consensus has been from some users that the GT285 does outperform the QFX4000 by a small but noticeable margin. I think eventually with time the QFX4000 will hold its own here and the differences in performance may not be that big - Please note Jack's comments towards the end of this.
 
The story doesn't stop here though. The recommendation is that you should have 2 or more graphics cards. A modest card like the GT 120 to power the actual displays, and the more expensive GPU / graphics card to just be used with Resolve to render on. The mac ( PAID ) version will support 3 GPU's, Lite one GPU. With a PCIe expansion chassis you can run 2 QFX 4000's in that chassis for what should be insane performance. You can also run 1 Red Rocket card with the free mac version, 2 with the paid version. Thats a serious amount of hardware that really dwarf's the full version of Resolve's price, $995. However we are talking about the free version here. 
 
The only other serious downside I found was lack of 3rd party video I/O card support. Its not surprising that only Decklink cards work, but at NAB some one from BM had specifically told me they would be supporting other video I/O cards from other vendors. If you want video I/O with Resolve, add in a mid range Decklink card. I seriously hope that BM gets lots of noise that they need to support other vendor's I/O cards because not everyone is willing to chuck out their current video hardware just to run Resolve. If you are building a grading room this is probably acceptable, but if your room also edits, does graphics and mixes sound its less than an ideal solution. This is aggravated because Resolve doesn't support full screen preview to another computer monitor except for video scopes.
 
As I mentioned, Resolve lite imports FCP XML. Any NLE that exports FCP XML should be able to work with Resole, but in my tests XML from Premiere Pro CS5.5 didn't work. Hopefully this will get fixed shortly allowing FCP 7 users switching to Premiere Pro to be able to replace Color with Resolve.
 
PARS and FPS
 
Once you have clips inside of Resolve, you have a few options if the app fails to see clips correctly. You can change a clip's PAR if you need to via pop up menu. However there is a big problem here in that the list of PARS is not terribly specific. For example, you have "NTSC 16:9". So what does that mean now that we have new PARS and old ones ? is it 1.2 or 1.212121 ? There is also no DVCpro HD PAR setting. There are no custom PARS to deal with oddball weird clips you may get, or cheat when you need to. There is a cheat if you get stuck, manually fix a clip by scaling its X and Y separately in the PTVZ.
 
FPS's are indicated as 24, 25 and 30 amongst others. So is that really 24.000 or 23.976 ? The engineers at BM need to update Resolve for 2011 where these sorts of rounded numbers are in fact exact numbers. A user needs to know and be able to set these values exactly. I suspect Resolve is doing a little automagic work under the hood, but having proper exact values should be here.
 
Color's Geometry vs Resolve's PTVZ ( Pan Tilt ? Zoom )
 
Resolve has a separate screen called Format ( referenced as PTVZ  in other parts of the UI ) which is Color's geometry room. Color's geometry room is quick fast and clear. Resolve's equivalent could use some work. All the controls are there, but there is no onscreen control like Color's, or even Resolve's masking tools. Resolve has a Pan control which is in fact X movement, but has a control called Tilt. That sounds like some sort of Y axis rotation, right ? No thats actually Y position. These controls should be given more standard names.
 
There are separate controls to scale the H and W of and image, and labeled as such. Using these controls you could get around a missing or weird PAR as needed.  
 
There are some limitations in the free / Lite version -
 
Only 2 nodes in the comp window. Since one node is probably a base ( primary ) color corrector, you can only add one more on. Since much of what I do often only uses just one secondary plus primary in Color, this is probably livable. You can get some basic real work done here. Unlike color which has Primary, Secondaries and Master, everything that happens in this area in Resolve is a node. It doesn't have a fixed number of correctors, or a fixed render order. You can put a power mask onto the first CC node, then use the second node as a master if thats what works. This makes certain types of corrections easier, and if you need more then 7 secondaries ( Color llimitation ) you can keep adding until you get the job done.
 
No 3D support. Who cares, how many people are doing 3D anyway. If you are doing 3D, you can afford the paid version and appropriate hardware to make it work.
 
Limited to pure SD and HD res projects. 
 
No Noise Reduction on CUDA GPU
 
Limited to 1 GPU
 
No online / multistation collaboration
 
There are some other limitations, but these are probably the most note worthy. I The free version takes full advantage of the hardware you have. CLICK HERE for the complete details on the differences.
 
On A Laptop
 
I have a slightly older MBP Core 2 Duo with 8gig of ram and a NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT 512 MB GPU. Resolve ran fine with 720p24. It was impressive to have this running. Overall it was quite workable. One problem is that while the controls like Lift / Gamma / Gain work with the track pad, they increment backwards from the slide direction, and are super sensitive. BM needs to fix this ASAP - change the scroll direction and reduce the sensitivity by 4X to make it more controlable.
 
The  interface really wants a 1920X1080 or 1200 res screen. Using it on a laptop with a smaller screen will cause the layout to get cut off. There is supposed to be a hack out there to make it run on smaller res screens. The other option if your laptop screen doesn't have enough pixels is to use a second monitor with suitable res.
 
My Conclusions
 
That said, the lite version is actually pretty full powered supporting even control surfaces. Its not limited in ways that make it useless for a lot of basic work. You can really do usefull work with it. Resolve Lite is a no brainer because who can argue with the price. Its got enough functionally in it that it might be all some people need. Adding a cheaper BM card for video I/O would be pretty easy for most folks, but I"ll say BM needs to open up this app to other hardware.  The lite version is all about trying to get you to upgrade to the paid version at some point. Its crack dealer marketing 101, too bad it looks like I have a new addiction !
 
Now some thoughts on Resolve from Jack Tunnicliffe of Java Post ( THANK YOU Jack ! )
 
I've been running Resolve since it came out last fall. I brought one of the old factory boys in to train me because I was immediately into a major series and I didn't want to go back to Color. I needed to learn Resolve fast.  I've now done several series, documentaries, commercials and am currently working on a feature shot Red anamorphic. Unfortunately I don't have time to write a review on Resolve as my back is to the wall with projects but I'll give you a few highlights.
 
Some editors down the hall loaded up Lite and I saw that it was a bit choked with only 2 nodes but really if you try it and like it, it's only $995 for the full version, right? I think they're selling it way too cheap because this is a killer app for doing color grading. You won't ever see me launch FCP Color again.
 
The Black Magic tech support is amazing and in the fall we even received over night builds to fix bugs so we didn't lose time on our schedule. Resolve is the most stable application I own even though it is one of the most complicated pieces of software. I don't recall a freeze or a crash in months. I really never worry about saving believe it or not. How many apps do you work in you can say that about.
 
Okay the GTX 285 is the best card for acceleration. I actually think this is a huge asset. I get real time playback of Red R3D files and 48K stereo audio while I'm grading with this card. It's a discontinued card so you can pick them up on eBay for around $350 or so. We bought two of them. We bought a Quadro 4000 card when they were released and discovered that they were actually slower with Davinci than the old GTX 285 and we paid a heck of a lot more for the 4000. I actually don't see any need to add a Red Rocket or go to a chassis with additional cards. HD is all real time and R3D's are real time. I'm used to limping along in all these other apps frame by frame, especially Apple Color which has never played real time and never supported audio.
 
I can render a half hour show where every shot has multiple grades, vignettes, etc in about 2x real time or about 12fps for R3D full rez premium. In other words I am sourcing full 4k and getting these render speeds with one $350 card. For HD the render times are about real time or better. Render speeds are very, very impressive.
 
Here are a few highlights that impress me about Resolve:
 
Best power windows (vignettes) in the business. These can be very soft, never any banding or artifacts.
 
Unbelievable 3D tracker. Shots track so fast that if you blink you'll miss it. This was born in their Revival product for repairing footage and they ported it into Resolve.
 
Add as many corrections to a layer. You could stack up 25 secondaries if you wanted and it still plays real time. Secondaries can be vignettes, colour corrections, keys, whatever. Different nodes allow for different work so you can loop around a node and feed back to source, for instance. An example would be removing all color from a shot and then bringing color back with a node at the end to and item, sourcing back to the original.
 
You can do color corrections on the entire track, not just on a shot, so if you want to warm an entire show or add a vignette to make it more film-like this can be added to a track that corrects all shots. This would be something like an adjustment layer in AE. The track can be keyframed.
 
There are two types of keyframing in DaVinci. One is to set marks which would be equivalent to a hold keyframe in AE where there is no change until you hit that frame. The other is a dynamic which is an ease in and ease out kind of keyframe. These can be applied to individual nodes and you can separate between color and between PTZR, a Davinci term for Pan, tilt, zoom and rotation.
 
I love the new color curves. That was the one thing I missed from my Color days. I loved using hue and saturation curves but now Davinci has incorporated this and they are much better than Color.
 
You can grab stills and compare color between shots in a flash. If you like a particular grade you can save it to the power grade room and add it to other shots, or you can use that grade in other projects.
 
Red R3D data can be edited on the fly. You can set it up for the project but you can go to individual clips and edit the raw data to set a different exposure, etc. This can all be done right on the thumbnail on the timeline in the color room while you work. Right click on a shot and edit.
 
You can save many, many versions of a shot. This is highly useful. I had a client recently who wanted to look at a scene in several different ways. I kept save grades for shots starting at default then grade 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. I don't know if there's a limit but you can just keep going.
Scopes are fantastic as you might imagine in an application like this. No little toys, these are really accurate scopes.
 
I loaded up 7 hours of dailies for a feature film in one project. All the footage was anamorphic so Davinci is doing the scaling on the fly. I wondered what would happen, well nothing happened. It just merrily played away with 7 hours of Red footage on one timeline. Try doing more than 20 minutes with FCP Color.
 
If you want to get serious about Davinci Resolve you need the big control panels. They are expensive but everything is on the surface with very little in menus beneath the surface. I splurged for these after a few months of navigating up and down through menus on a Wave controller. The Wave is an amazing device for the price, though and if you don't grade every day it would work for you.
 
Again I don't work for Black Magic. It was a decision I made to up our power for color correction and in looking back almost a year I can truly say it was a good decision. We have installed a second system and may be adding a third. Again their tech support is fantastic and they will help you through any problems.
 
I guess that was my review I didn't have time to write.
 
Jack Tunnicliffe
Java Post Production
www.javapost.ca
 

 

__________________ ______________________

 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Last Straw : Goodbye Asus P246 - Update #3

Ok, last straw today with the Asus P246Q monitor. I had messed wtih its internal adjustments and gotten most of the red out, it was looking ok. A week ago I got a QFX4000 card for the mac. it has a displayport and DVI. I'm running the asus on the displayport connector. when the mac goes to sleep, the monitor actually crashes its OS. I mean the mac doesn't see it connected, you can't even power it up. you can power it up if you leave it plug pulled disconnected from power for a minute or two, then it will go. I can't deal with this. it coulda / shoulda/ oughta of been a great monitor, but its a POS - good hardware with really BAD software and bad factory calibration. 

UPDATE 1 :   I this monitor from Amazon.com. I'm well past their 30day return policy. if I want to loose 20% I can return it. I put in an RMA request with ASUS we'll see what happens. When I got this thing I pealed off the warranty deal by accident. its some stupid bit of paper label on the bottom of the screen that feels like part of the packing. I scraped it off... then saw what it was. Who knew ? Ths is just beyond all stupidity right now : bad product, screw the customer. 

if ANYONE has a contact at ASUS who can do something, I'd appreciate your sharing it with me. Maybe the need some public shame to fix this.

 

 

Update 2 : Well I may of gotten color fixed on this thing. it looks like the real problem is that the setup or as they call it offset for red is just too high. When looking at some dark grays I saw red, and then got the idea to pull down the offset. Much better ! that along wtih some other adjustments has this looking better.

Another note : if you try to power up the display with a displaport cable attached to a mac QFX 4000 ( my exact setup ) the monitor crashes and become non-responsive. its like its just completely failed. lets see what Asus has to say.

 

Update 3: If I remove the displayport cable, the monitor will start up. @#!@#@!#!!!  ASUS claims 48hrs to get a RMA, came and gone already. I've done more tweaking with the monitor, and updated to Lion 10.7 today, we'll see if there is any progress. Now I have some video reviews to edit !

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Kenko 1.4X Teleconverter Review

I know I never seem to have a long enough lens, even with a 400mm monster in my case. My next shorter lens is a 70-200 2.8 Tamron, which again I always seem to want a little more reach with. Enter the 1.4X converter. this turns 200mm into 280mm of reach. The trade off is a 1 stop light loss, and some image degradation according to the pixel peepers. 

Keno 1.4X tele converter DGX
 
Now you've probably never heard of Kenko, or at best passed the name by as some low quality brand. The fact is the converter appears to be identical to the Tamron converter except in color and price. A number of still shooter sites had good things to say about the Kenko, but of course until you have a unit in hand, you never know.
 
There are at least 3 versions of Kenko's 1.4 Converter. The newest model is the Kenko C-AF 1.4X DGX Pro 300 converter version which is a 7 element converter.  This is the top of the line unit, with a price to match. There is an older DG model, and there is a the MC4 model which is a 4 element version which is about $110 cheaper. The DGX and DG are 7 element converters which offer better quality and ideally the one you want. 
 
 
Kenko 1.4X C-AF teleplus pro 300

 

The Good

The Kenko is a nice small compact unit. You can easily carry it in your pocket for when you need to travel light and fast, but could use some extra reach. It has a full set of contacts to pass thru lens control to the camera body. With several lenses I tried, it also seems to add exposure compensation so that a mounted 2.8 lens will read 4.0. This is a very cool feature to have, especially for shooting stills. Autofocus works when shooting stills.  I won't offer any comments on focus speed and accuracy because its not something I've used very much so far. When shooting video I'd never be using AF even if it was an option. The converter does work provided the lens you put on doesn't put you below 5.6 where the AF system won't work.

The canon converter as I mentioned only works with longer lenses, but the Kenko will work on anything you can mount to it. I've used my Tamron 17-50 2.8 on it with success creating a 24-70 F4 lens. The Tamron 17-50 2.8 also continued to have its super close focusing as well. This is so handy when you need a little more reach and can live with the light loss of 1 stop. With the converter my 50 1.4 OM is now a 70 F2.0Kenko does recommend using the converter on longer lenses only, but the bottom line is if it works and the image quality is ok, who cares.
 
The canon 1.4X extender of excellent optical quality has a serious limitation :  its front element sticks out past the front of the lens mount. It is really only designed to work with long canon glass like the 300 2.8, 70-200 2.8 and bigger. If you wanted to get about 70mm from your 50mm by adding the extender, well thats not happening. With the canon they just won't fit together without hitting glass elements each other, thats if they would even mount together at all. Its a bit surprising that canon has not changed this design with a model III unit, but I guess they wanted the absolute best performance with their long lenses. Just as note, the canon comes in model II and model ( more expensive ) III.  Maybe if you are a working pro photog competing with 20 other shooters to sell the same shot, the ( I'm sure ) every so slightly sharper canon might possibly be your edge... except 15 of the other shooters probably have one too. I don't have a canon 800mm L lens here to see if it that makes a difference either, but if you can afford one of those lenses, then this extender isn't even sales tax on the big lens.
 
Canon 1.4X extender II
 
 
The Optical Quality
 
Tamron 70-200 2.8 Kenko 1.4X DGX resolution chart
Tamron 70-200 2.8 @ F4 + Kenko 1.4X DGX TelePlus Pro 300 - click on image for larger version
 
Alright, this is the question that got you to read this  most likely, so lets get to it !
 
The optical quality of the Kenko is dead on awesome. With my tests, both stills and video, there was no way to tell it was in use. Maybe this means I needed to test harder to see the difference that should be there. I shot my tests with a Tamron 70-200 2.8 which is an excellent optical performer on par with the canon 70-200 2.8L II. I have no question that using this unit is not doing any harm to your image sharpness that anyone will even see including the even the pixel peepers. Well that is to say unless all you do is shoot resolution charts all day long perfectly. My image chart tests revealed nothing, or should I say no noticeable loss when shooting with a 60D. This is a crop sensor camera so its using the best part of the converter's image. You MIGHT find a 5D there is some softness on the edges, or not. 
 
My test results where consistent in both shooting stills and video of test charts.
 
Shooting some real world video on real shoots, the 1.4X performed perfectly. The shots I got from it I could not tell were taken with the converter, it except I already new. With some lenses, you may need to open them up a stop since not all lenses will talk to the camera body thru the converter correctly. Most of my lenses did ok.
 
All the online reviews I read put this right up against the canon for image quality, except of course the canon costs a good deal more. I'm going to say yes its true this is a great converter that will keep even the very picky happy.
 
 

Optical Quirks

 
This is the slippery slope where it gets more interesting. One thing I found is that when using a zoom like the 17-50 Tamron, focus changed between focal lengths. If I focused at 50mm, then pulled back to 35 or 24, the image got soft. I had to refocus at that focal length. This isn't the end of the world, but it is something have drilled into your head when shooting in fast moving situations - focus focus focus ! Don't zoom in focus and then pull back with the converter mounted, you have to use the camera's image zoom function to check critical focus.
 
I also found the 70-200 also exhibited this quirk. Its not the end of the world, but it is something to be on your toes about. 
 

The Bad

 
Are there any downsides to this unit ? Well all 1.4X converters cause a 1 stop light loss, so I can't complain here. There is probably one thing I will complain about, and its the front lens mount on the converter. When a lens is mounted to the converter, there can by a little bit of play in the mount. The mounted lens may have some wiggle. Its very small, but its there. This wiggle so far has not caused me any problems that I can tell, and may represent the only thing there the canon might beat this one out. I think this is a minor problem for the cost vs the great optical quality of the unit.
 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

ColorBars Are Next To Useless On LCD's

What might of worked so well for NTSC / PAL years ago just doesn't fly these days with LCD panels. The beloved bars will only give you the most basic go / no go idea of if a monitor is even in the ball park. Unless you have super calibrated eyes there are so many things that change with LCD's it isn't funny. They very often have non-linear gamma compared to CRT's, and can have color shifts as well, never mind maybe a screen might have different R,G and B curves.

The price of the panel may have no bearing on how good it is, to whit :

a $500 Asus P246Q 10bit panel is just plain red, and has a brighter then linear top end as shown by the Spyder3 Elite ( another piece of highly probablamatic gear). I have been messing with this panel now for a month with no love.

a $150 Vizio 17" monitor from costco was near perfect. Go figure this one out - dead on color and when running the MXO2 eyeball calibration routine, it showed all gray steps from black to white right out of the box. It required the most minimal of adjustments, and would of been fine as is. I'd recommend this as a location monitor if you want something cheap you don't have to worry about, and need something pretty accurate.

Eventually I'll get the Asus calibrated to the point I can trust it, or I may just spend a lot of cash on a couple of apple 27" monitors. They have great images, are IPS panels, but have one major flaw - glossy screens that make using them in most normal environments a problem, hence the reason I went with the Asus that had great reviews for 1/2 the price. Time will tell whether I should of taken my own advice and bought it right ( read more expensive ) the first time around. Given that you never really know what you get when you buy a panel, sometimes the cheap ones are great, and the expensive ones not so great. I'm not splurging on a Flanders this year.

 

color bars

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Cheap Fix For Your LCD Loupe Eyecup

Most of the LCD loupe's out there have eyecups that are too small. An eyepeice cushion is the solution. Most interesting is camcushions.com which is actually another company we all know, Letus. For $5.40 ( plus shipping ) you can have a very nice eyepiece cover that will make things much better. I picked up a couple of microfiber ones in gray. While I'm sure some folks may find a red eyepiece cover on their RED camera is not being a fashion slave, I opted for the neutral gray color.  its a 100% improvement over the skimpy ( but better than most ) rubber eye cup. The cushion has a slot in the middle that you slide the rubber cup into with a bit of fiddling. 

 

yepiece chamios for letus hawk

 

yepiece chamios for letus hawk EVF

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Super Cool iPhone Video Camera App

Link To App on Apple

Just brought to my attention today is a super cool new app for the iPhone. 

Whats the big feature ? Variable Fame Rates including 24FPS !

It also lets you set 2 focus / exposure zones and has VU meters !

Add in some framing guides and grids. Not a bad deal for $2.99

If you have a HD capable iphone ( and I'll guess iPad ) this can certainly give you a B cam option when you need it. I'd certainly not pretend you'd want to shoot anything too serious with an iPhone but we all know some one will try :)

 

 

 

Sunday, May 08, 2011

I Want NTSC Back, I think. Asus P264 and Spyder3 Elite Ponderings

Monitors monitors on the wall, who's color is most accurate of all ?

 
At least in the days of SD NTSC, you bought a Sony CRT of the PVM or BVM series, setup bars, did a little minus green on it, and you were good. Yes Sony CRT's tended to be a little green from the factory, and it was a quick consistent fix to adjust. Sure you could go crazy with a monitor probe to tweaking the RGB drives, but in general these monitors were very consistent. Setup bars and you knew you generally had a trustable consistent reference standard. Those where the good old days.
 
Enter LCD panels for HD. While any given panel from a given manufacturer can be pretty consistent from panel to panel, once you start comparing even different models built using the same screen panel they will be different. Its not so much overall color, but critical color. Once you start looking, especially with two panels next to each other everything is out the window. You'll start to notice one panel may be a little bit red, another green, and a third blue when looking at grays and "pure" white.
 
You can stare at bars all day long and come to the conclusion they match, however watching real pictures is another story. The first thing you'll notice is varying gamma between panels. This is generally most evident in the dark areas of the picture from just above black to 50% gray. Some, in fact most LCD monitors I"ve used tend to boost dark areas of the picture. This means when shooting in lower light levels, the monitor makes you think you've got more then you really have. They certainly don't match what you are used to seeing on a CRT monitor. 
 
The entire area of LCD color can be a nightmare really. Some displays are only 6bit, but do some tricks to try to eack out 8bit actual colors. There are some true 10bit displays, but they are often in the mid 4 figures or higher. There are some cheaper panels claiming 10bit, or even "true" 8bit NTSC color gamut. Maybe.
 
I recently bought a Asus 10bit P246 display. Its claim is full 10bit NTSC / Adobe RGB color space.  When I first got the display, I spent several days messing with it trying to get it adjusted. It proved to be completely futile because I have NOTHING to reference it to. Any on screen visual calibrations led to disappointing results. I came to the conclusion that I really needed some sort of color calibration tool. Some research showed that the unit of choice that wasn't a serious 4 figures was the Spyder3 Elite. I bought one.
 
From here I expected that the Spyder would give me its own perfect internal reference, and get the monitor adjusted with a LUT in the video card so that I know had "reference color".  Well is didn't work that way.  The first panel I had in fact had a dead pixel, so I eventually warranty exchanged it, but not before putting a color meter on it.. The meter claimed it did indeed have NTSC color gamut. Now as I mentioned, I did exchange it and the second one metered out as having sRGB color space, even when in the same picture setting as the first screen i had.
 
I need to quit right here for the moment ,  more in the next day or two as I give you the rest of the story since I'm still in fact trying to sort it all out.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Would You Buy A SD VF For Your DSLR ?

There is yet another LCD VF entering the fray from  KinoTehniik. but please read the specs - 

 " Super crisp 24bit 3” screen with 840×400 resolution "

 

ah, hello ! thats SD 16:9. How sharp can that be ? Thats fewer pixels then the LCD on the back of the camera has. If you can't focus or be happy with a LCD loupe on the back of the dslr's back, how are you going to be happy with this ? if you complain that your external 5-9" LCD goes to SD during shooting and you can't see critical focus, do you have any plans of thinking this will work ok ?  Lets get real, 840X480 isn't even close to cutting it. Give me a real 1280X720 native or better LCD and we can have a conversation involving me parting with my money. I've used the RED viewfinder, and while some may complain about it, its still way better then any of these offerings. Stick with your LCD loupe for now.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

EV RE50 Mic and Sennheiser G3 Plug On Wireless Transmitter Review

To say I have been busy the last weeks is an understatement. I've been prepping for 3 shoots in 2 countries over the last couple of days. In any event, here is my video review on the ElectroVoice RE50 hand held dynamic mic and the Sennhieser G3 hand held plug on wireless mic transmitter. I compared the RE50 both on the transmitter and hardline XLR direct into my DR-680 recorder. Overall, its a great mic especially for the price, as is the G3. Take a look. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Glass vs Resin Filters Review

 

Do Glass Filters Make A Difference For DSLR Shooting ?

 
A few months ago I bought a .9 ND filter on ebay. I asked the seller if this was a glass filter and was told yes. I bought it. You of course can guess what came was in fact whats called a resin filter which is a better word then plastic. The seller said they made a mistake, and gave me a partial refund to even the deal out and I was ok with that. 
 
I was just happy to have some decently strong ND for my lenses when shooting outside. I shot a bit with this lens, and I certainly had some concern about if it was really having some effect on the images I was shooting. Plenty of knowledge says a filter like this won't perform as well as a glass one. After all, who'd pay 3X-5X more for glass when plastic would do ? Well one quick difference is that plastic filters are much easier to scratch. What the real concern is, how does it perform and is it worth the extra money.
 
Here are actual images side by side of how it worked out. The lens was a Tamron 70-200 2.8 which a very sharp and excellent performing lens. The lens chart was actually one I printed on my laser printer and taped up on the wall. Yes I know technically not correct, but I'm not looking to measure lpm's here in a scientific way. I just wanted a contrasty target to see what happens. 
 
The two filters tested were the Lee .9 ND resin filter and Schneider ND.9 EF81. the images are 1:1 pixel crop of 5K stills
 
 
lee .9 ND resin filter lens chart sharpness test
 
 
schnieder optical glass filter .9 ND lens chart sharpness test
 
The results clearly show the plastic filter softening the image out quite a bit. I have 2 other shots which are softer, this is the sharpest of 3. With the glass filter you can actually see the dot pattern of the gray areas. The detail and sharpness of the Tamron is amazing, and the glass filter isn't hurting it one bit.
 
In actual shot images this effect is visible, especially at longer focal lengths. Here are some shots from 1080p from the camera. These images have been scaled down, but you can click on them for the 1:1 crops.
 
video schnieder
 
Lee video from 60D
 
The video shots are more interesting to say the least. Can you tell them apart ? They look pretty close actually at this size. Even at 1:1 they look pretty close. Now at this point I think I am going to redo this video test because I think the plastic filter looks every so slightly sharper. I have 2 guesses right now - motion blur / shutter speed blur. I shot one at 40/th and one at 50/th. While I feel certain I'd let the camera settle for a few seconds, maybe not. I was also using a Flo light on the chart. Last I did color correct these a bit to match exposure values. If I upped the contrast a little too much on the second one, it could account for making it seem a little sharper. So I think next week I'll go redo this part. However, even if I get the expected results, they'll still be pretty close I'll bet.
 
Conclusion : I suppose after shooting this quick little test you'd figure I'd be tossing this resin filter out, but I'm not. For video purposes, you may get away with using some resin / plastic filters, especially if you need a softer look or want to try to tame some aliasing / moire.  While this may not be my prime ND filter to normally use, it may serve some special purposes. In a choice between sharpness and artifacts or softer and no artifacts, some subject will be ok being a little softer.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Finally a simple nearly cheap LCD monitor mount

For years I've wanted a really dumb stupid simple LCD mount - a VESA plate with a 5/8 pin on it. Not rocket science, its barely garage level hacker. I made one plate like this a while back using the cheapest VESA plate I could find for about $15 in walmart plus some 5/8" rod. Now there is finally what everyone has been looking for.

 

Its available from Film Tools in 75mm and 100mm version for $40 each. Well cheaper then most other stuff out there at well over $100, but still more then just a bit pricey compared to even a baby plate. Did  I even say you can drill holes in a $15 baby plate and you're good to go ?  and before you even ask, why couldn't they make ONE version with both hole sets.... pass the 2X4 please. GRRRRR !

Monday, March 07, 2011

Is it a slider or a jib ?

Well this looks cool on first try.... but it didn't take me long to see through this one. There are certainly shots you won't see on it because they put a crappy bogen head on the thing and you can see the guy jerk the camera. You'd think they'd rent / beg / borrow a real head for shooting their own demo ! as they say, one to watch, but it needs an avid edit ;)
 
 

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.

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. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

60D Dynamic Range : Part 4

What started out as a pretty simple series of tests got a lot more complicated. I completed another round of tests using a simple chip chart. Now I need to make one disclaimer here, the chip chart I got my hands on was not a great one. It wasn't one of those expensive official 10 stop charts, but rather a printed one that came with an old copy of On Location. Before you all get excited about this, please consider what I needed for these tests : a way to generate some cleanly stepped values for highlights. In this purpose you'll see the chart did just fine. It also let me look at some other more interesting things that the camera is doing, especially comparing the output of the hardware scopes to what the codec records.

A big question here is, what happens when  video out is over 100 IRE - is the codec clipping ? Initial tests indicated it was, but in this series of images, it appears that the camera is actually processing the image data down to generally fit into the range of 0-235 / 100 IRE max. It seems to be compressing the top end down to preserve whats in the image.
 
This does however bring up more problems :  the camera's video out is not an absolutely accurate way of knowing whats really being recorded ! This completely and totally flies against everything any video camera has ever done. What comes out of video out should be exactly the same as what is recorded ! Now while it appears that the camera is in fact preserving all the image data you see on video out, it means that any sort of monitoring from the camera is simply inaccurate. You can not use scopes to setup the camera, or to try to match them the way you would a conventional video camera. This even means that an expensive several thousand dollar video monitor is something of waste as it may not show you anything more then what a cheap one will. The fact is, a monitor introduces its own variables in terms of what it displays and how. It makes the me almost want the days of NTSC back where everything was far more standardized, repeatable and reliable. It seems in the era of new cheap HD digital everything, standards are out the window unless you want to spend serious money.
 
Each of the following images can be clicked on to see a full size image. 
 
Take a look at how the camera sends out video, compared to how it records it. The first thing I want to say is, I'm shooting "flat" as per internet buzz about how you are supposed to shoot to get the most dynamic range from the camera. 
 
In the very first screen shot, its clear that with contrast at min, the blacks are really elevated. Guess what ? I almost succeeded in getting 7 bits worth of gray value ! If you see my whites are at 90 IRE while my blacks are at 30 IRE, thats just 60 IRE worth of range, a 40% reduction of what just plain old composite video can carry, never mind our digital video formats.
 
 
Next I cranked up the exposure to see what is really going on with highlights. While the hardware scope shows a little small difference, back in the digital world two things have happened :
 
1. The over bright whites have been pushed down to 100 IRE.
 
2. The rest of the signal has also been compressed !
 
This means that no image data visible on video out has been per se lost, but is has been compressed down to less dynamic / bit range by the codec. I"m not saying this is so much bad, but not what any one expected.
 
 
 
 
 
Another exposure variation, not nearly as over exposed with distinct steps in the overbright area. The codec has safely brought them back into "legal" range. However, with contrast on min, black levels are at about 50%. Hey I may of just made 7 bit images with 8 bits to play with.
 
 
 
Another shot where I just cranked up the exposure, but still the codec has compressed the highlights.
 
 
Here I dialed the contrast back to mid level. I have shades that are starting to look like black. They are still too hot, but I'm getting better.
 
 
Finally I turned the contrast all the way UP ! I finally have real blacks, and I'm making the most of the color space. If you are shooting a flat scene, increasing contrast can well be a good thing. Yes this completely go against what some folks have been saying, which is to just shoot with reduced contrast all the time making for a "raw" style image. This isn't RAW, not by any means. Creating images that look like them, but are actually only holding 7 bits of color vs RAW"s 12 is just wrong. 
 
 
Same exposure, but contrast set to min, I have again reduced the usable range of gradation.
 
 
So what does this mean ? it comes back to what the old school camera guys have said all along "Get it right in camera ! " Seriously, reducing contrast and shooting flat buys you nothing except  less gradation and less dynamic range in the recorded image. Sure you can color correct the image back so that blacks are black, whites are white, but with a lot of missing image data when doing so.  What shooting flat does do is buy you some fudge factor - its less likely to under expose or over expose your image. Sure that works when you really have no idea how the camera handles and you have no idea where your monitor is in terms of telling you what you are getting. That doesn't get yo the best image you can get recorded though.
 
Use the histograms if your camera has them. While you can't totally trust them, they will let you know you are spreading out your exposure enough to make a gradable image in post that won't cause too much cussing ! You'll know if you are too dark or brite because of how it bunches up. Likewise, even if the histogram looks a bit hot, as long as it isn't completely blown out the codec will squeeze it back into legal video range, even if you aren't going to broadcast with it.
 
I hope this has gotten all of you thinking that you need to use your eyes, histogram and some experience to get the best image. Shooting flat isn't the answer, its part of the problem and if you want to be a DP you need to learn your tool and medium.

More Dynamic Range & Codec Tests

Shot, edited, just need to write it up. More surprises about what the canon cameras are doing in terms of video out vs what the codec is recording to card.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

60D dynamic Range Part 3

 

Good science means you can repeat the results. Today I ran the HDMI out of my 60D into a MXO2 and used Matrox's Vetura capture software to grab the video output to ProRes 1080. That worked as expected and I grabbed a short clip, opening and closing the iris to get a range of exposure values. The shot was nothing special, just the MXO2 sitting on my desk.
 
 In this shot which looks about right for exposure the scopes show something very interesting, I've got whites at 109 IRE! However, the clip from the camera is only 100 IRE, hard clipped.
 
60D waveform monitor HDMI output 110 IRE
 
 With this info in hand, I'm going to try to dig up a chip chart and run some tests to see if the camera is compressing its hot signal down to 100 IRE compressing the range, but still retaining highlights values, or if the codec is simply hard clipping everything over 100 IRE out. If the codec is hard clipping information, that means using the camera's video out for monitoring even with a scope is not accurate. You can see it on the monitor, but not record it to the card. This would be seriously troubling if it proves to be the case which I am suspecting will be true. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

8mm Camera Effects for Your iPhone

I wouldn't call my iPhone exactly a production camera... but we all do what we have to sometimes. This $1.99 app gives video your iphone shoots the 8mm look. I haven't tried it yet, but it looks cool. Could be perfect for getting some stylized shots on a road trip or other personal venture. Would I pull it out on a real shoot ? probably if it got the job done and the client was impressed :) !
8mm camera effect for your iPhone

Field of View Online Comparison Tool

Cool stuff comes by every so often. Abel Cinetech of NYC has put up an online field of view comparison tool. It basically lets you pick a lens in one format, and compare it to the same or different lens in other format.  Its a great way to see the difference between formats with different lenses. Check it out here
Abel Cinetech field of view comparison calculator

60D Dynamic Range : Part 2

 

What started out as a simple question has become a more complicated answer. There are a lot of people out there saying "Just Shoot Flat" on the web. In what is now the first part of this series of tests, I'll say yes. In high contrast situations like snow in sunlight, by all means turn down the contrast control. In taking a look at the 60D's dynamic range I had a question thrown at me - am I looking at a NLE / software scope or hardware scope in judging whats going on ? I have both so I put them to the test. 
 
Let me explain and show you something interesting. In the first part I talked about if 100 IRE = 235 or 255. On the scopes in my NLE, the codec was clearly clipping at 100 IRE, there was nothing above. If I plug the 60D's composite out into my Tektronix scope there is a surprise, over brights ! In the image below you can see that I've got whites hitting about 105 IRE. I could not get anything hotter then that from the camera. The flat top areas at about 97 IRE are in fact the onscreen text overlays. So in response to the poster, yes the camera puts out hotter then 100 IRE on its video outs, but the codec which you actually record to ins't giving it to you. In a word, that sucks, Canon, H264 has more to offer then what you have limited us to. Let us have everything the spec can handle : 10 bit 4:2:2 or 4:4:4. 

 

scopes showing 60D output

PART 3

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Does Shooting Flat Gain You More Dynamic Range ?

Yes and no. How is that for an answer ? 
 
It depends. In this high contrast example, a flat shooting setting will get you the most amount of dynamic range to be recorded with in the limits of the codec. However, in an upcoming test, I'll show you how shooting flat won't be the best thing.
 
 
At first glance, lower contrast settings do indeed give you more image to work with. It really seems like the contrast adjustment is much more like a gamma plus pedestal adjustment. Adjusting contrast moves not just the low end of the picture but the mids around too.
 
My first couple of tests actually show a pretty large dynamic range, holding not only the sky and snow, but also well into the shadows. Technically, the image is underexposed since the whites aren't quite white. However, I can live with that  in seeing that the camera is really holding an enormous range of brightness. My hand held light meter bit the dust a few months ago, but after 20 years of service I'm not complaining. I don't have a formal light range reading for you, but its easy to see this is at least 10 stops. Its easy to set up tests with charts and make certain claims, its quite another to make usable images, or see those specs in action where you can say you got information in a bright or dark area that you might not of with another camera.
 
For a finished shot it would be easy to grade this a bit and bring the snow up, and bring the sky down a bit. 
 
Looking between the picture styles you can see differences in color rendition and dynamic range. While its probably not cool to say you use it, the standard setting actually holds up very well and better then some of the other picture styles.
 
Clearly the contrast setting is not just changing the dark areas, its much more of a gamma type adjustment. If you scope the images you can see this. Another interesting thing I saw was that the EOS codec hard clips at 100 IRE. Now if 255 = 100 IRE, I'm somewhat ok with this. However, if 235= 100 IRE, I'm not. In 8 bit color space you need every last step of range you can get.  Why throw away 20 more steps in gradation, especially in the high end ? My JVC HD100 lets you shoot over brights to 110 IRE, and thats where I have the camera set. When you have to grade compressed 8bit material, every little bit counts. On the positive side, the codec does allow pure 0 IRE level blacks, adding 13 steps on the bottom end.  
 
Now on the side of shooting lower saturation, I'm going to go against what some other folks are running around saying. There is no net benefit to reducing color saturation, but there is plenty to loose when shooting. Quite simply, if you reduce your saturation, you simply are using fewer bits to record gradation with. So instead of getting 8 bits, your reducing yourself to 7 bits, or even 6 bits. Don't believe me ? Shoot some shots with a lot of color gradation in them in various settings. Then go into your NLE of choice, open up your scopes, and color correct that material to look likes its got a full range of color again. Out will pop missing steps of color. Thats right, those empty sections are exactly that, areas of no gradation. You are jumping from one color value to another several units away with nothing in between. So unless you are shooting material with very high saturation to begin with, where you may be clipping values to begin with, stay put in middle setting, or perhaps -1 if you really must. Dialing color down below that won't net you anything except loss of color information thats already been reduce by the h264 compression. Now just to irk those turn down the saturation folks, the very first project I shot with my 550D had its saturation turned up to +1. That project won and award an had everyone buzzing about how great the images looked.
 
All right, just as another comparison, here is a 7D vs Alexa comparison. It seems to show the same thing I experienced - that the canon cameras don't like over exposure and clip highlights pretty fast.
 

Part 2

 

Alexa vs 7d latitude tests from Nick Paton ACS on Vimeo.

So I'll welcome your comments on this.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

60D In The House !

Santa UPS just delivered my new canon 60D !

Can't wait to go shoot some test material. Its great to have a matching body to my 550D now. More to come...  also in the works is a lens review on the Vivitar 400 5.6. Its a big heavy cool piece of glass!

 

canon 60D box

Monday, November 08, 2010

Sony Announces The New F3 Super35 Chip Camera For The Rest of Us

Is the Sony F3 camera the one for the rest of us ? Lets define who the rest of us are ! Ok, to some one with a F23 or F35, its dirt cheap. How many folks around here have one of these ? how many rentals houses for that matter ! How many productions that most of us normally or will ever work on are using one ? small market. Is it some one looking at a RED ? The F3is $1k less. for a body, maybe less at street price. However it doesn't have4K res, its HD only. It does have S-Log which I assume...

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Canon 100 2.8 Macro Lens Test vs Tamron 70-200 2.8

A month or so ago I got to try out a canon 100 2.8 Macro lens. Its a nice piece of glass to be sure, and I put it up against my truly great Tamron 70-200 2.8 as some sort of comparison. 
You can see the HD Vimeo Version HERE
The canon lens is a very good performer as could be expected. It focuses from infinity to nearly inches in front of the lens which is great. Even more amazing is that this is an internal focus lens ! Most macro lenses extend themselves like crazy in order to accomplish this task. The big downside is that the focus rotation of the lens is incredibly short, less then 90 deg as I remember. This means that when focuses close, wide open, where DoF is under an inch, almost breathing on the lens will mean the difference between being in focus or not. In the test video, I left some of my focus searching in there so you can see how tight it is. Realistically, canon should have at least 180 deg of focus rotation in a practical lens. I'm not saying you can't get the hang of this glass, its just very very touchy !  
I now brought out my very close focusing Tamron 70-100 2.8 not expecting too much. To my surprise, at 200mm I got shots quite close to what I was getting with the canon 100 2.8 macro. The Tamron lens doesn't focus nearly as close, but when working its closest distance at 200mm, its about the same as the canon at 100mm at 2 feet or so. Its very impressive to say the least. I could not quite get as close with the Tamron, but I'm not complaining  either. With an extension tube I could easily match the canon. Check out the test video and see for yourself.

Letus Hawk ViewFinder / Magnifier

I got a Letus Carbon Fiber View Finder in today. Ok, technically last week, but my first one had problems. It had a stripped out screw hole that was part of the mount. Today, fedex dropped off a replacement, with quick release. Its worlds better. I'm gearing up for a review, but so far this looks pretty good. Letus was good in taking care of exchanging the bad one I first got. 

Meanwhile I'm trying to get caught up watching Fringe and Mad Men... such is life. 

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

GoPro Firmware Try Out

Reviews at the speed of the net ! So I got the new firmware loaded up. It was simple enough IF you follow the directions to the letter. I missed something the first time around but got it the second time. 1080 out of the camera looks great ! Super sharp. There is some moire and aliasing, but nothing a little diffusion filter wouldn't kill. Maybe even the case lens will just take a little edge off of it. I was running the camera bare. Either way, skin tones look great, camera looks way...

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GoPro Firmware Update is Finally Released

Go get it ! Things added and fixed include : 25fps / Pal frame rate. No 24, but if you aren't doing sync sound, simply interpeting the 25FFPS mov at 24FPS and live with the 4% slow down works for me ! Live Feed Output YES ! finally you can see video while the camera is just on, as well as recording. Feed video to a wireless transmitter, or just plug a LCD monitor in to see what you are really getting. Live Feed with On Screen Display Shows battery, time recorded, recording status. Perfect...

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Friday, September 03, 2010

After Effects 10.0.1 Update Is Out

Hot after Premiere Pro's update yesterday, Adobe has released AE 10.0.1 ! The new release adds the following : ____________________________________ There were several fixes and improvements for RED (R3D) import and workflow. The Apply Color LUT effect can now use .3dl files with floating point values or 3DMESH/Mesh keywords, or those saved from an ASSIMILATE SCRATCH system (i.e., that have SCRATCH in the comments at the top of the file). QuickTime (.mov) Files from JVC solid-state cameras...

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Thursday, September 02, 2010

Panasonic Releases Pics of Their APS-C Sized Camera

Panasonic released these pics today of their up and coming camera first shown at NAB. Probably a move to steal a little bit of Canon's big PR this week. Either way its a look that they are on their way to a shipping product. The body is small compared to most video cameras in the pro realm, but its bigger then a dslr, has XLR's, a movable LCD of unknown quality. I'm betting a sharper picture then dslr's, and no aliasing/ moire problems. We'll see when they get here. Now the...

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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Adobe Releases Premiere Pro CS 5.0.2 Update, Announces AE Update Coming Soon

You want it ! This also includes an update for Adobe Media Encoder (AME ). There was also the hint that an AE update was soon to be out as well. Updated & Improved Several improvements to RED (R3D) import and workflow. See the last section of this post for details. QuickTime (.mov) files from JVC solid-state cameras can be imported. Added sequence presets: Canon XF MPEG2 720p30 and Canon XF MPEG2 720p25. Premiere Pro CS5 (5.0.2) can export MXF files containing MPEG-2 essence items that...

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Canon Just Keeps Turning Out Amazing Stuff

Canon Goes All Ultra Resolution On Us ! Canon is has announced the largest CMOS image sensor made at 205X205mm - thats 8X8 inches ! Thats view camera size ! Its Ultra light sensitive due to its size. Price ? you can't afford it, trust me if the 1D comes in at $5k or so as I recall. A 35mm sized sensor is literally a postage stamp on a near full sheet of paper in comparison. Click HereNo Specs on actual pixel count, but I'm sure there much bigger then typical pixels on a chip. Who cares,...

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Goodbye Beta SP

Ok, stop laughing... all of you ! for everyone who has never shot tape at all, never mind beta SP, you can just skip this little lesson in history. When your P2 / CF/ SD card becomes yesterday's door stop, you'll not notice history repeating itself ! Today is a landmark of sorts around the studio. Beta SP is officially going away. Several months ago, I went through several large boxes of beta tapes and loaded them to hard drive via my laptop with aMatrox MXO2 plugged into it. I...

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Magic Lantern Alpha Firmware for the T2i / 550D

 

 

What is Magic Lantern you might ask ? its a firmware hack that rides on top of the camera's own firmware to add new features, or fix ones done wrong like AGC audio levels. There is a pre-alpha available for 550D owners right now. The main thing it adds it audio meters on screen right now. Thats hugely helpful just to see if you have anything coming in. The other major planned features are manual audio levels, headphone monitoring via the AV out connector, and crop marks for other frame sizes like 2:1. You can check it out here - magiclantern.wikia.com/wiki/550D
 

 
Please follow the directions carefully ! and certainly this is use at your own risk after readying all the cautions. I personally haven't tried this yet, but plan too over the next few days and I'll let you know how it works.
 
Hopefully this project stays on track, with the 60D coming next month. The 60D does address several things that this firmware mod adds to the 550D. I just picture a lot of 550D owners getting 60D's though. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

Premiere Pro Anyone ?

A Long Time FCP Editor Goes with Adobe Premiere Pro I am an early adopter. I started with Media100 back in the mid 90's around ver 2.6. I cut tape before that, and still did for a few years during the transition to total NLE based editing. When it seemed like Media100 was running out of gas, the company wasn't doing well, and I had a 3 camera project to edit, I switched for the first time. I used Premiere 5.0 to edit the job. It went well for the most part, and it got the job done....

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Video Review of the Sennheiser G3 Wireless Mic

Video Review of the G3 Wireless Mic System is Online This video will let you hear the G3 in action with the supplied ME2 mic and a Sanken COS-11. Audio was recorded on a Tascam DR-680, video shot on a EOS 550D. Check it out ! Sennheiser G3 Wireless Mic Review from Steve Oakley on Vimeo. Sennheiser G3 Wireless Mic Review

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Sennheiser G3 Wireless Mic System Review

 Sennheiser Evolution G3 Wireless Review : Updated

By Steve Oakley

 
The G3 wireless units from Sennheiser have been out for a while now. I decided to try a set out since one of my Lectro 195 transmitters bit the dust a few months back on a shoot. I've had the G3 unit now for a good month or so, and used it on a couple of real shoots. I've also done some simple but I think real word testing that shows both the good and bad in these units. 
 
Sennheiser G3 Wireless Mic transmitter reciever ME2 mic
 
What got my attention with these units was the price and reputation for being considered the low end of pro quality wireless, at least for the G2 series.  I figured the G3 must be better as a newer generation product. I've spent a little bit of time using the G2's in the past, but I have used a lot of Lectrosonics units. I'm quite familiar with how Lectro's just work and sound great, once you get past the price. The G3's certainly have their compromises to hit the price point that they do, but still offer solid performance. Lets take a more detailed look at them.
 
 

Audio Performance

 
The overall sound quality of the G3's is very good. You can certainly get more then usable dialog sound through them. They have a lot more bottom end then I am used to, mainly because the transmitter lacks a LF cut filter. Its really pretty amazing that they left this key feature out. Low frequencies can make for all sorts of badness in the audio gain chain when its not usable sound such as mic or wind rumble messing with your limiters. Even so, I didn't have any problems with overall signal handling with the units. 
 
The G3's have quite a bit of headroom overall when used with mics. The transmitter has a large range of adjustment which runs from -60db mic level to line level, adjusted via a menu. While I didn't get to try running a true line level through these units, I've always found a -10db or -20db pad was required when using the G2 transmitters because it was easy to push them into clipping. The closest test was running the headphone jack from my laptop into the transmitter. Once I got the level trimmed, it worked great without any problems. This was a very handy way of running music and dialog through the transmitter to test its overall performance using uncompressed and original sound files.
 
On a shoot with a lot of air handling noise, I didn't hear any compander noise. Quite room tests also seemed good. I did my test with a Sanken COS-11 lav. 
 

The Included ME2 Lav Mic

 
If you don't have a lav mic, it will get sound for you. If you want to have a mic you don't care about for use in situations where the mic could be damaged, its fine. Its overall sound quality is very bright and its not anywhere near as good as the sound the G3's can transmit. I had Trew Audio make an adapter for me to go from Lectro wired TA5 to 1/8" mini jack. With this adapter I can use my Lectro wired lavs on either transmitter. With a good mic in place, I found the sound quality was somewhat better them my older 195's. There was more bottom, and more HF. Overall it was better, fuller sound. However, if you don't put a good quality mic onto the G3, you won't hear it. So I'd very much recommend that you save the ME2 as a back up mic, and use something better.
 
The transmitter also has a weird control called "cable compensation". Reading the manual, this is supposed to be used when simulating a certain length of guitar cord when used on an instrument. My educated guess is that this adds some capacitance to the line cutting HF. I'll certainly say that the unit does sound brighter then my 195's with it off. I'd recommend leaving it off.
 
The receiver's specs indicate line level output levels of +11dbm. In reality, I have no idea where that number comes from. Setting the receiver to +12db on its output is still a low line level signal that required opening up the channel level higher then you would normally want. The receiver really is a mic level output, and it works best this way. Used with a quality mixer or recorder, you'll get the best and cleanest gain structure this way. Trying to run at line level will not result in a quiet clean signal.
 

Ergonomics

G3 Wireless mic with battery door open
 
This brings me to a key point with this sort of lower priced compromise product, every adjustment is done in a menu. There are no external controls on these units such as a easy to get to a trim level. The transmitter does have a MUTE switch, but thats it. This means you must flip the battery cover door down to fiddle with the adjustment, then hit enter to make it stick. I do dearly wish that they had an external level trim control. 
 
On the receiver, its the same thing - no output level, no head phone level, or a headphone jack at all. I'll note that the 1/8" output jack will not drive a standard set of headphones, at least not to a useful level. Having a headphone jack is handy simply for checking your signal at the source, as well as having a spare output when you need it. 
 
The receiver is not bag friendly at all. First is that the menu display is on the side of the unit where you can't see it, and second you don't have any controls to work with on the top. More annoying is that the output jack is on the top of the unit. If this wasn't enough, there is also the lack of a real external power connection to run on bag power. There is a charging connection for use with the Sennhieser battery packs, but I don't know if it can be used to really power the unit.
 
Can you use it in a bag ? sure. Will you like it ? probably not. My Lectro receivers simply live in the bag and never get moved, the G3's would require constant removal to adjust them, change frequencies, power them on or off, and change the batteries. If you can find an odd way of mounting them so you can see the display and not over flex the 1/8" output jack, this might work for you.
 
The receiver certainly works fine on camera. I had a bracket they were able to grab, or you could remove the wire clip and velcro them on where ever they fit. The kit also includes a plastic hotshot adapter mount. The mount works, but I would not call it a long term mounting solution. It works best as that once in a while problem solver.
 
The mounting clip is an odd piece of spring steel that is identical on both units and the same as G2's. Out of the box its way too stiff to slip into most people's clothes. Bend it out a bit and it looses its grip, but if you don't, you won't get it onto thin light fabrics. Sennheiser seriously needs to redo the mounting clip to a more conventional spring loaded clip like those of other brands have. The mounting clip is a serious failing, I've seen G2's bent up and useless way too many times. Perhaps there is an aftermarket bracket that can be found and mounted with double sided foam tape. 
 

The 1/8" Jacks

 
I'll say it, of ALL the connectors they could of used - TA5, TA3, Lemo, they choose the worst possible connector. I'm sure this was in part to keep the costs down. Now the 1/8" jack does have a screw collar to lock the plug in, and its the toughest looking 1/8"s jack I've seen, but either way its a poor choice. If anyone could mod these units for TA3/5 connectors, they would have a very steady stream of customers getting their units modified. 
 

Exceptional Battery Life

 
Using a set of new 2500ma AA's I got 12+ hrs of continuous use on the transmitter. The receiver went maybe 18hrs or so. Compared to my power sucking Lectros, is is great. It should be noted that the transmitters are only 30mw. This is typical of cheaper units. The lower power of course translates into longer battery life compared to other units at 50, 100 and 250mw. 
 
As much as you may want to argue that great receiver design is critical, and it is, having more RF power always helps. RF power is especially important when you want to go for some distance, because the inverse square law applies now matter what brand of wireless you are using. Put more simply, a hotter RF signal at any distance always wins in my book.
 

RF Performance

 
The new G3's are diversity receivers. There is one antenna sticking out of the top of the unit, and the ground of the output wire is used as the second. Does it work ? yes.
 
The receivers can scan their frequency ranges for in use channels. It seems to work ok, even when I tried them in a major US city as well as more rural locations. Whats very cool is that once you setup the receiver, and select a frequency, you can transmit your setup info via infrared to the transmitter. This feature is brilliant and works great. 
 
There are 1628 channels in the frequency band my unit covers. They are separated into banks with sub channels. You can use all the frequencies in the bank's subchannels safely together without worry of intermodulation problems. This is a great feature to have and makes multi unit use much simpler. There is also a user programmable bank as well. You can also manually set frequencies if you want too.
 
I ran my urban RF performance test. I setup the transmitter and fed it from my laptop's headphone jack playing itunes. I also used a Y splitter to feed my lectro 195 transmitter for a side by side comparison of a unit I knew well. 
 
I was able to easily transmit through sheetrock and wood walls without a problem inside the house. Outside of the house generally worked fine too. I then went for a walk around my neighborhood. I"ve run my lectros 500 to 1000 feet or more with this test.This warm summer night I was testing, neither unit wanted to go much further then a few hundred feet outside the structure. The lower RF output power of the G3 certainly seemed to limit the distance it would go compared to the Lectro at 100mw of RF power. I think that result was to be expected. However, the diversity design did generally give me better reception then I expected while I was in range. 
 
My conclusion is RF performance is fine for close range work. Walls shouldn't present much of a problem. You could certainly use these units for mixer to camera hops if you wanted to, and feel safe you were not going to have major problems. Sure I know purists will argue you should be using a digital type transmitter for a camera hop. However not everyone can drop $5k for a digital wireless setup especially if you don't need it everyday. Sometimes issues of safety, convenience, and the need to move fast in congested situations mean you do what you need to order to get the job done. I think that for close use like this, the G3's are good enough quality for most people's needs and reliable enough. I"ve certainly used G2's a couple of times like this for broadcast gigs and no one has every complained.
 

UPDATE : Using your Lectro 195 transmitter with a G3

This isn't supposed to work, but it does. I was able to tune a G3 RECEIVER to 475.375MHZ manually to match a Lectro 195 transmitter, and guess what ? it works ! The G3 receiver was happy to see the 195's pilot tone, and open up. Sound worked ! This means that G3 receivers can be used as spare or backups for 195 transmitters if you can get every one tuned the same. It did seem like the audio performance wasn't quite as good, but it worked. OTH, using the G3 transmitter would not get the lectro 195 reciever to work. If I had time to fiddle I could probably of turned off the pilot tone on the 195 and gotten it to work.

 

Conclusion

 
The only real downfall of these units is the lack of top mounted displays and controls for bag use and the mount clips. If you can work around this, the price is right, the quality of the audio is very good, and RF performance is decent. The very long battery life is great for any application where its critically important. If you can deal with the quirky ergonomics of the units, they are a bargain. They are great starter units if you have nothing but spend a little extra and get a better lava mic. The G3's are also good secondary wireless units for backup or extra channels when you use up all of your primary premium brand wireless.
 
Special Thanks to Guy Cochran at  DVinfo.net for special support on this review 

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tascam DR-680 Review : UPDATED

DR-680 Hands on Review : Field and Sync Tests UPDATED : Feb 14, 2012 The DR-680 from Tascam is being offered at a very irresistible price. It claims to be a full 8 track recorder for under $660 street price. The question is, it worth adding to your gear ? Does it really perform or is it overspec'd and under performing in reality? Here is my take. First you can check out my video review of the device. I used it to record my sound while shooting on a EOS T2I. I went a full 12 minutes...

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