Category Archives: Tech Talk

It’s Been a While

It’s been a while since I last posted on this blog, and it’s because I’ve been so busy with assignment work. 2016 has been crazy-busy, which is great for business, but of course when I’m shooting and editing all the time, the blog and other hobbies suffers.

So, what’s happened since the last post? Probably the biggest event (videographically-speaking, that is), is that I have switched my main video system over from Panasonic to Sony. Yes, that happened. I’ve been a Panasonic fanboy for the longest time, but it’s also no secret that I’ve not been happy with a lot of their decisions regarding product and design direction, with their most major offense being the decision to let the AF100 line twist in the wind. I guess the DVX200 could be considered to be the AF100’s “replacement” but in my opinion Panasonic missed the mark overall. The DVX200 is a nice camera, though, don’t get me wrong. But, after talking to a few friends who invested in it, it seems that it also suffers from the other thing that turned me off of Panasonic: poor performance in low light conditions. But enough about that.

My FS7 with Canon Super 16 8-64 T2.4 PL Zoom
My FS7 with Canon Super 16 8-64 T2.4 PL Zoom

After much deliberation with myself I decided to switch my main video system over to the Sony PXW-FS7. I wanted to wait for the Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K PL, but delays in shipping the units finally forced my hand and I had to consider other options. Work was piling up and I couldn’t afford to wait any longer. I needed a camera immediately, so I went with the FS7, and I’m glad I did.

The FS7 has proven itself to be the freelancer’s dream camera. Features such as interchangeable lenses, a base ISO of 2000, overcranking, the ubiquitous XDCAM format, SLog3, optional RAW recording, and a ton of other amenities add up to make one solid camera system for shooting anything from news to weddings to cinema and everything else in between. The versatility of the FS7 is superior.  The picture quality is superb, although some have complained that it is too noisy in the shadows. There is some truth to that but remember that “too noisy” for Sony is different than “too noisy” for other manufacturers (you know who you are).

My FS7 with Fujinon 10X Superwide
My FS7 with Fujinon 10X Superwide

My favorite way to shoot the FS7 is in SLog3 while exposing to the right (ETTR). This stacks more signal in the shadow areas of your picture, eliminating a lot of noise, and the FS7 has enough latitude to keep from blowing out highlights in most normal shooting situations. I made a series of custom LUTs to use on FS7 footage in Resolve, including one that takes care of shadow noise when shooting in low-light or especially contrasty scenes where ETTR isn’t really possible. It works out great for me. What are your thoughts on the FS7?

The New Panasonic AG-DVX200 Looks Nice

Panasonic-AG-DVX200
Panasonic AG-DVX200

I have to admit, I’m rather excited about the new Panasonic DVX200 4K 4/3″ sensor camera. Meant to be the “successor” to the legendary DVX100, the DVX200 is designed and priced to make big waves. Since it’s designed/intended to be a companion camera to the new Panasonic Varicam 35 4K, I would also expect it to have damned impressive image quality. Panasonic claims 12 stops of latitude. It does not have in interchangeable lens mount, but the built-in 13X Leica Dicomar 4K lens should be just fine for almost any shooting situation that this camera is intended for.

It’s definitely designed as a hand-held run-and-gun camera; lightweight and easy to handle. I can’t wait to try one in the field. Here’s what we know about it so far:

  • 12 stops of latitude
  • 4K/60p max frame rate
  • Leica Dicomar 4K 13X zoom lens with f/2.8 aperture
  • 13x optical zoom
  • V-Log L gamma curve
  • Price: under $5000

First Weekend With The Canon PL Super 16 8-64 T2.4 Zoom

BMPCC with the Canon 8-64 T2.4 PL Super-16 Zoom
BMPCC with the Canon 8-64 T2.4 PL Super-16 Zoom

Last week, I scored. I scored big. I came across a nice copy of the revered Canon 8-64 T2.4 PL Super 16 zoom lens, for an amazing price, so I snapped it up. I’ve had my eye on this lens since I first started shooting with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, but when one does pop up for sale, the price was always out of my reach. Not only is it one of the smallest S16 zooms available, but it’s also one of the widest – maybe even the widest available. Shooting in tight spaces is no problem for this zoom, with 8mm affording an equivalent field of view that is just a hair wider than a 24mm on a full-frame DSLR.

Darren Abate and Nico Wachter on the court during the 2014 NBA Finals, Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs
Yours truly, left, glaring at Nico on the court in San Antonio.

My desire for the Canon 8-64 was cemented during the NBA Playoffs this year. I was covering all of the San Antonio games for The Sporting News/Omnisport, and before one of the games, the NBA TV Phantom shooter struck up a conversation with me when he noticed that I was shooting with my old Mk I Zeiss Super Speeds on the BMPCC. Being a 16mm shooter, he wanted to check out my rig. As it turned out, he had a Canon 8-64 on his Phantom, and we spent some time talking glass. That was the first time I’d seen the 8-64 in the wild, and I immediately recognized that it was the perfect size for the BMPCC rig. It rocketed to the top of my wish list, but it wasn’t until recently I found one for sale that was actually affordable.

On the set of Kevin Sloan's latest short film, "I Love You More."
On the set of Kevin Sloan’s latest short film, “I Love You More.”

I ordered the lens and a cheap PL adapter the same day (not ready to spend 800.00 on the Hotrod Cameras PL mount for the View Factor Contineo cage yet), and they both arrived on Friday. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the PL mount came with a set of shims, so I spent some time collimating the mount, MacGyver-style. The difference between “not good” & “good enough” was 0.03mm. I may revisit it later on if I can find some 0.01mm shims for the Hawk’s Factory mount.

Yours truly shooting with the BMPCC and a Zeiss Mk I 25mm T1.3 Super Speed during the NBA Playoffs in San Antonio.
Yours truly shooting with the BMPCC and a Zeiss Mk I 25mm T1.3 Super Speed during the NBA Playoffs in San Antonio.

Immediately after unpacking the lens and mounting it to the camera, I called my friend Nico and made him go with me to shoot some sunset clips. We went up to the roof of an abandoned high rise and rolled on the San Antonio skyline, with great results. The Canon 8-64 might just be my new favorite lens. It’s definitely the most “filmic” lens I’ve used on the BMPCC. Color and contrast are awesome, and it’s beautifully sharp, with a nice organic looking picture. Flare and bokeh (I still hate that word) are both wonderful, with lots of character. It’s a beautiful look, especially if you love film.

Director Kevin Sloan pauses to look important on the set of his latest short film.
Director Kevin Sloan on the set of his latest short film.

The next day, I was to provide the camera package, DIT, & color services for director Kevin Sloan’s new short, “I Love You More.” I was very excited that the 8-64 had arrived before the weekend, as I would get to put it through its paces on set immediately. After looking at dailies, I’ve decided that it is indeed my new favorite lens. It yields the perfect look for me. Tack sharp, yet organically smooth, if that makes any sense. Coupled with the 12-bit raw color of the BMPCC, we have a winner.

Here is a quick test video I cobbled together to show off the characteristics of the lens, including breathing, bokeh, zoom, sharpness, color, contrast, etc. Unfortunately, the camera I was using suffered from the BMPCC “highlight blooming” problem, and it’s evident in some of the shots. I need to send it in for that…

Watch this video on YouTube or on Easy Youtube.

First Impressions of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera (BMPCC)

Canon 18X HD ENG lens on Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera
Canon 18X HD glass on the BMPCC makes a very nice picture, even though the doubler is engaged. I’ve since removed the lens control module, which may have been a huge mistake.

Thanks to a super fast eBay seller, my BMPCC got here in a flash, and I was able to start tinkering with it today. The first thing I did was make an utterly ridiculous contraption out of it by mounting the BMPCC to my Canon 18X HD ENG lens, then Instagramming photos of it to all my camera nerd friends. Then I took it out into the yard and starting shooting clips of my trees and other junk (by the time UPS got here, the light was already fading, so there wasn’t time for anything else). The other accessories I have on order are still in transit, so I wasn’t able to build the real kit, so I simply sandwiched my ciecio7 B4/M43 adapter between the lens and camera, and stuck it on a tripod.

Actually, I tried two ENG lenses on the BMPCC today. One was a Fujinon SD 10X Super-wide, which looked like complete garbage on the Blackmagic’s sensor. Completely discouraging. The HD Canon lens however, looked absolutely gorgeous. It was sharp! Not only is the lens of a very high quality, but the sensor in the BMPCC is the sharpest of any video camera I’ve ever owned or used. I’ve read that it resolves 1000 TV lines, and after seeing my test footage, I certainly believe it. The picture is wonderfully-detailed, and the dynamic range is indeed all it’s cracked up to be. I haven’t seen much evidence of moire or chromatic aberration, but I also haven’t shot any brick buildings yet. I’ll test that tomorrow. The rolling shutter is evident, however, but it didn’t look like it was any worse than what you would see with a 5D Mark III or D800. The sharpness and dynamic range of the BMPCC more than makes up for the rolling shutter. I can shoot around it.

A. Brick, shot with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. Light grade applied.
A. Brick, shot with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. Light grade applied. Note the sharpness and detail of the Canon HD 18X ENG lens, a lens that was designed for 3-CCD 2/3″ cameras!

So, about that dynamic range… I shot a clip of a white brick in my yard, which had the evening sun shining directly on it. Most of the rest of the scene was in dark shade. The BMPCC held detail in the highlights of the brick and also in the darkest of shadow areas, with room to spare. I was really impressed by this. Any non-RAW DSLR would have blown the brick right out.

So, let’s briefly go over what we all know already: The build quality is very good; The screen is very dim in sunlight — get an EVF; the battery is dead before you know it; unless all your pockets are filled with juiced batts, turn the camera off as soon as you stop your roll, if you have the time; you can’t format the SD card in-camera (I’m still trying to figure out why this is the case, and it simply defies all logic – format all your cards for the day as ExFAT before you leave the studio).

I never planned on trying to keep my BMPCC rig small just because the camera itself is. I wanted the Blackmagic Pocket Camera for two reasons: 1). The 13 stops of dynamic range, and 2). The Super-16 sized sensor. I have a lot of legacy glass that can take advantage of that sensor, and as I’ve shown already, it has breathed new life into a VERY expensive B4 HD lens that had been sitting around on a shelf until today (since discovering that my big Panny HD cam has a big fat dead pixel right in the center of the picture).

Since my rig is not required to maintain its dainty curb weight, I’ve already negated a couple of the BMPCC’s shortcomings with some additional gear. Instead of rolling to SD cards, I will be rolling to my Atomos Samurai via the Atomos Connect HDMI/SDI converter. I’ve ordered a pair of Ikan tilta wooden grips with LANC S/S button, which should trigger the Samurai directly. The lack of audio meters in the camera should be taken care of by simply using the new and improved – thanks to the recently-released AtomOS 4.2 – audio meters in the Samurai, which are much more accurate now, and can also be set to display horozontally. BTW, you can now manually dial in audio delay in the Samurai, whereas before it could only be done with Ninja2. The weak battery life will be dealt with via a 1.5-meter D-Tap 12V cable, running from a Beillen 95WH battery either mounted to the rails or held in my pocket. The dim screen will be remedied via my Cineroid Metal EVF, which will make use of the second HD-SDI output of the Atomos Connect converter. All this will be mounted to the View Factor Contineo BMPC cage basic kit.

I’ve heard a lot of people complain that the BMPCC is missing a lot of options and that the menu is very, very basic in what you can do with the camera. This is absolutely true. However, it’s one of the things I like about the camera. I’m drawn to the fact that I only have to worry about a couple of settings before I can concentrate on shooting. I actually felt a sense of relief when I realized I didn’t have to worry about the mental checklist of technicalities that normally must be dealt with before shooting. The BMPCC is EASY to use; which leaves more time and energy for concentrating on composition.

I’ve also heard complaints about the relatively few increments for ºK options when choosing color temp. True, you can’t do a custom white balance in the BMPCC like you can with a DSLR, but considering how good the white balance of the BMPCC looks, that has yet to bother me. Even under the flourescent lights in my kitchen, the picture looked very good. The tonality of the picture is really nice. Also, considering that the BMPCC is very much a camera that is designed to shoot for the grade, this isn’t as big of a deal to me as it seems to be with others; each clip is going to be timed to hell and back anyway; the occasional off-color cast won’t bother me, especially when the camera gains the ability to shoot in RAW.

I think that’s about it for now. I will post some footage in the next day or two, after I’ve had a chance to shoot some more material.

Atomos Samurai Saves The Day (Again)

Yet another reason why the Atomos Samurai is one of the best things to hit the video market since DVCProHD: If you have an all-day video job, you don’t have to worry about media, and you don’t have to use tape. A cheap 750GB 2.5″ HDD means I can bypass in-camera compression and record from uncompressed HD-SDI for up to 15-hrs straight in 720/30p if I need to. Hooray for cheap media!

Atomos Samurai saving the day on an all-day shoot for Google at ISTE
Atomos Samurai saving the day on an all-day shoot for Google at ISTE

2013 NAB Show Highlight Reel No.1

Cooke 40mm T2.3 2X Anamorphic Prime Lens
Cooke 40mm T2.3 2X Anamorphic Prime Lens

I’ve decided that since there is so much cool new stuff to see at NAB, the best way to get the most bang for my buck on coverage is to make highlight reels of my favorite attractions. So that’s what I’m doing. Here is the first highlight reel, featuring products like the Blackmagic 4K Production Camera, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, the Atomos Samurai Blade ProRes & DNxHD field recorder, and the new Cooke 2X Anamorphic Prime Lens.

Watch this video on YouTube or on Easy Youtube.

The next highlight reel will feature the Digital Bolex, the new MoVI camera stabilizer, and more! I’m heading down to the show floor as soon as I finish typing this coming exclamation point!

2013 NAB Show – Interview with Digital Bolex Creator Joe Rubinstein – Part 2

Digital Bolex S16 Cinema Camera - cinematography
Digital Bolex S16 Cinema Camera

On my first day at NAB 2013, I ran into Digital Bolex creator Joe Rubinstein, who was kind enough to tell me about the new cinema camera that every cinematographer is dying to get their hands on. Joe was really nice, and I really enjoyed talking with him about his camera; it was obvious that he is just as passionate about the Digital Bolex, and what it means to cinematographers, as are the camera nerds who are waiting for it to ship.

In part 2 of the interview, Joe talks about the software the comes with the Digital Bolex, as well as the workflow for the 2K Cinema DNG files it writes to CF cards.

In case you haven’t heard about the Digital Bolex, it’s a Kickstarter-funded Super 16 cinema camera that shoots in RAW Cinema DNG format. Since it features a smaller 16mm size imager (CCD too, which means NO rolling shutter), it can make use of a myriad of older 16mm and C-mount lenses that have largely fallen into disuse since the rise in popularity of DSLR’s and other larger-chip digital cameras. Check out part 2 of my interview with Joe Rubinstein below.

Watch this video on YouTube or on Easy Youtube.

2013 NAB Show – Interview With Digital Bolex Creator Joe Rubinstein – Part 1

Digital Bolex S16 Cinema Camera - cinematography
Digital Bolex S16 Cinema Camera

On my first day at NAB 2013, I ran into Digital Bolex creator Joe Rubinstein, who was kind enough to tell me about the new cinema camera that every cinematographer is dying to get their hands on. Joe was really nice, and I really enjoyed talking with him about his camera; it was obvious that he is just as passionate about the Digital Bolex, and what it means to cinematographers, as are the camera nerds who are waiting for it to ship.

In part 1 of the interview, Joe talks about the camera body and lens options that will be available for it, including the custom Digital Bolex prime lenses that were designed in a partnership with Kish Optics.

In case you haven’t heard about the Digital Bolex, it’s a Kickstarter-funded Super 16 cinema camera that shoots in RAW Cinema DNG format. Since it features a smaller 16mm size imager (CCD too, which means NO rolling shutter), it can make use of a myriad of older 16mm and C-mount lenses that have largely fallen into disuse since the rise in popularity of DSLR’s and other larger-chip digital cameras. Check out part 1 of my interview with Joe Rubinstein below.

Watch this video on YouTube or on Easy Youtube.

New Panasonic HX-A100 Wearable Full HD 1080/60p Video Camera

The new Panasonic HX-A100 wearable mini video camera. Watch out GoPro!
The new Panasonic HX-A100 wearable mini video camera. Watch out GoPro!

Check out the new mini Panasonic HX-A100 video camera. It looks pretty sweet. Depending on the price, I think I’d get this over a GoPro. It includes an ear clip so you can wear it without a helmet, or strapping a mount to your head. I like that.

http://www.dpreview.com/news/2013/01/07/Panasonic-hx-a100-wearable-action-camera#press

On Set: “Champion” starring Lance Henriksen, Dora Madison Burge, and Cody Linley

Setting up a shot on the set of "Champion."
Yours truly setting up a shot on the set of “Champion.”

As some of you may already know, I started working on a new feature film called “Champion,” as Dir. of Photography/Cinematographer. It stars Dora Madison Burge (Friday Night Lights), Cody Linley (Hannah Montana), and… wait for it… Lance Henriksen (every awesome movie, ever). I’ll cut to the chase: I’m approaching 40, and had no idea who Dora or Cody were before they signed up for this film (but it turns out they’re awesome).  But Lance Henriksen?! How effing sweet is it that I get to have one of my all-time favorite actors in front of my lens? I never would have thought I’d get this opportunity. Strap in, because I’m going to gush about this for a while.

Bring me the hat of Lance Henriksen
Let’s start the bad-assery here: Me wearing Lance’s hat. Well… his prop hat. It counts.

Like many people who are about my age, I first saw Lance in James Cameron’s “The Terminator” and again in “Aliens” in 1986, as the android synthetic human called Bishop. We all know how bad-ass the knife scene in that film was, and so far, everyone on set has been able to keep their cool and not ask him to do it. No-one wants to be “that guy.” He really did do it, BTW, and he said that Bill Paxton didn’t know about it beforehand; Paxton’s surprised expression while Lance was stabbing the knife between his fingers was authentic.

Since “Aliens,” Lance has been one of my favorites. His roles are always just so cool. But what I really love about working with him is the fact that Lance Henriksen the man is simply a dream to work with. He’s incredibly nice, laid-back, professional, and his experience really adds to the production. All of us on the crew of “Champion” will be better filmmakers after working with him. During breaks on set, Lance can often be found “holding court” as the crew gathers around him to hear his stories.

AF100 cameras and Samurai recorders get tuned up on the set of "Champion".
AF100 cameras and Samurai recorders get tuned up on the set of “Champion”.

Now, on to the tech: We’re shooting “Champion” on two Panasonic AF100 cameras capturing footage to Atomos Samurai recorders. Day One was a test of our patience, however, when one of our Samurais kept spontaneously turning itself off. After a firmware update failed to fix the problem, it was determined by the Atomos LA office that it was a faulty unit. They overnighted a new one to us the next day. I call that some pretty sweet customer service. Since then, both units have been flawless. Using the Samurai in the field is a dream. I wish they had brighter screens, though.

Both of our Samurais are running AtomOS 3, which adds some awesome and much-needed features to the unit, including peaking, zebras, false color, and the ability to not only mark clip ins and outs during playback, but also export XML so you can then open your rough cut in Final Cut Pro. Talk about a time saver: you can do your rough edit in the car on the way back from the set! I still wish the screen on the Samurai was brighter, but I can live with it, since I’m using my Cineroid most of the time anyway.

Since our MacBook Pros do not have eSATA ports, one piece of new technology that has made life easier on set is the new LaCie Thunderbolt to eSATA hub, which makes things flow much faster and allows us to save a lot of money in the storage budget. Footage can be backed up on multiple eSATA drives by our dailies editor without wasting any time. Before, we had to use USB 2.0 or FireWire docks, which was excruciating, considering we’re shooting about 100GB of ProRes footage per day. Yay for Thunderbolt. I just wish the Thunderbolt architecture would mature faster with third party suppliers. There aren’t many Thunderbolt products out there, which really confuses me, considering how fast it is.