Posts Tagged ‘camera’


Sony A7s Firmware Requests

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

Since the Sony A7s camera was released a few weeks ago, early adopters have been using the camera in the field shooting a variety of material with it, in both stills and motion. I personally pre-ordered it the day it was announced at NAB in April and received my camera as soon as they were released to the general public in the first week of July. I put the camera through a series of tests before using it on actual client work, and I just completed a somewhat major corporate video shot entirely on the A7s.
The camera is truly exceptional; Sony’s sensor technology has, very simply, put Canon and Nikon to shame. Most pros who I’ve spoken to agree though that the A7s’s firmware could use a little bit of polish. There are a number of requests for alterations to the firmware that have become almost universally agreed upon by the pro community.

Therefore, in an effort to make a great camera even better, I’m sharing this list (and I invite other pros familiar with the A7s to chime in with their suggestions) in hopes that Sony may listen to the feedback from the pro community and consider including some of these suggestions in the next version of the A7s firmware. This list is taken both from my own experience using the camera in a variety of settings shooting a variety of material as well as conversations with other users, and it presented in order from most basic (and hopefully most attainable) to most complex. (NOTE: As the A7s is primarily a video camera for me and only secondarily a stills camera, this list is biased towards video, although some of the items are applicable to stills shooting as well).

Sony A7s Firmware Requests

#1: In movie mode, allow shutter release button to be configured to start/stop movie recording (this is the single biggest one: EVERY video shooter I’ve spoken to is begging for this)
#2: Allow video record button to be configured as a custom button
#3: Allow the “APS-C Size Capture” menu item to be assigned to a custom button (at the moment there is no option to assign this function to a custom button)
#4: Allow the “Video Record Setting” menu item (where frame rate and codec are chosen) to be assigned to a custom button (like APS-C mode above, it currently can’t be)
#5: Allow the “FINDER/MONITOR” menu item (where EVF vs. screen use is configured) to be assigned to a custom button
 Move the “APS-C Size Capture” menu item out from where it is currently buried (in tab 5 of the gear menu) forward into a more prominent and accessible place in the shooting menu in the first couple of tabs
#7: Create display mode with histogram on same screen as all other info (scrolling through the display modes by pressing the “DISP” button only shows the histogram in 3rd screen where much other information is omitted
#8: Create option to reconfigure function of scroll wheels (a number of people, myself included, find the scroll wheels’ function unnatural; it would be nice to be able to configure how each of the three wheels works)
#9: Create iris-open function assignable to a custom button (being able to hold the lens iris to its maximum size by holding down a custom button would make manual focusing much faster & easier)

I would encourage everyone to share this page with Sony (you can tweet it to @SonyProUSA, @SonyProEurope, or any other Sony contacts you may have). And if you’re a pro who uses the A7s and has a suggestion I haven’t included above, please mention it in the comments below!

I already love the A7s… and now I’d love to make it even better. :-)

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Posted in Equipment, Gear | 10 Comments »

In Case You Missed It: Apple’s 30th Anniversary Ad Shot on iPhone Proves Almost Any Camera Can Look Great

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

There was a lot going on last night between the Super Bowl and all of the ads broadcast during it (I am not a fan of Budweiser’s beer, but they sure do make adorable TV ads… I mean really, who can resist puppies and horses?), so it was easy to miss the Apple ad.

This week marks the 30th anniversary of Apple’s introduction of the Macintosh computer and with it Apple’s now-legendary “1984″ Super Bowl ad (if you haven’t seen the ad, do yourself a favor and spend 60 seconds watching it), and many people were hoping Apple would mark the occasion by making another ad of similar caliber. Those people were disappointed when the game ended without anything from Apple, but it turns out that Apple did make a 30th anniversary ad; instead of paying millions of dollars to broadcast it during the game though, Apple chose to distribute the ad online on YouTube and it’s own website.

The footage is stunningly beautiful, and as is revealed at the end, it was all shot on iPhones.

YouTube Preview Image

Apple’s message here is obvious: the iPhone shoots amazing, beautiful video (and therefore you should buy one because then you too could create beautiful videos). While the iPhone’s camera IS actually pretty good (and for a smartphone it’s incredibly good), in my opinion the best takeaway from this ad is very different: with good lighting, composition, execution and editing, almost ANY camera can create great images. One of my favorite testaments to this truth is a 20″ x 24″ photo print I have on the wall in my office: I shot that photo using a $3.99 disposable film camera from CVS.

Camera makers like to make us think that if we just buy the right camera, we’ll be able to make beautiful images… and believing that fiction is a trap that even professionals fall into. Too often even professionals think “Oh, if I only had this camera or that camera my images would be so much better!” But most of the people reading this probably have shot videos on an iPhone that didn’t come out anywhere nearly as beautiful as the shots in Apple’s video above. The truth is that it is the talent, skill and experience of the operator (or in the case of high-quality productions like Apple’s ad above, the team) that matters. Just like buying the same golf clubs Tiger Woods uses won’t make you as good a golfer as Tiger Woods, buying this camera or that camera won’t make your images as beautiful as those made by a professional; only time, effort and experience can do that.

The flip side of that coin though is you don’t need fancy, expensive cameras to make gorgeous images; with practice and experience, you can make beautiful, beautiful images even with something as cheap as an iPhone, or a $3.99 disposable camera from CVS. So go out and shoot!

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Rolling Shutter vs. Global Shutter: Just Learned Something New About My GoPro

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

On this rainy Sunday morning I was just sorting through images I shot during my recent trip to Greece, and I learned something new (and surprising) about my GoPro camera: even when shooting stills, its electronic shutter is rolling, not global. If you just thought “huh?”, then read on.

On a short flight from the island of Milos back to the Athens airport I set up the GoPro on a suction cup mount pointing out the airplane window to do little timelapse of the flight. Looking at one of the still frames from the timelapse, I saw this:

GoPro still frame shot out the airplane window. Well, I guess that answers that question!

The above image is not Photoshopped in any way (other than the watermark). “What in God’s name is going on with that propeller, the blades are split in pieces!” you might say. Photographers, videographers and some others knowledgeable about electronics will know immediately what is happening here. The propeller blades did not, in fact, break into pieces during my flight (thankfully); the blades appear this way in this image as a result of a curious side effect of the way certain digital camera sensors work called “rolling shutter.”

Digital cameras’ sensors are composed of millions of individual pixels arrayed in a grid of rows and columns. DSLR cameras have a physical, mechanical shutter that starts and stops the collection of light hitting the sensor, but other types of cameras (point & shoots, cellphone cameras, and cameras like GoPros) do not have a mechanical shutter, and instead start and stop the process of collecting light on the sensor electronically rather than mechanically; essentially the circuitry in the cameras tells the pixels in the sensor when to start and stop “looking.” On many cameras, the pixels start and stop “looking” the way you’d expect: all at the same time. Cameras that behave this way are referred to as “global shutter,” because the “shutter” (which is in fact just an electrical signal) acts globally, on the entire sensor at once. Some other cameras though (notably, most digital video cameras) use what is referred to as a “rolling shutter” in that instead of reading the entire grid of the sensor’s pixels at once, they read the pixels one row at a time: the camera records what the first (top) row of pixels “sees,” then the row below it, then the row below that and so on, on a “rolling” basis until it reaches the bottom row. This process happens in a fraction of a second, so it is usually fast enough that it isn’t relevant to the image, especially when recording individual, still frames instead of video.

But when photographing something that’s moving very, very quickly (like an airplane propeller at full throttle!) that fraction of a second during which the camera moves from recording the top of the image to the bottom matters: by the time the camera gets around to recording the bottom of the image, the subject recorded at the top of the image has already moved, so in the finished image you’re seeing the same subject recorded in different positions. With a spinning propeller, that results in images like the one above, distorted by the passage of time.

Many cameras use a global shutter when recording still images (as opposed to video) and I thought my GoPro did too. I knew the GoPro used a rolling shutter during video recording (that is quite common on all but the highest-end professional video cameras), but it turns out that it uses a rolling shutter during still frame shooting as well.

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How To Color Balance Mixed Lighting Sources

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

I just finished a series of four blog posts talking about the various advantages and disadvantages of different types of lighting for photo and video work (the first post, with links to the others, is here), and why I’ve decided, for the time being, to use a mixed kit of fluorescent and LED lights. This kit is great and should serve my needs very well, but there is one hurdle that needs to be overcome first: while these lights are all advertised as “full spectrum” and “daylight balanced” at 5600K, in reality they all have visibly different color temperatures, so they need to be balanced with each other in order to work well being used together to light the same scene. In this post, I’m going to give step-by-step instructions on how I took three different lights with radically different white balances and balanced them to work together beautifully.

Before: Unbalanced

Before: Yuck. When white balancing for the mini LED panel on the left, the fluorescent softbox in the center is very green and the LED 1x1 on the right is slightly magenta.

In the image above, which I designed intentionally to exaggerate the color balance differences of the three lights, I placed (from left) a miniature LED panel, a fluorescent softbox and a 1×1 LED panel next to each other and aimed them at a uniformly white ceiling. The difference is striking (and awful).

Before: Yuck

Alternately, the same image above, only this time white balanced for the fluorescent soft box in the center, the LEDs on the sides are both overly magenta and orange.

As is, it would be very difficult to use these lights in a scene together without them appearing different colors. So they need to be balanced together. How to do this? Gels! Pulling out my collection of gels, I got to work.

I keep an assortment of gels to color balance pretty much anything (from left to right): CTOs, CTBs, Plus Greens and Minus Greens each in 1/8th, 1/4 and 1/2 densities. With this assortment, no matter which way a light is off balance, I can balance it.

Gels Gels Gels!

Gels Gels Gels!

In order to balance the three different lights (from three different manufacturers!) I started with the one that is most difficult to gel: the fluorescent (this is one of the biggest weaknesses of fluorescent lights in my opinion… they’re a pain to gel). I used that as my basis and then adjusted the other lights to match it.

It is possible to simply judge the color of a light visually in comparison to others next to it, like in the photos above, and to experiment with different gel combinations to get the lights to the point where they visually look the same to the eye, but “eyeballing” it like that is extremely difficult to do accurately; I have a very good eye for color (I scored a 19 on the X-Rite Online Color Acuity test! Take the test yourself, it’s fun!), and even I can’t achieve the level of precision that I want by eyeballing it. So to measure the color balance precisely I decided to use a couple of precision instruments: my camera and computer.

To start with, I set up a simple 18% neutral gray card on a light stand (I use this one from Amazon… it’s cheap and does the job well), along with a color chart. I lit the gray card and color chart with the fluorescent light (placing the light at an angle so that the light is illuminating the card but not reflecting glare). I then blacked out the windows in my office and shut off all the other light sources (overhead lights, computer monitors, etc.) so there was no “contamination” and I knew all the light hitting the gray card was from the light in question, and I took a still photo of the gray card and color chart with my Canon 5D Mark II camera in RAW format.

Gray Card and Color Chart

Gray card and color chart on stand for determining exact white balance of a particular light

I downloaded the photo onto my computer, and opened the file in Photoshop (you could also use Lightroom or any other application that can work with RAW files, I just happened to choose Photoshop). Using the White Balance Picker / eyedropper tool in the Adobe Camera Raw conversion screen (the same tool is in the Develop tab in Lightroom in the White Balance box), I sampled the 18% neutral gray card to set the proper white balance for the image, the values of which are then displayed in the white balance section on the right (it is a good idea to click a bunch of times in a few places on the gray card as the individual measurements will vary slightly, then average the values).

Sampling White Balance in Adobe Camera Raw

The White Balance Picker tool is the eyedropper icon near the top left. I sampled a spot on the neutral gray card, which gave me the white balance values shown in the white balance box at the top right.

Sure enough, I now saw numerically what I had seen visually on the wall: that fluorescent light was very, very green (+28 tint!). Since that is the light that was most off balance, ideally I would have gelled it to match the other lights, but since this light is so difficult to gel and the other are so much easier, I instead went the other way around and gelled the others to match this one.

With the temperature and tint white balance values for the fluorescent light in hand, I then repeated the process (blacking out the room, lighting the neutral gray card with a single light source, and shooting a photo) for each of my other lights and then found the white balance values for them as well (I found that my miniature panel has white balance values of 5100K temperature and -3 tint, and my 1×1 LED panel is 5050K temperature and +5 tint).

With that information, I then knew precisely how off balance my lights were from each other. I then added a gel to one of the lights, repeated the process of measuring the white balance values, and noted the numerical effect of a particular gel (bear in mind that as much as the gel manufacturers try to keep the color of their gels as pure as possible, a Plus Green gel will never be purely plus green…for example, my Rosco 1/4 Plus Green gels turned out to add +28 points of green tint, but also knocked off 300 degrees of temperature. But after measuring the color balance values of each light and the color effect of each gel, it was very straightforward to figure out which gels to add to each light to balance them together.

In the end, to balance my LED panels to my fluorescent lights, I needed to add 1/4 CTB and 3/8 Plus Green (one 1/4 and one 1/8) to my mini LED, and 1/8 CTB and 1/4 Plus Green to my 1×1 LED, which, while not numerically perfect, got my lights as closely balanced as possible with 1/8th-increment gels. Now I can comfortably use all of my lights in the same scene together and be confident that their colors will be balanced and visually indistinguishable.

After: I've Brought Balance to the Force

After: I've Brought Balance to the Force. While I can still see differences on this uniform white wall, in practical use these lights will never appear unbalanced.


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