Posts Tagged ‘video’

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Great Behind The Scenes Look At How GoPro Videos Are Made

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

GoPro’s marketing videos are awesome. We all love them. They show incredible people doing incredible things in incredible locations, with incredible camera angles (and incredible editing).

What the official GoPro videos DON’T show you is what goes in to making those videos, and personally I’ve been somewhat disappointed that GoPro seems to actively try to hide the details, tactics, equipment and (most importantly) talent that makes them so incredible. This isn’t surprising: the goal of those videos is to sell cameras to consumers by giving them the illusion that by buying the camera they too can create videos as mind-blowing as GoPro’s official marketing videos. Showing the consumer all of the professional-level (and often big-budget) production that goes into those videos would shatter that illusion of attainability.

For people who use the cameras though, it is incredibly helpful to see how some of those incredible shots are captured. This morning I stumbled on a video on the New Yorker’s website (thanks to Cameron Davidson for the find!) interviewing one of GoPro’s sponsored professional athletes and showing some of the tricks and gadgets that allow some of those incredible shots to be captured (the video doesn’t go into any of the extensive editing and post-production that makes GoPro’s official marketing videos sparkle, but it does pull the curtain back on a bit of the filming process).

If you like (or want) to shoot point-of-view action video, this is a good thing to watch.
(click the preview below to go to the New Yorker website)

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Posted in Equipment, Field Notes, Gear, Techniques | No Comments »

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
#6:
 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 »

Wireless Intervalometer? BEST IDEA EVER

Monday, November 18th, 2013

This wireless intervalometer is amazing.

I use intervalometers for a number of purposes in my photography (if you’re not familiar with them, an intervalometer is a device that allows a photographer to set a camera to take a number of photographs sequentially with a given period, or interval, between shots. They’re  also sometimes known as “timers” or “remotes,” but if you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about, call them intervalometers. :-). They’re great devices that enable photographers to do all sorts of interesting things (like making timelapse videos like this!), and for me they are a must-have accessory that I carry with me whenever I carry a camera. One of my trusty intervalometers finally died the other day, so it was time to buy a new one.

Many people, myself included, believe that Canon’s name-brand intervalometer, the TC-80N3 (here on Amazon for $130) is overpriced. Devices with the the same build quality that do the same things (or more) are sold by other companies for a fraction of the price. I personally have been using two Satechi wired intervalometers with my Canon 7D, 5D Mark II and 5D Mark III cameras for years now and have been completely happy with them. So when the time came the other day to buy a new one, I went to Amazon assuming I would just buy another one of the same model. But when I did a quick search what did I see? WIRELESS intervalometers! My heart almost burst with joy. I ordered one immediately.

The Satechi wireless intervalometer I just bought. This thing is awesome.

Why is this such a big deal, you ask? Well, because frequently when I’m using an intervalometer the camera is in a difficult-to-access place. For example, I’m soon going to be starting a project where I’m going to have a camera mounted to a tree trunk about 20 feet off the ground. The wireless intervalometer is going to save me from having to get up on a ladder each time I need to start and stop the camera.

I’ve already played with this wireless intervalometer unit a bit from a range of about 20 feet and it works beautifully. I couldn’t be more happy with it. I’d recommend it to anyone.

Since different Canon DSLRs have different types of remote shutter release connectors, make sure you buy the right model intervalometer for your camera. If you have a Canon DSLR with an “N3″-type connector (such as a 1D, 5D, 5D Mark II, 5D Mark III, 6D, 7D, etc.) this is the right model of this wireless intervalometer for you:
Satechi WTR-A Wireless Timer Remote Control Shutter for Canon EOS-1V/1VHS, EOS-3, EOS-D2000, D30, D60, 1D, 1Ds, EOS-1D Mark II,III,IV, EOS-1Ds Mark II,III, EOS-10D, 20D, 30D, 40D, 50D, 5D, 5D Mark II,III, 7D Fully Compatible with RS-80N3

Instead, if you have a Canon DSLR with an “E3″-type connector (such as the Rebel line of cameras: 60D, t2i, t3i, etc.) then this is the model you should buy:
Satechi WTR-C Wireless Timer Remote Shutter for Canon EOS 60D, Digital Rebel XT, XTi, XSi, XS, T1i, T2i, T3i, T4i & Canon Powershot G10, G11 & Pentax K7 & ELAN SLR cameras

In the next couple of days I’m going to do some experimenting to figure out just how much range this transmitter has, and how far away I can be to successfully trigger the camera. Check back for the results!

(On the other hand, if you want an intervalometer but don’t want to spend the extra money for the wireless feature, the regular, wired N3 and E3 versions are HERE and HERE, respectively… but you’d be crazy not to get the wireless one!)

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Posted in Equipment, Gear, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Battle of the VariNDs: What’s the Best Variable ND?

Friday, June 14th, 2013

UPDATE: DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES BUY THE GENUSTECH ECLIPSE FADER FROM THE GENUS WEBSITE (more info below)

(Caution: this blog post contains serious camera geekery. If that’s your thing, read on!)

Pros have long known that Neutral Density filters are really important for shooting video on DSLR cameras (because they let us open up the lens to nice wide apertures and get that nice shallow depth of field). The most convenient way to use ND filters on DSLRs is the “VariND,” or variable ND filter, whose filtration can be adjusted with a simple twist of the filter ring. The problem with variable NDs though is that up until now they’ve usually been quite soft and tend to degrade image quality. Recently though a number of companies have released new models of VariND filters designed to address the softness. I am a stickler for tack-sharp imagery, so when I heard good things about a couple of the new VariNDs, I wanted to test them, to see which one was the new king of sharpness. After a thorough testing process I had a winner, but it was NOT a result I expected.

The two new variable ND filters that have come out recently that I had heard good things about were the Genustech Eclipse and the Tiffen Variable ND. Take a look at the video below for my intro to my testing.

Here’s what the test shots looked like:

©2013 Chris Conti Photography. All Rights Reserved.

If you’re interested in doing tests like this yourself, you can download the full-resolution test chart that I used here (it’s also handy for testing focus, adjusting autofocus microadjust, etc!).

I originally planned to stop both lenses down to f/11 for the tests to make sure that I eliminated as much softness coming from the lens as possible, so that I could really isolate softness being introduced by the filters. After conducting all the tests at f/11 though and inspecting the RAW files on my editing machine, I have to say I was completely blown away with the results: I couldn’t see almost ANY softness introduced by EITHER filter even at maximum filtration strength!

Even though the lens aperture shouldn’t matter in terms of the filter sharpness, I decided at that point that since I would likely be using these filters at wide apertures, I might as well test them at wide apertures. So then I opened the lenses up to f/2.8 and ran through all the test shots again. Again, the results were astonishing. Take a look at the 1:1 crops of the center of the resolution charts below:

©2013 Chris Conti Photography. All Rights Reserved.

Remember, these are 1:1 (i.e., full size) crops of a 21 megapixel frame! Both the Genus and the Tiffen were set at maximum ND filtration (or close to it), and compared to the shot with no filter, there is almost no perceptible softness. The jagged lines of the resolution chart are due to the resolution of the laser printer I used to print the chart (which was printed at 300dpi!). While neither of the filters introduced any significant softness, they both added about 20 points of green tint (thankfully though, that is very easily correctable either in the camera via custom white balance or in post). Also, while the image above is of the 200mm test, the results on the 24mm test were the same: nearly zero perceptible softness.

So Were the Two Filters Equal? NO.

Even though both filters were amazingly sharp (gone are the days of soft VariNDs! Hooray!), they were NOT equals. The Tiffen Variable ND was the clear winner. Here’s why:

As I said in the video, as a result of their opposing-polarizer design, ANY VariND filter is going to get the cross-type pattern of doom eventually. Here is what the pattern looks like, if you’re not already familiar with it:

The cross of doom. ©2013 Chris Conti Photography. All Rights Reserved.

The difference between the Genus and the Tiffen was that the Genus started displaying the cross pattern above substantially earlier in its filtration range (in other words, had less usable range) than the Tiffen. Compared to the Genus, the Tiffen had an extra stop or two of usable range before it too started showing the cross pattern. It is a subjective judgement how much cross-pattern darkening is acceptable before the image becomes unusable, but using the same lighting and camera settings, it was clear that the Tiffen had substantially more range (I’d estimate about two stops) before it started exhibiting the same level of the pattern above as the Genus.

The Tiffen Variable ND Wins

So the test concluded that both the Genus and the Tiffen were tack-sharp filters. Congratulations to both manufacturers for achieving that. The Tiffen filter though is the hands-down winner. In the end, there were plenty of reasons why: In addition to the added usable ND range, the Tiffen was both ergonomically superior (the build quality is better; the rotating ring is very nicely dampened and almost feels fluid whereas the Genus rotates somewhat loosely) AND less expensive ($150 vs. $165 for the Genus). The Tiffen is also easily available at Amazon, whereas the Genus is harder to get: the company distributes its products in the United States only through a small handful of distributors (and my local distributor, Rule Boston Camera, told me they couldn’t even get the Eclipse), and I ended up ordering it directly from the company in Australia.

So there you have it. It seems, for the time being at least, the Tiffen Variable ND is the sharpest, best variable ND filter you can buy… and it’s not even very expensive. Well done, Tiffen.

(P.S.- If you want to have a look at the RAW files to see the results for yourself, I’ve put them all online. You can download them here (be aware though that it’s about a 600MB download))

UPDATE: Do NOT buy the Genus filter from the Genus website under any circumstances. Here’s why: After performing this test and finding the Genus Eclipse Fader more expensive than the Tiffen and with a smaller ND range, I went back to the Genus website where I had originally bought it to return the filter (the company’s website clearly spells out their return policy, which I had checked before purchasing the filter, which says that Genus accepts returns of items within 30 days of delivery for full refund). I couldn’t find any way on the website of initiating the return, so I emailed the customer service email address listed. After hearing nothing back for several days, I contacted the company’s Twitter account asking about how to do a return. The person in charge of the Twitter account got back to me relatively quickly saying they’d check in on it for me. After another couple of days I got a response to my original email from an individual named Mark asking why I wanted to return the filter (this itself was slightly unprofessional as any company of any size has enough experience that they simply accept returns without demanding to know the customer’s reasoning first). I cheerily responded to Mark that I had conducted the test described here and found another competing filter to be better, but that had read Genus’s returns policy on the website before I bought it in the first place. After another day Mark then angrily emailed me that if I wanted to return the filter not only would I have to ship it to an address in Hong Kong (which alone essentially prevents returns, since the cost to ship anything there is about half the cost of the filter itself), but “all costs relating to the sale” would be deducted from my refund, including Paypal fees (Genus doesn’t accept credit card payments), shipping (which I’d already paid upon purchase), an “inspection” fee and a restocking fee (note that he didn’t tell me how much any of these fees would be). I then emailed back that none of those fees were mentioned in the company’s published returns policy. At that point Mark then emailed back and said “Until we receive the unit back and have the unit checked we cannot determine whether the unit is damaged or not.” My clear interpretation from that statement was that despite the fact that the filter was in immaculate condition, when it arrived Genus was going to claim it was damaged.

From this exchange it was very clear that despite their published returns policy Genus was not accustomed to refunding customers’ purchases and were not inclined to give me my money back. So I can only recommend that readers stay far, far away from Genus’s store, either for VariND filters or for anything else.

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Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments »

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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Posted in Equipment, Gear, Techniques | 6 Comments »

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