Filming and Photographing Hubbardton Forge

Back in late March, I was hired to film and photograph a Vermont-based business called Hubbardton Forge. AOL teamed up with Ford to do an article and short video about one American-based business for every state. This particular shoot was challenging as I only had two hours to film at the forge (to create a one minute video that was up to me to cut and find the story), as well as take enough photos to delivery about 25 selects to the client. It was tough, but really fun. My favorite aspects of filmmaking are traveling, meeting new people, and learning about something I previously knew nothing about—I was able to do all of those on my trip to Hubbardton Forge.

While the shoot itself was a challenge (that I was only able to complete with the great support of the Hubbardton Forge employees), the post production process (which had an equally tight schedule) was where I learned some new techniques for delivering a good product quickly.

In my previous post, I wrote about getting client photo selections out of Zenfolio and in to Lightroom, which was for this gig. The clients seemed to really enjoy using Zenfolio, and it was very easy for me to get the list and start the color correction process. I also broke down and finally purchased VSCO film pack 02. The VSCO film packs really helped correct some of the left over nasty colors thanks to industrial lighting. It also gave the images a nice film look, and helped me deliver the final product much faster than I could have if I was doing everything by hand (the “orange skin fix” preset is worth the fee alone).

The hero of this project was FCPX and my new 27″ iMac. I finally upgraded from a Mac Pro 1,1 (7 years old!) to an i7, 4GB of video RAM power house (I never thought I’d call an iMac a powerhouse). I got the rig just in time—literally the day before. And I’m so glad I did. I didn’t have to wait for transcodes, I didn’t have any crashes, and with 16GB of RAM, I could have Lightroom and FCPX open at the same time without any issues!

Free and Easy Way to Import a Client’s Photo List

While I wouldn’t call myself a photographer, I tend to have a photography gig every now and then. When dealing with a client regarding photography, I use Zenfolio.com. It’s a (relatively) simple set up that allows me to share photos with a client so that they can choose which photos I’ll process and eventually hand over to them. The first step is to upload a big batch of semi-uncorrected material. I use the word “semi” because any photographer knows you don’t share everything—we cull through the first batch before any other eyes ever see it, to weed out anything that is unnecessary (i.e. spray and prays, bad focus, forgotten lens cap…).

The next step is for a client to make selects. Zenfolio has an amazing feature where all you have to do as a client is hit the ‘f’ key and it will favorite the photo. Then you can send out the favorited list to the photographer (some clients still just write down the number for me…not as fluid, but still not so time consuming). The photographer then gets an email about the list, and we’re able to see what was selected.

Here’s where things get tricky. You could pay for a premium account on Zenfolio to get a list imported, which is a plugin that works with Lightroom. If you’re a photographer by trade, and this is how you make the bulk of your income, it’s probably a wise decision to go ahead and upgrade. I work primarily as a cinematographer/camera operator, so still photography isn’t where I put all of my funds. I have a basic account, so I had to get thrifty.

If you’re like me and you need to save a few dollars, there’s still a pretty easy way of taking a bulk list of client selects and getting them into a Smart Collection in your Lightroom library.

Step One: Download the files.

1 Favorite

2 Download_All

3 Download

It sounds counter intuitive. Download pictures that I already uploaded…Well, as far as I can tell, it’s still the easiest way to proceed. If you’re reading this and you have a simpler method of attaining all the file names, please let me know!

Step Two: Copy the list

4 Select All Copy

In Mac OS X, it’s very simple to get a filename list copied to plain text. Simply Command+a (Edit > Select All) the files in the unzipped folder from Zenfolio, then Command+c (Edit > Copy). Now paste into any text editor (Command+p). I use BBedit. This is where it might get a little tricky…

 

Step Three: Sort and Process the text

5 Paste List

Now we’ve got a big list of filenames! But, they have extensions and carriage returns which don’t play very well with this Lightroom work around. If you know grep or any other such search and replace tool, this should be a breeze. It’s really a simply process—we’re telling our computer to search for the carriage returns (next line) and the “.jpg” in the filename (known as the file extension), and replacing them with a space. If you’re adventurous enough to learn a simple find and replace technique, here is my (very very rudimentary) processes in BBedit.

6 Search and Replace

Hit command+f to bring up the Find dialog box in BBedit. Type “.jpg\r” in the find text field, and make sure to type one space in the replace field (for techies out there, the typical grep language for a space—”\s”—didn’t seem to work for me, but I haven’t done this in a long time).

7 Get all replace

Also note that with my find and replace above, there will be one last dangling file extension (as seen highlighted above) that I was able to quickly delete.

Now that we’ve got our file list fixed, select all and copy.

Step Four: Make a Smart Collection

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 7.31.19 PM

Open up Lightroom, and make a new smart collection. Make a new rule using “Filename,” and make sure the next drop down (parameters?) is set to “contains.” Simply paste the copied list of files (from the previous step) in to the next text field. And you should be good to go! Lightroom seems to allow spaces as an ‘or’ which allows this to work pretty well.

9 Start Editing

That’s it—Now start processing!

Cinemagraph Pro: The Easy Cinemagraph Tool

America_lowres2

As you can see above, I just rendered out my first Cinemagraph today! The application Cinemagraph Pro is now on sale for $15…a whopping 92.5% off from the usual $200! I had checked it out a couple of weeks ago, but thought the price was just way too high. For $15, I was definitely interested (maybe that’s just a brilliant marketing strategy? Either way, it worked on me!).

If you aren’t privy to what a cinemagraph is, it’s pretty easy to understand once you actually see one. Basically, it’s just a fancy term for a looping gif that has a static frame with a motion element. There are all sorts of ways to accomplish this unique look, but Cinemagraph Pro makes it really, really easy.

Here’s a look at the interface:

Cinemagraph Pro’s interface does’t have a lot of options, but if you’re just looking for something to do for fun, it’s nice and easy. Load up a movie file (preferably a shot that’s static and has a good motion element that can be isolated for looping), pick your in and out points for looping, then go to the mask area and start paint-brushing around the area you want motion in. It took me all of 2 minutes from booting the application for the first time, to setting up an export.

cinemagraph_mask

I was looking for anything to get started, and I found this shot from a couple of years ago of Keene’s Pumpkinfest (for the special ‘Pumpkin Wars’ on HGTV). It was extremely easy to isolate the flag and guy in front of it with the mask tool. For looping I chose ‘bounce’ because his movement patterns were going to look jarring as it jumped from the last frame back to the first frame. But the bounce option allows you to do that age-old video trick of looping something by playing it forward, then in reverse (see: that one awful Tusken Raider shot in Star Wars: A New Hope).

It also has some pretty decent effects built-in.

 

One thing I would mention is be wary of your export format and size. The first time I did this, I checked off Animated GIF, but left the size at “Full.” One 48MB GIF later, and I had learned my lesson. 1/4 size works perfect for Animated Gifs.

OtherViews_and

There’s not much more to write about…it’s a pretty straight-forward application, and really fun to use. Go forth and create more GIFs for Tumblr users to endlessly reblog!

Magic Lantern 5DMKIII Raw – 5 Tips + Samples

BNARO CinematographyFirst of all, I’ve been much more active on my Facebook page than my blog (some smaller posts don’t warrant writing a blog post over), so please visit and like the page: http://facebook.com/bryantnarocinematography

So the big deal these days is the Magic Lantern raw hack. It’s been around since May. I decided to wait it out a few months to hear feedback from people I knew that had tested it. It’s a pretty scary endeavor, but the only real side-effect is that the bootflag cannot be reset. What does that mean? Well, if you don’t know, you might want to do a lot more investigating in the Magic Lantern forums.

The bootflag is a work-around to direct the camera to use the Magic Lantern firmware, rather than Canon’s built-in firmware (which it defaults to if it doesn’t find the ML firmware on a card). It’s a redirection, whose modification isn’t really a big deal, except unlike most installs you can’t set it back (for now). There have also been some folks talking about battery life going quicker, and boot times being slower as a result to this alpha software. I’ll attest to the fact that the 5D does behave a little ‘funny’ these days, but the payoff is remarkable. Hopefully the firmware will become at least beta, and more stable soon.

So now that the doom and gloom is out of the way, on with the show!

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.29.00 AM

Five Things To Know

Here are 5 quick things to know about the raw hack that I seldom see any blog talk about:

1. Really understand the risks of using the Magic Lantern firmware (especially an alpha build!). Seriously. If you’re a photographer that can not live without your camera, just don’t do it. Yes, it’s very stable for an alpha, but you could risk losing the thing that makes you money, so unless you’ve got a backup, just wait.

2. Do not use Komputerbay cards unless you have more time and patience than money (to constantly return them when they fail).

3. Flickering Effect: There are still bugs to be worked out, and as such, sometimes messing with camera raw too much can give you a flickering effect (specifically for Adobe Camera Raw).

4. Rainbow Pixels: If you get strange artifacts (rainbow pixels, weird pixels, etc) it’s probably your card (and you probably didn’t listen to bullet point number two!). Your card is also most likely on its way out (R.I.P. your card). Here’s my post on the Magic Lantern forums showing Komputerbay card weirdness.

2KLTBRL
If you ever wanted a video-feed-breaking-up effect, invest heavily in Komputerbay cards…

 

5. Much like Doctor Who, raw video goes through a lot of space in a short amount of time. For me, at 1920×1038 (1.85:1 ratio) at 23.978fps, each .dng file comes in at 4MB. That’s just under 100MB a second! Not bit—Bytes! So, 32GB gets you about 7 minutes of raw video. This then needs to be copied to your hard drive (that takes time), then put into a CinemaDNG format by an application like RAWMagic (that takes more time), then converted to a video format for editing (this could be the most time consuming process of them all). If you’ve never worked with raw files before, you might be in for a reality check. To put that in perspective, the Sony FS100 records 1080P video at 28Mbps. The AVCHD compression gets me roughly 88 minutes to a 16GB card. With raw video on a 5D, I get 3 and a half minutes of video on the same size card (well, one is SDHC, and the other is CompactFlash, but you know what I mean).

In short: Be mindful of the true cost of raw.

Sample Video

Here’s a quick visual to show you what this hack is capable of (granted it’s a compressed image, but the video still shows the power of raw):

I’m blown away by the sharpness and quality of this raw footage. I tweaked white balance, fill, recovery, black level, hue, sat, and added sharpness via Adobe Camera Raw. So it’s not right out of camera, but I definitely didn’t stress over the color corrections (even though the image could be pushed really far). I took these samples very non-chantly while Meag and I ate our meals outside in downtown Keene, so it’s still not quite a stress test of the firmware. I did manage to hit an error after I filled the card—the LCD on the top handle was reading out as if I had space left on the card, until I rebooted (then it fixed itself to say “0”).

I’ve uploaded the ProRes422HQ file to get the best quality possible on Vimeo. Overkill? Yes! But it’s also one less step for me.

My workflow was as follows:
-Record 1920×1038 @ 23.978 (FPS override) to Lexar 32GB X1000
-Run files through RAWMagic
-Import to After Effects (command+i, direct to the first .dng file, tweak parameters in the camera raw module, import as sequence)
-Interpret footage from 30 to 23.978 (right click on file to see the option…I’m not sure why it default interprets as 30p)
-Render to ProRes422 HQ
-Import into Premiere, cut, export ProRes422HQ
-Upload

Here’s a Flickr set of before and after screenshots running the DNG files through adobe camera raw.

The screenshot only shows one tab, so you can’t see my hue/sat adjusts, and sharpening. I added anywhere from 25-50 sharpening. Apply all, click done, and you got yourself some DNGs ready for import!

[slickr-flickr search=sets set=”72157635844732674″ size=large]

Here’s my first test with the 128GB Komputerbay card (it died the following day):

Pixel artifacts must be from the extreme variance in speed (and inevitable death of the card). I may seem like I’m being really harsh on the company, but they were quite rude with me when I was insisting that the performance wasn’t as advertised.

You can find before and after photos of the color adjustments on my Facebook page.

Conclusion

It sure is nice having a raw video upgrade to my DSLR for free! In the end, you can’t complain with that price point (well, the 1000x card cost money, but that’s the only investment). Would I shoot anything professionally on this thing? Nope, and probably never. I’ve never used Magic Lantern raw in a professional setting, and I most likely never will. Don’t get me wrong, the Magic Lantern team did an amazing job building this thing, but they’re not the ones that have to do tech support if something goes wrong. So for now, professional projects will be created with professionally backed products (if my FS100 breaks, Sony better have a fix!).

But for personal projects, absolutely! I’ll keep it in my kit, and if there’s a day where I’ve got a perfect shot, but just need more latitude, I’ll prompt the client and let them know the risks, and how round about the workflow can be. If they’re still interested, and it’s not that important of a shot, I might go for it (maybe ‘never’ wasn’t the right word)!

In the meantime, I’ll keep experimenting. Having the ability to correct moving images like I can with raw camera files, without putting tens of thousands of dollars down on a higher end cinema camera…well that’s absolutely astounding. We all owe a big thank you to the Magic Lantern team!

My FS100 Build

One great thing to come from modern camera technology is the versatility of their modular designs. Camera operators and cinematographers have an extensive set of tools to make their camera builds completely unique and effective for whatever the shoot requires (RED for high res, DSLRs for quick/small set ups, GoPros for crash cams, etc). No longer do you have to have a cat on your shoulders, you can have any configuration that may or may not resemble an animal (the Alexa M would be like an alien giraffe maybe? How’s that for some sweet SEO writing?). But with great power, comes great responsibility…and a lot of time to figure out that power-sibility. It’s taken me many months, and many shoots, but I’ve nailed down a configuration for my FS100 that works great for me.

I tend to do a lot of documentary live shoots, and I absolutely love it (it’s almost 100% pure creativity, because continuity is seldom an issue). When I’m on location doing a live shoot, I’m usually by myself, or with one other person (be it a producer/director type, or an assistant). Because it’s typically a run-and-gun scenario, I need to move quickly and power through a long day. What I need for a live shoot is a light setup, a steady rig, and the ability to critically check the image. What I’ve come up with is this:

So this is my ‘basic’ setup (all photos taken on the same day at Dartmouth, as you’ll see). I can quickly change it into a handheld rig by throwing a Redrock shoulder pad on the rail system and handles in the front. I can also deck it out in a big studio set up with a matte box and follow focus. For my live shoot work, the key is having a small core rig that can be functional on its own, adding to it only when I need to. I’ll cover how each of these elements are set up.

1. Mount and Rail System

You need rails for a lot of camera accessories. I have the FS100 mounted on a quick release plate that is connected to a riser, which is connected to the Redrock rail system—it’s really just a cheeseplate with two rod mounts, and the riser. This is the core of all the add-ons: Mattebox, follow focus, lens support, and more. I swap between 8″ rails for smaller work (usually just for a lens support, or a follow focus if needed), and bigger 18″ rails for narrative work (all those add-ons add-up!).

2. ShotGrip Handle

I’ve gushed about this in my other post about using specific gear when I shot Wander My Friends. It’s a well-made wooden handle that screws right into the FS100 (utilizing the top mounting point, and the hot-shoe for added stability). There are other, more robust solutions (SolidCamera’s and Berkey System’s), but this is a small all-in-one solution that works great for me (and is the cheapest). While I still hold the bottom of the camera in tandem with the top grip when carrying the whole rig, I feel confident enough in the design to hold everything just by the ShotGrip handle in lightweight situations. The ShotGrip also has mounting points, but I find that using the rail on the handle (by sliding the wooden handle back, giving some slack on one end) works out best. That’s where the MicroMount comes in.

 

3. RedRock MicroMount

These guys work pretty well. They slide on to one 15mm rail, tighten, and then give you another rail or mounting point (with the microspud, which gives you a 1/4″ 20 male/female mount). You can connect just about anything to your rig with one of these. I use this for my microphone offset (connected to the base of the ShotGrip), and my SmallHD monitor.

4. SmallHD DP4 (with EVF)

SmallHD’s DP4 monitor and EVF have been an extremely invaluable addition to my kit. Again, I’ve gushed about this product plenty, so I’ll just explain how it plays into my basic build. Being configured to mount on a microspud on the shotgrip rail helps keep it close to the camera body, and helps keep the rig more compact.

The EVF is extremely helpful for exterior live shoots. Most of the time, the sun is way too harsh, so using the EVF (with a chammy) helps me actually see the frame. My only use for the on-board LCD is for 4x and 8x punch-ins, to get critical focus. That’s why this set up looks so strange—I have to use the Sony monitor because the punch-in doesn’t feed out to any external source (my biggest issues with the FS100 user interface). I also use the 1:1 pixel mapping (addressed to one of the hotkey buttons on the DP4) whenever I need to quickly check something while using the EVF.

To make firmware lemons into GUI lemonade, I’d say that this set up has actually really come in handy. I can look at a nice clean image in the SmallHD monitor, and whenever I want to check focus (or any indicators), I can glance over to the other monitor without having to touch a button, which could potentially shake the camera. This technique works best for documentary shoots (interviews and live footage), but I have used it for narrative work (it’s a little difficult to be handheld and try this).

5. Noga CineArm

The Noga CineArm is a simple articulating arm, but it’s been in my kit since the beginning (it’s really beaten up by now). I’ve had it break on my once (supposedly a faulty part), but 16×9 (Noga’s North American retailer) fixed it free of charge! The only problem I have with it’s design is how large the knob is (though you can lift the knob and reposition without loosening, so that’s pretty smart). I use this for the DP4, but I’d like to someday find a solution for adjusting my EVF with one hand. SolidCamera has a solution, but it’s too expensive for me.

6. Microphone

As I mentioned earlier, I use the microphone offset (that came with the FS100) with a Redrock MicroMount. I keep the Sony-supplied reference mic (well, that’s what I use it for) at all times. I’ve been burned a couple of times thinking I absolutely did not need to pack an audio solution, only to find that having it would have made everyone’s lives easier. This is a lesson in preparing, but also a lesson in realizing that the FS100 does not have a built-in microphone, which actually can be a problem. Now I keep this thing permanently fixed to the ShotGrip. Reference audio can come in handy during a live shoot (speaking information into the microphone about the location, etc), or a narrative project (being reference to sync the actual sound files). I have a shot in my demo reel where literally hundreds of geese come over a set of trees. When I was shooting that, I remember the noise…it was horrifying! I wish I could have shared that with people, but the file is video-only. I didn’t pack my microphone because the Sony mount is really cumbersome, and I shot it in the dead of winter, in a snowstorm.

NOTE: I typically make sure I have rails and a lens support when using my bigger lenses. This was a special case where I had to run and get a shot quickly.

So that’s my basic set up. There’s a lot more that goes into it, but after working with your own set up, you’ll come find what you do or do not need on your camera build. Find a good middle-ground between functionality and speed.

Using Dropbox for Client Access

I’ve briefly chatted about Dropbox before (and mentioned how to increase your storage size for free), but within the past few months I’ve found myself using the service more than ever. Dropbox is a file sharing site that simplifies the process of passing files around to clients (or friends and family).

The first feature that makes me happy is their desktop integration. To upload a file, all you have to do (after quickly installing the application) is drop your files into the designated folder—the Dropbox application then auto-uploads to your online storage. I’ve found web-based uploaders to timeout for me quite often, especially when I’m uploading multiple gigabytes, so this in-the-background uploader has been a huge step forward for me to actually utilize the service.

From there, you can right-click and get a secure link that can be passed on to your clients. The files can only be viewed by that link, so there’s some security, though I wouldn’t trust it for any extremely sensitive data (finance documents, passwords, your super secret diary, etc), but it’s fine for just about everything else. So you ship off the link to the clients, sounds pretty straight forward, right? The great thing is on the client-end, when they click on that link.

Dropbox has a great interface for both videos and photos. And the exciting thing for me, as an FS100 shooter, is that it can create playable previews of raw .mts files (AVCHD)! Dropbox will do this with just about every video format I’ve thrown at it (.mov and basic codecs are obviously welcome), but AVCHD is still notorious for it’s lack of support, so I was quite amazed at Dropbox’s effort.

Anyway, the client clicks on the link and can see two different views. One being the thumbnail view:

The other view is more straightforward, but you still get a smaller thumbnail, which is great for reference:

Playback is as simple as clicking on the thumbnail/linked text, and viewing the media in their simple playback function. Before the player loads, you can see a large thumbnail, a download link, and some other basic functionality.

The actual video player has limited functionality, but I couldn’t see anyone needing advanced controls in a situation like this, where it’s more of a reference, rather than a final state of playback.

And obviously, the client can download the folder heirarchy that they’ve been given access to. In this example, I’ll pass off the “private” folder that holds the root directory of media, found on AVCHD-based cameras. The only issue I’ve found is that some of the color/gamma interpretations seem to be off a little bit, but if the client can acknowledge this playback as a sort of quick reference, then I can’t see why this would be too detrimental. The video playback is certainly much more lower resolution than the actual video (the source is a 28mbps 1080P file, but this looks more like a quickly-compressed 320×240 file to me, but don’t quote me on that).

So, this is all great, but what’s the catch? Well, it’s not free. The introductory service for Dropbox is free, but even with all the free upgrades I mentioned earlier, you’re still well under the lowest tiered pricing plan’s data cap. For $10 a month, you get 100GB of data. They have other tiers, but this works best for me when passing off footage from a day or two of shooting (compressed footage, if you’re shooting raw or high-bitrate, just use a shipped drive). I know that some tech savvy individuals with their own web hosting might ask, “Why use this rather than an FTP or similar self-hosted file sharing utility?” Well, as someone who has over 300GB of storage available on their own hosting service, I would much rather send a link to a client with this friendly interface, than try to explain how FTPs work (which I’ve done in the past—it was painful).

So in conclusion: Dropbox is great. If someone hasn’t convinced you to use it yet, I hope I have.

Production Notes: Wander My Friends

Tomorrow we will officially be half way through filming Wander My Friends, a feature indie comedy film based on three comic book creators. I’m the cinematographer, and I’ve learned quite a bit already about what has and has not been working in terms of camera gear. I chose to film on the Sony FS100 with still lenses. Mostly out of necessity, because of our low budget, but also out of familiarity (it’s all my own gear, and I know it well). We’re on a tight schedule, have a low budget, and the film is intended to be completely handheld (with some exceptions)—so our options were limited.

Here are some of the major pieces of my kit that make all of this possible:

 Semi rigged-out FS100, for handheld work.

 

Sony FS100

This camera has been fantastic. I’ve owned it for about 8 months, trading up from the Canon 7D as my primary camera. I’ve since sold the 7D, but keep my 5DMK3 and 60D as b-cams (and photographic tools, primarily). After using the FS100, I can’t believe I ever managed to shoot anything on a DSLR. I’m using Frank Glencairn’s K-Tone picture profile, because while I think this camera is a huge step up from a DSLR, it’s still plagued by a 4:2:0 subsampling. Sure, I could go out via HDMI to an Atmos Ninja (or some other recorder), but we need to do really quick set ups and the extra baggage would just slow us down (and I don’t find the higher subsampling to be much more helpful). So I opted to ‘bake in’ the look I want.

The lowlight capabilities also really help us out. The FS100 is probably the best lowlight camera I’ve seen (for its price range…but maybe ever?), which allows us to rely on smaller lighting gear. Another helpful thing for this shoot is that I can roll on both an SD card (very cheap medium, great for indie filmmakers—works for your set photographer, your sound guy, AND your camera operator! What a miracle format) and the FMU, but I’ll address that later. Another great thing about this camera is it’s battery. I can go a full day on the battery bundled with the camera and one extra one. It’s amazing how long the batteries last. Less battery changes (I mean, one a day? That’s no problem) means more time saved, and every little bit of time saved on set helps out in the long run (or the very immediate short run, depending on how tight the schedule is). Just another reason why this camera is the indie filmmakers best friend.

I rotated the LANC control piece of the FS100 so that I can hit it with my thumb while it’s positioned on the handheld rig—not the cleanest solution, but it’s saving me money from having to purchase an expensive LANC controller.

My biggest complaints about this camera would be the lack of SDI out (HDMI is slow, unreliable, short, and expensive), the plastic shell (I’d feel safer with a metallic one), and the subsampling rate for internal recording. It’s latitude is greater than a DSLR, but I’d still like an S-Log like it’s big brother the F3. But for around $5k, I’m surprised at all it has to offer. This camera pretty much makes it possible to shoot an indie feature at an incredibly low price point (even if you include the camera in the budget!).

SONY FMU 128GB

This little device is worth its weight in gold. Actually, it’s really light, so maybe its weight in platinum? I don’t know the cost of rare metals very well, but I do know that this thing rocks (I made a pun!).

A lot of folks may see the price tag and think it’s unnecessary, but what you may not understand is that just being able to record to a 128GB built-in (well, sort of—there’s a module compartment for the unit) flash drive isn’t just helpful in it’s spaciousness, its real worth is in redundancy.

The FS100 can record to both an SD card and the FMU. The first week of shooting we took up about 120GB of space on our drives. We record to 16GB SD cards (which gives 88 minutes of storage, just enough not to get in the way, but not enough to totally devastate a production if it was corrupt/destroyed/some other catastrophe). It’s nice to know that if something happens to our current back up…or both backups…or all back ups for that week, I have everything I’ve shot still in the camera. Well, almost everything: Footage shot at 1080P @ 60P won’t save to the FMU. I’m not sure why though, probably a bandwidth issue? Luckily I only over crank footage rarely, so it’s not an issue (we’re filming this feature in 24p, as one might expect).

SmallHD DP4 (and EVF)

First of all, SmallHD is a wonderful company. I was sent a defective EVF unit (magnets kept popping out, probably a defective glue), which made it difficult to keep the EVF up for using the device strictly as a monitor (which I ended up switching between monitor and EVF quite a bit). They just sent me a brand new unit, without any fuss (I can’t think of a less-old-person-sounding synonym for fuss, so you’ll have to deal with it). I strongly recommend working with this company, they actually listen to their customers!

Anyway, not only is their customer service great, it turns out that their products are fantastic too! The DP4 is a small 4-inch on-board monitor that recently went down in price (I think they’re lining up some new products for Fall 2012). I used to think the FS100’s built in monitor was plenty sharp, and that I could judge focus just fine with it. Well, that’s a thing of the past—The DP4 outputs an extremely crisp image. It really helps me pull focus, and I just can’t go back to any other monitor.

A nice feature is the LP-E6 dual power mount on the back. You can get all sorts of power adapters, but I use LP-E6s for my 60D, 5DMK3, and my Lilliput cheap-o 7″ monitor, so of course I would continue the Canon battery dynasty. I have noticed that even with two fully charged batteries, I only get a few hours of usage. The unit also gets really hot throughout the day. Those are my only complaints to an otherwise fantastic product. The EVF is great too. It’s all a little heavy, but not so much so that it’s unbearable. I like that the EVF eye piece is big enough that I can leave my glasses on and feel comfortable. I’ve added a  chamois eye pad to the EVF (sweat in your eye is not a good thing) and it fits perfectly (on both eye pieces that they ship).

Rokinon 35mm ƒ1.4

Ladies and gentlemen, this is my bread and butter. This lens is so sharp, it’s criminal. I can’t believe they would sell this thing for under a grand, but it goes for far, far less. It’s sharp, it’s solid, it’s got a nice smooth focus ring, and it’s all manual. If you shoot video with photo lenses (i.e. you own gear/glass and you’re NOT a millionaire) you need to buy this one. The 1.4 is great, but I only go their for specialty shots. I’ve found it rock solid at a 2.8, and sometimes I can push it even further open, and still somehow retain lots of detail (and not a whole lot of aberration). It’s got a great minimum focus distance too, so I can really run an entire scene just with this one lens. It’s a 50mm equivalent on the FS100 (not exact, but close), which is my favorite focal point. It works great for mid shots, but also gives a nice clean wide shot. I’d wager that more than half of this film so far has been shot on this lens. In the documentary world, I never break this thing out: all of my work goes to the lovely Canon 70-200mm ƒ2.8 IS II. After using it heavily on Wander My Friends, I’ll have to re-think my documentary camera work to get this lens in there.

FS100 Shotgrip

Great minimalistic handle for the FS100, and it’s made by a local DP! I strongly suggest checking it out. Cameras and wood are meant to be. My only complaint with this thing is that sometimes, with too much weight on the rig, the handle will twist slightly. Just make sure you don’t rely too much on it, as it’s screwed directly into the hot shoe and other mounting points of the FS100. If you really need to deck out your camera, check in with SolidCamera for some really REALLY rugged FS100/700 rigs. The shotgrip is still the best bang for your buck though. Check out the website.


Using the Philip Bloom Pocket Dolly, Photo courtesy of Raz Cunningham

Philip Bloom Pocket Dolly

This thing is pretty awesome. It’s a nice compact slider, and it looks good too. It’s smooth,a solid build, and easy to set up. I can’t make very long moves, but when I need to add one in a pinch, it’s very easy. I strongly suggest adding this to your kit, especially when you want a move, but can’t squeeze a dolly into a space (or have the time/crew).

Here’s a bonus photo of me looking awkward. Next to me is Raz, co-writer and director of Wander My Friends.

Photo courtesy of Charles Lafond

Well, that wraps up some of the big pieces of gear I’m using. I’ll post more soon, once the film wraps. Please check out the Wander My Friends official website, and donate to the Kickstarter if you can.

Current Happenings – July 2, 2012

Today I filmed some quick person-on-the-street type shots for an upcoming Obama related video series. The plan was to match footage that was shot in New York City a couple of weeks ago (I couldn’t attend because of a location scout). I really haven’t shot much video on my 5DMK3, or really on any DSLR ever since the FS100 came into the picture. But surprisingly, it went relatively smooth considering we had audio gear die on us.

The following are screenshots right out of the raw file from the camera.

It was supposed to be a very simple shoot: Handheld 5D, an external recorder, some quick lines, and then we’re out. What ended up happening is that our Tascam DR-100 (which I find to be a very reliable machine) went dead on us. That’s no fault of the Tascam’s, but because whoever borrowed it from the company beforehand (both XLR’s were completely kaput). At the last second, when all seemed to be lost, I thought, “Well, there’s on option I know of, we can go line-in.”

I started shooting on DSLRs (for video) during the wonderful age of AGC (auto gain control). There was no ‘line-in’ without cumbersome setups (Beachtek comes to mind), so everyone grabbed an H4n and created some complicated post workflows. With the 5DMK3, you don’t get the best audio in the world, but for quick shoots like the one I did today, it works perfectly. Line in (XLR to 3.5mm), monitoring out (3.5mm to headphones), and the ability to visually monitor levels and manipulate gain while recording. Anyway, it was my first time using audio in with the 5D, and it was a piece of cake. I’ll probably use this feature more in the future for low budget short films and commercials.

Current Happenings – June 13, 2012

So, a lot is going on right now. Location scouting for the feature I’ll be cinematographer on in July-August, Wander My Friends, went well last weekend. I’ve purchased some new gear for the shoot—the SmallHD DP4 monitor and Viewfinder, as well as the Redrock MicroMatteBox. Both pieces of gear (as well as the 4×5.6″ filters) have finally came in, and I’ll get a mini-review going soon.

Here’s my monitor set up for the feature: Onboard LCD that I’ll probably close for shooting, DP4 EVF set up for my primary shooting set up, and a larger (and cheaper) Lilliput monitor for the gaffer and others to check the frame before filming (and the producer/director to check out during filming).

The Redrock MicroMatteBox is for 1) Quicker setups (swivel feature for changing lenses but keeping my ND in the filter slots should save a lot of time and stress, especially with our tiny crew), 2) our small set ups might limit our grip work, so flagging off the sun on camera will become my primary defense, and 3) because it looks awesome!

And as you can see, there’s an ND filter in it (Naro Density). I never thought I’d say it, but I feel like my camera kit is finally complete.

I intend to upkeep a production log for the shoot, to give others insight into using the FS100 and other lower-end indie gear that I’ve got. Hopefully it’ll shed some light for those also looking to achieve a similar set up.

In the post-production world, the documentary I’m working on “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” is locking in the next couple of weeks, and after the DP gig I’ll come back to Florentine Films as a Sound Assistant. I also intend on finally publishing a lot of tutorials I’ve been writing, I just want to make sure everything is perfect so I don’t add to the lot of disinformation out there on the internet. Anyway, very exciting times!

KUA Live Shoot Highlight Reel

I don’t think I’ve had a day off from working for at least two weeks…anyway, this is what I shot yesterday. We did some interviews as well, but I’m really happy with how fantastic our props were. I love shooting lowlight scenes, and the FS100 really held up well (with a couple ƒ1.4 lenses, too).

This is for a documentary on a prep school’s 200th anniversary. This is a highlight reel of some live footage to be used for the 19th century scenes. Everything was shot on the FS100 under extreme lowlight conditions, with no color correction (raw files from the camera).

Last Haul Trailer

The Trailer

Here’s a trailer for Last Haul, a short sci-fi film I shot a while ago. My girlfriend and go-to editor Meagan Frappiea cut it together yesterday, and I did a quick color correction in DaVinci Resolve (lite). Adam Wilkins made the awesome title (I ran it through After Effects to give depth to the slow push in). Music by Mr.Trent Reznor.

We’re finally finishing this weekend (audio mixing and ‘onlining’ with my color corrections from DaVinci), so we should have the whole film available soon. It’s very exciting to see this project finally come together—it’s a script my friends wrote, and I’m very proud of all the hard work that went in to it.

Working With DaVinci

It turns out that going from FCP to DaVinci and back again is really, really simple! You export an XML from FCP7 (or FCPX), import that into DaVinci and add the correct footage to the media pool. Then after all the corrections, you render out the media (and put it on your FCP system). To get an updated XML, you simply click on the ‘conform’ tab in DaVinci, then hit the export button to output an FCP XML. Importing back into FCP was as easy as “File -> Import XML” (I think? Not 100% on the menu system—we’re all Avid in this house, unfortunately). Anyway, there are much better tutorials out there, I just wanted to speak about the simplicity of working with DaVinci, which is just such a powerful and free application (lite, of course).

Blackmagic sure is making strides in the production world these days (all their I/O, DaVinci, and of course the very popular Blackmagic Cinema Camera). I’m not sure if this is their marketing plan, but because I’m familiar with the free version of DaVinci, any high-end work I ever get (my dream) where the project would require a 2K or 4K color corrected output, I absolutely would purchase the full version of DaVinci Resolve (for $1000, which is a bargain).

Roger Deakins Forum

I don’t know how it’s taken me this long to find out about it, but Roger Deakins has a forum online where he answers questions about his techniques used and other very helpful advice for aspiring filmmakers/cinematographers. Is it possible to love this guy anymore than I already do? I don’t think so.

 

Check it out: DeakinsOnline.com