Daniel Haggett

London based Lighting Cameraman / DoP 

Gimbal easyrig flowcine serene

I recently went on a shoot where one the cameramen had an Easyrig he was using with his XDCAM camera.  My first thought was, can you use an easyrig with a Gimbal, such as the Movi, Ronin, Helix etc?

The weight of a camera a lens and a gimbal lifted out infront of your body means that you can only really hold the rig and operate for a few minutes at a time until your back and biceps begin to burn.  The Easyrig would take this weight and sit it on the hips, making carrying a gibmbal very easy.  One issue with this idea is that the overhead arm of the Easyrig is designed to sit a camera on your shoulder, not out infront of your body.  An interesting solution to this is the Serene from Flowcine.

The amazing thing about this device is that, not only does it hold the rig out infront of your body for gimbal use, but it also has a shock absorber system.  All gimbal systems are stabilized on three axis, meaning that the up and down bounce created by the operator walking along, is up to you to control.  The Serene arm would take this bounce out.  I was curious to know if this would work as a set up, until I saw it in operation on twitter from @AntDodgeTVcam

Here you can see the gimbal is the Helix with an easyrig and the Flowcine Serene.  This looks to me like the ideal set up for using with gimbals on shoots when you need to hold the rig for long periods.

Further reading: Gimbal comparison, Ronin M

 

DJI Ronin M

The DJI Ronin has some some fantastic features: it is quick to set up, it can be operated in three diferent modes, it is really well priced for what it can do, however, it does have one disadvantage, it is a little on the heavy side.  Much of this weight is from the large motors which are strong enough to control fairly heavy cameras up to 7.25 kg or 16lbs.  If you have a camera that is lighter than this, you may not need all of this power.

DJI have released the Ronin M, a smaller model of the Ronin, designed to carry cameras up to 3.6kg or 8lbs.  The pay off is the Ronin M is half the weight of the Ronin, meaning you can hold it for much much longer.

 

The big question for me is will it hold a stripped down C300.  A Canon C300 stripped down is going to weigh around 2-3kg with an EF lens so it should be within the Ronin M limit.  On the official DJI page the C300 is not listed on the cameras that the Ronin M will carry (only much smaller DSLRS etc are).  However, when Dan Chung at News Shooter asked the DJI manufacturers, they suggested it was possible, but had't tried this out.  I have called up a couple of distributors in the UK: CVP and Videogear in the hope that they had been able to try it out.  However, as yet they haven't even been sent a test model.  The DJI M should arrive in the UK in a 3 or 4 weeks (mid June 2015) and at this point I'd be interested to know if you could put a C300 on it.  There are models of the Ronin M kicking about in the USA, but I haven't seen any with a C300 attached yet.  

UPDATE:  After a bit of digging around, look what I found, on Instagram of all places:

So it looks like the C300 will fit on a Ronin M!! Exciting stuff (for me anyway).  The company who posted this, Cinemilled make all sorts of interesting camera accessories.  They did say that the tilt bars were at max extension, despite only have a light lens on (I think that looks like a 35mm).  However, they make tilt extension bars, which I am guessing would allow you to use heavier lenses.  Cinemilled also mentioned being able to add more weight to the front simply by adding weight to the back of the camera to balance things out.

I have now have a Ronin M on order, I am going to try mouning the C300 with a few diferent lenses, and if I run into trouble I'll be ordering those Cinemilled tilt extensions. 

More info on the Ronin M is here.  And Dan Chung's video is below.

You might also be interested in my MoVI, Ronin, and Helix gimbal comparison. and Easyrig, Serene Gimbal set up.

 

Gimbal stabilisers Movi vs Dji Ronin vs Letus Helix

Lately, I have been obsessing about Gimbal stabilisers.  I first used a Movi M10 shortly after it came out and instantly loved it.  I was amazed by the results I could get, despite having no previous experience of gimbals or stedicams.  I thought about buying a Movi at that time, but couldn't quite justify the cost, as I wasn't sure I could easily make my money back on it.  Fast forward a year and the prices have come down massively.  Dji are a large Chinese company that have a history of making drones and when they released the Ronin, Movi had to drop their prices to remain competative.  New to the market is the Helix from Letus, another contender with a name that many in video will already know.  There are plenty of other brands out there at even cheaper prices, but at the top end of the market, I would say these three are the ones to go for.

Freefly: Movi 

Freefly systems MoVI was the first to the party, so I'll start here. Advantages: The MoVI has several advantages, firstly, it has been around the longest and is tried and tested.  Many facilities companies have been hiring these things out day after day and they seem tough and able to stand up to the rigours of filming.  They are also light.  Every ounce matters when you start holding your camera and rig with your arms stretched out.  If you have never shot on a giro stabiliser take a 7.5kg weight a walk around holding it out infront of you, your arms will start to burn pretty quick. Freefly Systems are also based out of the USA with lots of distributors in other countries, so getting repairs, spare parts etc should be painless. Disadvantages:  The first has to be price, despite a big price drop, the MoVI still comes in around $8k for the M10.  The company no doubt has pretty serious R and D costs to recoup.  The only slight quible I would have with the MoVI over other gimbals, is the fact that several attachments need to be tightend with an allen key against the carbon fiber.  Carbon fiber is naturally smooth and slippery, so it probably needs to be tightend this way, rather than with a simple catch.  The DJI Ronin on the other hand is alluminium and has quick release catches and screw tighteners, making it quicker to set up.

DJI: Ronin

 

 

 

The DJI Ronin caused a bit of a stir when it was released, with prices well below what was expected.  Advantages:  The first thing to say here is price.  The Ronin is an amazing deal.  For $2500 you get the rig, a hard peli style case with lazer cut inserts, and they even throw in a remote controller for 2 person operation.  Another great feature is the quick release clips that allow for a quick set up.  I have spoken to several owner operators who say that after much practice they have got the set up time down to just 5 minutes.  This is a big deal for me as I would envisage using something like a Ronin for just a few shots on a shoot, rather than operating on it for hours like you might a stedicam.

Another great feature that the Ronin has is the three operation modes: briefcase under slung and upright.  

Ronin Upright mode

The upright mode means the camera is sitting above, rather than below the cross bar.  The good thing about this extra height is that it brings the camera closer to the eye line.  If you are filming a walk and talk, you don't always wanting to be pointing up at someones face, not the most flattering angle.  It is also useful for over the shoulder type shots, where you need the camera to be at head height or above.

ronin briefcase mode

Briefcase mode allows the unit to be held low to the ground with one hand.

Underslung is the usual gimbal operation mode.

DJI are a large Chinese company that are very familiar to people interested in drones.  I guess this can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on how you view it.  With good resellers in each company you should be able to get spare parts, however, I can say in the UK right now there is a 2 week waiting list to buy the product.  The other issue with Chinese companies is you are never too sure about customer service, but again local resellers should help.  Disadvantages: Before I say it, you probably what I am going to say: weight.  The Ronin weighs in at 9.26lb or 4.2kg, this heavier than the other two gimbals here.  This is due to the motors being larger, as they are designed to carry heavier cameras, and the fact the rig is aluminium, rather than carbon fiber.   This doesn't sound like much, but to give you an idea, by the time you add a monitor a stripped down C300 (no lcd, side grip, eyepeice) you are looking at 7.5kg or 16.5lbs.  Chuck on a RED Epic and your weight will go up a fraction. That is a big deal to hold out in front of your body or above your head.  Anything over a few minutes is really going to be a challenge.  You can always add an easyrig to take the weight, but then your costs and setup time are escallating. 

Letus: Helix

 

A very interesting addition to this line up is the Helix from Letus.  Letus are a US company that are very camera focused (rather than drone focused like DJI).  The have been producing all kinds of camera equipment and you are probably familiar with them already. Price wise they sit in between the two above, at $3975  Advantages:  I havent actually used one of these as they haven't been out long, but I think they look pretty promising.  The weight is definitely a plus being 7.25lbs or 3.3kg.  The next advantage over both the other gimbals is that you can put it down on the ground.  This is great for small crews, where you want to stop and rest your burning biceps without having to run back to wherever you left the cradel.  Also, since Letus is a company that makes camera gear, there are loads of clever add ons, like quick release plates, cables etc etc. Disadvantages: The main one here for me is time.  At the time of writing (May 2015) these things haven't been out long at all, I have never seen one, none of the usual UK outlets sell them and there is very little demo footage availble online to see if they are any good. You can of course order one online from their website, and I am imagine they are probably pretty good, but it is a risk with so little info about them.

It is worth noting in each case I have gone for the large model that works with cameras such as the Canon C100/C300/C500, RED EPIC etc.  All of the manufacturers have smaller versions, The Movi M5 the Helix junior and the DJI M.  So if you are operating a DSLR you could go with the cheaper, lighter alernative.  Interestingly, I have heard that a C300 fully stripped down will just work on the Ronin M, but I haven't personally tested it, so proceed with caution.

So which one to go for:  If I were a rental company, or wanted to make a name for myself as a dedicated gimbal operator, I would get a Movi.  As an occasional gimbal user in a rush to get new kit, I'd get a Ronin, or if I had time to wait and see how the product is received I'd get the Helix.

Further reading:  The DJI Ronin M  Easyrig, gimbal, Serene set up.

 

 

Sony FS7 vs Canon C300 Mark ii vs Sony F5

Canon have had a very good run with the C300 and now Sony are hitting back with both the FS7 and F5.  Canon recently dropped the price of the original C300, bringing it closer to the FS7 and yesterday announced the C300 mark ii.  So how do the cameras stack up in the battle for the mid range?

Canon C300 Mark ii

Firstly, the C300 mark ii has only just been announced and won't be available until September 2015 and the price could theoretically change by then, but this is how it stands now. 

 Internal specs  FS7  Canon C300 mii F5
Sensor Super 35mm Super 35mm Super 35mm

Resolution 

 4k  4k  2k
Slow mo  180 @ 1080  120 @ 2k  120 @2k
ISO sensitivity  2000  800  2000
Dynamic range  14 stops  15 stops  14 stops
Record format XAVC   10 bit XF AVC    10 bit  XAVC 10 bit
Price   $7,999  $15,999  $16,490

 

When you look at the specs and the pricing of the C300 mark ii against the Sony F5 it makes total sense, it's when you compare it to the FS7 that things get confusing.   There are certain advantages to both F5 and C300 mark ii cameras.  The F5 is slightly more user friendly when it comes to ergonomics, with a proper dedicated eye piece it can be mounted on the shoulder more efficiently (although you do pay extra for the eye piece.)  There is also the advantage of a bolt on external recorder, which ups the cameras specs, particularly the slow motion, and you can now upgrade the camera to 4k, at a cost (or hack).  The C300 has an extra stop of dynamic range, and is already 4k without an upgrade.  The prices above are for the camera body only.  Canon batteries are pretty cheap as are the Sony FS7s, the Sony F5 uses V lock, which will again put the price up a bit.

So what about the FS7?  The FS7 is insainly cheap for the stats it has.  In terms of bang for your buck I don't think there is a better camera out there.  The specs aren't a milion miles from those that Sony's F55 has for a fraction of the cost.  When compared to larger cameras, it does feel a little plasticy, that said it has a similar interface to many bigger Sony cameras, with many of switches at buttons in the right place, where a cameraman would actually want them.

I have mentioned this video in a previous article, but if you haven't seen it, this compares the C300 to the FS7.  The one worrying thing is the purple fringing issue here on the FS7.  You can clearly see it if you look at where the trees meet the blue of the sky.  Hopefully this is just a minor problem and will be fixed in a software update.

If you are interested in buying the FS7, it is well worth reading the whole article at The Delivery Men.  I can imagine lots of self shooting directors using this camera, as welll as small production companies that want to buy their own afforadable kit.

With the FS7 out with great specs and an affordable price tag Canon had to respond with something, so what have they done to improve the C300?  A good improvement in the C300 mark ii is the removable cables connecting the LCD module to the camera.  The number of C300 rental cameras I have seen with broken cables that have been replace by Canon is unreal.  Crazy when you think the camera has to be sent off to Canon, loosing the owner shooting days.  (In the picture the Japanese says "Monitor Unit" - (this is the first time my limited Japanese has ever been useful on my blog)

 

There is also the improvement of the top handle: the weak one screw has been upgraded with a top helmet, which screws to the top of the camera, and then a couple of hex screws attach the handle.  The handle also has a few monting screws and options, which could prove useful.  (Mounting a top light is always a bit tricky with the C300 and this could be easier with the mark ii).

Something that I'd be interested to try is the pixel comparison focus assist.  Rather than having some kind of auto focus, which everyone would hate, Canon have come up with a system that tells you on the monitor if a certain area is in focus or not.  If this sounds a bit like peaking, it isn't.  Apparently, this is a very acurate system which will tell the user which way to focus ie. whether the lens needs to be focused further or closer to be in correct focus.  

Another small but very useful improvement with the mark 2 is the addition of a small internal microphone.  When you remove the LCD from the C300 mark 1, you remove all audio, so if you are mounting the camera on a Movi for example you don't have a guide track for synching in post - this is total pain for the editor.  (The way round this is to plug an external mic into the mini jack once the grip handle has been removed - still not ideal though)  The video below gives a good look around the new Mark ii.

Will the masses of C300 owners upgrade?  The value to the C300 is now pretty low with the recent price drops, so it would be a fairly big chunk to invest in the upgrade to mark ii.  Personally, I couldn't justify spending that money for 4k, which I presently don't need.  The other improvements are too minor for me to spend that amount of cash.  Canon started with great colour rendition and have worked to improve it with the mark ii, so the question will be: does the camera produce better pictures than Sony's cameras.  If so, customers may be happy to splash out.  Before a camera is released all we have to go on are specs, and people can get easily blinded by the numbers.  The end decision of whether to get this camera will be when we see the quality of the image.  The way camera technology is changing, everyone is looking to upgrade and the question becomes when you are going to make the next purchase, rather than if.

A cheaper option than the mark 2 is the original Canon C300, compared here to the  FS7 .

Sony FS7 vs Canon C300

When the Sony FS7 came out I was expecting the price to be way higher considering its pretty unbelievable numbers on paper.  When you consider the price of Sony's F55, this thing is incredibly cheap.  Here is how it stacks up side by side to the Canon C300

   FS7  Canon C300
Sensor  Super 35mm Super 35mm

Resolution 

 4k HD 1080
Slow mo  180 @ 1080  60fps @720
ISO sensitivity  2000  850
Dynamic range  14 stops  12 stops
Record format XAVC   10 bit MXF    8 bit

 

The FS7 retails for around $8k in the US and £6k in the UK.  By comparison the C300 currently retails for far more (around £8k UK, $11.5k USA)  However, over the past months Sony have been shifting massive quanties of the FS7 and Canon aren't stupid, they know they must bring the price down.

Today B&H announced a massive price drop and are now selling the Canon EF at $6499.  This is priced perfectly to compete with Sony's FS7.  It is surely only a matter of time before other retailers start making similar reductions.  

So which is the right camera to buy?  This obviously depends on who is buying.  If you own a large number of Canon lenses already,  then this may push you towards a C300 (once the price drops), otherwise the FS7 specifications look a lot more attractive.  The third option, is to wait.  It seems Canon will definitely be announcing a new camera before long.  One of the big bugbears of C300 users is the ergonomics of the camera, and the FS7 is much the same as the C300 in that sense.

This is a very unscientific test of the two cameras side by side, but it does help give a sense of the picture quality and the dynamic range of the two cameras. NB This isn't my test, just something I stumbled across on Vimeo.

One part of the video that surprised me was the weired purple fringing in the highlights on the FS7.  If you look at the last few shots, take a look at the trees in the background at the centre of the image.  When I switched between the FS7 and C300 I felt that the FS7 didn't have a particularly filmic look, instead it had more vibrant TV colours.  Having said that, this could have been down to the weired fringing isue.  That is enough for me to stear clear of the FS7 for now, but I am sure Sony will fix this in later updates.

Interestingly, sales companies in the UK have been struggling to keep up with demand and can't access enough FS7s.  However, they have also said that C300 owners are not trading many cameras in at the moment, so it seems that many C300 owners are waiting to see what will happen next.

I see the FS7 being taken up by shooting APs or small companies,  as the price for the cameras specifications can't be beat.   As for me, the first camera I ever owned had a retail price of around 50k, since then prices have dropped and I bought my most recent camera the C300 at 12k (3 years ago).  I would prefer to see a few improvements in terms of ergonomics and form factor. If a new camera came out that addressed these issues, then I wouldn't mind spending a bit more money.

If you are thinking of buying the Sony FS7 it is definitely worth reading Dan Chung's review on the camera.  He as spent time shooting with it on paid jobs, so his thoughts go well beyond a few technical specs.  Also The Delivery Men (those who shot the above video test).

Underwater and Surf Photography

There is a lot to like about this video.  Surf shots can get predictable sometimes, endless perfect glassy waves with surfers in the barrel.  They are impressive, but there are so many of those kinds of pictures and videos about.  I love the fact that Ray Collins has managed to capture something totally different.

 

It is all the more impressive that he isn't a full time photographer.  Working down a mine in Australia can't be an easy job, and getting out filming in the water must the perfect antidote.

Check out the photos from Ray's book here.  There are some beautiful image there, which makes me realise that what ever you are filming or photographing, there is always away to do things differently.

Sound Recordist Video

It is almost impossible to watch this video and not laugh, especially if you have ever been asked to do a job at way under your day rate.

Branded Content and Packshots

Branded content is a big deal these days. Over the past few years I have worked with a large number of brands from Nike to Rolex to Dior to Heineken the list goes on and on.  If there is one thing that is really important when filming branded content, it is the packshot.  A packshot is a shot of the product, pure and simple.  It should be obvious, this is what the client is trying to sell, so of course the packshot should look amazing.  However, as the scope of branded content grows and the filming gets ever more elaborate, it is easy to forget this.  Think of it this way, the marketing types and those high up in the company might not notice the quality of the camerawork, the music, the audio etc, but there is one thing they will notice for sure: the brand.  Whether the brand is an object, a logo or just a name it needs to be given a bit of attention.

This is a frame grab from a slow move in on a test shot.  Lighting this was a bit of a challenge.  Watches are always a bit tricky to light.  The problem is, glass reflects.  You need to shine lots of light into the face to bring it alive and get the numbers and hands on the watch to pop out, but you don't want the light bouncing back into the lens.  It's also tricky when you have a black background as you don't want light spilling all over the backdrop causing it to look grey rather than black. Finally, the hardest bit, and probably the most important, the brand name must be well lit.

 

Each light source hits the watch at an angle to reduce glare from the watch face.  The main light source is reflected from a large poly behind the watch.  This helped light the lower section of the watch, but left the brand name in darkness.  The smaller polyboard was then used to highlight the brand name and the upper portion of the watch.  The light here was a small dedo (anything more powerfull could have spilled onto the black background) which was reflected back using a silver poly just infront of the watch (left of the watch in the diagram above).

 

This was filmed with a macro lens and around 2.8f.  The wide aperture was used so that the face would be sharp but the watch strap was soft.

 

Architectural Lighting

I love filming interesting architecture.  I find good architecture fascinating and I like the challenge of bringing a 3D space to life on a 2D screen.  The video below is actually a photography "how to".  The photographer uses a flash gun to add interesting texture and light.  He then stacks up several layers of photos and cuts in the details he needs.   So what is a photography video doing on my cameraman blog?  Essentially you could create the same thing with video, rather than using a flash you would just use many small lights (such as dedos) the only additional challenge would be in hiding all the cables.  The reason I think this works well as a tutorial, even if you are shooting video, is that it is easy to see the effect each light makes.  As each light is added you can see the effect it has in the overall picture.  

In this type of situation I would possibly shoot 2 layers, the first for an interesting sky, and the 2nd for the lights that are being switched on around the building.  I sometimes shoot 2 versions of a shot in case the editor wants to cut in a plate, especially if I am shooting a timelapse.  More than 2 layers and it probably gets a bit much for an editor to be messing around with, so I would hope to light the building all in one go.  Obviously, you are going to be restricted by the number of lights you have at your disposal.   On architectural type programmes there may not be time to light every shot, however, I would say the one master shot of the house it is probably worth while.  The full article can be found here.

Canon C300 mark 2

With NAB in the USA coming in April and BVE in the UK opening it's doors tomorrow, people are going to be curious about the future for the Canon Cinema EOS line.

The Canon C300 was originally sold for £12k and did incredibly well for several years.  At this price bracket you now have the Sony F5, which has better slow motion capabilities and also works better as a shoulder mounted camera.  This puts the C300 slightly lower down the rankings.  Sony then releases an incredibly high spec camera for the price with the FS7.

Sony's FS7 sells new for just over £5k / $8k, whereas the C300 now cost well over £8k.  The FS7 shoots 4k and has slow mo up to 180fps at HD 1080.  Canon are obviously going to have to improve the C300 spec with the mark 2 to keep it selling units.  Personally, I think they will make a few improvements, but I don't imagine them droping the price too far to compete with the FS7.  Although 4k looks like it will be on the menu, I am not so sure about the high frame rates for slow motion.  Canon has always been a bit behind with regards to high speed and has placed more emphasis on its colour pallet and skin tones.  

In order for the C300 to become really competative again, they obviously need to look at ergonomics and make it more of a shoulder mount camera, which would put it well beyond the FS7 end of the market, regardless of specs.  With a decent shoulder mount set up the camera would then be able to compete with the Sony F5 and maybe even the Arri Amira, although a lot would need to be done to get there.

I can imagine updates such as 4k, improved picture quality through colour rendition, and a few minor tweaks being ready for NAB, but whether a shoulder mount version will be released then who knows.  Canon have already made noises about competing with the likes of Arri so you can guarantee a better spec shoulder mount camera will be here in the near future.

How to ensure you get paid as a freelancer

I have been working as a freelancer for years and have always been paid, that said it is worth taking a few precautions. 

 
As a freelance cameraman there are a few things you can do to ensure you get paid. There are preventative measures you can take to ensure you are working for the right people, but if things go wrong and clients refuse to pay, there are also tactics that could help you get the money you are owed.
 
Most people will tell you to make sure you have a contract with your employer, however, in the world of TV, this is pretty unrealistic. If you are working a contract over a few months you may get a contract, but for most short term jobs an email or phone call might be all you get.  This being said there is plenty you can do to protect yourself.  
 
If your job offer is just a telephone call, getting it in writing is a good idea. Even if you just email them back to confirm the rate, the hours, the number of days etc, you will have a contract of sorts and proof you have been employed to do a job.
 
If you don't know the company, do a little research.  Do they have a habit of not paying people? Are they easy to contact? Do they have a physical address? All of things will help you access the company when you need to get paid.  If it is a big contract you could even ask around and find out what other freelancers say.  I would always be more cautious of working for an individual, as companies tend to be easier to contact when it comes to getting paid.
 
If you aren't sure about the company, ask for payment up front, or maybe ask for half of the fee and the other half on completion.  When I am asked to work for a company based abroad, I always ask for the fees up front, the reason being it is much harder to take these companies to court or even contact them if they decide not to pay.  I find companies are happy to pay up front as they understand the risk involved.
 
Be clear about your payment terms and stick to them.  I give 30 days as this is standard in the uk.  After that date I will remind the client. I always remain friendly and professional as I understand companies may struggle with cash flow, or may have simply forgotten the payment. I usually want these companies to employee me again, so it doesn't make much sense for me to send Joe Pesci around to their accounts department with a baseball bat.
 

What happens if you do the work, but don't get paid?

Firstly, it is worth being persistent.  Find the right accounts contact and email them.  If you still haven't receieved the money after your payment term, gently remind them.  If you still don't receive anything it is worth calling to clear things up, just to make sure they haven't lost the invoice or paid it into the wrong account.  Although 30 days in the standard payment term, some companies may regularly wait two or even three months before they pay freelancers to aid their cash flow.  Although this is frustrating there isn't much you can do about it, other than email them reminders.

What if they refuse to pay you?  If you still don't get paid, then you may want to lean on them a little harder, this is a last resort as it will certainly destroy your working relationship.  The footage you shoot is your intelectual property, which you are selling to your emplyeer.  If they don't pay you, then that property is still yours. This is a point you could easily make to the broadcaster or brand or whoever the end client is for this material.  Obviously this is going to cause a major headache to whoever employed you and they may find it prefereable to just pay you what you are owed.

What if this still doesn't work?  It is worth remembering that governments want business transactions to run smoothly and for individuals and companies to get paid.  Whatever country you live in, there is probably some sort of system that can help if you aren't getting paid as a freelancer.  In the UK there is  the Small Claims Court which deals with small amounts of money owed (under 10,000 UKP).  Although this sounds like a lot of trouble, especially if the amount of money you are claiming is really small, you may not need a solicitor or even have to go to court.  Just registering the claim online means that a court date is set and a letter is sent to the person or company who owes you money.  The letter alone could be enough for your client to pay up, as they may not want to go to court.

 
 
 
 

NFTS Lighting Course Review

For a several years I have been keen to try out the Lighting Course at the National Film and Television School.  Most of what I film is factual programming, so working in a purely film and drama context on a week's lighting course was something that has always appealed to me.

I picked the NFTS as it has a reputation as being one of the best film schools in the world, the list of alumni is pretty incredible and includes the likes of Roger Deakins.

(Above lighting for pack shots)

The course is limited to 8 people at a time, although this means it is heavily oversubscribed and places go quickly, once you are on the course you get plenty of hands on time with the kit.  

The tutor was Derek Suter BSC.  One of the first things he said was, he didn't want to talk too much and instead prefered us to learn by using the equipment.  For me this was perfect, I didn't really fancy a week looking at a white board discussing theory. The course is sponsored by Panavision and Panalux, so the first thing we did was unload a delivery from them, a truck full of lighting equipment.  

(Below setting up for daytime external shoot)

Over the week we shot: pack shots, daytime studio scenes, night time studio scenes, daytime scenes outdoors and nightime scenes outdoors.  The group was split into two, so you have four people per group, each person taking it in turns to be the DP, focus puller, operator or assistant.  There is also a highly experienced team around you.  We had a fantastic Gaffer, a really experienced Camera Assistant a Spark and Grip.  You end up learning just as much from each of these people, as each one of them is an expert in their own specific field.  On several days there were also two actors and a sound recordist.  Having the actors and sound really helped bring things to life.

(Below the Alexa with a beautiful Cooke 18-100 T3)

The cameras are always cabled up to a large monitor, so at any point you can go and check your work.  Sometimes both groups work on the same scene, so you can flick between the two monitors and see how each one is set up and being operated.

At the end of the week you get to see your footage in the cinema.  I have never seen anything I have shot blown up that big, so it is an experience in itself.  You realise why attention to detail is so important in the film world.  Using a certain filter softens skin tones suddenly serves its purpose when you see an actors face projected 5ft wide.

(Below, one of the actors gets ready for a take in the studio)

Apart from learning to light, you also pick up a lot of film making techniques.  Being a lighting cameraman I have always pulled focus for myself looking at the monitor.  Pulling focus for someone else, I learned to make measurements and feel the pace of the action and look at the distance marks, rather than looking at the monitor.  It felt odd at first, but once I gave up looking at the monitor and relied on the marks everything fell into place.

The following scene is shot with a 10k coming in through the blinds and a 1k inside the room pointing away from the actors bouncing off the wall.

This next scene has a 5k coming through the blinds with very little internal light to give a dark moody feel.

Each of these scenes is ungraded (shot at LogC 444 with a REC709 LUT added in post).

For more information on the short courses on offer from the NFTS check out their website.

 

How to shoot a basic interview

Here is the situation: you have been given a room to shoot an interview in, you have never seen the room before, you can't change and move to a different room.  Sound familiar?  This is the bread and butter work for a lot of cameramen.  Sometimes you can move to a different spot, sometimes you have a small recce, but often you just have to deal with what you have been given.  

 

Here is an example:

The interview setting above needed to be nondiscript.  It was filmed in London, but for the purposes of the documentary, it could not be identified as such.  The room was empty and so there was a chance the shot could look a bit dull. 

In order create a more interesting background, I decided to use the overhead chandliers as a backdrop.  I needed to use the entire length of the room to do this.  If I was too close to the overhead light, I would end up shooting at too extreme an angle.  Fiming from below is rarely a good idea, you end up looking up their nose.  So in order to get the chandalier in shot I needed a slight angle and a long room.

 I then position the camera so the chandalier was lined up in the mirror.  The light on the far left of the image is the chandalier, further right is its reflection and further right still the rainbow of light is where the reflection hits the join in the mirror.  (This was a lucky find).

That gave me three practicle background lights, all overhead.  The rest of the shot looked dark by comparison, so to even it up I lit the bottom left back wall with a dedo, highlighting the gold pattern on the wall.

The end result I think is an image which could be anywhere.

Here are a few tips to get the most out of a room:

 

1)  Start and the far corner of the room as this gives you the biggest aspect, the most depth and the most options.  Look around from here in each direction trying to envisage what a small section of that shot will look like.

2)  Use what is around you to break up the background and give interest.  

3) Your subject needs to be the focus of the interview.  Typically people's eyes will be drawn to odd shapes so try not to make the background too busy.

 

Canon C300 Custom picture colour matrix

 

Acurate colour rendition verse a beautiful look.

I recently worked on a programme filming famous paintings.  Colour reproduction in these works of art was obviously very important.  With a normal scene an editor or colourist can change the picture and grade the scene how he or she likes, with a work of art there is a very clear right way and a wrong way, and what is more, the editor might not have a reference image of how the picture should look. You might think this would be easy, surely a camera will acurately reproduce colours, but this simply isn't true.  Cameras have a certain "look" or feel to them, this is done by the way in which they interpret colour.    This is true of all colours but it is particularly noticable with green.  If you point your camera at a colour chart like a colour du monde and turn on your vector scope, you will notice some colours are more acurately reproduced than others.

If you point your camera at various sections of the chart it will quickly become obvious which sections of the chart refer to which sections on the vector scope.  Regardless of which CP profile your camera is set to I bet the colours running across the top row and down the right side of the chart come in fairly acurately and the colours down the lower left corner of the chart do not.  If you flick through the various picture profiles on your camera you will see how the vectorscope changes.  The most dramatic change will be from the CINEMA Clog profile, giving a very flat reponse. 

 

Remember when reading a vector scope it is important to look at the vectors the colours are on, and not just whether the colours sit inside the box or not.

 

Lets take the colour red for example.  Red is located top left on the vector scope.  In the image above the red is sitting exactly correct in the box.  If the response from the camera was slightly left or right of the box the hue of the colour would be different: slightly more yellow if it was left and slightly more magenta if it was right.

Being further or nearer the centre mark represents chroma.  Typically any gamma curve desinged to hold highlights is going to move those marks closer to the centre, however, the colour hues might still be correct i.e. on the right vector.

It is important to note that on the C300 when you change your picture profile you are changing both the gamma curve and the colour matrix.  These have the same names "normal 1" "EOS standard" "Cinema" etc, however, you don't have to use the two in conjunction.  You could easily choose the Colour matrix of "Normal 4" but have the "Cine 2" gamma.  The gamma of course protects the highlights and deals with luminance rather than effecting the colour.

Before this gets too technical, here is a real world example.  A director and I noticed that on the painting we were filming the green was wildly different in the monitor, but the other colours we pretty accurate.  I quickly spun through a few picture profiles on the camera and strangely the one which gave the most acurate green was "EOS Standard."  However, I don't like filming with EOS Standard as I find the colours pop out way too much:  red goes insane jumping off the picture and highlights blow out really easy.  I then remembered the matrix setting.  I dialed the matrix setting to "EOS Standard"  and then I set the gamma curve to "Cine 2" as this preserved the highlights without creating an overly flat image.

 

This was just a quick fix on the job, but it seemed to do the trick.  It got me thinking though, what happens when you need very acurate colour, not just a pretty picture?  What if grass fills lots of your screen or you a doing a commercial involving limes, do you want to send mustard coloured grass or blueish limes to the edit?  I am picking up green specifically here as I am aware that green is the colour that cameras often treat unusually, not just C300s.  Cameras on the whole are designed to shoot acurate skin tones, as far as other colours and hues go, cameras are on the whole aiming to create a beautiful over all look rather than acurately reproduce each colour.

I later had a play around with the various colour matrix too see which produced the most acurate results.  I used the SMPTE colour chart below as I  found this a bit simpler to read.

This backed up thoughts I'd had before about the EOS matrix.  The green colour does get a bit more acurate, and the chroma on the red does jump up.   Of all the profiles I had loaded up on my camera the one which looked the most acurate on the vector scope was from Ablecine.  (There is a link to download this on a previous blog I wrote about gamma curves on the C300.)  

 

Having descovered this, I am not now going to shoot everything I do on the Ablecine profile.  Getting beautiful pictures isn't about simply recreating colours exactly.  However, there are times when you look though the monitor and feel that you aren't getting the image you want.  Going through the colour matrix settings and then selecting a gamma curve afterwards seems like it could be a good fix.  You can of course alter the values of all of these colours to produce your own matrix settings, however, this isn't something I'd like to do without a dedicated vector scope and I am happy just to download a few profiles from trusted sources.

 

Macro lens test and review with EF 100mm 2.8L

Having some kind of macro capability is often handy to have on a shoot.  Maybe you are filming a watch being made or you are watching the reflection of the object in someone's eye, and you only want the eye in frame, I have done both of these shots more than once and for this you need a macro.  (Below is a gratuitous macro shot I took in my garden)

I thought I'd compare the macro capabilites of the following lens combinations and see how they did.  All of these images are taken on the Canon C300.  

1) Canon 70-200mm L 2.8 IS

2) Canon 24-70mm L 2.8

3) Canon 100mm IS macro

4) All of the above with the Canon macro extension tube.

 

This first image was taken using the 24-70mm at the closest focus range at 70mm.  I had never used this as a macro lens before, and was surprised by how good it was.  You can really get in there with it, and it gives you a way bigger image than the 70-200mm which I hadn't expected.  The note covered is about 8cm across, filling the screen.

 

This next image is from the 70-200mm at 200mm

 

The image below is 70-200 again, this time with the macro barrel, which allows you to focus that bit closer.

 

This next one is the 24-70mm with the macro barrel attached.  Really amazed by this one.

This is the Canon 100mm macro lens IS.  As you'd expected, it is the closest of the bunch.  The across section filling the screen is only about 2cm wide.  

Just for interest I thought I'd chuck the Macro barrel on the 100mm macro lens.  Apologies for this terrible shot, I was doing this all hand held and struggling with light so it all looks a bit soft, but you can get this close if you really need to.

 

 

The Canon 100mm macro is obviously quite a bit more expensive than the macro barrel.  This is hardly surprising when you consider that barrel is really just air - there is no glass in it, the barrel just transmits the info from the lens to the camera and creates a gap, so your closest focusing distance becomes nearer.

 

So what do you get for your money when you spend the extra on the Canon 100mm macro?  Firstly the lens gives you the best macro cababilities and you get the closest images.  Secondly it is image stabilised, this is really handy when shooting this close to something as the slightest woble is magnified. Thirdly 100mm makes sense for macro work more that 70mm on the 24-70mm.  To get the shot I have above with the 24-70 and the macro barrel I had the lens centimeters from the object.  This can cause a few issues when you are shooting - you could quite easily block your light source, and if you are shooting a person - their eye for example, the lens would be almost touching their face, which would be a bit weired.

One final pluss point for the macro lens is it is quite a bit easier to focus than when using a barrel.   The barrel also gets rid of the infinity end of the focus spectrum.  

Here are each of the lenses used in this little test including the barrel.

EF 24-70mm

alt     alt

EF 70-200 

alt  alt

EF25 ii Extension tube 

 alt    alt

EF 100mm macro 2.8L IS

alt

 

Creative Framing

One of the things about learning to do something the "correct" way is that it can easily become such a habit that you never look outside these rules.  With composition, we get so conditioned to placing objects in the screen using the 2/3rds rule that it becomes second nature.  Often, when I see something that I feel is shot beautifully it is because it breaks these rules.  In the clip below there are some great shots, but it is worth looking at the portrature, the way people faces and bodies are framed.

 

Faces aren't always where you expect them (occupying 2/3rds of the screen looking into the space section of the frame).  Sometimes just the smallest part of the body or face is shown, just an eye or even the back of someones head, but you get the sense of it and you don't need to see the entire face or body on a standard mid shot.

 

I love this shot of the man below.  Reflexively, most cameramen, myself included, would pan right and a touch down on this image and end up with a very standard shot.  It takes a bit of forethought and concentration to mix things up and get these kinds of compositions.

Again, the temptaion is to show more of what is going on, but we dont' always need it.  The actual amount of in focus face here is tiny, just and eye in the furthest 6th chunk of the screen and the vast majority of the screen is just one out out of focus colour.  The image is beautiful because of the composition.

 

Another one that breaks the rules.  Loads of head space, subject in the middle of the screen, most of the face missing everything you are taught not to do when you first start composing photos or filming interviews, it is breaking these rules that make the image work.  

There are loads of other shots within that clip that break the rules of compostion in a similar way.  Most of them just flick up on the screen for a few seconds and yet that is plenty of time for us as a viewer to relalise what is going on.

Recently I have been trying to inject a bit of creative framing into a couple of the projects I am working on.  It is really good to stop and re asses the rules we have been taught.

Double Exposure and Negative Space

I have worked on a few projects lately that rely heavily on negative space.  It seems odd to be employing the same shooting technique on completely unrelated projects, but I guess this is something of a trend at the moment.  I thought I'd outline two of the projects here.  The first is a branded video, and the second is a promo/advert both of the projects employ a technique of double exposure to make them work.

 

This image is a good example of double exposure (with the tree element there are actually three images at play)

 

This next image is a frame of one of my images (just an ungraded shot)

 

Here the workers face is used as a canvas, but you could just as well shoot this wider to make the head smaller, and then use the negative space as a canvas if you prefered.   This isn't a green screen shoot, the worker is in his normal work environment, but his head is easy to cut out as it is heavily differentiated from the background.  This differentiation can come from either using a tiny depth of field and seperate the background, or extreme lighting to create contrast. 

In this shot we got most of the light using what was already available.  The lift and the area just outside is brightly lit and so contrast well with the darker walls.  All we had to do was light the worker as he came out of the lift and we have an image that can be used for double exposure.  Here it is the framing that works, shooting this tight would mean you only have a lit area with no contrast, the wider shot gives us darkness.

 

In the above examples contrast is used to pull out a feature of the picture and seperate it from the background.  However, you can also use a small amount of contrast, especially if there is a large area of darkness onto which you can comp your second image.  In the next image the negative space takes up most of the screen.  Here I stopped the camera down heavily and used a shaft of bright light to give to illuminte the model's face.  This is for a different project, but the basic concept is similar.

 

There are other shots from this sequence with even smaller amounts of light, where literally only one eye is lit.  Sometimes I had the model stand by the window into the blazing sun and stopped down, to throw the background into total darkness, and sometimes I shot in a blacked out room and just used a tiny shaft of light from a dedo to highlight a small area. 

 

Before starting this project the Director and I found images we liked from videos that we thought looked beautiful or had an interesting textural quality and that we knew would lend themsleves to the double exposure treatment.  

 

This is a shot that I love from director Eliot Rauch's film Remember.  Here the light drifts down the actors body with the camera.  Eliot Rauch is the guy who came up with that incredible film "Last Minutes with Oden", if you aren't familear with it, it is definitely worth checking out.  It's a film that came out back when many of us where getting into shooting with DSLRs and it let me know what was possible.

 

Another image here is worth something that just works well, it looks visually interesting and you automatically have that high contrast with no lighting needed.  These shots are useful as they are so quick to shoot, it can get you out of a whole when you are pushed for time.

Here is another shot which again just relies on natural light.  This one is from a short called Gravity. The framing and contrast here would give you something to use for double exposure without having lots of complicated keying work to do in post.

 

To sum up, here is a quick list of stuff that I think works and stuff that doesn't.

 

Does work:

1) High contrast.

2) Shallow depth of field with close foreground and distant background.

3) Objects that are large and fill most of the screen.

4) Objects that are very small and use only a small amount of the screen with a uniform background.

5) Unusal framing where our intest is drawn to edges of the screen.

 

Doesn't work:

1) Busy scenes with too much going on.

2) Even lighting

 

Finally, the title sequence to The True Detective.  A peice that without doubt drives the trend along.

 

 

How to film works of art

I have been filming lots of art work recently for a BBC strand and an independent production company.  Although it is relatively straight forward to get this right, I thought I'd write a few notes up, as many people get this wrong and make a mess of it.  

 

F-stop:  It isn't a good idea to shoot paintings wide open as it is very easy for the edges of the paintings to be out of focus, while the centre is sharp (due to the relative distances from the lens).  Stop the camera down a bit, 5.6 tends to be the sweet spot for most lenses, if you have enough light you could go further.

Framing:  Set your tripod up so the head is right in the centre of the painting, from both a height and width perspective. 

White balance:  Light the painting and then take a reading from a white card right infront of the painting.  It is essential to get this absolutely spot on.  Experts will be used to the colours used in a painting, get it wrong and you'll know all about it.  Usually there are no true whites on paintings, so the editor will have no reference point, meaning colour correction afterwards will be very tricky.  

Lighting:  Having filmed in lots of galleries over the past month I can safely say most gallery lighting is horrible.  Typically painting are lit with harsh spot lights from the cealing giving very harsh hot spots.  Get rid of these lights, turn them off if you can, point them away from the painting if you can't.  Light with something very soft, I used a kino flo with a flozier over the top, which worked well.

Reflections:  The hardest bit about filming paintings is dealing with reflections.  Even without a glass frame, glossy paint will reflect a bit, so the light source needs to be a soft as possible.  If the paintings are in a glass frame you could ask the gallery to remove it.  If this isn't possible there are a couple of work arounds:  1)You can try filming the painting from a distance on a longer lens, this way you won't be able to see the camera in the relection as easily.  2) Another option is to film behind a black drape and just poke the lens through a gap.

MoVI M10 and the Canon C300

Ever since Freefly Systems bought out the MoVI M10, I have been curious to see how it would handle a C300.  DSLRs and, to an extent, RED cameras are solid brick shapes that can be balanced fairly, easily whereas the C300 has a tall narrow body with a high centre of gravity.  It does take a bit of balancing to get it right, but once it is locked in it works really well.

 I won't go into how to set this up here, as it is covered well elsewhere (Freefly have a series of videos that take you through the set up process.)

Here are just a few tips for using a MoVI, particularly with a C300.

The first thing to be aware of is that this thing will take a long time to set up (if it isn't already set for your exact camera with the same lens, battery, etc. ) The reason for this is the weight and size of the rig.    Before starting to shoot the MoVI must be balanced perfectly, there are several variables to adjust and this will take a while to get right, especially when doing it for the first time.  Getting the right rental company is essential, you need somewhere you can go to the day before your shoot and start setting the rig up.  If you are in London I'd recommend Catalyst Cameras.  Anita is hugely helpful when it comes to helping set your camera up.

The best thing to do is take your camera and lens along to the rental company and get it set up, there is no way you want to be doing this job in the middle of a shoot.  You need to take everything you'll be attaching to the rig, exactly as you intend to use it.  Even something as light as memory cards will make a difference to the balance.   If you intend to use a few different lenses it is a good idea to mark the base of the camera where the balance point is for each lens, that way when you are on the shoot, you can quickly make adjustments when changing lenses.  Catalyst Cameras in London are amazing, not only are they really helpful, they also have every conceivable bit of kit neatly packaged up in the MoVI kit box.  If you need a screw to mount your monitor, a lightweight BNC or HDMI cable, a screwdriver, allen key, whatever every single thing is right there in the box.

 

In order to get the C300 working on the MoVI you need to remove the handgrip, the eye piece and obviously the top handle and LCD.  Since you'll be monitoring off an external monitor, rather than the LCD, you should send the camera display info through to the monitor, otherwise you will only have the tiny back panel on the back of the camera, which isn't ideal.   NB  Pulling the communication jack from the hand grip can sometimes make the camera buttons freeze up.  If this happens just pull out the jack and re insert.  It is also worth making sure that you have assigned the camera functions, so that every button you need is on the side of the camera, on not on one of the bits that you have just removed.

 

It is worth keeping the weight down as much as possible, although the rig feels light it starts to burn the biceps after a while.  I used my TV logic 5.6 mounted on the rig and a 17-55 lens, I wouldn't recommend anything too much bigger and heavier.

 

Once you have your MoVI balance correctly, it doesn't take very long to set up each time you need to use it.  You can pack it down and then just slide the camera on to the correct point and you are ready to go.

 

I love shooting with the MoVI, it is a really great bit of kit and highly addictive.

 

 

 

Shooting in Low light with Canon C300 picture profile

I was asked to shoot a music video for American act, Austin Mahone the other week.   The job was pretty last minute and the label wanted to shoot it around the main scenic tourist spots of London.   Everything had to be shot at night, partly for the look of it, and partly so we could actually move around London easily.  The only issue was there was no room for any lighting at all.  We had to be extremely manoverable and so kit was kept to a bare minimum (not even a tripod).  

I wanted a picture profile that could handle extremely low light.  Clog, seemed a bad idea as you immediately lose a few stops of light with this profile, and also that profile is aimed at preserving highlights, of which there would be very few when shooting in almost complete darkness.

 

Many of the C300 picture profiles contain some sharpening, which I really didn't want.  If there is any noise in the picture, the last thing you want is for a digital sharpening effect to highlight it.  If you are doing this on the fly and want a quick picture profile that works best in low light, I would recommend using Normal 1, with all the sharpening removed.  

Able Cine have a specially made low light picture profile, which is very similar to Normal 1 with sharpening removed although they have also changed the colour matrix slightly to aid shooting in low light.  I used it here and am pretty happy with the results.

Click here to download the low light profile from AbleCine and see the video below.

 

4k Camera Comparison

Of late there have been so many new 4k cameras coming to the market, I thought it was time for a quick round up of what is about.

 

Camera Resolution Slow motion Price USD Dynamic range
Black Magic PC 4k None 2k 13 stops
Blackmagic Ursa 4k 100fps 6k -6.5k 12 stops
AJA Cion 4k 60fps (120fps externally) 9k 12 stops
Canon 1dc 4k  60fps at 1080 10k  12 stops
Panason Vari Cam 35 4k 120fps ? 14 stops
RED Epic 5k 120fps at 4k 17.5k 13.5 stops
Canon C500 4k 120fps (external) 20k 12 stops
Sony F55 4k

150/180 fps

(240fps external)

29k 14 stops

 

Blackmagic URSA   AJA Cion

 

Of course, resolution and frame rates are only a tiny peice of the story.  Usability, the actual dynamic range, colour handling, funtionality, from things like view-finders, shoulder mounts inputs outputs etc etc, will all effect whether a camera is worthwhile buying and not the sort of thing you can work out from a press release.

The Blackmagic Ursa does look like it goes along way towards becoming what camera operators would actually need and want from a camera.  The design is not disimilar to older ENG cameras: with audio outputs where they should be (at the back of the camera) a decent top handle and it also looks fairly well balanced.  It is also a camera that can be upgraded later by the user, and even the chip itself can be replaced later down the line if something more advanced is made available.

 

If you are interested in shooting lots of slow motion, the Red Epic is interesting as can shoot 120fps at 4k and can shoot up to 300fps on a sliding scale with resolution dropping down from 4k.  This is amazing when you consider how much people were paying for phantom shoots only a few years back.

Sony F55As far as ergonomics and usability go the Sony F55 is definitely up at the top.  Sony have been making ENG cameras for years, and the F55 is a nice block of a camera to stick on your shoulder and it has a proper view finder in the right place.

Although I don't imagine many productions demanding 4k anytime soon, having the ability to shoot slow motion is always going to be a pull for directors, especially when it is in camera.

For me a massive question about any of these cameras would be reliablitily.  If you are shooting in New York, London or another big city and your AJA Cion stops working, you might be able to get another quickly from a rental house, or you might be able to get it fixed quickly.  I do so many shoots in far off places, I need to know, beyond a shaddow of a doubt that the camera is 100 percent reliable, or if there is an issue there is somewhere I can find get the issue resolved.

Although there is no exact price on the Panasonic yet, they have been rivals of Sony for years, with earlier versions of the varicam and we can expect the price to be pretty close to that of the F55.  The word on the internet seems to be the price will be "under 60k USD" Although that is pretty obvious, since the F55 is way under that.

 

varicam 35 4kMany people will probably be wondering whether the price of the Epic/Panasonic Vari 35/Sony F55 will drop as a result of these new cheaper alternatives.  It is hard to say, but personally, I don't think so. The prices are so different they are really separate markets.  A DoP thinking of buying a new F55 might be easily persuaded to buy the Panasonic instead if the price is better, but I dont imagine the same is true of the cheaper 4k cameras.  Apart from anything else, owning a camera most production managers have never heard of means you'd have to do a lot of explaining and persuading to get it on a job.  So who will buy the new New BM Ursa or Aja Cion?  I can see independent fim makers buying these, or small production companies buying them as their in house cameras.    Having said that, what about the 1DC?  Desptie the 1DC dropping its original price down to 10k, it is still 10,000 US dollars for a stills camera.  The blackmagic Ursa is a fair bit cheaper and on paper looks like a much more usable film camera.  If Canon still want to pitch the 1DC to independant film makers they may have to further reduce their prices.

 

One thing is for sure, cameras shapes and sizes are merging back towards what we first had with ENG cameras like the Beta SP, DigiBeta etc.  All of these new offering look very similar.  Manufacturers have obviously seen how all us operators have been struggling along for the past few years, with odd shaped boxes on our shoulders and a whole load of 3rd party periferals attached to the camera.  Most of these new cameras seem to have lept forward in ergonoimics as well as technology.

Further reading:

4K Cameras: Should I care

 

ethics

I have been writing blog articles for around 2 years.   I recently joined the B&H and Amazon Affiliate programmes.  If you buy anything through one of these links on my site, I earn a small commission.  This will not effect the kind of reviews I write.  On the whole I tend to write about equipment I use on a regular basis, if I am using it is probably because I like it, and not because I will earn a couple of dollars if someone buys it through Amazon.

If you need to buy something from B&H or Amazon, consider getting there through clicking on one of the links on my site, as that is what keeps the site running, and encourages me to write more articles.

 

   

4k cameras should i care

There seems to be a mass of 4k cameras becoming available.  The latest offering from NAB in Las Vagas talk about cameras with better and better specs, for cheaper and cheaper prices.  So when do you ditch your HD camera, in favour of something that shoots 4k?

As a cameraman it is always good to be slighltly ahead of the game.  When a Production Manager phones up and asks you to shoot on a certain camera or format, it always works best if you can say yes, rather than phone a rental company, get specs and prices and call them back.  When people were first getting interested in shooting on DSLRs I got in early.  I had the rig, the right lenses, knew the right way to record audio and knew what was acheivable and what wasn't.  The bottom line was, I got good work and made good money.  The same was true when the Canon C300 came out, I pre ordered the camera and was ready to go as soon as the interest started.

It wasn't that easy with every camera buying decision.  In the early days of HD I managed to get a very good deal on a Sony F900 with a friend.  The F900 was, I guess, the Arri Amira or the Sony F55 of its day, it was used to shoot Star Wars III, it was capabable of shooting HD at 24p 25p or 30p, which was very unusal at that time.  Most TV productions back then were shooting with Digi Beta, whilst lower budget work (news, sports, corporate) were beginging to shoot on DVCAM.  The Sony F900 was streets ahead of these cameras and I was hoping I could clean up.  I didn't.  There were a few issues 1) The tapes cost several times more than the other cameras. 2) the decks for the tapes were 50k to buy, or a lot to rent and few companies owned them. 3) Editing systems often didn't have the space to capture everthing in HD.  When people called me to ask if I could should something in Digi Beta, I would try to persuade them to go HD at a reduced price and very often, the productions simply couldn't afford it.   The only work I got with it was on high end, high budget documetaries.  Meanwhile the value of the camera was droping like a stone.

Blackmagic ursaThe Black Magic Ursa, starting at under 6,000 dollars.  Records apple pro res 422, or RAW. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 AJA CionThe AJA Cion

4k

Apple Pro res 444 or 422

9000 USD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My point, in this rather long and drawn out story, is that it is good to be slightly ahead of the game, but there is no point in being years ahead of the game, as cameras devalue fairly rapidly.  This years NAB is awash with 4k cameras, each one cheaper than the last.  Camera manufacturer obviously want to push and sell new technology, and Sony have an added insentive as they can sell 4k TVs too.  However, it is good to keep the end user in mind, as this will ultimately be what drives demand and dictates whether you get a phone call asking to shoot 4k or not.  At present masses of channels aren't even broadcasting in HD yet, let alone 4k.  Loads of DVDs are being watched, which are not even HD and more and more people are watching content online - where 4k is likely to be a hinderance rather than something to be desired. 

With this in mind, how many people are likely to be dissatisfied with the resolution of their HD TV at home and want to upgrade to 4k?  In a cinema 4k makes sense to me, you have a huge screen and resolution could reasonably be improved, however, I am not sure the same can be said for  40 inch TV in the home.

This is not to say I think there will be no interest in 4k.  There are lots of points that will draw productions towards it, special effects work or even just edits where Directors want the option to crop into the image for a normal HD production.  4k also gives the cameraman the option to digitally zoom in and use super 16 size lenses for HD productions.  So 4k does have its benefits. Eventually TV, film, broadcasting and camera technology will push on ahead and 4k will be mainstream, however, I won't be buying a camera just becuase it shoots 4k before the phone calls start coming in.

Further reading:

Cnet.Why 4k TVs are stupid.  

Variety. Hollywood says "Meh to 4k TVs"

Canon C300 firmware update

I don't usually get that excited about firmware updates for the C300, as in the past the new features haven't been of much interest to me, however this latest issue (1.1.1.1.00) has a couple of features I have been wanting for ages.  

1) You can now assign a seperate funtion to the grip wheel and the funtion wheel, so you can now control iris and ISO on two seperate wheels.  You no longer have to press the function button several times.  At last!!!  I have been going on about this for ages! This will make shooting some much easier.

2) You can shift the area you zoom into to check focus.  This is something I always loved about the zoom in function on DSLRs so I am glad it made it over to the C300.  

3)  Although I haven't tested it yet, they new Canon Wide Dynamic Range profile looks pretty good.

 

When adding the new firware you need to format your SD card first, so it is a good idea to put any saved picture profiles you have on to your computer (not the camera like I did, which then got wiped when I updated the firmware).  Once you have dropped the FIM file onto your SD card you can scrol to Firmware and update on the camera.  

Warning!  The after the firmware update the camera sets everything to default.  This means the camera will set to interlaced, so don't forget to put everthing back to the shooting mode you want.

To set on scrol wheel to iris and the other to iso, go:  Menu>Settings>Custom function>Control Dial   and Grip Ctrl Dial.

Since I am on the subject of C300 menus, here are a couple of other functions I always assign as apposed to the defaults

1) Rec review >entire clip default or last 4 sec.  (the default is the entire clip for some reason)  Settings>Rec review

2) Settings>Custom Function>F.Assist B&W.  This isn't on as default, but I like it.  When you zoom in digitally in sets the screen to black and white, which one, helps with focus, especially with peaking on, and two means that you'll never make the mistake of thinking you are zoomed in on the lens.

Here is a list of all the updates from Canon:

Shooting Enhancements:

  • ISO up to 80,000
  • Wide DR Gamma
  • AE Shift
  • Select the metering mode
  • Flicker reduction
  • 1440x1080 35Mbps to Meet Broadcast Requirements
On-set Support
  • Multi-person Login for the Canon Wi-Fi® Remote Application
  • Record Button Lock
  • Ability to Assign ISO and Iris Operation to the Control Dial
  • Ability to move the magnification viewing area around the LCD using the MAGN Function.
  • Push Auto Iris/One-Shot AF
  • GPS Support
  • Support for New Remote Controller (Scheduled to be available June 2014)
 
 
 
 
 

How to take a still photo with canon c300

Taking a photo is not something I am often asked to do on a shoot, although recently I did a job where the client wanted a few publicity stills of the video.  There are two ways to do this on the C300.

1) In video mode.  Assign a button to "photo" and then click away whilst recording video.  The photos are stored on the SD card not the CF card.

2) In media mode. Assign a button to "photo". Pause the video and press the assigned photo button. As in video mode photos are saved to the SD card.

NB I tried to use the same button I had assigned when in video mode and it didn't work, so I then assigned a button in media mode on the top of the camera where many of the media mode buttons are, like play, pause etc are and this worked). 

Using the 2nd method is a great way of getting decent shots, having the choice of multiple frames is great as you never need to take photos when someone is blinking, grimacing etc and you can just role on to the next frame and take your picture.  These pictures are not the highest resolution and tend to be around the 1MB mark.  However this is plenty for the web, when blowing them up full screen on my iMac, the pictures looked great.

 

 

 

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