Personalising a Canon PowerShot

I’ve been after a Canon S110 or S120 as a backup camera for a while now. I have seen them used by various web video filmmakers and on things like MTV’s Catfish. I finally ordered one and thought I’d share Casey Neistat’s part review, part gripe, part customisation video of his favourite camera series.

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Increasing Dynamic Range on 5DMKii / 7D

Depending on the project, I still like to bring out my 5DMKii once in a while, especially if there is little use for dialogue. I’ve come to modifying the look and colour of projects in After Effects and relevant plug-ins and have learned that, to get the most from the camera, you need to shoot ‘flat’.

The camera is designed to shoot nice footage out of the box, as opposed to the grey flatness required, and, as such, loses picture detail due to its smaller dynamic range. Luckily, some nice people have already made picture profiles that you can download and Luka has created a video going through the relatively simple procedure, step-by-step:

Visit the video’s page for associated download links.

I’m not too sure about some of his colour grading choices (although I do like one against a leafy wall), but that’s down to you in post.

Also, you will see a Marvels Cine picture style if you download the picture styles pack. A new version has recently been released and will be the one I am working with next. Click for information and download of Marvel Cine Picture Style 3.X.

Alternatives to SxS in Sony EX1 and EX3

It’s well known how expensive SxS cards are for the EX series of video cameras and filmmakers quickly found ways to get cheaper storage. The most widely accepted way to do this was to get an expresscard adapter, such as the MxM adapter, and use SDHC cards. This is what I have in my EX3: the SxS card that came with the camera and 2x MxM adapters, with one 16gb SDHC and one 32gb SDHC. Those are the dedicated cards, but as we have several SDHC cards, we can just swap them out of the adapters where needed.

But now you can also get adapters where, instead of having an SDHC slot, you have a USB 2.0 port. This means you can plug in external hard drives or flash drives and store increasing amounts of media. These cards are similarly priced, see this MxM USB 2.0 adapter, but now cards are being made available at much more reasonable prices. Take, for instance ,this USB 2.0 expresscard for £5.03.

See the video below for this set-up in action (it’s not in English, but you get the picture):

He also has a video for an 8gb Sandisk Cruzer flash drive.

The RED ONE and The Cinematography of Winter’s Bones

If I was shooting a drama feature, a television pilot or really anything I could take my time over (soon enough), I would love to have a RED ONE. I was looking at the trailer for the upcoming film Source Code and found myself wondering what it was shot on. Turns out that they shot mainly on 35mm, with one segment using the RED – a technique that we are seeing a lot of now (this was also the case for Black Swan, albeit 16mm and Canon 5DMKiis and 7Ds). The director of Source Code, Duncan Jones, says in an interview that it was down to him seeing David Fincher’s test of Leonardo DiCaprio lit with a single match:

And Winter’s Bone: this is one that I kept hearing about but never managed to catch until the DVD release. Shot on a Red camera, with a partially inexperienced cast, this film is different and refreshing.

Here we have an interview with Michael McDonough, the cinematographer of Winter’s Bone, discussing the film.

The main benefits of the new large-sensor cameras, for me anyway, is the shallow depth of field, the ability to shoot amazing footage at low light levels and the price tag. That, along with the top-end systems available to consumers, levels the playing field and democratises filmmaking – but the content will always be king and hopefully it will result in a better range of entertainment.

UPDATE: More videos of remarkable things being done on RED cameras.

Sony PMW-EX3 or Panasonic AG-AF101?

The EX3 vs. AF101 (that’s the UK name for the AF100) debate was been raging on for years. Or since last year. The latter part.

The reason that these two cameras get pitted against each other so often is that they are both good and are in the right sort of price range for entry-level video production. I know this because I couldn’t make up my mind which one to select for a new video production role.

If I knew nothing about these cameras and someone was to briefly explain the idea behind each and its defining features, then I would opt for the AF101. I have been using a 5DMkii for video work and the successor to DSLR is very tempting. But that’s not the whole story and a little more depth is needed to make a proper decision, especially when you are faced with people with budgets, acquisition paperwork and – worst of all – some knowledge in the area. Each camera definitely has its place and ideally I would have one (or three) of each.

Let’s take a look at them individually, but without going into much technical detail. And by saying that, I mean that I’m not going to go into codecs or performance in low-light situations etc. as the scope on these doesn’t affect me too much – but if variations in these will affect you, you might want to take a closer look. Continue reading

Going Handheld with the Panasonic AG-AF101 (AG-AF100)

Panasonic AG-AF101 body image.

Having been delayed in being able to order my camera kit, my mind was wandering to other cameras. Especially the current internet sweetheart with all the buzz surrounding it: the Panasonic AG-Af101. This was actually my initial list-topper and has never left my mind, but there are a couple of drawbacks. One of these is the ability to go handheld, which is a must for a portion of my work.

The box shape of the AF101 is not very ergonomic and its petite size, whilst being very convenient in some (small area) situations, can hinder things that are not tripod shooting or shooting from the hip. One way to circumvent this problem is to invest in a shoulder-mounting system. There are many options out there and the ones listed below are merely to show the range and differences available.

The Premium Option

Handheld kit from Abelcine.com

Panasonic AG-AF100 (AF101) Handheld Kit from Abelcine

If your source for handheld mounts is limited to video production shops, whether online or physical real-life, you are likely to encounter only the premium kind. These are usually built very precisely, counter-balanced appropriately and more-or-less ideal for the camera and job at hand.

That’s all fine if you can afford to pay 150-200% of what you already spent on the camera. Wait, what? I have always been confused by the extraordinary high prices of items like this (although the fact that many people do buy them does suggest that people who can afford more expensive cameras are using the same models that we do because the quality is that good – and big money isn’t required for amazing visual results now).

However, there is a lot to this kit, many individual parts from different manufacturers to make one all-powerful handheld kit. I have no doubt in my mind that if you can afford it, there is no better kit available (generally speaking – specific projects may need different requirements). Additionally you can add to it for different projects, or remove parts when unnecessary.

I am aware that the process involved in making these isn’t easy, they use strong, lightweight and not cheap metals and work hard to create amazing products – but, you know, I could buy a few second hand cars for that price and they all have combustion engines. The bottom line is: this kind of system is not appropriate for a £10,000 camera kit budget, which is where I stand (and I’m not alone). But if anyone wants to buy me one, I’d be delighted.

The Amateur Professional Option

Amateur Panasonic Shoulder Mount from West Side AV

Panasonic AF100 (AF101) Shoulder Brace and Battery Support from West Side AV

So if you’re anything like me, or Olof here, you will have stared at the first rig option for a while, stared at the price, back to the rig, back to the price.. Eventually you would have decided that you could make something along those lines for about 1/500th of the price and some advice from the biggest DIY person you know.

People with a passion for video and some know-how are more and more often coming up with solutions to problems that arise in the expensive world of video. With the cost of cameras and media coming down, the need for cheaper everything else is rising.

This mounting option was made by a video guy, for video guys and is pretty basic but maybe that is all that some users will require. It has a nice NanoFlash bracket and a padded shoulder area to get you up on your feet.

Personally, I don’t want to be holding the lens the whole time, scared I would knock a setting or something. Also, I am not initially going to be mounting an external battery or using an external recorder and, although this product is about 1/35th of the price of the above one, I’m not sure I could justify paying for what is essentially a shoulder pad and base-plate – on the setup I’d be using.

The Cheapskate Option

Image of Spiderbrace

Spiderbrace from spiderbrace.com

So what if you wanted to pay, say, £50?

The Spiderbrace from (funnily enough) www.spiderbrace.com is $69.95 and looks – well – sort of like a good example of what I would make for myself. It might be cheap metal, it might not be counterbalanced correctly and it might look a little weak in the shoulder support area but it’s cheap.

If you are only using handheld minimally and for nothing of great importance – maybe you’d just like to get a few cutaways where you are moving around or for some personal/family stuff – you could do at lot worse. This system will make handheld easier with a camera like the AF101 and take some of the pressure off holding it awkwardly (or having to carry around a tripod).

You might not look like the coolest guy at your son’s football game though.

The Homemade Option

If this is all still too expensive or you fancy some weekend DIY, then why not take a look at YouTube. Videos like the one below are plentiful and there are lots of different options. You should probably be aware that you’re never going to get the same results as you would a professional system, but each to their own.

Editing Set-Up For HD Video Production

Apple Mac Pro
I left early to work from home on Wednesday lunchtime, I had a head-cold and was deteriorating as the day went on and I had no meetings in the afternoon. When I got up bright and early yesterday I was happy to see my editing set-up had arrived.

I had constructed a spec list for the basic equipment and software that would be necessary for the task but was unsure the exact items that would be provided. I have a Mac Pro on my home set up, with an Apple Cinema Display and secondary monitor and most of the software I’d like, so I knew what would work. I was definitely looking for more cores and more RAM as my system does get slow rather easily.

There’s a lot of discussion about where and when and what it is possible to edit with; there are minimum requirements for editing software and there are lists of people’s ‘ideal scenario’ set-up (which would usually increase the price dramatically). There isn’t so much talk of solid real-world systems or “What hardware and software SHOULD I be using?” because it is different for different people and purposes and also changes rapidly, as software and hardware are in a constant state of change.

So here is what I will be working with initially, let’s see how soon this becomes archaic:

Hardware

Mac Pro
2x 2.26 GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon
6GB 1066 MHz DDR3

2x 22″HP L2245wg monitors

Software

OSX 10.5.8
Final Cut Studio
Abode CS 5 Production Premium

The total price of this is around £6980, with tax and without any discounts. The hardware and software are quite evenly divided.

So that’s the core of what I’ll be using. Obviously monitoring speakers are coming in (but are part of the camera budget..), I will be using a tapeless workflow (SDHC cards), so good card readers will be added. The monitors are not 1920×1080, like I wanted (they top-out at 1680×1050) but they will do for now. I have ordered in a pair of Western Digital 2TB drives for all the HD footage I will bringing in. I’ll probably cover this stuff in workflows, archiving, etc. sometime soon.

As for the software, I am likely to use Final Cut Pro to edit, After Effects and Photoshop for graphics and basic effects, Compressor for conversions and DVD Studio Pro for making hard copies. I will probably also be using: Cinema Tools (conforming), MpegStreamclip (transcoding), Soundtrack Pro (audio), Color (colour correction) and other applications that I have missed but are probably absolutely essential – but I forget about them until I have a real problem!

Now I just need some footage to play with!

Editing Set-Up: Hardware and Software for Macs and Final Cut Suite

For creative computing, I prefer to use Macs. I was originally taught to edit video on a Mac and use them for photo editing, web development and so on. However, I was also taught Avid and my previous job was all PCs, where we used Avid Media Composer to create broadcast television. I found there were some things I preferred on Avid, that Final Cut Pro just did differently. The way they handled files, the way you would control it and other things that I forget after a Christmas break.

But I am running this show and prefer Final Cut Studio for the whole package of software, as well as using it for my own projects so am comfortable with updating it and adapting it to suit my needs. I am sure I would achieve the same results whether I had chosen FCS, Avid, Vegas, Premiere etc.

Now that I have chosen Final Cut Studio, getting a Mac is the way to go.

I know I haven’t discussed camera equipment yet and there is a reason for this: the editing suite is going to be okay-ed and installed first. You’d maybe think the post-production hardware would follow the production hardware, but really neither is of much use without the other. I could start shooting and just keeping all the footage on a hard drive, but I want to test everything out and create a workflow that I am happy with, from start to finish. The main reason, though, is that getting a computer around here is much easier than all the production equipment I want, from lots of different sources.

I know I am likely to be shooting a lot of hefty HD footage, which will probably need transcoded and edited without bogging down the system. Deadlines are going to come pretty rapid around here and I don’t want to be held back with a machine that has difficulty doing what I need it to on a day-to-day basis.

So, the economics of the situation have led me to the following basic set up:

  • Mac Pro (mid-2010 model), dual quad cores with 6GB memory.
  • Dual 22” monitors.
  • Final Cut Studio
  • Abode CS Production Professional

Now, as I am unfortunately not in control of what precisely gets bought, I will have to wait until I am sitting using the Mac before I can be more specific about anything. That’s just the way things go. If I run into any obstacles with this, I will document as I go – but I think this set-up should suit my purposes.