Canon & Sony playing nice together

Photo: Sean Barnes

Producer, Shooter & Editor. Photo: Sean Barnes

After 5 days shooting a big banking expo in Boston, I’ve had loads of fun ‘camera spotting’.

Shooting at exhibitions is one of my main activities, and the mixture of run & gun, pack shots, interviews, talking heads and candid videography provides us with very strong opinions of what kit works well. Even down to choice of batteries or lighting stands. And what to wear. But I digress.

I saw big ENG cameras, little GH4s, loads of iPads (!) and even a brave soul with a tricked out Black Magic Cinema camera complete with beachtek audio interface, follow focus and matte box. It’s not the first time I’ve seen a BMCC used at a trade show, but to my mind it does take a bit of a leap of faith to wrestle one of these specialist cameras into service in such an unforgiving environment.

Expo shooting requires kit that doesn’t wear you down – you’ll be on your feet all day, and scooting from booth to booth. You don’t want to be weighed down by too many batteries, and you’ll need plenty of media. Plans change, things happen, and sudden opportunities crop up that might be missed if you need to change lenses or power up a complex camera. Everything has to be quick to deploy yet reach your expectations in picture and sound quality.

In many scenarios, you might not even have a secure base from which to keep bags, chargers and ‘special’ kit (long XLR and power cables for example). Suddenly, you’re in a sort of quasi-military mode, where you’re scooting around with the camera, a tripod, a lamp, some sound kit AND your backpack full of editing machine, hard drives, plus all the other bits and bobs you’ll need throughout the day. 12 kilometres per day with 40lb strapped to your back isn’t quite in Marines territory, but even so…

My go-to camera on these gigs has been the Sony EX1-R, and the magic addition of a spider dolly on the tripod – the little shopping trolley wheels. This enables you to scoot your camera and tripod around, whilst carrying an XLR cable, 416 stick mic and Sanken COS-11 lapel mic, headphones, batteries and water bottle in a ScottEvest ‘wearable office’.

Pretty much every videographer I meet looks at the spider dolly and immediately wants one. It truly adds so much value to your day’s work – and if the floor surface allows it, you can even get a few nice ‘dolly moves’ too – tracking shots, rotating around someone or something – though not all surfaces are up for it.

Due to the cost of carnets, shipping and so on, I rented my main camera from Rule Boston: a Sony PMW300. This is the replacement to the venerable Sony EX3, and bridges the gap between my EX1’s ‘little black sausage of joy’ design and a traditional shoulder mount ENG camera. I became very enamoured with the PMW300’s shoulder mounted ergonomics, thanks to its clever viewfinder design. The EVF is removable, unlike the EX3, so it can be packed into a airline carry-on bag or Peli case, with room for accessories, batteries, charger, etc.

It seemed to be almost a stop faster than the EX1, though I have not put them side by side. I didn’t seem to be using +3 and +6db gain as much as I do with the EX1, and shooting time-lapse outdoors with a 16 frame accumulation shutter actually required -3dB as I ran out of ND and didn’t want to go above f8 on the iris due to diffraction.

There was a little more heft than an EX1, but the pull-out shoulder pad and well placed EVF provided good balance and took some of the weight and strain off the right hand. All controls fell under my fingertips – it’s ‘just another Sony’ in that respect. Even though it was my first time with the camera, under stressful conditions, I was never hunting for controls or jacks. Switching between 1 mic at 2 levels, and two mics with independent level control, to mic plus line feed from mixing desk was simple and quick. I couldn’t say for sure if the mic pre-amps were better than the EX1-R, but I was never struggling with gain/noise even though expos are notorious for horrendous external noise.

There have been some changes to the menu structure, and flipping between ‘timelapse’ mode and ‘candid’ mode required a few more steps than I thought was necessary. Choosing the accumulation shutter requires a walk through all the available speeds rather than it remembering your settings and using a simple on/off toggle. Small point, but it makes a difference for operators in our game.

The PMW300 came with the K1 choice of lens – like the EX3, you can remove it and replace with a wide angle zoom or the new K2 option of 16x Funinon zoom. It doesn’t go any wider – just provides you with a little extra reach at the telephoto end. In the world of expo videography, wide angles are very valuable, though. Often you’re at such close proximity it’s hard to get the ‘scope’ of an expo booth, and as you pull back, your foreground fills with delegates.

This is why I brought my Canon C100 with me. It got a lot more use than I thought. I brought it primarily for talking heads and interviews – for that S35 ‘blurry background’ look with my 17-55 f2.8 and 50mm f1.4. In fact, most of the time, it wore my Tokina 11-16mm wide angle, which did wonderful things for the booth shots. Sony’s PMW Fujinon lens design has quite a bit of barrel distortion at the wide end, and I remember the ‘shock and awe’ of using the Tokina for the first time on my Canon 550D – very good distortion control and tack sharp.

We also had a few presentations to capture with two cameras – the C100 unmanned on the wide, whilst I operated the PMW300 on close-up. These setups were in dark, dingy and drearily lit ‘breakout’ rooms barely lit by overhead fluorescents. Absolutely no chance of extra lighting. This could have been a disaster with ‘panda eyes’ on presenters, but both the C100 and the PMW300 have gamma curves which really help in these circumstances.

This brings us neatly to another ‘trick’ – after all, we have two very different cameras from two separate manufacturers – how on earth are we going to match them?

Whilst I probably wouldn’t want to attach the two to a vision mixer and cut between them live, I could get both cameras surprisingly close in terms of picture ‘look’ by using CineGamma 3 on the PMW300 and Wide Dynamic Range on the Canon. I also dialled in the white setting by Kelvin rather than doing a proper white set. The Canon’s screen cannot be trusted for judging white balance anyway – you need a Ninja Blade or SmallHD or similar trustworthy monitor for that. The Sony’s screen is a little better, but with a slight green tint that makes skin tones look a little more yellow than they appear on the recordings. I don’t mess with the colour matrix on either camera because you need trustworthy charts and constant access to a grade 1 or 2 monitor to do that – and this is where you’d be able to match both cameras for seamless vision mixing.

Suffice to say that in these circumstances, we need to achieve consistency rather than accuracy, so one simple colour correction on each camera will bring them both to a satisfactory middle ground. That’s how the Kelvin trick with the CineGamma 3 and WDR works. Neither are perfect ‘out of the box’ but they are sufficiently close to nudge a few settings and do a great match.

But once again, here’s another important learning point. Because we were creating a combination of Electronic Press Kits, web-ready finished videos and ‘raw rushes’ collections, our shooting and editing schedules were tight. We’d shoot several packages a day, some may be shot over a number of days. We didn’t have time for ‘grading’ as such. So bringing the Sony and the Canon together so their shots could cut together was very important.

The Canon C100’s highlights were sublime. Everything over 80IRE just looked great. The Sony’s CineGamma was lovely too, but the Canon looked better – noticeably better when you’re shooting ‘beauty’ shots of a booth mostly constructed out of white gauze and blue suede. The PMW300 did a great job, and really you wouldn’t mind if the whole job was captured on it, but the C100 really did a great job of high key scenes. Such a good job that I’d want to repeat the PMW300/C100 pairing rather than a double act of the PMW300 with a PMW200. If you see what I mean.

There was one accessory that we ‘acquired’ on-site that deserves a special mention. It’s something that I’ll try and build into similar shoots, and to any other shoots I can get away with. This accessory really added a layer of sophistication and provided a new kind of shot not necessarily seen in our usual kind of videos. The accessory is not expensive to purchase, but there are costs involved in transport and deployment.

This new accessory – this wonderful addition to any videographer’s arsenal of gizmos is… a ladder. Take any shot, increase the height of the lens by about a meter or so, and witness the awesomeness! Yes, you need (you really must have) a person to stand by the ladder, keep crowds away, stabilise it, be ready to take and hand over your camera, but… wow. What a view!

IBC 2014 – opening reactions?

Sony won it. They aced it. The S35 sensor e-Mount PXW-FS7 is the ‘camera of IBC’. What isn’t there to love? 4:2:2 10 bit internal recording at HD and 4K, 180fps for HD slomo, great ergonomics, every element of camera ownership carefully thought out.

So sorry, JVC and Panasonic – 1/3″ sensors just don’t cut it any more. 1″ is good – 2/3″ is a widely supported format for lenses. It comes down to this: if you have a camera that does less than 2/3″ sensor (x3) and does less than 4:2:2 at 10 bit, you’re toast.

Why didn’t Panasonic put a GH4 in an AF101 body?

Why is JVC mucking around with 4K on small sensor sizes? Who wants a 100 ISO camera?

Canon is dangling in the wind. If anyone is considering a C100 or C300, they are duty bound to look at the FS7 now – for the internal 10 bit acquisition, for the 4K option, for the variety of e-mount lens options, for the superlative ergonomics – why would you not?

Even the audio – FS7 offers 4 channel 48KHz 24 bit recording.

All the way, Sony’s PXW-FS7 is as exciting and as game changing as the EX1 and the FS100.

MacBook Pro 15″ Retina 2014 for FCPX

MacBook Pro 15” Retina Buyers remorse: I paid for extra GHz, should I have invested in a bigger SSD?

I’ve finally got my MacBook Pro 15″ 2014 BTO – I went for the 2.8 GHz processor which lead to a 12 day wait as it was shipped to the UK from Shanghai. Was it worth the wait? Did I get the best bang for the buck?

It replaces my Early 2011 MacBook Pro 17″ with 8GB RAM, which has been an excellent machine (with the £800 SSD option, quite frankly the most expensive Mac I’ve purchased), but it now has a dicky GPU and needs to be ‘baked’ now and then to reset it. That’s great as an ‘at-home’ machine, but not good ‘on location’. Hence the new machine.

According to the 64 bit Geekbench tests, the new 15″ MBP with 2.8 GHz processor is about 40% faster than the 2011 MBP17″, achieving GeekBench scores (and this is not a speed test, just a ‘run it and see’) of 3895/15215 over the MBP17″ 2866/10655. My previous upgrades have been stellar, but this was a bit, hmm – ‘okay’.

Lest we forget, my laptop is for editing first. However, it must also be my computer for everything else too.

I have been happy (ish) with a 500GB internal SSD that was super fast. I did no actual work on it (external SSD drives via Thunderbolt was the way to go), but apps did not ‘launch’ – they ‘decloaked’ – just appearing versus the wait and wait from an internal spinning hard drive. This was the big bonus – SSD for the system and apps is definitely the way to go. Do not consider anything less.

The biggest issue for us FCPX editors could be the lack of FW800 ports. I have >75 FW800 drives (mostly LaCie Quadras) and need to access their contents. So I used the BlackMagic Disk Speed Test app to measure performance ‘before and after’ – I already have a Belkin Thunderbolt dock to provide USB3 on my old MacBook, and I checked this out on the new MacBook too, as it could prove FW800.

So, the old MacBook Pro could do USB3 x3 ports on the Belkin Thunderbolt Dock. It could also do Firewire 800 and 1GB ethernet, whilst passing through the Thunderbolt connection to, say, my Black Magic UltraStudio Mini Monitor (HD-SDI output from Thunderbolt – yay!).

But what of the disk performance? The new MacBook Pro does USB3 natively (two ports) but can only do FW800 with a Thunderbolt adaptor, and that soaks up one valuable Thunderbolt port. No loop through. The Belkin does USB and FW800 – AND it has a Thunderbolt loop through.

Here’s my rough findings. These are not optimised results, they’re just what happens when I connect my various drives through the options I have available to me:

MBP15″ 2.8GHz (Read/Write)

  • Direct USB3 – 161W/165R
  • Dongled FW800 – 75W/72R (counterintuitive, but hey)
  • Belkin Dock FW800 – 68W/69R
  • Belkin Dock UBS3 – 94W/97R (that’s surprising)

but then two years ago I did similar tests on the OLD MBP17″ and…

  • Internal FW800 bus – 46W/44R
  • Internal USB2 bus – 32W/33R
  • Internal SSD eSATA – 88W/167R
  • CalDigit USB3 PCI ExpressCard – 96W/138R

So all my older FW800 drives happen to have USB3 interfaces, and I think I’ll be using THAT in the future. FW800 does appear to be dead in the water.

Okay, what these numbers do NOT say is the punch line. The internal SSD does the following – read and weep:

  • Internal SSD – 549W/726R

FCPX users, for the love of your favourite deity, invest in SSD not GHz. Partition your drive to two volumes – a working volume and a boot volume. The cost I had to bear for waiting for the extra GHz does not make a huge difference in the Geekbench scores. The difference of a 500GB scratch volume with those numbers is an immense kick up the backside cache.

Everything about the Mac OS, everything about the future of FCPX, is all about SSD. If you’re into mobile editing, if you’re into smaller projects with sub-10 minute timelines, invest in SSD, not GPU. I wish I’d doubled my SSD rather than get 15% more performance on the CPU.

Canon C100 – the cheat sheet

c100cheatsheet-2014-08-11-11-33.jpgHaving run a few C100 workshops now, here’s the long awaited ‘cheat sheet’ that lists what to tweak after a factory reset – and, of course how to save your settings BEFORE a reset: (1.7MB)

It’s been updated for the Dual Pixel Auto Focus (DPAF) upgrade, and now covers two sides of A4 paper with some recommended button assignments and Custom Picture notes. Remember, this is only a starting point – you may wish to set up your Zebras differently, you may prefer a different peaking colour. However, there are lots of little things that should be checked before you reset your camera – and I do recommend doing just that with rented C100s.

One thing that didn’t quite make it to the cheat sheet is that because the video transport controls (Play/Pause, skip, fast forward and so on) are not active when in camera mode, they can be used as a sort of replacement for the joystick if you need to take the handgrip off and still use the menu system rather than pushbutton access to shutter, ISO, etc. I use a grip relocator if I need the C100 on a rig, and would strongly recommend it. But it’s good to have the option to control the camera completely without the grip attached.

I also have a cheat sheet in preparation for the C300, which I’ll endeavour to finish and test once I get some more quality time with one. In fact, there’s a number of things I’d like to revisit – I’m not entirely sure, but given a 1080p final result, I may actually prefer the 50i slomo trick over the 720p50 version, and need to shoot some charts in both modes.

Please feel free to share the link with your fellow C100 users – all I ask is that you use this link and don’t invent your own or download and republish, because if I need to update the document I can control the versioning with that link.

Hot, dirty Macs

My somewhat senescent MacBook Pro 17” has been doing the ‘fainting goat’ thing recently. We’d be happily chugging away, then suddenly – freeze, black screen (or grey screen) of death – complete lock up. The screen’s backlight was still on (as shown by the glowing white Apple logo on the other side). Cycle the power, it would freeze on the grey screen after the Apple logo appears. But the grey screen was odd (not the moire from a bad iPhone snap – note the stripes!): strangescreen-2014-07-29-10-17.jpg If left for a few minutes (or longer), it would shut down. Powering up again brought everything back. If you held the power button down for >5 secs, it would power down but do the same thing. Hmmm. Clue.

Talks to some Apple dealer and repair folks sounded bad – ‘Graphics chip has gone’, ‘New motherboard’, and ‘bring it in and we’ll soak test it for a week.’ Well, it was happening two to five times a week. Not awful. Worth limping along whilst I decided what new MacBook Pro to buy.

Well, not so fast. I rather like my MacBook Pro – it has a 1920×1200 screen so does HD previews very well. It has a PCIe slot that’s the right size for my SxS cards from the EX1s – very convenient – and it has FW800 on it (I have over 80 FW800 drives). I therefore wanted it to live a little longer, if only to be a nice backup to a newer machine.*

The weather has been hot recently, so I wondered if that was at fault. I installed Temperature Gauge from Tunabelly Software, and this told me an interesting story. During background render tasks, things were getting very hot indeed. CPUs and GPUs would reach 100 degrees Celsius, but more to the point, the fans were pretty much running full pelt as soon as the Mac had something (anything) to chew on.

Sadly, when the Mac did its fainting goat, it wiped the log file for Temperature Gauge (this issue now fixed in v4.4.2), but it was pretty obvious what was going on. The Mac was getting super hot, and was cutting out. It wouldn’t reboot properly until it had cooled down. It dawned on me that this machine is over three years old, and it’s never had the air filters cleaned. I put a date in the diary to take it to MacDaddy to have it sorted (and some extra RAM whilst we were at it).

Then the British weather intervened – the office was getting very warm. The Mac started fainting several times a day even with a desk fan blowing on it, and something really had to be done. So armed with my smallest Phillips screwdriver, a little paintbrush and a vacuum cleaner, I decided to DIY. 10 screws later, and we were in. Pretty obvious once the back was off. Before and after: fans-2014-07-29-10-17.jpg intakes-2014-07-29-10-17.jpgtray-2014-07-29-10-17.jpg So, very easy process – should have done it sooner, wasn’t as bad as suspected.

UPDATE: I’ve been advised by dear friend Marcus Durham that using a vacuum cleaner nozzle close to electronics is not such a wise thing – apparently the air flow can cause static electricity build-up which can fry delicate electronics. Hence the standard recommendation of using clean compressed air (he advises doing this outside). I stand corrected.

Since the cleaning, the fans are running at much more sedate speeds and less often. Of course, when a really big render or encode chugs through, it does warm up quite a bit – but no 100 Degree alarms, no 6000 RPM fans.

And no crashes. No faints. No ‘grey screen of death’ with Paul Smith stripes on it. The MacBook Pro rides again!


* And only today have I noticed Apple have refreshed their MacBook Pro line with double the RAM and a few more cycles per second for a little less money all round. Joy!

Ingesting P2 for FCPX – some alternatives

I’ve had some bad luck with MXF ingest to FCP, the Canon C300 variety needed a bit of voodoo. This weekend, I’m playing with images of Panasonic’s P2 media, copied onto an NTFS formatted USB3 drive.

FCPX couldn’t see anything. It knew there was a P2 card there, just didn’t see anything. Okay, moving on.

I’ve recently ditched Adobe Creative Cloud for being too expensive to maintain for an FCPX editor, but I still kept Adobe CS6 as there are some things (Audition, Encore, Photoshop and Illustrator) that I need – if not the latest versions thereof.

So, surprise, surprise, Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Prelude could both see the P2 card. I started a Transcode from the MXF files to ProRes 422.

If we skip the issues that cropped up trying to make that happen reliably, I also fired up Final Cut Pro 7 – which has a ‘Log and Transfer’ mode that also saw the P2 card images and willingly imported them whilst transcoding to ProRes.

And here’s the catch: FCP7 did 90 mins of P2 rushes in about 45 minutes. Adobe Prelude did the same in about 90 minutes.

So, we’d expect the Prelude transcodes to be better than the FCP7 transcodes – it took longer, the software is newer. Stands to reason, right?

The two versions look visually identical. Flipping between them, there’s no visible difference.

We can take one version, import the second version and overlay it on the first version, then use the ‘Difference’ composite mode. It will highlight the difference between the two – supposedly identical – frames. What you get is a murky-black composition which tells you nothing. What you need to do is group the two together, then boost the contrast to buggery. One of the versions has a sort of ‘flicking’ nature. Maybe for a frame, maybe for a second or so. I lined up originals on top of each other to mark where the difference composite flicked, then examined each version with a waveform monitor. What you see is this:

Compare this frame:

With this frame:

You may have to do this side by side. It’s actually a big difference. Check out her hair.

The Adobe Media Encoder version has barely visible jumps in luminance. Barely visible on a monitor. but it’s about 1-2 IRE. The FCP7 Transcode versions do not. They are ‘cleaner’.

Yes, I obsess (!) about this – because I’m chromakeying the results, and ‘bumps’ in luminance can upset the keying settings.

So, I’d recommend FCP7 over Adobe for ingesting P2 cards for measurable speed and quality reasons. I wish FCPX would ingest P2 direct from disk, but my installation doesn’t work (it didn’t work with C300 for a while, until I found the fix).

So there you go. I know Adobe Media Encoder gets a good write-up, but in this case I have to hand it to FCP7. I wonder if I’m missing a secret folder for P2 ingest in FCPX?

Filming in the Middle East

Pete Burns runs a great blog full of info from the front line. I had to re-blog this as he nails the pitfalls of even getting to your Middle East Assignment. I’m not going to fly Gulf Air again, and the negation of a (costly) Carnet is great info. I’ve had that on a Moroccan assignment. As for filming Exteriors at lunchtime, yes – I was draping my kit in tin foil and hotel flannels when filming outdoors! Wish I’d followed the same precautions myself…

Pete Burns Lighting Cameraman

I’m just back from a shoot in the Middle East where I filmed four countries in four days; Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Bahrain.

Not a lot of information was available with regards filming in these countries, what was available I must admit was fairly vague. So I’ve put together my experiences, which will give you an insight into filming in the Middle East.

UK HM Customs and Excise

This is the easy bit.
You’ll need ‘Pro-forma Equipment List’ also known as a Duplicate List. It’s a list of the equipment you are traveling with and should include the manufacturer, model number, serial number, the country of manufacture and the value of all of the kit. The list should be printed on a letterhead.

The only other form you will need is an HM Customs and Excise Returned Goods Relief Form C & E 1246. This form is a declaration…

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