Hear today, hear tomorrow

I often film parties as part of the events I cover. Parties have bands and acts, and bands and acts have PA stacks, and PA (Public Address – speaker) stacks make a good place to get shots because not many people are stupid enough to stand in the veritable breeze of moving air beside these things. That’s right, I’m stupid.

So here’s a plea to fellow videographers: think about your hearing, and look after it.

Ever been in a loud environment to shoot, then later feel that your ears are still a bit numb or ringing a bit? That’s damage. That’s permanent hearing damage. So says any hearing specialist.

I didn’t believe it. I thought that hearing was like vision. We may get an afterimage from having accidentally got an eyeful of 2K or caught a glint of the sun in a windscreen or even found ourselves blinking away a green and pink version of that email (no wonder pro-apps have switched to a grey background). Soon it’s gone and life goes on. Hey, tastebuds only last (on average) 11 days, so a couple of weeks after a Scotch Bonnet Salsa, you’re good to go.

But hearing is a little different. Apparently.

Please don’t take my word for it. Go out now and get a hearing test. Find out what you’ve got and how to protect it. Before you accidentally scrape off valuable hearing range.

As you can tell, today I’ve had the lecture from Stuart Roberts of Leightons HearingCare, whilst he tests my hearing and prepares moulds to create the special sleeves that will be made to fit my ear canal. Basically taking a mould of my middle ear following a hearing test. Stuart is usually a Hearing Aid consultant, but works with Advanced Communications Solutions – purveyors of “cutting edge in-ear technology”.

ACS will make custom-fit earplugs and sleeves for in-ear monitoring and protection. Very common in the music industry. We all take hearing for granted until it’s suddenly not as good as we remember it and suddenly it’s too late. If we only recognised the warning signs, knew what was likely to do damage, maybe we’d have less damage to work around later on.

Luckily Stuart doesn’t need to read (or shout out) the riot act as my natural hypochondriac tendencies have kicked in before I’ve lost anything too crucial. My Etymotic earphones will be good for in-ear monitoring and noise protection once I get the custom middle ear moulds for my ear buds – a snip at £90 (on top of the cost of the earphones themselves).

But I am now very aware of how lackadaisical I have been, and I recognise the trait in many of my colleagues. We may have a laugh at the stereotypical aging rocker who wears ear plugs to concerts, but likes-o-lordy, we really need to be risk averse to hearing damage.

Please do look at the ACS earplug range, or at least find some earplugs that work for you. And I wish you freedom from that ringing numb feeling. You never know a good thing ‘til you lose it.

BTW – I will rave extempore about my Etymotic FM2s once Stuarts molds are fitted – and it seems the esteemed Mr Stephen Fry has also seen (or heard) the light – with his ACS.

PS: Once you have custom molded earplugs, they become effective and battery free noise abatement devices as well as cool earphones.


iphonematteI was going to run a little April Fools gag this year, and never got round to it: basically, put an iPhone into a full 15mm rails system with a nice big matte box and 35mm DoF adaptor, as the ultimate cinema verite rig. And of course Alex Lindsay has done just that in the latest edition of MacBreak: http://www.pixelcorps.tv/macbreak227.

But it has got me seriously thinking about the iPhone as a video device.

Sure there’s better cameras (video and stills), there are better cameras on phones, but here is a device that trims and publishes as well as shoots. But if it were to roll several trimmed clips together… That’s going to be quite a killer feature. There have been devices that purport to edit clips ‘in camera’ but frankly it’s been too painful to get beyond a proof of concept. But tie in a cut-down version of iMovie into a device that you slip into a pocket, and you’ll be more tempted to polish and publish little video postcards than ever before. IMovie is great and very quick, but you still feel like you’re starting a mega project as you ingest your footage and scan through your rushes.

Often a snap is transformed by a little cropping, some finesse with the levels and perhaps even a caption. A video that contains an Establishing Shot, a master shot, some cutaways, and a couple of captions and even a voiceover, is a programme. Not a very complex programme, but completely watchable. Which is the crux.

Sometimes the enemy of good is ‘better’ – when we lose the plot and get hung up on production values and gear and everything, when the moment is now. Transient. Fleeting. You can shoot it on a little solid state mini camcorder, but then you’re in search of a laptop to download it to, and a power outlet to feed it whilst you edit. Meanwhile, the iPhone movie has been topped and tailed and is working its way up to YouTube (albeit slowly via 3G).

I’m not going to sell my EX1 and start making movies on an iPhone. But I still think that this could be a new genre of film making. The sort of ‘Bar Camp’ to the usual ‘Moscone Keynote’.

Well, that’s my excuse for buying a 3GS. What’s yours?

PMW-EX owners: WOOT!

Ross Hereweni has done it again. His company, E-Films, produce the MxR adaptor designed to enable the use of inexpensive SDHC cards inside the Sony PMW-EX line of cameras. With a couple of relatively inexpensive 32GB SDHC cards, you’re good for almost 3 hours of shooting without swapping cards.

But there’s times when some need more than this, or need to start editing straight away – which is a problem if your rushes straddle two cards.

So here’s the scoop: his newest product is the HDR. This ingenious device allows you to connect a hard disk – any hard disk – to your EX camera and shoot directly to that. If you shoot conferences and presentation material, or even the ‘waiting for it to happen’ shoots when you have to keep rolling, the HDR is yet another ‘enabling’ technology.

It even comes with an enclosure with – get this – a power supply. So you’re not tethered to a power outlet.

Okay, so Sony makes the PHU-60K – so what gives? Well, if you have 4 days of conference to record, you’ll need two if not three units per camera, plus their batteries. They’re only 60GB. With the HDR, I can get any size I want, at street price, not ‘Sony Price’.

But lets go one stage beyond that. You can elect to fit a Solid State Disk – vibration proof, high performance and so on.

Combined with CalibratedQ software I reported on a few days ago, at last we have a system which enables shooters to capture long-form to disk, stop recording and IMMEDIATELY start editing – and in my little niche, that’s a big deal.

I’d been doing this trick with humble Z1s and recording DV directly to Final Cut Pro via FireWire. This worked well – no loss of content due to tape changes, quick turnaround and so on – but of course requires a laptop and a copy of FCP per camera.

With the HDR, maybe the time has finally come when I can retire my Z1s and invest in PMW-EX throughout, shooting 720p direct to disk (any hard disk) and then multi-cam the edits when done.

And you don’t need a PCIexpress bus on your MacBook Pro – Apple, thank these guys.

Betting the farm?

MacWorld is but a fading memory. NAB has come and gone. WWDC is over. MacBook Pros are being booed at. Still no FCP. Not even a whisper. Where’s the beef?

No, I am not going to join the rant about how FCP hasn’t been updated and how Apple may be abandoning the Pro Video market as exemplified by the dropping of PCI Express in the Location Video workhorse 15″ MBP. I don’t buy that. But I do buy into the fact that something serious needs to happen with FCP for its long term health. So much is broken. So many compromises. Sure, the enemy of ‘Good’ is ‘Better’ and at least FCP is out there.

And 6.0.4 is good. Good enough. It does what I want it to do, but that’s now. Things change. Innovation. Things must evolve in the face of change, or die. So is FCP dying or evolving? Probably pupating is closer to home. Getting ready for the next OS.

Look at what SnowLeopard is bringing: 64 bit, so FCP won’t slow down on large RAM hungry projects (currently only 2.5 GB RAM can go to FCP, no matter how much you have installed). QuickTime X improves H.264 and pokes connectors into custom hardware. OpenCL taps into your GPU so rendering Core effects gets a speed bump, and Grand Central should make multi-processor machines deliver on their promise.

And then there’s the fact that FCP isn’t a spring chicken. It has a history, and a complex one at that. There are things deep in Final Cut Pro that really shouldn’t be there. Stray DNA, vestigial PC routines, note that I’m guessing, but pretty sure that their removal would require complex surgery.

So I’m betting the farm on a re-write of FCS, with significant chunks making their way into Cocoa to make FCS into a full-on Snow Leopard app with a future, rather than a rehash on the same chassis. And hoping same goes for Color, SoundTrack Pro and Motion, with the assumption that LiveType gets put out to grass.

It would be a mammoth task. But Apple’s done this before with the Intel switch.

When you’ve blown the XDCAM-EX magic smoke…

There’s been a definite meme at work this week. I’ve heard it at training sessions, I’ve had emails, I’ve read posts, and had phone calls all about people having trouble with getting EX1 footage into their system.

Of course, XDCAM Transfer does a great job – check out my tutorial in the How-to section above. But some people have been, well, ‘playing’ – doing things that perhaps they shouldn’t. And suddenly there’s an EX1 card with stuff they can’t view, can’t edit, and haven’t backed up.

So here’s an interesting utility that I’ll be investigating soon:


Essentially, it promises that you can edit the native EX1 files, even if the magic structure of your SxS or P2 card has been mangled out of shape. It promises you can rescue your ‘orphan’ video clips – no bad thing, but hopefully people accept that SxS (or equivalent) cards are like your negatives, your original film. Best not muck around with them too much. But I digress.

Whether this is a codec or a way of generating QuickTime wrappers on the fly remains to be seen, but basically the idea is you can shove the mp4s directly into Final Cut and start editing – straight off the SxS card if necessary.

News cutters: rejoice!

MacBook Amateur

So, Apple launch a new range of laptops at this year’s Worldwide Developer Conference. Lovely screens, fulsome batteries, lots of beefy hard disk goodness, and… an SD slot.

Oh. Thanks.

Receiving the news that new MacBook Pros will come with SD slots is equal to the news that you’re going to get comedy bri-nylon socks for christmas. We saw it coming, somebody somewhere probably even asked for it, but… oh dear.

PCI Express is gosh-darn fast. You can fill it with FireWire, HiDef video recorders at cinema quality, SxS cards from cool cameras, magic output boxes that plug into huge projectors, and you can even purchase a little SD adaptor for half the cost of any other adaptor your MBP will inevitably need.

So why the feck has Apple pulled the PCI Express slot in favour of putting in an SD card slot? Because (and use your best sing-song voice for this) ‘lots of our customers have digital cameras!’. Yes, and lots of professionals (the ‘pro’ in MacBook Pro) use CF cards, and lots of professionals use SxS and MXO, and AJA Ki Pros, and so on.

So somebody at Apple who had two cups of coffee in the morning ensured that the 17″ MacBook TeaTray retained the PCI slot. I, as a dyed-in-the-wool MacBook TeaTray fan, am glad. But pity the foos that want a small neat 13″ to work with their SxS or their AJA IO or their Compact Flash from their Canon EOS 5d Mk 2. They’re stuck with USB.

This is not a new thing for Apple. IIRC, there was the FireWire debacle a short while back, which suddenly got updated.

Now listen in, Apple: some people need two FireWire slots, one for disks, the other for the camera. That’s what YOU said. You take the PCI Express slot out of the MacBook Pros, and you turn them into MacBook Amateurs. Nothing wrong with that other than losing sight of your key market for these expensive laptops.

When a good friend dedicated to the small neat life feels obliged to purchase a 17″ only because of the PCI Express slot, it’s time to give the Apple Marketing Machine a fiery message. Adobe Premiere is available on PCs…

Welcome to the new blog!

After almost a year of TV Soup, it was apparent that I needed to start afresh.

TV Soup was a great idea, but perhaps it was the blog I wanted to read, not the one I wanted to write. The broadcast industry has plenty of scribes far better qualified than yours truly, and whilst I may have opinions, I’ll try to keep them to myself.

All the old posts are here, and feel happier in the new environment. I’m so encouraged, I’ll probably post more and include videos and other tidbits too.

TV Soup is dead, long live Travelling Matt.

Timelapse on tape

Following on from my last post about tape in a tapeless workflow, I also had some fun planning some timelapse shooting.

The requirement was to demonstrate the amazing transformation from empty exhibition hall to finished ‘environment’ – ditto for the main presentation theatre. The build would happen over 2-3 days, and I reckon that the timelapse sequences would last around 5-7 seconds each in the final edit.

Weapon of choice would be my EX1 – it has great timelapse, slomo and interval recording modes. Trouble was, client wasn’t going to pay for me to bring one, rent another, and hang around whilst the shoot goes ahead. I know somebody who got to spend a week doing a single timelapse shoot somewhere hot and sunny. And the plants died, so had to be reshot – what a job: filming grass growing…)

Alternatively, a camera like the Nikon D200 has a built-in intervalometer. Providing you have enough power (big power grip or a mains outlet nearby), you can shoot in extra-high definition with a really wide lens, convert the raw images into a QuickTime movie and then pan around the final movie from within FCP or motion. But the client wasn’t going to pay for a photographer to bring his kit and set it all up…

So a couple of PD150s were hired to do it. The Sony PD150 is a venerable little DV camcorder from the tape age and whilst tape isn’t known for its strengths in time lapse, the PD150 does have an ‘interval’ mode.

Tape isn’t good for timelapse because even when the tape isn’t moving, the head is rubbing over the tape all the time it’s laced up. Rubbing the same little bit of tape for minutes at a time could lead to the head clogging up or worse still, scoring through the oxide so it’s one big drop-out and candidate for the point at which the tape will snap. Furthermore, if you disengage the tape from the head after each interval, you’re wearing down the transport mechanism, dramatically reducing its life span. It also means that taking a shot every 1-10 seconds is well nigh impossible because it’s long enough to clog your heads but too quick to unthread and rethread the tape.

So the PD150 timelapse mode records ‘about half a second’ (15-17 frames) of video every XX seconds. It’s not good for shooting things like clouds, and still leaves you with some editing after you’ve sucked in the video. Because you’re only getting half a second of real time video every so often, the footage still looks ‘narcoleptic’ – like a security camera. To get a smooth result, you need to speed up the footage by a factor of x15 or so, so you’re only getting one frame out of each burst of 15.

Aeons ago, there was a bit of software that we got with FireWire PCMCIA cards (so we could grab DV video with Apple’s Wall Street PowerBooks) which enabled you to grab every ‘n’th frame of the incoming DV signal. I hear that Adobe Premiere can still do this, but Final Cut Pro does not. So the clip is sped up in the timeline. Tip: remove the audio, as you’ll have no use for it and FCP will spend processor cycles trying to speed that up too.

So let’s consider a bit of maths:

The camera will record half a second of video every, let’s say, two minutes. This will eventually equate to 1 frame (1/25th of a second) every two minutes.

 A 60 minute tape has 3600 seconds of video, therefore 7200 half second intervals. With me? Those intervals occur every 2 minutes, so each hour tape will last 60 hours (2.5 days) in-camera, and 288 seconds (not quite 5 minutes) in the final edit. But then you can chop out the overnight bits and the periods where not much is happening.

With a little jiggling of the numbers, you can work out if you can get away with doing interval recorded tape. For anything faster (clouds, crowds), then you’re better off recording real time and speeding up in post.

Or get a file based device.

Go with the workflow

15 months after going tapeless, I’ve just returned from a job where I was thoroughly glad we had tape.

I needed to incorporate clips and quotes from the TX of a conference, recorded onto Grass Valley Turbo and onto tape. These clips would be edited together with general footage of the conference and played back in the conference’s main room.

Originally, I had planned to have my FCP edit station within the production area, so I could record directly into Final Cut Pro and hard disk by taking the TX feed into a deck, then taking the deck’s firewire into FCP as a ‘non controlable device’. The same can be done with a FW camera, and it’s very handy – no ingest, no tape changes, immediate edit. But remember that unless you have a deck, there’s no backup, and you need to have a record station per source or vision mix live. But I digress.

My edit station was going to be ‘elsewhere’ in a large venue, so I would have to rely either on the GV Turbo recordings – MPEG2 files at 15 Mbits – or on DV Tape. The file based solution required copying the entire file from the GV Turbo onto a USB2 hard drive, then taking those files and copying them to the edit hard drive, then using Episode Pro to transcode into DV for editing, and then (phew!) locating the clips within the single file and chopping them out.

With tape, the 90 minute recording was handed over, taken to my edit bay, and I did a simple log and capture. Within half an hour of the presentation, we had our sound bites in and ready to roll. We’d still be copying files on a USB device had we gone for a file based workflow.

I’m not advocating a massed move back to tape – if I had been in the production area recording to disk using FCP, I’d be ready to play out my finished edit within half an hour. The time taken to export my edit and transcode to GV Turbo was roughly equivalent to running off to tape, but the way the Turbo works means that the file based efficiencies and benefits were centred around playout, not the whims and caprices of the editor.

It’s all down to workflow.

And there is no single ‘correct and canonical’ workflow. It varies. A planned workflow can change. The main thing is to spot the bottlenecks before they cause a problem and either work around them or (in this case) work with them.