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!

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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:

http://www.mdma.tv/c100/C100FactoryReset_01.pdf (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.

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:
unknown-2014-07-26-19-21.jpeg

With this frame:
unknown-2014-07-26-19-21.jpeg

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?

MovieSlate – the editor’s friend

I’ve finally managed to get MovieSlate to work as a Corporate Video tool that actually adds value to the edit, rather than as a bit of ‘decoration’.

It seems I’ve been doing a wave of 2-camera shoots recently, mostly interviews on PMW-EX1s. A simple hand clap or even a bit of lip sync on ‘plosives’ (vocalising consonants such as ‘p’ and ‘b’) is often all you’d ever need to bring the two shots into synchronisation.

The idea of using a clapperboard could be seen as a little ‘effete’ and pretentious. In fact, I’d tried a few iPhone/iPad versions and found that the visual and audio cues were out of sync anyway. So I have, sadly, scoffed at them for too long.

But, a while back, I was editing some 3-camera interviews shot by a colleague, and he’d used an iPad slating app that actually did something really useful. It blipped a few text fields just before the slate – only 2-3 frames per field of text, but it quite clearly labelled the interviewee. Wowzers! The idea of shot logs, production notes and so on seems to have faded into obscurity and as a Corporate Video editor, often all I get is a hard drive with obscure rushes on it.

I’ve seen this done, but the blipvert text dump was of Things I Did Not Need To Know – director, DoP name, production name, camera type and so on. What I wanted to know was ‘who is this, how is the name spelled, what do I put in the lower third caption’. The sort of info I often have to trawl Linked-in for at 3:00 in the morning just to check spellings or find a shorter job title.

So I dusted off my copy of MovieSlate and dug around its interface, trying to get it to behave the way I wanted to. There are LOTS of options buried in MovieSlate and they’re not all where you’d expect to find them. In fact, trying to bash things into shape and work out what should go where took the best part of an afternoon – but now we’ve got through a few jobs working with MovieSlate, I’m going to be using it whenever I can.

Removing my ‘editor’ hat and now thinking as a ‘shooter’, I’m really keen to deliver rushes to an editor/client stating that CH1: is the lavalier, CH2: is the 416 on a boom – I’ve had some stuff edited where the two tracks were treated as stereo. And I’ll label my 1-mic, 2-channel (CH2 -18dB lower) too. A seasoned editor would work all this out just by looking at it, but some folks can miss out on the particular whys and wherefores.

So, here’s a little review of MovieSlate – created because I find trying to explain something as if teaching helps solidify my experience of it.

Chromakey lighting – the basics

Alex Gollner and I were shooting some interviews in Berlin this week, and I inadvertently captured the last bit of our setting up which makes a neat little illustration of chromakey lighting. Our brief was to capture the corporate interviews that would fit a ‘white background’ look, but could also get rebranded, so we shot using a chromakey setup. 06 final key
This may surprise you, but that’s the result from the XDCAM-EX recording. It’s 4:2:0 and recorded internally at 8 bit to SDHC. It’s because the FCPX keyer is a ‘hybrid’ keyer that uses both colour and luminance info to create the key, but it can only work its magic if your source material is good. What does good look like?

First job is to ensure that the background is evenly lit, with no spill onto the subject. Evenness and correct exposure is very important to get a good quality result. The green should be around 50IRE-55IRE on a waveform monitor: 01 bgd lit, no light on subject Here, the Waveform Monitor shows the green background nudging towards the 60IRE line, but the key feature is that it’s flat (evenly lit) and the line is thin (not much variance from top to bottom).chromakey_wfm Next up, I used a daylight dichroic filter in my Dedo DLH4 backlight to give a cool effect, befitting a white background. Not too much to burn it out, just enough to ‘lift and separate’: 02 add backlight I didn’t feel that was enough, so I moved it a foot or so to the camera’s right. This made it more of a 3/4 back or ‘kicker’, catching Alex’s cheek. 03 move to threequarter back or kick Next, I added a very soft fill. It needed to be more of a ‘wash’ of light and something that could be carefully balanced with the key to provide the right level of ‘ambient’ lighting for a light background. If the fill were low, it would produce a high contrast look better suited to a dark background. We’re shooting for white, so another Dedo DLH4 was beamed into a big white reflector: 04 add fill Finally, I used a soft key – a small Dedo softbox with egg-crate – above head height. I really don’t like taking the key down to eye level as it looks unnatural. I don’t go too high, otherwise we lose the ‘tings’ in the eyes – the reflection of the light source in the iris that makes the interviewee look ‘alive’. 05 add soft key Once in Final Cut Pro X, it’s basically a case of dropping the Keyer plug-in onto the clip. I’ve nudged up the light wrap to create a little false flare around the edges, which introduces another little problem but really helps sell the shot. I’ve reframed accordingly. 06 final key

Conclusion:

Light your chromakey background first. Make sure it’s even and exposed correctly. Your subject should be untouched by the chromakey background lamps, and far enough away from the setup to avoid ‘spill’. Now you can light your subject with a thought to what background it will be used on. Lower contrast for bright backgrounds, higher contrast for dark backgrounds (just a rule of thumb). Update – our dear friend Sean Ebsworth Barnes was shooting stills on the same event and found us doing strange things –

The Cameras of NAB 2014

If we think back to last year’s NAB, I remember seeing popup posters of the Black Magic 4K Production Camera and the Pocket Cine Camera the night before their launch. I remember thinking ‘this is a joke – a cunning deception to raise our hopes’ and today people are taking delivery of their 4K cameras.

So this year, I was excited to hear about AJA’s entry to the market – the CION.

UPDATE: AJA is PL only, posing a problem to owners of EF and Nikkor lenses. This is, for many of us, a bit of a show stopper. Happiness to AJA for choosing a standard, but they have effectively cut out their main audience – those of us who are upgrading from DSLR.

It looks great, their intro video is great, the price (considering…) is great. It looks like a really solid bit of kit. Well thought out, designed for professional use, a sort of pocket-money Alexa if you will, even though we haven’t seen the pictures.

I immediately started a little ‘savings’ pot – a stash of money where I’ll fund its purchase when I’m ready. I’ve already stated clearly that I will not buy another 8 bit camera (sorry Sony, with your cute Alpha 7S, and Atomos with your Shogun) and I really don’t want to buy a Panasonic GH4 and its own set of lenses. I’m happy that JVC are finally moving into the market of buyable cameras and acknowledge their choice of Micro Four Thirds, but I must move on.

So AJA’s Alexalookalike looks just the ticket. So excited!

Until, of course, those Aussies stroll up to the bar.

The Black Magic Ursa isn’t quite the Cion – it’s a giant (!) bear of a camera that has a 10″ flop-out screen. It has built in rail adaptors, it has a big handle, it has 3 big LCD screens, it screams ‘Production Department’ and all, and actually looks a little amateurish compared to the Cion. But it has something new and incredible:

The Ursa has swapable sensors.

That’s right, folks. You can buy the S35 EF mount edition. Later on, you can get a 2/3″ B4 sensor and mount. So in a few moments you’ve converted your big beefy Cinema camera into a big beefy ENG camera. You can have both a large S35 sensor mode with all your EOS lenses (or use Nikkors, or even opt for a PL mount S35 sensor – boggle!), and with a smallish investment and a little patience, have a 2/3″ B4 mount with your choice of ENG parfocal long range zooms.

Now, that’s worthy of investment!

Before we get all frothy at the mouth and loose at the wallet, we haven’t seen pictures (though both are promising 12 stops, ProRes 10 bit capture as well as raw, global shutter, et al), we haven’t got an actual shipping date (Black Magic are on the spot here), and it could all be show-stopping hype. But both AJA and Black Magic have effectively put the kybosh on many people’s purchasing decisions and both cameras offer – on paper at least – excellent value.

EDIT: More details came out about the camera. It’s 10 Kilograms with a lens and battery, so purchasers may want to think about their tripod heads and getting a good physiotherapist. Furthermore, it uses two C-Fast CF slots, which are quite expensive and don’t hold much footage when you’re shooting 10 bit 4K in an I-frame format like ProRes. A 128GB C-Fast card costs around $1,200 for 20 minutes of ProRes or 6 mins of raw. Come back, XQD cards, all is forgiven!

Right now, I’ll give the MDMA tip of the hat to AJA for the most desirable camera, but egad – the Ursa is so close behind and if they can deliver B4 they will win my vote. The GH4 was looking like the HVX200 of 2014 but may miss out to many users because of its Micro Four Thirds status.

Sony’s Alpha 7S was launched with great pizzazz, and is probably going to light fires under the 5D Mk3 market. But it’s a DSLR, and many of us have found that a DSLR just isn’t nice to use as a video camera if you’re being paid to deliver video. I think it’s excellent that Sony have included an S35 sensor crop and so your investment in S35/EF-S e-mount lenses is protected – you’re effectively getting a Canon 7D and 5D Mk3 in one body – and you have access to XLR audio through a special hot shoe with a £600 accessory. The body is tiny and it’s not hugely expensive. But it’s a DSLR style camera and I got on better with an AX100 than i did with an A7R when I had a chance to try lots of body styles.

So, welcome, AJA, to the camera market. You have a handsome product, but Black Magic is hot at your heals with interchangeable sensors. I trust AJA for its IO (which replaced a £35k Avid suite for me), and the Ki Pro (which replaced the Grass Valley things we were offered before). Your camera will always remind me of a pocket money Alexa and perhaps the comparison is deserved. But be aware of what Black Magic has done. The idea of swappable sensors is mind boggling.

C100 AF Upgrade – worth it?

Canon’s introduced Dual Pixel autofocus for faster, more accurate focus on certain lenses. It cost an extra £340 plus VAT. Is it worth it?

The demos have been very convincing, though until Philip Bloom’s recent trial they’ve been fairly ‘safe’ studio-based tests. Like most C100 owners, I’m more ‘run and gun’ – and whilst I prefer manual focus, there are times when it’s a joy to let the camera help out when you don’t have a chance to plan. Hand-held pick-up shots of activities, children, animals, or when you’re unable to reach the camera – cranes and jibs for example.

So I decided to further demonstrate the tax-deductible nature of our chickens by employing them as models for my test shoot. They are suitable unpredictable, active, and feathers are something fairly easy to judge focus by. The result is shared below – it’s got no sound, this is NOT a Philip Bloom style video, but it demonstrates the Dual Pixel AF in use. There are situations where it snatches focus well and holds onto it. There are situations where it just gives up.

I’ve done some slow motion sequences too, and with Canon STM lenses it really is quick – useful in the (limited) C100 slomo situations.

Of course, it’s not perfect.

Continuous AF can be a little TOO helpful, and luckily ‘1 Shot AF’ is still fully functioning, using the same speedy mechanism.

This way, you press the AF button when your subject spends a second or so in the centre of the screen, the AF settles, and it locks at that point. Not good for tracking, but much more helpful when you’re not using a composition that’s centre weighted. It’s also smart enough not to ‘defocus to refocus’ unlike contrast detecting AF, so I’ll be testing it out on conference shots following a speaker up and down the stage. This way, I can select WHEN the AF does its magic rather than suffer the embarrassment of having the camera develop an obsession with the background, or for me not nailing the focus at the end of a ‘walk’.

The STM lenses are designed for this mode. They’re great. I tried a few other lenses, and the 70-200 f4 is pretty snappy. The 24-105 is okay.

The Sigma 50mm 1.4 is… a dog. But I knew this. The Sigma as a photographic lens was so bad I almost ditched it. As a manual video lens, it’s pretty darn good, my second favourite after the Samyang 85 1.4. But the Sigma’s conversation with the C100 is still so simplistic that it can’t take advantage of the Dual Pixel AF mode, and insists on defocussing and then grunting away at pulling it into sharp focus – frequently giving up or getting it wrong. This is how it behaved on my Canon C550, so it’s no surprise.

Be aware that image stabilisation and auto focus systems make a noise. Leaving the AF in continuous on an image stabilised 70-200 f4 made quite a racket. You would want to turn off both in an interview, or at least use ‘One Shot AF’ if you need to rely on a camera mounted microphone.

Overall, yes – to an event videographer who owns an STM lens, this upgrade is Sine Qua Non. In fact, most C100 owners are going to find uses for it.

And therein lies the rub: this upgrade is not cheap. You have to send your camera off to Canon for a few days, and there’s been a waiting list. This upgrade has taken Canon by surprise in its popularity, it seems.

Canon initially offered this AF upgrade for C100 owners only. No, it wasn’t going to be available for the C300, and no, it would only be offered as an upgrade. Not ‘off the shelf’.

Well, guess what? You can now get the C100 with the AF ‘pre-installed’ at $500 extra on the price, there’s a waiting list for C300 owners to get the upgrade, and I’m pretty sure that at some stage the AF function will be on the C100 and C300 (or their newer siblings after NAB perhaps) at ‘no extra cost’. But hey – the original owners of the C100 got to pay the ‘shiny’ tax, but we had the camera earning its keep for 12-18 months before the upgrade. It’s not quite the ’S-Log upgrade’ that hung over the first PMW-F3 owners.

So, get your C100 upgraded – you’ll find the firmware goes up from 1.0.3.00 to 2.0.3.00 – showing that the hardware has been tweaked and proving it’s got the Dual Pixel AF upgrade installed.