Friday, September 30, 2011

Improving the budget fluidhead


I have been using the cheap Weifeng aka Fancier 717 fluid tripod head and I really appreciate the relatively small form factor and its fluid qualities but... there's one big drawback with this head and that's the quick-release plate. It is really fiddly to slide your camera with plate onto the tripod head: my Manfrotto head, for instance, has wedged edges that make sliding your camera onto the head a breeze. With the Weifeng/Fancier, this is bad design and a big drawback; particularly noticeable and aggrevating when you're working with a heavier setup like a DSLR rig or bigger/heavier camera than a DSLR. I simply could not mount my 15 pound DSLR rig with that quick-release plate...

But you can give your budget fluid head the same ease and convenience of a more expensive system. I mounted my Manfrotto 577 adapter plate on my Fancier quick-release plate and you will never have to deal with the Weifeng/Fancier quickrelase plate again! Another benefit is that -if you already use Manfrotto- you only have to use one type of quick-release plate. Calumet sells their own brand which is compatible with Manfrotto but much cheaper. (they have European stores as well: free delivery action running now!))


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mailbox: Accessories for my DSLR rig

Since I have just about everything for my DSLR rig, I might as well put the finishing touch to it. I had no way to comfortable carry the rig around so what I really needed was a top handle- and a way to mount it. There were two options: a square cage or a C-shaped support with top handle. I opted for the last one because in my case (I already have a basic Gini rig) it was cheaper.
After some research I opted for the Lanparte C-shaped Cage, a top handle and 2 rod-risers to accommodate a batterygrip for my camera's. Not cheap but good quality and very functional. After a little searching I found a place that was cheaper than eBay. I have the feeling that the old days -where the best deals were exclusively on eBay- are over...


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Filters for your mattebox

This is the first time I took my new Formatt 4x4 filters out for a spin. I have no experience with matteboxes and filters so I was very curious to see how they would behave.  It takes quite some getting used to working with a mattebox and filters. Not only is setup time considerably increased but try to find a bag big enough that will hold a rig with mattebox...
One of the first mistakes I made was to forget the 'donuts' that seal off the mattebox from light coming in from the rear, reflecting off the glass filters. In a few of these shots, the reflection is quite visible. I tried different configurations, adding and removing filters, opening up or stopping down the lens. This is just a first test, however, and now that I've seen the results I'm eager to do some more testing. Shooting water with only the polarizer, for instance, and doing comparisons between ND Grad .9 and ND .9
If there's anything you'd like to see in particular, let me know. For now, you get a pretty good impression of what these filters do and are capable of. Money well spent.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mailbox: Hi-Capacity LP-E8 (aftermarket)

I am hired to do my first professional photoshoot in a few weeks and I'm starting to get nervous already... What camera, what lenses, how many SDHC cards, shoot RAW, do I have enough batteries. I think I got everything worked out: bringing my Canon 550D/T2i because it's a nicer photocamera than the GH2, in my opinion, particularly because of the form factor.
Besides, my only two autofocus lenses fit just the Canon: the Tamron 17-50 2.8 VC and the Canon EF 50mm 1.8 II. I will pack two 16 GB cards. My biggest worry was running out of juice, considering I only have three batteries, of which two are clones. So I ordered an extra two, 'hi-capacity' batteries, which I received today from ECELL. Two LP-E8 replacements, rated 1930 mAh a piece. (23,- incl shipping). That's considerably more power than the original 1120 mAh Canon battery. But what does that mean in real life? I guess I'll find out and let you know how they fare on the job.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Cracked: close call for the GoPro HD

I went for a ride on my racebike yesterday and attached my GoPro HD with the special bikemount accessory I purchased. Everything went well for the first 80 kilometers but when I rode back into Amsterdam the GoPro seemed to shake more than a few hours before... I thought it was one of the screws that had vibrated itself loose and felt if the GoPro was still secured tight to my steering wheel. It felt solid but the camera shakes actually got worse. A minute later I checked again -still riding fast- and when I removed my hand the GoPro fell, nearly crashing onto the pavement at 30 km/hour... if it wasn't for a reflex in which I snatched the camera before it dropped to the ground...
The plastic part that was holding it simply broke off after 80 kilometers of shaking. But it shouldn't have: this is the same mount they use for motorcycles or mountainbikes and that is way more abusive than a relatively smooth ride over paved streets..? The only thing I can think of is that I somehow mounted it too stiff and there was no slack to release energy/drain vibrations..?
Because for a sports camera, this should not happen...


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mailbox: portable jib

Got my portable jib in today from Glidecam Industries, after 2,5 months... Actually, got two portable jibs. (One for me and one for fellow gearhead, 'Soundman Neal' here in the Netherlands.) We got a little discount on the shipping when ordering two... (Dutch buyers, by the way, get slapped by all sorts of taxes. For the two jibs it added up to €78,-) The goods arrived scratch-free, wrapped in bubble plastic and shipped in a cardboard box.

The jib feels solid- as it should because there's not that much to it. Black finish feels good, welding is rough but fine. The system is indeed portable because it's light, lighter than what you'd think by looking at it. (That's of course without the weights) I mounted it on my tripod, screwed my GH2 onto the jib and played with it a little. Even without counterweights (not included, have to find some...) it feels very solid, smooth and professional. No vibrations, no rattling, no slack. We'll have to find out if that stays that way when adding weights and other stuff...

Without a monitor there's no way to frame the shot and when I ordered the jib I didn't have a monitor. But now I do. I just noticed they're selling a 'jib monitor mount bracket' and at $15,- that is a no-brainer if you want to do more than landscapes and wide shots. Sorry, Neal, looks like this story isn't over yet...



Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Dream Come True

I have made possible 1,5 seconds of the production of Man-Child, a feature film to be made by Koo. He needed $115.000,- to make this film and yesterday it became clear that enough people chipped in on Kickstarter to make it happen. Wow. Congratulations! I believe 24 hours before the deadline he still needed $15.000,- and I never thought he was going to make it.
I have to give this guy a lot of respect. Things looked hopeless but up untill the last seconds Koo remained relentless in his drive to draw people into his dream. What focus and positivism can achieve... All his life he had been working towards this moment: investing, reading, writing, filming, blogging, giving, sowing. Waiting for that one moment to harvest.
A week or two before the deadline not even half the money was pledged. He started changing the reward levels- I thought it was a desperate move that could have an averse effect: people can be turned off when they're pushed and lured to obviously. But it worked.
The first time I increased my donation I got a Blu-ray DVD, the second time I officially owned the right rear wheel of his Volkswagen Jetta and at level three I was entitled to a full body massage by Koo's girlfriend Jasmine. Call it outrageous, call it obscene... but sometimes a man's gotta do what he's gotta do- to make his dream come true.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Great editing: the sum and the parts...

Breathtaking video and superb editing. I love the way these seemingly unrelated images come together to create a sensation that cannot be put to words. Just watch. (by the way, there is another, longer trailer that doesn't work for me, probably because I had seen this first...)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

This is the drill for my 15,- Pentax 6mm 1.2

I cannot get my Pentax 6mm 1.2 c-mount lens to focus on my Panasonic GH2. I am stuck with a fixed focus lens while others have been able to shoot good stuff with this wide-angle, fast lens I bought for €15,-
I am going to give this lens one last shot and bought a Dremel (mini-drill) that will help me modify my lens even further. I have instructions from people that have been succesful at getting infinity focus with comparable lenses... Either I'm going to shoot some lowlight, wide angle stuff pretty soon or I'll be stuck with a handfull of scrapmetal...


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mailbox: glass filters for my Mattebox


Got my set of 5 glass 4x4 filters in today. I didn't buy my mattebox for the looks, as I've read that many people do. I wanted one primarily because I want to control the amount of light entering my lenses and I wanted a 'one size fits all' solution. Later on I learned about other types of filters: I loved what the Polarizer did to reduce reflections and enhance saturation while the Graduated Filter prevents skies from blowing out. So I put together my own 'Starter's Kit', consisiting of :

  1. .03 ND Filter
  2. .06 ND Filter
  3. .09 ND Filter
  4. .06 ND Grad Filter
  5. Circular Polarizer Filter
Now how hard can it be to prepare this order? Apparently very hard because I was sent a 0.9 Grad ND as opposed to the 0.6 I specified. (Specified twice: once when placing the order and once after I paid. To make sure...)
The filters are new and engraved with the brandname and specifications. No complaints there  but the velcro on one of the pouches partly ripped off the very first time I opened it. No disaster but you don't want that to happen when you unwrap something new... Furthermore: on the seller's eBay store it says:

"Each Filter comes in its individual leather pouch casing."  

Do my casings look like leather to you..?


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Configuring a DSLR rig: phase one

 It took me about half a year but I believe I finally have everything a functional rig should comprise of: a Gini rig, a follow focus, a camera light, a matte box and a monitor. For the first time I have put it all the elements together and it has been a puzzle. Instead of everything working the way I hoped for, I am running into all sorts of issues. First one: I cannot use my batterygrip on my Canon 550D/T2i because both the mattebox and follow focus don't raise that high. For the same reason I can't use my Manfrotto quick release plate and I really dislike having to screw my camera unto the Gini camera plate. The follow focus and the mattebox fight for space the left side of the rig. With a wide angle lens I cannot slide my matte box unto the lens because the FF sits in the way...
Balancing this rig will be a real challenge. I guess I've learned that building a rig is like designing a tool: it will work only after a lot of trial and error. Phase one is finding a place for everything and making it work with my most important lenses. Phase two will be balancing it for shoulderwork.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Stunning looks: don't fix it in post!

Fix it in-camera. People always talk about getting the most neutral or 'flat' picture profiles as possible, to be able to tweak the look of their video later on with color correction software. But there are some good arguments why you don't want to go that route. For one: you don't have time to manipulate all the shots in postproduction. Or: you don't have the skills.
Another good reason is that you can get such incredible result tweaking the camera settings that there simply is no reason to want more. This fine looking, very informative video shows you how to play around with the settings in camera so you can get that specific look you want, without any color correction after the shoot.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

3.2 gigabyte panorama picture?

We all know panorama pictures: a series of pictures 'stitched together' to form a very wide angle view photograph. A gigapixel photograph is not a series of photo's stitched together but a series of panorama photo's stitched together: an ├╝ber-panorama photograph! Making such a photograph manually is painstaking and not the most enlightening chore imaginable. Unless you're a monk and find peace and enlightment in repitition...
For non-monks Gigapan systems developed a robot that makes these pictures for you, and much better than you could do yourself. Here you can take a look at some pictures taken with this device. Combine these with timelapse and the freak-factor is complete...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Testing my 'film-lens' collection

Earlier this year I bought a set of Carl-Zeiss Jena and Meyer-Optik prime lenses that had been modified for film-use. The seller had made the aperture-rings click-less for smooth, jitter-free aperture adjustment and every lens had a custom-made gear ring for easier focussing, with or without follow-focus.
The seller considered this a set 'that belonged together' because the footage of these lenses was supposed to cut well together and the lenses cover a nice range from 20mm to 135mm.
Meanwhile I had been bitten by the lens-bug and have acquired quite a few other lenses, impulsively or because I had really liked the footage that was shot with that particular lens. I have shot a lot of footage with all these lenses but never really tested that first collection of Carl-Zeiss Jena's and Meyer-Optik's.
In the next week I'm planning to put this collection to the test and see what makes these lenses special.


Friday, September 16, 2011

I've Sold my Soul without Selling my Film... now it's time to Sell my Film without Selling my Soul. At least that's what the authors of this book promise with the book of the same title. The book is free up untill October 1 and you can get different versions: for iPad, iPhone, pdf, Kindle, Sony E-Reader, you name it. Enhanced with video interviews with filmmakers. Only the paperback will cost money.
This is a great initative and promises to be of great help in raising money for postproduction for the documentary I'm working on.
I've been trying to download a copy for my iPad but I can't because it's only offered in the US iTunes Store, not in the Dutch one..??!! What the..? I am a World Citizen, not a prisoner of Holland?! Come on, Apple, figure it out. You're getting worse than Mickeysoft! Luckily I was able to download a pdf from the film collaborative's website but I want to watch those interviews as well!@! Anyway, get your copy while it's free and make sure to spread the word.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

In search of the best 4x4...

The search for a set of 4x4 filters for my mattebox is on. I've been doing some online research and I talked to a Tiffen representative at IBC last week and we could have talked the entire day. Selecting and using filters is a science all in its own... Initially I set out to buy a ND-filter because that's the main reason I bought the mattebox: to control the light coming in without having to have an ND-filter for every lens...but there's so much more to filters.
And there's so many more filters: Polarizers, ND's, graduated ND's, Black Mist, Skin Tone Enhancers, Hard Edged, Soft Edged, Diffusion filters, Sunset and Sunrise filters... after a talk to the Tiffen guy I was convinced I needed them all. Total cost would run into thousands of Euro's.

Now I've calmed down somewhat and am looking at a starter kit from Formatt. A polarizer for better contrast/reduce reflections, two ND filters for controlling the amount of light entering the lens, Super Mist for softening harsh/blue light and a Skin Tone filter for creating warm skin tone or warming outdoor shots of foliage, trees and the likes. But will I use all these filters? And how good is Formatt? People rave about Schneider and Tiffen but you hear little about Formatt. I just saw them at Zacuto's online store- a reputable store and maker of high-end gear. But does that make Formatt high end? To be continued...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Photoshop for Video Tips & Tricks

 I am not a Photoshop-adept by any means. I enviously eyeball people who effortlessly skate through layers, click frolickly on a filter here and an alpha channel there.... I can't stand it... I desperately want to be proficient at Photoshop but the reality is: I use it too little to ever really crack that nut.

For people like me, Video University has a helpful sheet with Photoshop for Video Tips & Tricks.

Some of the topics include:
  • Creating an Image for Video Use

  • Tips for Viewing Pixel Aspect Ratios

  • Using Logos

  • Extracting Elements from an Image


    If you want to go more in-depth, Photoshop guru Richard Harrington's Photoshop for Video has gotten some great reviews on Amazon- and beyond.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Living for The Shot

I was sent this video yesterday and was blown away by the power of these images and the great voice-over. (I understood only half of it but that was more than enough) Passion, poetry, craftsmanship combine to make it much more than the sum of the elements. Raw and subtle, smooth and rough, beautiful and dangerous... there's no denying this one...

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Great 50mm 1.4 Shootout

I own two great 50mm prime lenses: the Canon FD 50mm 1.4 and the Super Takumar 50mm 1.4 I They are both fast, sharp and I love the images they produce. Since they're both 50mm 1.4 it is interesting to see how these two wonderful lenses perform and how they compare in a number of different situations.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The 3,- DSLR grip

I posted this about 8 months ago, albeit in Dutch at the time: a 3,- grip that improves stability when shooting handheld with a DSLR by 100%. I haven't used it much because I don't shoot much handheld. But the day before yesterday I shot a short interview using the combination of the old flash bracket and GH2 and it worked very nicely. Secondhand shops have buckets full of these and I even got a discount: 2 for 5,-! If you combine them you have a dual handshooter for walking staircases, for instance. They even fold up for ultra-portability. Don't leave home without one... (or two)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A small taste of IBC Amsterdam

I did a short interview with filmmakers Nino Leitner and Sebastian Weingartner at the Sachtler stand at IBC about DSLR's, gear and related topics. They were there promoting the new Sachtler Ace tripod kit. Here is a review by Philip Bloom, a friend and colleague of theirs. (they offer DSLR workshops together) I did this all handholding the GH2 so there is a slight increase of shaking towards the end... (kind of silly: I was filming at the Sachtler stand, surrounded by tripods and decided to go handheld...)

Nino & Sebastian at IBC Amsterdam from Filmersblog on Vimeo.

Friday, September 9, 2011

At IBC interviewing Nino and Sebastian

Just did a short interview using the GH2 at the Sachtler stand.
Will post video later!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Usable audio on the Canon 550D/T2i

With Magic Lantern installed on the Canon 550D/T2i you can get good audio without having to buy separate audio recorders and sync that audio later in post. Many have said that the audio is not good enough for professional use. Period. But if you listen to Mordy here, the audio is perfectly usable for interviews. He also gives some good tips on setting the levels.

Canon T2i/550D with Magic Lantern: DSLR Audio that you can use! from Mordy G on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Cost of Carelessness


I just picked up my repaired Sony EX1-R that dropped to the ground a few months ago. Total costs: €630,70 (the equivalent of US $885,-) Parts were €330,-, labor €200,- Fortunately I am insured but unfortunately the first €250,- is at my own risk.
Nico, owner and only employee of Camcorder Service, has done a nice job of putting my camera back together and documented the repair with a series of photographs. If you like to take a look at the inside of an EX1-R, here's your chance:


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sony's $600,- NEX-5N vs Panasonic's $1000,- GH2

I've played around a little with the Sony NEX-5N in an electronics store during my trip to the USAand really liked the quality of this little gem. Shallow depth of field and interchangeable lenses, comparable to what you can get with a DSLR in a package that slips into your vest pocket!

EOSHD has done a comparison with the GH2. I thought the NEX-5N looked nice in the store... but seeing this... we can conclude that the GH2 is capable of much, much better video. Which is not to say that I wouldn't mind a Sony NEX-5N for Christmas...

Sony NEX 5N versus Panasonic GH2 - EOSHD Review from Andrew Reid on Vimeo.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Speed of Lenses

I conducted another entirely non-scientific test to see what the speed of lenses means for a bunch of lenses I own. What does it mean when a manufacturer claims that a lens has a maximum aperture of 1.2? I guess it means only what it means to our eyes.
So I took 8 lenses that are supposedly 'fast' and shot wide open with very dim light. You get an idea how the different lenses fare in low light, and how they fare in comparison to one another.
It is an unfair comparison in most cases. You can only compare a 50mm 1.4 against another 50mm 1.4. (which I did) But I also threw in my 25mm 1.4, just because it's a 1.4...
I lined up film lenses, TV lenses, FD, M42 and C-mount, all of them under f2.0

The one question that remains is: Is there an institution verifying claims of lens-speeds by manufacturers? (in other words: how do we know what we're paying for?)

Camera: Panasonic GH2

Music: ' I'm getting Ready' by Michael Kiwanuka

The Speed of Lenses from Filmersblog on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Funky, dirtcheap 'magic rig'

I've seen this device before and am intrigued by the design. It actually looks great and I am really curious how this contraption feels and works in real life. For the price, I am tempted to buy it but I shouldn't. I have too much crap as it is. On the other hand, whatever I don't use I can usually sell without too much of a loss.This design is truly a 'spider', despite all the other devices that have been given that name. I like how it folds up, transforms into a low-angle shooter, cage, shoulder rig and everything inbetween. Of course it is not going to hold a follow focus and I'm not sure how much weight it can handle before involuntarily 'folding all by itself'. But at 73 dollars shipped... that's a steal- even if it's half as good as it looks! (for that price you can even melt it and sell it with profit to the scrap-metal dealer ;-)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Give a little, take a little...

Here's a guy who has put a lot of hard work into building a blog called NoFilmSchool, creating a lot of great content with the intention to realize his one great dream: to produce and direct his own feature film. Koo gave us a lot, the DSRL Cinematography Guide, for example, but also countless good articles on 'How to Build a Hackintosh', gear reviews and other good stuff that filmers and editors need to get things done & get it done on a budget.
After all that he's given away for free, he is now asking us to help him realize his dream by making a contribution to the production of his film Man-Child, a movie 'exploring the high stakes world of youth basketbal'. I pledged $25,-, not an amount that is going to hurt me, and if only 5000 people give that same amount (1% of his half million visitors a month) he can make his dream come true. We don't need big studios or big business to get our projects realized... we only need eachother.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Where's my jib?

If there's one thing I hate it's waiting. Especially if things keep being moved forward without obvious reason and you're not being informed. No, I'm not talking about your average video assignment where appointments and dates fly around like leaves in the wind- I'm talking about something I paid for over 2 months ago and that should have been delivered one month back...
Now 'things' happen and we all understand that, but rule number one in this -and any- business is to communicate to your customers what's going on. People will put up with a lot if only you will keep them informed. But that is not happening with my order from Glideshot Industries. I made special arrangements because I expected my jib to arrive at a certain time. But for no apparent reason that's all changed and I'm being kept in the dark. I'm afraid those high tilt shots won't be part of my shoot next week. And that s*cks. Just because it's a budget jib I shouldn't be getting 'budget service'..?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Mailbox: LP-E6 + charger

I received my aftermarket LP-E6 battery and charger today that I ordered while in the US. In addition to another set of 2 batteries plus charger I bought during my stay in America for use with my SmallHD DP4, I now have three batteries and 2 chargers in total.
The charger I received today is a familiar one: the same model that came with my first order of LP-E6 batteries. It has a removable battery-plate that you can swap for other types of camera batteries. The battery is 1800 mAh as opposed to the 2200 mAh from my previous (US) order. The printing on the battery is also different but the body feels and looks the same.


You can use a single LP-E6 to power the DP4 so I'm curious to see whether the 2200 mAh lasts longer than the 1800 mAh. Moreover: does or can anyone verify/control what Chinese manufactureres put on their products? How do we even know that 1800 mAh is not really 1400 mAh? Or is that just the risk we take at $15 for a battery+charger incl shipping, a fraction of official Canon battery prices..?

Note: the batteries I bought from the US seller for 19,- are still holding up, after about 3,5 hours of operation on the DP4. In addition to the wall-charger they ship with a car-charger.  So they look like a much better deal. Seller does not guarantee info-recognition in camera but that's a feature I don't need.