LiteGear’s LiteMat is an impressively versatile location LED


For a long time I’ve been hunting for the perfect LED light. In the documentary-driven work I do, that means a light that packs down small, sets up quickly, controls spill, accurately reproduces color, is bright enough to fill strong window light, can dial from tungsten to daylight without gelling, is fully dimmable without flickering or color shifts, can run off a brick battery, and is a good value for the money. Is that too much to ask?


LiteGear came to my attention on a recent commercial shoot with Jeremy Mackie, a supremely talented Seattle gaffer. I noticed Jeremy using a home-made box light that he built out of wood and LiteGear’s LiteRibbon. It looked a little scary to me, but the quality of light it produced was absolutely wonderful. So I went to LiteGear’s website to see if they had something a little more approachable for us less DIY types.

LiteMat-Slider-2-1014x350It turns out my timing was perfect. After learning what gaffers like Jeremy were doing with LiteRibbon (used to light the set of Her, among other significant films), LA-based LiteGear decided to make a light for rest of us. The result is called the LiteMat, which had just begun shipping. After reading the impressive specs, I chose the LiteMat2 because at 21″x21″ it seemed big enough to be effective in a variety of situations, but small enough to transport readily.

The first thing I noticed taking the LiteMat2 out of the box is that it looks like a cousin of the KinoFlo. It has a Kino center mount built into the unit, and the backing on the light feels like it’s constructed of the same study plastic hollow-core material as many Kino lights. The kit ships with a Kino-flo branded twist-on mount with 5/8″ baby receiver. Good stuff.


The LiteMat2 hybrid unit is the width of my thumb! This puts it into a special category of softbox.  At 21×21 inches, it’s a slightly awkward size to pack around. But the travel bag that comes with the unit has a pocket for everything, and it packs down really slim.


The LiteMat2 hybrid kit comes with everything you need to get the most from the light in a variety of situations:

  • a velcro-lined skirt that allows you to control light spill and attach diffusion
  • a rugged travel bag with pockets for all accessories
  • 3 types of diffusion material (1/4 grid, 1/2 grid and full grid cloth)
  • flicker-free LED dimmer
  • extra-long power cable
  • AC adapter
  • mirrored egg crate that transmits 100 percent of the light (unlike the more common black crate that cuts output by up to a full stop).
  • Kino-flo twist-on mount with junior receiver.


The whole kit weighs 14 pounds when packed. Because it’s so flat, it’s pretty easy to find space for it. The case is reinforced with hard plastic, so you really won’t need a hard case for this light, unless you plan to ship it. I haven’t flown anywhere with mine yet. For taking this baby on the road, I’m thinking a medium-sized suitcase in checked luggage.

IMG_6244The only additional item you’ll need, if you want to power the light from a brick battery, which I definitely recommend, is a $26 d-tap battery adapter.

Value comparison
As far as I know, no other LED panel that I’m aware of comes complete with this many accessories. Lets do a little comparison with LitePanels Astra, shall we? The Astra bi-color unit is $1,300. If you want to use a battery with it, you have to pay more – a lot more. If you want a softbox with it, more again. If you want different levels of softening for the front of the softball, each costs $50. Here’s a comparison:

Astra: $1,350
Softbox: $234
Set of 3 cloth diffusers $76.50
LitePanels grid: $225
Battery plate: $148
PortaBrace Astra case: $210

Astra total: $2,243.50
LiteMat2 total: $1,526

LiteMat2 savings: $719


In addition to being a great value, the LiteMat2 is incredibly versatile. It’s light enough that you can tape it to the ceiling or a wall with painter’s tape, for example.

IMG_6470A velcro skirt attaches to the unit, turning it into a soft box.


Three grades of grid cloth are included: 1/4, 1/2 and full grid.

I can imagine making a simple skirt for this light, using black fabric and velcro, that would turn it into a space light.

I judge a light’s brightness by what f-stop I can set at ISO 800 at 6 feet. By that standard, this light is an f/4.0 cranked all the way up in normal (green) mode, 5600K, battery powered (see below for more on modes and battery operation). Which means it’s an f/2.8 at 12 feet, f/8 at 3 feet, etc.

That certainly makes it more than bright enough to use as a key light for an interior interview, and as fill for north window light. Controlling spill using the included egg crate is as simple as velcroing it on.


It’s a cinch to hang it off a medium-duty light stand, using a stand extender to get it out over the subject, for a no-fuss interview key. In the example below, I’m using a scrim bag to hold the battery and dimmer, and a Manfrotto 420B combi-boom stand. This is a lightweight, aluminum stand, but with its counterweight bag, it’s no problem to boom this light securely.


Battery operation
A surprising thing happens when the LiteMat is powered from a brick battery: it gets about 1/3 stop brighter than when plugged into AC power. I’m scratching my head over that one, but I love cutting the cord whenever I can, so I’m not complaining. Repositioning the light is as easy as grabbing the stand and moving it. Now that brick batteries are pushing beyond 250wh capacity, powering it with battery all the time becomes a real option.

How long does it last on a brick battery?  I tested it with a 90wh Switronix v-lock, and after 1 hour at full intensity (green mode, daylight), it had only lost 1/10th of a stop in brightness. Five minutes later, it was down 2/10ths of a stop. At 75 minutes, 1/3 stop brightness. By an hour and 20 minutes, it’s down a full stop, which is where I ended the test. Its slow decline in intensity probably says more about the battery than it does the light.


The dimmer can be easily programmed in three modes. To do so, press the recessed Prog button with a pen for about a second. The status light will begin blinking. Then, dial the Kelvin temp dial to select which mode you want. Depress the Prog button again to confirm setting.

Three are three modes (activated by pressing the Alt switch):

White: Overdrive (default). This provides 1/3 stop more light on the daylight (6000K) channel. It has no effect on the tungsten channel.

Blue: Low-power. This cuts the output by 75 percent (2 stops), allowing more precise dimming at low light levels.

Yellow: 2-channel. This allows you to control the brightness of the tungsten and daylight channels independently, which allows both channels to be powered at 100 percent at the same time. This allows you to get maximum brightness from the light, making it twice as bright as it would otherwise be at 4300 Kelvin.

Color accuracy
The numbers for this light are VERY good. Not only does it score well on the CRI standard, but it does well on the newer standard, TLCI. According to LiteGear, this light scores CRI 95 across the temperature range. But TLCI reveals it’s more accurate at the daylight end, scoring a 95 there, 92 in the middle at 4300K, and 89 on tungsten. Very impressive.

My own test is a simple one. I shoot a Kodak grey card, first at 3200k white balance on both the camera and light, and then at 5600k. I look at the vectorscope. There should just be a tight dot in the very middle of the crosshairs. However, that’s almost never the case.

With LiteMat2, the color range stated on the dimmer is 3000k – 6000k. However, I was able to place things closest to the crosshairs by setting 2800K on the warm end and 5600k on the cool end. Here’s what my test showed:



Looking at a scope like this from an LED makes me want to dance! Even though it’s not “perfect,” it’s really great. In fact, I’m guessing that my simple vectorscope measuring the temp is less accurate than LiteGear’s, but I wanted to see how it landed on my camera, since that’s what I’ve been using to measure all my other lights.

But enough about the numbers. How does the light actually look? I’ve been shooting with LiteMat2 on a few projects over the past couple weeks, and I’d like to share a few frames:

LiteMat2 used as key light in softbox mode with 1/4 grid cloth

skerittLiteMat2 used as key-side fill with window light as key with 1/4 grid cloth

nicerLiteMat2 as key, with 1/4 grid cloth

boyLiteMat2 used as key-side fill to wrap light around face from window with 1/4 grid cloth and crate

This is, without hesitation, the best light I’ve ever used for quick interview setups. I can’t stress how freeing it is to control brightness and color by dial rather than by gel. I just set this light up, dim and color balance to eye, and roll camera. Most of my interviews last about 40 minutes, easily within the range of a 90wh brick battery, which in my testing lasted more than an hour.

No light is perfect, of course, and I find myself wishing that the mirrored crate wasn’t so heavy. It’s not as heavy as the light itself, but damned near. Is that all I can find to say bad about this light? For now, at least! I’ll update this post as I spend more time with it.

So. To sum up in a single sentence: the LiteMat2 is a versatile weapon in the war against lame lighting. It’s a light that gets me excited about lighting, because it shortens the distance between what I see in my imagination and what I see on the monitor. And it’s a real bargain considering it comes with virtually every accessory you’ll need.

Some observations on the Sony A7rii for documentary filmmaking

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 10.53.43 AM

The A7rii is the first DSLR to firmly grip my imagination since the 5dmkii. I spent Labor Day weekend getting to know this beast a little better. And I have a few observations to share. I’ll avoid covering the same ground as others already have. Suffice it to say that this camera records 4K internally, has built-in image stabilization, super 35, full frame video, back-lit sensor with serious low light skills, etc. On paper, at least, it looks like a documentary filmmakers wet dream. So, is it?

Here’s a few things I would like to submit for your consideration.

1. This camera really does capture 14 stops of dynamic range. No, I didn’t do a lab test. I didn’t have to, because I’ve never seen footage like this before. This is potentially a beautiful thing. But…

2. Getting a great image off Slog-2 requires much patience. I spent the weekend playing with it in Resolve, and using a variety of Slog-2 LUTs. Grading Slog footage is far less intuitive than grading Canon C-log, in my experience. However, it’s also more rewarding. When you’re done, you have an image that a Cinema EOS like the C100 could only dream of  producing. But I’m not about to give up my C100 mkii just yet. More on why shortly.

3. It’s HARD to screw up your exposure. That is, you can overexpose by up to THREE STOPS and still not worry too much about clipping. If you underexpose, you’ll get a bunch of noise in the shadows, and have to de-noise in post. But you’ll still have a usable image. It’s a lot like shooting raw, in this way. Pretty amazing. NOTE: If you’re shooting slog2 (and you should be) you will want to generally overexpose everything by two stops, to avoid noise in the shadows.

steady4. The image stabilization is really good, but it’s not a silver bullet. I found that it was possible to handhold footage up to about 35mm, maybe 50mm (in full frame mode); beyond that, it’s Movi time. And forget trying to shoot handheld with Super 35 crop mode – the rolling shutter is just too noticeable. Still, it’s the first time I’ve been able to seriously consider using a DSLR to handhold anything other than hybrid stabilized lenses like my Canon 100mm 2.8 macro IS. So that’s really something.

Using the camera with a lens like the excellent Sony FE PZ 28-135mm f/4 G OSS Lens, which I tested it with, yields great results when shooting in full-frame mode.


5. Full-frame video look very, very good. While others have reported moire, and theoretically there should be some,  I didn’t observe it even in finely knit clothing like sweaters. So Sony seem to have really figured out a pixel-binning algorithm that works. Full frame video suffers much less from rolling shutter than it does in Super 35 mode (but Super 35 is much better in low light).

6. The batteries are pretty much useless. The tiny battery gave me under an hour of shooting time. But you can power it off a USB charger. So here we start down the path of building our rig…

7. No built-in NDs, of course. You absolutely have to use a matte box, and now we’re really getting rigged up. This is pretty much a deal-breaker for me, for documentary use. Thought: Wouldn’t it be interesting if Sony added built-in ND filters to video lenses like the FE PZ 28-135? Seriously, I want a heavy matte box on the front of my lenses like Rosie O’Donnell wants Trump to be the next president.

At the end of the day, this is an extremely well-speced hybrid camera – half stills, half video. I will definitely being using it for special situations, like when I need to have 4K, or when I want to get stabilization out of non-IS lenses. In fact, I have a shoot coming up in which I need to shoot handheld with a Lensbaby, and I think this camera will be perfect for that.

In order for this camera to displace the C100mkii as my documentary camera of choice, it would need a lot of ergonomic improvements like built-in NDs, longer lasting battery, and faster access to the menu items I need. My biggest daily battle is just getting the shot, so I need a camera that can support me 100 percent in that effort.

Rumor has it that Sony is going to make an announcement about a new video camera later this week. Things would be very interesting indeed if Sony were to transplant this camera’s heart-stopping, full-frame, 14-stop grabbing, lusciously backlit sensor into a real video camera body for, oh, about $5K. Here’s hoping!

5 steps to color perfect c100 footage using LUTs

Why is the C100mkii a ridiculously awesome camera? It’s not the fluid ergonomics, the built-in ND filters, or the camera’s snappy autofocus. Your audience can’t see how you got the footage; they just see that you did get the footage. And the footage is what’s epic. Canon’s color science is why we pay the medium bucks for the EOS Cinema series cameras. But to get the most from your footage requires a little work. By following these steps, you’ll get 12 beautiful stops of highlight-holding dynamic range, every time you press record. Here’s how.

Before shooting:

1. Set minimum ISO to 850. Unlike with a traditional DSLR, choosing a lower ISO will NOT result in a better image on this camera. Instead, it will rob you of dynamic range. So always always always set a minimum ISO of 850. In low light you can go higher – much higher, in fact, and get great results. But never go lower.

2. Shoot Canon Log (CP Cinema Locked). This is the only way to get the full 12 stops of dynamic range out of your camera. The footage will initially appear flat when you view it. But you have plenty of quick options for giving it snap, crackle and pop by applying LUTs. More about that momentarily.

3. Enable View Assist. The image on your LCD will appear flat, and to fix that and give you an approximation of the final image while shooting, you’ll need to turn on the view assist. It’s located in the LCD menu. TIP: I add this and several other settings to the custom menu, which makes finding them much quicker than hunting through the menus.

After shooting:

4. Use a LUT. A LUT (Look Up Table) is an automatic color correction designed specifically for your camera, which is applied to your footage in post. Which LUT to use? I recommend these free EOS Cinema LUTs from Able Cine. To apply them to your footage, you’ll need an inexpensive plugin like the $29 LUT Utility. These will work as a plugin to the NLE of your choice (i.e., Premiere, FCPX, etc).

5. Adjust LUT intensity to get desired look. Using LUT Utility, you can adjust the effect from zero to 100 percent. I often find that dialing in 60-80 percent of the effect is just about right.

Here’s an example, an interview shot in front of a window. The challenge is we’d like to make her skin look awesome, while at the same time retaining as much highlight information as possible in the background. So we shoot in CP Locked, and…

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 11.56.56 AM

Above: CP Locked footage looks flat prior to grading.

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 12.11.14 PM

LUT applied (no other color correction). As you can see above, this instantly does wonders for our footage. But it still needs a little work.

Getting the most from LUTS

To get the most dynamic range (that is, visible detail in your image from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights) choose the CxxxLog10toWideDR_Full option (the one applied above).

To get punchier results, and more life in the skin tones, try one of the other two (the ones beginning with ABNorm- and JR45-), continuing to choose the -WideDR_Full option for each.

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 12.23.27 PM


ABNorm_CxxxLog10toWideDR_Full appliedAdding this LUT makes our image appear too crushed, in my opinion, and slightly over-saturated. There are two ways to correct that while retaining the punchier color of the effect. You can lighten the image (in this case, by pushing up the midtones) or you can reduce the LUT intensity.

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 12.31.34 PM

Mid-tone brightness increased to compensate, above.

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 12.33.28 PMFinally, reducing the intensity of the ABNorm- or JR45- LUTs, which tend to overly saturate and crush the image, allow you to dial in just the right amount of correction.

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 12.36.41 PM


The final results. Notice how lifelike the skin tones are, and how the important detail in the background is preserved. Besides applying the LUT, the only color correction I’ve applied to this frame is a slight boost in the midtones.

Conclusion: Using a LUT, we can very quickly get everything out of our c100 footage that the camera is capable of giving us. Vibrant skin tones, crisp blacks, and 12 stops of dynamic range that allows us to hold detail in brightly lit areas of our frame, such as the background used in this example.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend my time thinking about the content of my films than how to color grade them. Using a C100 and a LUT, you can have both.

The Mystery of the Flint River

“I hate editing. But I’m good at it.”

That’s what I said to director Michael Hanson when he asked me if I would cut a film from a short trip that he took down the Flint River with his camera and microphone for American Rivers. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through their advocacy efforts. And, Michael is an extraordinary talented photographer who shoots for, among others, National Geographic. So I said yes.

With some consulting help from Mark Bashore, and of course, lots of input from Michael, here is the result.

The music for this piece is so important. It sets the mysterious mood. I discovered it on The Music Bed, two tracks by Steven Gutheinz, “The Sun” and “A Message.”

I had to learn Premiere Pro to cut this film.  I found the experience tolerable and the tool adequate. I’m glad I cut this in Premiere, actually, because it gave me a whole new appreciation for Final Cut Pro X, which remains my NLE of choice. It’s not that Premiere sucks, it’s just that FCPX is so fluid, so quiet, so undemanding. FCPX flows like a river, and Premiere is like driving from Fremont to West Seattle at 4:30pm on a Friday. But in the end, it takes you there.  Just like that river.



Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence looks for help to tackle the toughest AI challenges

My latest commercial piece is a recruiting video designed to attract talent to the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, which has it’s offices tucked along the north shore of Lake Union here in Seattle.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the best gaffer in Seattle, Jeremy Mackie, on this project. But I got more than just his top-notch lighting skills. After many years lighting films like Eden and Fat Kid Rules the World, Jeremy is looking to step behind the camera and work as a DP. I was thrilled to give him the opportunity on this project, and I think the results speak for themselves. Having a DP who knows lighting inside out, backwards and forwards the way Jeremy does is just epic.

Rounding out the crew on this one were Mike Astle, grip; Justin Dolkiewicz-Kotsenas, AC, and Nickolas Abercrombie, sound. I did the drone work myself with a Phantom 3.

Ryan Schwalm was my camera assistant/grip on the pickup shots.

A couple things worth mentioning technically: As you can see in the photos above, we used a Dana Dolly for most of the b-roll. It really brought some life the office scenes, which would have otherwise been pretty static. I had the dolly mounted on low-boy combo stands with rollers, which made it quick and easy for Jeremy to pick up the b-roll we needed while the rest of the crew was packing up at the end of the day.

And take a look at that hand-made LED light, hey? It’s a real piece of work, something Jeremy cobbled together from parts supplied by Lite Gear. It was a great fill source: portable and color-temperature controllable with very high CRI. I want to make one!

Finally, we used a pair of powerful HMI lights on this shoot, an M18 and 800-watt Joker, to bring up the interview subjects to match the window light in the background. But in one case, this approach backfired. When the CEO saw the rough cut, the CEO felt he was squinting too much as a result of all that light. So we had to reshoot him, using mostly natural window light with a single Kino Tegra for fill. It’s great to play with the big guns, but keeping it simple is sometimes best when it comes to working with non actors.

5 reasons to crash your Phantom 2 immediately

I DP’d a short promo film for the 60 Second Film Festival recently, which involved quite a few drone shots. After nailing them all with my Phantom 2, I made a stupid mistake: I relaxed. With my eyes off the drone for a moment,  a huge douglas fir reached out and swallowed it. You gotta keep your eyes on those trees! A professional tree climber retrieved it a day later, but it’s gimbal was damaged. When I considered the cost of repairing it, vs. purchasing a new Phantom 3, I made the decision to upgrade.

After less than a week with my Phantom 3, (which I purchased from the fine pros at The Copter Shop in Woodinville) I can assure you that crashing  my Phantom 2 was the best thing that could have happened to my aerial cinematography. Here’s 5 reasons why.

1. The DJI Pilot app is ridiculously awesome. My head is still spinning with the mad power it puts at your fingertips: a map that shows you where the drone is and how it’s pointed, an HD monitor that gives you a beautiful real-time camera view, ability to override automatic exposures or temporarily lock them during a shot, ability to switch between stills and video, and so much more. With a finger swipe, you can hide the overlays and just see the gorgeous Lightbridge video stream. Going from Phantom 2 to this isn’t just an incremental upgrade – it’s an altogether different way of flying.

2. Full manual exposure controls. On the fly, using the Pilot app, you can assert full manual control over exposure. So, if you want to do a slow tilt up over dark green water to reveal a sun-drenched horizon, now you can do that without blowing out the horizon as it comes up. Try that on your GoPro!

3. Integrated 4k camera. The built-in camera is much easier to use than GoPro Hero. For starters, you don’t have to go through the tedious step of replacing camera batteries – ever – because the camera is powered directly from the flight battery. Next, replacing the microSD card doesn’t require doing surgery on the camera with tools – just insert it directly into the side of the craft. Also, the lens has threaded filters, which is going to make it super easy to mount ND filters as soon as they are on the market (the fine folks at Snake River Prototyping assure me they are hard at work on making compatible filters even as we speak).  Also, the camera doesn’t have that silly fisheye problem that all GoPros suffer from. Sold!

4. Lightbridge. You get crystal clear HD video transmission in real time, and it allows you to fly far, far away. Like a mile or more, and still see clearly. For me, this makes full FPV flying a real option for the first time. The video transmits through semi-permeable objects like trees, no problem, while my Phantom 2 would go to static the moment I went behind a tree.

5. Instant fine-tuning of stick sensitivity.
When you’re doing aerial cinematography, you want very sluggish sticks at the beginning of the stick, but you want them to respond normally at the far end of the stick. That gives you a fighting chance when doing complicated moves like circling an object, or for a parallax shot. Or just for doing a slow, feathered start or stop to a move. On my Phantom 2, I tired all kinds of advanced calibration, and ultimately junked all of them because I couldn’t get it right. Part of the problem was that you had to connect to your computer to apply a calibration, then disconnect, test, and try again.

exponentialWith the Phantom 3, you get the ability to set the response curve of the sticks (see graphic at right) without connecting to a computer. All the configuration options are a few swipes away in the DJI Pilot app.

After just one evening of test flying and stick calibrating, I was able to pull off a very difficult circling-while-climbing shot that I never would have attempted on my Phantom 2. And it feels like just the beginning of what’s possible with this craft.

A life-and-death decision

A Life and Death Decision

My most recent project, for UW Medicine, explains palliative care through the eyes of Mark and Alice Beaty, who faced a life-and-death decision when their son Adam was in a terrible accident.

Working on this video, I was reminded why story is king. Palliative care is a pretty dry topic to talk about, but listening to Mark and Alice tell their story is arresting. And by breaking up their story into several parts, we were able to get the client’s required background into the piece (who their largest donors are, etc.) without it becoming overwhelmingly boring.

This piece was shot over three and a half days of interviews, with b-roll comprised of stock footage, family photos and drone footage shot with my Phantom 2.

If there’s one thing I learned on this project, it’s that  a 2-person crew just doesn’t cut it for projects of this kind. My assistant Ryan Schwalm and I were physically overextended by having to push a huge cart of equipment around to the many locations. And a two-camera shoot really needs an operator for each camera – it’s not possible for me as director to do a great job interviewing AND maintaining focus.

I just finished another shoot for a different client in which I had a 5-person crew, including myself (gaffer/dp, grip, camera assistant, and sound recordist). That was a revelation to me: everything ran smooth, nobody was stressed out, the client was thrilled, and I actually enjoyed myself. Wow.

I will be planning for more crew on just about everything I do from here on out.

Canon C100 mkii configuration guide

configguidec100mkiiThe C100 mkii is an amazing documentary camera. It’s capable of 12 stops of dynamic range and it gives you everything you need (ND filters, EVF, phantom power, etc.) without additional rigging. But to get the most cinematic performance out of it,  it’s important to set it up correctly, and remap one of the buttons. Here’s how I configure my camera before a big shoot.

First of all, do an auto black balance. Canon recommends you do this every time you change the ISO. It’s especially important to do this if you’ll be shooting with high ISOs. From Camera Setup menu, select ABB. Make sure a lens cap is on. Press OK to perform the balance.

1. Reassign One-Shot Autofocus to button #7. Button 15, the default, is in a very awkward location if you plan to use autofocus regularly, like I do.


This is an awkward button location for routine focus grabbing. So we’ll remap it.



Button 7 is a great choice for one-shot autofocus, especially if you’re used to working with DSLR autofocus, which places it in the same spot as the autofocus button on pro Canon DSLRs

To remap the button, select Other Functions > Assignable Buttons. Then choose button 7.


Button 7 is set to Magnify by default.



Press the joystick and scroll to select One-Shot AF


cine-locked2. Set to record Canon Log. Under the Camera menu, select CP Cinema Locked and set On. This enables Canon Log, which gives you a flat file that grades beautifully in post. Using this setting preserves all the options that are available to you in post. Using this setting in combination with a  C100 lookup tables supplied from Able Cine is a speedy way to get amazing looking footage.

viewassist3. Enable View Assist. Under OLED/VF Setup menu, select View Assist and set to On. This makes what you see on screen look more like what the contrast and exposure settings will look like after the image is graded. If you don’t enable this, the image on screen will look very flat, making it difficult to judge exposure by eye.

4. ISO [850]. To get the maximum dynamic range out of this camera, set the ISO at 850. If you set a lower ISO, you will be losing information in the highlights.

5. Peripheral illumination Correction. Under Camera Setup, set Peripheral Illumination Correction to On (if available for your lens). This will automatically fix vignetting and barrel distortion issues on supported Canon lenses. It works like magic!


6. Select AVCHD 24mbps. Under Other Functions menu, select Movie Format and choose AVCHD. Then, under AVCHD menu, select Bit Rate 24 Mbps LPCM (LPCM allows you to record uncompressed audio – the best quality). AVCHD is slightly better than MP4 in terms of quality.

With these settings, you can rest assured that your footage will live up to the amazing potential that this camera is capable of. Have a great shoot!

The real end of film is here. It’s called the Ursa Mini


Ursa Mini


Arri Alexa

For very a long time (like, since 2010), Arri has been the only digital camera on the market (sorry, Red) that has truly rivaled film. With it’s implementation of digital sensor, which includes a neat  trick with how it reads data off the sensor twice, it managed to deliver the roughly 14 stops of dynamic range that film is capable of. As a result, it’s become the go-to camera of big-budget filmmakers. The only problem, for the rest of us, at least: an Arri Alexa costs about $75,000. Not to mention, it was too big and cumbersome for most documentary productions.

But if the news from NAB can be believed, 2015 is the year where everything changes. When Canon announced the C300 mkii would ship with 15 stops of dynamic range, it marked the first time when, for about $16,000, you could own a digital camera that has MORE dynamic range than film. And a couple days later, Black Magic blows the roof off with their Ursa Mini announcement. For $7,000, you can now get a fully kitted out, ergonomically correct camera that shoots 15 stops of dynamic range. It weighs 5 pounds.

This is the real end of film.


4 essential plugins for improving GoPro drone footage

I just finished filming an epic drone sequence on Seattle’s waterfront, in which I filmed a mammoth barge headed out to sea. Unfortunately I can’t share the footage, which my client is keeping under wraps for the moment. But I can share with you the 4 plugins that I’ve found indispensable for cleaning up and presenting drone footage shot with my GoPro Hero 4 and Phantom 2.

Digital-Anarchy-Flicker-Free-1.0.1-FULL-Precracked1. Flicker Free.

Cleans up the nasty interference pattern caused by quadcopter props when sun is a factor.

Any time you’re shooting into the sun, or when the sun is angled overhead in front of the camera, you can see this issue. It looks like a bad TV channel from the 60s: rapidly scanning lines caused by the shadow of the props on the lens. For the longest time I thought there was no way to fix this. One day I was using Flicker Free to clean up a time-lapse, and though: hey, why wouldn’t this work for aerial footage? I tried it, and it worked like magic. I generally get best results with the “remove horizontal bands 2″ setting, but if that doesn’t work for you, try the other settings as well until you find one that does.

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 4.10.31 PM2. Lock and Load X.

Stabilizes and reduces rolling shutter. Works especially well to make parallax shots looks smooth and intentional. Something about how this plugin works just smooths out overcorrections in steering. It works far, far better for this than the built-in plugin in Final Cut Pro X or Adobe’s Warp stabilizer. This is another one of those magical pieces of software that I apply to ALL of my drone footage, whether it needs it or not. It always makes it better. Try it yourself – they offer a fully functional 30-day trial.

682482033. FilmConverPro with GoPro camera pack.

There are two presets for use with ProTune footage (which I use on my GoPro) that instantly make your footage look great. To get the most of this, you have to configure your GoPro Hero 4 the right way BEFORE you shoot. Here’s the settings I use:

  • Pro Tune
  • Flat
  • Max ISO: 400
  • Sharpening: low

I also find that the smoothest, most cinematic drone footage often results from shooting at 48fps in 2.7K (conformed to 24p in post). That way, in addition to the option for slow things down, if you ultimately export out to 1920×1080, you have a lot of extra frame that plugins such as Lock and Load and Fisheye Fixer can work with without losing any resolution. You can also crop in closer to your subject without losing resolution – which allows you to shoot a little loose – a little farther away from your subject. Improves the odds that you’ll get your drone back safely!

crumplepop_fisheye_gopro_douglas_044. Fisheye Fixer.

Straightens the horizon curvature that is always present with GoPro footage.
The curved horizon thing may look great for in-your-face sports action, but for the typical drone shot, it’s bullshit. Get rid of it!

Fisheye Fixer gives you fine grained control over how much curvature to remove, so you can dial in the perfectly flat horizon that we like so much.

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 4.05.46 PMBonus tip: Use an ND filter in front of your GoPro. This is like putting a pair of sunglasses on your lens, and reduces the amount of light coming in so that the shutter speed can come down to something more cinematic. This allows movement to blur and look natural. It also goes a long way to reducing jello shutter that is exacerbated by high shutter speeds.

I recommend using the Snake River Prototyping BlurFlix Air ND 4 (good for both cloudy days and sun). It’s currently the best on the market for drone use because of it’s light weight, which allows them to be used without upsetting your delicate gimbal.

For if you’ll be shooting in bright sunlight all the time, I’d recommend their ND 8 filter.

Happy drone shooting!