Genus production matte box review

Genus Production Matte Box

Genus Production ovcamatte Box

You’re driving home at the end of a long day, turn a corner and run straight into the sun. Bam! You’re momentarily blinded. You reach up for the sunshade, and twist it down. Ahhhh. Five minutes later, you’re home with a cold beer in your hand.

For most documentary filmmakers, having a matte box is like having a visor on your car. You won’t use it very often, but when you do need it, you’ll be glad it’s there.  Unfortunately, however, a matte box does not come standard with a camera like a visor does with a car. There are a million camera setups, so there is an bewildering array of matte boxes.

My own matte box journey began a few years ago when I picked up a Genus Matte box Lite. This simple solution snaps onto the front of your lens via a ring that screws into your filter threads. It worked great — as long as I used a zoom and didn’t have to change lenses frequently.

But alas, it didn’t take long before my needs become more complicated. When I began using prime lenses more frequently,  the weight on the front lens element was too much for my Contax-Zeiss primes. The barrel of the lens twisted off it’s moorings. After a second repair, the technician warned me: “Don’t screw anything heavier than a lens filter onto the front of this lens.”

So I ponied up for a Tilta matte box that had a swing away arm to enable easy lens changes, which mounted to rails for support. But this is a heavy solution, and over the years I’ve found myself leaving it at home when I rolled out on documentary shoots.

When Genus invited me to review their Genus Production Mattebox, (which I’ll hence refer to as GPM) I was eager to try it out. Genus has a reputation for making matte boxes that are a good fit for filmmakers with simple needs. Here’s what I discovered.

Pros:

Relatively Light weight. 2.2 pounds with all flags attached (vs. 2.9 pounds for Tilta-but Tilta has swing-out arm and the GPM, although one can be added as an option).

Deep French flag. The GPM has a nice, deep French flag which cuts 6.35″ of light off the top of your lens. By comparison, my Tilta is 2″ shallower. This extra depth goes a long way to reducing the amount of light hitting the lens. Love it!

Multiple options for mounting. The GPM comes with two options for mounting the box to your lenses. For larger glass, use the included nun’s knickers. For lenses 82mm and smaller, use one of the half dozen included step-up rings, which vary in size between 52mm and 77mm. But the truth is, I don’t use any of these things. I simply align the box in front of my lens and start shooting.

Since I use a matte box simply to keep light from striking and flaring the lens, it's not necessary to block light from entering the rear of the box

Since I use a matte box simply to keep light from striking and flaring the lens, it’s not necessary to block light from entering the rear of the box. This allows easy use with lenses the change length when focused, such as my Canon EFS 17-55mm f/2.8.

The reason you’d need to choose a mounting solution that blocks all light from the rear is if you’re using a filter in the tray, to eliminate reflections caused by light entering from the rear of the matte box.

Small footprint. I am able to fit this matte box (not including the top flag) into a 1400 Pelican case. See the difference in size between the case I use to store my Tilta matte box and my GPM:

The Genus Production Matte Box fits into a small Pelican case

The Genus Production Matte Box (minus top flag) fits into a small 1400 Pelican case.

Tip: I store the top flag in a side zipper compartment on my camera case. If I stored it in the Pelican case with the matte box, I would have to use a larger case. So it makes sense to break up those storage locations.

Cons:

No option for bottom flag. But then, I think I’ve only ever needed to use a bottom flag once in my entire career. So it’s not exactly something I lie awake at night worrying about.

Lens changes are awkward without swing-away door. If you’re using prime lenses a lot (rather than the zooms that many documentary shooters prefer), this can be kind of a big deal. It’s a real pain to have to release the rail block, slide the box forward, change the lens, then slide it back and retighten it. But swing away arms add weight. And when it comes to matte boxes, I prefer lighter to heavier. Also, you will need the Genus Height Extension Bracket to adjust the box to the right height for different lenses.

The Genus height adjust braket is essential to setting the correct height for different lenses

The Genus height extension braket is essential to setting the correct height for different lenses

Wide-format tray. The GPM box accepts only 4 x 5.65 filters, and Genus offers no tray adapter for it to accept 4×4 filters. Even though most documentary shooters won’t be using filters anyway, I wish there were an option to use it with 4×4 filters, because, well, those are the only filters I own! And 4×4 filters are more common than the wide format ones.

Update: Genus contacted me after this piece was posted with news they plan to make a 4×4 tray for the GPM. I look forward to testing it.

At the end of the day, my favorite thing about the GPM is that it’s small and light enough that I find I DO actually take it with me on shoots. Even though it stays in its case most of the time, when I need it, it is there. Just like that visor when I’m driving into the sunset on my way home.

 

 

DPA d:screet 4061 hides easily and sounds good under clothing

DPA 4061 lavalier mic with DAK4060 Accessory Kit

DPA 4061 lavalier mic with DAK4060 Accessory Kit and adapters

For my documentary film work, I’ve been pretty satisfied with my Tram TR50s over the past few years. But when the mic capsule came loose for the second time on one of them, I was in the mood to try something new. After reading some reviews, I picked the DPA D:screet 4061 lav mic.

Why I chose DPA

  1. It’s modular, using micro-dot connector adapters that allow the mic to work with virtually any professional audio device (i.e., XLR, Sennheiser, Lectrosonics, etc).
  2. DPA makes a whole line of well designed accessories designed to make it easy to hide the mic.
  3. It sounds great under clothing using the included capsule for boosting high frequencies. It also comes with a capsule that boosts the mid frequencies for use when outside of clothing.
  4. The built quality is excellent, and it’s designed to withstand hours of sweaty performance.

The biggest surprise with the 4061 is how great it sounds under clothing when hidden. And how easy it is to hide using the DMM0012 Miniature Concealer. DPA makes some special two-sided round tape (ADH0002 Double-Sided Tape for Miniature Concealer), which is amazing stuff. You place the mic in the concealer, apply a piece of tape, then stick the mic anywhere inside your subject’s clothing, or on their chest directly. Using this setup, the mic us MUCH quieter under clothing than my TR50s ever were. I’m not sure why, exactly, but I can tell you that it just works. Something about the capsule of the TR50 makes it especially sensitive to clothing rustle.

One note: The DPA Microphones DPADH0004 double-sided tape costs $14 for 10 strips. When it arrived, I discovered it’s actually just Top-stick 1″x3″ toupe tape repackaged by DPA. You can buy 100 strips for the same price on Amazon.

DPA has made a video with some tips on how to hide their mics (or any others, really) under clothing:

I’ve taken the time to decipher some of the materials described in this video.

DPA lav vs Rode lav

I’ve also had a Rode lav for a few years, and it’s another decent sounding mic for dialog that uses micro-dot connectors. However, Rode’s implementation of the connectors is much less robust than those found on the DPA mics. The DPA mic has a locking connector, which is thicker, while the Rode connectors do not lock, and feel pretty flimsy. But they have held solid so far.

Rode vs. DPA micro dot connectors

Rode vs. DPA micro dot connectors

The Rode lav is also easy to hide under clothing using their Invisilav silicon mic concealers. But in my experience the double-sided tape on these tends to come off very easily, and is very fiddly to apply. The double-sided taping system that DPA makes for their concealer is definitely superior.

Quality has a price

If you’re looking to save money, the 4061 probably won’t be your first choice. The 4061 with microdot termination is $449. You’ll need to add at least one connector, and locking connector for Sennheiser Evolution wireless systems is $100; for an XLR connector it’s $115. The accessory kit padded case, pictured above, adds another $134 and includes a magnetic connector. The mic alone comes in a smaller clear, hard-plastic case. The concealer and it’s yellow double-sided tape stickers is sold separately.

The good news is that high-quality sound equipment evolves slowly (unlike cameras, which get upgrades every few months, it seems). It’s very likely that this mic will still be on the job 10 years from now. If you look at it that way, it’s a bargain!

Hive Lighting’s new WASP 100-C LED looks killer

It’s as bright as an Arri 650. It’s an LED. It’s rated at 98 cri. But wait, there’s more. It can output any color in the spectrum. And it’s just $799? Wow, if this thing is for real, lighting junkies like me have a lot to look forward to.  This beautiful piece of engineering from Hive Lighting is scheduled to begin shipping in March.

Hive Lighting makes high-quality fixtures used in Hollywood productions, and they have earned a great reputation for innovation with their plasma lights. The WASP 100-C is their first foray into the fast-changing world of film LED lighting.

The WASP 100-C will work with a wide range of accessories, including a mini source four attachment that should allow you to throw a narrow slice of light all the way across the room, no flagging required.

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The lights will sell for $1,200 normally, so this is a screaming good deal while the WASP 100-C ickstarter campaign is still going.

Lydia’s Story

Who knew that getting cancer could be a way into Carnegie Hall?

When Lydia Miner discovered a lump in her throat, she faced a blistering regime of radiation therapy in order to save her life. But the side effects would have left her unable to speak, or even eat, for a long time. Then she heard about a new form of treatment, robotic surgery, pioneered by a doctor at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

I made this film for Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, a tireless organization that works to bring patients new tools in the fight against cancer.

This piece was shot on Sony FS5 (SLOG3), and I cut it on Final Cut Pro X. Thanks to producer Sara Finklestein and crew members Alexandra Watkins (summer intern) and AC Kollin O’Dannel.

Genustech Solar Eclipse variable ND filter

Genus Eclipse variable ND filter

Genus Eclipse variable ND filter

When I first discovered variable ND filters, it was like trying on a pair of photochromatic sunglasses for the first time. Suddenly, I had a kind of super power: I could steplessly adjust exposure without touching the shutter, iris or ISO. I thought variable ND was the solution to all my DSLR video exposure problems. Like magic!

Variable ND and polarization

Then one day while reviewing footage of a subject shot in bright sunlight, I noticed that his skin tone looked like play-dough. I had no idea why. But I knew I’d been shooting with my vari-ND filter, so I was suspicious. I did some Googling, and learned that variable ND filters work by placing two polarizing filters in opposition to each other.  On most variable ND, the rear polarizer is fixed, and the front can be rotated. As the front filter is rotated, the opposed polarization causes the lens to darken. At maximum darkness, the crossing point is reached, where the image contains an X (if the field of view of the lens is wide enough).

At maximum darkness, the crossing point is reached, where the image contains an X (if the field of view of the lens is wide enough).

Crossing point, where the two polarized lenses reveal an X

Of course at this point the image isn’t usable. But at lesser degrees of rotation, and by avoiding wide-angle glass, the effect appears to be a darkening of between 2 – 8 stops.

But polarizers are tricky beasts. They are often used in landscape photography, to darken blue skies, for example, and enhance foliage. But when shooting a wide shot that includes the sky, a polarizer doesn’t affect the whole sky evenly – it polarizes the light at a 90 degree angle to the sun but not that falling parallel to it.

So variable ND isn’t the magic after all. And it has some limitations. But those same limitations can also be strengths. For example, when you want both a polarizer and you want some ND at the same time! But most vari-ND filters only give you the ability to rotate the front element, not the rear. To control the polarization effect, you have to unscrew the filter and hope it doesn’t fall off, as I described above.

Genustech’s solution

Genustech has created a variable ND filter that gives you a measure of control over this problem. It’s called the Solar Eclipse. It has a lovely little handle protruding from the second element, allowing it to be rotated. Rotating the handle doesn’t darken or lighten the image – it simply controls degree of polarization in your shot.

By rotating the handle, you can change the angle of polarization – where the dark edges appear in your frame. Sort of like a graduated ND filter. Rotated 3/4, it looks like so (ungraded images):

Genus Eclipse rotated 3/4

Genus Eclipse rotated 3/4, vignetting occurs in upper left and lower right of frame.

Rotated 90 degrees

Rotated 90 degrees, it appears to vignette the image from both sides (but not the top or bottom)

Standard ND

Without Genus Eclipse, (using just the built-in variable ND on the Sony FS5)

As you can see above, the built-in variable nd on the Sony FS5 is something quite special. To my eye, the ungraded image that uses the built-in electronic nd on the FS5 looks very faithful to the colors present in the actual scene. The Genus Eclipse appears to suffer from a bit of color contamination that shifts colors toward green (IR contamination, perhaps)?

Here’s how a standard Hoya polarizer compares to the Genus Eclipse (with an unfiltered image for baseline comparison):

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-5-03-11-pm

Genus Eclipse vari-ND filter

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Hoya polarizer

No filter

Sony FS5 built-in variable ND only (no polarization)

In the images above, again we see some shifting of colors toward green with the Genus Eclipse. Nothing that couldn’t be corrected out in post, but something to be aware of.

Speaking of eclipses…

One place where using a variable ND filter like the Eclipse comes in handy is when shooting the sun directly. With a long lens, such as a 300mm, you can rotate to the Genus Eclipse to the crossing point of the filter, and use that to look directly into the sun, as if wearing a pair of welding glasses. I found in my testing that with my lens set to f/16, I still needed to active my Sony FS5’s built-in filter to really tame the sun. But the Eclipse came quite close all by itself.

The sun with Eclipse ND and additional ND filtration added

The sun with Eclipse ND and additional ND filtration added

Which size filter to get?

Because most lenses have different filter thread sizes, I recommend getting a 77mm variable ND. Then, using step-up rings, you can use your 77mm filter with any lens of smaller diameter. You can even use it with lenses slightly larger, with a step-down ring. I use the Genus Eclipse with my 300mm Nikon f/4 lens, which has an 80mm filter size, for example. It works great without noticeable vignetting. But anything larger than 80mm, you’re likely to get vignetting.

Conclusion

As long as you’re aware of its limitations, the Genus Eclipse ND filter is a useful tool to have in your kit. Especially for filmmakers who don’t have a camera with built-in ND, it provides you the ability to reduce the amount of light hitting your sensor by 2-8 stops, without touching shutter speed, aperture or ISO. Just be sure to keep an eye on how polarization is affecting your shot, and use the handle that Genus provides to control that.

 

 

Teradek Bolt Pro 300: 5 tips

Teradek 300 HDMI wireless video transmitter

Teradek 300 HDMI wireless video transmitter

I had a project a few days ago where I wanted to provide a client monitor. I rented a Teradek Bolt Pro HDMI wireless transmitter, and learned a few things that I’d like to share about wireless monitoring.

  1. HDMI cables suck. I couldn’t get a signal and spent a lot of time trying to figure out why the transmitter wasn’t working. Turns out the HDMI cable was bad.
  2. The Bolt Pro 300 receiver runs very hot. If it gets too hot, the signal will cut out unexpectedly. I found that placing it on a table was where it overheated – it was happiest with good airflow around the unit.
  3. The SmallHD 502 and 702 monitors both offer loop through from SDI to HDMI, so it was possible to output to the client monitor via HDMI while at the same time receiving a rock solid SDI signal from camera to monitor.
  4. Test everything thoroughly the day before your shoot.  The power requirements, the calibration of the monitor you’ll be using, and how you’ll be mounting everything. The details will kill you if you don’t get them right ahead of time.
  5. Did I mention HDMI cables suck? Next time I will pony up the extra cash to rent an SDI transmitter, because the HDMI cables really aren’t worth the headache in a production environment.

I was pleasantly surprised with how little latency the wireless video signal had. It was no problem to use the wireless signal to pull focus with. I can definitely see incorporating the SDI version of this system into my future production environments.

Use FilmConvert Pro to nail your skin tones

When I started filmmaking with a DSLR about 7 years ago, I discovered that the most difficult thing to get right in post production was skin tones. No matter what I tried, they just didn’t look right. A lot of the time, I couldn’t even put my finger on why.

Then I discovered FilmConvert Pro. With my Canon DSLRs, all I had to do was drop FilmConvert on a clip, and something magical happened. The skin tones suddenly looked human and alive. That made such an impression on me that I used FilmConvert to grade my first feature-length documentary, which was shot on a pair of Canon 60Ds.

In the years since I’ve moved into shooting more and more commercial work on higher quality cameras. Along the way I taught myself how to use DaVinci Resolve and began relying on it to generate dailies. So when I decided to try FilmConvert again recently on a commercial project, I was surprised with a new discovery: the skin tones I was getting in Resolve didn’t look as good as the ones that FilmConvert could give me!

The good news, however, is that FilmConvert works inside Resolve, so I don’t have to give up the power and precision of Resolve. I can still create complex masks, track motion, etc., while using FilmConvert. I’ll explain how to do that below as I create a nursing recruitment video. But first, I should mention that it’s possible to use the standalone version of FilmConvert  if you don’t have Resolve, or any other editor, for that matter. But it has some limitations.

film convert standalone app

FilmConvert Standalone version

The first thing I noticed about the standalone version of FilmConvert is that It feels a little raw. Some of the basic Mac OS conventions don’t work. For example, in the Clip Browser, if you want to use the arrow key to advance to the next clip, you can’t.  So you are forced to use your mouse to select clips, which slows me down. It also takes more than two seconds after clicking on a clip for the thumbnail to appear, which doesn’t seem like a big deal until you start scrolling through a list of a hundred clips. There’s also no way to play a clip in the browser – you just get a static thumbnail or list view.

These days I’m shooting a lot of my projects on a Sony FS5, so I was disappointed to discover that MXF files are not supported in the standalone version of FilmConvert. You can, however,  import an XML file from an application like Final Cut or an EDL from Resolve. But that adds another step to your workflow.

On the plus side, however, once you get your clips into the app, the Film Settings panel makes it very easy to preview clips and audition different settings. Hitting the space bar plays clips as expected, but JKL keys are not supported for shuttling through footage. Once you’ve found a look that works for your project, you can save it as a preset.

The app also provides a menu called Viewing Target, that allows you to change the gamma to match that used in the three most common finishing platforms – Premiere Pro, FCPX/Quicktime or FCP/Resolve. Very helpful.

DaVinci Resolve

DaVinci Resolve and I have a love/hate relationship. I love the power that Resolve gives me to control color, but with great power comes great responsibility. I hate the amount of work it takes to tweak things before they look just right, especially with SLOG footage. Also, SLOG 2 footage requires slightly different tweaking than SLOG 3. But I’m never sure exactly which tweaks.

With FilmConvert’s OFX plugin version, you can get 90 percent of the way to your grade simply by dragging and dropping. It’s a real timesaver for me to load FilmConvert, which knows all about the differences between picture profiles, as my first step. From there, the remaining tweaks are usually simple.

Before we jump into Resolve and see how this works, I should mention that the footage for this project was shot on my Sony FS5 using SLOG-3/Cine overexposed one stop to kill noise. When I open Resolve and place the clips into a timeline, here’s what one of the ungraded SLOG clips looks like:

uncorrected slog-3 clip

Uncorrected SLOG-3 clip looks very flat

Note that you can do everything I’m demonstrating here with the free version of Resolve.  Then, download the OFX version of FilmConvert Pro, and follow the directions to install it in Resolve. The first time I installed FilmConvert this way, I made the mistake of trying to apply it to my clips in the Edit tab, which contains a OpenFX tab under the Effects Library menu. Ignore that, and instead apply FilmConvert on Resolve’s Color page. Here are the steps.

  1. Import your clips into Resolve and add into Media Pool.
  2. Create a new timeline with your clips.
  3. Open the Color tab. For my workflow, I want to convert all the clips simultaneously, so instead of applying FilmConvert to each clip, I start out by switching from Clip mode into Timeline mode. This allows us to simultaneously apply FilmConvert to all clips in the timeline. Select "Timeline" instead of "Clip."
  4. Create timeline node. You’ll notice that there are no nodes in the node tree when you switch into Timeline mode. You will need to add one before you can apply FilmConvert. From the Nodes menu, select Add Serial Node (or press option-s).
    addserialnode
  5. Apply FilmConvert. Click on the OpenFX menu to reveal the OFX Library, and scroll down until you see FilmConvert. Drag it onto the timeline node to apply it (below):
    Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 1.02.31 PM
  6. Default profile is applied. You’ll immediately notice the clip gets grainy. FilmConvert applies a standard profile by default, and adds a lot of film grain. We’ll fix that in a minute.
  7. Add a serial node. In order to make global color corrections later, I add a second serial node in front of the one I’ve applied FilmConvert to (shift-s). FilmConvert should always be applied to the last node in the node tree. Then double click on the 02 node so that it’s active.
  8. Select Camera. Next, in the FilmConvert menu in the Settings sidebar, we want to select our camera profile:Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 12.13.46 PM
  9. Select picture profile. Also choose the picture profile you used when shooting. FilmConvert gives you options for +1 and +2 overexposure options:
    picture profile

    Select picture profile

    grainy image

    Image with default profile, which is too grainy for my taste

  10. reduce grainAdjust grain. OK so now you should see your image starting to look better. But the first thing I notice is that it looks very grainy. I’m not a fan of film grain for most commercial videos (the whole point of having high quality camera sensors is to get rid of grain, isn’t it?So the first thing I do is reduce the grain slider to 0. I DO sometimes like the grain for more creative pieces, however, and in fact, the grain can be very helpful in disguising thinner 8-bit codec adjustments. In those cases, I find that setting the grain slider between 30 and 50 is about right. But for this piece, we’ll keep it clean.

    Exposure adjustments made

    With a few exposure adjustments, our image begins to pop

  11. Exposure changesAdjust the exposure. The next thing I’m noticing is that my clip is a little dark. FilmConvert provides contrast adjustment tools within the  plugin. You can make global exposure and color temperature adjustments in the plugin’s Camera Settings menu. Or scroll down to make more detailed adjustments to lift (shadows), gamma (midtowns) and gain (highlights). However, we’re already working within one of the most powerful tools for contrast and color adjustment – DaVinci Resolve – so I tend to make my global changes in that node we added previously. But if Resolve’s controls are intimidating to you, don’t worry! Just grab the Exposure slider and move it until your image looks properly exposed.
  12. Choose a film stock. OK, so with a few contrast adjustments made, our image is looking pretty good. Now for the fun part: choosing our film stock. This is the palette you get to play with, the place where subtle differences can be hard to see, but have a huge impact on your final look. I recommend using one of Resolve’s comparison tools, Grab Still, to help you see the difference between stocks side by side.  With the default Film Setting selected (KD 5207 Vis3), click on the viewer and select “grab still.”grab still
  13. Grab a still for each stock. Select the next film stock on the list, KD 5213 Vis3. Grab another still. Repeat for each of the stocks you want to compare (FJ Neo through KD TrX400 are black and white, so I’ve skipped those). Now click on Gallery at the top left of Resolve’s window. You will see a thumbnail of each still displayed in the left column. You can click on each still and give it a name that matches the film stock. still gallery
  14. Expand the gallery. In the menu at the top of the stills, you’ll notice a slider that controls the size of the thumbnails. To the right of that is a search icon and a four-arrowed icon. Click the arrowed icon to expand the gallery.

    expand gallery

    With gallery expanded, you can easily compare the subtle differences between film stocks.

  15. adjust controlsSelect film stock. Choose the film stock you like best. You can make further refinements to the look in the FilmConvert plugin controls. Film Color and Curve are two controls that help you dial in the exact look you want. I find that FilmConvert’s Curve tends to be quite contrasty when applied at the default 100 percent.  You may want to back it off slightly. And Film Color is like the opacity sliders in Photoshop that allow you to back off on the intensity of the entire plugin (dialing this down to 0 returns you to completely flat SLOG3).
  16. Make individual adjustments. Check the other clips in your timeline. They will likely need individual adjustments, and you can do those on the Clip node, rather than the timeline node.
  17. Export dailies. When you are happy with how each clip looks, switch to Resolve’s Deliver window, and export your files in the editing-friendly codec of your choice. I export to ProRes for editing in Final Cut Pro X.

Before we leave Resolve, I want to point out one more very cool feature of FilmConvert. It’s the ability to export a LUT based on your film look. I use this a lot, because I most often am shooting SLOG on a Sony FS5 using a SmallHD 502 or 702 monitor. These monitors support LUTs, so by loading this LUT into the monitor, I can see what the video will look like AFTER FilmConvert is applied using my settings. It’s a great way to previsualize on set. If you have a client looking over your shoulder while shooting, this is invaluable. Here’s how to generate the LUT:

Click "Export 3d LUT"

Click “Export 3d LUT”

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The default name isn’t very helpful

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Give the LUT a name that accurately describes the look being applied

The resulting .cube file can be then loaded onto the monitor.

OK back to cutting our video. The next step in my workflow is to cut my footage in FCPX. So I import the dailies we’ve generated in Resolve into FCPX, and start cutting. For this particular video, I will use some additional media (animated stills) that doesn’t have FilmConvert applied to it. That’s OK! FilmConvert works with FCPX too (provided you have the FCPX-specific plugin, which can be downloaded from the FilmConvert site.

The stills I’m working with were shot with an unknown camera. So to match them to my footage in FCPX, I drag and drop the FilmConvert plugin onto the still, and using the on-screen controls, select the Default profile.

Match footage

In FCPX, we can match unknown camera types using the default settings and onscreen controls

This shot is too warm – I want to cool it off. So I drag the puck in the middle of the color wheels in the direction of my desired color shift.

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Before applying FilmConvert

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 10.22.19 AM

 

after applying filmconvert

After applying FilmConvert

To apply the same change to all of the additional stills, simply copy and paste the effect.

Here’s the finished video:

Getting a consistent film look is quickly achievable using FilmConvert, without having to delve into the complexities of color correction. And even if you do know those complexities, grading from scratch takes a lot of time. And that’s why I like FilmConvert Pro: it frees me to focus on the story, and empowers me to ship faster. What’s not to love about a tool that can do that?

 

 

Chasing the perfect timelapse with the Rhino Camera crew

sourdough mountain lookout north cascades national park

Just after sunrise, the 365-degree view from the top of Sourdough Mountain Lookout is breathtaking. Shot with Sigma 20mm f/1.4 Art series lens.

For this post, I’m going to let the pictures do most of the talking. How did I find myself in a place to take these photos? Well, Kyle Hart of Rhino Camera Gear sent out an invitation to Rhino customers a couple weeks ago, inviting us to join him and one of his team members on a backpacking trip into the North Cascades. That’s what I call customer relationship management!  I still can’t believe I was the only person who said yes.

Kyle’s goal for this trip was to find an epic spot to shoot a timelapse of The Milky Way. Well, we found that spot. It’s called Sourdough Mountain Lookout, and I’ve never seen a view like the one we saw as we woke up in the morning. The fog spread below us in all directions, like a glacier from the ice age. It was an unforgettable moment.

I hadn’t had my coffee when I headed out for this trip at 6 in the morning, and forgot the motor for my slider in my living room. (Tip: never leave the house without having coffee first). So for this trip, I left the timelapse shooting to the Rhino guys, and focused on shooting stills with my 5dmkiii.

As a result of this trip, Rhino Camera will soon have some fresh content on their website featuring tips on how to pack Rhino sliders for backpacking, and how to shoot a great Milky Way timelapse. I’ll put up a link to that here as soon as it’s up.

New video for Seattle Cancer Care Alliance

Here’s an informative little cancer video project my crew and I just delivered to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, a client that’s been keeping us very busy this summer. We’ll be doing a lot more videos of this kind for SCCA over the next few months, uncovering powerful human stories about these innovative healthcare providers and the patients they serve.

How it was lit

I typically start to light a scene by deciding which light to take away. In this case,  the lab was grossly over illuminated (for filmmaking purposes) with ugly overhead fluorescents. I wanted to separate the doctor from the background, through both luminosity and color. So I turned off half the overheads, the half behind the subject, and left the half in front of him on. Then, by setting my Sony FS5’s color temp to 3200K, I was able to create a nice blue wash in the background from light leaking through the closed windows. That created nice color separation. But his face was now too dark. I fixed that by filling  strongly with my LiteGear LiteMat2 placed camera left, through 1/2 grid cloth. Next, I gave a little blue kick to his shoulder with my lovely new Dedolight DLED7 through Hampshire frost. Then I just set the aperture on my Zeiss 50mm with Speedbooster to f/2.0, and boom! Done.

B-Roll

B-roll was all shot very quickly, handheld with Zeiss primes and a 100mm Canon macro for the tight stuff. When I got to cutting the piece, I was reminded why my Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS lens is usually my go-go b-roll lens: because it is image stabilized! My FS5 is so ergonomically awesome, that I find myself shooting handheld more than ever. But when doing so, a lens with IS really is nice to smooth things out. Nevertheless, I sure do love that full-frame look of those Speedboostered Zeiss primes.

Sidebar: I am taking another look at Canon’s 24-70 f/4 IS lens, not because of its optics, but because of its image stabilization. In theory, with a Speedbooster it should look virtually identical to and be just as fast as my Canon EF 17-55 f/2.8, only with much better handholding because of it’s 4-stop hybrid IS. Will be experimenting with that combo on my Sony FS5 on an upcoming shoot and look forward to sharing the results.

Thoughts on 4K

I’m finally coming around to shooting my interviews in 4K. It really is nice to have the option to punch in for a tight shot pulled from a medium shot. But the drawback is focus. Focus is really, REALLY important to nail when shooting 4K. And on both the FS5’s LCD and my SmallHD 502 monitor, it’s harder to gauge focus in 4K, because the image looks a little smudged compared to HD. So it really does require careful monitoring during a shoot, especially when you do what I do, which is shoot damn near wide open all the time to visually separate the subject from their background.

I’ve shot with both the internally recorded 4K and with external recorders, and I gotta say, for the type of work I’m using it for (well lit interviews), the drawbacks of external recording outweigh the benefits of internal. Smaller file size counts for a LOT.

Many thanks to my crew – producer Sara Finkelstein, camera assistant Kollin O’Dannel (who took one for the team when he nearly fainted as the doctor described a surgery), and intern Alexandra Watkins who rolled sound.

Dedolight DLED7: the ultimate LED shadowcaster?

Dedolight DLED7: precise and versatile

The new DLED7 Turbo is an exceptionally precise and versatile light with all the Dedolight features plus optional battery operation

Lighting involves two big things: putting light where you want it, and NOT putting it where you don’t want it. To say a scene is lit means more precisely that an important part of it is lit, and an equally important part remains hidden. Placing shadows is just as important as placing highlights. And no light allows you to place shadows with less fuss than a Dedolight.

Original Dedolight

Original Dedolight

Dedolights have earned a reputation for precision in the film industry. The venerable 150-watt DLHM4-300 tungsten hot light can throw a 3200K beam exactly where you want it, with virtually no light spill, thanks to the company’s patented aspheric optics. What’s more projector attachments are available to further focus the light. With one of those, you can literally hit a nail on the head from across a room.

I’ve lusted after one of these beasts for a long time, but decided to wait until an LED version arrived, because more often than not, I’m mixing daylight on location rather than tungsten. The wait is now over, and it’s called the DLED7. (Note, Dedolight’s DLED4, which shares the same form factor,  has been available for more an a year but wasn’t powerful enough for my needs).

Dedolight DLED7 with DP2 projector

DLED7 rigged with optional DP2 projector

On paper, the DLED7 gives you everything its tungsten predecessor gave you in terms of precision while adding a number of new benefits:

  • Low power draw (90 watts) means it will run for a little over an hour at full power on a high-output v-mount battery such as the Switronix Hypercore 98WH.
  • Dimming is greatly improved, because the LEDs don’t suffer the red shift that tungsten lights do when dimmed.
  • The DLED7 is also runs much cooler, although it does require a very quiet fan. The light gets warm to the touch when operating, but never too hot to hold.
  • Color temperature is adjustable from 2700K to 7400K without gels.
  • The even beam of light produced by this instrument is gives you consistent light meter readings from nearly edge to edge. So you can use it to light a background with a single source. And, the light can be spotted from 1:20 (a typical fresnel is only 1:5) and cut very precisely with barn doors. Exciting stuff!

How does it work?

It’s a remarkable design achievement, really, that Dedo can make a bi-color light that remains fully focusable for both tungsten AND daylight. They achieve this by checkerboarding the different color LEDs at the focus point of the light behind the two aspheric lenses. I removed the lenses to have a peek at the guts:

DLED7 aspheric lens

It’s a simple matter to remove the two aspheric lenses and get a look at the LEDs themselves.

The LEDs are arranged in a checkerboard shape.

The DLED7 LEDs are arranged in a checkerboard shape. Half of the LEDs are tungsten and half are daylight (90 watts total for each)

DLED7 battery ballast

DLED7 battery ballast is rather large and heavy. It offers dimming and color temp controls and on/off switch.

The first time I used the light for more than half an hour at full power, I was surprised how hot the ballast became. The temperature increases the longer you run it all the way up to about 140 degrees, which is almost too hot to touch. I emailed Dedolight support asking whether that was a problem. I received a personal note from Dedo Weigert himself, explaining that the heat is a design tradeoff they made to keep the ballast as small as possible.

Another observation about the dimmer: it is not stepless,  changing in small increments like aperture control on a Canon. The steps are small enough to not be an issue, but it’s impossible to do a completely smooth fade up or fade down the light without visible stepping, just as smooth iris pulls are impossible with Canon still lenses.

DLED7 ballast controls

DLED7 ballast controls

The first time I switched on the light, I was surprised it wasn’t brighter. But then I realized just how bright it gets when focused. Just how bright is it?

DLED7 vs Lowel Pro Light

By way of comparison, I put the DLED7 head to head with my Lowel Pro Light, a small 200-watt light that throws a very nice beam a long way. I found that the Pro Light is about 3 times brighter when fully spotted, to the DLED7 in tungsten mode spotted equivalently (which is about half spotted). However, it’s possible to focus the DLED7 MUCH more precisely. But daylight is the great equalizer. With a dichroic filter attached to the Pro Light to bring it to 5600K, the two lights are equally bright, and with equal throw.

Wide color range

DLED7 color temperature indicator on the ballast

DLED7 color temp indicator

It’s worth noting that my DLED7 is slightly less bright at 3200K than it is at 5600K, by about 1/3 stop. The DLED7 goes even further up and down the Kelvin scale, though, advertised to go from between 2700K and 6800K. As it turns out, it actually goes quite a bit further up the Kelvin scale than that, as I discovered next.

Color accuracy scores

I tested the DLED7 with a Sekonik Spectromaster C-700R color meter, which reveals some interesting details about the quality of the light.

First test: How accurate is the ballast color temperature indicator vs. the actual measured color temp?

What I observed is that the DLED7 tends to run cooler than the ballast readout, and that the more you turn up the dimmer, the cooler the color temp gets. The only way I could hit 2700K, in fact, was to dim the light all the way down to 2 percent (the light is off at 1 percent), where it read 2733K.

Color temp set at 2700K:

Dim 2 percent: 2733K
Dim 10 percent: 2775K
Dim 25 percent: 2776K
Dim 50 percent: 2827K
Dim 75 percent: 2845K
Dim 99 percent (brightest setting): 2860K

Going to the far blue end of the scale, with my color temp set to 6800K, we find the same thing, only it’s even more blue-shifted. Here’s my readings:

Dim 2 percent: 6738K
Dim 10 percent: 6905K
Dim 25 percent: 7089
Dim 50 percent: 7395K
Dim 75 percent: 7459K
Dim 99 percent: 7422K

So where the DLED7 is furthest from its advertised color temp is when it’s at it’s bluest and brightest, at which point it’s about 600K over the mark. Definitely something to be aware of.

In practice, it’s pretty easy to adjust for this to hit 3200K. Just set the temp readout to 3100K, which put my readings within 100K of the target at all dimmer settings. For 5600K, though, things get trickier. At 25 percent dim, set to 5900K. At 50 percent, it wants to be at 5500K. At 99 percent, setting to 5300K got me real close. In practice, as long as you don’t mind being a few hundred K off your mark, you’ll be fine. But for precise color work? Carry a color meter and be ready to use it a lot.

How does the DLED7 stack up against other lights in terms of CRI rating?

I tested the CRI and color spectrum of the DLED7 at both 3200K and 5600K (as measured on meter, not by the color temp readout on the ballast, because those numbers are slightly different as outlined above). For this test, I used a Sekonic Spectromaster C-700R.

At 3200, the DLED7 scores exceptionally well. CRI: 97.3

The DLED7 measured at 3200K

The DLED7 measured at 3200K

At 5600, things slip just a little a bit. CRI: 95.3

DLED7 at 5600K color rating

DLED7 measured at 5600K

Most notable is the R9 readout in the far right column, above. The R9 shows how well the light does in reproducing saturated reds. These are important colors for skin tones. So we would ideally like to see as high a rating as possible for R9.

It turns out, though, that scoring 75.9 in R9 is quite good for an LED light. By way of comparison, my lovely bi-color LiteGear LiteMat2 has a measured CRI of 93 and a R9 score of 73.2 for daylight and only 64.4 for tungsten. And yet, it still produces fabulous results with skin tones.

To illustrate why, consider this: professional gaffers wouldn’t hesitate to place a full CTB filter over a tungsten light to match daylight. But guess what that does to the R9 score of a tungsten light? See for yourself (measured with my Lowell Pro Light and full CTB):

A tungsten light with full CTB filter shows even lower R9 and lower CRI

A tungsten light corrected to daylight with full CTB filter reveals an even lower R9 score of 68.4 with a CRI of 89.4.

Suffice to say, if the Dedolight DLED7 is posting scores that easily beat a tungsten light corrected with CTB, it’s more than good enough for film production work.

For information about how this light stacks up against other LED film lights, check out the very comprehensive light test results published by Indie Cinema Academy. As of this writing, their tests do not include ratings for the DLED7.

A few tips for getting the most from the DLED7:

Glue black felt on the  barn doors (the two larger ones, not the small adjustable ones). Because they no longer get hot, adding light-absorbing material to the surface of the doors makes them less reflective and improves their light shaping ability tremendously.

The barn doors feather the light when it is spotted, and cut it when it is flooded. For example, if you rake the light along a wall at full spot, closing the barn doors on the wall side, you can feather the light  to spread it evenly across the wall, achieving the same effect as a graduated scrim.

DLED7 as rim light

DLED7 as motivated rim light, with barn doors used to feather light as it falls off subject’s camera-right shoulder.

DLED7 as back light.

DLED7 as back light, visible as the splash of blue light on subject’s camera-right shoulder.

The power connectors on the ballast are well designed, and have plenty of length to allow you to run the light up a stand without fuss.

DLED7 battery ballast

DLED7 battery ballast

DLED7 kit all ready to roll in Nanuk road case.

My DLED7 kit all ready to roll in Nanuk road case, with both AC and DC ballast.

Hanging the DLED7

Avenger baby pin

Avenger baby pin

I’ve found that the best way to mount the DLED7 on a stand is with the aid of a 5/8″ baby pin. The yellow mounting screw on this light is a little funky, requiring like five turns to mount it to a light stand. And because it’s bottoming out at that point, it has to be over-cranked to get a firm enough bite to keep the light from slipping.

Using a pin gives you a lot more flexibility in how you mount the light, and because the 5/8″ pin is ticker than a standard light stand,  it doesn’t have to be over cranked.

Mounting DLED7 to stand using a 5/8" baby pin

Mounting DLED7 to stand using a 5/8″ baby pin allows more flexibility and security

A Norm’s Pin isn’t a good choice for this, because the DLED7’s receiver isn’t deep enough to engage properly. Instead, I use an Avenger E250 Long Double 5/8″ Baby pin which has a shallower lip. As a bonus, the Avenger baby pin also fits perfectly into a Manfrotto Boom Stand.

So, here’s what it all boils down to:

CONS

  • Pricey and doesn’t include required accessories.
  • LED version isn’t as bright as its tungsten predecessor.
  • Currently it’s a special order item in the US.
  • Measured color temperature runs cooler than ballast indicators display.
  • Dimming, especially at cool end, shifts the color temperature.

PROS

  • Wide color temperature range from 2700k – 7400K (measured)
  • Very portable
  • Dimming at warm end without significant color shift
  • Battery operable for long periods
  • Controllable, even light spread
  • Exceptionally focusable

The DLED7 is very special location light that can do what no other LED light can do in terms of focused throw with virtually zero light spill. It’s very easy to place a light or a shadow exactly where you want it with this light. It excels as a background light, and as a back light, rim light or hair light. For some kinds of commercial work, such as photographing a beer label illuminated just perfectly, it’s in a class all by itself. It’s portability, battery operability, and huge color temperature range make it the swiss army knife of location lights.

But at $1700, it’s also quite expensive and doesn’t ship with required accessories (you have to add a ballast, and the one for battery use costs over $500 and the one for AC use costs more than $700). The DP 2.1 projector with 85mm lens adds another $477. DP EYESET diffusers adds another $116. Barn doors: $50. Also, the ballast color temperature readout isn’t fully accurate, and especially at the cooler end of its spectrum, the light shifts color temperature as it is dimmed.

Nevertheless, this is a light that gives you real lighting superpowers: the ability to decide exactly where to place the light and shadow in your frame, at whatever color temp you want, without a power cord. I recommend it without reservation. It’s exceedingly well made and precise, exactly what you’d expect from a Dedolight. And the premium price is something we in the film industry expect to pay for top gear. I look forward to recouping that expense over the many years of service this light is likely to give me.

Want to try it out for yourself? Rent my Dedolight road kit, which includes all the above items, via Cameralends.com. (Seattle pickup only please.)

DLED7 road kit

DLED7 kit ready to roll in Nanuk 935 case