Monthly Archives: October 2014

Red Giant Shooter Suite’s Offload & BulletProof

UnknownRed Giant’s Shooter Suite 12.6 is a powerful set of six stand-alone applications that are bundled to address common production challenges faced by filmmakers. I’m going to take you on a guided tour of these applications in separate reviews, starting with the first step in post-production: importing your footage.

I’m a fan of simple. And for the past five years, importing footage for me has been very simple indeed: insert card into reader, create a folder to hold the contents, and drag files into it. Done!

This has worked ALMOST flawlessly for me. In those five years (which included making a feature-length documentary), I can think of only two occasions in which files were corrupted in the process of copying.

Nevertheless, my experience does point out an important fact: if you’re laying off a lot of footage, it’s only a matter of time before an error DOES happen.

If you’re interested in reducing your chance of errors to zero, without having to learn obscure terminal commands, you’ll be very interested in two applications bundled in Red Giant’s Shooter Suite: Offload, and BulletProof. Both use a byte verification of CRC-32 (Cycle Redundancy Check) that makes sure the media copy always matches the original source. This additional step means that importing files takes longer than Finder copying, but you can have full confidence in the result.

Offload, the most elegant of the two apps, offers a minimalist interface that prompts you to do just two things: offload your files, and back them up at the same time.

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It’s always best to back up your footage from the original media, rather than copies. Offload prompts you to do it the right way, and right away.

BulletProof offers many more options and support for complex workflows, at the price of increased interface complexity (read: it’s harder to learn to use it, and you might not need all those bells and whistles).

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But before we get into BulletProof, let’s take a closer look at Offload.

When I import my footage, that’s really all I want to do: get it from the card safely onto my RAID for editing. I don’t want to begin color correction, generate multiple copies, add metadata, or anything else, thank you very much. So if you just want to know it’s safe to wipe your card after import is complete, Offload is the tool for you.

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But Offload doesn’t give you ANY options. In fact, you can’t even choose which files to import or skip. Every file on the card will be imported.

During import, Offload tracks progress with a large yellow border that fills up from left to right, with onscreen feedback for both copy and verification steps. It couldn’t be simpler.

If anything happens to interrupt the import, of if you cancel midway, it’s impossible to miss that your files haven’t successfully copied: bright red warning marks appear on every file that failed to import.

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What more could you possibly want? Well, how about automatically detecting spanned clips and combining them into a single, edit-friendly clip during import?  Or the ability to assign metadata such as roll number during import?  With BulletProof, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

BulletProof breaks all of its many capabilities into five steps:

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BulletProof offers the ability to do things on set that previously were the realm of NLEs or tools like Davinci Resolve: metadata tagging, LUT application, and generation of dailies. In effect, BulletProof provides an easy way for an on-set DIT to take over some of what previously was an assistant editor’s job – and that in many workflows, should probably remain their job! But if you’re working in teams where everyone has to do a lot with a little, it’s got the potential to be a tremendous timesaver.

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The Import tab provides options to either Add or Copy files into your Catalog (hint: choose copy unless you want to leave the files where they are – almost never a good thing if you’re importing from a card, but makes sense if you are prepping dailies that have already been saved to a hard drive).

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 7.07.08 AMTo streamline repetitive tasks, you can save presets that will remember your settings for future sessions.

After you’ve started the import, an Activity Status button reveals where you are in the process. This lets you see at a glance where you are in the process, and gives you the option to cancel.

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After your files are successfully imported, you can move to the Organize tab (above). This gives you the option to create iTunes-like Playlists, useful to streamline tagging files with metadata. For example, in the example above, I’ve created a playlist which contains only closeup shots of eyes. This allows me to apply the shot type keyword “CU” to all files at once.

So where does this metadata end up? It would be nice if it were immediately stored with the clip file. That way, you wouldn’t have to export again to get the tags to stick. But that isn’t quite how it works. Metadata is stored within a BulletProof catalog file, and in Final Cut Pro X  (my NLE of choice) it is only associated with the clip upon import. There is an option to apply the settings to your media without exporting new files – more on that below when I discuss Export options.

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The Review tab (above) gives you the option to play each clip, and set in and out points that control which footage gets exported when generating dailies in the Export tab. You can also access the metadata from within this area. Why you would want to set in and out points at this stage of the game is beyond me, but hey, options are good.

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 7.29.33 AMIt’s also possible to place markers within the clip, which will be transferred into your NLE when you export the clip.

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 7.35.09 AMThe Refine tab (above) allows you to apply color corrections or LUTs to your clips using a color tool that will be familiar to Red Giant users – Colorista wheels. You can also set a curve, and use a color picker to set white balance (a tool I’ve always loved).

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 7.42.21 AMA powerful feature is the ability to export your color choices as a LUT, which could be passed to your colorist as a reference and used in Davinci Resolve, or any NLE that supports LUTs. In FCPX, LUTs are supported with an excellent $29 tool called LutUtility.

If making color decisions at this stage of the game feels like putting the cart before the horse, it probably is. In my workflows, color grading decisions are almost always deferred until AFTER the edit has been made and picture is locked. But if you’re shooting LOG footage, for example, and need to generate a daily that will look good for cutting with, applying a LUT at this stage and doing a minimal color pass makes sense.

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Opening the Export tab (above), allows you to set the destination, and control things like the frame rate and timecode values.

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 7.57.10 AMIn the “Export Clips” section, you can choose from a short list of editing codecs you’d like to export to. If you select “Reference Original Media,” metadata is NOT embedded in the clip at time of export. Further, importing the XML file into FCPX resulted in a broken link to the clip in my testing.

The only way I was able to get metadata to transfer reliably, and unbroken links to footage,  was by choosing to export AND transcode. This creates a new clip that will be referenced by the XML file used to import the metadata.

To open the clips in FCPX, go to the File > Import > XML.

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Browse to the location of the XML file generated by BulletProof during the export. Opening it should create an Event named after your BulletProof catalog name.

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All of your media should be there, and the metadata should have been imported along with the clip.

I observed that if I imported the clips directly, bypassing the XML, FCPX could not read the metadata. This indicates that, in FCPX at least, the metadata is not actually embedded in the clip, but gets associated with each clip at time of import via the XML file.

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For any custom metadata fields that aren’t displayed by default in one of FCPX’s standard views (in this case, the Director, DP, Lens and Shot Type fields), you will need to open FCPX’s Metadata Views Editor. Check each field you wish to see (above).

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Now, when you open  the Info tab in FCPX, your metadata shows up. I wish there were a metadata view in FCPX that automatically looked to see which metadata fields contained data, and made them all visible. That would be a nice timesaver.

BulletProof provides a robust set of tools that can be adapted to your requirements, and is especially well suited to complex workflows requiring dailies generated with LUTs and on-set metadata entry. If your needs are simply to import footage securely, Offload is the elegant choice. Either way, you’ll rest assured that your footage is securely imported and ready to edit from the moment it hits your hard drive.

Pearl is 62 percent funded with 6 days to go. UPDATE: fully funded!

Update: Since this post was made, Pearl was fully funded. Huge thank you to everyone who supported our campaign. See you at the screening!

Hey Seattle film fans, here’s a project worthy of your support. Pearl is a film I DP’d for director Amy Sedgwick over the summer, and it’s in the home stretch of a Kickstarter campaign to fund its completion. Check it out:

The film is about woman who works in an oyster factory and dreams of a life outside her small town. But what price is she willing to pay to break free?

Please consider backing this project! We need your support to keep growing our talents right here in Seattle.

UPDATE: Pearl is within $250 of being funded with 12 hours left to go in campaign. Help us get across the finish line!

Flashpoint CL-1300, 1300B LED PanelLights review


As someone who shoots a ton of interviews on location, I am on a never-ending quest to find a powerful lighting kit that will pack down into a carry-on sized bag. So when I was asked to review the Flashpoint CL-1300 LED panels, I got a little excited.

On paper, these lights look amazing: weighing just 4 pounds each, they are as small as LitePanels, but MUCH brighter; feature a built-in v-lock battery plate for cordless operation, and are priced just over $400. They come in two flavors: a 5600K daylight version, and a bi-color 3200K-5600K rated model. And they are made by Adorama, a brand with a lot more cred than the Chinese knockoffs I bought a few years back.



Dimming is controlled from 10 percent to 100 percent via a slider.


When my test unit arrived, the first thing my cat, Dolce, and I noticed was the handsome bag that was included. It is lightly padded for protection, features a shoulder strap, a pocket for the gels, and a front zipped pocket for the power cord, with room left over for a v-lock battery.

The CL-1300 ships with two plastic gels, one a diffuser, and the other an orange-yellow color that I assumed (incorrectly, as we’ll see in a minute) would get me in the ballpark of 3200K. Also included was a very nice, very long, 16′ power cord, which terminates in a 3-pin female XLR for attaching to the light. With that cord length, it’s almost possible to skip lugging an extension cord!


This is a huge step up from the TRS jack that my old knockoff lights are powered with. The XLR locks into place, so it will never fall out during operation, and you don’t have to worry about the weight of the cable bending anything on the unit.


There’s even a DC-out port, which allows you to daisy-chain several units together to create a larger panel, and control the dimming simultaneously using a dimmer attached via a RJ45 remote. I did not test this feature.



The plastic folding handle on top assists with hand-holding the light when needed.

The first thing I wanted to test was how powerful this light is, in a real-world situation. For sit-down interviews, I generally place my key light no more than 8 feet from my subject. So I placed the light 8 feet from my light meter, and took the following readings @24fps (48th sec. shutter):

Without diffusion or filter 8′ from subject = f/5.6.4 at iso 400.

With included diffusion gel (which I definitely recommend to eliminate the multiple shadow effect of bare LED panels): f/5.6.1, about a third of a stop light loss.

Battery life. Using my Switronix 14.8 volt v-lock battery on the light, I was able to get an average of 2 hours and 30 minutes with the light set at half brightness. Going to full brightness drains it in under an hour. Because the unit is so bright, it’s totally feasible to work in the half-dimmer position for all but the longest of interviews, without interruption. Sweet! One thing to note: when the power dies, it dies suddenly. It goes from being fully bright, to being out, just like that. I’m glad it does that rather than slowly dip, because this way as long as the light is on, you know you’re getting a consistent level of output.

So this is a very bright little light. But is it, as advertised, 5600K?

To determine color temperature, I clipped a Kodak 18 percent gray card to a stand, in a gray room with gray carpet, and pointed my 5dmkiii running Magic Lantern at it, with vectorscope enabled. I set the camera’s white balance manually to 5600K, and I SHOULD have seen a tight dot in the very center crosshairs of the scope. But this is what I saw instead:


Way too much magenta! To correct this, I added a 1/4 +green gel, and a 1/8 +green gel, which took us to here:


It’s too warm now, but adding 1/8 blue took us too far toward blue, to about 6000K.  So I settled for rating this light at 5400K, which yields this result on the scope:


It’s still a tad on the warm side, but I prefer a little warmth in my daylight balanced lights. With a little filtration, and some tweaking of the advertised color temp, we’re good to go.

You can assume that this is a step you would need to perform for every light you purchase in the CL-1300 series – getting the temp spot-on at the factory clearly wasn’t a top priority with these units.

Now that we’ve dialed in our daylight setting, what about 3200K? You might think that it would be as simple as sliding on the included orange plastic gel into the second slot provided (a very nice design touch).


But that turns out not to be the case. Adding the orange gel takes us only to 4000K:


We’ve got some more gels to add…and perhaps take away…to reach 3200K. With a little trial and error, I discovered that the formula is: remove the 1/8 +green, and add 1/8 CTO, and 1/4 CTO, which gets us close to the mark as possible, with just a bit of extra warmth:


(Note: dialing my color temp on the camera to 3100K put the dot squarely in the crosshairs, so technically the light gelled thusly should be rated 3100K. But as I said above, I prefer that slight bit of warmth so this is how I will rate the light and it matches well with my 5400K setting above).

Recommended additional filtration to carry with this light:

1/2 Plus Green – stacking this with the included 4000K filter gets you a ballpark fluorescent balance.

ND gels – the light is advertised as dimming to 10 percent of power. That turns out to be a lot of light – sometimes too much if you’re looking for subtle fill. Adding at .6 or .9 ND gives you the ability to dim the light further.

Size to cut: 11.5 x 11 3/8. It would be much simpler to cut these if the filter trays were actually square, but they’re not quite.

So we’ve found the formula to make THIS individual CL-1300 look good in tungsten, fluorescent and daylight. But…

In practice, this is a royal pain. Fiddling with adding multiple CTO gels, while remembering to take out 1/8 +green… you can see how complicated this could get on location. If you wanted to add the equivalent of 1/4 CTO, what would you do?

This is the accusation that DPs and gaffers have been hurling at LEDs since the beginning: that they don’t play well with the other lights on set. You can gel any tungsten light, and it will produce a predictable result that will match with other manufacturers tungsten lights, as long as the color temps are the same. But try that with inexpensive LEDs, and you get these weird color shifts that have to be individually corrected for.

So this got me wondering. Would the bi-color version of this light solve this problem?

There are so many things to like about this light, that I decided to put down my money and take a chance on it. The dream of compact, inexpensive, powerful, finger-tip adjustable lighting just won’t die in my head. So I ordered a 1300B unit, and awaited delivery.

Meanwhile, I had already ordered an additional CL-1300 for use on a documentary shoot with L.A. based director Michael King on his latest film, Intrepid. The film explores what happens to soldiers returning from combat and the challenges they face with post traumatic stress. For this shoot, we had two days of back-to-back interviews, and very little time to set up, very little budget, and very little crew. Here’s a couple iPhone snaps I was able to grab during production:


This interview with a former general is an example of where these lights shine: quick setups with busy people who can’t grant time for more elaborate setups.


This was our setup: two CL-1300s, one bounced into the neutral gray wall to provide strong fill, and the other keying the general from the side. The resulting wrap-around light looks great and takes almost no time to set  up.  The lights are gelled for tungsten using the formula I outlined previously in this post.

Unfortunately, the unit I received suffered from a serious issue: it had a noticeable flicker when dimmed below 50 percent. I limped through the shoot with it, and returned it immediately thereafter. Probably just a defective unit, right?

A few days later, the 1300B arrived.

The first thing I noticed after unboxing this light and turning it on? The dreaded flicker. Again. Similar to the previous unit, this one flickers in the low end of the daylight channel. But it also flickers subtly at top end of the tungsten channel. See this video clip:

Another issue: it emits a faint pitched whine that goes from high to low when dialed from daylight to tungsten. It disappears at either end of the scale, but select anything in between, and your sound guy may be ripping his headphones off in protest of your new purchase.

Of course I’m returning it. It’s obviously defective. And I’d like to wait until the replacement unit arrives to post this review. But after having to return two out of three lights that I’ve tested from flicker issues, I think it’s something I have to talk about. Even if the replacement is flicker-free, that will only bring the average to 50 percent. I’ll let you be the judge of whether that’s good enough for lighting gear you rely on.

OK, so flicker aside…

Bi-color is a killer feature. Think about it. If you’re standing on location, and the client is waiting, and you can dial in the color temp, instead of digging through your filter roll, getting out your c-47s and trying one then adding another…Having a light that you can adjust the color instantly is just a huge deal. Especially when you’re working with small crew or one-man mode.

And with LED panels, gelling is more of a pain than with fresnels. You need to either have a bunch of pre-cut pieces which you,  or you need the accessory barn doors.


The barn doors do allow you to easily clip gels or diffusion to the light. However, the Adorama CL-1300 barn doors are very, VERY heavy – 3 pounds! The light itself only weighs 4 pounds. But no one can accuse them of being cheaply built – these bar doors are built like a weapon.


One thing I like about the 1300B is that you can dial the color temp independently of the intensity. So it’s easy to find a temperature setting, and then work the dimmer up and down without changing it, an important convenience during a shoot.

The main thing to keep in mind when considering whether to go with the  bi-color or daylight version of this light, is brightness. The bi-color unit is half as bright as the daylight, because half the LEDs are tungsten, and half are daylight. Dialing the temperature control wheel sends power into one while subtracting it from the other. Predictably, when I gave the same brightness test as above to the CL-1300B, here’s what I got:

At 8’, light without diffusion or filters yields f/4.0.5 at iso 400 @24fps (48th sec. shutter)
With included diffusion: f/4.0.2, or about a third of a stop light loss.

What about the color temp of the bi-color model? Does it require gelling too?

The bi-color unit is closer than the previous light, but still needs some correction. 1/4 +green, to be precise. Uncorrected, here’s how it looks to the vectorscope:



As the light is dialed from daylight to tungsten, it gets more magenta. My compromise fix: Adding a 1/8th +green, and rating the daylight to 5400 instead of 5600k. This yields almost the same correction as the CL-1300 did, resulting in a pleasantly warm daylight balance:


So what’s the bottom line? There are many things to love about these lights. They pack nice, sip battery power, weigh next to nothing, and are well designed. They are full of promise. But until the flicker issues are addressed, and the color temperatures more precisely match those advertised, my recommendation is “watch, ” not “buy.”