Monthly Archives: April 2015

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.

afdefault

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

 

button7

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.

assign7

Button 7 is set to Magnify by default.

 

assignbutton

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!

perifph

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

Blackmagic-URSA-Mini-Cover-image-865x505

Ursa Mini

Arri_Alexa_camera

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!

Genaray GESPLR SpectroLED SP-LR review

lightwithtripodbagAs a documentary cinematographer, I’m a big fan of available light. However, it’s rarely perfect. A little fill on the shadow side of a window, for example, can create magic out of a monster. So wouldn’t it be nice if there was a light small enough to take with you anywhere, that you could just snap your fingers when you needed it?  Or like, wave a magic wand?

skerritlightInterviewing Tom Skerritt using Spectro-LED as rim light

When first I saw the IceLight from Wescott, I felt it wasn’t quite right for a couple of reasons. One, it wasn’t powerful enough. Two, it felt overpriced to me. So I waited. Given the rapid pace of LED development, I knew it was only a matter of time before we’d see an exciting development. In fact, I’ve been Googling for it. When a recent search for “IceLight alternative” uncovered something called the Genaray GESPLR SpectroLED SP-LR, I was interested. When I saw it contained both tungsten and daylight balanced lights, I was impressed. When I saw it was listed at $250 (half the price of an IceLight), I was sold.

caseThe light arrived a couple of weeks ago, and the first thing that caught my eye was the case. It’s one of those padded, semi-hard things, solidly built, something I will actually use. The size of the light is nice and compact, at just under 22″ long. The active strip of light it produces is 14″ long. It tucks easily into my Porta-Brace tripod bag (with the tripod in it, too), which will allow me to carry it easily on the road.

tubehandleThis light is impeccably professional looking. The black, all-metal handle includes buttons that electronically switch between tungsten and daylight, and dim the unit from 100 percent to 10 percent.

The mode button switches between tungsten on one side of the light, and daylight balanced LEDs on the other.

The dimmer works well, and produces no audible buzzing or sound of any kind (yay). Also, the light is flicker free at all settings.

The light is advertised to last for 2.5 hours at full blast. I found that not quite true. After running for 1.5 hours, I measured a small dip in brightness. After 2.5 hours, the light was still running strong, but had further dimmed, losing perhaps 1/-8 to 1/4 of it’s original brightness. At 2:40 it was down to 1/2 original power, before dying completely at 2:46. So it dies with a whimper.

This is a drag. I’d far prefer a light that dies with a bang, so that I could count on it being consistently bright whenever it’s on. Still, the fact that you can get in excess of 3/4 of it’s power after 2.5 hours isn’t too shabby for such a compact light. It’s just one more thing to keep track of during a shoot. For those reason, I’d recommend powering it via the AC adapter for longer interviews, or if you’re doing multiple interviews, for the later ones.

The battery is built in, so it’s not possible to pop in a spare when it runs out. An AC adapter is included, however, so you can run it all day off the cord, which also charges the battery.

anglebracket

The light features a 1/4″ 20 female mount point in the handle. The included mounting spud has 1/4″ 20 screw on one end, and 3/8″ on the other. This makes it easy to attach to various mounting hardware such as tilt brackets that allow you to fly the light over camera for use as fill, for example.

c-standadapterTo hang it off the arm of a c-stand, you’ll want one of these little guys (photo at right), a Manfroto 5/8″ to 1/4″ 20 rapid adapter. The light itself is so light (just 2 pounds) that it’s actually possible to hang it off a regular light stand, using a Photoflex heavy-duty grip swivel with a stand extension.  In that scenario, you’ll need to counterweight the bag. However, using a c-stand (below) you can fly it anywhere without counterweight. Which  makes fast and easy to reposition the light between setups.

fillcouch

One gripe I have about the design is that, as shipped, it could use more diffusion. But it’s easy to add. Wrapping it with Lee 1/2 white diffusion softens it beautifully and completely eliminates the dreaded LED multiple shadow effect. The penalty for this is a full stop of light loss. However, given how bright it is,  this could be been seen as a positive, since the light doesn’t dim below 10 percent. If you just need the extra stop of light, it’s there.

Brightness

For such a compact light, it packs a big punch. (However, it loses some of that to color correction, as we’ll discover in a moment.) How bright? Here’s a real world example. After color correction gels were applied, I was able to set f/2.8 at 6′ with ISO 800 at a 48/sec shutter (24p). When dimmed fully, I read f/1.0 and a half. The tungsten side is about a third of a stop brighter due to needing less color correction.

Versatility

You can place the Genaray just about anywhere. With gaffer tape, you can affix it inside a car, for example, to get relatively soft illumination where you want it while hiding it from the camera.

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 9.36.25 AM

Before

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 9.35.50 AM

After

The light has a rather nice, softly directional falloff, like a Kino-flo tube (more on that in a moment). I found it easy to feather the light by twisting it, and cutting it further is possible by applying black wrap.

This is the light of a million uses. Here’s a few that I’ve tried.

backlight

On swivel grip

Back light: Because it weighs just a couple of pounds, you can put it on a light stand with a swivel grip and stand extension, and boom it. I have a 7-lb Steadybag that is heavy enough to counterweight the light in this scenario (photo at right).

Fill light: Again, it’s so easy to fly this light directly over your lens with a light stand, where you can use it as a subtle, relatively soft fill.

Kicker: Simply screw it on top of the 1/4 20 thread of any light stand, and you’ve got a vertical strip of kicker light, that can chisel out some definition in an otherwise flat interview.

Traveling shots: Screw it onto the end of a Mogopod and you’ve got yourself a light boomed for traveling shots. It’s not as bright or as soft as the BBS Lighting Flyer, but then, that kit will set you back $3,499.

boomtravel

Quick and dirty traveling light boomed with Mogopod

Bonus: Skype light. Just stand the light vertically on the counter behind your laptop to illuminate your Skype conversations:

wandskype

Illuminating your next Skype conversation is as simple as placing the Genaray upright on your desk.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 2.21.32 PM

Before light (lit only with window light)

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 2.21.05 PM

After, with Genaray used as strong fill light

Bonus: Camping flashlight. This light works great to light up a campground picnic table!

So without doubt, this is a very flexible light. Great. But how does the light look?

Color accuracy

The Genaray is advertised at 3200K and 5600K. Previous inexpensive LEDs that I’ve reviewed have been all over the place with this. So, what can you expect out of a $250 LED these days?

5600kdefaultOn the right is what the vectorscope shows me at 5600K (a perfect balance would place a tight dot in the middle of the scope). So it’s immediately clear that we’ve got WAY too much red. We can correct this by adding a little CTB and a lot of plus green.  We’ll find out just how much in a moment. But first, let’s see how the 3200K side of the light stacks up.

3200kdefault

The 3200K LEDs, shown at right, are much closer to proper color balance. However, there is still a noticeable magenta shift. For a photo light, I want to see that dot in the bullseye. So we’ll need to add some plus green to get dial it in.

NOTE: I used an 18 percent Kodak gray card to do this test, and Magic Lantern’s Vectorscope on my 5dmkiii.

halfgreenblueOK, let’s tackle fixing the 5600K side first. After much testing, here’s what I came up with:

+ 1/2 green
+ 1/4 blue

Now we’re erring slightly on the yellow/green side, but just barely. And that’s the side I prefer to err on, because skin tones always look better a little yellow than any other color. I tried adding 1/8 blue, but that put us too far over toward blue/cyan. So this is about as close as we’re going to get this light, given that filters come only in 1/8th increments. Also note that this reduces the  output of the light by a full stop in 5600k mode.

plusquartergreen3200Fixing the 3200K was easier:

+ 1/4 green

I think it’s a shame these lights don’t match the color temperature they are advertised. But not as much a shame as paying $500 for the IceLight2! The price of inexpensive LEDs, at present, seems to be color temperature accuracy. But as you’ve seen, it’s possible to dial them in with a little work.

The CRI is 85 on these lights, which means colors won’t be as faithfully reproduced as with higher CRI sources. But in my experience, 85 is plenty high enough for general documentary use. My guess is that these lights are probably all different. So you will likely have to do your own testing to correct your copy of the light.

Light quality

OK, now that we’ve corrected our color balance, let’s take a look at the light qualitatively. That is, how does it look on a human face?

The closest thing I can compare this light with is a Kino tube. Only, minus all the crap you have to pack around to get the Kino fired up. It produces the same signature shadow as a Kino tube – soft on one axis and sharp on the other. So it’s an interesting mix of hard and soft light.

If you hold the light horizontally above your subject’s forehead, it casts a sharp shadow under their nose – but spreads soft light across their face from left to right.

horizontal

Genaray held horizontally

Flip the light vertical to the subject, and you get soft shadows under the nose and chin, with rapid falloff of light on either side of the face (you also get nasty vertical glare on glasses, which is why they aren’t in the shot below).

vertical

General held vertically

Used as a backlight, above and behind the subject, it spreads the light across head AND shoulders. I prefer this look to a point source.

usedbacklight

Generay LED used as backlight

So to sum it all up: Despite being pretty far off the mark in terms of advertised color temperature, this light can be balanced with a little effort. And it’s effort that will pay off. For the price, you get a lot of light in a tiny package that can be put to work on just about any documentary shoot. Especially for travel, where space and weight are always a consideration, this light is a road warrior’s weapon.