Author Archives: Dan McComb

About Dan McComb

Dan is a Seattle-based filmmaker specializing in documentary-driven storytelling.

Another day, another reason to love ProRes RAW

I saw some interesting clouds forming around sunset the other day, and thought it might be interesting to shoot a quickie timelapse. But then I considered the post-production slog required to deal with the raw files from my Canon 5dmkiii. Um, no. My Sony FS5 can shoot timelapses, but what’s the point of shooting a timelapse without raw? Then I thought, wait a minute, you haven’t yet tried shooting a timelapse with ProRes RAW.

So I popped on my Atomos Shogun Inferno, opened the timelapse menu, selected 1 frame every second, hit record, and opened a beer.

After the sun went down, I opened the 4k file on my MacBook Pro. It played back without dropping a frame as I skimmed through the file and assembled an edit. To grade it, I simply applied the excellent Venice-look LUT made by Alister Chapman. Then I made a couple of saturation and hue tweaks in the killer new FCPX hue/saturation curves. Fifteen minutes of work later, I was posting the results to Instagram.

An aside: Alister’s Venice LUT is the perfect LUT for shoot ProRes RAW with Sony FS5 and Shogun. That’s because it’s got multiple versions perfectly matched across both SLOG2 and SLOG3. Having both is essential for shooting with Sony FS5 (which monitors as SLOG2) and editing in FCPX (which opens as SLOG3). Using the appropriate LUT means you’re seeing the same thing in both places. You can download his LUT pack free, but please do tip him – for the price of a beer you can acknowledge the years of experience that Alister has put into creating those precision LUTs.

ProRes Raw is the real deal. Not just because it looks great (it does), but because it’s so easy to work with in post. If you had told me 6 months ago that I’d be editing 4K RAW files in real time on a 5-year-old MacBook Pro, I wouldn’t have believed you.

ProRes RAW is the reason why acquiring in 4K suddenly makes a whole lot of sense to me.

A side benefit: I typically would need to deflicker when shooting a timelapse on a DSLR. But there’s absolutely no deflickering needed when shooting with the Shogun’s timelapse mode.

Technical details:

Are you shooting with ProRes Raw yet? Got any tips for me?

 

 

To infinity and beyond: A fix for the focus issues with Contax-Zeiss and Metabones Speedbooster

Well, that sure was simple. Turns out the solution to fixing the infinity focus issue on vintage Contax-Zeiss with Metabones Speedbooster doesn’t involve using a Dremel tool. And no, you don’t have to recalibrate the lenses, either.

You just have to loosen a tiny set screw on the Metabones Speedbooster, and rotate its lens element (in my case, counter clockwise). Boom! Everything comes into focus.

Each of my vintage CY Zeiss lenses has a slightly different infinity focus point, however, so that means setting the infinity focus to the lens that is the farthest off. This means the rest of the lenses now focus beyond infinity, which isn’t really a problem. All of my modern AF Canon lenses do that by design. But it does mean the witness marks are off to varying degrees.

There’s one other issue with this fix that affects my Sony FS5: rotating out the rear element on the Speedbooster causes it to protrude further (see image below). As a result, when the Speedbooster is screwed into the FS5, it makes contact around the edges of the ND filter mechanism. That’s not ideal, but it’s a slight contact, and the ND filter functions normally. So I’m going to chase the shallow look to infinity and beyond.

I love the vintage look of these lenses so much that, before I discovered this solution, I’ve been shooting pretty much every interview I do with them. That hasn’t been an issue, because interviews never happen at infinity. But now that I have the full range of focus, I’m a heck of a lot more likely to shoot my b-roll with this glass now, too.

Want to see for yourself how amazing this vintage look is? You can rent my infinitely focusable 5-lens set of Contax-Zeiss cine-mod lenses on ShareGrid Seattle for $60/day. Set includes modified Speedbooster for use with Sony E-mount cameras.

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New work shot with Fujinon MK-series zooms in Montana

UW just published a piece I shot last summer in Montana. It’s about a young woman who grew up on a ranch in a remote part of the state, who is well on her way to becoming a doctor, thanks to a UW Medicine program that helps train rural doctors.

This project was the second that I’ve shot primarily with Fujinon MK18-55 & MK50-135 T2.9 Cine-Style Lens Kit (E-Mount) on the Sony FS5.  However, I haven’t shot another one since. Not because I don’t love these lenses, but because I miss image stabilization.

If you’re working quickly, without much crew, there really is no substitute for image stabilized lenses. When I sat down to edit this piece, I had to reject way too many clips because they had uncontrollable jitters. I had to post-stabilize a ton of the rest, with less than perfect results in a couple of cases. Nevertheless, I’m proud of how this story came together in the edit.

For those jobs where you have the time to work from a tripod or other stabilization, I’d highly recommend the Fujinons. They make tracking and holding focus easy, even when subjects are walking directly toward camera.

 

 

 

 

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Hipshot camera belt makes handheld shooting easier

Hipshot Camera Belt

Hipshot Camera Belt with AC pouch

As my Sony FS5 seems to grow in size every day, I’ve found that it’s getting harder to shoot handheld. And that’s a shame, because that’s what this little camera is born to do. But when you add a Shogun for recording raw, a Teradek Serve Pro for clients, and a battery plate to keep it all running, it’s a lot to bear.

Hipshot Camera Belt

Fold-away platform securely holds camera

Yet there’s still nothing like going handheld when you have to work quickly. And it turns out there’s a tool that supports that style of working. It’s called Hipshot in the LA area. It’s designed to transfer the weight of the camera to your hips,  which are better suited to load bearing than your arms and back.

I find that using the Hipshot, I’m able to work for long periods without a break, with minimal effort. It takes a little practice to get used to moving, stopping, positioning the camera, and rolling, all from the hip. You can’t get traveling shots this way – not smooth at all when you start walking.

How does it compare to a shoulder rig?  Since I’m a tallish guy, I find that a shoulder mounted camera is rarely a good thing. Looking down on the world just isn’t that interesting of a perspective. The Hipshot gets the camera down where I more typically want it: so I can slightly angle upward at the action, making the shots more immersive.

It’s particularly great for shooting things that are happening on a tabletop, or seated activities.

The belt is NOT cheap, nor is it cheaply made. It’s a cool $385 bucks, but my back has already thanked me for spending every penny. I look at it as a lifetime investment.

 

I’ve configured mine with an AC pouch that contains:

  •  Wide-grip flat screw driver
  • Leatherman tool
  • Lumu Power color light meter (plugs into iPhone)
  • Lens cloth
  • Focus marking pen
  • Pencil spirit level

If you’re in the Seattle area and want to try before you buy, you’re in luck. This belt, including AC pouch and all contents, is available for rent on ShareGrid for $35/day.

How do you support your camera when shooting b-roll handheld?

 

Rent my best filmmaking equipment on ShareGrid Seattle

If you need to rent filmmaking equipment in the Seattle area, you’re in luck! You can now find some specialized gear that I’m pretty sure isn’t available anywhere else in the Seattle area on ShareGrid Seattle. I’ve taken the time to list most of my top-quality equipment here after noticing that I get a lot more action on ShareGrid than I do on KitSplit for some reason.

And I have a special offer for you if you’re a first-time renter to ShareGrid: Follow this link and you’ll get $20 off your first order of $100 or more.

Here’s what I’ve got for you today – and I’ll be adding more in the coming days:

Seattle share grid camera rentals

Sharegrid seattle rentals

ShareGrid rentals for Dan McComb

 

Teradek ServPro turns iPhones into superb client monitors

Teradek Serve Pro

Teradek Serve Pro, ready for action

For smaller documentary film productions, a client monitor is a luxury that’s rarely on the table. Not only are they expensive, but they are complicated. First, you need to set up a radio network, and then, a monitor. It’s expensive, and time consuming.

But Teradek has changed that equation with the Serve Pro, a small camera-mountable box that creates a wi-fi network that up to 10 iOS or Android devices can use to monitor video. It’s been a game-changer for me and my clients. Here’s why it’s my new favorite tool on location.

I’m often shooting projects where up to three client representatives are on location. Client reps like to have something to do when they are there, besides just watching you work. But they also need and want to stay out of my way.  On larger sets, they are usually clustered around the monitor. So what Serve Pro does is give them that experience, the opportunity to see what’s going on, and provide you feedback if they want, based on an image they are seeing on their phone or tablet.

I was skeptical at first that the quality would be that good – I imagined having to spend time disclaiming the image, telling them that it would look better in post. But that turns out not to be the case. Not only is the image top-notch, but I find that it’s as good or in some cases better than the image coming to my Shogun and SmallHD monitors if you have an iPhone 7 or newer.

HD video monitoring with professional controls

Not only is the image bright and sharp, but all of the controls that you would expect to find on a SmallHD monitor are included in the free Vuer app! You read that correctly: you can apply a LUT, view peaking or zebras, even false color if you want. You can look at a vector scope, histogram, etc. But clients generally just want the image to look good. And Serv Pro has that covered, too.

I generally shoot in Slog, so I just email my clients a LUT before the project, then show them how to load it into the app on the morning of the shoot. It takes just a few clicks, and boom, the image they are seeing looks fantastic, as I send them a LUT that is designed for client viewing with slightly crushed blacks.

Shogun’s problem and solution

When I first started shooting with a Shogun Inferno, I was disappointed to find that I couldn’t get an HD signal out of the Inferno when shooting RAW. So that pretty much meant I couldn’t use the Serv Pro. But the latest firmware (version 9 that also supports ProRes Raw) has fixed this issue! So now it’s possible to record raw to Shogun Inferno AND send an HD signal out to the Serv Pro.

Wooden Camera battery plate for Sony FS5

Serve Pro attached with velcro to the back of a battery plate. 

Mounting the Serv Pro to camera

It’s possible to attach the Serve Pro to the camera using 1/4 holes that are drilled into the unit in two places. But what I’ve found works great for me is to attach two strips of velcro, and use that to mount to the flat back of a battery plate. This doesn’t cause the unit to overhead, and works great to keep a low profile on the camera while shooting.

Battery life

It’s possible to power the Serve Pro from a smaller battery with a p-tap, but I find that using full-size vlock batteries is the way to go. A 98wh battery will power my camera, Serve Pro, and Shogun 2.5 hours.

The Serv Pro costs $1,800. I rent it to my productions for $105/day. My clients love it so much they call me before shoots to make sure I’m brining it. So it’s become a standard line-item in most of my productions, and I will have it paid off by the end of the year.

You can rent my Serv Pro and check it out for yourself! My kit, which includes HDMI, SDI and power cables in road case as pictured above, is available on ShareGrid for $105 for the day or weekend for productions in the Seattle area.

Rent my Teradek Serv Pro on ShareGrid for $105.

Do you provide monitoring for your clients?

The Healing Power of Music

When Seattle Cancer Care Alliance asked me to make a film about their third year of sponsoring Northwest Folklife, I knew immediately what I needed to find: a performer who could speak from personal experience about the healing power of music.

With some help from Folklife staff, I found someone who knew someone who ultimately put me in touch with Ricky Gene Powell. As fate had it, he had been diagnosed with cancer last December and was being treated by Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. When I interviewed him at his home, he spoke very eloquently about his experience, and I knew we had our guy.

Next I set up a rehearsal at Seattle Center, where we shot the piece. He hadn’t told me anything about his band mates, but I thought I’d ask them all one question: Can music heal? So after they’d played a couple of songs, I paused them and popped the question.

Imagine my surprise when Jim Marsh told told me the story about his father, and his own story.

 

This project was the first I’ve shot with Apple ProRes Raw (although the A cam angle was shot in v-log on a GH5). I didn’t grade in 12-bit, however. I exported out ProRes 4444 files and sent them to my colorist, Kollin O’Dannel, who graded in Resolve.

I am planning to spend some more time with this project in FCPX, to dial in the basics of grading ProRes RAW in 12-bit. Stay tuned for another post on how that turns out.

Meanwhile, I hope to see both Jim and Ricky on the road to full health soon. And I look forward to more healing, powerful music from them both.

And I hope to see YOU at Folklife.

Tentacle Sync gives timecode a good name

Tentacle sync and sound devices mixpre 3

Tentacle Sync in “green” mode feeding timecode to a Sound Devices MixPre3

When I made my first film about 7 years ago, I was sort of lucky. There was this little software app called PluralEyes that enabled me to do dual-system sound without knowing the first thing about timecode. That was cool, and it served me rather well for a long time. But recently I’ve been edging out of this friendly zone into more dangerous territory where I’m getting hired by directors who expect me to provide files with timecode. Because, well, timecode.

But I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover that, with the right tools, timecode doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, it has really speeded up my post-production workflow. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, a reminder of why timecode can suck.

Timecode is complicated

When a director hired me earlier this year for a timecode shoot, I did what any self-respecting DP would do: I hired a professional sound recordist. They usually come with everything needed for timecode – a recorder/mixer that generates timecode, and the “lockit” boxes that plug into cameras that accept timecode, for a complete solution. But this time, the recordist told me her lockit box was broken, so I’d have to provide something myself.

I was able to rent a lockit box from Lensrentals, and I brought it to the shoot assuming the sound recordist would know what to do with it. She responded as if I’d just handed her a snake. Fifteen minutes later, she allowed that she didn’t know how to make this particular box work. I took one look at the long row of cryptically labeled dip switches, and…told the director I’d record reference audio and he could use PluralEyes to sync the footage.

The look on his face told me I’d disappointed him.

So the next day, I did some research. Turns out there are a lot of solutions that claim to be “industry standard” on the market. Most of them are big, clunky, and expensive. For example, the lockit box I’d rented is about twice as big as a Sennheiser wireless mic receiver, and has to be somehow anchored to the camera. But my Sony FS5 doesn’t have a timecode in port, so how do I work around that? Finally, it needs to be externally powered somehow…

But there’s a better way. It’s called Tentacle Sync.

Tentacle Sync is simple

Tentacle makes a tiny plastic box (less than half the size of a Sennheiser G3 wireless mic receiver) that has built-in velcro for attaching to your camera. It doesn’t need external power, as it comes standard with a built-in lithium ion battery that will last for even the longest day of shooting.

Tentacle Sync doesn't take up much space

Tentacle Sync doesn’t take up much space on a Sony FS5

There is only one switch on the Tentacle – on or off. All other controls are accessed through an app, which connects wireless using bluetooth via either iOS or Android.

tentacle label

Each tentacle is named at the factory (or you can assign your own custom name) to tell them apart from each other

I use a Sound Devices MixPre 3 as my primary recorder when I’m not working with a pro recordist, and it does not have timecode built in. However, it supports timecode, meaning, it will accept timecode from a generator. In practice this means that the MixPre 3 is a fine timecode-generating recorder/mixer when paired with a Tentacle Sync. Used in this way, you need one Tentacle Sync unit for the recorder, and a Tentacle Sync box for each of the cameras you will be using on the shoot. A Tentacle Sync Sync E Timecode Generator with Bluetooth (Single Unit) sells for $289 apiece, but you can save money by purchasing them in a set. The Tentacle Sync Sync E Timecode Generator with Bluetooth (Dual Set) sells for $519.

I now own three of the boxes, and they allow me to pair two cameras with timecode generated by the third unit, which lives on the MixPre 3.

Tentacle Sync E comes with everything needed to get up and running, and more

Tentacle Sync E comes with everything needed to get up and running, and more

How to configure a Tentacle Sync

Setting up the units is a breeze. Each comes with a unique name from Tentacle (which I’ve labeled them so I can tell them apart easily). Press and hold the on switch until the light flashes green – that puts it in timecode generator mode. Put this one on the recorder. Press and hold the others until the light turns blue – this puts them into timecode receiving mode. Then, briefly connect the master to the slave, and this syncs the timecode.

The Tentacle Sync units come standard with a 1/8″ to 1/8″ trs cable, which works great for pairing to the auxiliary input of the MixPre3, which can be set to receive timecode. It also works great to send timecode to DSLRs or mirrorless cameras via the audio jack.

Larger cameras like my Sony FS5 that don’t have a dedicated timecode in port can also receive timecode via one of the two audio channels, although you’ll need a Tentacle Sync Tentacle to 3-Pin XLR Cable (16″) to get the timecode out of the Tentacle box (which they sell).

I have a Shogun Inferno, which has a dedicated Sync port for Linear Timecode (LTC) in, and for that, you’ll need a Tentacle Sync Tentacle to BNC Cable (Straight, 16″) or Tentacle Sync Tentacle to BNC Cable (Right-Angle, 16″).

A professional sound recordist I work with frequently, Scott Waters, loves the Tentacle boxes. He owns the required Hirose to 1/8″ connector cable required to sync timecode from his Sound Devices 633 to each Tentacle Sync on my cameras.

Tentacle workflow

It’s one thing to get timecode sent to the audio port of your camera, but that’s a non-standard way of doing timecode. I’m not even sure Davinci Resolve can read timecode on an audio channel if you using Resolve to batch-sync, as many productions do.  So how do you take advantage of it?

Syncing is near instantaneous and offers XML and file export options

Syncing is near instantaneous in Tentacle Sync Studio, and offers XML and file export options plus multicam mode

Enter Tentacle Sync Studio. This is drop-dead simple software designed with smart defaults, which looks for timecode on one of the audio channels of all media dropped into it. If it finds timecode in an audio channel, it automatically uses that to sync, rather than the timecode in the video file. Once you drop all of your footage and audio into the app, it automatically builds a sync map, which you can view to see which of your footage is synced.

You can export footage via XML into your NLE of choice, or you can export new clips with the good audio embedded in them. You can optionally keep your reference audio, but the default is to replace the reference with the clean audio (which is what I almost always want).

Shogun’s 2.5 frame delay

I use Tentacle Sync with my Shogun Inferno via a BNC cable, and it works great, with a small caveat. For some reason, there is a 2.5 frame offset in the timecode, meaning the audio needs to be slipped 2.5 frames forward in the timeline to be perfectly in sync. Luckily, the Shogun Inferno has a timecode preference that allows you to set a timecode offset, but it only works in 1-frame increments. So I’ve set mine to -2 frames, and it’s close enough.

Shogun Inferno's timecode controls allow offsetting the TC signal. I find a -2 offset works best.

Shogun Inferno’s timecode controls allow offsetting the TC signal. I find a -2 offset works best.

Tip: When sending timecode to your MixPre 3, if you use presets (and you should because they are a huge timesaver), make sure you configure each preset to accept timecode via the aux in. I forgot to do that and when I chose a new preset, it reset to the default (timecode in via HDMI) and I was very sad when I discovered in the edit that most of my files contained no timecode).

Why use timecode on your projects instead of PluralEyes? Because it saves time. Syncing based on audio waveforms is very processor intensive, and if you’re working on a large project, it can literally take hours. Furthermore, it’s messy (creating folders full of temporary files), and not always accurate. Some files just never sync, forcing you to align them one at a time, a very cumbersome process.

With Tentacle Sync Studio, timecode syncing is almost instantaneous. And the Tentacle Sync boxes themselves are unobtrusive, and can be attached with velcro (included in the kit) to any size of camera.

Since I’ve discovered the joys of syncing with Tentacle, I pretty much use it on every project now. What about you? How do you keep your clips in sync?

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Exploring Apple’s new ProRes Raw with Sony FS5

Apple’s ProRes Raw is the most exciting thing out of NAB this year. Fancy new LEDs that immitate police lights are cool, but they will be surpassed by even cooler lights within a year or two. ProRes Raw, however, is going to be with us for a long time. And for good reason.

I’ve been playing with ProRes Raw for the last few days, using my Sony FS5 and Shogun Inferno, bringing the footage into Final Cut Pro X to learn how it works and what it can offer me and my clients.

First of all, let me just say, I’ve never been a big fan of 4K. Few of my clients ask for it, and when they do, it slows me down in my post-production by a factor of three or four. So it’s expensive. Everything takes forever to render, and in the end, we invariably end up delivering HD anyway. So why shoot it?

Well, ProRes Raw just gave us some pretty compelling reasons.

  1. First, it doesn’t slow your editing down nearly as much as before. I found that by setting playback to “Better Performance” in FCPX, I was able to play back a ProRes Raw 4K timeline on my late 2013 MacBook Pro without any frames dropping.
  2. Secondly, to get ProRes Raw using FS5 and Shogun, you MUST acquire in 4K. There’s no option to record a 2k signal, apart from recording in high frame rates. So it would take a lot longer to down convert your footage and transcode to HD than to stay in 4K.
  3. Thirdly, the options you get in post by acquiring the raw and the 4K are actually pretty cool given that they no longer slow you down the way they used to.

So, if you could have a Tesla for the same price as a boring gas car, which would you buy? (Only, you’re going to have to wait a long time for that Tesla, and you can have ProRes today.)

Consider this:

  • No transcoding = no need to make dailies. Your raw files ARE your dailies – and you can change your mind about camera LUTs later without re-rendering 🙂
  • 12-bit color depth. Woot.
  • File sizes aren’t much bigger than current flavors of ProRes

So how does it work?

To get started working on your ProRes Raw footage in FCPX, you need to show the “Info Inspector” and change the default view from Basic to General. This reveals the ProRes Raw-specific controls that allow you to debayer your footage.

RAW to Log Conversion controls which flavor of Log you want to debayer to (it’s also possible to choose None and work directly with RAW – more on that in a moment).

Camera LUT applies a LUT to the LOG signal before it’s sent out – akin to baking in a look on your recorder (but it allows you to change your mind later).

The first thing I wanted to test out was how the Shogun was interpreting the raw signal, and see if that was the same as the way Final Cut Pro X interprets it. Turns out, they’re different. And that has implications on how you shoot.

Shogun interprets the raw signal from a Sony FS5 like Slog-2 – only it’s not.

When you look at the raw signal on the Shogun, it doesn’t matter whether you send it Slog 3 or Slog 2 on your FS5 – the Shogun thinks it’s getting an Slog 2 stream, at least for the purpose of applying LUTs. It’s NOT an Slog2 stream, though – it’s raw sensor data. But Shogun is receiving metadata from the camera so that it can interpret it, and whatever it’s doing is in SLOG2. So when you drop on a LUT designed for Slog3, it looks all wrong (way too crunchy). So until we have more options in FCPX, it’s important to stick with using SLOG2 LUTs for monitoring on the Shogun.

When you bring your ProRes Raw footage into Final Cut Pro X, however, there’s no option to debayer the footage as SLOG2. Currently the only options for Sony cameras are Slog3 in two flavors – either Sgamma3 or Sgamma3.cine.

You can also apply a camera LUT in FCPX at the same time you are debayering, but it’s important to note that if you do, it’s the same thing as applying a LUT at the beginning of your color pipeline, rather than at the end of it. Before ProRes Raw, this was generally the wrong place to do this, because if the camera LUT crunches the shadows or clips the highlights, you won’t be able to recover them when making adjustments to the clip later. But. And this is a big but: When you apply a camera LUT to ProRes Raw at the source, THERE IS NO RENDERING. Did you hear that correctly? No rendering.

Actually, with FCPX 10.4.1, it’s not only possible to apply a camera LUT to RAW, but you can also apply a camera LUT to any LOG footage.

Yep, you can play with LUTs to your heart’s content, find one that gives you a ballpark without clipping your highlights, and take it from there. So this really is a fantastic way to make dailies – but with the ability to change your mind later without incurring any rendering penalty. How cool is that?

But (a small one this time). Since you can’t shoot with SLOG3 LUTs using Shogun (or more correctly, since Shogun won’t interpret your raw footage as anything other than SLOG2), and since it doesn’t work to apply an SLOG2 camera LUTs in FCPX due to the fact that it’s debayered as SLOG3, we at a bit of an impasse, aren’t we?

Matching Slog2 to Slog3

Matching Slog2 to Slog3

Turns it it’s not that difficult to overcome. It’s entirely possible to find an SLOG2 LUT for shooting that comes fairly close to matching what you’ll see off the sensor in SLOG3 in FCPX. I did this by placing my MacBook monitor on a stand next to my Shogun, and trying lots of different LUTs on. Turns out that loading the SONY_EE_SL2_L709A-1.cube LUT onto the Shogun, I’m able to get pretty close to what I’m seeing when I open the clip in FCPX using the default Slog3 raw to log conversion, and the default slog3/sgamma3 camera LUT. I do look forward, though, to FCPX supporting more options for debayering.

OK enough about LOG. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get straight to the real RAW, shall we? All you have to do is select None as the option on Raw to Log Conversion, and you get this:

You get an image that looks, well, raw. To work on it, you have to drop it into a timeline, and start applying color controls. That’s great and all, but now you have to deal with rendering. So right away you can see that there are some workflow reasons why you’d want to stick with Log. Having said that, you can do all the corrections you want to do and save them using “Save Effects Preset” so you can apply them in a single click later. Not the same as a LUT, but definitely a timesaver. But I digress.

I was blown away by how you can pretty much, within FCPX, do the same things I used to doing to an image in Photoshop. You can recover highlights until forever! But you do have to be careful – pulling highlights down has an impact on the rest of the image, so you have to jack a contrast curve something crazy if you want to recover highlights outside a window. But you can do it:

Recovered highlights in a bright window

Recovered highlights in a bright window

You’ll notice that the brightest highlights went a little crazy there, but good news – you have pinpoint control over color saturation using hue-sat curves in FCPX. After a little playing around, I was able to calm it down like so:

Tamed highlights

Tamed highlights

The bottom line is you quickly find yourself spending a LOT of time fussing with things when you get into grading the raw RAW. But it sure is a neat thing to be able to do it when you want to.

I think I’m going to find that I stick with a Log workflow for now, but with the option to to straight into raw for some challenging shots, where I really want the kind of control that Photoshop gives a still photographer.

Blowing the image up to 200 percent, a little noise becomes apparent after all the pushing around:

Noise in 12-bit raw

Noise in 12-bit raw

But dare I say, it’s filmic noise, not ugly digital noise. That right there is the benefit of shooting 12-bit, most def. Shooting 10-bit 4k on the Shogun you definitely have noise issues in the shadows. I’d say definitely less so with 12-bit.

Here’s a side-by side comparison of 10-bit SLOG2 footage with LUT applied next to RAW 12-bit:

4k enlarged 200 percent

There’s currently no tool in FCPX raw controls akin to the denoise setting in Adobe Camera Raw tools. So to denoise this, you’ll need a plugin like the excellent Neat Video Denoiser. And that, my friends, is where the Apple ProRes party slows down a bit. You’ll definitely want to apply that filter as the very last step of any project, because the render times with denoising are painfully long.

But never mind a little noise that has to be enlarged to be seen. ProRes Raw has me all fired up. This codec looks like a game changer to me. More workflows will emerge quickly, supported by more software and hardware tools such as cameras that shoot direct to ProRes Raw. In the mean time, Apple has handed us Sony FS5 owners a way to stay on the bleeding edge for the foreseeable future (without upgrading to the Sony FS5 MKII, thank you very much).

 

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Swimming with Sea Lions in Elliott Bay

UW Medicine just published a project I shot last December, which features one of their physicians, Dr. Stephen Dudley, who has an unusual exercise routine: he swims year-around in Elliott Bay.

When I landed this project, I knew right away that I wanted to take the camera under water with him. I’m licensed to dive, but I’ve only ever done that in warm tropical waters. I have neither the equipment or the inclination to get my feet wet in the frigid waters of Puget Sound in December.

Laura James, underwater cinematographer

Laura James, underwater cinematographer

So I started Googling for underwater camera people in Seattle, and I found a lot of guys and one woman named Laura James. She has a ton of experience shooting underwater, and was instantly excited about working on this project when I reached out to her. She was awesome to work with!

While she covered the action from under water, I shot from a boat above the water with a DJI Osmo Pro, which did a superb job of smoothing out the winter waves that we were riding.

Amazingly, two sea lions happened to swim by while we were filming, and became curious about what Laura and Dr. Dudley were doing in the water. They swam right underneath them, which is how we got that little quick second of footage in the film underwater, and also the clip I was able to capture above water.

Here’s a few frames from the film, which you can watch here on the UW Medicine website (scroll down to bottom of page to view).

Many thanks to Lara Feltin, who produced this project, and to location sound recordist Scott Waters.


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