Mogopod’s one-twist solution raises the bar for monopod users

The other day I went shopping for a monopod. I discovered a lot of options: skinny ones, tall ones, ones made from carbon fiber (expensive ones). One thing all of them had in common was a multi-stage design, which allows them to telescope. Most require screwing to adjust. Some have quick-release knobs. But one had something that got my attention: an intriguing twist-locking mechanism that allows the user to reset the height with a single flick of the wrist.

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It’s called the Mogopod. And as I tried it out on the showroom floor, it immediately stood out as a product that had been designed with the user in mind. It fits beautifully into your hand, and includes a carrying strap that allows you to sling it over your shoulder between takes. But most impressively, the Mogopod is made from three stages, two of which telescope through an ingenious twist mechanism (which I’ve seen before on more expensive painter’s poles).

podtopReleasing the twist causes the stage above AND below to slide out simultaneously. And locking or unlocking doesn’t require multiple twist of the barrel – just a quick twist of the wrist. The result is a monopod that you can use to dance with your subjects, in my experience, quite literally.

At a wedding I filmed recently, the happy couple took their first married steps on the dance floor together and realized I wasn’t high enough on the stick to get the shot. Instead of having to take a short timeout while I reset the height (possibly missing the moment), I just reached down, made one quick adjustment, and kept shooting.

podlegThere are witness marks printed in inches on the side of the sticks that let you know exactly what height you’re at. I found that 50 inches was for me the “just about right” height for shooting while standing. So after going low, I knew immediately where to reset when coming up, saving me time.

toppinAt the top of the stick, another user-centered innovation is a dual-threaded reversible collar that allows you to select 1/4 20″ or 3/8 16″ studs. That sure beats those little screw-on adapters that I’m always losing every time I switch up to a video head on my other devices.

Adding a small, flat-mounting video fluid head such as my Manfrotto 701HDV allows quick upward and downward tilting of the camera. In this configuration I found it paired exceptionally well with the Canon C100 MKII for video work.

It isn’t the lightest monopod, as it is made from aluminum. And at 27″ when retracted, the medium sized Mogopod that I purchased doesn’t telescope down as short as many other pods (although the Mogopod Mk III Small, which I didn’t test, collapses to 20 inches). But if you don’t mind the slightly longer length, the increase in usability will more than compensate.

If you shoot like me, that means constantly changing your camera angle and camera height. So a monopod that gives you the ability to do that gracefully and quickly will make your day. It’s got a professional heft, and the red trim is an expensive-looking touch. But at $120, the Mogopod is one of the more affordable monopods on the market. That’s what I call raising the bar.

Canon C100 MkII autofocus is a game-changer for documentary

Canon-C100-Mark-II-Cinema-CameraWhen I was a young photojournalist in the early 90s, I remember the disdain that old-salt photographers had for autofocus. “Forget autofocus,” they told me. “It’s not for pros.” The technology was still in its infancy in those days, but today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a photojournalist who doesn’t routinely depend on it.

Motion picture is another story. Most cinematographers feel the same way about autofocus today as still photographers did 20 years ago. But change is coming, and it’s has a name:  Canon Dual Pixel CMOS AF. First introduced on Canon’s EOS 70D digital SLR camera in 2013, Canon has for the first time made autofocus a standard feature in their Cinema series cameras with the introduction of the C100 MkII. But does it really work?

I spent last weekend in Boston shooting a wedding that will be the climax of a forthcoming documentary film by Heather McHugh. I chose the Canon C100 MkII to shoot with because I wanted to put the camera in a situation where I could really push its autofocus capabilities to the limit, and see if it could perform as well or better than my manual focusing ability.

But first, a word about manual focus. When shooting video, it’s actually quite difficult to tell whether a shot is actually in focus. Especially when shooting wide or when stopped down, you can’t trust what you see on the screen. Tools like peaking that sharpens the image to better reveal focus, and peaking that places a color outline around in-focus areas, help. But nothing substitutes for actually SEEING that the image is sharp, and for me this means punching in, or digitally expanding the image to check focus. Canon DSLRs have a button that magnifies focus up to 5x for this purpose. But it only works prior to rolling – if the subject moves during the shot, you’re on your own. The C100 and other C-series Canon cameras have a 2x magnifier that works while rolling. This helps, but having to constantly punch in while rolling to check focus is distracting, and takes me out of the moment when following a subject.

When my C100 MkII arrived from Lensrentals.com, I spent a day getting comfortable with the menus and controls. And it became immediately clear that the autofocus button is in the wrong place – at the front of the camera in the same spot where the white-balance button is on many other video cameras. This makes grabbing focus a two-handed operation, no good. Luckily, Canon makes it possible to re-map the buttons to your heart’s content. I found that mapping the one-shot autofocus to the #7 button makes it an ergonomic dream to use.

Using this approach, I quickly fell into a one-handed shooting rhythm: Center the subject, press one-shot autofocus with my right thumb, and as soon as the green confirmation square lights up, roll camera with my right index finger.

What I have hated in the past about video autofocus is the dreaded “hunting and seeking” that happens unpredictably. With the C100, this is a thing of the past (except in very low light or on very low-contrast subjects, which I’ll address in a moment).

In fact, in my own manually focusing, I find myself hunting and seeking all the time: I focus, then punch in to check, then slightly overcorrect focus to see where the sharpest point is, then come back to it. Then punch out, and roll. So when I realized that Canon’s autofocus just goes to the sharpest point and locks there, I was very impressed. In that way, it focuses better (faster) than my human eye.

Canon provides two autofocus modes: one-shot and continuous. Unfortunately you can’t map the buttons to continuous – just to one-shot. This means if you want to switch between continuous and one-shot, you have to drill into the camera menu, a cumbersome process. I hope Canon makes continuous focus a mappable option in a future firmware update.

Continuous autofocus will attempt to keep whatever is in the center of the frame in focus. One-shot focuses to the point you’ve selected, and stays put regardless of where your subject moves after that. In practice I almost never used continuous focus. But it is very handy when a subject is coming toward you, such as a push-in shot. It’s also great for those times when you can’t touch the focus ring – such as when the camera is mounted in a Movi.

And here’s my first gripe: it’s only possible to focus in the dead center of the frame. In practice this isn’t so bad, because you can focus, reframe, and roll. But it would be very nice to be able to (as you already can with the Canon 70D) assign the autofocus area to another part of the screen. I found myself favoring the center of the screen for my compositions more than I normal would have done.

While shooting at the wedding, I loved the confidence that having autofocus gave me. It speeded up my work. Instead of squinting intently into the frame, I could center the subject, press one-shot, get focus confirmation, and roll without wondering whether my shot was focus. If the person moved, I could again press one-shot and get focus confirmation without interrupting my shot. Because there is so much to cover so quickly during a wedding, I found myself simply letting the camera roll, reframing a new shot, focusing, and repeat as needed.

The nagging feeling of “did I get that in focus?” that so often haunts me at the end of a good shot just melted away as I became more and more confident. Instead of concentrating on focus, I found myself concentrating on framing, on getting the right angle, on moving the camera to where it needed to be for the next shot. But of course, it wasn’t perfect.

I noticed that low-contrast or dimly lit subjects sometimes presented an autofocus challenge to this camera. In low light, I occasionally saw the hunting and seeking behavior that has plagued lesser video autofocus. But it doesn’t take long to figure out what situations I had to manually take over, and which I could trust the camera to handle. And, asserting focus is as simple as grabbing the focus ring. You don’t have to enable or disable autofocus first with Canon glass. You just leave autofocus enabled on the lens, and focus manually as needed. With one-shot, it won’t fight you.

On a few rare occasions, I noticed that the camera seemed to fasten onto a background object rather than focus into the foreground as I wanted it to. These were situations with a low-contrast object in foreground against a high-contrast object in background.

As the day went on, I wondered whether my near-constant use of autofocus would cause the battery to run out faster. It didn’t. I shot the entire event on a single Canon BP-955 battery. It had 25 percent of it’s life left at the end of the day. So the C100 does what it does without being a battery hog. Pretty incredible.

When I reviewed my footage afterward, I noticed something I haven’t seen in my footage before: shots that snapped into focus and stayed focused. Instead of my rocking back and forth to settle on focus, it just went straight to it with authority, meaning that I could react more quickly to a moment and nail it.

Before the C100, I could count on some percentage of my shots (maybe 10 percent?) being slightly soft. With the C100, virtually all of my shots are spot-on. Focus becomes a framing exercise, rather than a squinting exercise. And the result is renewed confidence. The C100’s autofocus isn’t perfect, but for covering events like a wedding, at least, it’s already better than my eyes. And that’s good enough for me.

 

Perceptiv SHIFT drone upgrade simplifies cinematic tracking shots

One of the most difficult things about shooting video with my Phantom II is tracking shots. I’ve found it’s very difficult to keep the camera focused on an object while the drone moves around it, much less stay focused on an object that is itself moving. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a smart app that would allow you to tell the camera what to focus on, freeing you to do the flying?

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 8.29.59 AMStarting this fall, you’ll be able to do that, thanks to well-funded startup called Perceptiv, which has announced a relatively affordable upgrade it to your Phantom or 3DR Iris drone. The pre-order price is $600, which their website says will rise to $800 after the units being shipping.

It’s clear to me that DJI has realized how difficult getting cinematic shots is, by including a dual-operator option on the new Inspire 1. This will allow splitting camera operation and flying into two jobs, and give the camera operator a fighting chance of getting great tracking and parallax shots. But this tool looks even easier.

I’ll look forward to seeing how it works in real life, though. Most of the shots in the demo video are shot against green grass, which mimics green screen, probably the easiest situation for a camera to track. What would happen when you’re trying to track, for example, a specific car on a road full of other cars? I look forward to finding out.

Domke Next Generation bag gets details right

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When I was in college, I had an opportunity to study photojournalism in London for a semester.  I didn’t shop much in those days, but one thing I remember spending a lot of time hunting for was the perfect camera bag. I wanted one that would protect my gear but didn’t scream “expensive cameras here.” In other words, I didn’t want to get mugged. So I bought my first Domke bag, because it resembled a canvas gym bag on the outside – with the guts of a camera bag on the inside.

My fears were justified. One night on the last train home to my N. Portobello Road flat, I took some epic photos of a couple making out in a tube station. I knew they were going to be good. Elated, I rewound the film, slung the camera over my shoulder, and marched to my flat, unaware that someone had noticed the camera and started following me. I opened the door to my flat and walked in without waiting for the door to close.

I never had time to be scared. The first thing I knew, my face was slamming into the wall. Shocked, I turned to see someone dashing out the door. I realized two things instantly: I had my Domke bag over my left shoulder, but I did not have my Nikon over the right.

If I had to be mugged any place in the world, London isn’t a bad choice. The thief’s only weapons were surprise and speed. But in that moment all I could appreciate was the fact that my camera was gone. Then I felt into my pocket and remembered I still had the film.  I flipped open my Domke bag, where I still had everything I needed to continue shooting: a second body, and my glass. And I thought: had I tucked that camera back into the bag where it belonged, I might still have it.

small-bagThe photos I took that night went on to win awards that helped me land my first newspaper job. I carried that Domke bag with me on every assignment for four years, until I literally wore a hole through the side of the canvas.

Domke bags haven’t changed much since then, and for good reason. How do you improve a bag that, by design, isn’t supposed to call attention to itself?

velcroSo I was intrigued and a little worried when I heard that Domke was making a new generation of camera bags. When I got an opportunity to review one called The Chronicle, a large bag posing as an item of military surplus, I jumped on it.

The first thing I noticed as I pulled the bag out of the box is the material. It’s made from the same waxy, waterproof stuff that Aussie cowboy slickers are made from. At a glance the bag still looks pretty unassuming. Which is what I would hope. But details matter. And that is where things get interesting.

quietThe first detail I noticed was the velcro. Some very clever designer has solved a problem that I didn’t even know I had (yet one that has definitely plagued me over the years). You know that ripping sound it makes every time you open a pocket? Any time you’re on a film set with sound rolling, you can forget about opening those pockets. Sound recording and velcro don’t mix.

claspWell, Domke has a solution. You can now fold the velcro back on itself, reversing it to reveal a “quiet” label. In this configuration, the velcro won’t stick, rendering it completely quiet. So clever! All velcro closures on the next-gen bag has this new feature.

topzipper-vThe sturdy metal clips that have always secured the bag’s top flap have a minor improvement. They are slightly more heavy duty than on my old bags, and have a more ergonomic thumb release. In practice I’ve found that these snaps are a bit of a pain, so I often carry my bag with the snaps open, so I can quickly get in and out of the bag. But that leaves the contents less secure. A tradeoff, right? No more. This new bag allows me to have it both ways. A zipper running down the middle of the top flap provides access to the contents of the bag when it is clipped shut. This is a great solution.

side-zip-pocketAnother clever detail: side pockets now have a zipper expansion option. Zipping them open provides twice the space. Closing them makes the bag much more compact. The front pockets have a snap that pops open to achieve a similar expansion, providing extra volume only when needed.

Do these details matter? Well, with the pockets fully expanded, I was able to fit in a change of clothes on a recent trip to Canada, allowing me to take just one bag. This would not have been possible with my previous Domke bag, which I still own. I like to travel light, so it’s definitely working for me!

theft-codeThe bag also includes a bar-coded ID tag. Ostensibly this is a way for you to be reunited with a lost bag, should some nice honest person find it. But actually it’s a clever way for Tiffen, the parent company of Domke, to get a ton of information about you for their mailing list. The 9 required fields on the signup form (including home address and phone number) includes the text “Email marketing you can trust” below the signup button. So you can trust you’ll be receiving spam from the 8 or 9 companies Tiffen owns if you hit submit.

snapLuckily they’ve provided a low-tech solution: a key-ring snap on the inside of the back flap, where you could attach a name tag. It’s a little hard to find, though. It took me three months of using the bag before I stumbled upon it while examining it closely for this review.

The inside of the back has a nice partitioning system, with several dividers you can lock into place with velcro. You can quickly configure the bag to carry different types of camera and lens combinations. My old bag had a fixed divider, so it wouldn’t have been possible to, for example, reconfigure it to carry an FS700. With this bag, you can.

strapThe signature Domke bag straps are unchanged. I love the simple, unpadded wide strap with it’s shoulder-gripping rubber cord woven into the stitching.

All shoulder straps slip off, though, so it’s not foolproof. I was carrying this bag on my shoulder while juggling two other bags going into the Paris Metro last December, and it slipped off at just the right time to get caught in the turnstile. Those doors don’t open once they’re closed! Luckily a passenger on the other side freed my bag and then kindly handed it over the gate to me.

tagWhich brings me to my conclusion. What I most love about this new Domke bag is that it keeps it’s simple appearances, while adding some welcome features that make it even more pleasurable to use.

 

Cameralends.com aims to do for camera owners what AirBNB did for vacation homes

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 10.09.05 AMHave you ever thought about offsetting the cost of your expensive camera gear by renting it out? I have. But I’ve never done it, for two big reasons: I don’t know how to find renters, and I don’t know if I can trust them.

Enter a new service called CameraLends.com. CameraLends is a peer-to-peer lending community for photographers and videographers. Equipment owners post items for rent to other photographers. You can rent gear directly from local photographers, potentially faster and cheaper than through traditional vendors.

That’s nice, but what happens if your equipment gets damaged or stolen? Cameralends will reimburse you the replacement cost of your gear. Problem solved! And, they’ll help you find customers by connecting you to other photographers in your area who are looking to rent equipment. The price: 20 percent of each transaction.

The service gives you full control over how much to charge for each piece of your equipment. You can even set discounted pricing for multi-day rentals, the same as most rental houses do. And you get to set the value amount, which is the amount you’ll be refunded should your gear be damaged.

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So, how does it work in practice? I decided to list one of my most expensive and least-used pieces of equipment, my Dana Dolly.

The signup process was straightforward (though missing a Facebook signup option). Once I created my account, the first item I decided to list was my $1,700 Dana Dolly rental kit, which I purchased a year ago and have used only on a handful of projects. It’s the perfect piece of gear when I need it, but that isn’t very often. So why not rent it out?

To save time, I simply cut and paste the product description from the manufacturer’s website. Paragraph breaks show up correctly on the back end – but not on Seattle Dana Dolly rental published page. This makes it difficult to read descriptions that are longer than a single paragraph. (Update: I’ve been told a fix for this is in the works).

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 10.56.16 AMUploading a photo is easy, and adds professional polish to your listing. You can add more than one photo, too.

The site conveniently provides  a drop-down menu listing all of the equipment they think you’re likely to own – but of course, my Dana Dolly wasn’t on the list. Luckily, there is an alternative field for adding a new item. But when I saved it, I discovered it had defaulted to 5D Mark III. Bug! I submitted the problem via email, and someone responded right away both to my message and by posting a bug fix within a few hours.

So far, I haven’t had any bites on my dolly. But it’s been just two days, so time will tell. If it hasn’t rented in a few weeks, I will adjust the pricing. One thing I have noticed immediately, though, is how quickly my rental comes up in search results. If I Google for “seattle dana dolly rental,” my listing already comes up in the top half of results on the first page.

I’m excited by the potential that Cameralends.com has to put some of my seldom used equipment to work, reduce the cost of ownership, and help other filmmakers connect with a great deal on local equipment.

Shooter Suite’s Denoiser II DOA in FCPX

My review of Red Giant Shooter Suite’s Denoiser II will unfortunately be very brief, because it turns out to be not compatible with my NLE, Final Cut Pro X. Red Giant posts this on their site:

At this time there is a technical feature which FCPX lacks and Denoiser II requires to function correctly. Unfortunately if we were to disregard this component and just made the product available for FCPX, it would not be as reliable and the results would be far below our standards when compared to other host software that Denosier is compatible with.

I appreciate Red Giant’s statement and understand the vagaries of software development. Until Apple feels Red Giant’s pain, though, I’ll stick with Neat Video Denoiser, a company that has managed to ship a reliable solution in spite of all that.

PluralEyes 3.5 takes the work out of syncing sound with picture

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Back in the old days, filmmakers had to clap wooden sticks together to match sound and picture. Then, editors had to meticulously nudge the two together before they could go to work on more creative tasks.

There may still be good reasons for slating your takes, but syncing footage is no longer one of them. With PluralEyes, an application included in Red Giant’s Shooter Suite, all you have to do is record reference audio on your camera, and let software do the rest.

But before I get too far along, let me be clear that what I’m talking about here is dual-system sound. This is sound recorded the right way: by a sound recordist. Someone whose job it is to make your production sound awesome. Many beginning filmmakers think they can cheat and just stick a shotgun mic on top of their camera, and call it good. You can’t. Ninety percent of success in recording dialog depends on getting the mic close. Really close. About 6 inches, in a perfect world. And you wouldn’t want to limit your shot list to 6 inches from your talent, would you?

There are other ways to keep your audio and video in sync, such as using genlock to match the timecode between recorder and camera. But the complexity, not to mention the cost of cameras and recorders that support this method, puts this solution beyond the reach of many smaller filmmakers.

But, if you’re a small filmmaker, why shell out the $199 for PluralEyes to sync audio and video? Isn’t this capability built into Final Cut Pro X? Yes, but FCPX only syncs one clip at a time. That means you have to tell it which clip goes with which audio, and then press the sync command for every clip. If you’ve been shooting all day, this starts to look a lot like syncing the old fashioned way: tedious. PluralEyes lets you batch sync all of your clips at once.

OK, let’s dive in. I’m going to show you how I synced footage on a multi-cam shoot I did to produce this profile video:

My camera assistant shot with a second camera. The subject, a video blogger, also contributed footage that he was shooting himself, for three cameras total. Each camera was recording audio (which I’ll refer to as reference audio, or a reference track.) The high-quality audio was recorded separately with a Tram TR-50 lav mic clipped to the talent, recorded onto a Zoom H4N via a Sound Devices MixPre.

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easy

To get started, drag all of the audio files into PluralEyes target window (you can drag them all at once or one at a time). Then drag the video files in. PluralEyes is smart enough to figure out which files are audio files, and which are video files. It will also attempt to figure out whether the video files you’re dragging in are from different cameras. This can take quite awhile.

I’ve observed that PluralEyes can get confused if you drag all of the video files in at once. Try dragging one camera at a time into the window, and wait for it to finish processing, before dragging in the next one.

Once you’ve loaded all the files, you should see that PluralEyes has organized each camera’s footage onto its own track, and audio as well, like so:

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So now we’re all ready to sync our footage. But first, let’s take a look at the sync options:

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Allow Sync to Change Clip Order. I recommend leaving this one off. Most of the time, your audio clips and video clips are recorded sequentially. So you WANT them in order. The only time I can think of that you’d want to turn this off is if you have named your audio or video files something other than sequential numbers prior to sync.

Correct Audio Drift. This is a killer feature, so be sure it’s turned on. If for some reason your recorder audio doesn’t match the reference audio throughout the duration of the clip, this will fix it by very subtly stretching or shrinking the length of the file so that it lines up.

Level Audio. Sometimes the audio on your reference track will be too low for a good match. Checking this box will raise the levels on your reference track so that it can work with it. Red Giant suggests leaving this one turned off by default, and only using it if you have trouble getting files to sync. But I figure why not start where you’re going to end up? So I leave it on all the time.

Try Really Hard. Of course you want your software to do that, right? Leave it on. It will slow down the time it takes to sync, but do the best job possible.

Now click the Synchronize button at the top middle of the screen. Then sit back and watch your footage move into sync with the audio automagically. When it’s done, you should see something like this:

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Things are lined up, and now it’s time to export. Click the Export Timeline button, and you’ll get the option to choose your editing format:

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Supported NLEs are Final Cut Pro 7, Final Cut Pro X, Avid, and Premiere. But here’s a power tip: the Other option allows you to create new clips, with the good audio replacing the bad. If you start your project by importing these clips only, and ignoring the reference clips, every clip in your project will be a “good” clip and you won’t have any issues keeping track of which is which.

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I’ve found this is a good choice when shooting with a single camera, and you know you only want to use the sync audio and ignore the rest (as with an interview, for example).

If you choose the option to Open Event/Project automatically, and FCPX is not running during the export, you’ll see this error:

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If this happens, it means the file won’t be imported automatically. No problem, you can do it manually. Open FCPX, and go to File > Import XLM.

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This will create an event which contains your exported files.

Sometimes PluralEyes gets confused. If you are attempting to sync the same footage repeatedly, it’s a good idea to throw away the temporary files that PluralEyes creates. Look inside the directories containing the audio and video files, and throw away the folders called PluralEyes Synctemp.

What if you have video clips that are recorded at different frame rates? Will that cause sync issues? Sometimes, but if that happens, try again. In the project used for this post, the three cameras were all shooting different frame rates: 23.976, 24, and 29.976. On the first sync attempt, it came out scrambled. So I tried again after throwing away the temp files, this time adding each camera one at a time instead of dragging them all in at once. The second time, everything synced fine.

Here’s how the multicam clip looked after importing correctly:

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Notice the audio files starts with 000, and count up sequentially as you go from left to right in the timeline. That’s what you want – file names in order. Notice that the audio file names include “drift corrected,” which means PluralEyes had to do a little work to make them match exactly.

PluralEyes has earned a place at the heart of my workflow, freeing me of the tedium of slating and the complexity of genlock. If you hear the sound of clapping on my sets, it’s because someone is happy.

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!