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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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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.


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.


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:


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

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Before light (lit only with window light)

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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.


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.


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).


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.


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.

Sound Advice Tour gives filmmakers opportunity to upgrade their audio chops

Werner Herzog was excited. He’d just learned that he was a finalist for a National Science Foundation grant to make a film about Antarctica. But then came the bad news: the other finalist was James Cameron. It costs about $10,000 a day to put a person in Antarctica, so the NSF had a question for the filmmakers: What is the minimum number of crew you need to make the film? Cameron replied that 35 should do it. Herzog pounced. “I need two people,” he said, “and one of them is me.”

Guess who got the gig?

alg-herzog-jpgIn addition to directing Encounters at the End of the World, Herzog assigned himself the job of sound recordist. The film went on to become his first to be nominated for an Oscar.  And it’s no surprise that Herzog, who relishes the “making” part of making movies, chose to wield a microphone instead of a camera. Because sound is the most important part of filmmaking.

Seattle filmmakers will get an opportunity to learn why that is true on May 27, when the Sound Advice Tour rolls into town hosted by legendary Hollywood sound designer Frank Serafine. Designed for filmmakers, editors, and aspiring sound engineers, this all-day workshop will cover techniques and tools to expand your skills and give you a solid foundation in the effective use of audio in all of your projects.

One of Hollywood’s top sound designers, Frank Serafine is an academy award winning sound designer who has created sounds for television shows, video games and major motion pictures, including, Poltergeist and The Hunt for Red October, which earned its sound editing team an Oscar.

IMG_0528_1I had an opportunity to interview Serafine by email recently to learn more about film sound and what filmmakers can expect from the one-day workshop.

Q: The workshop materials state that sound is 70 percent of a movie. How such a big number?

FS: This is something that major directors have been quoted saying, not only me as a supervising sound editor / sound designer. I understand the full importance, drama, atmosphere and psychological impact sound has, even over picture.

Sound is our most prominent sense and it’s omnipresent. We can only see 180 degrees in front of us, but we can hear 360 around. So, it’s really, really important to the success of any film.  Things that can save our life are embedded into our DNA through our hearing sense. For example, if we hear a tiger roar, which we’ve been trained to know a tiger roar. It’s a scary thing, but deep down if you hear that sound in the wild you know danger is lurking. Even if you can’t see it, you know something is wrong. In film sound we trick the listening audience senses into believing in the same way. With the latest sound technology coming into play nowadays we’re really able to trick the senses.  3D surround sound are becoming so sophisticated due to advanced scientific research in reflection and convolution studies, computers can now analyze and visualize the physics of what sound actually does and how the human brain perceives and reacts to it.

IMG_0491 (1)Q: If there is just one thing that a person can do to improve their film audio, what is it?

I would say production audio may be one of the most important parts of learning how to get the best possible sound on the set and in the field. Using a variety of different technologies that are available to us through our new MZed sponsors, Sony, Roland and Rode. Were using the latest location sound field recorders, microphones, boom poles, wireless transmitter/receiver systems, cameras and accessories that help us initially capture the best possible location production sound. The critical thing about good quality production sound is that it carries all the way through the film and an extremely important thing to making your film the best you can from the very beginning. It’s better not to be forced to: “Fix it in Post.”

Q: Why are you taking time out from your busy schedule to share what you know about sound design?

I’ve been an educator throughout my entire career. During the time I worked on the early Star Trek and Tron films and Hunt for Red October,  I was also busy  teaching at the UCLA Extension. I was also hired to write the curriculum, mentored over 1500 students, redesign and run the sound department at the Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood.  I always enjoyed passing on what I’ve learned from my great mentors, which I think is an important thing to do, otherwise who-else is going it pass on? I really did learn from all the best through out my career, and I’m excited to share all of that with my MZed attendees in 33 cities, throughout the US and Canada this spring.

I also really like Jeff Medford, and what he is doing with MZed. They have been doing advanced film educational tours around the world for a very long time now.  This is their first film sound tour.  With my Sound Advice Tour, not only are we educational, but highly entertaining. I’m using equipment that has never been seen or heard before, and I’ve been training and learning a lot of new things about this gear. I feel like educating people is just another part of my job. It’s what I love to do and something I’ll do the rest of my career, which will be until the last day I’m alive.

Here’s an outline of what will be covered at the workshop:

9:00 AM Introduction 

  • Audio Psychology
  • History of Audio & Film
  • Audio Terms & Lingo

9:30 AM Sound Recording

  • Equipment Introduction

9:45 AM Types of Recording

  • Field, Production, Foley & ADR

10:30 AM Microphone Technology, Options, Placement, Techniques, Types

11:00 AM Recording Challenges 

  • Sealthing, Noise, Ambient, Cloth movement

1:00 PM   Sound Editing

  • Tuning the room, Acoustic Engineering, Setup
  • Dialogue Editing

1:45 PM   Sound Effects

  • Live recording demonstration: Foley, Background, & Hard Effects
  • Sound libraries

2:30 PM  Sound Mixing

3:30 PM  Dealing with Unwanted Sounds

5:00 PM  Sound Design

6:00 PM  Soundtrack

6:30 PM  Sound Inspiration

7:30 PM Wrap-up

Even if you’re primarily a camera person, this will be a killer opportunity to learn the importance of sound and how to solve the problems you’ll encounter in production.

Learn more about the Sound Advice tour and sign up for the $299 workshop.

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, 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


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. 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 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 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

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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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:

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 5.22.11 PM

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.