Monthly Archives: November 2012

Gearing up for Blackmagic Cinema Camera with SSD dock

One of the nice things about the Blackmagic Cinema Camera taking forever to ship is that it’s allowed me time to slowly acquire the additional tech that this beast requires to run. The big one, of course, is SSD drives. I picked up a SanDisk Extreme 480GB (SDSSDX-480G-G25
) drive on Black Friday for $285, a smokin’ deal for a card that retails for around $350.

Reports from those lucky enough to have the camera already reveal that in it’s current version, there’s no way to get footage to offload from the camera directly. Hopefully this will be addressed by a future firmware update. For now, at least, this means we’ll need to mount the card into an external case of some kind to offload footage. As far as I can find, no one yet makes anything as simple as a CF card reader for these devices. But I discovered one manufacturer who makes something pretty close: The Seagate GoFlex Thunderbolt adapter. It’s relatively cheap at a hundred bucks, and I can attest that it works fine with at least one of the drives on Blackmagic’s approved list, the aforementioned SanDisk Extreme SSD 480k. With a little work, I’ve discovered it can get the job done nicely.

There’s a slight problem with this drive combo: it doesn’t work when plugged directly into a 2011 MacBook Pro. Apparently the portable macs Thunderbolt port doesn’t supply enough power (it works fine with my 2011 iMac). The good news, though, is that it DOES work when plugged into the Thunderbolt port of our externally powered Lacie 2big Thunderbolt drive. And that is how we intend to use it in the field: to offload files directly to the Lacie. So we’re good. But it won’t work if you intend to lay off directly to your MacBook’s internal drive.

If you insert the disk bare, which is what you want to do when swapping cards in and out of the Blackmagic Camera, there is a gap under the card, which could be dangerous because it causes the connection to bend and it might ultimately break with use. To fix, I took a stack of business cards, and taped them down. You’ll have to use trial and error to pick the exact number to fill the space perfectly. Like so:

An elastic holds everything in place during transfers.

With this dock and drive setup, here’s the speed I’m clocking for transfers:

By way of comparison, here’s how my other drives rate. Promise Pegasus R4:

Lacie TwoBig 4TB with Thunderbolt:

For Sale: Ikelite W-20 Underwater Wide Angle Conversion Lens with 67mm Thread

This wide angle conversion lens enables super wide underwater shots when using Ikelite underwater housings that accept 67mm thread. The lens surface has one blemish, which hasn’t had any visible affect on footage we’ve shot with the lens. However, be aware that the glass is not flawless (see flaw in photo below):

The lens retails new for $359 – we’re selling this one for a killer deal at $150. Contact Dan McComb at with questions or to purchase.


The Ikelite W-20 is a high quality wide-angle conversion lens that works on many housings with ports that have a 67mm thread. The lens has a magnification of 0.56x.

Enjoy increased clarity and enhanced color that result from widening your camera lens angle of coverage and getting closer to your subject. The Ikelite W-20 can be removed and replaced while underwater for maximum versatility.

For Sale: Ikelite 6242.95 Ultra Compact Housing for Canon PowerShot S95 & S90

We selling an underwater housing that allows you to use a Canon S-95 Powershot under water up to 200 feet deep. Used twice, it is in excellent condition. Lens opening is perfect with no scratches. Bonus: at no additional charge, we’re including a handle grip that can be used to attach video lights, a $70 value. Currently the body alone retails for $324 – we’re selling both body and handle for $275.


This Ikelite 6242.95 Ultra Compact Housing is designed for the Canon PowerShot S95 and S90 digital cameras. It is an injection-molded clear polycarbonate case, known for its strength and corrosion-free properties. The housing offers an unobstructed view of the camera’s information and control functions and operates safely to a depth of 200′. An easy-open latch, along with drop-in camera loading, makes set-up a breeze. The housing is sized and weighted for near-neutral buoyancy and superb handling underwater.

All camera controls except the rear control dial are operational through the housing. A gear driven system allows use of the camera’s ring function.

A flash diffuser is included to improve lighting quality when the camera’s built-in flash is used underwater. For optimum lighting underwater an optional external strobe is recommended. Ikelite strobes are brighter, recycle faster and offer wider coverage than the camera’s flash. Being farther from the camera lens, the strobe reduces the illumination of particles in the water, which helps eliminate backscatter.

The port accepts the 67mm threads of a wide-angle conversion lens without an adapter. Getting close to your subject will greatly increase the quality of your underwater photos. By eliminating as much water as possible between you and your subject, you will get increased contrast and better color. The wide-angle conversion lens can be attached and removed when underwater.

Clear Polycarbonate Construction

Strong and corrosion-free, ultra-compact, high-performance and very durable housing

Camera Functions

All camera controls except the rear control dial are operational through the housing. A gear-driven system allows use of the camera’s ring function.

Mechanical Controls

The dependable controls are conveniently placed at your fingertips and kept watertight with Ikelite’s pioneering Quad-Ring seal glands, one of the most reliable methods for sealing controls.

Wide-Angle Options

The port accepts the 67mm threads of a wide-angle conversion lens without an adapter.

**SOLD: Canon BG-E9 battery grip for Canon 60D EOS

Updated 11/29/2012: This item has been sold. Thanks Gerald!

We’re selling our gently used battery grip for Canon 60D, complete in original packaging with warranty card. Using this doubles your shooting time, and gives you the option to use AA batteries as a backup, too. Bonus for video shooters: with grip, your 60D is properly aligned for use with many matte boxes and follow focus units. And, it raises the center of gravity, making it possible to balance the camera with video fluid heads designed for use with heavier cameras. We paid $150 for the kit new; going once, going twice for $95. Call Dan at 206.228.0780 if you want it – I’m offering to my blog readers first, then to Craigslist and Ebay.

For sale: Canon 60D body kit in original packaging

We recently upgraded our primary camera to a Canon 5dmkiii, so we’re selling one of our carefully used Canon 60ds. This one was used as our b-camera on our documentary, Beyond Naked. This was Lisa’s camera, which she took exceptional care of. Comes with everything included in box as when we received it new: battery, charger, software, warranty card, manuals, usb cable, composite cables, unopened camera strap. This camera was used primarily for video shooting, not stills. It is a fantastic video camera that punches far above its weight and cost. If you have any problem with it upon receiving it, I’ll pay you to ship it back to me. Price: $700. I’m offering it here to blog readers first before posting on Craigslist and/or Ebay.

Going once, going twice… to first person to call me at 206.228.0780.

Check it out:

Corrupt digital files – what's the culprit? *Updated with answer

I spent the morning shooting a bunch of old gear that I’m preparing to sell. Imagine my dismay when I opened the CF card and saw every single file looking like this (see above). At first I thought the camera was defective, but some troubleshooting revealed that I could display the images fine on my camera’s playback. So that appears to rule out both the camera and the card being defective. That pretty much left the card reader as the prime suspect.

However, further testing reveals that files pulled directly off the camera via usb cable also are corrupt. So now I’m back to thinking the problem might lie with a defective cf card after all. Anyone ever seen anything like this before? I’m using Canon 5dmkiii with Lexar Professional UDMA7 (1000x) 32GB CF card.

Unfortunately I have only one CF card (typically I use SD cards, which are working fine) so I can’t test with another CF card immediately.

*** Update 11/26: I purchased a UDMA7 compliant card reader, the Lexar Professional USB 3 reader, and it reads the card fine. Images open normally. So apparently the culprit is the card reader, not the camera, or the cable, or the card. I had understood that USB 2 cf card readers could be used with UDMA 7 cards, but apparently that’s not the case. For me, at least, the 1000x cards require an updated card reader to function properly.

Quinault Rainforest

Lisa and I spent a couple days hiking in the rainforest around Lake Quinault this week with our cameras and a set of old Nikon prime lenses (Lens used were Nikon 85mm f/1.8, Nikon 20mm f/4, and Nikon 35mm f/1.4).

It’s a magical place full of visual intrigue. Home to six of the largest trees in the world, it was a perfect place to put my new 5D MKIII to work. I’ll be posting more about the camera, particularly from a video perspective, after I’ve spent more time with it. For now, some stills.

Tilta Matte Box review – good stuff from China?

The package that arrived from Team Tilta wasn’t reassuring. Wrapped in mismatched hunks of foam and bubble wrap, the goods arrived looking more like a used ebay purchase than something fresh from the factory. But it turns out you can’t always judge a product by its package.

I purchased the Tilta Matte Box (private page – for access message your email to Team Tilta on Facebook) to take with me on an 8-day shoot in Alaska.

I knew the low angle of the sun at this time of year would made a matte box helpful. But I had to pack extremely light: everything had to be flown in by helicopter to the shoot, an offshore drilling platform in the Cook Inlet.

The conditions were extreme: tons of dangerous metal flying around on overhead cranes, noise, constant hurry-up rig/lens changes. And to complicate things, the cold.

If I’ve learned one thing about the Tilta, it’s that it’s solid. Nothing fell off, nothing rattled loose; it just worked. With a few quirks.

The matte box itself is made of super lightweight carbon fiber. This does indeed make the whole thing substantially lighter than, for example, the Redrock micro matte box, which I rented recently. It weighs 3 pounds, 11 ounces. The Tilta matte box comes in at just 2.8 pounds.

In fairness it’s not quite as deep or large as the Redrock box, which really swallows a lens. But with the included top and side flags, I found it more than adequate.

Like the Redrock box, the Tilta includes a fourth flag rail on the bottom of the box, to which you can bottom-mount your french flag, to block light coming from below. An unlikely angle, but one I’m glad Tilta has covered.

All the business parts are machined or cast metal. The tagline of Tilta is “Tilta Armed Camera,” and indeed it feels like your handling a weapon.

Most elements of the Tilta are made so well made that the bits that aren’t seem like shocking oversights. For example, the donuts suck.

The donuts appear to have been complete afterthoughts, thin pieces of stiff foam that feel like they’ll rip rather than flex around your lens.

They are difficult to slide into place, tend to buckle rather than conform to the shape of your lens, and are just flimsy. I’m planning to make a fabric donut myself, for a long-term solution.

In the short term, I found it works better to simply trap the foam between the lens and the outside of the lens opening, which is about 120mm.

The Redrock Micro Mattebox also comes with foam donuts, but theirs are softer and more flexible, easier to tease into place. I’m convinced the better solution has got to be something with fabric that has an elastic garter. But I haven’t had a chance to try that yet.

All the knobs are made of solid cast metal. Not as good as the beefy stuff Zacuto makes for three times the money, but rock solid. Everything stays tight, and won’t spin free. Sweet.

I didn’t purchase this matte box for the filter stages, and you probably shouldn’t, either. That’s because they are made of plastic, don’t slide in and out easily, and the one rotating stage is sticky at best. Definitely not as smooth as the Redrock Micro Matte box.

It’s easy to push them in too far, because there isn’t any clear indication when sliding them in that they have clicked into place.

So you have to eyeball it. I don’t plan to use any 4×4 filters at this time, so it’s not such a big deal to me. If anything the fact that they are sticky and a bit difficult to slide on and off is a bonus for me because I won’t lose them that way.

The swing away arm is perfect. It allows instant access to your lens (where I prefer to change filters the old fashioned way – by screwing them on). It’s made of milled aluminum, and obviously very strong, and locks quietly automatically when the door is closed.

My biggest beef with this box is the height adjustment levers. Solid metal, like everything else, but poorly placed.

Check out the sequence above. When you loosen the levers to raise or lower the box to center it over the lens, the lever falls down and jams into a tight crack. It can’t be levered out by hand, requiring a screwdriver to pry free. If this were a piece of software, I would call it bad UI. In any case, it requires a workaround to make it work. It might even be a dealbreaker if you are changing cameras frequently. But in practice I wasn’t doing that, so it wasn’t a huge deal for me.

The side flags, which are included, align flush with the top flag only to a certain point, beyond which a gap appears. The Redrock unit I rented also suffered from this – perhaps all matte boxes do? Additionally, on mine, the right and left side flags don’t precisely line up, with one side very slightly lower than the other relative to the top flag. In practice, I generally used only one at a time anyway, with the light that I’m trying to cut coming from one primary side. However, I do wish the side flags were designed so that the top flag could stay flush at any point in the adjustment all the way down.

The most amazing thing about this matte box is that you can buy it for $580. Yep, it’s made in China. Yep, it’s about half what you’d pay for a comparable brand-name mattebox that includes swing-out arm, a french flag and side flags. But unlike many cheap knockoffs, Tilta includes basic support, and ships from a US address in New York.

In sum, the Tilta matte box is an extremely professional, solid and practical piece of gear. Oh, and did I mention it looks great? So for my purposes, and for my money, go Tilta!

Above: Tilta matte box packed into a Pelican case (not included) with the rock-solid Tilta Universal Handgrips. Good stuff.

Three monitor arms compared

When I bought my excellent SmallHD DP-6 field monitor last December, I have to admit I was thinking a lot more about the monitor than I was the arm that I purchased at the same time. But over the past year I’ve discovered that having the right arm is as important as having the right monitor. Maybe more important! I’ve gone through three different arms before finding one that truly gets the job done, so I thought I’d share what’s working the best for me.

The three arms:

1. SmallHD StrongArm 6. $79.
2. Manfrotto 7″ Hydrostatic arm. $184
3. Zacuto Zonitor Lightweight Kit with 12″ Zamerican Arm. $366.

The short story: You really do get what you pay for. The Zacuto Zonitor Kit is THE way to mount your monitor or evf for maximal grip in quick-changing shooting conditions. And it’s built to last without compromising its looks. Like a cross between a Porsche and a tank.

The long story.

The StrongArm is as it’s name suggests – strong. It’s also short, at around 6″, and requires what feels like over-tightening to keep the monitor in place. The metal is surprisingly painful to tightening repeatedly, and actually made me more likely to live with the monitor in an awkward position rather than do battle with repositioning it. Unfortunately, if your monitor is screwed on in such a way that gravity is pulling it in the direction away from the screw threads, it can and frequently does work its way loose. This can result in sudden flopping of the monitor. It doesn’t fall off, but it flops loose and has to be retightened. I found I needed to use a pair of pliers to seat it tight enough to hold consistently through a shoot. Awkward.

The Manfrotto hydrostatic arm improves on the ergonomics of the StrongArm by adding an inch in length, and a rubber wheel that is MUCH easier to tighten and release. It also requires less twisting to get a lock. The lockdown wheel on the 1/4″ 20 side, which the monitor is mounted on, helps prevent the flopping problem mentioned above, at least when used with a monitor. But it still has to be tightened with pliers on the 3/8″ side. And when used with an EVF, I found that the lockdown wheel would quickly rotate loose from the pressure of my eye on the viewfinder. On a recent 8-day shoot in Alaska, I had way too many times where I was struggling to align and retighten the evf when I should have been rolling already.

So when I got home, I bit the bullet and did something I hate to do: I paid top dollar for something. Specifically, for Zacuto’s 12″ Zonitor arm kit. The kit arrived in a zip-lock bag, and you can tell immediately that this is serious stuff. Everything is mounted on big, beefy metal quick-release rods. The thing is heavy, in a reassuring way. When you twist the lever, it bites down hard and stays put. A simple twist of the quick-release, and the monitor is on or off your arm instantly. The 12″ (actually a bit longer in practice) is something that I don’t know how I ever lived without. You don’t know what you’re missing until you have it.

The Zacuto knobs are engineered to perfection.

What’s missing from this picture?

A rod clamp from shoulder rig made by MovCam. Why is it missing? Because it worked it’s way loose during a long shoot, and fell out.

I had an opportunity to compare their build quality literally side by side on my shoot in Alaska, where I was working in cold temperatures with gloves that made me want to fiddle as little as possible with anything fiddly.

For the sake of comparison, check out the knobs on this MovCam shoulder rig. I bought this rig less than a month ago, and one of the knobs has already fallen off and gotten lost. That is extremely unlikely to happen with Zacuto knobs. So if you’re depending on your rig to work when you need it most, you can bet that paying a few more bucks is worth it. Which makes us fortunate. We work in an industry where paying extra money pays off. Unlike those poor millionaires who got zip for everything they spent on Karl Rove’s super pac in the presidential election.

I have just one nitpick with how the Zicromount III works with my SmallHD DP-6. Because the monitor is beveled on the back side, the two grips that are designed to prevent the monitor from rotating can’t be secured properly when the Zicromount is mounted the only way it can be mounted to accommodate the HDMI cable.

Above: mounting the Zicromount III so that feet grip correctly prevents HDMI cable access. However, it’s easy to fix this – just mount it the other way around to the monitor. However, when mounted that way, the grips don’t set properly, and become useless. Here’s what I’m talking about:

The next obvious place to mount it would be on the top of the monitor, but I don’t have that option on mine, because I have attached a bubble level (pried from a string level and gaffed tapped to the monitor) which helps me find a quick level when I adjust the monitor. I find it really helps to have a level monitor when shooting, and without the level I have a hard time eyeballing it.

The good news is that the Zicromount III works fine even without the grips gripping – it just has to be screwed down tightly. Once in place, you can leave it there, making setting up your monitor a fast, painless process on location.

Seattle celebrates new term for Obama

Lisa and I headed to Capitol Hill last night to watch election returns. It was just like old times four years ago: As the networks called it, hundreds of happy residents poured into the streets to celebrate not only Obama’s win, but Washington’s choice to extend full marriage rights to same-sex couples, and to legalize marijuana. Good times.