Monthly Archives: March 2016

Rhino Camera Gear hosts meet up at Gas Works Park **RESCHEDULED for 3/28 at 5:30pm

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I’m a big fan of Rhino camera sliders. They are lightweight, extremely well designed, and their support is top notch. When a connector failed on mine recently, the team shipped me a brand new replacement unit, featuring a better design, BEFORE I even returned my defective unit. What’s more, they are a Seattle company!

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 10.05.38 AMSo I’m thrilled to see that Rhino is hosting a meet up in my neighborhood, at Gas Works Park, on Monday, March 21.

** NOTE: This event has been RESCHEDULED due to rain for Monday, March 28 at 5:30pm.

They’ll be bringing sliders and the new Rhino Arc, and shooting time lapses. So this will be a great opportunity to check out some top-notch gear and see it in action, and meet the people behind the product. Everyone who attends will get a $100 gift card good for purchase of Rhino products.

Participants will meet at the south-east corner of the park at 5:30pm, and from there will spread out to find the best spots to make time lapses.  Unfortunately I’m out of town until Tuesday so I’m going to have to miss this. Looks like fun.

Here’s where you can RSVP for the the free event –

Why the SmallHD 502 crushes Sony FS5’s built-in LCD

Above: properly (over)exposed SLOG looks blown out on FS5’s LCD. SmallHD 502 with LUT applied fixes that.

The SmallHD 502 is a monitor that feels like it was made for the Sony FS5, addressing the camera’s fatal monitoring flaw while remaining true to it’s handheld aesthetic.

Sony’s new FS5 is a killer documentary camera. After just three months using the camera on a variety of projects, I’m hopelessly addicted to it’s stepless ND, it’s 14 stops of dynamic range, and it’s hand-hugging ergonomics. But if you want to take advantage of those 14 stops, you have to shoot SLOG. And if you shoot SLOG, you need to overexpose by at least a stop, to kill noise in the shadows. On higher-end Sony cameras like the FS7 and F55, you can load monitor LUTs to compensate for this. But the FS5 doesn’t support monitor LUTs. So overexposing blows out the image, making it difficult gauge exposure on the LCD.

This problem isn’t going to be fixed in firmware, we’re told by Sony. The chip in this camera will never be fast enough to support monitor LUTs. So. What’s a self-respecting documentary DP to do? I went looking for an external monitor that supports LUTs. One that doesn’t disrupt the feng shui of this fit-in-your-hand camera. Here’s what I found.

First the bad news: many of the popular external monitors that support LUTs are too big for the FS5. I’ve used two, the Atomos Ninja Assassin and the Odyssey 7Q+. Perched on the top handle of the FS5, they are about as complementary to the aesthetic of this camera as Donald Trump has been to the presidential ambitions of Jeb Bush.

The whole point of the Sony FS5 is grab and shoot. This camera empowers you to feel your way into a scene, with everything at your fingertips. So bolting a lot of stuff, or turning it into a shoulder mounted beast like it’s bigger brother the FS7 (as Zacuto would love for you to do), just isn’t right. We need to look for an option that respects the form of this camera.

A fellow Seattle DP, Gabriel Miller, recommended I take a look at the SmallHD 502. And after spending a few days shooting with it, I got really excited and bought one. I’ll explain why in a minute.

But first, a few words about my old monitor, which happens to be the SmallHD DP6.  I’ve been using it since 2011,  and I love this monitor. But recently I’ve observed what seems to be a trend toward larger on-camera monitors. Good-quality LCD and even OLED screens must be getting cheaper to make, because there sure are a lot of them out there. And it seemed to me that having another inch or so of screen would be a very nice thing indeed.

So when SmallHD announced the 501 and 501 monitors last May,  I was skeptical. Why go small when you can go big? But all of that thinking changed when I got my hands on the 502 (The 501 is HDMI-only, and 502 offers SDI as well. SDI is the only way to go for professional use).

The first thing I noticed is that, as small as it is, the actual screen size is almost as big as the DP6 (which isn’t actually a full 6″ diagonal – it measures 5.6″). It’s very compact, very lightweight, yet manages to provide all of the essential features that larger monitors do, like peaking, scopes and support for user-created 3D LUTs.

The second thing is that the 502 is visibly much sharper than that DP6. It’s much easier to tell at a glance if you’re shot is in focus, even without using any of the focus assists. That’s because the 502 packs a full 1920×1080 pixel stack into that 5″ screen, while the DP6 maxes out at 1280×800. Those extra pixels translate into a clearer picture of what’s happening in your frame.


“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” That quote, attributed to Einstein, describes what my thinking on scopes. The original scopes on the 502 were TOO simple – they lacked any numeric display. I found it hard, for example, to figure out what the values are on the waveform monitor, because the lines were not accompanied with their number value, leaving me to have to compute where the values fell in my head every time I glanced at the monitor. So I was delighted to find, upon updating the firmware to v. 2.2, that marks had been added.



However, the histogram on the 502 remains a little too simple. I’d like to be able to drop in a zebra marker so I see where a specific value is falling on the histogram, as Sony monitors do. Here’s the histogram on the 502 (below):


And here’s the Sony FS5 histogram, which allows the option to drop a  line at the zebra level (in this case, I’ve set it to 70 percent):


On the FS5 histogram, the background darkens above 100 percent, clearly indicating the super white area. This way, without numbers, I can see at a glance where my data is falling. With the SmallHD histogram, I have to guess. A few tweaks like this would go a long way to making the 502 histogram more useful.

One very nice control that SmallHD gives you that Sony doesn’t is the ability to scale the size, location, and opacity of the scopes. You can also choose between RGB and Luma styles. And, with firmware v2.2, vectorscope has been added, which is very useful when dialing in a specific color balance using a grey card and for testing lights.

Frame grabs

Pressing the button on the top right of the monitor (about where you’d expect to find the camera button if it were a smartphone) captures the current frame as a still. Grabbing a frame captures the image without SmallHD’s overlays (but includes the FS5 overlays when sent from the camera). This is good most of the time, but there are times I want to capture all the overlays (such as for writing blog posts). I’d love to have an option for that.

Focus assist

The 502 has  3 ways to help you judge focus: peaking, and a joystick that lets you enlarge the image to confirm focus by pressing it upward, 2x and 4x. Pressing down on the stick zooms you back out. If you want to scroll around the image, you depress the joy stick and follow the arrows.

My favorite tool for helping me nail focus is the 502’s implementation of peaking. I find that the default value of 5 is too sharp – everything starts looking like it’s in focus. But setting it at 3 is just right. Focus planes snap into sharp focus while leaving out of focus areas soft. I really feel lost trying to focus without this peaking feature now, it’s that good.

Starting the 502 requires holding the start button down for about two seconds. Not bad, but I prefer the DP6’s simpler on/off switch. A switch shouldn’t require me to give it my attention for even a couple of seconds. I’ve got a lot of other things on my mind during production and having to press-hold-count to two every time I fire up the monitor actually turns out to be a minor irritation.


I had a shoot against a white screen a few weeks ago, and for the first time I noticed that the screen of my 502 wasn’t quite right – there were darker, clouded areas in the monitor that I hadn’t noticed before (see below):


So I realized that I had a defective monitor. I put in a request to SmallHD service using their convenient online support system. I got an email the next day asking for clarification about the problem, so I sent in a photo of the screen. After a brief back-and-forth via email, the friendly support person sent me an RMA number and about a week later my monitor was shipped back to me, with a replaced screen, no charge. The new screen is now consistent from side to side and top to bottom, so I’m a happy customer and can say from experience that SmallHD support is prompt and friendly.

Bug: Every time I start the monitor, it opens the first screen in the menu. It should return me to the last screen used.

Design fail: It’s ridiculously difficult to get the SD cards in and out of the provided slot. You almost need a pair of tweezers to fish them out, because the protective door opens only halfway, making it impossible for anyone with adult-sized fingers to grasp the card.

But overall: This is a fantastic monitor choice for use with the Sony FS5. It’s small size, high resolution and support for LUTs enable me to preserve the ergonomic advantages while at the same time giving me essential big-camera exposure tools.

The Samsung T1 SSD is a video editing powerhouse – and it’s the size of a business card


Who edits video on a desktop computer any more? Except for a final color pass and final audio mixing with studio monitors, 90 percent of what I do happens in my lap, on a MacbookPro. I edit on my couch, at a standing desk, in coffee shops, the kitchen, wherever I feel like it. But until I discovered the Samsung T1 USB3 SSD, I had trouble finding portable drives that were large enough to hold entire projects, fast enough to keep up with FCPX, and affordable.

This drive has been a game changer for me. Here’s why.

First observation: it’s tiny. With a smaller footprint than a business card, and weighing just 9 ounces, it feels almost weightless dangling from the side off my MacBook. Other drives will fall off under their own weight if left to hang like that.

But don’t let the small size fool you. The Samsung T1 USB3 SSD is a seriously professional tool, perfect for cutting video. Of critical importance, files stored on the T1 are significantly more secure than files stored on a traditional hard drives, because there are no moving parts.

But speed is where it really shines. Check out the Speed Test numbers below: 374 MB/s write and 425 MB/s read. That’s a zero-wait state for my video editing needs. This drive is FAST.

Samsung T1 speed test

The Samsung T1 is super fast, tiny, and secure

That brings us to price. The benefits of SSD media are well known to just about everybody these days. But affordability? Not so much. Until recently, the fastest SSD I could afford was a half-terabyte Lacie SSD. However, my projects commonly climb to around half a terabyte by the time they ship. So 500GB drives aren’t big enough. There are workarounds, such as cutting with proxies and storing original media on a RAID, and reconnecting later. But screw that. I want to carry ALL the original media around with me when I’m working on a project, whether it’s across my office or across the Atlantic.

So I paid $380 for my T1. Not cheap, for sure, but having used it a few weeks, I’ve got two words to describe the price: worth it. I’ve noticed the price has since gone up to over $400 on Amazon. But for me, even at that price, it remains a value. The time saved while editing, the peace of mind of having my project files on an SSD vs a spinning hard drive, and the ability to carry ALL of my files with me wherever I go is breathtaking.

Here’s a few of the other portable drives I own, in descending order of how I rate them (best at top) and why the Samsung T1 beats each of them:

1. Lacie 500GB Rugged Thunderbolt External SSD

This drive is actually slower the T1, which surprised me, given that it rocks Thunderbolt. And it’s only half a terabyte. And it costs $500 (although you can find them for close to $400 if you hunt around). If you want to step up to a 1TB Lacie SSD, the only option currently is the Lacie Big Disk Thunderbolt 2 1TB SSD – and that will set you back a whopping $1,200, which puts it out of my league.

For smaller projects, this drive is great. But all that rubberized ruggedness translates into bulk, and I find the Thunderbolt cable is too short to allow me to park the drive on the coffee table when I’m editing on the couch, for example. So I end up sitting on it, and it’s too big for comfort. On the other hand, you won’t misplace this drive! The T1 beats this drive in size, in price, and in speed. But the Lacie is certainly more rugged.

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2. Western Digital 4TB MyPassport Pro.

Despite the fact that this drive defaults to RAID 0 and sports a Thunderbolt connector, it isn’t fast enough to cut HD video with on my laptop without slowing me down. FCPX makes a lot of demands on hard drives when skimming through mountains of footage, and I find the spinning beachball is a commonplace when cutting this drive. It’s ALMOST fast enough, but frustratingly, not quite. The Thunderbolt cable is also too short at times. But it’s 4TB size makes it a great place to store backups, and that’s what I use mine for now. This drive costs $300. The T1 beats MyPassport Pro in both speed and size by a long shot. But MyPassport Pro has a lot more capacity, making it a great backup drive.

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3. WD Elements 2TB.

This is a dog in terms of performance, but it’s cheap, reliable, and a great way to hand project files off to clients or other editors. The $78 price tag is very attractive. What more can I say.

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4. Seagate Backup Plus portable 2TB drive.

This is another drive that’s really only useful for backups and handing project files around. It’s pretty much the equal of the WD Elements, and costs the same roughly $80. But I put it at the bottom of my list because it requires installing a driver to work on Mac, while the Elements works right out of the box.

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Sony FS5 project: The Puppet Maker

I’d like to share a project I just completed for the University of Washington, which tells the story of a grad school student who makes puppets. It features footage shot entirely on the Sony FS5. I shot SLOG 3 in Sgamut3.cine color mode, generated dailies in DaVinci Resolve, and cut the piece in FCPX.

This project required every one of the 14 stops of the dynamic range this camera offers, and the results speak volumes about what this camera is capable of.

My assistant Sean McGrath picked up a few of the shots, in particular the traveling shots which were shot on a Ronin M. The FS5, stripped to the body only, fits perfectly on the gimbal, which is incredibly light and easy to handle in this configuration.

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The approach with this story was to use the puppet making visuals over Reed’s story to explain how UW’s Core Programs can help students find a community and find their voice while in grad school. Using this cinematic, storytelling approach as opposed to straight documentary achieves the goal of making it interesting while staying on message.

We spent a lot of time searching for the right story in the preproduction phase of this project. Finding the right story to tell (one that offers interesting action to film) and then developing a storyline to follow makes it all come together like magic. It’s no exaggeration to say that I spent more than 50 percent of my time on this project in preproduction, and less than half actually shooting it (we did the shoot in an easy day – a few hours spent filming the sewing in the morning, and a couple of hours shooting the scene in the square in the afternoon).