Monthly Archives: May 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





New work shot with Fujinon MK-series zooms in Montana

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

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

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

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










Hipshot camera belt makes handheld shooting easier

Hipshot Camera Belt

Hipshot Camera Belt with AC pouch

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

Hipshot Camera Belt

Fold-away platform securely holds camera

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Rent my best filmmaking equipment on ShareGrid Seattle

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

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

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

Seattle share grid camera rentals

Sharegrid seattle rentals

ShareGrid rentals for Dan McComb


Teradek ServPro turns iPhones into superb client monitors

Teradek Serve Pro

Teradek Serve Pro, ready for action

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

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

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

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

HD video monitoring with professional controls

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

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

Shogun’s problem and solution

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

Wooden Camera battery plate for Sony FS5

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

Mounting the Serv Pro to camera

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

Battery life

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

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

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

Rent my Teradek Serv Pro on ShareGrid for $105.

Do you provide monitoring for your clients?

The Healing Power of Music

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

And I hope to see YOU at Folklife.

Tentacle Sync gives timecode a good name

Tentacle sync and sound devices mixpre 3

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

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

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

Timecode is complicated

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

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

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

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

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

Tentacle Sync is simple

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

Tentacle Sync doesn't take up much space

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

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

tentacle label

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

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

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

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

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

How to configure a Tentacle Sync

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

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

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

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

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

Tentacle workflow

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

Syncing is near instantaneous and offers XML and file export options

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

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

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

Shogun’s 2.5 frame delay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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