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Saturday, January 29, 2011

USB Follow Focus / Remote Control Now Available

All right, this one looks interesting. This device provides hand held remote follow focus, start / stop as well as access to a variety of camera functions. Buttons on the remote can also be programmed to hit certain focus marks just like those big video 100X box lenses do.
They also have parts like spare buttons available, and docs on the unit. How refreshing is that ?
Next question, price ? $400 which is probably reasonable if this thing lives up to its billing. Available from Okii

Thursday, January 27, 2011

EOS Lens Adapter For the Panasonic AF100

Birger Engineering announced this a adapter a few months back. Its finally ready to ship in the next few weeks. This adapter lets you use Canon EOS glass on a AF100 M4/3's camera and you can control the iris of the lens through the camera.  About $700, but considering it can let you use all your EOS glass from your EOS body, not a bad deal either.

Walter Murch Doesn't Think 3D Will Really Catch On - Here's Why

I have to say, 3D is something I've never thought of as more then an effect that works here or there. Its cool for certain films, but I don't think it works for all forms of film. Walter Murch agrees, read his letter here

Maybe we'll see more common sense used when creating 3D films now... or not. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tascam Releases V1.2 Firmware for the DR-680 8 Track Recorder

Tascam has released V1.2 firmware for the DR-680 8 track recorder. Whats new ?

MS Stereo Support ! you can record 1/2, 3/4, 5/6 each as its own MS pair, and decode it during playback correctly, and mix to the headphones correctly. What a great feature to get !

GANG Function  - The GANG function allows you to adjust multiple channels at the same time on the TRIM, PAN and LEVEL screens. Set the range of channels to be ganged by pressing the number keys for the channels at both ends of the range at the same time.

Improved front panel control : you can do most things on the front panel now... except step back out of some menu items which still requires the |<< button. That said, what the have changed is MUCH better then before

•  Better power management. I had personally gotten this one on their radar : when you power the unit on the DC input connector, it assumes its AC power. When the battery dips below acceptable voltage, the unit shuts off corrupting at least the last file recorded. Now the unit will perform a proper shutdown and close files out when it senses power is too low for operation. Much better, but still not ideal which is to monitor power on the DC connector as a battery rather then AC power supply and show it on the display.

• You can enter some menu's now in record when you could not before

There are still some operations like shuttling audio during playback that want to use the "top" data dial rather then front panel dial, but its a good improvement from before. You can get the firmware update here from Tascam. 

Tascam DR-680 Review

Monday, January 24, 2011

60D Dynamic Range : Part 4

What started out as a pretty simple series of tests got a lot more complicated. I completed another round of tests using a simple chip chart. Now I need to make one disclaimer here, the chip chart I got my hands on was not a great one. It wasn't one of those expensive official 10 stop charts, but rather a printed one that came with an old copy of On Location. Before you all get excited about this, please consider what I needed for these tests : a way to generate some cleanly stepped values for highlights. In this purpose you'll see the chart did just fine. It also let me look at some other more interesting things that the camera is doing, especially comparing the output of the hardware scopes to what the codec records.

A big question here is, what happens when  video out is over 100 IRE - is the codec clipping ? Initial tests indicated it was, but in this series of images, it appears that the camera is actually processing the image data down to generally fit into the range of 0-235 / 100 IRE max. It seems to be compressing the top end down to preserve whats in the image.
This does however bring up more problems :  the camera's video out is not an absolutely accurate way of knowing whats really being recorded ! This completely and totally flies against everything any video camera has ever done. What comes out of video out should be exactly the same as what is recorded ! Now while it appears that the camera is in fact preserving all the image data you see on video out, it means that any sort of monitoring from the camera is simply inaccurate. You can not use scopes to setup the camera, or to try to match them the way you would a conventional video camera. This even means that an expensive several thousand dollar video monitor is something of waste as it may not show you anything more then what a cheap one will. The fact is, a monitor introduces its own variables in terms of what it displays and how. It makes the me almost want the days of NTSC back where everything was far more standardized, repeatable and reliable. It seems in the era of new cheap HD digital everything, standards are out the window unless you want to spend serious money.
Each of the following images can be clicked on to see a full size image. 
Take a look at how the camera sends out video, compared to how it records it. The first thing I want to say is, I'm shooting "flat" as per internet buzz about how you are supposed to shoot to get the most dynamic range from the camera. 
In the very first screen shot, its clear that with contrast at min, the blacks are really elevated. Guess what ? I almost succeeded in getting 7 bits worth of gray value ! If you see my whites are at 90 IRE while my blacks are at 30 IRE, thats just 60 IRE worth of range, a 40% reduction of what just plain old composite video can carry, never mind our digital video formats.
Next I cranked up the exposure to see what is really going on with highlights. While the hardware scope shows a little small difference, back in the digital world two things have happened :
1. The over bright whites have been pushed down to 100 IRE.
2. The rest of the signal has also been compressed !
This means that no image data visible on video out has been per se lost, but is has been compressed down to less dynamic / bit range by the codec. I"m not saying this is so much bad, but not what any one expected.
Another exposure variation, not nearly as over exposed with distinct steps in the overbright area. The codec has safely brought them back into "legal" range. However, with contrast on min, black levels are at about 50%. Hey I may of just made 7 bit images with 8 bits to play with.
Another shot where I just cranked up the exposure, but still the codec has compressed the highlights.
Here I dialed the contrast back to mid level. I have shades that are starting to look like black. They are still too hot, but I'm getting better.
Finally I turned the contrast all the way UP ! I finally have real blacks, and I'm making the most of the color space. If you are shooting a flat scene, increasing contrast can well be a good thing. Yes this completely go against what some folks have been saying, which is to just shoot with reduced contrast all the time making for a "raw" style image. This isn't RAW, not by any means. Creating images that look like them, but are actually only holding 7 bits of color vs RAW"s 12 is just wrong. 
Same exposure, but contrast set to min, I have again reduced the usable range of gradation.
So what does this mean ? it comes back to what the old school camera guys have said all along "Get it right in camera ! " Seriously, reducing contrast and shooting flat buys you nothing except  less gradation and less dynamic range in the recorded image. Sure you can color correct the image back so that blacks are black, whites are white, but with a lot of missing image data when doing so.  What shooting flat does do is buy you some fudge factor - its less likely to under expose or over expose your image. Sure that works when you really have no idea how the camera handles and you have no idea where your monitor is in terms of telling you what you are getting. That doesn't get yo the best image you can get recorded though.
Use the histograms if your camera has them. While you can't totally trust them, they will let you know you are spreading out your exposure enough to make a gradable image in post that won't cause too much cussing ! You'll know if you are too dark or brite because of how it bunches up. Likewise, even if the histogram looks a bit hot, as long as it isn't completely blown out the codec will squeeze it back into legal video range, even if you aren't going to broadcast with it.
I hope this has gotten all of you thinking that you need to use your eyes, histogram and some experience to get the best image. Shooting flat isn't the answer, its part of the problem and if you want to be a DP you need to learn your tool and medium.

More Dynamic Range & Codec Tests

Shot, edited, just need to write it up. More surprises about what the canon cameras are doing in terms of video out vs what the codec is recording to card.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

60D dynamic Range Part 3


Good science means you can repeat the results. Today I ran the HDMI out of my 60D into a MXO2 and used Matrox's Vetura capture software to grab the video output to ProRes 1080. That worked as expected and I grabbed a short clip, opening and closing the iris to get a range of exposure values. The shot was nothing special, just the MXO2 sitting on my desk.
 In this shot which looks about right for exposure the scopes show something very interesting, I've got whites at 109 IRE! However, the clip from the camera is only 100 IRE, hard clipped.
60D waveform monitor HDMI output 110 IRE
 With this info in hand, I'm going to try to dig up a chip chart and run some tests to see if the camera is compressing its hot signal down to 100 IRE compressing the range, but still retaining highlights values, or if the codec is simply hard clipping everything over 100 IRE out. If the codec is hard clipping information, that means using the camera's video out for monitoring even with a scope is not accurate. You can see it on the monitor, but not record it to the card. This would be seriously troubling if it proves to be the case which I am suspecting will be true. 
PART 4 >

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

8mm Camera Effects for Your iPhone

I wouldn't call my iPhone exactly a production camera... but we all do what we have to sometimes. This $1.99 app gives video your iphone shoots the 8mm look. I haven't tried it yet, but it looks cool. Could be perfect for getting some stylized shots on a road trip or other personal venture. Would I pull it out on a real shoot ? probably if it got the job done and the client was impressed :) !
8mm on your iphone
8mm camera effect for your iPhone

Field of View Online Comparison Tool

Cool stuff comes by every so often. Abel Cinetech of NYC has put up an online field of view comparison tool. It basically lets you pick a lens in one format, and compare it to the same or different lens in other format.  Its a great way to see the difference between formats with different lenses. Check it out here
Abel Cinetech field of view comparison calculator

60D Dynamic Range : Part 2


What started out as a simple question has become a more complicated answer. There are a lot of people out there saying "Just Shoot Flat" on the web. In what is now the first part of this series of tests, I'll say yes. In high contrast situations like snow in sunlight, by all means turn down the contrast control. In taking a look at the 60D's dynamic range I had a question thrown at me - am I looking at a NLE / software scope or hardware scope in judging whats going on ? I have both so I put them to the test. 
Let me explain and show you something interesting. In the first part I talked about if 100 IRE = 235 or 255. On the scopes in my NLE, the codec was clearly clipping at 100 IRE, there was nothing above. If I plug the 60D's composite out into my Tektronix scope there is a surprise, over brights ! In the image below you can see that I've got whites hitting about 105 IRE. I could not get anything hotter then that from the camera. The flat top areas at about 97 IRE are in fact the onscreen text overlays. So in response to the poster, yes the camera puts out hotter then 100 IRE on its video outs, but the codec which you actually record to ins't giving it to you. In a word, that sucks, Canon, H264 has more to offer then what you have limited us to. Let us have everything the spec can handle : 10 bit 4:2:2 or 4:4:4. 


scopes showing 60D output


Monday, January 17, 2011

Post / MG Salary Survey Released

Do you think you are getting paid enough ? Working short days or long ones ? Does staff or freelance pay better ?

Some answers here at

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Does Shooting Flat Gain You More Dynamic Range ?

Yes and no. How is that for an answer ? 
It depends. In this high contrast example, a flat shooting setting will get you the most amount of dynamic range to be recorded with in the limits of the codec. However, in an upcoming test, I'll show you how shooting flat won't be the best thing.
Canon EOS 60D Dynamic Range Contrast Adjustment Test from Steve Oakley on Vimeo.
At first glance, lower contrast settings do indeed give you more image to work with. It really seems like the contrast adjustment is much more like a gamma plus pedestal adjustment. Adjusting contrast moves not just the low end of the picture but the mids around too.
My first couple of tests actually show a pretty large dynamic range, holding not only the sky and snow, but also well into the shadows. Technically, the image is underexposed since the whites aren't quite white. However, I can live with that  in seeing that the camera is really holding an enormous range of brightness. My hand held light meter bit the dust a few months ago, but after 20 years of service I'm not complaining. I don't have a formal light range reading for you, but its easy to see this is at least 10 stops. Its easy to set up tests with charts and make certain claims, its quite another to make usable images, or see those specs in action where you can say you got information in a bright or dark area that you might not of with another camera.
For a finished shot it would be easy to grade this a bit and bring the snow up, and bring the sky down a bit. 
Looking between the picture styles you can see differences in color rendition and dynamic range. While its probably not cool to say you use it, the standard setting actually holds up very well and better then some of the other picture styles.
Clearly the contrast setting is not just changing the dark areas, its much more of a gamma type adjustment. If you scope the images you can see this. Another interesting thing I saw was that the EOS codec hard clips at 100 IRE. Now if 255 = 100 IRE, I'm somewhat ok with this. However, if 235= 100 IRE, I'm not. In 8 bit color space you need every last step of range you can get.  Why throw away 20 more steps in gradation, especially in the high end ? My JVC HD100 lets you shoot over brights to 110 IRE, and thats where I have the camera set. When you have to grade compressed 8bit material, every little bit counts. On the positive side, the codec does allow pure 0 IRE level blacks, adding 13 steps on the bottom end.  
Now on the side of shooting lower saturation, I'm going to go against what some other folks are running around saying. There is no net benefit to reducing color saturation, but there is plenty to loose when shooting. Quite simply, if you reduce your saturation, you simply are using fewer bits to record gradation with. So instead of getting 8 bits, your reducing yourself to 7 bits, or even 6 bits. Don't believe me ? Shoot some shots with a lot of color gradation in them in various settings. Then go into your NLE of choice, open up your scopes, and color correct that material to look likes its got a full range of color again. Out will pop missing steps of color. Thats right, those empty sections are exactly that, areas of no gradation. You are jumping from one color value to another several units away with nothing in between. So unless you are shooting material with very high saturation to begin with, where you may be clipping values to begin with, stay put in middle setting, or perhaps -1 if you really must. Dialing color down below that won't net you anything except loss of color information thats already been reduce by the h264 compression. Now just to irk those turn down the saturation folks, the very first project I shot with my 550D had its saturation turned up to +1. That project won and award an had everyone buzzing about how great the images looked.
All right, just as another comparison, here is a 7D vs Alexa comparison. It seems to show the same thing I experienced - that the canon cameras don't like over exposure and clip highlights pretty fast.

Part 2


Alexa vs 7d latitude tests from Nick Paton ACS on Vimeo.

So I'll welcome your comments on this.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

CES News : GoPro Finally has LCD screen, Extra Battery and 3D mode

How about something cool from CES ! GoPro, which has announced they would have an add on LCD panel for the GoPro Hero HD camera for at least the last year, finally has shown them at CES. Its not on their website yet. They also finally showed the extra battery pack they were promising forever as well. The extra battery will give you 5 hours of run time which is great. The LCD will reduce that by 30% or so if you leave it on all the time. 

Then there is the 3D version. Its two HD cameras mounted side by side in one case, but one camera is flipped upside down right next to each other. The lenses are almost touching.It seems odd that they put them this close, rather then right side up which would be about 1.5" apart, but maybe it looked too weird that way due to the wideness of the lens. We'll see. So besides the new case, there is a jumper setup linking the two cameras together since you'd want them to use the same exposure, and have they frame scanning in sync. You also have to have 2 cameras as well. 

As for if 3D ever goes anywhere, time will tell. Yes its being pushed harder than DVD or HD ever was, but no one wants it. I think most folks generally see it as a way to try and force everyone to buy a lot of new hardware... for what ? consumer polls show almost no one would actually buy 3D LCD's. It really remains a movie theater novelty. I saw Avatar in 3D and really liked it that way, however I don't think I need or want all movies see to be in 3D at all. It really changes how a movie is shot and edited which may not fit with the film's style and theme. OTH with so many films being over cut, slowing down the pace of edits might not be a bad thing either.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

CES started today, No News From Canon to Get Excited About, Well Maybe

Canon basically revamped it consumer line of HD palmcorders, the Vivixa series. Some nice improvements to be sure. They also announced the XA10 camcorder which is a continuation of their pro-ish camera line. Its small, its AVChd, it has a decent lens with 8 blade aperture. There was no dslrnews though today. Maybe they will put out some firmware updates over the next day or two, maybe not. Given that CES is a consumer event, this isn't too suprising that there's no dslr news. Here is...

Read More "CES started today, No News From Canon to Get Excited About, Well Maybe"

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Back to Work

All right, after slacking off from the program for the last week or so ( can you blame me ! ) I'm back to doing things. That ultra vintage lens thing is still a work in progress, I haven't forgotten about it. I've got one or two video reviews in the works, and a few other things on the burner. 
Todays news is that Zacuto is gonna ship its EVF viewfinder. I don't like to bite any hands, but lets get real, its a miserable 800X480. Common, thats a joke. Sure you can't see pixels, because it doesn't have the res to display them ! the LCD on the back of the camera plus your loupe of choice, even a zacuto is a far better value then this thing. There are plenty of 5-8" LCD's that are 720p res out there that will give you more bang for a lot less buck. If you have ever used a RED LCD thats a real 720p screen, you know what I mean. Its a world of difference. I know only the 7D is HD when recording, but when you aren't, I'll take all the pixels I can get. 

Saturday, January 01, 2011

RED EPIC #0006 Stolen in France

I'd like to say happy new year, but for the first person to have a RED EPIC, its not. It was stolen yesterday in the french alps while he and his family where sleeping. read more here

As for was it dumb thieves grabbing what they thought was just another video camera, or industrial espionage, time will tell, or maybe not. The answer will be if the camera ever turns up, and where.