Saturday, December 19, 2009

Orson Welles and Sony Betacam

Over on Gizmodo, Frank Beacham tells a charming story about Orson Welles, the early days of Sony Betacam, and dreams that might have been.

Whenever I see a tiny new camcorder introduced, or see Apple upgrade a revolutionary application like iMovie, I think of Orson. Oh, how excited he'd be. The pure magic of it all! If he were alive today, he'd be making his movies without regard to raising huge amounts of money. That, for both Orson and his audience, would be an achievement that we'll never be able to enjoy.

It’s really worth reading: Orson Welles and His Brief Passionate Betacam Love Affair

...and connects nicely with the story of Fede Alvarez, who made a $300 video and landed himself a $30 million contract with Ghost House Pictures.

NXCAM update

Tonklemoose [really?! -Ed] the Twitter account for UK video equipment retailer reports that the Sony NXCAM model will be called the HXR-NX5, and that it will be available in January (probably after CES?)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Camcorderinfo reviews Canon 7D takes a bash at reviewing the Canon 7D’s video performance. They don’t do a full review, but then you can find that at; the two sites have actually created a combined review with Camorderinfo doing the video aspects, and doing the still camera functionality.

The Camcorderinfo page sums up most aspects of video performance. They found that color accuracy was no better than the competition, they were “fairly impressed” by the motion performance, and it did better than the others in low light, but for sharpness it was found to be weaker than the Panasonic GH1 and Canon 5D Mark II. Make sure you go to the linked pages at that go into more details, as they  also compare the performance relative to some video camcorders as well.
While the Canon 7D's sharpness numbers aren't that bad, they definitely are lower than some consumer HD camcorders are capable—specifically in bright light. The Canon HF S100, HF20, and JVC GZ-HM400 all did better than the 7D in our video sharpness testing.
I wish that in the charts where they compare performance they had included one or two video cameras, rather than just the GH1, 5D Mark II and Nikon D5000. While it's interesting to know how the DSLR cameras compare to each other, it would also be helpful to see how they compare to true video cameras.

One other thing I should note is that they used the 28-135 f3.5-5.56 kit lens for their sharpness tests; at least in the still comparison, so I’m assuming they did so for the video part too. I’m guessing it’s taken as read that with video, the performance of the lens isn’t going to drastically alter the results for video sharpness.

Monday, December 14, 2009

More on 7D Camera overheating

Overheating continues to be an issue for some users of the Canon 7D, with lots of theories about what is causing it, or how to avoid it. There are some things we know for certain, and many things that are the subject of wild speculation. Here’s what’s known:
  • Reports of the 7D overheating seem to be more prevalent than they were/are for the 5D, though there have been reports of the 5D overheating, so it's not entirely unique to the 7D.
  • The camera continues to operate (most of the time) with the thermal warning on, and most people don’t really notice a degradation in the image quality, though one user reported a glowing pixel in the dark areas of later footage.
  • Most people are encountering the problem after an extended period of operation (i.e. into the second hour of non-stop usage.)
  • Some cameras seem to display the warning earlier than others (though it’s unclear whether this is due to differences in operation, or actual differences in the way cameras are calibrated.)

Here’s some current theories:

  1. Shooting 720p generates more heat than 1080
    The Theory: Unlike the 5D Mark II, the 7D has two processors instead of one, and also supports 720p while the 5D Mark II (at the moment) does not.
    The Proof: The first couple of people to report overheating were both using 720p, and one of them subsequently did an experiment switching to 1080p, and reported that the camera didn’t overheat after a similar period of operation.
    Conclusion: Since then, there’s been a number of reports of overheating in 1080p, so it may be a contributing factor, but clearly isn’t the only one.

  2. Don’t hand-hold the camera
    The Theory: your hands cause more heat to build up within the body.
    The Solution: use on a tripod or other kind of rig.
    Conclusion: None. One person claimed he had it happen as soon as he went to hand holding, while another person has had it occur both while on a tripod and holding it in the hand after 1-2 hours of use.

  3. Place an ice-pack on the camera on the right side of the LCD
    The Theory: reduce the internal temperature with external cooling.
    The Proof: not a lot of people have documented doing this.
    My Take: I’d be wary of the possible damage to the device by introducing a really cold object to part of the camera body. Using some kid of cooling around the body may make sense, but getting the right amount in the right place might be both difficult and cumbersome.

  4. Use a large L lens
    The Theory: Canon’s L lenses contain a lot of metal, making for a large heat sink. Cheaper lenses are often all plastic, other than the mount, so won't "absorb" much heat.
    The Proof: one poster (see below) suggested this because after getting the temperature warning he switched to a large L lens and noticed the warning went away.
    My Take: without knowing where the heat is being generated, it’s difficult to know how it would get “transferred” to the lens. Clearly, the heat source isn’t right next to where the lens is connected (since that’s where the mirror box is!) so it’s not obvious to me how efficient the cooling would be; but maybe every little bit helps.

  5. Don't use a cover over the LCD panel
    The Theory: The Z-Finder (an optical device used to help with viewing the screen that covers the LCD) is “trapping” the heat from the LCD display, or not allowing proper cooling.
    The Proof: One person said he’d got the warning with the Z-Finder on, but after removing it, the warning went away, but another person said he had it come on without the Z-Finder, and it's clearly happening to users who aren't using one.
    Conclusion: It's hard to tell if this really makes a difference, though if you’re on the edge, - as has already been said - every little bit may help!
There's ongoing discussion of this problem in this thread at

Meanwhile Ole Jørgen Liodden, at Canon Field Reviews, reports that he took a 7D to Antarctica, and found it performed very well. He probably didn’t have any problems with overheating… 7D #1 Weather Sealing

One interesting note:

Some 5D Mark II users who use the battery grip have reported some problems with water leaking between the camera and battery grip. The battery grip for 7D is new and seems tighter and better sealed. In my case the 7D had absolutely NO problems with snow, rain and water (sea spray).

Also - for what it's worth - he had no problems with a 5D Mark II he had with him, which is a bit of a surprise. Earlier this year there was a report of a photography expedition (which maybe wasn’t quite as hard core as Liodden’s seemed to be, but it was still pretty extreme) and the users of the 5D’s suffered a fair number of failures.

The largest group of failures through were among the Canon 5D MKIIs. Of the 26 samples of this camera onboard, one quarter (six) failed at one time or another, and while three recovered, the other three never did.
- Luminous Landscape: Antarctica 2009

[UPDATE 12/17] One thing that might not be clear to those that have not been closely following this issue: all the reports of over-heating relate to long periods of continuous video shooting, and usually don't appear until the second hour of usage. If you're shooting stills, or shooting short video sequences (say one or two four-five minute sequences) then you should have no problems with over-heating