Saturday, March 13, 2010

Camera Company Pro Video Show Report

I'm just back from the Camera Company's annual Pro Video Show. It's not a huge show, but it's only half an hour away for me, and it does provide an opportunity to see in one place all the gear that you can't find at the local Best Buy.

Sony had several cameras, including the EX1, EX3 and HXR-NX5U - I'll take one of each, please - and JVC and Panasonic were there too, along with Canon (but you'll have to wait for NAB to find out more about their next pro-video cam.)

The Sony booth

I asked Dan Berube - who runs the Boston Final Cut Pro Group, and was manning the Canon table - when Canon would release the firmware update they have coming for the 5D in a 7D version and he looked surprised for a second - as though it wasn't something he had thought of - and then he said "That would be great, wouldn't it?"

Glidecam was there with their three different HD series stabilizers, as well as vests, arms and a jib.

I went to several company seminars, and was only thrown out of one. A new record for me. I shall have to try harder next time.

These shows can be dangerous if you are in need of gear - a bit like going to a supermarket with an empty stomach. I hadn't gone there with the intention to buy anything, but they had such a good deal on a Sony UWP-V1, that I had to buy one. And they had a really nice Kata bag, which I definitely hadn't intended to get either, but that was such a good price that I had to buy that too.

Fortunately, I didn't buy the tripod head and legs as well, since I'd run out of money.

I'm going to try and write-up what I learned about 3D at the SMTPE and the Sony presentations on same.  Unfortunately, though I learned a lot, I'm not sure that I understand it any more. You may be better off not reading what I have to say...

There were some interesting deals...
- used only at one Olympics?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Vincent Laforet - 10 Random Things

Vincent got stuck when his flight was cancelled, so he came up with a fairly long post about 10 Random Things. He wonders if he's been too wrapped up in technology lately, notes that the next round of the "Beyond the Still" competition ends shortly, hates the HDMI connector on Canon DSLR's and loves the new Zeiss Compact Primes, amongst other things.

oh, and he's ordered several iPads.

Definitely worth reading: 10 Random Things

AVCHD archives

If you have Final Cut Pro and an AVCHD camera, you’ve no doubt encountered an odd little peculiarity of Final Cut’s; the Log & Transfer function will only recognize AVCHD files if they are in the directory structure that the camera saves them in. You can’t just open the .MTS files.

You can always use another utility to convert files at a later date (Roxio Toast and VoltaicHD are two tools you can use) but even though I have VoltaicHD, I see it more an an emergency tool; I'd much rather use Final Cut to do the import. It's faster too.

One of the best ways to archive AVCHD files - and keep them still accessible by Final Cut - is to use the Disk Utility to create a disk image file (.dmg) This is easy to do, and preserves everything so that Final Cut will still be able to read the files.

Making a Disk Image
To make a disk image. Connect your camera to the computer using a USB, or if the camera uses removeable media, you can use a memory card reader to mount the card. The important thing is to have the media appear as a drive in the Finder.

Go to the Applications folder, open Utilities, and launch Disk Utility.

In the left hand column, select the card (or camera), and then choose Edit > New > Disk Image from (the name of the Device.) Note that if it says “Select a Device” then you haven’t selected the device you want to create a disk image of.

A Save As dialog box appears, asking you to name the file and choose a location. You can also choose the Image Format, with Compressed being the default.

Compressed or Read-only
The video files are already heavily compressed, so using the Compression option is simply adding compression ontop of that (the compression savings probably only have any effect with the support files.) I found that when compressing a 3GB AVCHD device, there was only a 40MB savings (just over 1%.) I suspect that number will be pretty consistent no matter how big the actual archive.

On the other hand, it appears that a compressed disk image slows down access time; the OS decompresses the files as you access them from the Disk Image, not when it "mounts them."

I did a simple test with a compressed and a read-only archive, and with a 19 second clip I found a 10% difference in the time it took for Final Cut to transcode the file. (20.6 vs 22.9 seconds.)

So I would recommend using Read-only.

Click Save, and the disk image will be created.

Mounting the Disk Image
Once you’ve created the Disk Image, you just double click the .dmg file to open it. A dialog will open saying that it is verifying the disk image. Unless you have reason to believe the file was corrupted (i.e. copied off a bad DVD backup) I don’t think you need to perform the verification. Click Skip.

A warning appears that the file could be damaged, but that’s just there because .dmg files are often used for sending software via the internet. Click Open.

The “disk” will mount, and you can launch Final Cut and import away, just like you did before. Dismount the “device” just like a regular removable drive.

And don’t forget to make a backup of the .dmg file!

The bad side of the T2i

Alister Chapman at has written up a post about his experience with the Canon T2i. Alister is a serious video shooter (he's comparing it to a Sony EX1) and he's not too happy about the quality of the video.
...frankly after playing with the Canon over the weekend I have to say I’m disappointed. Yes you can achieve shallow depth of field very easily and you do get a filmic look to the pictures, but look at the footage on a big monitor and it just looks soft.
He blames aliasing issues. Interestingly, he hasn't yet noticed the problems with rolling shutter (maybe that will be a post for next week.)

I'm not really surprised by this reaction. It's not like this is a new issue; people were complaining about it with the Canon 5D. And it hasn't gone away with the 7D (if anything, many people think the Canon 7D image is slightly worse than the 5D's.)

The HD DSLRs aren't perfect, and have many limitations. Depending what you want to do, they have a lot to recommend them, but you should be aware of their limitations.

Of course, is it fair to compare the $799 T2i to a $6,300 video camera? That's another question... Canon T2i, first impressions, initial tests (frame grabs and video supplied).

iPad ordered

Just as was reported, the Apple store went down this morning, and came back up at 8:30am EST. I ordered a 32GB Wi-Fi model.

There was no option (that I could find) to pick it up at a local Apple store, though it said that (at least based on my address) it would be delivered on 4/3 (signature required.)

The iPad Case I ordered is listed as shipping by April 3rd.

Also, while some accessories were offered, there was nothing about iWork....which confused me for several moments, and then it occurred to me that I'll have to buy that through the App store!

[UPDATE 9:38] Just got the "iPad is coming. April 3. Pre-order or reserve yours today." email from Apple. The Email has a "Reserve Now" button which takes you to a page to reserve and pick-up at an Apple store.

iPad pre-order day

The Apple store is down, so the clock is ticking. Will it be up at 8:30AM (EST) or will it be up earlier/later?!!!

Waiting, waiting...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

3D has arrived!

Best Buy told me so. I iust got an email from them with the message:
Beginning March 21, experience Panasonic 3D TV exclusively at Magnolia® Home Theater inside select Best Buy® stores.
Be one of the first to discover the dazzling resolution of the new Panasonic full HD 3D TV with a 1080p picture that can bring theater-quality 3D into your home.

Only problem is; when you click through to the site and try and find out which "select" stores, it says over 900 Best Buy stores will have a Samsung full HD 3D experience and over 250 stores will have a Panasonic full HD 3D experience for you to demo.

And then it adds the following warning:
Before heading in, you'll probably want to call your local Best Buy store(s) to make sure they are offering a 3D experience.
Oh really? Calling Best Buy to find out what they are going to have?

The times I've called trying to get information about what they might or might not have in stock haven't been very informative. In my experience, even asking staff in the store doesn't produce very good answers about what might be coming. Unless the item is on the shelf, the staff seem to have absolutely no idea about what might be coming.

Meanwhile, though this was reported a couple of weeks ago, MacWorld has a bit more on Sony's rumblings about producing a 3D consumer camera. This report adds video as a possability;
The 3D camera under development would fill a missing piece in the content chain by allowing consumers to make their own 3D images and movies.
Whether that's a still camera that can shoot video, a video that can shoot stills, or both, who knows?

Noktor F0.95 Hyperprime 50mm lens

Philip Bloom writes a short review of the Noktor F0.95 Hyperprime 50mm lens for Micro Four Thirds cameras and likes it a lot. It's not perfect, but at $750 it offers a good combination of features.
It has a minimal focus distance of 0.6m, a filter size of 62mm and 8 aperture blades. I noticed that when stopped down a little the “Circle of confusion” was hexagonal in shape but wide open was circular. Apart from from the edges which where more half moon. I actually was actually quite partial to this look…
He hopes they'll make a version for Canon (though would a Micro Four Third lens actually have enough glass to cover an APS sensor, or would they have to redesign the whole thing?)

Did Camcorderinfo's Student buying Guide blow it? has an article posted entitled: "The Student Filmmaker's Buying Guide To Consumer Camcorders." The article is actually a great idea, and I'm sure more than a few people will be interested to read it. The four cameras they chose to include have much to recommend them:
  • Canon HF S21
  • Panasonic HDC-TM300
  • JVC GZ-HM400
  • Canon HV40
I even have to agree that the HF S21 is probably the best of the four...

Unfortunately, I can't help thinking that they didn't cast their net wide enough. They completely overlooked the HD DSLR market segment; specifically the Canon Rebel T2i. At $799 for the body you can add a prime lens (or two) and still come in under the target $1,500 budget.

Maybe they have a good reason; and yes, there are lots of good reasons not to get an HD DSLR. Lenses are expensive and limiting; if you need a long zoom lens with optical stabilization then get the HF S21.  There's the 12 minute length clips and manual focusing. BUT if you're an aspiring filmmaker, the T2i has a lot to recommend it:
  • 24p
  • shallow depth of field
  • DSLR's are the "it" camera of the moment
They also force you to think a little more than those other cameras.

They aren't for everyone, but I'd wager that film students are more likely to see the appeal of an HD DSLR that the average camcorder buyer.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

New MacBook Pro's next Tuesday?

I love a good rumor as much as the next person, so I'll pass this along. I'm told that Apple could announce new MacBook Pro's next Tuesday.

Consider this a real low probability rumor....though they must be coming out with updates sometime in the next couple of months.


Wellington New Zealand, my old home town, is thinking of erecting a Wellywood sign. The only problem is that the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, and Global Icons (owners of the intellectual property rights to the Hollywood sign) aren't too happy.

Wellington, which plays the part of Capital City of New Zealand when Auckland isn't looking, has a fairly big film industry connection, being the home of Peter Jackson and WETA Workshop.

Jackson is reportedly adamant that the sign be an "exact copy" of the Hollywood sign, though another report suggests it will be only 1/5 the height of the Hollywood sign.

Why don't they just have WETA add it in post?

Countdown to 5D Mark II firmware update - March 16th

Will it be on time? Will it sneak out early? All we know is, everyone's waiting for that firmware update.

7 Tips to better DSLR video

Grover Sanschagrin at interviewed freelance cinematographer Robert Caplin about the making of the project "Betrayed" and also got some tips for shooting with DLSR's. Definitely worth reading: 7 Tips To Get Better Video from a DSLR Camera

Camcorderinfo reviews Nikon D300

Camcorderinfo reviews the Nikon D300, and while they did like it's low-light capabilities (it just beat out the Canon 7D in low-light performance) they were generally unhappy that Nikon didn't add any new video capabilities:
The Nikon D300s is not the camera to get if you're serious about using a DSLR to record video. It doesn't have a good set of video controls and its overall video performance is far behind similarly-priced models from Canon and Panasonic. The fact that the D300s can't even record a Full HD image (its resolution tops out at 1280 x 720) is probably its biggest downside from a video perspective.
Remember that Camcorderinfo is reviewing the camera for video; stills photographers can still love the D300s!

Over the past month or so I've come across a number of photographers complaining about Nikon's lack of involvement in the HD side of the SLR market. Philip Bloom made a comment about it in his interview on Cinema 5D, and in the Lensflare 002 podcast, Philip Bloom (again), media producer Scott Bourne and Steve Weiss from Zacuto go off on Nikon as well.

They really expected Nikon to at least match the features Canon has added. A number of Nikon owners are now wondering if they need to jump ship...

It's kind of ironic that Nikon seems oblivious to this market; back in the day of the great conspiracy theories (when people were sure that Canon was hamstringing the video capabilities of the 5D Mark II because they disn't want to disrupt their video camera business) a lot of people thought that the market was ripe for Nikon's taking. Without a rival video business, Nikon would be able to turn their SLRs into capable video cameras without any limitation.

Instead, we've seen Canon continue to evolve and enhance their products - even promising a firmware update for the 5D Mark II - while Nikon seems to drift along without concern about this marketplace.

Of course, those of us who are excited about HD DSLRs imagine we're a big part of the market; since we're all talking to each other, we might imagine that we're more significant than we really are. Nikon may have decided that the small additional sales are insignificant compared to the added work they'd have to do to really challenge Canon in this market segment.

Camcorderinfo: Nikon D300s DSLR Camera Review

Fun & Games with Final Cut Pro

Yesterday I finished editing a seven minute interview in Final Cut Pro, and was exporting it for upload to YouTube. I was exporting it using the Export With QuickTime Conversion option to MP4 with H.264. As luck would have it, Final Cut crashed about 2/3's of the way through.

I restarted Final Cut Pro, tried to Export, and it crashed a second time.

If you're wondering why I wasn't using Compressor; well the truth is that though I think Compressor does a nicer job, it seems to take twice as long to compress the same file, and since YouTube munges everything anyway, I find it quicker and faster to use the Export with QuickTime Conversion option.

After the second crash I was faced with a puzzle. But, I hadn't restarted my MacBook Pro in an age, and I also hadn't installed the ProKit 5.1 update, which is supposed to:
Resolved memory leaks for improved performance.
So I thought that might be the solution.

I installed the update, along with a bunch of other things that Software Update found, including a Firmware update for the SuperDrive. Unfortunately, this required multiple restarts. All in all, I spend at least half an hour getting everything up to date.

With that all done, I launched Final Cut Pro, opened the project, started exporting....and it crashed in the same place!

But I was not defeated! I just exported to a QuickTime file (instead of with conversion) and then used QuickTime Player to export from that file to an MP4 file.

All in all, it probably would have taken just as long if I'd used Compressor!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Flip video not working with Final Cut Pro

I couple of weeks aog I came across a forum post from someone having problems with Flip video in Final Cut Pro:
When I import either a Flip MP4 file or [opening them in QT and saving as .mov files] the QT .mov file into FCP, FCP will not allow me to play the file in any window. It goes to "general error" or a window that says the format is not compatible with what is specified in the sequence.
First things first, I don't know exactly why it's not working in Final Cut Pro, yet it is in Final Cut Express. In theory the video should work in both, but my first question would be: what version of Final Cut Pro and Final Cut Express is being used? If the latest version of Express (4.0) was being used, but an older version of FCP (i.e. 5.0 or 6.0) that might explain it. If they're using the latest version of FCP (7.0), then I am puzzled!

An important thing to note is that when you use QuickTime Player to Save As an MP4 file as a .mov file, what QuickTime Player does is put a .mov wrapper around the MP4 file. It doesn't really do anything else. The video data is still the same, so if your program doesn't like the compressor in the MP4 file, it won't like it in the .mov file.

This probably explains why both the MP4 and .mov don't work. Another thing to note is that H.264 (the compressor the Flip uses) isn't one of Final Cut's favorites. While it *should* work, you usually end up having to rerender sequences all the time and performance is pretty bad.

Recompressing to a different compressor is recommended.

I wrote the above a couple of weeks ago, and never published it, but yesterday I encountered a somewhat similar issue with video captured with a small DXG camcorder belonging to a friend of mine. Somewhat similar; unfortunately, while QuickTime player will open and play it, neither FCP or FCExpress will let you import the file.

QuickTimePlayer displays the Format as: mbarella AVC encode** pasp(clap, whatever that means. (It seems that Ambarella is a company that writes compressors.)

I used MPEG Streamclip to recompress the video to the ProRes codec, which worked just fine. Check out this page, where a guy is using MPEG Steamclip to recompress clips from MP4 to QuickTime using a different compressor: Flip Video and Final Cut Pro Workflow


Looking for a component video switch part II

Just last week I was looking for a component switch to connect multiple HD devices to an older HD set that only had two component inputs. I'd put together a list of possible devices, and was trying to decide between them.

The decision has gotten more expensive (and complicated.) A couple of days ago I saw a write-up for the new Pioneer VSX-1020-K AV Receiver. I was intrigued by the promise of iPhone integration (and control!) and then I saw the 1080p video conversion mentioned and it occurred to me; this can do video switching (duh!)

Two component inputs, 6 HDMI inputs...

Okay, I'm an idiot; my current AV receiver does have video inputs; but they are composite and S-Video (not component) so I never thought to hook that up and use it to switch the video back when I installed  it five years ago, and so I never thought about replacing the AV with something more HD ready.

The pros of this solution - one less box, one less remote, a lot more inputs, and the cool looking iPhone app - are negated somewhat by the price tag. Essentially I'm looking at spending $500 more than if I got the component switch.

It's up for preorder at Amazon, expected in April. One of you needs to buy one and tell me what you think of it...

Monday, March 08, 2010

The 12 minute thing

I got a question about the 12 minute recording limit with the Canon HD DSLRs (like the 550D/T2i) and I thought I'd take a stab at it:
Can someone please explain the 12 minute limitation better... All I want to know is if when the 12 minute clip is up... can you record another clip immediately following? If it's a SD card size limitation, can you just swap cards and keep shooting? If its a sensor overheating issue, how long does it take the sensor to cool down?

when the 12 minute clip is up... can you record another clip immediately following?
Yes. You can literally hit record again and away it goes. BUT, you have to be watching the camera to notice that it's stopped.

If it's a SD card size limitation, can you just swap cards and keep shooting?
The limitation is an individual file size limitation of the file system used on these cameras (FAT32*.) A file can't be larger than 4GB, but you can store multiple 4GB files on the same SD card. So you can just hit record again - without having to switch cards - until the card if full.

If its a sensor overheating issue, how long does it take the sensor to cool down?
It's not clear that the 12 minute limitation is there as any precaution against overheating; you can actually record for 29 minutes and 59 seconds in SD mode.

That said, depending upon the ambient temperature, and whether you are recording in 1080p or 720p, the temp warning seems to appear anyway between half an hour and two hours of use. Your mileage may vary. I think whether you're hand holding or using a rig or tripod, how much time is shooting vs. non shooting, also will effect your results.

Realistically, you're looking at 10-15 minutes to make any meaningful difference in internal temperature. But some people report a camera shutting down, leaving it off for 5 minutes, and then recording again.

Though many users have reported getting the warning while shooting for extended periods, they are often able to keep going with the warning flashing without noticeable ill effects to the footage.

You might try some kind of additional (external) cooling. Shutting off the camera while not in use is probably a good idea too.

A second camera may be the best solution if you are going to be doing a lot of non-stop shooting, and literally can't afford to wait for the camera to cool down.

* The T2i also works with SDXC cards, which support exFAT, but it seems to have the same 4GB limitation.

A couple of interviews on HD DSLRs at Cinema 5D

Jared Abrams at the Cinema5D blog has posted a couple of interviews. The first is with Philip Bloom and was shot just before his Master Class in LA. It starts out as a discussion of the workshop, though it does include some comments about how “bloody amazing” footage out of HD DSLRs is, and what he’d like to see companies do. He also thinks the T2i is another “game changer.”
I still shoot I would say, half the time on “full-size” cameras. It’s just that, most people aren’t interested when you’re shooting on full-size cameras, they’re interested in the budget stuff and the HD SLRS.
Philip Bloom Interview Before His Master Class With Hdi RAW Works

There’s also an interview with “24” DOP Rodney Charters. He just bought a T2i and talks about that. The also talks about how DSLRs have been adopted in film and TV, and it’s interesting that he said they never used the Canon 5D partly because Fox didn’t want to be seen endorsing a camera, and also because it didn’t do the right frame rate, but that when the 7D came out they jumped on it.
His discussion of the shortcomings of the HD DSLRs, and particularly still lenses vs. “film/video” lenses is particularly interesting. He also notes:
The lenses that we really really wanted to use, the Panavision lenses, have all been pulled from us because of the legal entanglements between Canon and Panavision.
The interview was shot - I inferred from Philip Bloom’s comment - on a Canon 7D, and one thing that stood out to me was that the footage of Charters seems noticeably shaky. They should have run it through Smoothcam on Final Cut!

Cinema5D Interview with DOP Rodney Charters

You can see more about how DSLRs are used to shoot driving plates for "24" with additional comments from Rodney Charters and Sam Nicholson here: 5 Camera driving plate rig

[UPDATE] Here's some more information about the suit Panavision has against Canon, which seems unrelated to lenses: Panavision Sues Canon and Others

Lots of HD-DSLR rigs

Philip Bloom has posted photos from the LA HD-DSLR meetup held yesterday. You can see a variety of rigs, including a 3D rig (with Canon 7D's?!). There are also pictures taken with the GF1 and the new Noktor F0.95 lens.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Oscar night for Final Cut Pro

It's Oscar night, and though I have no firm plans to watch it, I'll probably catch a bit of the evenings "fun."

An article at CNet has this interesting statistic:
9 out of 10 of this year's nominees in the "Documentary Feature" and "Documentary Short" categories used Final Cut Studio to make their films

CNET: Final Cut Pro the Apple of Oscar's eye

Camera Company Pro Video Show: Mar 12 & 13

Don't forget the upcoming Camera Company Pro Video Show in Deedham MA, on Friday March 12th and Saturday March 13th. Manufacturers reps from the major companies will be there (Sony, Canon, JVC and Panasonic), as well as Shure, Manfrotto, AJA Video, Kata, Glidecam, and others. There are also free seminars, and some workshops (that cost very little.) I went to a couple of the workshops last year, and they were definitely worth the $25-$35 cost!

[UPDATED 3/8] Added location...I hate it when people don't put the location....

Panasonic G2

Panasonic has announced a success to the Micro Four Thirds G1. The new G2 adds 720 HD recording in AVCHD Lite format, as well as touch screen functionality.
The LUMIX G2 records 1280 x 720 HD videos in the AVCHD Lite format, which increases recording capacity and is highly compatible with audio-visual equipment. With a dedicated video record button, users can easily start recording a video. To complement its high-quality video capabilities, the LUMIX G2 features advanced audio options, as sound is recorded with Dolby Digital Creator and an optional accessory stereo microphone can be attached. A Wind Cut function further enhances the sound as it helps reduce noise caused from background wind.
The Panasonic LUMIX G2 will be available in red, blue and black models and pricing and availability will be announced 30 days prior to shipping date.

Panasonic also sells the GH1 Four Thirds size still camera which includes 1080HD video capabilities.

[UPDATE] While the camera records in 60 or 50 frames, it appears that it is using 30 or 25 fps data coming from the sensor, so unlike the Canon DSLRs that record in 60fps 720p, you're not going to be able to use it for improved slow motion effects.

They have also announced the DMC-G10, another Micro Four Thirds camera with 720P recording which is smaller and lighter than the G2 (and lacks the flip-out screen.) Personally, I think I'd go for the flip-out screen.