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8K When Stills & Motion Converge *Without Apologies or Qualifiers

A few weeks ago, a portrait I shot got a bit of attention from the press at the Cinegear convention that takes place every year at Paramount Studios.

Here’s a link to the JPEG of the 8K image which I hope doesn’t blow up my account with DropBox here.

Cinegear is an event that brings together all of the leading tech for the cinema industry – it’s a wonderful event to attend and I can’t recommend it enough.

The Key here is that a STILL image garnered attention at a CINEMA event …   why, well obviously it was shot on a motion camera at 8K – in this case the RED WEAPON 8K camera which is capable of capturing 36 megapixel stills in full RAW up to 60 times per second.     And when you slow down to look at the quality of this image… it kind of speaks to the future of where we all are headed.

And don’t forget the RED 8K Weapon is capable of recording 30 seconds back in time … that’s 1800 full RAW 36 MP frames at the touch of a button … think about it.

And yes – you can use your Canon, Leica, Nikon and the majority of cinema lenses on this camera to pursue your visual dreams – whether they be in motion or still … why choose if you can get both?    And you can control every function on this camera literally with you iPhone as well with apps like FoolControl

While many will see the cost of a RED system as initially out of their reach, I would remind you of the 2 megapixel Kodak camera that shot 2 frames per second in 1999 …  and of the iPhone that came out almost 10 years ago that obliterated that camera in many ways 7 years later.   It’s just a matter of time before this technology makes it way into all of our hands as prices and mass adoption takes hold.   And there are already plenty of much more affordable entry level systems that RED provides – I call them the gateway drugs to be perfectly honest.  Once you see the quality coming off of these sensors … just as with still cameras you want more an more Megapixels and frames per second.  FULL STOP.

While we can’t readily imagine a RED camera being sold on the shelves of Best Buy just yet … give it time.    Mark my words and call me crazy … but the tech will definitely make its way onto consumer shelves much more quickly than many of us are anticipating.   History has already proven this trend, and cycles are only speeding up…

 

SWARM 2017 – How lucky we are in 2017

As you start the new year … here is a little video from the first day of the year that to me defines: SERENDIPITY.

On a personal, and on an artistic level, this was the best way to welcome in the New Year.

The important part here is that this slightly complex aerial shoot originated from a very similar thought process that I would generally associate with the thought process of grabbing a Leica Camera and a 35mm f2 lens on my way out the door with me – “just in case.”

Nothing more.

Years ago, a series of shots like this might have cost a small fortune and a significant amount of preparation and effort.

In this case, this video was shot somewhat haphazardly and was far from a sure thing from the start. AND FAR from a goal or necessity.

Allow me to explain…

The little drone that shot this footage can fit in a large cargo pants pocket, and costs less than $800 – and the little sucker shoots 4K footage.

Pause for a second.

That’s A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!!

My main goal on the first day of 2017 was to take it easy and enjoy the lack of texts and calls – let alone a completely blank schedule for this first Sunday of the new year.

I took the drone because the sky “could” turn nice. It frankly wasn’t liklely given the low horizon layer.

My main goal – to be clear – was to go into town and to get a coffee and to see others after a relatively isolated Sunday afternoon.

Frankly – it was THE laziest afternoon I’ve enjoyed in one year or more.

The fact that this shoot happened as an afterthought is what is significant to me.

It didn’t require the packing of cases or even a backpack full of gear nor extensive travel.

If just took the “maybe I should bring this {fill in this spot} camera with me” to scratch that itch …

The resulting quality that we as artists and amateurs alike are able to draw from with many of these new technologies is simply stunning.

I used to stare at film negatives and slides, and then digital images on the screen for hours. It wasn’t necessarily the final image or effort that counted…

I love to study the grain structure, the lens qualities and FLAWS. The highlight retention and shadow fall-off. I’m passionate about “images.” I’ve never been quite sure why to be perfectly honest.

Images put me at peace. And I love to try to share that feeling with others.

In 2017, I am able to witness 24 images a second at 4K – which is an incredible resolution when compared to the bleeding-edge 2 Megapixel ($22,000+) cameras I used to use in 1999 as a young staff photographer at The New York Times.

A few days ago I was scrubbing through 8K footage shot 60 times per second!!! (More on that another time.) That’s 36 megapixel still images!!! (In case you’re not familiar with the math…)

In short, I’m in hog heaven.

I hope others aren’t missing out on how lucky we ALL are.

For sure, the competition out there and access to gear is FIERCE – and that can worry any one of us… myself included.

But how many of you REALLY slowed down to watch this video to see the young boy dancing / conducting the birds above??? Look for it!
But at the same time, you have to pause and pinch yourself.

And you have to ask:

This ability to capture your world with new, exciting tools … it makes you feel ALIVE….

Doesn’t it?

This series, while far from perfect was shot by one person (in this case me) on a lark. It was shot with a DJI Mavic Pro and I took pleasure in piloting the little drone that is slightly wider than a compact laptop while in flight and folds into one’s large pocket while folded. I was also controlling the camera movement by hand thru the helicopter’s movement.

While there are fancy automatic “tracking” moves and significant safety features in today’s drones, I found myself losing myself for 20 minutes of so in pure bliss by trying to “dance” within my enviroment.

And then something magical happened…

Out of nowhere a swarm of birds took off from the pier.

A swarm I had studied for years when I lived on “the Strand” in Manhattan Beach a little while ago. I still live there – but no longer on the coast.

Salt water while amazing to the human body and psyche is not so kind on all types of hardware – notably metal….

To me the rest is magical.

THIS is the very definition of serendipity and why I fell in love with photography almost 3 decades ago.

There are 3 big surprises in this video in fact – should you take the time out of your or “our” hectic pace that we all seem to be driven by. Mindlessly I should add.

It should be noted that while all of this happened in a series of 3 separate shots over 20 minutes – the Fireworks did NOT happen on the same night.

Those had been shot a month or less earlier but had never quite found a home.

When you see the “connector” = the Christmas tree on the end of the piece – those shots seemed to edit in JUST right.

I hope you enjoy this video, and the cheesy little message at the end of it.

It’s something I deeply believe in.

I always try to do a little video at the end of each year. Not for any particular reason other than the fact that it’s one of the few times I have some “quiet.”

Regardless, if you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading and hopefully watching this video.

And please, don’t for one second take your fortune for granted.

We are in an incredible period of time in history as creatives.

Sure – it’s VERY challenging.

But it’s also absolutely incredible in terms of potential.

Carpe Diem!

– Vincent Laforet

Shot with the DJI Mavic Pro and edited and graded in DaVinci Resolve. (I still have much to learn!)

 

The Drone you’ll always have with you: The DJI Mavic Pro

There’s a reason the iPhone and smartphones in general are the most popular cameras in the world:   they’re always with you.   You can have them in your pocket and forget about them, but they’re always within reach!

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Now… you can’t EXACTLY put the DJI Mavic Pro in your pocket – although you CAN put it in your cargo pants pocket (my friend tried it and it fit) or a winter jacket pocket – but that’s a major shift in drone technology that’s hard to ignore. Check out the video of the launch event and some fun flying around the Brooklyn BMX track in Williamsburg:

Until now, you had to dedicate a bag, backpack or your carryon to JUST a drone and accessories.    That has forever changed.

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I had the chance to play with an early prototype Mavic and what I can tell you that struck me the most about this drone was not just it’s bevy of features – but it was the fact that I had it with me ALL the time and that was a first for me!

Many of you know I keep my iPadPro and MacBook in a Tenba bag with me at all times, with 2 Think tank accessory pouches … that’s how I move around and travel the world.   I usually have on slot open in that bag for my Leica M9 or a Canon 5Ds … and then it’s full but not too heavy.

I can now decide to throw the Mavic in there in one of the 3 slots I have in the front of the bag, w/ 3 extra batteries and a charger and I’m off to the races.  And that’s AMAZING.

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I see myself traveling with this little drone all around the world – both for professional uses (notably to scout let alone capture footage – although I’m likely to use the Inspire or other systems for high end use of course) and also with family.

I’ll predict that this will be THE stocking stuffer for all geeks and drone enthusiasts out there this holiday season.

Many of you have seen GoPro’s recent announcement of the Karma drone.   It’s definitely a wonderful drone and I’m sure will find a nice home within that GoPro ecosystem for many.    My reaction was that it felt 1 if not 2 years late to the party given it’s size (it takes up a full size backpack of its own) and also the lack of features relative to DJI.

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What differentiates the Mavic from all other drones is the sophisticated technology jammed into a small body.  In fact this is the single most stable drone they’ve ever produced with the exception of their high end drone… think about that for a second!

The obstacle avoidance WORKS!  (But it you put it in the zippy SPORT mode where the little guy flies at 40 MPH it won’t … so careful!  They’ve turned if off so that you can fly this little devil as fast as possible…)

I’ve tried to crash it into trees – and it stopped.   It’s impressive.

It takes a video of the ground from which it takes off – so it can precisely land exactly where it took from if you lose a signal, or if you use the automated landing position.  Within inches.  Also: if you try to auto-land on uneven ground, it stops the landing and allows you to land it manually automatically.

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Even takeoff is easy – you have it take off automatically with the push of a button and it hovers in place waiting for further input from you.    Everyone will tell you that takeoffs and landings are the most stressful parts of flying drones (and most things!)   Basically, if anything goes wrong, just let go of the remote and it will stay in place – more precisely than any other drone I’ve used.    And it’s quite impressive even indoors w/o GPS … something I would never try myself, but that DJI confidently did on their demos today in a packed house… speaks to the trust they put into their system.

Then there’s a bunch of features that you can look into – but the most important ones to me are the tracking features.

With the use of an iPhone/Smartphone (you can fly this drone w/ JUST a smartphone and the drone’s WIFI link, or with JUST their video-game controller type remote, or with the phone + remote!)  you can easily track people on the ground w/ “Active tracking” and get amazing results.

You point to the person on the the iPhone screen w/ your finger… it locks on … and you can let the chopper automatically follow, fly behind, do loops around, or lateral moves (slides) … it’s PRETTY INCREDIBLE.   And they’ve got a fancy more dynamic mode as well.   The little guy also has terrain avoidance modes and is just fantastic in terms of giving you as safe of a flight as you can expect (and yes it’s aware of airports and no fly areas etc…)

Frankly if someone told me this was a military drone that fell out of the sky that we were’t supposed to see for the next 5 years – I’d very honestly have to wonder if they were pulling my leg or not, given how packed with features it is, and how easily it tracks cars / people / pets … a little freaky to be perfectly honest.   It will even avoid obstacles actively when it follows a subject… talk about “fire and forget…”   EEEEK!

But you can also of course take over at any time and fly your heart out!

Last week I locked the Mavic’s camera onto my son and daughter in a large (empty) soccer field after a game had ended.    And I performed complex camera moves around them – with the camera staying locked onto them the entire time.   I was sold immediately.  It never lost them once.    While this (and no system) is perfect of course, the tracking functions are quite impressive relative to anything I’ve seen.   Most importantly – for the first time in flying a drone, I was able to concentrate 100% on the flying of the drone above my kids heads (and never seeing the drone dip down or lose altitude which is obviously important!!!)  and the iPhone app did the rest …  and that’s SUPER impressive.   It’s going to put the focus back on the safe FLYING of the drone, as opposed to trying to mix flying and filming together (which should NEVER be done – you should always have two independent people doing this.)  That being said – with the Mavic, you can let the computer frame your shot as you do the one thing you should be doing:  making sure you’re flying safely.

Of course  the Mavic has some other tricks up it’s sleeve … if you wave at it, it will lock onto you and track you (a little creepy to be honest) but you’ll get confirmation with blinking red lights that’s it’s following you (and you won’t be able to ignore that it is.)  For the Selfie generation you can make a frame with you hands in front of your face and it will take a photograph seconds later after the same red lights flash rapidly…  impressive.   It’s like having a little pet that follows and films you in many ways…

Overall this is the most impressive and portable drone that I see the everyday person being able to use safely around the world (and much more safely than other drones given the numerous hardware and software safety features.)

Beside being durable (the unit I was given had visible crash marks from previous users) its just plain transportable, almost an afterthought!   And the little bubble you see in front of the lens is removable btw … it’s just meant for transport!   Blades can be easily swayed out to and fold easily in your bag.

Speaking of the camera / gimbal.   Just as impressive.   Sharp as heck at 4K and it shoots both video and RAW DNG stills.  Amazing.   It’s a 28mm equivalent (as opposed to a 20 mm equivalent in the Phantom series) and pretty darn perfect for aerial shots.   It also does much better than I would have thought in low light.  (I had an early model so I won’t make any definitive quality statements until I get a production unit other than to say:  I was amazed by the image quality and was impressed with the low light performance as I filmed my kids well after sunset albeit with stadium lighting.)

OK – that’s it!  Here’s a mored detailed list of specs…

The only thing missing?    Well given how popular these will be, and how popular the Mavic will continue to make drones in general…  DJI and others are missing one feature:   being aware of other drones and avoiding air-to-air drone crashes…  I’m serious.  It will become a necessary feature I think at some point for drone parks etc…

Oh and ONE MORE THING!     The headset!    I haven’t been able to use it in flight yet – but man … talk about living your Top Gun dreams with two of these and flying these first person… that’s going to be AMAZING.   The headsets are sharp and work w/ HDMI input from ANY source … again: Impressive!   That’s definitely going to happen in my near future with friends… talk about a whole new way to drone w/ friends.

A lot of people are gonna have a LOT of fun with these… so please:  Drone responsibly.    Be mindful of others and consider getting your Part 107 certificate from the FAA so you’re aware of the rules of the sky:  it can’t possibly hurt you to do so.

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