10 Random Thoughts

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My flight back to the States was cancelled today so I’ve got a rare bit of time to slow down and think of things. There’s been a lot that I’ve wanted to post on in the past few weeks and I simply haven’t had time – so here goes… consider these a random collection of thoughts that come in no particular order (lots of gear/tech tips towards the bottom of this post:)

1. Too Much High Tech? – I’ve had some pretty interesting discussions over the past few weeks with a variety of people following my post on a recent HDDLSR shoot. My good friend Joe McNally called me flat out “crazy” when he saw the gear we had at the Gulf Photo Expo this past week – which is a pretty fantastic compliment coming from him – given that he too has gone to the top of the Empire State Building (Joe and I are BOTH crazy for the record)  – and has shot images hanging from a helicopter as well.  My type of guy really – someone I’ve looked up to since I was in my teens…   So when he calls you “crazy” – you know you’ve hit the jackpot.   And to be honest:  it is crazy.

Some of you may have seen Robert Rodriguez out with his Franken-Rig out there this past week – needless to say we’re all gravitating towards these cameras because they do something absolutely exceptional.  Nobody would do this otherwise.  I’ve never lost sight of the fact that one of the main strengths of this camera is that it’s light and small.  I love going out with a bare body and shooting video as much as the next person.  BUT – once you start to move towards producing “professional” looking video with these cameras – you’ll find you need good camera support to stabilize this camera that given the size of its sensor and lack of image stabilization – EMPHASIZES every single movement (intended or not.)   So while I too have doubts some time as to whether or not I’ve gone off the deep end… when I see the final results the introspection ends.

That being said – I & this blog have been perhaps a bit too focused on technology to date.  Expect that to change… I’ll keep the gear heads happy – but focus more on other things to – time permitting!

For now please look at a quick video I put together with 13 fantastic students at GPP last week – most of the students were still photographers who had never shot video before – and while I gave them as much guidance as I could in terms of gear and movement – each of these shots had a student operating the camera in a 3-Day shooting workshop (followed by 2 days of editing/grading.)

Nine more thoughts / gear tips / pleas below… i.e. click on “more”

2. Chapter THREE submissions for the “Beyond the Still Video Contest” are due in 9 days!   If you haven’t had a chance to do so – please check out the link above.   We’ve seen some fantastic entries and I can’t wait to see what happens in Chapter 3.   This contest is really getting a lot of attention from pretty interesting people in the industry – it’s definitely worth the time and effort to enter, a lot of influential people are seeing the work.

3. HDMI – Dear Canon: for the LOVE OF GOD please drop this as the standard output port on all future cameras!!!!   In the past two weeks (one week-long workshop and another week-long shoot) we’ve gone through EIGHT dead mini-HDMI to HDMI adapters adapters that rip out of the camera (included in the link above are great cheap adapters…)   The placement of the HDMI port (on the left side of cameras) and the fact that cables come loose from their own weight makes this a terrible way to output video… I’m praying that future cameras will include HD SDI outputs so that the majority of video accessories will work with these cameras.

4. Zeiss Compact Primes – I’ve had a chance to work with these – and yes:  these are absolutely the lenses that any serious HDDSLR user will have to have.   Why?  Three reasons:

a. The 300 degree rotation on the lens barrel makes these lenses worth every single penny.   Not only can a focus puller (or you if you’re alone of course) hit marks dead on – but you can hit 2, 3 or 5 separate marks in a row without a problem – repeatedly.   It’s also significantly easier for a handheld operator to shoot wide open on these primes and nail focus solo –  I can speak to that.   It’s truly night and day.

b. All of these lenses so far are the SAME PHYSICAL SIZE.  So if you want to go from say a 28mm to an 85mm – it takes less than 10 seconds to make the swap.   Not need to change the position (lateral of vertical) of the follow focus wheel… or camera position… or matte box distance.   This makes shooting with these lenses a breeze.

c. The quality of these optics is stunning.    The ability to change aperture / iris while shooting is also a huge plus – not to mention that you can do it with either a motor or by hand in make extremely small corrections (less than 1/3 stops because it’s a fully mechanical rotating ring on the rear of the lens.)   The fact that the lenses have built-in gears for follow focus/FIZ units is yet another plus… I think that’s 5 reasons so let’s move on…

5. I wonder what the consensus is out there about the quality of the 720p 60fps footage from the Canon 1D MKIV is…  I love to shoot at 60 fps for dramatic effect – but I’ve seen a lot of “binning” or jagged edges on my footage  – has anyone out there found a way to take care of this in post?   Do others see this as an issue for them?   Obviously shooting at very shallow depth of field and keeping the camera in constant motion is the answer… but at times it’s unavoidable.  Look carefully at the video linked at the top of the post from the GPP – you’ll see some pretty nasty binning on the power lines and on certain hard lines of the Lamborghini…  to me: binning is the only last remaining “issue” with the Canon HDDSLRs.    Binning – or the way these cameras are interpolating the large image coming off their amazing sensors and downsizing them on the fly to fit an HD frame – is the last remaining issue that I have been unable to fully resolve.  Binning is the Achilles heel of these cameras in my opinion.  Once Canon figures that out… watch out – you’ll be seeing a lot more of Canon HDDSLR footage on the silver screen.

6. Oh – back to the “Beyond The Still” contest: To all of those who are not US Residents – hey: I understand your frustration – I too pleaded to have the “Beyond The Still” contest open to everyone across the world.  But that was not possible for a variety of very valid legal reasons – and that time has passed.  We’re working on an international contest …  so let’s let that issue drop.

Apparently some people are so upset that they can’t enter – that they’ve been creating angry user groups and sending angry e-mails to people.     It’s an interesting way to see what I thought was a genuine attempt to share this excitement with this new breed of HDDSLRs turn in a strange direction.    One person is apparently so irate – he’s been posting very odd remarks on this blog and others… and claiming to be me.   I do have to admit that he trashed a Philip Bloom video and signed my name to it – this is something that I think even Philip would find pretty funny… seriously though:  for Pete’s sake use that energy and go out and shoot something!!!!

7. iPad – I’ve ordered quite a few of them today.   I plan on converting my entire portfolio to the digital format with these – both still & motion.   As many of you know – most art buyers these days pretty much demand that commercial photographers send their portfolios out in a printed book format.    So while I can’t ditch that approach just yet – nothing is stopping me from including an iPad in that book as well to share not only stills, but also the video / multimedia work that I’ve done in the past 2-3 years.   I’ve been waiting to do this for years – waiting for the perfect device – and I think that this will work perfectly – and allow me to send customized portfolios to clients as well for specific jobs.   This is a lot more eco friendly (not to mention easier and cheaper to ship!) current, and dynamic way to show one’s work…  I will of course offer to send “just” the iPad if art buyers are into it – but I doubt that the printed portfolio is done just yet…

8. Litepanels if you haven’t checked them out – do.   I won’t leave home without them.   These are the best lights that I’ve found to travel with – they are light, durable, emit no heat, have incredibly consistent light output (both the bi-color and bi-focus models come in handy for a variety of reasons) and are both AC and battery operated.  Basically they’re a dream to work with and I have yet to go on a shoot without at least 2 packed for any job.   I tend to use 1 bi-focus, 1 bi-color and 1 brick.   The only thing missing:  they work beautifully indoors and are the perfect compliment to the night-shooting abilities of the HDDSLR breed – a match made in heaven really – but they are not powerful enough to fight the sun.   So I use these indoors all of the time, at night, and even on overcast days.   When the sun comes out – you unfortunately need more power (or you can stack a lot of these together of course…)  With the way LED technology is growing – I hope to see this change soon…

9. IDX Camwave – another thing I swear by.   Basically as you may have noticed on my recent HDDSLR shoots – these things are now permanently married to my HDDSLRs in one way or another.

One of the main production hurdles with the Canon HDDSLRs is that only one person can see the image at once – i.e. only the operator using the LCD – or another person watching a monitor that is plugged into the HDDSLR’s HDMI port (because the rear LCD shuts off if anything is plugged into the HDMI port…)   Therefore it’s impossible to have an operator, focus puller, and say a DP or Director watching the camera’s take all at once.  For some things – that’s OK.  But for any real gig where you have actors etc and you need to pay attention to details and performances – it’s impossible to work with these cameras … so my solution:

I use the Black Magic HDMI-SDI converter (powered off an IDX battery plate) to convert the HDMI signal coming out of the camera – and to output it to the IDX Camwave Transmitter. On the other end – I have 2-3 IDX Camwave receivers – some that have a Marshall Electronics 7″ or 6.5″ (bright) SDI monitor attached to it a/ IDX batter (for a completely portable solution) others that are hard wired into 22″ monitors…  this way I can have an operator, 1st AC/Focus Puller, Director, DP all seeing the image live.    For medium to large productions – it’s the only way to go.  Having more than 1-2 people trying to see the rear LCD at once …well it doesn’t work very well… this is also the perfect solution for mounting cameras on cars / jibs/sliders… you name it.

10. I’ve mentioned this before – but it’s on my mind as I’ve been doing tutorials on the 50+ hours of flights that I’ve been on in the past 2 weeks – if you need to learn Apple FCP Suite’s Final Cut Pro software of Color softwarecheck out Ripple Training… this is the best way for me to keep sharpening my editing / grading skills by far – I download the tutorial videos on iTunes and the supporting materials – and the flight just flies by (well… kind of…)


There’s plenty more – but it’s 4 a.m. and I have to catch my flight (if I’m lucky enough to get off of the standby list)  – thanks for helping me fight jet lag and helping me get back on schedule.