Archive for May, 2010

shane_bts_3minvietnamseqIf you aren’t following Shane Hurlbut’s blog, you should be. He’s been steadily releasing fantastic filmmaking tutorials and tips, and the latest Hurlblog post is no exception. In this one, Shane first breaks down the complex six-shot Terminator Salvation helicopter crash sequence that plays out as a single take. He reveals lighting, rigging and blocking setups, and even provides the finished movie clip as a MOV so you can follow along. Like I said, an education.

As if that wasn’t enough, the follow-up to this is a 9-minute narrated video breakdown of “The Last 3 Minutes” Vietnam sequence (shot on Canon 5D MarkII), where Shane talks through the technical and creative process that went into this segment of the short. An education. Go read and watch. Fantastic stuff.

On a similar note, FreshDV recently interviewed Shane and his collaborators at Bandito Brothers about the technical and creative challenges of their forthcoming “Act of Valor” Navy Seals feature film shot mainly on Canon DSLRs. You can watch that here.

The Canon 5D MKII is now $2399 with B&H instant savings discount. Purchases via that link help support FreshDV.

bruce_rotary_attachmentThe DV Show recently posted about 14 free apps and utilities for Final Cut Pro, and they have some good ones on that list.

Scott Simmons has also put together a fantastic list of 14 apps, plugins and utilities for FCP editors as well. His list is apps that cost $, and not surprisingly I find most of them more useful than the free list from DV Show. You get what you pay for, it seems. Many of the tools I use all the time, like Nattress BBOT and Digital Heaven’s Loader. Check them out.

Frank Jonen has written an Open Letter to Adobe, in response to their passive-aggressive advert buy calling out Apple for not embracing openness (but really, Flash). Here’s a few telling snippets.

“I was an active Flash designer / developer starting in art school from 2001 to well into 2005 before I realized the damage my work is doing to clients. This was when SEO practices started to really become legit. I realized two things back then. Search engines are important, it’s how people find you and find you again. And second I realized I can’t justify a client’s site to be at the mercy of a single software company’s plug-in. It really is a ridiculous idea come to think of it. A company never truly owns their site. There is always something extra needed in addition to a browser.”

“Maybe if you focused more on evolution instead of hanging on to past investments your stock value might actually recover. Betting the house on Flash brought nothing but harm on Adobe’s value, it’s time to let old traits go, and maybe the people who came with it as well.”

Good stuff from a web developer’s point of view. And on a less serious note, here’s one blogger’s answer to the Adobe ad.

Here’s a great tutorial on encoding 1280×720 HD video for the iPad using Apple Compressor, it even has ready-made droplets for your downloading pleasure.

Canon sells 40,000,000 SLR Cameras

canon_d30_gutsCanon recently celebrated shipment of a major milestone; 40-million SLR cameras sold since 1987. 20 million of those were since 2003, and in the last two years and four months they’ve shipped 10 million cameras. That is a staggering number of units.

Given that the first video-equipped DSLR didn’t ship until about 16 months ago, I wonder how many of those were for video use? This bit of news gives a little perspective on the real size of their market, and Canon’s ability to deliver quality product on a large scale.

cinevate_eos_lens_mountI was looking for recommendations recently on Nikon lens to Canon EOS mount adapters, so I sent out a call for help on Twitter. I got a lot of feedback, but the responses were varied, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to determine a real consensus. So I started digging a little deeper, to see what options were out there. There’s quite a few people offering adapters, and they range in price from $10 to nearly $300. They are all optics-free, metal adapter rings. What could possibly account for this price disparity? It turns out there are several good reasons.

One of the higher-end models offers the ability to control aperture on Nikon G lenses, which have no manual aperture ring. So clearly that one is going to carry a premium. For the others, the general consensus is to stick to certain midrange affordable brand names. For instance, in a comparison test Cameratown found no functional difference between a $30 Fotodiox and a $250 Novoflex. That being said, feedback on these cheaper adapters varies wildly. It also turns out that “functional difference” means different things to different users. Some people don’t seem to care if their lens can no longer focus to infinity (a common issue with cheaper adapter rings).

The word on the street about the no-name eBay adapter rings is that some are ill-fitting, there may be some slip when you twist the lens after mounting. That could be annoying (or shot-ruining) when pulling focus for video. In the case of brass adapters, apparently they have the potential to bend under heavy use (using big telephoto lens for instance) and you run the risk that it won’t detach from your lens. Another issue that some have noted with cheap adapters is that they are not always made to proper tolerances and if so, lenses cannot focus to infinity. Or perhaps you’ll hit infinity before you are supposed to on the lens…the lens distance marks don’t match reality. Tolerances are important…this is a lens after all. And if the lens is not parallel to the sensor, you could find that your adapter messes with lens sharpness. Generally in the corners.

Bottom line? There is no easy answer on the cheap, no-name adapters. Some work, some don’t. Caveat emptor, and if it breaks your lens you get to keep both pieces. Here’s a list of all the recommendations I’ve been offered, el-cheapo & name-brand, ordered by price with commentary.

Misc No-Name Nikon to Canon adapters – $10-$50-ish. I’ve noted good feedback on various forums about the adapters that eBay seller kawaphoto offers. Feedback via Twitter and on various forums is generally that Kawa adapters fit tight and are well-machined, but the locking pin may not fare well with repeated use. Most users seem to be buying multiple Kawa’s so they can leave them on the lens.

Cinevate Nikon to Canon EOS adapter – $30. Has some custom machining to solve an issue with the Zeiss ZF lenses that have a hard infinity focus stop. Does that mean they fixed poor machining tolerances on an existing adapter design? If out of stock at B&H, you can order directly from Cinevate for $40.

Adorama Nikon to Canon EOS adapter (supposedly a Fotodiox-produced adapter) – $45. This one seems relatively popular in forum discussions, with some users swearing by it and some swearing at it. At this price, this is likely the Fotodiox Consumer model (see note below).

Bower NF-CE Nikon to Canon EOS adapter – $55. Nobody seems to be talking about this one.

Fotodiox Pro Nikon to Canon EOS adapter – $80. This is the Pro (black) model, anecdotally said to be built in a pro machine shop with tighter tolerances. Apparently the Consumer (silver) model is machined from cheaper metal in an “ordinary” machine shop manned by unwashed heathens.

Haoda Nikon AI to Canon EOS – $170 (on sale till 5/18/10 for $79). Has electronics to support autofocus confirmation and limited metering modes.

Cameraquest adapters for just about any mount, including Nikon to Canon, for $180. Their website should bring back memories of 1996 web design and the BLINK tag, so enjoy the eye-bleeding stroll down memory lane. Generally the feedback on this adapter is overwhelmingly positive, unless discussing the price.

Novoflex Nikon to Canon EOS adapter – $271. Seems to be respected from a quality standpoint. Other adapter options via their adapter finder here.

16:9 Nikon G to Canon adapter – $236. This Nikon G to EF adapter (produced by Novoflex) that has electronics options (focus confirm, metering, etc) and a lever that can operate the aperture on Nikon G lenses (which have no manual aperture ring). It is my understanding that this is the only adapter option for Nikon G-lenses.

If you use one of these brands and have some opinions, please let us know with a comment below. And let me know if I’ve missed any adapter brands, I’ll be happy to update this post as new information comes in. Happy shooting!

nikon_autofocus_camera_patentSee that picture over there? Looks like a sketch on a napkin? That’s an illustration in a patent application for a video camera autofocus system in a “lens interchangeable type TV camera.” The patent was filed by Nikon. Yeah, that Nikon.

Back in August of 2009, Nikon Rumors ran a little bit of rumormill supposedly from someone close to Nikon development. They state that the source was “new, anonymous and unconfirmed.” (Here’s your salt shaker. Got a grain or two? Ok, I’ll continue.) The source dropped some tantalizing breadcrumbs about a project they were working on, namely:

“He/she told me that he/she has been working on firmware that only supports video. Namely, his/her area is autofocus through the sensor. He/she told me to think of it as tripod mode in Live View but that it was much more complicated. Apparently speed is important and an area that is out of focus can be selected and the lens be made to jump to focus in that point in one move without hunting.”

“He/she says there’s hardware support for h.264 encoding. He/she also said that there is support from increments of 24 fps and 30 fps (so 24, 48, 72, 96 etc. and 30, 60, 90, etc) but I didn’t ask how high. He/she said there would be no support for still image captures..

“He/she said 1080p, 720p, 480p, and 320p (?) are supported.”

So if the rumor has any factual basis, it sounds like Nikon could be doing one of two things. 1) They have split up their DSLR camera firmware developers into two groups, one for video and one for photo, to work on different featuresets for the same model. 2) They are building a video camera, or video camera components, for themselves or someone else. Option one seems like an inefficient way to develop. Option two seems historically unlikely, given that Nikon is not a video camera company. As such, when this rumor came out I honestly didn’t know what to make of it. But in light of recent news, it’s worth revisiting…

Fast forward to October 2009, and Nikon Rumors dug up a number of new Nikon lens patents. The common thread? All the lenses had an image diameter of 17 mm, which is an uncommon size for Nikon and the market in general. This is what they say: “This format falls between Nikon’s current P & S lineup (~7.7 diagonal) and APS-C” and go on to suggest Nikon is working on an interchangeable lens system for these new lens patents, as opposed to a point and shoot model. They also point to another Nikon patent for a mirrorless camera design.

Finally, just this week Nikon Rumors points to yet another patent application, this one for “autofocus in a video/TV camera with interchangeable lenses.” This one is very interesting to video folks.

“The present invention relates to an autofocus apparatus and a camera that are used for a camera, mainly for a video camera and particularly for a TV camera. The present invention also relates to a lens barrel and a camera that are used chiefly for a lens interchangeable type video camera and particularly for a lens interchangeable type TV camera.”

Take a look at the picture above, it’s clearly a sketch of a video camera form factor. I did notice that it’s labeled “Prior Art.” But they specifically state “TV camera.” Is that patent-speak for “camcorder?” Or would they literally mean a broadcast camera?

So to sum up, we have an unnamed, unsubstantiated possible anecdotal report of video-specific firmware and autofocus development, we have a possible new lens format for an interchangeable lens camera (not necessarily related), and we have a patent app for a video camera autofocus (which could be Nikon developing something for another company). It smells like wild rumor, but what if…

I wonder…could Nikon be the second mouse that gets the cheese? That would be a very interesting development.

iadapt_20_hdmiApogee showed off a pair of Display Port to HDMI converters at NAB, both under $65. DVinfo’s got the scoop.

“The iAdapt 5.1 takes video from the Apple’s mini-display port and gets 5.1 channel surround audio using Toslink coming from the audio mini-jack. Both signals are then sent out over a single HDMI cable to any HDMI capable monitor. The iAdapt 2.0 has the same video capability, but only takes 2 channel analog audio from the Apple’s mini-jack USB.”

The $65 iAdapt 5.1 requires a DisplayPort, USB, and Mini-TOSLINK connection. It then merges all those signals into a single HDMI signal for simple connection to your display of choice (as HDMI can carry audio). Power is provided by the USB connection. The $50 iAdapt 2.0 plugs into your DisplayPort and USB. Analog stereo audio is streamed over the USB connection and the A/V signals are merged into HDMI. Looks like a handy A/V connection option, and you can’t complain about the price point!

sony-ex3d-nab-rm-engPanasonic showed off a side-by-side 3D camcorder model at NAB, and now it looks like Sony’s joining the action with a model based on the EX3. It’s reportedly the internals of two EX3s in a single body, which means each lens has it’s own sensor array. This elicits a general “meh” response from me as I’m still on the fence about 3D’s viability as a creative tool long term, but the one thing cool about this model is it’s very narrow interaxial distance (1.5″ is the rumor).

In simple terms, getting the lenses close enough together to mimic the interocular distance of human eyes is a challenge, and one reason why there are such things as beam-splitter rigs. A narrow interaxial distance (sometimes also called interocular distance) means you can shoot objects closer to the camera without resorting to a beam-splitter rig. I’m not a stereographer, so I don’t know how close this Sony model would theoretically allow you to shoot. It’s my limited understanding that a 2.5″ interaxial allows you to shoot as close as 6-8ft from the lens, so my guess is that 1.5 would probably get you within a couple feet of the lens. Any professional stereographers out there care to chime in?

mousetion_impossibleWho will Get The Cheese? It’s an odd question, and I’ll offer an explanation in just a moment. First, some history…

In the last year and a half, our industry has seen an amazing revolution. Many videographers, filmmakers, and indies have pushed aside their technically superior, properly-designed HD camcorders for a deeply flawed, imperfect tool: the DSLR that shoots video. They have done this for many good reasons, but there is no questioning that DSLRs were not designed to shoot video.

We DSLR video shooters love that these imperfect tools give us amazing things we’ve never had access to in this price range; massive, production-quality image sensors that can practically see in the dark and offer filmic depth-of-field and incredible dynamic range; a seemingly endless array of high-quality interchangeable lens options; solid-state recording on affordable, industry-standard media; and finally a tiny form factor that enables us to do things and shoot places we’ve never shot before.

We put up with all the flaws, the aliasing, the highly-compressed acquisition codec, short record times, the non-standard form-factor, all these negatives we put up with, because the positives are so compelling. Does that mean these are perfect cameras? Not by a long shot. It means they are Good Enough that we’ll deal with all the crap that comes with it. To be fair, many users won’t deal with it…there are lots of applications where DSLRs simply don’t work. But the whole time that so many users have embraced this flawed tech which offers us so much, we’ve been wondering when someone will finally get it right and put all this tech into a proper camcorder body with proper professional camera features. Who will be the first to recognize that this is what users want?

This is not to say that the camcorder market has not already been shifting…it has. Just a few years ago, it was standard practice to deliver new solid-state cameras with a proprietary media solution. Panasonic’s P2 media and Sony’s SxS are very expensive formats. Unnecessarily expensive…as we all learned, when E-Films released a SxS adapter dubbed MxR that accepted standard el-cheapo SDHC media. Now it’s hard to find a Sony EX1 or EX3 shooter who doesn’t have these cheap SD card adapters and uses them regularly. As a result, now cameras are coming to market with CF card and SDHC media. This year Canon announced a pro-level camcorder that offers a 50 Mbit MPEG2 recording format that can be edited directly off the card without re-wrapping on ingest. It’s an incremental step, but a solid one. Manufacturers have realized that the market is shifting, and if they don’t start delivering what consumers demand, they will be left behind.

panasonic_ag_af100_mockupThe next revolution (that is happening right now) is affordable interchangeable lenses. Not a handful of expensive HD lens options that you can swap on your XLH1, I’m talking a veritable shit-ton of lens options that are affordable and you can buy almost anywhere. A mount that can be adapted to handle myriad existing and new lens options. Users want choice, and they want those options to be high-quality…and manufacturers are responding. And hot on the tail of the DSLR video explosion (HDSLR or VDSLR as they are sometimes called) manufacturers are slowly responding with options. This year at NAB, Panasonic announced an interchangeable micro 4/3 mount camcorder. The AG-AF100 is a proper camcorder, with proper camcorder functions. There is a growing market for micro 4/3 mount glass, but with cheap adapter rings this camera will accept existing Nikon, Canon, PL glass, you name it. Finally, choice! They nailed it on the lens end of things, but they fell way short with their codec; AVCHD. It’s usable yes. It will do amazing things, yes. But it’s just a step short of what users want. Still, we are making progress. So bravo, Panasonic!

sony_aps_hd_camcorder1Just today Sony announced that they too are working on an interchangeable lens camcorder line. It starts with the NEX-3 and NEX-5 models, in a small DSLR form factor with interchangeable lenses. Those cameras are coming soon. They are basing it on something called an “E-mount” that can be adapted to their Alpha lens line. It is my understanding that Sony Alpha DSLRs can also be adapted to popular existing options like Nikon and others, so it follows that there is some way to use other lenses on this camcorder line. This of course continues the trend of user options. Sony also showed a preview of small, handheld, consumer-level camcorders that accept interchangeable lenses. These supposedly have autofocus capability via the new E-mount. And based on how Sony tends to operate, that likely means the AVCHD codec (to be clear, this is my speculation, but I think it’s a good guess that will likely hold to be true). They appear to be delivering a solid sensor, and the lens mount looks good (particularly when adapted to Alpha and others). But damn that AVCHD codec. So once again, very close. Bravo, Sony! Progress, but we aren’t there yet, folks.

sensor_size_cheat_sheetThe next revolution will be the sensor size; we’re going to see better light sensitivity on a larger sensor, and better dynamic range. And it’s going to happen in concert with a shift to more high-quality, less-compressed codecs. The larger sensor revolution has already happened in DSLRs, and we’re probably not going to see a Vistavision-sized sensor like the 5D MKII in any camcorders any time soon. But APS-C sized sensors will begin to make inroads in the “proper-camcorder” market, and as they do we are going to see more and more codec options that offer less and less compression. If RED can ever ship that Scarlet camera they’ve been tantalizing us with for nearly 3 years, I think that will hasten the codec revolution. If it was going to be as affordable as they initially announced, it would put even more pressure on the market…but it appears that RED has decided DSLRs are killing the low-end market for them, and they’ve priced their line somewhere in between DSLRs and RED Epic. To be fair, I think that the RED One has already put some pressure on the market to shift to better codec options, if only by increasing users awareness of codecs and the RAW workflow.

So back to my original point about dairy products. There’s an old saying that goes something like this:

The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

To me, Canon got the worm. They somehow stumbled into this DSLR video thing, gurgling and flailing their arms like a newborn, and then belatedly realized that this was an untapped way to move cameras and lenses. It really was like evolution…somehow, the right combination of RNA combined in the primordial ooze that is their R&D dept, and the 5D MKII emerged. But then they took over and did something very intelligent. They bucked the ivory-tower trend and listened to users, quickly adding manual controls in the firmware update a year ago, and now 24p. Nikon would have had a larger chunk of the proverbial worm if they had made a better codec choice than MJPEG. Still arm-flailing, apparently. There’s still time to change it, but big ships turn slowly and I’m afraid Nikon won’t shift in time. Panasonic’s GH1 is a compelling option, but is ultimately hobbled by a low-bitrate implementation of AVCHD. Whether by design or sheer luck, Canon’s H.264 codec was Good Enough and the revolution took off.

The question is, who will be the second mouse that gets the cheese? Who will be the company that swoops in and captures this market after the clunky, flawed DSLRs have paved the way, proven the tech, and stoked consumer’s fires? Will it be Panasonic, with their AF100? Will it be Sony, with this new E-mount line? It’s all speculation now, but we’ll see this fall when they ship. My feeling is that these two announcements are just the beginning of the real shift in camcorders.

It’s not rocket surgery, folks. We want these four simple things; Sensor, Lens, Codec, and Form Factor. Why is this so much to ask? I realize that these are not trivial requests, but understand that quality options for each already exist seperately in the market. If we could somehow cross-breed cameras, we’d have these tools already.

So who is going to get the cheese? It’s only a feeling right now, call it a gut impulse, but my money is on Sony.

sony_aps_hd_camcorderToday Sony announced that they are developing a new line of interchangeable lens camcorders, for release in the fall of 2010. They will be based on an APS Exmor CMOS sensor and built around a “E-mount” that can also be adapted to Sony’s Alpha lenses. It is my understanding that Sony DSLRs with an A-mount can also be ring-adapted to other lens mounts, like Nikon, M42, etc. Not sure about current Canon glass. Here’s a quick blurb from the press release:

“The new camcorder will be equipped with the same “Exmor” APS HD CMOS sensor to be used in “NEX-5″ and “NEX-3.” In addition, the camcorder will be compatible with “E-mount” interchangeable lenses developed for “NEX-5″ and “NEX-3″, and also the wealth of “A-mount” interchangeable lenses from the existing Alpha DSLR camera lineup via a mount adaptor. By combining these features, Sony aims to market a camcorder capable of generating a variety of creative expressions in full HD quality.”

Now this announcement follows Sony’s PMA hinting a few months ago that they will be adding AVCHD video to certain DSLRs. That was brought to fruition today with the announcement of the NEX-3 and NEX-5 APS cameras with interchangeable E-mount lenses (which are adaptable, as noted above). Clearly they are getting the message that consumers want video options. Some really cool features in those NEX cameras…flip up LCD? Yes please.

Watch Sony’s preview video below:

Musings on Netflix

Jerome Stern has written a nice long blog post with his thoughts on Netflix as a Network, and what that means for the service in the future. If you are a Netflix user, or are just interested in how alternative distribution models are shaking up the status quo, you’ll probably appreciate this post.

“Netflix is a network, and, dammit, it’s time it started behaving like one. Here’s what I want: I want a Netflix channel available through my Instant Queue, dedicated to highlighting the releases I may not have heard about. I want interviews on that channel with filmmakers who have signed distribution deals with Netflix. I want to know some of the upcoming Watch Instantly releases to look out for. I want movie clubs integrated into the Netflix site, working the same way as a book club: you sign up to watch The Hidden Fortress, for instance, and then you chat about it with a hundred other people who are also participating in the club.”

It’s a good post, check it out.

(Jerome also penned a few kind comments about FreshDV’s NAB 2010 coverage in his What I Missed at NAB post. We appreciate the encouraging feedback, thanks Jerome!)

Hand Held Hollywood has a report from NAB on Doddle (iTunes link), a free app for the iPad and iPhone that allows you to quickly and efficiently locate production resources in your current area. It looks like a sweet package, and you certainly can’t complain about the price! They also say there are more features coming, like integrated call sheets and other tools to simplify your job as a producer. Take a look at the video below for all the delicious details.

NAB ’10 – Doddle from Hand Held Hollywood on Vimeo.

Danny Santos has some advice on the subject of “locking” your script.

freshdv_filmmaker_conversations_bandito_facilityFreshDV recently had the chance to meet with a group of Los Angeles-based filmmakers that are at the forefront of the DSLR filmmaking revolution. In collaboration with Bandito Brothers (the creative group behind the amazing doc “Dust to Glory”), seasoned cinematographer Shane Hurlbut has been breaking new ground in DSLR filmmaking for some time now. Bandito is currently in post-production on the Navy Seals feature film that Shane lensed, shot largely on Canon DSLR cameras and due for release in late 2010.

We sat down at Bandito Brothers beautiful Culver City, CA facility to talk about their experience as filmmakers, working with DSLRs, and in particular the work they did on the Navy Seals feature, currently entitled “Act of Valor.”

In these two 20-minute videos, Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, Bandito’s Jacob Rosenberg, and Hesh Rephun of Raging Artists candidly open up about the filmmaking process. It’s a fascinating and informative discussion, and we hope you enjoy it. Watch below.

Conversations with Filmmakers: Shane Hurlbut / Jacob Rosenberg / Hesh Rephun, Part I
Conversations – Bandito / Hurlbut 01

Conversations with Filmmakers: Shane Hurlbut / Jacob Rosenberg / Hesh Rephun, Part II
Conversations – Bandito / Hurlbut 02

If you enjoyed these videos, please tell a friend or give us a shout out on Twitter. You can watch Mouse McCoy’s BMW M3 spec “Living in the Lights” that is referenced in this interview here. There’s a nice behind the scenes article on the production of that video over at Raging Artists. I should also mention that Bandito’s Mike McCarthy maintains a blog on HD editing for the PC at www.hd4pc.com.

You may also be interested in a short film Shane recently shot at Bandito’s facility entitled “The Last 3 Minutes.” They’ve also posted The Making of “The Last 3 Minutes” and The Making of The Janitor Sequence From “The Last 3 Minutes”. Excellent resources for filmmakers!

Conversations with Filmmakers Production Credits: Camera – Daniel Boswell / Editor: Matt Jeppsen
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