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Archive for January, 2011

lock_it_buddy_dslr_boxI can’t decide if this is patently absurd or uber cool…perhaps a little bit of both.

Lockit Buddy is a $130 box that hooks up to your DSLR video camera and embeds a standard timecode signal within one of the camera audio channels, so you can sync multiple camera shoots with ease. Here’s a quick explanation:

Lockit Buddy sends your reference audio track to channel 1 (L) and the time code to channel 2 (R).

This is conform to channel arrangements needed to ingest material with LTC recorded as audio with Avid* editing systems. For editing in Final Cut Pro* we recommend processing the video files using FCPauxTC by VideoToolshed* to extract your time code and turn it into an Auxiliary TC track.

Such are the annoying hoops professionals will jump through to enable the use of DSLRs in pro applications…but this certainly looks like a very cool tool for the right application.

cinemon-mp4-logoNoticed this on the Sony website today, Cinemon is a $100 plugin for FCP that enables direct playback and editing of XDCAM .mp4 files within FCP.

From how I understand it, this Cinemon plugin would avoid the hassle of the XDCAM Log & Transfer Quicktime transcode & re-wrapping process, and you could then edit XDCAM footage directly from the cards if necessary (thinking News or almost-live applications). Probably not a workflow that most users will embrace, but I can certainly see applications for it. Check out the feature list below, and a video demo here. There’s also a 60-day free trial via the link above.

Native Playback of XDCAM EX profiles in Apple Final Cut Pro
Ability to playback XDCAM EX files directly from SxS cards
Ability to playback XDCAM EX files in QuickTime (still requires FCP to be installed on machine)
Drag and Drop or File Import of XDCAM EX files directly to Final Cut Pro
Support for Quicklook viewing of XDCAM EX files in finder
Render output for MOV using Final Cut Pro render engine
MXF rendering using XDCAM Transfer tool

Supported Formats:
Version V1.2 of the cinémon®.mp4 plugin for Final Cut Pro allows native editing of the following formats in Final Cut Pro sequences*:
– XDCAM EX (MP4) 35 Mbps 60i/50i/23.98p/25p/29.97p
– XDCAM EX (MP4) 25 Mbps 60i/50i/23.98p
– Files exported via XDCAM Transfer Tool (MP4)

DSLR News Shooter has the news that Danfung Dennis was awarded at Sundance for his documentary film “To Hell and Back.”

“Huge congratulations to photojournalist turned filmmaker Danfung Dennis for winning the top prize in the Documentary Filmmaking category of the Sundance festival awards. He also scooped the World Cinema Cinematography Award for Documentary Filmmaking. His film “Hell and Back Again” was shot on the 5DmkII and follows the story of a Marine fighting in the Afghan war and his subsequent rehabilitation.”

Head on over to that DSLR News Shooter post to view a short clip from the film. I think you will agree that the footage is terrifying and incredibly well done. What Danfung has created in incredibly dangerous and challenging situations with a very imperfect tech (DSLR video) is nothing short of astounding. Bravo sir, you’ve earned it.

Cinescopophilia has a post up with videos of Letus Talon support gear, as well as shots of the Hawk viewfinder. A beautiful look at this new camera support gear. Check it out.

Here’s a short blog review of the Manfrotto 521PFI, which allows you to control the lens motor and iris on certain lenses attached to the AF100 or AF101. In this case, the reviewer is using an Olympus zoom lens. It’s my understanding that you cannot use this Manfrotto accessory with Canon lenses…Birger is coming out with an adapter for that. Interesting stuff.

(via @VisionWrangler)

You can purchase the Manfrotto 521PFI at B&H for $270, purchases made via that link help support FreshDV at no additional cost to you.

okii_usb_ff_w_dslrVia Paul Schneider on Twitter, I ran across this USB follow focus system that plugs into a Canon DSLR mini-USB plug and drives the Canon lens motor. The company, okii, has just officially released this unit and it’s priced at $400.

Reportedly the follow focus unit can drive the lens USM motor in LiveView and while recording video, save and recall focus points, toggle record start/stop as well as autofocus engage (only works when not recording), and digital zoom (only works when not recording). All in all, a pretty extensive feature set. There are caveats to be aware of…apparently Canon’s USB implementation is limiting. I’d recommend you read the User Guide (PDF link) for some of the limitations of this unit.

Caveat emptor, of course…I haven’t seen any reviews yet on this system and have yet to use one personally. But if this delivers what is promised…well damn. That’s a pretty sweet FF system for a DSLR shooter. In my opinion, the price is just about right for what it does…any more and I’d just say “get a real Follow Focus system that works with all cameras/lenses.” But at $400, for the pure DSLR shooter who doesn’t often shoot on other cameras or non-Canon lenses…very tantalizing. I’d love to hear from any FreshDV readers who may have used this system on a DSLR.

Q: What is the difference between a DP & God?
A: God doesn’t think he’s a DP

Here are 10 Camera Department Crew Jokes and links to other film nerd funnies (like the always hilarious Subtleties of the Slate video, embedded below).

Re-marking Red Pro Primes

A while back, Matthew Duclos posted a short article on a service Duclos is offering…adding intermediate focus marks to Red Pro Prime lenses. Apparently Red left out “a few key marks” and Duclos is offering an option to permanently engrave those missing in-between-marks on the barrel of the lens. Check it out Matthew’s post here.

Duclos also has another post up now that outlines some of his recommendations for lenses on the Sony PMW-F3. Good info from a man well-versed in glass.

Sony NXCAM 35mm on the horizon?

Notes on Video has some info on a previously announced “NXCAM 35mm” video camera body from Sony that will reportedly be released in 2011, and list-priced around $6000…making it a lower-cost alternative to the PMW-F3. Sony has stated that this camera features a Super 35mm-sized sensor, so users have specifically asked Sony if this NXCAM features the same CMOS sensor as the F3: “At the moment, the official line is that they can’t confirm that it’s the same sensor.” This body will feature the E-mount lens mount, which adapts out to Sony Alpha lenses with a simple ring adapter. Looks like a very interesting solution to keep an eye on in 2011. Peep the link above for more info.

Update: Crews.TV also has a writeup on the NXCAM 35. Check it out here.

litepanels_1x1_flood_onsetA couple weeks ago I was working on-location in Washington DC, shooting for a feature-length documentary film. The task was pretty straightforward…we were there to shoot a number of talking head interviews. We ran into some interesting shooting situations, and I wanted to talk about how we worked through the challenges. I’ve got a handful of behind the scenes photos taken with an iPhone, as well as a short video walkthrough of a lighting setup. So here goes…

Since the film subject matter required a significant amount of international footage from potentially dangerous and insecure locations (like Baghdad), it was initially decided that the 5D MKII and 7D DSLRs would be used as primary sources. DSLRs are light and covert (you potentially look like a tourist or stills photographer), but they still deliver a filmic image. Naturally it made sense to also shoot these Washington DC talking head interviews on DSLRs, so that all the footage would match.

dc_bts1I rented two 5D MKII DSLR for the interview shoots, and the director lined up a sound man with a Sound Devices multi-track recorder unit. As the DP I secured a small lighting package from Washington Source. The interviews we had lined up had the potential to reschedule or change locations on short notice, and our crew was a small one. So I selected a basic tungsten ARRI Softbank kit that would cover all the basic fixtures required for standard 3-point interview lighting. This particular Softbank kit had an 1K open face w/ Chimera (for soft key), as well as 650w, 350w, and 2x 150w fresnels. So we had plenty of fixtures for key, rim, fill, and background effects. Nice thing about the ARRI kit is that it includes lightweight stands and all the fixtures in a 80lb rolling case. Very handy when you are bouncing around up and down elevators to find your shoot location. This ARRI kit is also a very affordable rental item, and this was helpful as budget was a concern on this shoot.

As “insurance,” I also rented a very basic Litepanels LED kit. I chose two Litepanel 1×1 daylight balanced sources…a spot and a flood. These are 12″ square dimmable LED fixtures that draw very little power and can also be powered by Anton Bauer bricks if you anticipate being without electricity sources. In our case, we decided that the AB bricks wouldn’t be necessary. I really just wanted the Litepanels in case we were put in a situation where we had to move very quickly with a small kit, had issues with getting enough power, or had to deal with a lot of daylight/windows at any of our locations. I personally dislike gelling tungsten lights to daylight 5600k because it kills their output and it melts my gels. Damn hot lights. The Litepanels are already daylight-balanced, and the flood fixture features a relatively soft output if you can position it close to your subject (remember, the size of the light source relative to subject dictates softness). So like I said, we got the Litepanels as a bit of insurance. They added some cost, but as you read on you’ll see that this turned out to be a good decision…

dc_bts2On the first shoot day, we had an interview lined up with a member of Congress. We were told that we would have about 45-60min for setup, and then about 30min with the Congressman for the actual interview. We had zero knowledge of the location in advance, and weren’t able to get any info on it or location scout it.

Parking was not anywhere near the shoot location, so we would have to lug everything by hand inside. So when we arrived at the location, we sent in a runner to check it out. He reported back that there was a large window and not much else in the room. Since our setup time was limited and we would probably have to deal with the window…we made the decision on the spot to go with the lighter package, the Litepanels kit. Grabbed the two cases and a handful of C-stands, and off we went.

Arriving at the location, we discovered that this was a narrow conference room with bare grey walls, no decorations of any kind, and a tall window with red fabric blinds. The sun was high in the sky, and there were no direct cuts of light through the window, just relatively diffuse daylight spilling through the window. Given that there wasn’t much to work with, visually speaking, it was decided to integrate the window and window shades into the shot. We also found an American flag in the corner and used that as a background element.

dc_bts4We positioned the subject’s chair to where the window light would rim his shoulders and head, mainly from the back left side, and provide just a little ambient on his face camera left. We positioned the Litepanels 1×1 flood as a key light on the window side (camera left), framing our shot so that the window was in the frame. This provided a nice natural motivation for the key light.

Even though the window is behind our subject, the key light appears more natural coming from the window side, and it “sells” better. I used a black “jonny on the spot” bedsheet that I keep in my kit, to cut down on some of the window light and limit daylight spill, flagging the window light down and controlling the rim it cast on our subject. We then positioned a white bounce board off the subject’s cheek, camera right, to provide fill light. At this point we have three-point lit our subject with just one powered light source and the window. With the second Litepanels Spot fixture, we highlighted the flag in the background and a bit of the wall behind our subject. Presto, lighting setup finished with time to spare.

dc_bts6Another challenge at this location was the ambient sound from the air-conditioning vent. The fan could not be controlled for this room, and it appeared the building had a constant positive-pressure system that our mics were picking up as a low rumble. Our sound guy came up with an innovative solution that cut a good 90% of the noise…he draped a wool jacket over a flag and used a C-stand to mash the flag and jacket against the vent. This cut the low rumble significantly and saved the audio. Gotta love ingenuity on the fly.

We pulled this lighting setup together within about 40 minutes of arriving on-site, including building two cameras and setting up and testing audio. When the Congressman arrived 15 minutes later, we were rolling as soon as he sat down in the chair. Because our setup time was quick and lightweight, it allowed us to devote the full block of time we had with the Congressman to interviewing, and not fumbling around with setup.

Of course I would have preferred to control the ambient light better, work with more fixtures for better control, etc etc. The list of “if only’s” goes on forever. But I was really pleased with the quality of image we pulled together in a limited amount of time and resources. The lighting served the task at hand, and we got the interview content that we needed for the film. That’s ultimately what matters. Here’s a finished frame from our tight shot.


Later in the week we shot another interview where there was a lot of daylight ambient, and given the limited space in the location, we decided to go ahead with the Litepanels solution again. In this case there was so much ambient we really only needed to use them to bring up the subject key a little, and provide a stronger hair light and shoulder rim.

For this setup, our subject was a middle-aged woman, so I chose to bring the key light (a Litepanels 1×1 Flood) very close to the subject and rather frontal. Bringing the key closer to subject made it softer (size of light relative to subject), and positioning it frontal flattened out shadows, making it more flattering to skin. It’s a less interesting lighting configuration, but kinder to your subject’s skin. It also worked well in the context of our relatively-bright ambient environment. I would have preferred to move the key to the window side so as to motivate the light better, but space and eye-line/background restrictions limited our setup options. Here’s a finished frame from the tight shot.


Watch the following two-minute video for a quick walkthrough of this lighting setup:


So there you have it. The small Litepanels kit was very helpful on this shoot, and in addition to the ARRI tungsten kit we used on most of the other interviews, these daylight-balanced LED fixtures allowed us to move quickly and work with limited space. For good measure, here’s a finished frame from a more-controlled interview that was lit with the tungsten kit, and with a lot more setup time.


As a quick side note on gear and tech: all of our interviews were shot on Canon 5D MKII DSLRs, using 50mm and 100mm lenses. We slated each shot, but Pluraleyes will be used in post to automatically sync the audio tracks with video. I cannot recommend Pluraleyes highly enough…it is literally magic for those who shoot sync sound. Finally, the 5D’s were generally rated at around 400-640 ISO, and we shot each lens at least at f/5.6 so as to hold both eyes and ears sharp on our talking head talent.

I hope this short case-study was helpful to you in some way. Please Tweet it or email to a friend if you learned something. Thanks, and happy shooting!

Teradek streaming HD from RC Heli camera rig

Teradek released a really cool video the other day, showing how you can use a Cube transmitter to stream video from an RC helicopter rig outfitted with a DSLR. I’ve worked on a shoot where we had an RC heli with a 7D, and they were using a cheap wireless system for monitoring that was pretty rough quality. It looks like the Cube works beautifully though. Watch below.

Objections to AF100 sensor size

In the past couple weeks I’ve had a number of conversations with people considering buying/renting/stealing the new Panasonic AF100, and it seems that inevitably the conversation always turns to the size of the camera’s sensor. There seems to be a common thread that people think the sensor is objectionably small, creating a focal length crop-factor that concerns them. I think this issue has been overstated, and here is why.

sony-pmw-f3-mounts1Abel Cine has a blog post up with info on available lens mounts for the new Sony PMW-F3 Super35 camera.

“The new Sony PMW-F3 camera, due out next month, will ship with a PL mount lens adapter, which means it will work with any PL mount lens. This adapter attaches to the camera’s F3 mount, which has a very short flange depth. This short flange depth means that a huge variety of lenses can be used with the camera, using only simple mechanical adapters. Here is a quick outline of all the lens options for the Sony F3 including PL, Nikon, Canon and Sony’s special F3 lenses.”

Read more here.

Cool single-take advert

So a few years back I apparently missed this fabulous one-take ad for Johnnie Walker. Entitled “The Man Who Walked Around The World,” a one-take (or appears to be one-take) shot that must have required incredible pre-production work to get the timing down just right. Excellent performance as well by Robert Carlyle.

This is a good one, so if you haven’t seen it yet, watch below. Love to know who steadicam op’d that project.

New Rode VideoMic Pro

I’ve got a $150 Rode VideoMic, have used it for years on various camcorders and DSLRs. I often use it on a DSLR even if I intend to replace the audio with a synced source later, just to deliver superior scratch audio and in case I need to use snippets in a pinch. So I was excited to see that Philip Bloom posted about a new Rode VideoMic model, the VideoMic Pro. Looks pretty sweet, and Phil appears to be a fan. He’s also giving away a handful of them. Check it out.

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