Archive for the DSLR Video Category

My take on the skateboard dolly

Posted in DSLR Video with tags , , , on November 3, 2009 by evanbutson

JPG_0591

So, for those of you who don’t live in Melbourne, Australia, we take our sport rather seriously, a little too seriously in fact. so much so that we have a horse race, called the Melbourne Cup, apparently it is so important that we get a holiday to watch it (they call it the race that stops a nation). Well, seeing as the race goes for all of about 2 minutes to run, I figured I needed something to fill the rest of the day. So I decided to put the finishing touches on my skateboard dolly. I’m not going to do a step by step of how I built it, there are plenty of those on the web already. I did however put my own stamp on things based on my experience with using dollys similar to these in the past. The Major design change was I made it entirely out of aluminum. most skateboard dollys I see are made by bolting the wheels onto aluminum brackets and then bolting them onto large pieces of ply. well they are heavy and when using a dolly this is a good thing, but when carrying a dolly around shoots it is a pain in the rear end. To that end I decided to replicate the Wolly Dolly as much as possible, this little dolly is significantly lighter than a normal skateboard dolly, as well as it disassembles for easy transport. After looking at it for a while I decided that making it disassemble would add too much fabrication, more than I really wanted to do, so I went the either route with pre-cut pieces of aluminum and plastic joiners. Another difference, all be it small, was I added three plastic end caps, this is where the tripod feet will sit, the Wlly Dolly has three small holes but I have always had trouble with the tripod spikes jumping out of the holes, I figure the large caps should provide a nice seat for the sticks. And finally I am trying out using aluminum tubing instead of the normal PVC tubing. This is still in the planning stages, but what I want to do is sort of replicate what you get with the support skeleton of a tent, those little rods attached together with a bungy running down the centre,

tent pole assembly

I figure if I can get 4 or 5 pieces of aluminum with a bungy running down the centre I can disassemble them pretty easily but when put together the bungy will hold them together, preventing gaps. I will let you know how I go but in the meantime, here are some photos.

JPG_0590

JPG_0595

JPG_0597

JPG_0598

JPG_0600

JPG_0604

JPG_0605

Nikon D300s Rig – Video Runthrough

Posted in DSLR Video with tags , , , , , , , on October 28, 2009 by evanbutson

So here it is a little video showing my completed rig for my D300s. Please to enjoy.

The D300s Support Rig is finished, finally

Posted in DSLR Video with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2009 by evanbutson

So after many online orders, a few mistakes and one fraudulent use of my credit card by a ner-do-well later my support rig for my Nikon D300s is finished.

I’ve put together a short video running through the new gear and how it is configured. It is rendering as we speak (couldn’t help putting some Magic Bullet on it) I will add it here as soon as it is done but in the meantime.

PAS_3179

And now for the detailed breakdown, some of this will be a slight re-hash of earlier posts but with my perspective on some of the parts I have had for a while now.

The Base: ProAim RAILS system

So I took a punt on these, they were cheap, and by cheap I mean the entire bundle of Rails, quick release plate, Matte Box and Follow Focus, costs a little less than just a single Follow Focus from Redrock or a Matte Box set from Arri etc.

railsBut I have to say I am very happy with them, the rails work a treat, the mount is very stable, and comes with all the extra bits that sometimes you have to order separately, for example, after I got the Hoodman and the Shoulder Mount riser, I discovered that I really wanted to raise my camera a bit from the rails, luckily the ProAim kit comes with a set of shims, and it was a simple matter of undoing a couple of hex screws with the supplied allen keys and adding the desired amount of shims to raise the camera to exactly where I wanted it. The Mate box is pretty good, I’m not in love with the filter holders and will probably at some stage replace it with a Red Rock Mattebox that swings out (making lens changes MUCH easier. But they work and do the trick.

s-mat-13

The follow focus is pretty good, it is by no means perfect, there is no way of adjusting tension as you can with the better ones, although I did find that I could sort of fake tension adjustment by adjusting how tight the gears were mounted to the ring on the lens.

PAS_3185

Interestingly I think the main takeaway here is that normal still camera lenses are just not designed for smooth moving focus changes like film lenses, so no matter how great the follow focus unit you are still hampered by the still camera lenses. The quick release plate that comes with the kit is the same form factor as the Manfrotto 501 plate, of which I have several, so I can take the camera off the rails kit and move it to another tripod without having to change baseplates. All in all I am very happy with the kit, and the best part is as time goes by I can upgrade individual pieces as I desire.

Shoulder Mount:

I knew that this is where I was going to have to spend money, experience has taught me that where the camera meets the body you do not want to scrimp. As such I ordered the Redrock Micro  – Micro Shoulder Mount 35mm upgrade kit which consists of the shoulder piece, the front handle bar with a long and a short bar and two handles.

microSM_v2_35mm_bundle_lg

To that I also added a Micromount which allows you to mount things like an LCD or a small light such as a lightpanel by way of a standard spigot.

microMountAnd finally I ordered a Hoodman Loupe kit for video DSLR’s. I looked long and hard at the Zacuto, but honestly my credit card was starting to fall apart from overuse and at the time they were back-ordered. So I figured I would give the Hoodman a go and then maybe in the future upgrade to the Zacuto. So how is the Hoodman? Well it is a BIG step up from having no eyepiece, it definitely makes focusing easier. The mount system they have come up with, which is effectively two large rubber bands is a bit laughable, I am in the process of hand making a hard mount system that will allow me to slide the Hoodman on and off the camera easily but not move when it is attached, once again Redrock make a after market mount, but honestly $55 for a small piece of pressed aluminum, I think I can handle that myself :)

PAS_3182

It was at this stage that I realized a flaw in my plan, the Hoodman attached and the shoulder mount attached to the rails, I realized that funnily enough mu shoulder is not exactly in line with my eye and so I could either have a really comfortable should mount and have the Hoodman not near my eye, or I could pop my eye on the Hoodman and the should rig was no longer where it needed to be. So out came the scarred and frying credit card again and after a lot of staring at the rig I decided that to offset the shoulder mount I would need two microLink 4 risers with two 4 inch rails. I figured I would need two of these and I though that with effectively the entire weight of the whole rig on one riser, it would end up twisting. I ended up getting two 4 inch graphite rods from Redrock as the price difference with aluminum was marginal. When the parts came however, I first put the system together with both risers but the carbon fiber rods were so stiff I figured I would take a punt and see if a single riser would work. The takeaway story here is, you now where you here people say carbon fiber is REALLY strong, REALLY lightweight and REALLY stiff? They’re not kidding. With the entire rigs weight effectively resting on these two small rods, there is ZERO flexing or movement. I love these carbon fiber rods so much, as soon as I can I will probably upgrade the rails on my system to all carbon fiber, as I now feel VERY confident that they will work perfectly and save a bit of weight as well.

PAS_3190

So basically I now had a rig that I could rest comfortably on my shoulder, focus easily and see what I am shooting even in bright sunlight. The only problem is it was not the lightest kit in the world, and a month of shooting the Olympics with the Panasonic HVX 202 definitely showed me that even what you think is a light camera gets VERY heaving day after day. About the same time a friend who actually owns a 202 had popped in to work with his kit, a while back he had ordered a support kit for his camera from a company in Israel called DV Tec. Basically it is a spring mounted rod and shoulder mount system.

dvrigpro5100k

After playing with it for a while I decided that the whole rig was kind of pointless for me, seeing as the rails and the shoulder mount kit would be duplicated a fair amount. But the spring loaded pole would be a perfect addition, so I ordered just the pole and with the addition of a support belt (which as an added bonus helps when throwing all the Pelican cases around on shoots) and I have a nice little support system that takes the majority of the weight of the camera but doesn’t cut down any of the flexibility. All I had to do to add the pole into the system was I had a small rail mounting block I had ordered from Cinevate, I just mounted a small spring the same size as on my friends rig into the centre hole. this is then mounted on the rails after the Matte Box, the pole then slots into this, providing easier movement as well as being very quick to attach and de-attach if you suddenly don’t want the rig on.

PAS_3200

And that’s about it. My next plan is to mount a battery on a plate from the shoulder mount. This will not only power a small LCD that I have to mount on the microLink, but it will also add a counterbalance to the front heavy nature of the rig and also give me a place to mount a radio mic. That being said, there is always something to alter change or upgrade. But for the meantime I am happy, now for the track dolly I have been meaning to build……….

Nikon D3s is announced – Good news for D300s users?

Posted in DSLR Video with tags on October 14, 2009 by evanbutson

http://www.engadget.com/2009/10/14/nikon-d3s-is-officially-official-bringing-its-iso-extremes-in-l/#continued

How to edit Nikon D300s Videos in Realtime in Premiere Pro CS4

Posted in DSLR Video, Misc, Technology with tags , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2009 by evanbutson

OK, so I have had a few questions from people about how I was able to edit the files straight out of a Nikon D300s in realtime without any conversion. When I first got the D300s I just tried popping the files into my Premiere Pro 4.1 timeline to see what would happen, and lo and behold it worked. As it turns out the story is not that simple, after a bit more testing it seems that a stock install of Premiere Pro 4.1 on Mac or PC wont play the files natively. If however you have a BlackMagic product such as an Intensity or in my case a MultiBridge Pro however, the situation changes.

intensitypro-ban

You see one of the features of the BlackMagic line is you can capture and edit SD and HD video using the MJPEG CODEC, which it appears is quite capable of reading the MJPEG files from the Nikon D300s. This also means you get realtime monitoring of your lovely 720p 24 fps footage out through HDMI or Component to a LCD or Plasma. But what if you don’t have a MultiBridge or Intensity? Well you could go out and buy one, and to be honest considering the cost of an Intensity Pro why wouldn’t you. But, if you spent all your money on Redrock attachments like me there is a solution.

Simply go to the Blackmagic Website and download the drivers for one of their products, I would suggest the MultiBridge drivers (simply because they were the ones I tried first for this little test). And run the installer, answer yes to everything and reboot. Now you don’t have the hardware so you wont get any of the RT or monitoring but what you will get on the PC is a new series of presets (we will get to the Mac situation in a moment) under the BlackMagic Design Folder, choose HD 720, VariCam Motion JPEG, 24p. This will give you a sequence that is at the right frame rate and frame size and smooth playback and rendering of your Nikon footage.

Windows

Now under the Mac the situation is a little different, as there are still no CS4 drivers for the Decklink range of products, this wont work. However, if you wait just a little longer, there is the possibility that maybe, just maybe, some goodness might come your way ;)

Nikon D300s – First Low Light Shoot

Posted in DSLR Video with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2009 by evanbutson

So I had my first shoot in low light levels with the D300s, I figured this would be a nice challenge, seeing as most of the sample footage I have seen from the D300s has been in nice brightly lit outdoor scenes. It was a concert in an old church, very low light levels, and constantly changing levels as well, as from song to song, the lighting went from almost all house lights up to some songs where there were a few small parcans with red gels and that was about it. As my main lens, my 18 – 70mm, is in the shop getting serviced I pretty much shot the entire thing with the 80 – 200mm, which while fast, is a brute of a lens to hold steady, and as my Redrock order hadn’t arrived (courier walked through the door with it literally the next morning) I found myself relying on a monopod to get some semblance of a stable shot. I’m still getting used to how the Nikon deals with exposure, but the settings change to allow the AE Lock button to stay locked when pressed and released at least allowed me to lock exposure easily. I still would love to know how I can adjust white balance as the normal white balance settings don’t seem to affect the colour temp when shooting video, also I did experience some really weird video aborations when shooting under the sodium vapor lights outside, I assume it has something to do with the shutter speed, but I didn’t have time to play as the concert was about to start.

Couple of things I noticed when shooting was, the (jelly effect) that all these cameras seem to experience due to the rolling shutter seems to be most apparent on high frequency motion, ie when you are holding the camera handheld and not stable, I think that this is probably the single biggest reason that people have to knock a DSLR as a video camera, pop it on some kind of stabilizer, be it a monopod or a shoulder rig such as that from Redrock and you almost completely lose the jello look. Also, and this is something I have not heard anyone else mention, the sound of the lens locking up into LiveView is bloody loud, so loud in fact that in a few portions of the concert that were extra quiet, I had to avoid shooting as turning on LiveView so I could record would have interrupted a particularly quiet section, it is worth noting, especially for those thinking of using the D300s on shoots where sound is important and the sound of the mirror locking in place will standout.  Anyway, here is a little compile of the footage, this is part of a three camera shoot that will be edited together at a later stage, but I figured some people would find the D300s footage interesting. Once again, it is totally ungraded so you can see the footage straight out of the camera.

And so a day later (a day to late mind you) the courier arrived with my bits from Redrock Micro. And all I can say is wow, the build quality on these bits is insane, they are so well put together they are almost worth the price ;) Seriously though, I do think, that after ordering my first Redrock gear, they do know there stuff, not only do all the parts have an awesome build quality to them, but after sitting and watching every single instructional video on the Redrock site ( I highly recommend you do this BEFORE purchasing, as already I realized a few little bits that I need to finish out my kit) but they also give you an idea of the expandability and customization you get with their gear. As an example, the shoulder rig I got for my ProAim rails can be configured several ways, depending on your needs. When I pulled all the parts out of the box I immediately just put the mount together the way I thought it should go and slapped it on the rails. It worked and felt great, however I was a little concerned that putting the camera onto the quick release was going to be a little tricky as the shoulder rig blocked it, not a major problem, anyway, after watching all the videos and found out that the mounting bracket for the shoulder rest can go onto the rig several ways, as it is threaded top and bottom (this also explains the multitude of different sized bolts that came with the kit) so a few minutes later and I had reconfigured the shoulder rig so it wasn’t blocking the plate,

PAS_2862

then a few more videos along I discovered what is personally one of the best kept secrets on the Redrock site, the shoulder mounting block actually has what they call dove tails so you can slide it straight onto a Manfrotto quick release tripod plate and lock it in, no need to purchase an extra quick-release plate or take your camera off the rails to mount it onto a tripod, the whole kit just slots in, no extra bits needed!

PAS_2865

I am going to wait until my Hoodman eyepiece arrives (its on back order uggghhhh) but I will probably end up getting the offset kit from Redrock as well so properly line up the camera with my eye

microSM_offset_lg

, I also think the micromount to allow me to pop an LCD onto the front bars is also going to find its way to my house

microMount_lg

In the meantime though, I could not be happier, the ProAim kit with mattebox, follow focus and rails was an extraordinarily good buy for the money, and with the addition of the shoulder kit and front handles from Redrock, and eyepiece from Hoodman, for not a lot of money compared to buying a full kit from any one vendor, I have a fully configured should rig and tripod mounted rig.

Oh and also, have also uploaded the Hollywood Ending Trailers to Vimeo as well, if you want to see it in higher quality. Its funny, I only shot this 8 months ago, on the Canon HV30, but now that I have the D300s, looking back at it, I really wonder how much better I could have shot it with the Nikon.

Final Parts of the D300s Story

Posted in DSLR Video, Technology with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2009 by evanbutson

OK, so a quick post (weather in Melbourne has been horrendous so haven’t had a chance to get out and so any more shooting)

First things first, I have ordered the final parts of kit to make up my system, here’s a list and the reasons for my decision.

1. Ref Monitor: OK so the D300s uses the mini HDMI connector (which I didn’t have) so I ordered an adapter and sat and waited for it to arrive. And arrive it did. I patched in the camera to my 1080p Ref monitor in my edit suite, preparing for the picture to wonder and amaze me (keeping in mind the composite out of the camera wasn’t too great, it was like it was a 320 x 240 image blown up, not very useful for focusing) So I figured HDMI out must be razor sharp. Alas, not so much, the image is better but still not what i was hoping for. It kind of makes it hard to drop over a thousand dollars on a Marshall LCD with HDMI in, when the picture quality doesn’t justify it. So for the time being I have ordered one of these, it is mainly for shot framing whilst shooting, not for color or focus adjustment. And until I can get a Marshall to test with the HDMI I think it will have to do.

Red LCD

2. Eyepiece: My first little test shoot showed me that I simply must have an eyepice for the Liveview when shooting outdoors, cant justify the cost of a Zacuto just yet so I have ordered a Hoodman Loupe, not as elegant as the Zacuto but it is a fair bit cheaper.

Hoodman

3. Shoulder Kit: I love what Redrock do, and would love to drop a few thousand on all their kits, but in the meantime, I have ordered just these bits, I am hoping they will work well with the Proaim rails kit I already have, giving me a nice shoulder rig for not a lot of money.

microSM_v2_35mm_bundle_lg And finally, been doing a bit of research on the best way to deal with the exposure joy that is the D300s in video mode, and I stumbled across a YouTube clip where the user showed the results of setting exposure on a 50% grey card, versus the camera setting exposure on the content in the scene. The results were very interesting. I haven’t really ever used a grey card before, but I think that this may be a good technique for me to get into.

Also, at my ‘day job’ we have just finished acquiring gear for a new Podcast we are filming. We needed to record 3 independent mics at the same time with massively differing levels, and we wanted tot ability to individually edit each mic in post. So after a bit of research we ended up getting one of these. An Edirol R-44. It gives us four discreet inputs, records to SDHC cards up to 24 bit / 192kHz. We have only had it for a few days but so far I am mightily impressed. It only has unbalanced outputs but I am not too worried about that as the signal on the SDHC card is where the money is, but it does mean we can send the audio out of the mixer/solid state recorder back to the camera, be it a HDV camera or my D300s as a safety backup and an easy way of syncing the clips. Will let you know how it goes when we have done our first shoot in a week or so.

R-44__R44large

ProAim Rails, Follow Focus and Matte Box

Posted in DSLR Video with tags , , , , , on September 14, 2009 by evanbutson

OK so I am the first person to say ‘buy quality’ but there are some situations where even if you would like to buy the very best, you just cant. So it goes with my DSLR, I really cant stomach the cost of buying a nice set of Follow Focus Gears, Rails and Matte Box, I would easily be up for around the 3 to 5 grand mark. So with that in mind and the knowledge that I would NEED a set of rails for my new D300s, I went online and found a kit from DV Accessory’s called the PROAIM. They sell gear designed specifically for DV and DSLR cameras. I ordered the combo kit which consists of a set of rails, a quick release plate, follow focus with gears for different sized lenses and a matte box all for a little under $1000 Australian. Now I’m not an idiot, I can see that a device that is roughly 1 fifth the cost of the real deal is not going to be exactly the same in terms of quality, but I figured worst case scenario the parts will be a good place to start to customizing it to fit my needs with new gears etc. Additionally, things like rails are kinda hard to mess up, I mean they are two metal rods! So I pressed the go button on the order and what do you know, about a week and a half later they arrived.

ProAim Rig

Quite surprisingly the packing was excellent, they come in a custom molded set of foam, that you could probably pop straight into a Pelican case (and in fact I probably will) the instructions while sparse and peppered with awesome lines such as ‘The Matte box is mounted with foam so you dont have to worry about your lens during the bumps and grinds of capturing exciting footage’ , it does have plenty of pictures and I only had one piece that I looked at and thought, where does this go (I figured it out after a good ten minutes :) So I figured I would step you through the process.

Step 1: Rails – The rails come pre-installed with a quick release plate that has screw threads for all the normal sizes, interestingly they give you two of each so if you ever lose one your OK, also, I discovered the plate is identical in size as the Manfrotto quick release plate I already had on my Miller which was nice but as an added bonus the tension screw can be adjusted if it gets stuck near your camera (the Manfrotto cant do this). You get a series of shims to raise or lower the plate depending on the height of your camera. Attaching it to the tripod took seconds, and I only had to pull it off once when I figured out I had attached the quick release plate to my camera at the wrong spacing (unfortunately Nikon’s only have the one screw for tripod plates, they don’t have the whole for the guide pin that video cameras have, so you will need to be careful thatthe plate is exactly straight, I wasn’t and when I added the Matte Box I knew it). The build quality is very high, with most of it metal and only the locking mechanisms being made of plastic. They give you all the tools you need to adjust the level with shims, which is pretty much done with several hex screws.

Step 2: Mounting the lens with the follow focus gear – The first lens I tried was my 80 – 200mm, which has a tripod mount already on it, which meant not only did I have a bit of trouble getting it onto the camera (I had to rotate it to the top) but it also meant I couldn’t just slide the gear over the lens, I ended up undoing the gear completely and then after it was placed correctly, I re-threaded the tension screw and all was OK. I don’t think I will leave these on the lenses for day to day use as they look kinda naff, and when using the camera for still shooting, I can see things getting caught on them, they only take a second to add anyway.

Step 3: Follow Focus – Adding this to the rails only takes a second as well, line it up with the gear on the lens and lock it in place and your done. It has an area around the dial for marking focus points and you get a whip and bar depending on your preferred way of using the follow focus. So how does it work, well, lets just say I am not 100% happy, but I am not un-impressed either. The gears on the follow focus ( you get two replacement gears in the kit as well, which is nice) don’t exactly match up perfectly with the ring on the lens, and this seems to result in the movement not being as smooth as I perhaps would like, don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely no play, and for focusing it is awesome, I just think that for doing pull focuses mid shot, it may be a little steppy, that being said it is still better than doing it without the unit, and it is way better than doing it on a video camera by hand as well. I will do some tests, but I may take the gears to a friend who is an industrial designer and get him to re-create them out of aluminum on the flo-jet, that will mean they perfectly match up and then I reckon I have a great follow focus. It is worth noting that even the more expensive follow focus systems from Indifocus and Redrock are still made of plastic, and in fact the ProAim one has far more metal parts.

Step 4: Matte Box – This is where I had to stop and think, I had an extra component that looked like it went on the rails but there was nothing that needed rail mounting other than the Matte Box and it already had a rail mount underneath, after looking at the photos some more I realized that you actually get two ways to mount the matte box, a variable height mount (the one I was holding n my hand) and a non variable plastic mount, so off came the plastic mount and using the supplied allen keys I attached the variable height mount, once again made of metal, it allows fine adjustment for the height of the Matte Box. The other elements that make up the matte box are the flags, that also made of metal just screw into the side and top, and finally the filter holders (there are two) and the rubber donuts that slip around the lens to provide a light tight fit but not enough to mark the lens (especially if there is some movement), once again you are provided with a series of donuts depending n the size of your lene as well as a blank one if you need to make a custom one. The Filter holders are probably the worst part of the kit, and even then they do their job, they just arent as perfect a fit as the rest of the build, they require a bit of force to slide in and out (there are two of them for adding gels, ND filters etc) I think that with a slight shave of the plastic they will fit nicely.

Completed Setup

And thats it. all in all I was quite surprised by the kit, it arrived promptly, it was packed exceptionally well, the vast majority of the components are metal, and the parts that arnt are of sufficient quality that they aren’t a problem, the two areas that I wouldn’t give an automatic A+ too are the filter holders which don’t effect operation they just are a little stiff, and the smoothness of the follow focus, which I think can be rectified so it performs equal if not better than a RedRock system.

The last thing I did was to add an external LCD display, this is only temporary as it is too big, and it doesn’t have HDMI input, but I had it in the cupboard so it cost me exactly nothing to add, and as a final added bonus it seems the pin-outs for the LCD and the Nikon AV jacks are identical, so I can use a mini-jack to mini-jack able from the camera to the LCD (I will make a custom length one this weekend)

LCD Ref

The final thing I plan to do is add some form of handle to this rig, so I can carry it easily, the base plate for the rails is VERY solid, and so attaching some for of handle to that will do nicely.

Finally, after chatting to a friend of mine who has the 5dMKII about eye pieces like the Zacuto, mentioned this HoodLoupe as a cheaper alternative, it attaches with elastic which is not as refined as the Zacuto but it is a fair bit cheaper, I think I may buy one and see how it goes, and if I have to order a Zacuto later.

So that’s about it for me now. Off to play Rock Band Beatles!

Nikon D300s – The First Shoot

Posted in DSLR Video with tags , , , , , , on September 12, 2009 by evanbutson

So my wife was out for the day, going to see Chicago of all things ( I hate the theater almost as much as I hate………nope, theater pretty much tops it) So I figured I’d pop into the city and have a play with the new video features of the D300s. Luckily the awesomely unpredictable weather of Melbourne blessed me with sun (after weeks of on and off rain), however it did get a little windy. So once again, as I am primarily a video guy I am going to give my thoughts on the video elements of the D300s (I am ashamed to say that after having the camera for a week, I am yet to actually shoot an actual still other than for testing, more on that in a second.

nikon_D300s_3-4_sm

Framing: Couple of things here, this is the first time I have used this camera in bright sunlight, mental note, go home and buy some form of shade device. I could barely see the Liveview display for framing let alone focus. I pretty much ended up switching off  Liveview, framing my shot, checking focus, turning Liveview back on and shooting, which is no way to capture footage, especially if its random. Now when my rails arrive, oh did I not mention, if you want to shoot anything other than home videos, you will need to get a set of rails, follow focus kit and matte box. After many attempts I found that pulling focus, especially with my 80 – 200 f2.8 at full zoom was near on impossible, I constantly found myself overshooting the mark, I didn’t want to mark the lens with a chinagraph marker as I used to do with my old Super 16mm gear. So once the follow focus arrives I can see how much easier it gets. That being said, I was able to get a few good examples eventually after many attempts. And boy did that lens look great, it is now my new favorite lens.

The other thing that I think is almost a must have is an optical viewfinder, like this from Zacuto now, awesome as it looks, I don’t think I will be buying one just yet, as they are $395 US, which going by the exchange rate for Australian, equates to a few dollars shy of my left kidney. I am going to see how shooting with my external ref monitor goes and see if that will cut it, if not, out will come the Visa and my wife wont talk to me again for a week or two.

Exposure: OK so if you read the manual, the information regarding video goes for a whopping 2 or 3 pages. So most of what people have discovered is all from trial and error. For exposure, the D300s doesn’t support for manual control of exposure (sort of) and by sort of what I mean is. If you move your field of view from a bright to dark scene the auto exposure will adjust, which to be honest is not ideal. However, if you press and hold the AE lock button it wont. Additionally you can use features such as exposure compensation to dial in stops of adjustment. So basically all you need to do do get manual control is always hold the AE button, not an ideal situation but at least it means that we are just a firmware upgrade away from Nikon adding full manual control as it is physically possible. In the meantime I am going to see if I can rig a little bracket onto my rails that will allow me to depress the AE with a small arm of some sort and then just lock that in so it is always depressed for the entire shoot. (EDIT: Ok so it does pay to read the manual, seems there is an option in the camera settings to provide AE lock after the button is depressed and released, so once you have an exposure you are happy with just press the AE lock button once and it will hold that exposure until the AE lock button is pressed again). Here’s a little sample clip to give you an idea how it works ( and yes I know it is out of focus and handheld and I pan so quickly the infamous jelly wobble is visible  but that’s not the point, so stop hassling me, stop it, I’m fragile)

The other thing about exposure that I noticed was the lack of built in ND filters like you have with most video cameras. I am so used to being able to dial in a stop or two of ND when needed, I actually found my hand reaching for the phantom ND switch that wasn’t there, this is once again another reason to have a matte box, instead of having to buy ND filters for each and every lens, a matte box allows you to slide in filters into the filter tray of the matte box, and it also allows you to stack them and t is much faster to add and remove them than screwing them directly onto the lens. The other option is a variable ND filter like this one but at over $300 US, I might just wait a little. As such, when it got really bright today, and I was trying to get some shots with my aperture wide open, the shutter speed went way up, which results in very staccato looking footage, for some things this is great, but with ND filters you can control how you ant the video to look a lot more.

Audio: I didn’t shoot any audio for this other than the amazing sound of wind, constantly blowing dust into my camera bag (you can actually turn the internal mic completely off but interestingly, as the exposure, aperture, lens information etc is not stored in the metadata of the video files, I have taken to doing a little voice ident on each shot, listing all the settings, that way when I am back in the suite and I see a shot that works particularly well, I know what setting went into making the shot). To this end the info button the the D300s is great, it gives you an instant full screen listing of every setting in one area, a little easier to read than the top display. That being said I have had time to have a bit of a play after remembering to bring my audio kit home from work. Plugging a lapel mic directly into the camera and recording some audio, and voila, 44 khz 16 bit audio. Now there is no way of actually monitoring the audio yet, which is insane. But I was able to get a clean signal that wasn’t too hot after adjusting the input level on the camera. You don’t have actual level control but settings for AGC, high, mid and low. I think I will probably end up getting a Beachtek as even if Nikon eventually add headphone support, you still need XLR in and fine granular control of audio levels.

A couple of other little things that while not massive features I found interesting. First off is the Virtual Horizon. Now when I used it for the first time when I first go the camera, I though, wow, what a cute and effectively useless feature, when will I ever use that. Of course that didn’t stop me assigning it to one of the function buttons on the front of the body. As I was shooting, I found that I was often having trouble seeing the bubble on my tripod due to the sun (great idea Miller, make it a yellow bubble on a yellow background, yeah that’ll never cause problems) so I found myself bringing up the horizon for a spot check more than once.

I also found the new Quick Menu for the D300s very useful. I was able to assign all the windows for video to that quick menu, so I could easily switch picture quality from HD to SD, adjust audio levels etc. now if only I could somehow assign the quick menu to a function button.

Finally, and this is not a D300s specific thing, in the past when shooting video, I am sure everyone knows that as soon as you setup a tripod and camera, its like your a leper, people avoid walking near you for fear of being filmed, either that or idiots jump in front of the camera and dance around like their final brain cell went away to college and left them in charge of their body. With a still camera, unless you are looking through the viewfinder people think your not read to shoot a still and so go about their normal days, so i had the exact opposite problem, as I was framing up my shot people were all in a hurry to avoid me and get out of the way, but as soon as I stood up and turned on liveview to record, it was if I wasn’t there and normality resumed, very handy indeed. That and the fact that every time I pulled out the tripod and whacked on the 80 – 200 mm within seconds I noticed a bunch of tourists would all stand near me with their cameras out shooting whatever my lens was pointed at, I assume they thought that if it was worth me pointing my lens at it then they better get a photo of it, even when I hadn’t actually st up the shot and what I was going to shoot was in the exact opposite direction. Oh well, at least I can rest easy with the knowledge that there are some Japanese tourists going home with some very ‘arty’ shots of random objects because of me.

Finally, I should point out something that I have seen little note of, it seems that the Camera RAW files the D300s creates are so amazingly awesome, that few packages support them (sarcasm is how I deal with stress by the way) iPhoto, Lightroom and even Photoshop CS4 wont read the files at all, you can download a beta plugin for Photoshop that will read the files, but honestly, isn’t RAW supposed to be a standard, what are these cameras doing differently each and every model that requires constant updates to each and every package I want to shoot stills for.

Oh and I should add, most of the add ons that I mention, I have found from reading Philip Blooms blog this guys blog is pretty much required reading for anybody using a DSLR as a video acquisition device. Oh and his video work is phenomenal.

So for interests sake I cut what I shot into a little video, keep in mind there was no actual plan for the shoot so the shots are entirely random, and as I was mainly doing this for testing purposes, there are shots in there that while technically imperfect gave me good information about things to be aware of, most notably the auto exposure, I tried to avoid the exposure pulsing as much as possible, but when panning and tilting, it was near on impossible to also hold the AE lock button. Finally I decided to leave it ungraded so you can see the raw footage as it came out of the camera, normally I would probably either use Magic Bullet Looks, or Colour Finesse to add that final little source to really make the footage pop.


For those who are interested, my system is running Windows 7, Adobe Master Collection CS4 and a BlackMagic MultiBridge Pro. The footage from the D300s imports into a BlackMagic timeline (I used the Varicam 720p, 24fps preset) and plays back in real-time with no render bar) I reference off a 1080p Samsung via HDMI and the audio goes via optical to a Yamaha Amp.

Oh and if you watch the video and like the music, its from The Killers, Day & Age, buy the album its great!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.