Archive for September, 2009

Quick D300s Update

Posted in Uncategorized on September 30, 2009 by evanbutson

Have a shoot tonight of one of the worlds best percussionists doing a gig, so will get a chance to test out the low light capabilities, only wish my Redrock support was here already, seems a shame to do this on a tripod. Check back for some footage samples in a day or so.

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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.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
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!

Nikon D300s – Video Review

Posted in Misc, Technology on September 7, 2009 by evanbutson

I took delivery of my new Nikon D300s body last Friday, and over the weekend had a chance to play around with it. Now there are many detailed and thorough reviews about the still image aspects about the D300s but very few on the video capabilities, so I figured I would share my thoughts, in no particular order.

nikon-d300s

The D300s shoots a maximum of 1280 x 720 footage, progressive at 24 frames per second. This is by no means as flexible as the Canon 5D MKII, but for my requirements I was quite happy with this, as practically no clients request HD even to this day and I am quite a fan of the filmic look, so actually shooting at true film rates of 24fps is a bonus. Due to technical limitations with the sensor and overheating, you can only shoot a maximum of 5 minutes at a a time, even less if the ambient temp is high. You get a countdown of 30 seconds if the camera is going to shutdown the live-view due to heat. So you wont be shooting any hour long wedding videos on this puppy. Storage wise a nice change is the D300s supports both Compact Flash and SD cards, you can actually have both slots loaded and set a variety of scenarios, record to one and then the other, record RAW to one and JPEG previews to the other, even have one act as a backup of the first. With the cost of SDHC cards plummeting, I don’t think storage will ever be a problem.

The reason I was so keen to get the D300s, apart from the fact that my D200 was feeling a little old, was the ability to use my collection of lenses to get shots I pretty much couldn’t get with a prosumer video camera, namely, very shallow depth of field as well as very wide angles and telephoto. So the first shots I popped my 50mm prime at f1.8 to see what shallow depth of field looks like. Take a look at a simple demonstration I shot.

Then I threw my 10.5mm fisheye on and recorded some footage showing what weird effects you can get. Note that I wasn’t too concerned about exposure at this stage and so there is a fair amount of noise in the shot.

One feature that is getting a lot of press is the fact that unlike the 5D MKII, you can auto-focus whilst shooting video, now personally I never really saw the attraction, on most pro video cameras there is no such thing as AF at all, and even on the prosumer cameras the first thing I always do is switch to manual. That being said I figured I would give the AF a go, there was a mention in the manual that Contrast based AF is slower, and there will be some mechanical noise in the audio track if the onboard mic is being used. Well, lets just say, they understated the noise by a margin of a shitload 🙂 and as for focusing whilst recording, the hunt and seek nature of the AF renders it almost useless, your much better suited to pressing the zoom key on the back of the body that zooms in the LCD to actual pixel level resolution allowing precise focusing.

One thing that I was interested to see how the D300s deals with is external monitoring. As a video guy, I am used to patching in an external reference monitor and cans when shooting for clients to watch, and for checking audio levels. i could find no detail in the pre-press about these features on the D300s. Well as soon as I got it unboxed that was the first thing I tested, and good news is, if you use the supplied composite cable you get video out with detailed display whenever live view is running, now the picture is all kinds of awful, but at least there is a picture, there is also a HDMI out, but I have yet to test this as it uses a mini C HDMI plug and I don’t have an adapter so until the one I ordered arrives, I wait to see, but seeing as the camera lets you choose the SD or HD formats to send out through HDMI I am guessing a 720p capable LCD on shoots will now be something I always bring. Now for the bad news, there is no audio monitoring whilst recording, you have basic control of levels, but you are pretty much at the whim of the camera, so I would suggest a beachtech or some form of pre-input device for allowing fine audio control and monitoring. I am hopeful, just as with the MKII, some intrepid programmer writes a custom firmware with VU meters and finer control. That being said, for what I will be using this camera for, I will probably be running dual system audio anyway, so I am not too bothered.

One area where the Nikon is heads and shoulders above the MKII is the file compatibility, with breath held, I popped the files into my edit suite running a BlackMagic MultiBridge Pro, I selected a 720p 24fps VariCam timeline, and placed a shot in the timeline and pressed play, and what do you know it plays perfectly, no red bars, no conversion, smooth as silk. Interestingly the MJPEG compression the camera uses really does vary depending on the shot complexity, so far I have seen footage with data rates as low as 5 megabits per second all the way up to 25 ish. When I get a chance I  will take the camera out and shoot some grass and water, usually the hardest footage to compress and see how high the bitrate can go.

So that about it for so far, once I have more time to play and do some real shooting I will post a more detailed update of the pros and cons. But at the moment, if you have Nikon lenses and you want to shoot video, this is the camera to get.