Archive for the Technology Category

New Site, New Blog, New Home

Posted in Connect Recordings, DSLR Video, Technology, Upcoming Connects with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2010 by evanbutson

So, after much back and forthing I decided to move my blog and website to a new home. The fine folks at SquareSpace do a wonderful job of making this as easy as possible.

What this means is not much, this blog will not be receiving any more posts, there is a new link to the blog http://www.tdepost.com/blog/

There is a new RSS link http://www.tdepost.com/blog/atom.xml

All the exisiting blog posts/comments etc have been moved over so nothing has ‘gone away’

However with the new site I will be putting up a lot more of my own tutorial videos alongside the Adobe Connect Sessions I do.

Also, keep your eye on my blog as very soon there will be a BIG announcement that I think will be a GAME CHANGER!

So in the meantime, remember, update those RSS aggregators with the new address and keep reading 🙂

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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 😉

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

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.

Backup, Raid and Redundancy – Part II

Posted in Misc, Technology with tags , on August 31, 2009 by evanbutson

OK, so after a lot of messing around I have finally gone ahead and built my unRAID. As this was to be used as a second line of defense if our main array were to fail in any way, and the hot spare drives had a problem, or more likely as a way of covering for human error, I decided to lash out and go for pretty much all new components.

Core 2 Duo 3.0 gig CPU, 8 gig DDRII RAM, a nice Asus mainboard with onboard 8 SATA ports and a couple of IDE ports as well. All sitting in an Antec Rack Mount Case with 6 accessible  drive bays as well as a further 6 3.5 bays. I also added this nifty Welland drive bays, basically they allow you to swap in and out SATA drives without having to mount them in Caddies first, a nice feature given that the whole point of this unRAID in not only does it provide RAID like Redundancy but it also allows easy upgrading of individual drives as space is needed.

IMG_0236unRAID is in the bottom right below the Xserve and SAN

As for storage, we have a bunch of SATA drives sitting in about 20 Western Digital external drive cases that are no longer being used with the new SAN going on line, so the plan was to re-purpose a few of them to begin with. Seeing as the way unRAID works is the Parity drive (the drive that provides protection for any of the other drives failing, needs to be at least as big as the biggest drive, I decided to hedge my bets and order a new 1.5 tb drive, then pulling apart a few of the WD cases I got a series of 1tb and 500 gig drives to throw into the Welland Trays. I also found two old IDE drives a 320 and a 500 gig to run of the PATA ports on the mainboard. That’s the great thing about unRAID, unlike RAID 5, the drives don’t have to match in any way, and can be upgraded individually at anytime. So as we need more space I can take the older 500 gig drives out and slot in a 1.5 terabyte drive.  So all up, the machine currently has about 6 terabytes of storage. The last element was a 1 gig thumbdrive for the software and the unRAID pro licence which gives me up to 20 drives.

IMG_0237closeup showing the Welland Trays

Installing the software was pretty straightforward. You just need to run a little exe file to make it bootable (note: I wasn’t able to get this to work under Windows 7 Command Prompt, I had to dig up a WinXP machine in our primarily Mac shop to do this step) copy the unRAID software over to the drive and boot up. Now, a couple of things before we get any further, and I wish I had have known to begin with.

1. As unRAID is kind of particular about each drive being in a certain spot, and also, if and when you want to upgrade a drive you really want to know which drive is which so you can tell unRAID when you are pulling a drive to upgrade it or replacing a filed drive. That being said the best way to do this is to log all the serial numbers of the drives. After I had built the system and realised this I pulled all the drives and spent 10 mins with a labeler and labeled every drive as well as logged where it was in the case. Now when a drive fails or I want to upgrade a drive I know where it is and can tell unRAID.

2. Before I built the final system, I tested unRAID on some existing equipment I had lying around and found out that the speed of the computer is important if you are going to have a very big array, as the creation of the parity data takes time and on an aging P4 system it took days and days.

IMG_0238my test rig at home, note the labeled drives and the red light (its still generating parity, days after I started it)

3. The Network adapter is also very important, on that aging system there was a built in gigabit ethernet adapter, however, no matter what I did I could never get it to work faster than 100 megabit. So check the unRAID WIKI for approved NICs

So the system is built and running, my first impressions are. The interface is VERY easy to understand and use, however the concept that for some actions the array needs to be stopped and for others the array needs to be running can get a little confusing first off. Also the initial setup can take a little getting used to in terms of creating the parity drive and formatting the data drives. That being said once all the drives are formatted and the parity drive is a go. Your NAS will appear on your network and people can start dropping data on it.

A few things I did, was to setup custom shares. Basically as the unRAID is effectively a JBOD, you can browse to it in mac or Windows and actually see each of the drives numbered 1,2,3,4 etc. Which is fine, but if you setup a custom share, in my case Archive for instance. You can browse to archive or mount it as a drive, and start dropping data onto it. As far as your system is concerned Archive is actually the size of all the drives combined. So you don’t have to remember did I backup that file to drive 1 or 3. So I simply made shares that matched our SAN mounts and am in the process of setting up an RSYNC each night to each of those shares.

IMG_0233enough lights for a disco!

What don’t I like. Well the time setting option doesn’t seem to want to work all that well. I need to do a bit more research, but so far I cant get it to reliably set the time from an internet time server. Also I have had a few issues with IP addresses, basically for some reason on a Mac you cant punch in the unRAID name and browse to it in your Web Browser to adjust settings, you have to enter the IP address. Now I had originally set it to get an IP from our DHCP server. Once I hard set the IP, now more hassles accessing the admin page.

H.264 the CODEC to rule all CODECSs?

Posted in Technology with tags , , , , on July 3, 2009 by evanbutson

For a long time now there has been a major battle of CODEC’s, for different purposes you would choose different CODECS, if you were delivering to the web you might choose FLASH, for DVD’s you would choose MPEG 2, CD-ROMS might make use of Quicktimes and cellphones, had a variety of propriety CODECs. This meant that not only did an editor need to know how to edit, but they had to be a master compressionist, knowing a wide variety of CODECs and their uses. However, recently, there has been a new CODEC that seems to possibly fit the bill as the CODEC of choice for the vast majority of cases, that CODEC is H.264. So why is H.264 so great, well to quote the creators of DIVX ‘the standard’s flexible bit stream control enables H.264 to deliver high-quality video to a variety of devices ranging from low-powered cell phones to high-powered Blu-ray devices. That’s why the H.264 standard is set to supersede some of the formats that are commonplace today such as DV, the standard used by many consumer video cameras, and MPEG-2, the standard for DVD video and some types of cable TV and digital broadcast. In a nutshell, H.264 is suited to any platform — handheld to high def.’

This means that the one compression format can be used to deliver a file suitable for playing back on a cellphone, another that is suitable for an iPod or Sony PSP, another that is suitable for playback within a FLASH presentation via F4v FLASH files all the way up to BluRay. Tricky isnt it.

Now chances are you have seen H.264 before and havnt even known, most Podcasts that are comressed for delivery to iPod videos and iPhones use H.264 compression (in fact when you watch a YouTube video on an iPhone, as the iPhone doesnt have FLASH support, you are actually watching a H.264 file.)

So, wow, H.264 is awesome and will rule the world right? Well not exactly, there are still some issues, the first being cameras. All those new snazyy small solid state video cameras that record to AVCHD actually compress the files with a version of H.264, problem is, H.264 is easier to read than it is to write, (ever tried to export a file to H.264, those render times are fun right) well, as most editing and effects are effectively the process of decompression a video, creating an effect (say a transition) an then re-encoding the file again back to the compression format, editing H.264 or AVCHD files is, for want of a better word, a pain in the ass.

Then their is compression, those of us used to faster than real-time encodes to MPEG2, FLASH etc, will discover that high quality H.264 compression, even on a fast system, takes time. As with MPEG2, and MPEG 1 before it, there are hardware options out there to offload the task to specialized chips. Matrox has their Max (not to be confused with the MAX options for the DigiSuite of years gone by) and their are plug-ins for NVIDIA and ATI graphics cards that can make use of the GPU on your graphics cards to accelerate encoding.

So if you deliver video, in any way shape or form, I highly recommend you get to know H.264 in all its incarnations, a good start is here, this Primer from Adobe gives you a good overview

Colour Grading and the Book Trailer

Posted in Technology with tags , , , , , , , on June 24, 2009 by evanbutson

Many of you may not know this but my wife (a significantly more talented person than I) has written a book, and it comes out later this year (September 1st to be exact). Set in LA, the main characters visit many of the spots where famous celebrities have died. As my area of expertise, motion video, generally has bugger all to do with the written word you might wonder where this post is going. Well, as her background is in PR, my wife was adamant that when this book was launched she would have every type of media covered, including websites, business cards, press, stills from locations that are covered in the book, you name it.

Hollywood Ending

So with that in mind earlier this year we set off for a holiday to LA, with the idea that we would also do a little bit of prep work for the book as well. As this was primarily a holiday I wasn’t going to be lugging round three or four Pelican cases of gear, so i set myself the rule that unless all my gear, still and video could fit in a single backpack, it wasn’t going. My video gear thus consisted of a Canon HV-30 set to shoot HDV 25p, a suction mount for mounting the camera to the car for in car pieces to camera and a few mics. Several weeks later and we had shot enough footage for the trailers that were to go up on the website leading up to the books release.

Now comes the grading stuff. I have been a user of the grading software Magic Bullet for years now, but I must admit I hadn’t upgraded for a few versions, it did what I needed and so I left it as is, that is until CS4, when my tried and trusty version of Magic Bullet would not install, bugger, oh well I suppose an upgrade is in order, well after contacting the fine folks at Red Giant Software as I couldn’t figure out what package most closely matched my old version, and I couldn’t see any upgrade options that matched what I already owned, I was offered a VERY nice upgrade price to Magic Bullet Looks.

And so after cutting the first of the little 3 minute teaser trailers for Kathy’s book, I went to do what I usually did with Magic Bullet, drop a look on, add a Vignette and be done with it, because, and I have to admit this in public, I never really messed with the Magic Bullet settings before, I just found the interface to confusing and it was hard to see what subtle changes would do to your image without exiting the application and then clicking in your timeline, back and forth it was just too complicated. And so, the first trailer went up and looked great. Nothing too complicated so far.

So time rolls on and now I have to cut the second trailer which I do, unfortunately I notice a problem with the in-car footage where I had mounted the camera to a suction mount on the window pointing at the driver, the exposure had been set based on when I had mounted the camera, however as anyone who knows the winding roads in the Hollywood hills around Mullholland Drive will tell you, it aint that easy, we ended up driving in areas that were completely in shadow and then rounding a corner into direct sunlight, the result being a particular piece to camera that I wanted to use was about 3 stops over-exposed, not enough to make in un-usable, as these videos have a doco style about them, but still not ideal. However, once I had locked the edit and I went about applying the Magic Bullet Look I had chosen for these pieces, I discovered that that 3 stops of over exposure resulted in a VERY ugly picture once the Looks had been applied. What to do, I first off tried turning off the looks, and trying to grade down the shot to match the shot before that was well exposed and then re-applying the Looks, that didn’t go so well, it seems that Magic Bullet Looks when applied to footage that has been altered by another filter will generally result in a different look than you expect. I was about to throw my hands into the air and give up when i remembered that Magic Bullet has a new interface for selecting looks (which I had used) but that interface also was a new way of dealing with looks, adjusting their setting and creating your own, they call it Toolchains. So I loaded up the interface with the problem shot selected, and as usual, instead of reading user manuals and understanding the different features I just started clicking around, the interface is a wonder of simplicity hiding great power (I wish someone would describe me that way, one day), when you select a look you can see the different elements in a chain that go to making up that look, clicking on any of those elements allows you to alter the individual settings. Want an extra element, just drag and drop into the chain, which is what I did, a simple drag and drop of the Exposure element, and then clicking three stops down and wammo, the footage looked perfect and interestingly with no real quality loss, a first for compressed footage like this for me.

Magic Bullet Looks Interface

Now that I know the software has such power, I am looking forward to having more of a play and really finding out what it can do. In the meantime you can check out the results at www.kathycharles.com or the HD versions at http://www.youtube.com/user/hollywoodendingnovel