Alister’s Bio and Info

advertise-here-275 Alister's Bio and Info
Alister-Chapman-Iceland-300x257 Alister's Bio and Info
Shooting waterfalls in 3D in Iceland

I am a freelance DoP/producer/editor/stereographer….  jack of all trades perhaps, that has worked in broadcast television since 1984. I studied electronics to degree level and my first job was helping design microwave links for TV and radio O.B’s. Then I went to work for Aston Electronics in the service department looking after caption generators.

Around this time I started experimenting with fitting video cameras into Rally and Race cars. My hobby was rally driving and at weekends I used to film club events with a JVC KY2000 tube camera and a u-matic portable recorder. A production company called BHP saw what I was doing and offered me a job developing in car cameras and filming motor racing. At the time BHP provided almost all of the BBC’s motorsports programmes. After a couple of years at BHP I went freelance in order to concentrate more on camera work and less on mini-cams. That was in 1990, I have been freelance ever since. Along the way I worked for extended periods as a cameraman and editor for the PBA making sports magazine shows for Sky and Eurosport, mainly featuring windsurfing and snowboarding. I also worked as an editor and ran the edit suites for a highly regarded facilities company called DVA. During this period I used a broad range of cameras and equipment from 16mm film, BetacamSP, Digibeta and the early days of DVCAM.

Then in 1999 I got a commission from National Geographic to produce a one hour special about Tornado Chasing.

The programme which aired internationally  (Twister Tours) was a big hit and introduced me to severe and extreme weather. I have always enjoyed watching thunderstorms, ever since I was a child but the combination  of adventure, danger and the challenge of getting top quality footage of extreme weather is something I find irresistible. Since then I have specialised in filming natures extremes and this has taken me up to the Arctic in winter to shoot the Northern lights, to the deserts of Arizona for monsoon thunderstorms as well as countless tornado and hurricane chasing adventures. My weather footage is used in all kinds of programmes from kids TV shows to BBC natural history and even a few feature films. It’s quite likely that you will have seen it somewhere tucked away within a TV show, museum exhibition or web clip of some kind.

Don’t get the wrong idea, I don’t just shoot the weather! I continue to shoot occasional motor sports events as well as a lot of airshows and aviation programmes. I produce many hours of corporate videos every year and in 2004 I started working with 3D using a Nu-View stereoscopic camera adapter. For the past 5 years have even been making big budget stereoscopic 3D programmes using my own stereoscopic camera rigs, recent camera developments have made it much easier to shoot 3D well, even with only small budgets. I enjoy the challenge that 3D presents, it is a much more technical exercise than 2D. I now have many highly regarded stereoscopic films to my name as either camera operator, stereographer or S3D consultant. S3D clients include Sony, Toyota, IBM, and Discovery/IMAX. As well as shooting S3D I also run introductory workshops for those interested in getting a better understanding of how it works.

I have consulted on major projects for major museums, worked with the military,  provided stock footage to over 30 different clients, produced corporate videos and filmed for the BBC, Sky, NBC, National Geographic and Discovery and many, many others. In between all this I run workshops on various cameras, production techniques and 3D production for Sony, equipment dealers, Santa Fe Workshops, the F-Stop Academy and the VI academy. In addition I am a guest lecturer at several polytechnics and Universities around the world. When I started out as a cameraman I found it very difficult to learn about how to set up cameras. In some respects this is seen as a bit of a dark art, not because it’s technically difficult, but because it is very subjective. Over the years I have learnt a vast amount about cameras, filming techniques and related equipment. Now I wish to share some of that knowledge and encourage others to delve into their cameras menus and get the most from what for many people is a considerable investment.

filmingdunkerton-247x300 Alister's Bio and Info
In my element with a near by Tornado

The Sony Connection: First let me say that I am not an employee of Sony. I have been using Sony cameras since the 80’s and they have always served me well. I have also used and owned cameras from Arri, Canon, Panasonic, JVC and Ikegami. Over the years I have gained a great deal of experience with these cameras. With my engineering background I am not afraid of trying new settings and tweaking my cameras and equipment for the best results. For many years I have written about my settings and methods in magazines, in forums and on blogs. I have often been an early adopter of new technologies. Back in the 80’s I developed some of the very first in-car camera systems using newly invented CCD cameras recording on to specially modified portable Betamax recorders, while others were still using tube cameras and u-matic. In 2005 I purchased one of the very first XDCAM HD cameras to be delivered in the UK. As a result of my extensive experience with this camera and subsequent cameras, from time to time, Sony pay me to help run workshops as part of their ICE programme. As a Sony ICE (Independent Certified Expert) I get paid for the day of the workshop and any travel expenses. I do also occasionally get paid to write reviews of equipment as well as features and articles on workflow and camera setups etc for the Sony web site, a few of which also get published here and else where. Not all reviews are paid for and Sony do not ask me to edit or change the articles beyond technical corrections. I have nothing to gain from glossing over issues or problems, if I did, then no one would trust or believe my reviews and as a result I would be of no value to Sony (or anyone else), so I’m not afraid to point out problems and flaws when I find them.

At the end of the day as a cameraman it is vital to me that I choose the most appropriate tools for my job. I am always on the look-out for tools and equipment that will allow me to improve the quality of my work, from ANY manufacturer. At the moment I am happy to be using the Sony XDCAM and NXCAM families as they offer a range of cameras capable of great pictures at competitive prices. Yes, I am a fan of Sony equipment, but I have a reputation to maintain as an independent cameraman, so I would never put my name to a piece of kit that didn’t do what it was supposed to. I try to be objective in my reviews and look at the facts, pro’s and con’s of each piece of kit and I am not asked to write positive reviews or to leave out the bad bits. The majority of the reviews I write are not paid for. In addition, if I want to buy a Sony camera, I have to go to a dealer and buy it from the dealer just like anybody else. The only concession I get is an effort to get me the kit as early as possible so that I can start to figure it out in order to make end user setup and other info available to other users as soon as possible.

Yes, I have a great relationship with Sony, but that relationship only has value as long as I am honest and my reviews, articles and videos true and accurate.

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35 thoughts on “Alister’s Bio and Info”

  1. Alister, Sorry to heare about your web site. I hope it gets fixed soon. I sent you an email, realising after you may not reply to it and find it dificult seeing where to put comments other than here. As mentioned I am a defence engineer of 12 years and have been filming for 7 now with a reasonably successful business for marine, aerial, corporate, tv, educational and web work.
    As mentioned for a while I happily worked with PDX10P, DSR 390 450 and PD170s.
    I am now using EX1R, EX3 and PMW 350 with nanoflash anda lot of custom made kit, having a workshop and electro mechanical fabrication/assembly facilities. I also use Sony Vegas8/9 and occasionally final cut or avid.
    My question was what is the best way to downconvert my films to SD?
    I almost always film in 720p50 unless told otherwise and only now and then do I output to DVD. using the EX series I am now having less than ideal results and people must have some ideas of a work flow for improving this. I still produce useable DVDs but no where like what I coudl get going back to my old cameras. If you have any comments on things I can try Id be very interested.
    Kind regards
    Robin

    1. I’m going to have to write an article on this as it causes a lot of people problems. basically you need to soften the HD image before converting to SD.

  2. Prestine SD from HD footage can be obtained purely through careful rescaling and encoder workflows. From a Mac perspective Compressor is all you need – frame controls are used for high quality scaling but be sure to optimise Compressor jobs to avoid encoding blowing out to days i.e. set-up Quickclusters and job segmenting.

    I also use a PC workflow for which set-up is a bit convaluted, but gives outstanding results and is quicker than Compressor – it uses AVISynth, HD2SD scripts and (free) HC Encoder, a guide is on Precomposed blog by Jon Geddes:
    http://www.precomposed.com/blog/2009/07/hd-to-sd-dvd-best-methods/

    1. That’s fine for a software conversion, but the camera settings best suited to HD will look soft in SD. The detail correction edges will be too thin and will lead to jitter and aliasing. A good downconversion helps, but it will always be a compromise situation.

  3. @Mark Trenery
    Hi there Mark. Please can you elaborate on how you set up compressor to achieve a decent SD image. We have just bought into the SONY PMW350 for news and most clients still require SD in MPEG2 for fast FTP. Oh and whilst you at it, should we be shooting in 1080 50i or 720p ? Thanks

  4. hi alister,
    I love your very informative site. I wanted to ask you about the mtf nikon g and e-mount adapter for the fs100. You mention it has a baffle/choke. Is that really necessary for nikon lenses onto the super35mm sensor? How, exactly does not having a baffle increase flare potential?

    thanks.

    1. It is vital that any adapter that you use with the FS100 has a baffle or choke at the camera end of the adapter. If there is not one, light passing from the edges of the lens can hit the extreme edge of the sensor window in the camera and reflect on to one side of the sensor chip causing a bright vertical band to appear down one side of the image. I have seen this in several shots done with a non baffled adapter.

      1. Interesting… and am I right to believe MTF is the only manufacturer that includes a baffle in their adapters? I wonder why their competition doesn’t.

        Appreciate the explanation Alister.

  5. Hi Alister,

    We are using the EX1R to film an Archaeology documentary which we hope to submit to the BBC HD. We have been informed that they only commission HD programs with the format ‘MPEG2 50 MBPS Long GOP with 4.2.2 colour’ and as you most probably know the EX1R shoots ‘MPEG2 35 MBPS Long GOP with 4.2.0 colour’.

    Can we upscale/convert the footage in postproduction or is the Nano drive route the only solution?

    We have converted test footage from 35mbs to 50mbps and also to 4.2.2 colour sampling but we have no way of analyzing the results. Neither QT of FCP will give us the colour sampling information.

    Warm regards,

    Terry

    1. You will need to use an external recorder. There are many options, NanoFlash, Samurai, Ninja, Sound Devices etc. All of these can do 4:2:2 at at least 50Mb/s. If you are caught trying to pass off 4:2:0 as 4:2:2 you will not get paid and may face heavy penalties plus, if the show does get commission you would be required to re-shoot at you cost.

  6. Hi Alister,

    I have read most of your posts regarding the Gemini 444 recorder when being used with PMW-F3 S-log, they are indeed very helpful. Now I have been shooting 444 Uncompressed S-log HD and have fallen in love with it, but now the workflow is killing me. I am using Gemini Universal thunderbolt transfer station and 17 Inch 2o11 Macbook Pro (4G RAM, with no special video card installed) with FCP 7 Gluetools DPX version installed along with Apple Color to review my footage and it works but my computer maybe is not really fit for it I have had a lot of trouble with the DPX files sent to color when color correcting.

    After reading some of your tests, I know that transcoding is not the best thing to do (as it adds unwanted noise) but I read transcoding to DNXHD is the best way to go if needed vs. Pro res. Now will FCP 7 will be able to allow to use DNXHD 444 files? Or what workflow would you recommend to use GEMINI 444 quality out from the PMW F3 and not drowning with DPX huge files and storage needed or at least make this chore not as painful.

    Thanks in advance for sharing your knowledge.

  7. Hi Alister,
    Mate, I am similar to you and chase swells/big waves with the worlds best big wave surfers & you chase storms.
    https://www.facebook.com/timbonython.swellchasers?ref=hl
    I am supported by Sony with an F5 & FS 700 as backup & put into a water housing.
    I just won the New York Surf Film Festival for best feature & best cinematography in my film Immersion.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCNMif2xJ5c
    I run my annual Australian Surf Movie Festival which just finished.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6oJBjkaA40c
    May i ask a question or two?
    I bought the Optitek Adapter for my Canon lenses. I just purchased the 100 to 400 Canon EF lens. I want to extend that. I hear the Kenko adapter is even sharper than the Canon ones. If I get the Kenko. Would you get the 1.4 or the 2.0 (as i always prefer extra length is better but if I loose in too much crispness then i will o towards the 1.4) Or do i choose the Canon due to the fact I will be outdoors/salty air etc a bit.
    Question two; With the FS 700 what Shutter speed would you shoot in full light (as surfing is normally in the sunshine) at 200 FPS. I am thinking of a shutter speed 500 as at 1000 it sucks in too much light but you still want it crisp.
    Anyway, that’s it.
    Hopefully you will be able to respond or at least point me to the right forum.
    Finally if your in Sydney I would love to catch up. Sincerely Tim Bonython

    1. The Kenko 1.4 is pretty good. I don’t know about the 2x. Extenders do tend to increase flare etc, so are almost always a compromise compared to a longer lens.

  8. I have pmw 150 xdcam I want to know how to set the picture profile more better for shooting indoor and outdoor of wedding.

  9. Dear Sir,

    Thanks for all good info at your site 🙂
    Anders from Sweden here, do you by any chance know the
    “Sensor Readout speed” of the FS7, you know Alexas talking about 1 msec??
    Thanks in advance
    All my best
    Anders

    1. Alexa is about 6msec. FS7 is about 12-14msec. The more pixels you have to read the slower it will be. Alexa is only reading out half as many pixels as an FS7, pixel for pixel the readout speeds are about the same, but the FS7 has more pixels to read. DSLR’s are typically 24ms or slower.

  10. Thank you very much Alister (and Sony Canada) for the presentation yesterday in Montreal, it’s appreciated. 😉

  11. Hi Alister,
    I am new to your site so please let me start by introducing myself. I am a Zoologist/Biologist specialising in pelagic shark studies. A few years ago I completed a 2 year course in Stills Photography and am now in the process of crossing over to Motion photography. Obviously, my areas of interest are natural history. This is mainly in the Coral Sea with pelagic sharks (which is my speciality) and, when I have time, in the Equatorial jungles of South-east Asia.

    Before I continue I would like to congratulate you on your PXW-FS7 tutorials. You are obviously an expert in your field and a damned good teacher too if I may add. After going through your FS7 tutorial lessons several times, I think I am now ready to take the plunge and grab me one of those Sony FS7’s. Thanks to you, I now have a much greater knowledge on the subject then what I had a few months ago, but now Sony has thrown a spanner in the works by releasing a new addition to the FS7 range – the PXW-FS7 M11. We are told that we will not see it here in Australia until the end of January/mid February 2017 and there isn’t much info of the new addition as yet but I imagine that there won’t be too many changes from the old model. So from a novice point of view would it be worthwhile waiting for the new camera or just grab the current model? In other words are the changes, whatever they are, worth holding back for? Also, does your FS7 tutorials still apply to the newer model? I suppose all this is quite trivial to those regular members of your site but for a newbie to the camera I would appreciate a little assurance on which decision to make.

    I also believe that Sony will be adding n 18-110mm zoom lens to the package which personally I think is great. Having that extra wide angle is a bonus even though it may lack some grunt on the other end of the range and, if you would be so kind Alister I have one more question. Could you recommend a Sony dedicated lens to the FS7 that has a stronger telephoto range such as perhaps 80-250mm or something similar in that area? Any comments that you have will be much appreciated and Thank You in advance.

    Best wishes,
    Jim

    1. Tutorials will work for both models. Which to choose depends on your budget. If you plan on keeping it for a few years I’d try to afford the FS7MII, the variable ND is great. 18-110 is an option.

  12. I just found a menu glitch in the FS7 that has cost me hours to find, and I thought I’d share it with you so maybe other folks don’t have to go through this.

    If you’re shooting in Cine EI base setting AND YOU HAVE DISTORTION COMP TURNED ON IN LENS SETTINGS IN THE SYSTEM MENU, then SDI 2 and VF LUT are turned off by default and you cannot turn them on unless SDI/Internal Record LUT is turned on, which of course is the last thing you want to do. If you want to be able to turn on a LUT in the SDI2 output or the viewfinder, you have to first turn Lens Distortion Compensation OFF. Sony recommends turning Distortion Comp ON when shooting with the Sony 18-105 f4 power zoom which I own.

    This is clearly a Sony screw up and it certainly screwed up my day! I hope this helps someone else.

    1. It’s a known limitation of the LUT system. There are not enough video processors in the camera to apply every function at the same time.

  13. Allister I hope you can help with the following Sony FS7 issue. I am director of photography for PBS (WTTW) in Chicago and we are using the FS7 for documentary work. We have completed one Doc using the Custom mode with a hyper game 8 setup with excellent results. We are beginning our next project using the Cine EI setup with Slog 3 Cine S gamut. We are shooting XAVC-i in HD NOT 4k. I have watched all of your tutorials regarding the use of Cine EI but we are having problems displaying the LUT (709A 800%) via the sdi 1 or sdi 2 output. We are NOT using the Sony multi pin viewfinder, rather we are using the Zacuto Gratical Eye which is being fed video from sdi 2. We are monitoring via sdi 1. We are only recording to internal XQD media. The only way I can get the internal LUT to display via the SDI outputs is to turn ON the sdi 1 & internal record option in the menu. As you know this is unacceptable as it bakes the internal LUT on to the XQD card. All other menu options to turn on or off LUTs on the SDI outputs are not available. Your thoughts. Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

  14. Hi Alister.
    I’ve heard that the highlights in S-Log3 clip at 95%. Is this true, and is the same true for S-Log3.cine? My question regards the Sony FS7

    1. They clip at 94% whenever S-Log3 is used. But this is not a reduction in dynamic range, just smply that S-Log3 is a 15.5 stop curve and the camera can only see 14 stops so the recordings never get all the way to the top. With 10 bit recording this is of little significance. With 8 bit recording it is not an ideal situation as you are wasting some of the already limited data available to the recording.

  15. Hi,
    I am not very tech savvy and shoot sports events for the competitors; nothing very exciting. Now I am ready to venture towards new horizons and bought the PXW-X70.
    Because this camera has to perform many jobs I checked with several people about the possibility of mp4 output. Some said yes, some said no. Some said MPEG-4 but I don’t know the difference. Can you explain the difference please?
    Does this camera have the capability of mp4 output?
    Thank you,
    Del.

    1. mp4 is a wrapper. In some cameras an mp4 file might contain XAVC, in others it might be mpeg2. The PXW-X70 uses the MXF wrapper to contain XAVC (which is based on the H264/Mpeg 4 codec) or Mpeg2. It can also record AVCHD (another H264 variant) using the mp4 wrapper, but this is of lower quality than the XAVC files.

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Camera setup, reviews, tutorials and information for pro camcorder users from Alister Chapman.

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