Sony’s Professional Hard Drives.

Sony 256GB SSD.

Sony 256GB SSD.

Hard drives are boring! But they are now a very important part of life in the world of TV production. I get through dozens and dozens of hard drives every year and as the drives I am using may hold footage that can never be replaced it’s important that they are as reliable as possible. For a while now I have been using a number of Sony hard drives and SSD’s. These drives are built for portable video applications and my drives have been all over the world from hot, humid Asia to the bitter cold of Arctic Norway. They have never let me down. Each drive comes in a nice case that resembles a video cassette case so that you can stack them neatly on a shelf. No more tatty, crumpling cardboard boxes. In addition the outer case protects the drive in transit, plus each case contains a USB3 lead and a firewire 800 cable, so you don’t need to search around for the cables.

The drives themselves are built in to a tough but very lightweight enclosure with soft rubber bumpers at each end. There are little notches and bumps in the bumpers that interlock if you stack the drives one on top of another, say on the desk of your edit suite. Not only do the rubber bumpers protect the drives from knocks and bumps, but they also incorporate flaps that cover the USB3 and Firewire 800 sockets. The drives meet the MIL-STD-810G standard and when the connector covers are closed are dust proof to IP5X and splash proof to IP4X. The HDD is built to withstand being dropped from 2m and the SSD from 2.3m. I have to say that my 256GB SSD has been dropped a few times now and is still going strong.

Sony are so confident of the quality of their drives that they offer a 3 year warranty and  after almost a year on the market, I have been told that so far not one single drive has had to be replaced!

USB3 is backwards compatible with USB2, so if you don’t have USB3 you can just treat the drive as a USB2 drive. If you are a Mac user with an older Mac then you are well catered for with a pair of Firewire 800 ports on the rear of each drive.

The 256GB SSD is extremely fast and this drive has become my go-to drive for on the road use as I can easily edit 4K material stored on this drive and it appears to be really tough. I often ship my SSD along with my hold baggage when I’m flying, it’s been bashed about on snow scooters and used to edit from while bouncing down dirt track roads. I use the 500GB and 1TB Hard drives for general purpose storage and HD editing.

For more information take a look at the Sony web site: http://www.sony.co.uk/pro/products/broadcast-products-portable-storage

 

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Quick tips for shooting lightning – Video and Stills.

At night we shoot lightning!

At night we shoot lightning!

With the UK set to see a couple of days of strong and severe thunderstorms I thought I would put together a very quick guide to shooting lightning with both stills cameras and video cameras. Your first issue will be finding somewhere dry to shoot from, you don’t want rain on your camera or lens. You also do need to consider safety. Lightning is dangerous, it can strike many miles from a thunderstorm. If you can hear thunder you are in the strike risk area, so do take care. One of the safest places to be in a thunderstorm is inside a car. If the car is struck the electricity will pass through the body of the car and not through the occupants, before jumping from the underside of the car to the ground. If you are shooting from a car stay inside the car, don’t sit with your feet out of the door or any part of you touching the ground. Don’t sit in the car while holding on to a camera on a tripod outside the car. Don’t stand under trees, they can explode when struck by lightning, don’t stand on the very top of a hill. Use your common sense.

Arizona Lightning. FS700, 240fps and Zunow E mount 11-16mm T2.8

Long exposure captures great nigh time lightning.

For either stills or video you’re really going to want to use a tripod to get the very best results. As you often get strong winds around thunderstorms you want a good stable tripod. If it is windy keep a close eye on the camera and tripod, you don’t want it blown over by a strong gust of wind.

A wide angle lens will increase your chances of getting a lightning bolt in your shot, but the wider the shot the less detail you will see in the lightning bolt. You can always crop in to a wide shot a bit if it’s too wide. I like to have something in the foreground to give some interest to the image, but try to avoid too many obstructions to the skyline as these will block your view of the lightning.

NIGHT FOCUS:

This is probably the easiest for still photos, but it has many challenges. One is focus as it’s hard to focus on a brief flash of lightning. You will need to use manual focus, autofocus will not work. Start by focussing on a very distant object, perhaps lights on the horizon, the moon, stars or any other VERY distant object, preferably a mile or more away. Then check and double check your focus. Lightning is very fine and if it’s out of focus it will ruin the shot. If you don’t have anything to focus on set the lens to infinity, the sideways “8″ symbol is infinity and there will normally be a line to mark the point of infinity focus. Infinity is often NOT at the very end of the lenses focus travel so check for the proper infinity mark. By the way, take a torch/flashlight if your going out in the dark!

STILL PHOTO’s or DSLR AT NIGHT:

You will need to use a tripod. If you have a cable release or other electronic shutter release use it to trigger the camera to prevent shaking the camera as you will need to use a long exposure. As you will be using a long exposure you want to use a low ISO. I typically use 200ISO with an exposure of between 10 and 30 seconds depending on the frequency of the lightning and how bright the surrounding area is. If you are in a town or city with lots of street light you will probably need to use a shorter exposure, maybe 10 to 15 seconds. Out in the countryside you might be able to use 20 to 30 seconds. For the aperture you don’t want super shallow depth of field as this will show up any focus errors, so don’t use your lens wide open. I normally use somewhere around f4 to f8, so f5.6 is probably a good starting point. Take some test shots and check that you are not over exposed.

As a starting point try: 200ISO, f5.6, 10 second exposures, manual focus.

Once the camera is set, it simply a case of snapping away taking pictures until you get lucky and capture one in the frame. It takes a bit of luck and patience, but don’t give up too soon, just keep snapping away. You can just delete all the no good shots later.

Evening thunderstorm in Tucson, Arizona

Evening thunderstorm in Tucson, Arizona

DAY and NIGHT VIDEO:

If your camcorder has a CMOS sensor (as most do these days) you want to use the slowest shutter speed that you can get away with. If you can control the shutter manually turn it off or reduce it to 1/25 or 1/30. This will reduce the likelihood of you getting lightning bolts that only go half way down the screen, an effect know as “rolling shutter” or “flash band”. If shooting after dark, if you have a camera with full manual control then instead of shooting at the usual 24, 25 or 30 frames per second, consider shooting at half of this, perhaps at 12, 12.5 or 15 frames per second (S&Q motion, slow shutter etc), again with the shutter set to OFF. While this does mean that the motion in your final video will be sped up it almost guarantees that you won’t get any rolling shutter issues. You will need to have the camera on a tripod if doing this to prevent excessive image blur from movement of the camera. The slightly sped up video can also give the pleasing (but fake) impression that the lightning is more frequent than it really is making your shots more dramtic. If you don’t want this simply play the video back at half speed.

STILL PHOTOS DURING THE DAY:

This is really tough unless you have special equipment. You can’t use a long exposure as you would at night because the bright daytime light will wash out the lightning bolts.

Very often a lightning bolt is made up of several flashes in rapid succession. If you do have fast enough reactions and a fast enough camera, you can get the secondary flashes. You will need to use manual focus and manual exposure so there isn’t a delay while the  camera thinks about focus and exposure which delays the release of the shutter. Use a tripod with a cable release or remote shutter and use a longish exposure, 1/30th or 1/15th as there can be up to 1/10th of a second delay between flashes and there could be multiple flashes, you don’t want too fast a shutter speed. Set your focus on a very distant object, use a low ISO, again I typically use 100 or 200 ISO. Shoot a couple of test images and set the aperture so that you have a very slightly underexposed shot, may -1EV to -1.5EV, the slightly darker overall image will help the bright lightning show up better. Then it’s just a case of pointing the camera at the storm on a tripod, with your finger on the trigger and try to hit that shutter release as soon as you see any lightning. I find it’s better to not look through the viewfinder, just look in the direction the camera is pointed. You may be lucky, maybe not, a lot will depend on the type of lightning in the storm and your reaction speed. A better way is to use a dedicated lightning trigger such as a Patchmaster: http://www.fotokonijnenberg.nl/patchmaster. This will trigger the camera electronically if it detects any lightning. It’s MUCH faster and can react much quicker than any human, but it still has some lag time so even a lightning trigger won’t capture every bolt.

A final daytime method is to use an adaptation of the night time DSLR method. If you add a strong ND filter a small aperture around f16 and use a low ISO you may be able to get an acceptable long exposure during daytime, perhaps a couple of seconds. Then set the camera to take photo’s continuously (so when you hold the shutter button down the camera will take one photo after another). By locking down a remote shutter release the camera will take a continuous stream of photos with only a very minimal gap between each picture taken. So you have a high likely hood of capturing any lightning bolts, but you will also end up with a lot of pictures that don’t have any lightning in them. You can either discard these empty frames or use all the frames to create a time-lapse video of the storm.

Have fun, stay safe.

If you find the guide useful, please consider buying me a beer or a coffee.


Type



 

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Lastolite EzyBalance Calibration Card – Pop-up grey card and 90% white card. Review.

Lastolite EzyBalance pop up grey card.

Lastolite EzyBalance pop up grey card.

Fed up with carrying large or bulky grey cards that get bent and creased or get dirty and fade? Why not try one of the great Lastolite pop up grey cards? I have the 30cm 18% grey pop-up grey card and it works really well. When folded it’s only about 12cm across so takes no space at all. It comes in a handy zip up case. This is so much easier to carry and transport than traditional ridged cards. The back of the target is 90% white. Both the grey and white targets appear to be very accurate and the matte surface of the grey card helps eliminate hot spots and reflections. There is a cross hair style focussing target in the center of each side if you need to check focus. They come in different sizes, if you want a larger one there are also 50cm and 75cm versions plus there is even an underwater version. Do note that they come in both 18% and 12% shades of grey. Really handy if shooting with SLog or for setting white balance. If you are working with a video camera you want the 18% grey version, but you may need the 12% version if calibrating a light meter etc. Simple, low cost item that works really well. Recommended!

http://www.lastolite.co.uk/ezybalance-grey-wht-card-03m-lllr1250

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Major Update to my Cine-EI guide for the PMW-F55 and PMW-F5

I have just published a major update to my guide to Cine-EI on the PMW-F55 and F5. The guide now goes in to a lot more depth. I have tried to make it easy to understand but it is also quite technical, I have deliberately included the technical background stuff so that hopefully you will understand why Cine-EI and LUT’s work the way they do. I’ve added a whole new section on exposure methods for some of the different LUT’s as well as how to create your own LUT’s.

Please take a look if you use these cameras. Soon I will add a section on post production.

http://www.xdcam-user.com/2013/12/cine-ei-mode-when-recording-s-log23-and-raw-on-the-f5-and-f55/

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Quick test of the CommLite EF to NEX lens adapter. CN-EF-NEX

Commlite full frame EF to NEX lens mount adapter.

Commlite full frame EF to NEX lens mount adapter.

My old Metabones MK1 adapter is not suitable for full frame lenses on the new Sony A7s. So in anticipation of the arrival of my A7s I ordered a cheap CommLite full frame autofocus ready adapter on ebay. This adapter (CN-EF-NEX) was only $90 USD so I thought I would give it a try, much cheaper than the metabones.

To be honest I wasn’t expecting much, but now I have the adapter in my hands I am pleasantly surprised. It appears well made and very solid. It even carries a CE mark. It works just fine on my NEX5N and FS700. On the NEX5N I have working autofocus. If the lens has image stabilisation this works too. I have tried a wide variety of Sigma and Tamron Canon EF lenses with it and they all work. Even my new Tamron 16-300mm works with this adapter, this lens doesn’t work with a number of other adapter.

Autofocus is a little slow, especially if the light is bad. Having not used the MK3 Metabones I don’t know how this compares but certainly this adapter works and is quite useable. It’s said to be compatible with full frame lenses on the A7, but as yet I have not been able to test this. The little mounting post is easily and quickly removable, but a real boon on the NEX5N with bigger lenses. For the price, you can’t go far wrong, really quite impressed considering how little it cost.

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PMW-F55 and F5 Viewfinder High Contrast Mode as a LUT for HFR.

Been playing a lot with HFR recently on my F5. One of the niggles with HFR on the PMW-F55 and F5 is that you don’t have LUT’s when shooting HFR. But, in firmware V4 Sony added a new high contrast mode for the viewfinder. I now have this allocated to one of my assignable buttons and it makes a pretty good LUT alternative for shooting in HFR.

I find that when shooting with S-Log3 HFR I can get a pretty good approximation of correct exposure using the VF High Contrast mode and as the image has decent contrast, focus is much easier than when trying to work without any kind of LUT. Sadly this is only available in the viewfinder, but I find that it is much more obvious if your exposure is off when you use the VF High Contrast mode.

The camera automatically turns this mode OFF when you power the camera down, so you must re-enable it when you power cycle the camera. This is probably a good thing as it means you shouldn’taccidentally.

Sadly zebras etc either measure the LUT output or the Slog, they are NOT effected by the viewfinder HC mode, so in HFR they will be measuring the SLog.

It’s very easy to check out this function for yourself. In regular, non HFR Cine EI,at the native ISO,  turn ON the 709(800) LUT and view the image in the viewfinder making a mental not of what it looks like. Now turn the VF LUT’s OFF and turn on the VF High Contrast mode. You will see that the VF image is as far as I can tell identical in both modes.

So at the native ISO: Cine EI + 709(800) LUT gives the same image in the VF as CineEI NO LUT + VF High Contrast mode.

I recommend that if you haven’t played with this in HFR you give it a try. It’s not a true LUT, but it looks just the same as the 709(800) LUT.

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Do you really want or need 4K?

For the past 18 months almost everything I have shot has been shot at 4K. I have to say that I am addicted to the extra resolution and the quality of the images I am getting these days from my PMW-F5 and R5 raw recorder. In addition, the flexibility I get in post from shooting in 4K to crop and re-frame my shots is fantastic.

BUT: I have a Sony A7s on order. Us European buyers won’t get them until late July as the European model is different to the US model, in the US the cameras are based on the NTSC system, so do 24, 30 and 60fps while the European models are based on PAL, so do 25 and 50fps  but with the addition of 24fps as well. Right now there are no realistic portable 4K recording option for the A7s, these will come later. So this means that for a now if I want to shoot with the A7s it will have to be HD.

Is that really such a bad thing? Well, no not really. It’s a sideways step not a backwards one, as I’m getting the A7s for a very specific roll.

Image quality is a combination of factors. Resolution is just one part of the image quality equation. Dynamic range, contrast, noise, colour etc all contribute in more or less equal parts to getting a great image. The A7s delivers all of these very well. If I am delivering in HD then most of the time I don’t NEED 4K. 4K is nice to have and if I can have 4K then I will take advantage of it, but for an HD production it is definitely not essential in most cases.

The reason for getting the A7s is that I want a pocket sized camera that I can use for grab and go shooting. It offers amazing low light performance and great dynamic range thanks to it’s use of S-Log2. I’m really excited about the prospect of having a camera as sensitive as the A7s for next years Northern Lights trips. I should be able to get shots that have not been possible before, so even at “only” HD the A7s will get used along side my 4K F5/R5.

In the future there will of course be external 4K recording options for the A7s making it even more versatile. I probably won’t always use them with the A7s but the option will be there when I NEED 4K.

Given the choice, if I can shoot in 4K I almost always will. I want to shoot in 4K whenever I can. It really does give me much greater post production flexibility, for example I can shoot a wide shot of an interview in 4K and then crop in for a mid shot or close up if I’m delivering in HD. So 4K will always be very high on my priority list when choosing a camera. But if you can’t afford 4K and are still delivering in HD then worry not. It’s probably better to have a well optimised HD camera than a cheap, poor quality less than perfect 4K camera. Don’t let 4K trick you into buying a lesser camera just because the lesser camera has 4K.

Well shot HD still looks fantastic, even on a big screen. Most movies are shown at 2K and few people complain about the quality of most blockbusters. So, HD is still good enough, 4K has not made HD obsolete or degraded the quality of existing HD cameras.

But is good enough? Good enough for you and your clients? I am passionate about getting great images, so I don’t just want good enough, I want the best I can get, so I’m a 4K convert, as are some of my clients. I’m actually delivering content in 4K for many of my customers. But sometimes, 4K isn’t practical, so in these cases I’ll just get the very best HD I can (hence the A7s for very portable and ultra low light shooting).

The bottom line is that right now, maybe you don’t need 4K, but it’s OK to want 4K. You may need 4K very soon as it becomes more mainstream (some nice Samsung and LG 4K TV’s are now available in the $1.5K/£1K price range). 4K might bring you many benefits in post production, but that doesn’t mean you need it, not yet at least. But once you do start to shoot in 4K there is no going back and while you might still not need 4K, you’ll probably find that you do actually need 4K. :-)

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Hassled by police for shooting in the street.

Welcome home back to the UK, NOT!

I was in Windsor, Berkshire, close to the Castle, a major tourist attraction, shooting with a Sony AX100, a compact consumer handycam. I was using a small 3 stage tripod and I was standing on the public right of way pavement shooting the castle. I had arrived in Windsor early to avoid the worst of the crowds.

After a few minutes I am approached by a single Police officer and a council warden. After exchanging pleasant “good mornings” The first question I am asked is: “What are you doing, is it for professional or private purposes?”.

Now, I know that as I am not on private property I can shoot without restriction and it makes no difference whether I am an amateur or a professional, there is no differentiation between the two under UK law when it comes to taking photos or video both have the same rights.

So as I’m unsure quite how to respond as I am a professional cameraman, but I was not shooting for any particular production or client I respond: “Does it make a difference whether it’s professional or private?”, to which the warden tells me yes it does, it makes a difference (which is incorrect). Next I’m asked who I’m working for etc.

OK, OK, hands in the air, I could have handled this better. But, I don’t have to explain to the police what I am doing, who I work for etc. I am perfectly within my rights to shoot video from a public pavement and I don’t need to explain to all and sundry what I am doing and why. I get fed up with being stopped by the police in this country whenever I turn up on a street with a pro camera or tripod.

So next I get the whole, well we have to be vigilant, you might be a terrorist bit. Huh? Would a terrorist stand with a tripod in such an obvious manner, there were people all over the place with all kinds of cameras shooting all kinds of thing, but because I had a tripod, was on my own and taking my time I was singled out as a terrorist threat! For goodness sake, it was a consumer camcorder just like the hundreds of others in the hands of the thousands of tourists that visit Windsor every day. Do the police stop all of them, or are they just singling out those that look like they might be professionals? If they want to know who I am then they should have asked for ID, but they didn’t, they never asked who I was, where I lived, jus whether I was shooting for professional or private purposes.

So I asked to be left alone so I could get on with what I was lawfully doing. After a couple of minutes they gave up and stood behind me chatting into their radios and making snide remarks that I was obviously meant to hear about about my attitude. I continued to shoot shots of the castle.

Then I look up from the camera to find a police sargent standing right in front of me,  blocking my shot. “Excuse me sir can you tell me what your doing?”.  By now I’m getting pretty angry with this whole thing. “I’m trying to shoot some video of the castle, but you’re preventing me from doing it”. “Oh no, I’m not stopping you” say’s the policeman.

Prevent from shooting by the Police in Windsor. Althought not physical stopped, by standing in front of the camera this police office made it hard for me to shoot.

Prevent from shooting by the Police in Windsor. Although not physical stopped, by standing in front of the camera this police office made it hard for me to shoot.

Uh well actually, while perhaps not physically restraining me, the fact that the guy was standing in front of me along with the constant hassling meant I was prevented from shooting, so after a further “discussion” about my right to shoot and not being a terrorist I was in effect forced to move on simply to get away from the now 3 police officers and a warden making it very hard to do what I wanted to do.

Why is it I can travel around the world shooting this and that all over the place, but when I return to my home country I get prevented from going about my lawful business under the pathetic pretext of being some kind of terrorist threat. I don’t have to explain what I am doing, who I work for, whether I’m shooting for private or commercial purposes when I’m going about my business in a public area. Clearly the police didn’t like the fact that I knew my rights.

I admit that I could of handled the situation better, but when the first question you get asked is whether your shooting for private or commercial purposes you just can’t tell what’s coming next. Plus, frankly the situation should never have arisen in the first place. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, I shouldn’t have to explain to the police what I am doing just because I’m using a tripod. I am really fed up with this happening here in the UK. It’s crazy because whenever I want to go and shoot something, I don’t want this kind of hassle, so I have to try to figure out locations where I won’t be bothered by the police. I shouldn’t have to do this.

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New compact XDCAM camcorder in development.

At last weeks Broadcast Asia trade show in Singapore, Sony revealed that they are working on a new highly compact XDCAM camcorder. They showed a prototype camera that was under a glass cover (which was a working unit).

Very few details are available at this time. The camera shown appears to be based on either the Sony AX100 4K camcorder or the similar CX900 HD camcorder. These both use a 1″, 20MP CMOS sensor that produces really rather good images (although it does suffer from a fair bit of skew/rolling shutter) and have 8 bit XAVC-S recording to SDXC or SDHC cards in 4K and HD in the AX100 and HD only in the CX900. This new camcorder will be able to record using 10 bit 422 XAVC long GoP, probably at 50Mb/s like the new PXW-X180. Whether it will also be able to record the XDCAM Mpeg2 codec is less clear, personally I suspect not.

This camera follows on from the Sony tradition of taking a top end compact consumer model, tweaking the recording codecs, adding a few more pro style features and adding an XLR input. So it’s no surprise to see this really. Given the great images from the CX900 and AX100 I would imagine that this new camcorder will pack quite a punch for such a small unit. The AX100/CX900 have a 12x optical zoom with image stabilisation and the ability to digitally increase the zoom range to 18x in 4K(AX100) and 24x in HD with very little loss of image quality.

EDIT: I Note that 1: There are no 4K badges on the camera body as the AX100 has. 2: The zoom range is noted as 24x on the camera body. This makes me suspect that this camera will be HD only.

Here are some pictures of the unit shown in Singapore.

IMG_1919

New, as yet un-named compact XDCAM camcorder. Left side

New, as yet un-named compact XDCAM camcorder. Left side

New, as yet un-named compact XDCAM camcorder. Right rear with SDI connector.

New, as yet un-named compact XDCAM camcorder. Right rear with SDI connector.

New, as yet un-named compact XDCAM camcorder. Right Side.

New, as yet un-named compact XDCAM camcorder. Right Side.

New, as yet un-named compact XDCAM camcorder. Top of the handle.

New, as yet un-named compact XDCAM camcorder. Top of the handle.

New, as yet un-named compact XDCAM camcorder. From the rear. Note that this unit actually works!

New, as yet un-named compact XDCAM camcorder. From the rear. Note that this unit actually works!

 

 

 

 

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Sample Footage from PXW-X180 XAVC/XDCAM/AVCHD camcorder.

I was lucky enough to get to spend some time with a pre-production Sony PXW-X180 here in Singapore. I put it through it’s paces shooting around the botanical gardens, China town and Clarke Quay.

For a 1/3″ camcorder it produces a remarkably good image. Really low noise, very clean images, much better than anything I have seen from any other 1/3″ camcorder. The 25x zoom is impressive, the variable ND filter is very clever and it might seem trivial but the rear viewfinder was very nice. It’s a very high resolution OLED, much, much better than the LCOS EVF’s found on many other models.

The zoom lens has proper manual calibrated controls with end stops, much like a PMW-200. The ability to use a multitude of codecs is fantastic and perhaps better still is the fact that you can use SDXC cards for XDACM or XAVC at up to 50Mb/s, so even XDCAM HD422 can be recorded on this low cost media. This will be great for news or other situations where you need to hand off your media at the end of the shoot.

A more in depth review will follow soon, but for now here’s the video. Un-graded, un touched, straight from the camera footage. Looks very nice if you ask me.

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