Category Archives: shoots

Sony FDR-X3000 4K Action Cam – built in gimbal.

One of the cameras I used a lot in Norway is the new Sony FDR-X3000 action cam. What’s different about this POV camera is that the lens and sensor are actually mounted in an internal miniaturised gimbal. This really does work and helps stabilise the image.

There is also a tiny bluetooth monitor that you can wear on your wrist to view the pictures and control the camera. The image quality you get from these tiny cameras really is quite amazing. Take a look at the video to find out more and see some sample footage.

Northern Colour – new Northern Lights video.

It’s that time of year again. After another simply amazing trip to northern Norway I am pleased to be able to share with you my latest Aurora video. It was shot with a Sony A7s and a Sony A6300. The lenses used were a Sigma 20mm f1.4 art lens. An older Sigma 20mm f1.8, a samyang 14mm f2.8 and a Sony 16mm f2.8 pancake lens. A Metabones Speedbooster Ultra was used on the A6300. For the slider shots I used a home built track (made so it fits my suitcase perfectly) and a Cinetics Cinemoco controller. Hope you enjoy it.

Camrade CB-HD camera bag.

CAM_CAM-CB-HD-MEDIUM_3_26109 Camrade CB-HD camera bag.I’ve been using Camrade bags for years. They are tough, protect my gear well without being heavy and clunky like pelicases and other hard shell cases. In addition they don’t scream “expensive equipment here”. They just look like large holdalls.  One of the best features is the use of dividers, pads and inserts that are attached with velcro that allow you to reconfigure the bags for different applications.

CAM_CAM-CB-HD-MEDIUM_4_26110 Camrade CB-HD camera bag.
Camrade CB-HD equipment bag with reconfigurable velcro dividers and pads.

One thing I often do is carry my camera in a standard carry-on bag when I’m flying. Meanwhile my tripod goes in the camera bag in the hold. When I get to my destination the tripod comes out of the camera bag, I re-arrange the dividers and the camera then lives in the camera bag until I need to fly again. This is so easy to do with the Camrade bags. Although the bags look like soft bags they are extremely ridged. The sides, top and bottom have hard inserts in them that can withstand very large loads, they are strong enough for you to sit on them without collapsing. The bags have strong carry straps and come with a high quality, removable camera strap. There are mesh pockets on the outside as well as on the inside of the lid for those little accessories and bits and pieces that would otherwise get lost. Another bonus is a 90% white card for white balance and use as an exposure reference.

Here’s a video of the medium size Camrade CB-HD bag, designed to take the PXW-FS7 or other similar digital cinema cameras. It’s a bit taller than some of their other bags so perfect for cameras rigged up with base plates and matte boxes.

 

Norway and the Northern Lights Video Blogs.

I produced 3 video blogs during my trip to Norway to shoot the northern lights. These blogs are now on youtube for you to watch. In the first video I take a look at some of the equipment that I took to Norway for the trip. I also look at how I like to lay everything out before I pack it and give some insight into some of the accessories that I like to take.

The second video looks back at the first week of the trip. You will see examples of the weather we had to deal with as well as some information on how some of the time lapse sequences of the aurora were shot.

The third video is about shooting a sunrise with 3 different cameras. The Sony a6300, FDR-AX3000 Action Cam and the PXW-FS5.
Packing for the shoot.

At the bottom of the page you’ll find a quick cut of a small selection of some of the Aurora footage shot on this trip.

Review of the first week in Norway.

Shooting a sunrise with 3 different cameras.

Quick sample of some of the Aurora footage:

Norway here I come!

Today I leave for my annual Northern Lights expeditions. So, I am off to the very north of Norway to shoot in the cold, long nights of the arctic winter. Currently sunrise is at 11am and sunset at about 12:30. You get golden hour all day and then a very long night (fully dark from about 3:30pm). If the weather gods are kind we will get clear skies and lots of opportunities to photograph and video the Northern Lights.

Over the next 3 weeks I will be releasing a number of video blogs about this adventure. They won’t be every day as I won’t always have internet access and the picture quality of the blogs may not be the best. But what I hope to cover are some of the practical aspects of a project like this. The first blog is about the equipment I’m taking, why I’ve chosen it and how I like to check what I’m packing.

There will be videos on shooting time-lapse, tips for shooting in the cold and more about the gear I’m using.

Here’s the first video: Packing.

 

Shooting in cold weather and shooting snow scenes. Updated.

A couple of years ago I wrote a guide to help people that might have to shoot in the cold.  I’ve recently updated this article and as I know many of you won’t have seen it before I’ve provided a link to the page below

LINK: This article deals with shooting in the cold and how that might effect your camera.

LINK: Some ideas and suggestions for clothing in very cold conditions.

Here also are some tips for shooting snow scenes with conventional gammas. Of course you can also shoot with log or raw, if you do just make sure your exposure is nice and bright for the best results (I’d expose white at around 75% with S-Log2 or S-Log3).

With conventional gammas such as Rec-709 exposing for snow is tricky. You want it to look bright, but you don’t want to overexpose and it’s very easy to end up with a lot of the bright snow in your scene up in the knee or highlights where it will be compressed and loose contrast. This makes the snow look odd as it will have no texture, it can all too easily look over exposed when in fact it is not. In reality, although we often think of snow as bright and white, often you really don’t want to expose it too high.  With Rec-709 if your camera has a high level zebra set them to 90% (Zebra 2 on most Sony cameras). This way you will get a zebra pattern on the snow as it starts to enter the compressed knee or highlight area. If you are using Sony’s cinegammas or hypergammas I would lower the highlight zebras to 80% -85%.

On overcast or flat light snow days I prefer not to use Hypergammas/Cinegammas  as the highlight roll off can make the snow look very flat unless you grade the images a little and boost the contrast in post. However on bright high contrast snow days with clear skies and strong shadows the Hyoegammas/Cinegammas work very well. You may want to consider using a little bit of negative black gamma to put a bit more contrast into the image.

You also want your snow to look white, so do a manual white balance using a proper white card or better still a grey card. Don’t try to white balance off the snow itself as snow can reflect a lot of blue light and skew the white balance a bit.  If you are shooting during golden hour at the beginning or end of the day and want to retain that warm look you might want to use a 5600K preset rather than a manual white balance.

If the overall scene is very bright you may need to watch your aperture. In most cases you don’t want to have the camera stopped down to an aperture of f11 or smaller.  Due to an effect called diffraction limiting, in HD, at f11 a 2/3″ camera will start to show a slightly soft image.  A 1/2″ sensor camera will be just starting to get slightly soft at f8.  In 4K/UHD a super 35mm camera will start to show a slightly softer image from f11 – f16. So use you ND filters to control you light levels so you do not have too small an aperture. You may need to add additional ND in very bright scenes to avoid diffraction limiting.

One last tip. If you are standing around in the cold and get cold feet you should find something to stand on. Small twigs and branches, a rubber car mat anything like that will help insulate your feet from the cold ground helping keep them warm.

Why Do We Need To Light?

Lets face it cameras are becoming more and more sensitive. We no longer need the kinds of light levels that we once used to need. So why is lighting still so incredibly important. Why do we light?

Starting at a most basic level, there are two reason for lighting a scene. The first and perhaps most obvious is to add enough light for the camera to be able to “see” the scene, to get an adequate exposure. The other reason we need to light, the creative reason why we need to light is to create shadows.

It is not the light in a scene that makes it look interesting, it is the shadows. It is the contrast between light and dark that makes an image intriguing to our eyes and brain. Shadows add depth, they can be used to add a sense of mystery or draw the viewers gaze to the brighter parts of the scene. Without shadows, without contrast most scenes will be visually uninteresting.

Take a typical daytime TV show. Perhaps a game show. Look at how it has been lit. In almost every case it will have been lit to provide a uniform and even light level across the entire set. It will be bright so that the cameras can use a reasonable aperture for a deep depth of field. This helps the camera operators keep everything focus. The flat, uniform light means that the stars or contestants can go anywhere in the set and still look OK. This is lighting for exposure, where the prime driver is a well exposed image.  The majority of the light will be coming from the camera side of the set or from above the set with all the light flooding inwards into the set.

eggheadsteam-e1479407949570 Why Do We Need To Light?
Typical TV lighting, flat, very few shadows, light coming from the camera side of the set or above the set.

Then look at a well made movie. The lighting will be very different. Often the main source of light will be coming from the side or possibly even the rear of the scene. This creates dark shadows on the opposite side of the set/scene. It will cast deep shadows across faces and it’s often the shadow side of a face that is more interesting than the bright side.

blade-runner1 Why Do We Need To Light?
Striking example of light coming from opposite the camera to create deep shadows – Bladerunner.

A lot of movie lighting is done from diagonally opposite the cameras to create very deep shadows on faces and to keep the background of the shot dark. If, as is typical in TV production your lights are placed where the cameras are and pointed into the set, then all the light will go into set and illuminate the set from front to back. If your lights are towards the side or rear of the set and are facing towards the cameras the light will be falling out of and away from the set rather than into the set. This means you can then keep the rear of the set dark much more easily. Having the main light source opposite the camera is also why you see far more lens flare effects in movies compared to TV as the light is often shining into the camera lens.

960_1 Why Do We Need To Light?
Another example of the main light sources coming towards the camera. The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford.

If you are shooting a night scene and you want to get nice clean pictures from your camera then contrast becomes key. When we think of what things look like at night we automatically think “dark”. But cameras don’t like darkness, they like light, even the modern super sensitive cameras still work better when there is a a decent amount of light. So one of the keys to a great looking night scene is to light the foreground faces of your cast well but keep the background very dark. You expose the camera for the bright foreground (which means you should not have any noise problems) and then rely on the fact that the background is dark to make the scene look like a night scene.  Again the reason to light is for better shadows, to make the darker parts of the scene appear very dark relative to the foreground and a high level of contrast will make it look like night. Consider a bright moonlit night, faces will be bright compared to everything else.

sam-shepard-jesse-james-e1479407719922 Why Do We Need To Light?
A well lit face against a very dark background means low noise night shot. Another example from The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford.

So in cinematography, very often the reason to add light is to create shadows and contrast rather than to simply raise the overall light level. To make this easier we need to think about reflections and how the light that we are adding will bounce around the set and reduce the high contrast that we may be seeking. For this reason most film studios have black walls and floors. It’s amazing how much light bounces of the floor. Black drapes can be hung against walls or placed on the floor as “negative fill” to suck up any stray light. Black flags can be used to cut and control any undesired light output from your lamps and a black drape or flag placed on the shadow side of a face will often help increase the contrast across that face by reducing stray reflections. Flags are as important as lights if you want to control contrast. Barn doors on a lamp help, but if you really want to precisely cut a beam of light the flag will need to be closer to the subject.

I think most people that are new to lighting focus too much on the lights themselves and don’t spend enough time learning how to modify light with diffusers, reflectors and flags. Good video lights are expensive, but if you can’t control and modify that light you may as well just by a DIY floodlight from your local hardware store.

Also consider using fewer lights. More is not necessarily better. The more lights you add the more light sources you need to control and flag. The more light you will have bouncing around your set reducing your contrast and spilling into your otherwise nice shadows. More lights means multiple shadows going in different directions that you will have to deal with.  Instead of using lots of lights be more careful about where you place the lights you do have, make better use of diffusion perhaps by bringing it closer to your subject to get more light wrap around rather than using separate key and fill lights.

 

2 Places Remain for Norway 2016!

Fire-in-the-sky-small-300x200 2 Places Remain for Norway 2016!
Aurora over a Fjord in Tromso.

Unbelievably I still have two places left for my Northern Lights trip in February. Normally these tours sell out well in advance, but I’ve had a number of cancellations, re-bookings and other changes that mean that there are still 2 places left. These trips really are a big, exciting adventure. We stay in at an amazing location miles from the nearest town and only accessible by snow scooter. We go ice fishing, cook out in a Sami tent, go dog sledding, snowmobiling and enjoy traditional saunas. The sun is still very active and the Aurora has been amazing this winter. It probably won’t be this good in 2017 and then we will go into the low side of the 11 year sunspot cycle, so it could be a long wait for the next big show. Full details are here: http://www.xdcam-user.com/northern-lights-expeditions-to-norway/

Tips for shooting in very cold weather.

With winter well upon us I thought it would be good to share some of my arctic shooting experience. I’ve shot in temperatures down to -40c in the arctic in winter.

Overall modern tapeless cameras do OK well in extreme cold. The most reliable cameras are larger solid state cameras. Larger cameras cool slower than small ones and larger cameras will hold on to heat generated internally better than small ones.

Condensation:

Condensation is the big deal breaker. When you take the very cold camera inside into a house/hotel/car/tent you will get condensation. If the camera is very cold this can then freeze on the body of camera including the glass of the lens. If there is condensation on the outside of the camera, there will almost certainly also be condensation inside and this can kill your camera.

To prevent or at least reduce the condensation you can place the camera in a large ziplock bag BEFORE taking it inside, take the camera inside in the bag. Then allow the camera to warm up to the ambient temperature before removing it from the bag. Peli cases are another option, but the large volume of the pelicase means there will be more moisture inside the case to condense and the insulating properties of the case mean that it could take many, many hours to warm up.

I don’t recommend storing a cold or damp camera in a Pelicase (or any other similar waterproof case) as there is nowhere for the moisture to go, so the camera will remain damp until the pelicase is opened and everything dried out properly.

Rather than moving a camera repeatedly from outside to inside and repeatedly generating risky condensation you should consider leaving the camera outside. You can leave the camera outside provided it does not get below -25c. Below -25c you risk the LCD panel freezing and cracking. LCD  panels freeze at between -30 to -40c. If you are using a camera in very cold conditions and you notice the edges of the LCD screen going blue or dark you should start thinking about warming up that LCD panel as it may be close to freezing.

LCD displays will become slow and sluggish to respond in the cold. Your pictures may look blurry and smeary because of this. It doesn’t affect the recording, only what you see on the LCD.

Very often in cold regions houses will have an unheated reception room or porch. This is a good place to store your camera rather than taking it inside into the warm. Repeatedly taking a camera from cold to warm without taking precautions against condensation will shorten the life of your camera.
If you can, leave the camera on between shots. The camera generates some heat internally and this will prevent many issues.

BATTERY LIFE:

Li-Ion batteries are effected by the cold but they are not nearly as bad as Nicads or NiMh batteries which are all but useless below freezing. li-Ion battery life gets reduced by between 25 and 50% depending on how cold it is. Down to about -10c there is only a very marginal loss of capacity. Down to -25c you will loose about 20%-30% below -25c the capacity will fall away further.

Keep your spare batteries in a pocket inside your coat or jacket until you need them. After use let the battery warm up before you charge it if you can. Charging a very cold battery will reduce the lifespan of the battery and it won’t fully charge. One top tip for shooting outside for extended periods is to get a cool box. Get some chemical hand warmers and place them in the cool box with your batteries to keep them warm. If you don’t have hand warmers you can also use a hot water bottle.

Watch your breath

If your lens has and snow or ice on it, don’t be tempted to breath or blow on the lens to blow the ice off.  Also try not to breath on the lens when cleaning it as your warm breath will condense on the cold glass and freeze.  Also try to avoid breathing out close to the viewfinder. A small soft paint brush is good for keeping your lens clean as in very cold conditions you’ll simply be able to brush and snow or ice off. Otherwise a large lens cloth.

Covers.

Conventional rain covers become brittle below about -15c and can even shatter like glass  below -20c. Special insulated cold weather covers often called “polar bears” can be used and these often have pockets inside for chemical heat packs. These are well worth getting if you are going to be doing a lot of arctic shooting and will help keep the camera warm. As an alternative wrap the camera in a scarf or cut the sleeves of an old sweater to make a tube you can slide over the camera. If you have a sewing machine you could make a simple cover out of some fleece type material.

Your lens will get cold and in some conditions you will get frost on the front element. To help combat this wrap some insulating fabric around the body of the lens. Wrist sweat bands are quite good for this or an old sock with the toes cut off.

Brittle Plastic.

Plastics get brittle at low temperatures so be very gentle with anything plastic, especially things made from very hard, cheap plastic. The plastic Sony use appears to be pretty tough even at low temps. Wires and cables may become ridged. Be gentle, bend then too much and the insulation may split.

Other considerations are tripods. If outside in very low temps for more than 30mins or so the grease in the tripod will become very thick and may even freeze, so your fluid damping will become either very stiff or freeze up all together. Contact your tripod manufacturer to see what temperatures their greases can be used over. Vinten and some of the other tripod companies can winterise the tripod and replace the normal grease with arctic grease.

Looking after yourself.

I find that the best way to operate the camera is by wearing a pair of large top quality mittens (gloves are next to useless below -15c), consider getting a pair of Army surplus arctic mittens, they are very cheap on ebay and will normally have an additional “trigger finger”. This extra finger makes it easier to press the record button and things like that.  If you can get Swedish or Finnish military winter mittens, these are amongst the best. I wear a pair of thin “thinsulate” gloves that will fit inside the mittens, i can then slip my hands in and out of the mittens to operate the camera.

I keep a chemical hand warmer inside the mittens to warm my fingers back up after using the camera. The hardest thing to keep warm is your feet. If you’ll be standing in snow or standing on ice then conventional hiking boots etc will not keep your feet warm. A Scandinavian trick if standing outside for long periods is to get some small twigs and tree branches to stand on and help insulate your feet from the cold ground. If your feet get cold then you are at risk of frostbite or frost nip. Invest in or hire some decent snow boots like Sorel’s or Baffin’s. I have an arctic clothing guide here; Arctic Clothing Guide |

PMW-F3, Run “n” Gun, is it worth the effort?

For me early Summer means airshow season and there are a couple of events that I shoot every year. The first is Flying Legends at the Imperial War Museum site at Duxford and features vintage aircraft predominantly from the second world war. The following weekend is the Royal International Air Tattoo, one of the largest military air shows and is all about the latest fast jets and military hardware. For the last 3 years I have been tasked with shooting aircraft being prepared for flight at both shows and for this I have been using a variety of cameras, but almost always some kind of ENG type camera. I’ve used PDW700’s, EX1’s and EX3’s. This year however it was decided to try and use one of my PMW-F3’s in order to take advantage of the shallow Depth of Field and give the footage a higher quality, filmic look.

Of course using the F3 for a shoot like this brings many challenges and one of the reasons for using it on these projects was to discover exactly whether the trade off between ease of use and shallow DoF was worth it. Thankfully, producer Steve Connor (flying machinestv.co.uk) is willing to let me try new things on his productions.

So how was it? Well it was hard work compared to running around with an EX1 or EX3. You have to check, check and double check focus all the time and this slows you down a little. The other thing is the lens. A camera like the EX1 has a 14x zoom lens giving a great range of focal lengths from a good wide angle to a nice long telephoto. With the F3 your lens choices are currently much more limited. While there are some very nice zooms like the Optimo 24-290mm (12x zoom) these just are not practical for run n gun. The Optimo weighs a whopping 24lbs/11kg . The other alternative to PL lenses is to use a DSLR lens. One of my favourites is the old Tokina AT-X Pro 28-70mm as this does not telescope, has a nice big focus scale and proper iris ring, but it’s only a 2.5x wide zoom, not much use for longer shots. The upshot of all this is that you end up doing a lot of lens swaps going from a wide zoom to a longer one (Sigma 70-300mm in my case). In addition the DSLR zooms are varifocal so you can’t zoom during the shot as the focus will shift.

So… I’m running around with the F3 and a rucksack with a couple of lenses and my favourite Vinten 100 tripod, swapping lenses many times for different shots. There’s no one-push auto iris confidence check, no image stabiliser and the batteries don’t last as long. As I said, compared to an EX1 it was hard work. But, I was able to be creative. It was easy to introduce some nice foreground or background soft focus objects. To do gentle pull focuses and to generally get good looking shots as opposed to just getting ordinary looking shots.

When an aircraft is started things can get very busy. There are spinning propellors to be aware of, or dangerous jet blasts (not to mention the noise). Aircraft can taxi with no warning. At these moments I was able to stop down the iris a bit to give myself greater depth of field for a little bit focus tolerance. This is what I like about the F3. It’s got sensitivity to spare so you can pick and choose how much DoF you have.

By the time the second airshow (RIAT) came around I realised that constant lens swapping was costing me shots. So for RIAT I used a Nikon 18-135mm zoom. This 7.5x zoom gave a much better focal length range, but its a rather nasty lens in so much as it’s f3.5 – f5.6 so the aperture changes as you zoom and it’s not particularly fast. It also telescopes and extends a lot as you zoom in, so you can’t use it with a matt box. The focus ring has no scale and iris has to controlled using the MTF adapter iris control. So all in all not my favourite lens, but for this particular shoot it worked out quite well. One thing that did become apparent is that not having a super fast lens, on this particular type of project was not an issue. I could still get reasonable shallow DoF shots when wide and at f3.5. At longer focal lengths the DoF decreases anyway, so shooting at f4 or f5.6 still yields pleasing results.

The footage from the shoots does look good. It has a much nicer look to it than conventional ENG video. The shallow DoF adds a quality feel to the material. While I didn’t shoot as much as I would have done with a more traditional camcorder due to the extra time required for lens changes, focus checking and the need to use the tripod more often, what I did shoot looked better overall so a higher percentage of what I shot will probably make it into the final production.

So as for my original question.. was it worth the effort? Well I think the answer is yes. The F3 can be used for run n gun, but it’s hard work, however the results are worth the extra effort.