Category Archives: Travel

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.

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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:

One Week Intensive Workshop. 21st – 27th August, Arizona, USA.

I will be running a one week, limited numbers, intensive workshop in Arizona between August 21st and August 28th.

alister-tucson-lightning-233x300 One Week Intensive Workshop. 21st - 27th August, Arizona, USA.
Lightning over Tucson

This workshop is timed to coincide with the Arizona monsoon season which will should give us some really exciting opportunities to put into practice many of the things that will be taught during the week.

Each day will begin with a  2  to 3 hour workshop on different aspects of modern video production including such things as log, raw and high dynamic range. We will also cover timelapse photography, lightning photography and include some basic motion control methods. So the workshop will be suitable for both still photographers as well as video camera operators. Below is an idea of the topics that will be covered:

Sunday 21st: Arrival day. Social evening, time to meet everyone.

Day 1: An introduction to lightning photography and video, including basic time lapse and slow motion techniques.

Day 2: An introduction to scene files, picture profiles, log and raw.

Day 3: CineEI, exposure index, gain and ISO and offsetting your exposure for the best results.

Day 4: Post production grading with DaVinci Resolve including the use and creation of LUT’s. How to use ACES to streamline your workflow.

Day 5: HDR, high dynamic range and Rec 2020.

Saturday 27th: Putting it all together, editing, grading and viewing your footage before social evening and diner.

Sunday 28th: departure day.

Lightning03-300x169 One Week Intensive Workshop. 21st - 27th August, Arizona, USA.
Night time thunderstorm in Arizona.

This schedule is subject to change as we will want to maximise opportunities to get out and shoot any interesting weather and storms. Most afternoons and evenings we will be out and about putting the things taught in the workshops into practice. For one half of the week we will likely be based in Tucson, Arizona and the other half Flagstaff. This will give us opportunities to shoot the incredible lighting storms that are common at this time of year as well as spectacular scenery such as the Grand Canyon or old western towns such as Tombstone (the location of the OK Coral). We will shoot conventional video clips as well as time lapse, so expect some early starts or late finishes as we shoot sunsets and possibly sunrises.

The minimum number of participants for this workshop is 4 and the maximum is 8. Ideally you should bring your own camera equipment and a laptop to edit with, but this is not a requirement.

The course fee is $1,500 USD per person. This does not include accommodation, food or your transport to Tucson, Arizona. It does include transportation each day of the course. We will be staying in a mid-priced motel (Holiday Inn Express, Hilton, Hampton Inn or similar), and you should budget around $110-$150 per night for accommodation.

Please use the contact form if you are interested in joining this exciting workshop.

 

Storm Photo and Video Tour. 1 Place left.

alister-and-supercell Storm Photo and Video Tour. 1 Place left.
Shooting a Supercell Thunderstorm

I have one spot still open on my storm chasing photo and video trip.

This is NOT a trip where we will try to get as close to a tornado as possible. The aim of this trip is to capture some of the incredible beauty of mother nature when she is angry. So we will be trying to capture incredible stormscapes, lightning, supercell storms and maybe tornadoes from a safe distance (at least 1 mile). Full details are here: http://www.xdcam-user.com/tornado-chasing/

Supercell02-300x169 Storm Photo and Video Tour. 1 Place left.
Supercell Thunderstorm in South Dakota

You will get to spend 10 days between June 6th and June 16th with me as your guide and mentor. I will help you get the very best images. There is no guarantee that the weather will play ball and there will be long hours in the car travelling. But if you spend a week in “tornado alley” in June and are prepared to travel, then it would be very unusual not to see some incredible weather and storms. If that happens then we will make good use of the time shooting some of the spectacular scenery that states like Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas have to offer. Use the contact form if you are interested in joining me.

Bennington-TN-grab1-e1462962111388 Storm Photo and Video Tour. 1 Place left.
Bennington, Kansas Tornado from about 2 miles away.
death-Supercell--e1462962686384 Storm Photo and Video Tour. 1 Place left.
Dying Supercell Thunderstorm at Sunset in Nebraska.

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 |

CamRade PMW-F3 Rain Cover. WS PMW F3

IMG_2383-300x200 CamRade PMW-F3 Rain Cover. WS PMW F3
CamRade F3 rain cover pouch.

As winter rapidly approaches, with all the talk in the news papers of mini-iceages, cold spells and the knowledge that winter generally means rain here in the UK I thought it would be a good time to take a look at a rain cover.

Rain covers for the PMW-F3 are few and far between at the moment, so when Rene at CamRade told me that they were producing a tailored rain cover for the F3 I had to get my hands on one to take a look.

IMG_2395-300x200 CamRade PMW-F3 Rain Cover. WS PMW F3
PMW-F3 inside the CamRade rain cover.

The cover arrived in a nice compact pouch made from the same high quality waterproof fabric as the cover itself. This fabric is some kind of soft rubberised material that feels very tough, yet is very flexible and soft to the touch, which is important if you have the camera up against your face. According to CamRade this soft material helps reduce the noise that rain drops falling on the can camera make. The cover is a tailored loose fit with velcro straps and fastenings that can be used to take up any excessive slack.

IMG_2389-300x200 CamRade PMW-F3 Rain Cover. WS PMW F3
Left side of the CamRade WS PMW F3 rain cover.

There are clear panels on the left side, more about them in minute. There’s an elasticated opening for a gun microphone at the front as well as a velcro protected opening on the right side for cable access to the XLR connectors. This opens up into a small tube so keeps the cable entry well protected from the weather. Along the top of the camera handle there is a long velcro opening to give access to the carry handle and top of the camera. This opening folds over to one side and is secured by a small velcro pad so that should not collect and rain when not in use.

IMG_2394-300x200 CamRade PMW-F3 Rain Cover. WS PMW F3
Fold out clear section allows the LCD to be used in the rain.

The main clear panel on the left side of the cover can be opened out and expanded so the the F3’s LCD panel can be used in the open position. the clever design allows the LCD to be viewed from above, from in front as well as from the rear, so you can continue to use the LCD panel in the rain. However in practice rain falling on the cover itself will tend to obscure or distort the images on the LCD to some extent. Ahh… the joy of shooting in the rain!!

IMG_2392-e1318324647990-200x300 CamRade PMW-F3 Rain Cover. WS PMW F3
The rear end. Plenty of space to run cables to and from the various connectors and easy battery access.

You can of course use the rear VF if you wish as this sticks out through a hole in the back of the rain cover. The rear of the cover opens up via velcro for easy battery access and will easily accommodate oversize batteries. I think the rear end of this cover is it weakest area and personally I’d like a cover that completely encloses the rear viewfinder, but that’s just me.

rain-cover-3-300x224 CamRade PMW-F3 Rain Cover. WS PMW F3
Clear window to view the lens markings.

Another feature on the left side of the cover is a clear window that allows you to see the lenses focus and iris rings and markings. If your using a long lens the cover comes with a clear extension that attaches to the front of the main cover and makes it long enough to to protect much longer lenses including lenses like the Optimo 16-24 zoom. This extension piece comes with a strip of self adhesive velcro that can be attached to the lens to stop it flapping around in the wind.

IMG_2398-300x200 CamRade PMW-F3 Rain Cover. WS PMW F3
Expanding flap allows easy access to the hand grip.

On the right side of the cover there is an opening under a flap that allows you to insert your hand into the cover so you can grip the camera via the hand grip without having to open up the rain cover. I really liked this feature. The bottom of the cover has small side flaps that will prevent rain from running off under the camera or onto the very top of your tripod. A nice touch.

I’ve had many small camera rain covers over the years. Very often they are so stiff and ridged that they are a complete nuisance to use. The material used in this cover is really nice and makes the camera reasonably easy to use even when trussed up inside the cover. The fold out clear cover for the LCD means that rain should not prevent you from being able to carry on shooting due to the camera becoming wet.

I give this cover 7/10. It would be 9/10 if the rear end was a little neater and there was a way to cover the EVF, but as small camera rain covers go, it’s a good one.

Camrade CB Single III Camera Bag.

I was asked by my good friend Rene of Camrade to take a look at some of their new products. So over the next couple of weeks I’ll be looking at the CB Single III camera bag, the PMW F3 rain cover and a new PL lens adapter for the Sony FS100. First I’m going to take a look at the camera bag.

bag1-300x224 Camrade CB Single III Camera Bag.
Camrade CB Single III

I’ve had Camrade bags before and they have always lasted well, standing up to the knocks and bumps that go along with lugging kit all over the place. I was in the market for a new bag for one of my PMW-F3’s, so I was sent the CB Single III bag. From the outside this is a functional looking bag with a large mesh pocket on one side and further external pockets on the other side and at one end. It has a nice well padded chunky carry strap that is comfortable to use.

bag2-300x224 Camrade CB Single III Camera Bag.
Inside the Camrade CB Single III

The top of the bag opens up with a dual zipper system that gives you completely un hindered access to the bags interior. This is great for run and gun where you may need to quickly grab the camera from the bag and you don’t want to have to squeeze it out through a small opening. The interior of the bag has various dividers that are secured by velcro, so you can customise the layout to suit your needs. One of the dividers forms a clever storage box to one side of the bag. I’ve found this particularly useful with the F3 as I can safely store my Genus 4×4 Matte Box and a couple of DSLR lenses in here.

bag3-e1312127885429-300x224 Camrade CB Single III Camera Bag.
Opening the storage compartment shows moveable dividers

Then my batteries, other bits and bobs and the rain cover fit comfortably in the end compartments. This bag really works well with the F3 alloying you to get a complete basic shooting kit into one bag without the bag being too big or bulky.

It’s not perhaps the most fancy or sophisticated of bags, but in terms of practicality and functionality it works very well indeed. There is a strap in the main compartment to hold the camera secure if your really going to be bouncing it around. The base and sides of the bag are all semi ridged and have a good layer of shock absorbing foam in them. With one of these bags typically costing a very affordable $200 it really does represent good value for money.

My thanks to Rene for the sample bag. http://www.camrade.com/products-page/video/cambags/cb-single-iii1

In my next post I’ll look at the nice rain cover that Camrade make for the F3.