Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Stabilizers... i finally got one.

SteadyCams, steadicams or glidecams...whatever you want to call them, the camera stabilizer is one of those tools we're all going to want to try at some point. A good director i know, told me years ago that i should never buy one.  He said if you want decent steady camera footage, hire a SteadyCam with an operator...because in the long run it'll be cheaper. He probably had a point, and for features with a budget, i'd agree. But when you can pick up a decent stabilizer to mount a DSLR on for a few hundred quid... it's a bit too tempting to ignore.

First of all, let me explain what i was after...  I wanted a stabilizing rig that i could mount a Canon 550D on. I wanted it to be able to take a mattebox if necessary too... so nothing too small.  I want to be able to get some decent smooth shoots of people walking and talking for my next feature project.

I was lucky enough to be able to try a couple of different stabilizers before i made my choice.  I'd narrowed it down thanks to advice from Elskid (http://www.elskid.com/blog/) and another friend of mine who'd recently bought a Flycam. So these were the contenders:

The GlideCam - A solidly built unit, but heavy on the wrist.

The Merlin - Easier on the wrist but very expensive.

FlyCam - An Indian GlideCam 'copy'. Still heavy on the wrist.

I tried a FlyCam first.  I'd been warned off of these because of the build quality. They appear to be a bit hit or miss. Some people have a complete nightmare with them...while others find them fine. The one i tried was terrible. I spent 2 hours with it and couldn't get it anywhere near balanced. The screws tapped directly into the aluminum tubing and i could tell it wouldn't last.

The Merlin got ruled out purely on price. I've heard very good things about it, but i'm not looking to spend that kind of money.

The Glidecam i tried was the 2000. It was a major improvement over the FlyCam and i manged to get it balanced in about an hour. It was obviously the right model for me...so off i went to find the best deal.

At this point i hit a bit of a wall. The GlideCam range is only available from CreativeVideo in the UK....nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't leave much room for finding a good deal. Out of curiosity, i looked on the B&H website based in New York... luckily, i noticed a Second-Hand GlideCam 1000HD... it was going really cheap and this was for the HD version. I had quick read of the specs (this was a smaller model than the 2000) and it looked like it could just about take the weight...so i didn't hesitate.

It arrived today...just 4 days later. I assembled it in about 10 minutes and then set about balancing it. The first thing i did was mount a quick release plate on it. I don't want to be faffing around with screwdrivers everytime i want to swap my camera from the tripod or my handheld rig to the GlideCam. So...i mounted the camera and started balancing it. It's worth knowing that the HD version has little micro-adjustment thumb-screw. These are a godsend. It took about an hour...maybe a tad more to get it to the point where i could get it to stay absolutely vertical. I then did the usual running around the house that i'm sure all new SteadyCam owners do... 


Well, it's not gonna make the cut yet... but it's got some potential.  I can get 7 or 8 seconds of walking without it going off balance. It's all down to practice... so practice i will. After another hour, i was getting a lot better. It's alot to do with the technique of your other hand to guide it.

So, conclusions? The GlideCam 1000HD is good...really good, but it takes time. Don't go ordering one today if you've got a shoot at the end of the week.... cos you won't be good enough yet.  The GlideCam isn't the answer to all your smooth shot woes... you will still need a dolly sometimes and i'll still be using my GlideTrack a lot. It's just another option...another tool.

You might be wondering why i didn't try any of the Hague stabilizers... I was tempted. But, at the end of the day, i didn't trust the ball and socket type gimbal. I just couldn't see how they could properly isolate the camera from the movement of walking or running. It also didn't help that 'Man @ C&A' was posing with it on the website...(well spotted Elskid)  Sorry...but that's how it is.

When i get some good footage, i'll post it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Sony PMW-F3K

£12.5k Body Only £17.8k with 3 Prime Lenses (35, 50, 85mm)

I don't really see the point in blogging on all the same stuff as the many other film-making blogs, but i will mention the Sony F3K as i think it's a big moment for indie film making. With prices starting at around £12k (body only), it's not as accessible as the Panasonic AF101 or the multitude of DSLRs out there at the moment.... but, it's perfect for those looking to step up to the next level. It's probably going to be picked up as a B or C camera for F35 shoots and it's knocking right on the door of RED. At this point, RED users will be sharpening their tongues...but why? Have a look over at REDUSER.net... blimey, they are putting this camera down already! Some even say that the F3K is DOA...(dead on arrival).. Really? Why can't it just be another tool for film-makers? Cos that's exactly what it is.

All the arrival of the F3K says to me, is that in conjunction with Panny's AF101, RED left it too late for Scarlet. Never mind...let's move on.

Early 2011... it'll be here.  I guess we just have to wait for Phil Bloom to get hold of one and show us all how good it is now??  Would i want one? Sure... if you're giving them away. But, to be honest, at this kind of price point it's not the kind of camera you buy unless you own a rental house.  It does raise one question though... Are Canon going to release something along these lines? After all...they started it.

Here's the specs for the F3K.

Exmor™ Super35 CMOS image sensor

The PMW-F3K is equipped with a Super 35mm sensor which is the same size as Super 35mm film and has been specifically developed for digital cinematography. Its positioning within the chassis is exactly the same as it would be within a 35mm film camera – ensuring exactly the same optical performance with the unrivalled range of 35mm Cine lenses.

In addition, Sony's advanced accumulated sensor technologies provide an excellent sensitivity of F11 (ISO 800)* and a remarkable signal-to-noise ratio of just 63 dB*. Unique Exmor™ sensor offers exceptional noise reduction and greatly reduces power consumption.

*All measured at 1080/59.94i and typical value.

Three High Quality 35mm Lenses supplied as standard

To make your entry into the world of 35mm as easy and economical as possible, the PMW-F3K comes supplied with three high quality Sony lenses (35mm, 50mm and 85mm, T2.0).

PL Mount Adapter for compatibility with 35mm Cine Lenses

The PMW-F3K is supplied with a PL Mount Adapter to provide immediate compatibility with the huge range of filmic 35mm lenses, including prime, digital cinematography and even still lenses. There are also hot shoe electric interfaces for Cooke/i and ARRI LDS.

Sony F3 Original Mount for Zoom Lens

Sony plan to introduce a range of zoom lenses directly compatible with the F3 mount. More details will be revealed shortly. Zoom lens compatibility expands the operational flexibility of the F3 so it can be used for almost any application.

23.98P Native Recording

The PMW-F3K camcorder is the first compact camcorder to be a member of the legendary Sony CineAlta™ family. It offers native 23.98P* recording which, in combination with advanced creative features such as selectable gamma curves, makes this camcorder ideal for cinema production.

*In 1440 x 1080/23.98P (SP) mode, images are handled as 23.98P and recorded as 59.94i signals through means of 2-3 pull-down.

Slow & Quick Motion function

The PMW-F3K offers a powerful 'Slow & Quick Motion' function - commonly known as over-cranking and under-cranking in film shooting - enables users to create unique 'looks' or special effects with slow -and fast- motion images. This can be selected on the control dial on the side of the camcorder.

The PMW-F3K can capture images at frame rates selectable from 1 fps (frame per second) to 60 fps in 720P mode and from 1 fps to 30 fps in 1080P mode, in increments of 1 fps, onto a single card. For example, when viewed at 23.98P, images captured at 60 fps will appear 2.5 times slower than normal. Conversely, images captured at 4 fps will appear 6 times faster than normal.

With the 'Slow & Quick Motion' function of this camcorder, images are recorded natively without interpolating the frames. This means the quality of the slow -and fast- motion images is extremely high and incomparable to those created in the editing process. In addition, these slow -and fast- motion images can be played back immediately after shooting, without using any converters or processing on nonlinear editing systems.

1920 x 1080 HD recording using the 'MPEG-2 Long GOP' codec

The PMW-F3K camcorder records 1920 x 1080 HD images using the 'MPEG-2 Long GOP' codec, which conforms to the MPEG-2 MP@HL compression standard. 'MPEG-2 Long GOP' is a mature codec - also adopted by the XDCAM HD and HDV 1080i series of products - which enables users to record stunning-quality HD footage with highly efficient, reliable data compression.

Selectable Bit Rates

The PMW-F3K camcorder offers a choice of bit rates - either 35 Mb/s (HQ mode) or 25 Mb/s (SP mode) - depending on the desired picture quality and recording time. The HQ mode supports both 1920 x 1080 and 1280 x 720 resolutions. The SP mode supports 1440 x 1080 resolution at 25 Mb/s, which provides compatibility with HDV 1080i products.

Multiple-format recording - 1080/720 and Interlace/Progressive switchable operation

The PMW-F3K camcorder offers a wide array of recording formats for multiple content creation applications. Scanning mode is switchable between 1920 x 1080, 1280 x 720, and 1440 x 1080 resolutions. Frame rate is also selectable from interlace and progressive - 59.94i, 50i, 29.97P, 25P, and native 23.98P*.

In addition, 59.94P and 50P progressive recording is available in 1280 x 720 mode. The SxS memory card can simultaneously hold multiple files of any of these recording formats, allowing for flexible use of the memory card.

*In 1440 x 1080/23.98P (SP) mode, images are handled as 23.98P and recorded as 59.94i signals through means of 2-3 pull-down.

Slow Shutter Function

The PMW-F3K camcorder offers a 'Slow Shutter function' for capturing clear images in low-light environments. This allows the shutter speed to be extended to a maximum of 8 frames. The 'Slow Shutter function' not only increases camera sensitivity but also produces a special blurring effect when shooting a moving object, for enhanced shooting creativity. The shutter speed is selectable from 2-, 3-, 4-, 5-, 6-, 7- and 8-frame periods.

High-quality uncompressed audio recording

In addition to HD recording, high-quality audio is an equally significant feature in the XDCAM EX system. The PMW-F3K camcorder records and plays back high-quality, two-channel 16-bit, 48-kHz linear PCM uncompressed audio.

Exceptional workflow flexibility

The PMW-F3K uses XDCAM EX’s proven high-speed, intuitive workflow offering seamless integration with leading nonlinear editing software. In addition, 10bit 4:2:2 HD-SDI output opens up hybrid recording possibilities with content simultaneously recorded on internal memory and, in uncompressed form, on a variety of external recording devices.

From April 2011, a Dual Link HD-SDI option will enable 10bit RGB 23.98/25/29.97PsF or 10 bit 4:2:2 108050P/59.94P uncompressed external recording – ideal for integration with highest quality production workflows such as HDCAM SR. The PMW-F3K also supports selectable Gamma, four levels of HyperGamma and S-Log for a wide range of shooting conditions from standard to wide latitude. The PMW-F3K can simultaneously record LUT (Look Up Table) information onto the internal media for additional workflow flexibility.

3G-SDI is available for 10bit RGB 1080 23.98/25/29.97PsF or 10bit 4:2:2 1080 50/59.94P output.

SxS Memory Cards combine high transfer speeds and high reliability

Both SxS PRO™ and SxS-1A™* memory cards use the PCI Express interface to achieve an extremely high data-transfer speed of 800 Mbps - 1.2Gbps, and can resist considerable shock (1500 G) and vibration (15 G). Also, a unique 'Salvage function' serves to restore content damaged by power loss or memory disconnection during recording**.

In addition, with an optional MEAD-MS01 or MEAD-SD01 Media Adaptor***, a high-speed Memory Stick™ or SD memory card**** can be used as emergency or alternative recording media.

* SxS-1A memory cards support fewer re-writes than SxS PRO™ memory cards. Notification is given when an SxS-1 memory card approaches its end of life.

** In some cases, images recorded just before an accident may not be restored (several seconds). No warranty is given on always achieving content restoration.

*** Slow Motion and the Salvage function are not supported.

**** For information about memory devices, please contact your nearest Sony Specialist Dealer.

Long recording time

Utilising a mature and highly efficient compression format together with high performance SxS memory cards, the PMW-F3K can record superb quality HD images for an exceptional 140 minutes* on a single 32Gb update SxS card. As the PMW-F3K features two memory card slots, this recording time is easily doubled to 280 minutes (with two 32Gb cards) and when recording across two cards, the transition is seamless without any frame loss.

*When recording in HQ (35 Mb/s) mode, recording time may be more than the above specified figure depending on the actual bit rate that is adopted during VBR encoding.

IT Friendly

The PMW-F3K is part of Sony’s highly successful XDCAM EX product family which supports a high speed nonlinear workflow. With XDCAM EX, recordings are made as data files in the "MP4" format, which is widely used in a number of recent electronic portable devices and has been standardised by ISO.

File-based recording allows material to be handled with great flexibility in an IT-based environment - easily available for copying, transferring, sharing, and archiving. All these operations are accomplished without any 'digitising' process required.

File-based data copying allows for degradation-free dubbing of footage, which can be performed easily on a PC. The file-based recording system also allows for material to be viewed directly on a PC - simply by inserting the SxS memory card into the ExpressCard slot on a PC or Mac, or by linking a PC/Mac to the XDCAM EX unit via a USB2 connection. This works in just the same way as a PC reading files on an external drive. The file-based operation can dramatically improve the efficiency and quality of your workflow.

Immediate recording start and no overwriting footage

By virtue of recording on flash memory card, the PMW-F3K can start recording virtually the instant the camcorder is turned on. Moreover, the PMW-F3K automatically records on an empty area of the card - there's no danger of overwriting existing content.

This is extremely convenient, as camera operators do not have to worry about accidentally recording over good takes, and they don't have to search through footage for the correct position to start the next recording. In short, it means the camera is always ready for the next shot!

Instant-access thumbnail search with 'Expand' function

Each time a recording is started and stopped on the PMW-F3K camcorder, the content is recorded as a single clip. During playback, users can cue-up to the next or previous clip simply by pressing the 'Next' or 'Previous' button, as you would do on a CD or DVD player.

Furthermore, thumbnails are automatically generated for each clip as a visual reference, allowing operators to cue-up to a desired scene simply by guiding the cursor to a thumbnail and pressing the 'Play' button.

The 'Expand' function allows one selected clip in the thumbnail display to be divided into 12 even-time intervals, each with their own thumbnail identifier. This is useful if you want to quickly search for a particular scene within a lengthy clip.

3.5-inch* Hybrid Colour LCD Screen / Viewfinder as per EX1R

The PMW-F3K is equipped with a newly developed, easy-to-view, colour LCD screen with a high resolution of 1920 x 480 pixels. The LCD screen is located in an easy viewing position on the side of the camera.

The LCD Screen can also be used to instantly review recorded footage, as well as access the camera's set-up menus and view thumbnail display status indications such as audio meters, depth-of-field indicators, and the remaining memory and battery time. What's more, the Hybrid LCD screen - which comprises transmissive and reflective panels - offers clear viewing even in bright sunlight.

*Viewable area measured diagonally.

Genlock and Timecode Interfaces

The PMW-F3K includes genlock and timecode interfaces, making it ideal for multi-camera operation and entry level HD studio use.

3D System Link option*

Using this option you can easily synchronise timecode, genlock and control functionality with a single cable, locking together left and right cameras to simplify 3D acquisition. *Available from April 2011.

Remote control capability

The PMW-F3K offers professional remote control of various camera features via standard Sony 8-pin control interface. This allows use of Sony optional RM-B150 and RM-B750 remote control units offering increased flexibility for studio/location use.

Compact design

The PMW-F3K has a chassis built around its Super 35mm CMOS sensor. Its lightweight, compact design provides exceptional flexibility when shooting, particularly as a B-camera. It also offers a 'best of both worlds' combination of compatibility with 35mm lenses via a PL Mount adaptor, plus support for a huge range of other Sony and third-party digital cinematography accessories.

Low power consumption

Sony’s chip design expertise means the PMW-F3K operates with exceptional efficiency with an average power consumption of 24W. This makes the camera more reliable, extends its battery operating time and is also environmentally conscious. With the optional BP-U60 battery attached, the PMW-F3K can record continuously for just under three hours (with dual-link option off).

Wide array of interfaces

The PMW-F3K camcorder comes equipped with a wide range of interfaces optimised for a variety of operational needs. These include dual HD-SDI output, down-converted SD-SDI output, i.LINK (HDV) input/output, USB2 and analogue composite output.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

In Car and On Car Filming...

Last night, André and myself did some camera testing of the in-car shots for our next feature. I thought i would share what i've picked up about the subject along the way...

At some point during making most films, you need to shoot an in-car scene. In 'Shoot The DJ', there was loads of in-car scenes...because it was a road-movie. I learnt pretty quickly what kind of shots work and which ones don't.

Shooting handheld in a car is possible, but it's not ideal. You get some very shaky footage and it doesn't look very professional. The only time shooting handheld in a car seems to work is when the camera man is in the back seat filming over the shoulders of the people in the two front seats.  You still get shaky shots, but for some reason it looks acceptable.

There's a few car shots which really add production value to your film.. the first is the camera on the bonnet facing the windscreen. You need a polarizer on the lens to see through the windscreen without all the reflections, but the shot looks great. Second is the profile shot of the driver or the passenger. This often involves getting both the driver and the passenger in the same shot. In times gone by with big film cameras, you used to use a 'tray' type mount which hung on the door. These days you can mount a DSLR on the window without encumbering the car in anyway...which means you can still drive it.

To, me driving the car for real really makes a big difference to the feel of the shot. Sticking the car on a trailer ruins it for me. The driver never looks convincing when it's on a trailer.

Shot last night using a 550D with a Pentacon 50mm prime at F1.8 on a window clamp mount.

So, the best mounts for the job when mounting a DSLR to your car? Well, it's getting easier all the time thanks to the inventiveness of the various grip manufacturers, but these are my personal favourites:

The window clamp. This is a basic tripod head mounted on a clamp that just grabs onto a half-open window. The shots from these clamps are great...and if you mount it right, you won't need IS to get a steady shot.

  The bonnet mount.  The ones you buy are usually based around a suction cup with a mounting point on top. Sometimes they have multiple suction cups for a more rigid fix. In my experience, these tend to wobble about a bit and give a slightly shaky shot...and i'm never confident enough in the safety aspect of sticking my DSLR to a car with a sucker! So...i always use a ratchet strap and loads of bungy straps to hold everything in place securely. And this leads me to the following question...  why bother with the suction mount? In the next few weeks i'm going to make a mount which is basically a small frame with rubber feet the sits on the bonnet of the car and then attaches using the ratchet straps and bungy straps. It will be rigid and best of all....safe.

The beanbag mount. Beanbags are great for mounting cameras in odd places. The beanbag car mount can be used anywhere... on the bonnet, on someone's lap or even on the roof. You use straps to secure the camera, but the beanbag ensures the camera is safely held and easily positioned. The only issue with these is that it's sometimes tricky to get the height required to see into the car properly when shooting from the bonnet.

Another angle you should look at is the Go Pro cameras. For under £300 you can buy one of these amazing little HD cameras and mount it anywhere. The footage they give is pretty good and can easily be cut with most DSLR footage if you're clever in the edit.

 For our next feature we're trying to cut down on shooting time so we're aiming to rig the cars so that they can shoot several shots all at once. We'll mount one DSLR on the bonnet looking through the windscreen, one on the passenger window shooting the driver's face in profile and and Go Pro on the front of the car low down shooting the road. They can all be adjusted so as not to get each other in shot and we'll get 3 shots in the space of time usually allowed for one.

Tips for successful in-car / on-car shooting:

1. Batteries... bring plenty and have a charger handy.

2. Plasitc bags and padding material..and PVC tape. You need to rain-proof and keep the crap on the road off your camera.

3. Don't go too mad with your shallow depth of field. The driver will rarely keep his/her head still enough for a very finely focused shot if you're not pulling focus on the fly...which most of the time, you won't be.

4. Invest in a long HDMI cable and a portable HD monitor... then you can check your shot as you drive. (hide in the back seat if you're not in the shot)

5. Allow much more time than you think... it takes ages to rig a good car shot and then you have to review the shots regularly.

6. Car shots at night? Don't over-light the inside of the car! It looks crap if there appears to be a 100watt lightbulb on the driver's lap! Use LEDs or fluro tubes...or both. Remember to keep to dis-used roads or back-roads if you're shooting at night with cameras mounted on the car AND lights on inside the car... it will just attract the attention of plod...and you don't want that.

7. Safety first. Don't be stupid...don't do anything that will impair the driver or could harm anyone on the roadside.

8. Data management. Get the footage from the camera onto your hard drives quickly.....don't leave a day's worth of good shots on a data card which is balancing on the bonnet of a moving car.... it's just not clever. Back-up...back-up....back-up...and back-up again.

EDIT:  I forgot to mention a really important point - You don't want to add any kind of 'shock absorbing' to the camera. I know it would seem to be a good idea, but you only need the slightest bit of padding to stop the camera or the car getting scratched. It doesn't matter how bumpy the road is, if the camera is fixed absolutely rigidly to it...the shot will appear not to wobble.  In the tests we performed yesterday, the non-IS lenses performed as well, if not better than the one with IS. (IS = image stabilzation)  It's worth looking out for car shots on Hollywood movies of the 80s...most of them are terrible!