Archive for the ‘Craft of the Video Shooter’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Exercise Your SSDs! Like Any Other Storage Drive

When designing a drive, engineers assume that some energy will always be applied. Leaving any drive on a shelf without power for years, will almost certainly lead eventually to lost data. For those of us with vast archives stored on umpteen drives sitting idle in a closet or warehouse, the failure of a single large drive or RAID array can be devastating.

Mechanical drives are inherently slow, relatively speaking, so moving large files can significantly reduce one’s productivity. Beyond that, the high failure rate of mechanical drives is an ongoing threat. The distance between the platters is measured literally in wavelengths of light, so there isn’t much room for dislocation of the spinning disks due to shock. This peril from inadvertent impact is in addition to the normal wear and tear of mechanical arms moving continuously back and forth inside the drive.

For documentary shooters operating in a rough-and-tumble environment, the move to flash storage is a godsend. SSDs contain no moving parts, so there is little worry from dropping a memory card or SSD while chasing a herd of wildebeests, or operating a camera in a high vibration environment like a racecar and fighter jet.

SSDs also offer 100x the speed of mechanical drives, so it’s not surprising that HDDs these days are rapidly losing relevance. The lower cost per gig still makes mechanical drives a good choice for some reality TV and backup applications, but as camera files grow larger with higher resolution 4K production, the SSD’s greater speed becomes imperative order to maintain a reasonably productive workflow.

Right now the capacity of mechanical drives is reaching the upper limit. Due to heat and physical constraints, there are only so many platters that can be placed one atop of the other inside an HDD. SSD flash memory, on the other hand, may be stacked in dozens of layers; with each new generation of module offering a greater number of bits. Samsung is moving from 256Gb flash chips in 48-layers to 512Gb chips in 64-layers.

So how much should you exercise your HDD and SSD drives? Samsung states its consumer drives can be left unpowered safely for about a year. In contrast, enterprise data drives found in rack servers are designed for heavy use with continuous data loads, and offer only a six-month window of reliability without power. Such guidelines are vital to keep in mind as some shooters may not use a particular drive or memory card for many months or even years, and for them, it is important to power up their SSDs from time to time, to ensure a satisfactory performance and reliability.

One other thing.  SSDs have a limited life expectancy. The silicon material in flash memory only supports so many read-write cycles, and will, over time, eventually lose efficiency As a practical matter, the EOL of solid-state drives should not pose much of a problem however. Depending on the load and level of use, most consumer SSDs writing 10-20GB per day have an estimated EOL of 120 years. Most of us I would think will have replaced our cameras, recording media, and storage drives, long before then.

All drives, including SSDs, require regular exercise. Ordinary consumer drives should be powered up at least once a year to maintain reliable access to stored data. Professional series and enterprise-level drives require powering up twice as often, about every six months, to ensure maximum efficiency and long life.

 

PostHeaderIcon Shooting In log Makes Sense For Most Shooters

We all know that shooting in log can improve exposure latitude and dynamic range. In short, log capture allows us to record more professional-looking images, as the brightest highlights in sun-dappled scenes, for example, may often be accommodated without clipping or loss of detail.

Practically, shooting in log may also mean utilizing less fill light, which can be helpful on low-budget run-and-gun style productions. I always try to reduce the amount of gear in general on a set; and shooting in log can help reduce the grip and lighting complement substantially – a good thing in my opinion.

Remember more gear = less work.

Giving you an idea of how I work in log, when shooting with the VariCam LT, for example, I assign Y-Get to user button 1. Placing the EVF cross-hairs over the brightest part of a scene, with the iris adjusted to 69 IRE, the camera recording V-Log will accommodate 3-4 stops of additional latitude before clipping or a noticeable loss of highlight detail. Setting exposure in this way is simple and effective, and eliminates the need for external exposure meters and pricey reference monitors.

While shooting in log makes sense for most shooters, broadcast news and some non-fiction shooters may find the hassle and inconvenience of working with LUTs not be worth it, or even possible, given the tight time constraints and lack of serious post-production in most news and public affairs programming.

This scene captured in log is shown with and without a LUT applied. Despite the advantages of shooting in log, some producers may see working with LUTs as a hassle and an inconvenience.

PostHeaderIcon Offloading Huge Camera Files Over Time

Since the advent of tapeless workflows it has been necessary to safely and securely offload camera original footage from memory cards and onboard drives.  For many of us this can be a process fraught with trepidation, which is why I and most industry professionals use Imagine Products’ ShotPut Pro to handle the offloading chore.

Of course we need an effective checksum to verify the integrity of the transfer and SPP has done that very well for almost a decade. In that regard ShotPut Pro version 6 retains the key checksum options from fastest to slowest; most data wranglers I know will opt for XXHASH (the fastest option) or MD5.

One valuable new feature in ShotPut Pro’s latest version is the PAUSE & RESUME function since on so many productions these days we are pressed for time and forced to interrupt the transfer of large data files. On many shows there are simply not enough hours in a day to permit the uninterrupted offload of the gargantuan 4K and higher resolution camera files.

Provided that the application is not closed or quit, SPP6 will resume and complete the transfer of large files without reinitiating the entire transfer. SPP6 completes the immediate file in progress so it does not truncate or interrupt a file prior to pausing or interrupting the transfer.

How many times have we been forced to move from hotel room to a moving vehicle and into a new hotel room while attempting to offload large camera drives and media cards? Shotput Pro 6 addresses the needs of frazzled data wranglers in precisely this unenviable position.

ShotPut Pro 6's new PAUSE & RESUME feature enables users to interrupt a long data-heavy offload for completion later.  This ability to transfer large files in intervals is long overdue!

ShotPut Pro 6’s new PAUSE & RESUME feature enables users to interrupt a long data-heavy offload for completion later. This ability to transfer large files in intervals is long overdue!

fig-2-pause-resume

 

PostHeaderIcon Road to Zanzibar

This summer I am again in East Africa leading a camera and visual storytelling workshop at the Zanzibar International Film Festival. The hunger for knowledge in this part of the world never ceases to amaze me as my students demonstrate an eagerness to learn and practice the fundamental lessons of good visual storytelling and effective camera operation.

A dhow crosses Zanzibar bay 8 July 2016.

Zanzibar is located off the coast of East Africa  at 6º south latitude. The light at dusk is positively mesmerizing. Here a traditional dhow passes off the coast of Stone Town 8 July 2016.

 

Despite the many technical challenges DSLR cameras dominate the filmmaking landscape in this part of the world.

Despite the technical challenges DSLR cameras dominate the filmmaking landscape in this part of the world.

 

The opportunity to integrate local color is a great advantage of shooting in Zanzibar.

The opportunity to integrate a range of local color is a great advantage of shooting in Zanzibar.

 

Lulu. The star of our scenario. In real life she is a very popular fashion model.

Lulu. The star of our scenario. In real life she is a popular fashion model.

 

The emphasis of local cinema is on actors and performance which is as it should be. Technical issues aside it is after all what audiences really care about.

The emphasis of local cinema is on actors and performance which is as it should be. Technical issues aside it is after all what audiences really care about.

 

PostHeaderIcon LUTs for ‘Luttites’

On many shows we are increasingly shooting RAW and/or in a multitude of compressed formats with different cameras utilizing different flavors of log.  ARRI Alexa, Canon C300, Sony FS7, Panasonic VariCam, GoPro, Blackmagic, DSLRs – just keeping all the color spaces and log profiles straight can be a major challenge.

The Academy Color Encoding System (ACES) has simplified things for folks at the high end of the food chain. But for the rest of us toiling in typical broadcast productions and independent features, the convoluted post-camera wrangling of color and LUTs has become an unwelcome hassle with the wholesale wrangling of .cube, .aml, and .ctl files.

Thankfully we now have Latice, a powerful and versatile LUT management tool that greatly minimizes this ongoing hassle. To be clear it is not intended to compete with or replace grading applications like Davinci Resolve.  Think of it more as a LUT Swiss Army Knife, able to view, transcode, and conform, a wide array of color spaces and profiles.

So if you’re shooting B-roll on a Canon C300 Mark II and we need to conform to the A camera which is a Sony FS7, Lattice can convert the Canon Log2 files to Sony S-Log, which we then import into Resolve for simple and straightforward color grading in a single consistent color space.

The Mac-based app features a very straightforward interface, which offers plenty of hooks for tweaking.  As cameras like the Panasonic VariCam 35 are enabling the creation of 3D LUTs in camera it becomes a simple matter in Lattice to convert Panasonic’s V-Log file to something else, like Sony S-Log or Blackmagic’s Film Emulation (BMD) LUT.

Lattice doesn’t eliminate entirely the complexity and hassle of wrangling LUTs post-camerabut it sure makes the ordeal a whole lot easier.

I use it regularly and recommend it.

Simple powerful LUT management tool. If you're shooting with multiple cameras and employing various color spaces you'll need Lattice to conform your look to a single format for grading inside Davinci Resolve.

Lattice is a very simple LUT management tool. If you shoot with multiple cameras and employ various color spaces Lattice will conform the different LUT flavors to a single format for grading inside Davinci Resolve (or other color correction environment).

PostHeaderIcon It Should Be Done In Camera!

With the advent of post-camera filter software like Tiffen’s Dfx4 and powerful color grading tools like Davinci Resolve, it’s easy to see how some shooters, even some relatively accomplished ones,  no longer see the need for an on-camera filter. But this can be a big mistake. Especially given today’s onslaught of low- and mid-level 4K camcorders and DSLRs that produce overly harsh albeit very high resolution images.

Truth is, the impact of some optical filters cannot be effectively recreated in post. The polarizer, for example, is the only filter capable of increasing contrast and resolution;  it is simply not possible to add picture detail post-camera if the detail was not captured in the first place.

Then there is the matter of finishing filters like the Tiffen Satin and Black Satin, and the Schneider Digicon and Black Magic types. These filters have become more or less obligatory in recent years, to mitigate the clinical brash look characteristic of many low-cost 4K cameras. The Blackmagic URSA, AJA Cion, and other relatively economical camcorders and DSLRs, often exhibit very poor shadow integrity along with a harsh roll-off in the highlights, which can only be effectively ameliorated by a proper finishing  filter.

Today’s sharper diffusion filters from Tiffen, Schneider, and others, produce very little scatter and halation, and for all intents and purposes, are invisible to the viewer, but produce a more flattering look with lower noise in the shadows and smoother more pleasing highlights. Most importantly, these filters maintain sharpness in the pupil of the eye, while subtly blending and softening the skin tones and around the eye sockets and face.  This is possible because these filters are designed from the outset with the proper telecentricity to accommodate modern digital sensors with deep bucket photosites.

Older series Black Pro Mist, Soft F/X, Fogs, and Double Fogs, produce too much scatter to be useful with modern cameras fitted with CMOS sensors. Still, having said this, I do find a 1/8 Tiffen Black Pro Mist filter can be useful to match certain type vintage optics, like an old Cooke zoom, to the latest generation Zeiss CP.2.

Today's 4K cameras like the Blackmagic URSA fitted with a Canon 24-70 L lens, produce excessively sharp, clinical-looking images. A proper finishing filter like the Tiffen Black Satin is imperative to glean the best possible performance from such cameras fitted with very high resolution CMOS sensors.

Economical 4K cameras like the Blackmagic URSA tend to produce excessively sharp, clinical-looking images. A proper finishing filter like the Tiffen Black Satin is imperative to glean the best possible performance from such cameras fitted with high resolution CMOS sensors.

PostHeaderIcon I’m Missing the Connection Here

The data and power cables poking in and out of my MacBook Pro are pure crap. Take a look at how I’m managing my AC charger cord.  I’ve added three cable ties over a sleeve of black camera tape to ensure adequate stress relief and thus forestall the eruption of arcs and sparks from the broken connection.

Why can’t cable manufacturers simply provide sufficient stress relief in the first place?

The matter of diseased trouble-prone cables is not a new phenomenon. After 35 years in the business I know from hard-won experience that 90% of failures in the field are due to defective cables and connectors. Thinking about it now my ARRI 16SR in 1976 was a true godsend. The camera utilized onboard batteries that eliminated completely failure-prone cables and plugs. It gave me great peace of mind that this disproportionate cause of failure was gone forever.

Thunderbolt is an impressive technology and we’ve grown to rely on the less than robust cables for our most critical tasks from off-loading original camera footage to preparing our backup volumes. With data rates up to 40Gbps in Thunderbolt3 the flow of data is sensitive to a range of cable snafus, especially at the point where the cable enters the rigid connector where most failures due to fatigue occur.

For manufacturers, the cost of producing cables with proper stress relief might amount to a few pennies per unit, but as shooters and content creators whose business is capturing, transferring, and managing critical data, the extra dollar or two per cable at retail is worth it, if only to avoid the indignity of having to affix a raft of cable ties simply to ensure a solid and reliable connection.

Most often a cable fails at the point it enters the solid connector. Affixing a series of plastic cable ties can provide increased stress relief and help forestall an intermittent connection.

A cable usually fails at the point it enters the solid connector. Affixing a series of plastic cable ties can provide increased stress relief and help forestall an intermittent connection.

PostHeaderIcon A New Kind of Package Lens

One of the truisms of our profession has long been a camera system is only as good as its optics. While computational non-optical lenses in devices like the iPhone have obviated the need in some applications for finely crafted optics, the demand persists for high-performance glass at the high end of our business, especially in light of the latest 4K and higher resolution cameras.

The new Sony PXW-FS7 4K camcorder is well-balanced and robust, with superb ergonomics. Particularly notable, however, is Sony’s own 28-135mm F4 lens that comes with it.  It is not the typical crappy package lens that usually accompanies new mid-range cameras.

Employing precisely sculpted aspheric elements and low-dispersion glass the FS7 4K zoom represents a real breakthrough in economical s35mm lens technology. Remarkably free of chromatic aberrations – the main reason cheap lenses look cheap – the lens compares favorably with much pricier optics; its relatively slow F4 maximum aperture posing less of a challenge these days for shooters employing cameras like the FS7 that shoot virtually noise-free at ISO 2000 and higher.

Sony’s lens uses precise servo control of zoom and focus to enable a constant F-stop throughout the zoom range. Some shooters will object to the limited 5:1 zoom for documentary work but keep in mind the lens is a large format zoom.  If you’re looking for a 23x capability you should consider a 2/3-inch camera like the Varicam HS, which is ideal for travel and sports, and certain wildlife titles, that tend to employ long zoom telephoto lenses.

Sony's new 28-135mm E-mount zoom offers very high performance in an economical S35mm format lens.

Sony’s new 28-135mm E-mount zoom offers very high performance in an economical S35mm format lens.

Sony's new 28-135mm F4 zoom is remarkably free of chromatic aberrations.

The zoom even at maximum magnification  is remarkably free of chromatic aberrations.

PostHeaderIcon Exclude! Exclude! Exclude! Takes on New Meaning

Varicam 35With the advent of cameras like the extreme low-light ISO 5000 Varicam 35 the imperative to exclude, exclude, exclude, unhelpful story elements inside the frame takes on a more dramatic dimension. Shooting with the new Varicam in very low light at night, for example, means that streetlights suddenly appear blown out, the night sky over major cities is way too bright, and the intensity of incidental TV monitor and screens in the background must be substantially reduced.

This way of working is a revolution in how camera folks have managed the world until now. In the film days of years ago we needed light and plenty of it to gain even a minimum exposure. Moderately sensitive digital cameras like the Alexa of several years ago gave us the freedom to illuminate scenes with smaller low-wattage, more economical, cooler units. A blessing to be sure!

Today given the latest ultra sensitive digital cinema cameras entering the market we are back to spending a lot of time addressing the lighting in our setups, not so much by adding massive hot lights of course, but by employing more extensive lighting control, that is, by taking light away.

Given the new technology my old harangue to students to exclude everything not supportive of the visual story has taken on even greater relevance and urgency.

PostHeaderIcon Children of the Desert

I’m in Abu Dhabi this week continuing my ongoing travels around the globe offering camera workshops and pontificating about one irrelevant thing or another. This morning a major sandstorm blew in from Saudi Arabia and completely enveloped the NYU campus where I’m currently holed up.

The extremely fine sand less than 50 microns in diameter is highly abrasive and can lodge dangerously deep in one’s lungs. It is also damaging to cameras and especially camera lenses, a lesson learned the hard way by many filmmakers and shooters in the region who are drawn inexorably, like I am, to the eerie other world feeling imparted on the landscape.

Emirati children visiting the NYU campus in Abu Dhabi navigate a major sandstorm 3 April 2015.

Emirati children visiting the NYU campus in Abu Dhabi navigate an early morning sandstorm 3 April 2015.

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