Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Canon 60D Has Been Announced!

Canon recently posted this press release announcing the Canon 60D. For those DSLR film makers who already own a Rebel T2i/550D or better, this isn't too ground breaking, but for those who have yet to purchase a DSLR for it's video features, this is great news.

The 60D is replacing the older 50D, and as far as specs and features, sits in the middle of the T2i and the 7D. The above press release gives a full break down of the camera's features, but here are a few that make this camera a great buy for the new DSLR film maker
  • 3 inch articulated rear LCD screen (great for low angle or high angle shots)
  • Manual Audio Controls (not during video recording, but you can preset before shooting)
  • Manual Exposure Controls (incremented in 64 steps like the latest firmware update for the 5D)
  • The ability to trim video clips in camera (saves time in post production)

For those shooting stills as well as video, the camera boasts 5.3 shutter cycles per second (faster then the T2i but slower then the 7D) and the ability to process RAW files in camera, among many other features.

For T2i and 7D owners; the internals of the 60D aren't much more advanced then the cameras you own, so I wouldn't run out and place and order. The articulated screen and manual audio are nice, but by now, you've probably purchased an external monitor and Zoom H4N for audio. I would start saving some money, because I think it will be a short time before Canon releases a camera able to shoot in RAW, or a full frame camera with all of the erganomic features the 60D is flaunting.

If you've yet to purchase a DSLR, and are working on a tight budget, this is a great camera for you. The addition of the articulated screen and manual audio control alone will save you money on accessories. Combined with the other features, this is a powerful camera, great for the aspiring DSLR film maker.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

IndiSystem's UlTRAcompact: Product Review

When I was researching different shoulder rigs to mount my Canon Rebel T2i, I came across the Ultra Compact Shoulder rig, produced by IndiSystem. I however couldn't find any reviews on the product, so I thought this might be helpful to many people.

Preface: When I review products on my blog, the opinions provided are souly mine, and not influenced by any affiliations with companies or individuals. I will not endorse a product which I would not personally recommend or use. Now, on to the review.


If your in a hurry, here's the quick and dirty review: I'd really like to reccommend this product, because it is very affordable, I like to support small businesses, which IndiSystem seems to be, and the design is great on paper. However, in practice, it doesn't live up to my expectations. Although I have learned how to work around specific failings of the original design, I often find myself wishing I had saved some more money and purchased a better rig. It's possible that I received a product with defects, but based on some comments I've seen on other blogs, I think it is the quality of manufacturing overall, not my specific item.

For those interested, I will list the good and bad features of the Ultra Compact, and you can then decide for yourself if it's for you.

The Good

At $300.00, the Ultra Compact is by far one of the most affordable, and reconfigurable DSLR shoulder mounts available on the consumer market. The system includes two adjustable forward handles, an adjustable shoulder pad with mounts for counter weights, a "C" handle for mounting accessories, or doing low angle hand held shots, carbon fiber rails, a proper video plate with forward/backward adjustment for balance, and an adjustable base plate for mounting to a tripod or rasing and lowering the camera body in relation to the support rails (nice feature when using a follow focus and different sixed lenses).

The rig folds rather small, and although heavier then I expected, when in use, the weight is not noticible, and helps make for a smoother shot. The camera mounts quickly to video plate, and stays secure to the rig. There are many adjustments which can be made to make room for a follow focus or a matte box, and the camera can be easily positioned to mount and LCD viewfinder.

Once you get the rig adjusted to your body, it really makes a difference in shooting handheld footage, Minimizing a large amount of shake.

The Bad

It took nearly three weeks for me to receive my shoulder rig, as opposed to the expected one week estimated in my confirmation email. I called customer care several times before getting a hold of someone. Jim, the man I spoke to was very kind and apologetic, but I got the sense he is opporating a one man business out of his garage or work shop. I commend him for his efforts, but think he needs some help to meet the expectations of DSLR film makers.

The quick release knobs are nearly impossible to securely tighten, and the forward handles always seem to have a bit of wobble in them. I've been building bicycles for 10 years, so I'm pretty sure it's not my grip that's the issue. The inability to securely tighten these knobs means that parts of the rig shift during opperation. At times it's a bit frightening because it feels like your about to drop the entire rig.

The baseplate meant to mount to a tripod comes with the standard 1/4 20 threading, however, if you only use a single 1/4 20 screw, the rig will rock back and forth on the tripod, even if the tripod is locked down. I tried using two screws on the tripod quick release plate, but the holes on are so close together that they screw heads end up brushing against eachother and loosening up over time. Had the two 1/4 20 mounts on the rig's base plate been spread slightly further apart, this wouldn't been an issue.

The shoulder pad looks like it would be comfortable, but something is just not right. I can't put my finger on it. I think if it were a little longer, and a little wider, it would rest comfortably on your shoulder, but now, I find I'm readjusting in between shots to try and find the sweet spot.


The IndiSystem Ultra Compact shoulder rig proves the saying true; "you get what you pay for".

Although it is very affordable, and many of the issues can be dealt with, you will always feel the desire to have a better, more solid rig to work with. Rather then buying the Ultra Compact, it would be best to save your money and buy from a larger, more established company like Zacuto.

When you purchase from a larger company, there will be plenty of reviews and opinions to help guide your purchase, and you will have more people to help you out should you have a problem.

I really hate to give this product a bad review. Jim strikes me as a very nice person, and he has a lot of good designs, it just seems that he needs some help in the manufacturing department, as well as quality control. If this article get's back to him, or any one at IndiSystem, I hope they will use it to produce better quality products.

Furthermore, if anyone else has purchased this product or similar products from IndiSystem, please let me know about your experience with it. As I haven't seen any other reviews of their products, I can't yet be sure that this review is based on a flawed item, or if it reflects the overall quality of their product. Should I discover that I got the oddball wobbly shoulder rig, I will seek to exchange mine for a new one, and rewrite this review.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Z96 LED Light- An Awesome, Affordable, Bright LED Camera Light

About a month ago I shot footage at a wedding and got to thinking it might be a good idea to invest in a camera light. I do a lot of event videography, and although my 50mm lens does well in low light, an additional light source would be useful. So I started doing some research and investigation. Last night I placed an order for the HDV-Z96 LED light.

I stumbled upon this product while surfing the interweb, and it immediately caught my attention. At $69 (free shipping) it was significantly cheaper then any of the other lights of similar quality. It comes standard with an adjustable hot shoe mount, a warm and diffusion filter, it is dimmable, can run on either AA or popular camera batteries without using an adapter, and casts a bright white, 16x9 beam of light. Once I saw the video included in the ebay listing, I was sold. The video shows a side by side comparison of the Z96, and it's closest competitor, and there is hands down, no contest. The z96 takes the cake.

The light was purpose built for the DSLR cinematographer on the go, and as an added feature, you can connect multiple lights together to create studio type panel lights. Check the ebay link above and you will see that the lights are being sold individual, or in a value pack of 4 units. If your planning on connecting the lights together, the 4 piece set is definitely a great purchase.

My only regret so far is not having ordered it sooner. I have to film a band tomorrow night, and sure this would have been useful to have on hand.

Once the light comes in, I'll put together a video review so you can check it out.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Why You Should White Balance Your Camera and How to Do It!

White balancing is a process meant to compensate for the unnatural color casting produced by the light source present at the moment the image is captured to your camera. Every light source produces light of a different color. The lights color is some times referred to as color temperature. For example, the Sun as it rises and sets tends to provide a golden orange light, whereas a florescent light bulb tends to be a faint yellow. Color temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin, and contrary to common sense, light of a higher temperature is more blue in color, and light of a lower temperature is more orange and red. The chart below will give you a good idea of how color temperature works.

If you forget to set your white balance before shooting, you will most likely end up with images and video tinted different colors based on the light source present. You may have heard someone say "this clip looks a little hot". This could be due to someone not setting the white balance, and the clip came out with a redish tint. If you've forgotten to set white balance, and shot a bunch of footage, don't worry, there are ways to correct it in post production, however they can some times be tricky, and almost always more time consuming then setting your white balance from jump street.

So now that you know a little a bit about white balance, lets learn how to do it. There are two ways to set white balance on most modern DSLR cameras.
  1. Use the presets and auto white balance (AWB) built into the camera.
  2. Set a custom white balance.

Using the presets and auto white balance in the camera will vary slightly between camera models, but essentially, you want to find the white balance function in the camera menu, and set the white balance to an appropriate setting for the environment your shooting in; I.E. Sun light-use outdoors, Night- Duh!, Florescent-When you hear the annoying buzzing from tubes up above and so on. For more information, refer to your cameras owners' manual. The presets work pretty well, as well as the auto white balance, but some times, the lighting can be a little tricky where your shooting, and throw the presets off. That's the beauty of custom white balance.

To use a custom white balance, you'll want to get an 18% grey card. Why not a white card? White cards easily get marked and dirty and can throw off your white balance. I got this Grey card set at B&H for $22. It's easy to pack, and includes a white and black card along with the grey card. Place the Grey card so that it is under the lights you will be shooting your subjects in. Zoom in, or step closer so the center of your view finder is filled with the grey card; focus isn't an issue for this. Snap a picture.

To set the custom white balance on the Rebel T2i, go to the camera menu, and look for "Custome White Balance". Set the custom white balance to the picture you just took. Using it's super camera computer brain, it will use that picture as a reference to adjust for any unnatural color casting. If you are changing locations, or the lighting is changing significantly in the first location, you will have to reset the custom white balance to reflect the change. Don't for get to select custom white balance as your WB mode before shooting. Again for more details, refer to your camera's manual.

Using a grey card and the custom white balance function on my T2i has saved me a lot of time and trouble in post production. Doing it properly before shooting allows me to enter the post production process with clean, clear images, so if I want to add my own tinting or effects to the shot, I can start with a clean canvas.

You may find there are times when you like the tint caused by the light source, so you turn the white balance off. That's ok too, but you may want to shoot one with WB, and one without, that way you can make a final choice later on. Experiment, and see what works best for you.

If you found this article helpful, or at the least, entertaining, drop me a comment down below. As much as I love hearing myself talk/type, I write this blog for others to benefit from my learning process. I won't know which cotent is helpful, and which content is crap unless you let me know.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Vests are a Great Accessory for Any DSLR Cinematographer

I don't know why it took me so long to figure this out, but a Photographers Vest is a great way to transport your gear while shooting, be it a live event or a studio type of shoot.

I usually film live events, or work alone, so I am always looking for ways to transport and access my gear when on the move. I first started out with a Canon Back Pack, which was cheap, held a lot of gear, and was comfortable to wear. The down side to the back pack was that I had to take it off, and set it down if I wanted to swap lenses, or change filters. The other problem is that it was too big to get in and out of the smaller venues I was filming in.

I now have a Nikon Camera Bag which I really like. It was relatively cheap, and with some space management I was able to fit all 4 of my lenses, the camera body, a loupe, filters, extra battery and charger, and a few other goodies into this small sholder bag. It's much smaller then the back pack, and easier to get around with, but I still have to set it down to change lenses. Almost the perfect solution, but not quite there.

It hit me the other night while watching the Matrix. All bad ass guys have vests. Neo had one, Arnold in Predator, and Commando, El Deuche in Boondock Saints; and all for the same reason, all your gear is right at your finger tips. BINGO!!!! I found this Photographers Vest, and it's perfect. Upon arriving to a location shoot, I can take whatever lenses and filters I might need, stick 'em in the vest, set the camera bag aside, and get straight to shooting. If I need to swap lenses, I just grab the lens from one of the pockets, and BAMO, lens swap has taken place.

On little day trip shoots, I won't even have to bring the bag, I can pack everything I need right into the vest. If I were working on larger projects, I would have an assistant camera person who would carry the camera bag, or be in charge of guarding it, making sure nothing is stolen. Until then, this is an inexspensive and effective way for me to manage my gear on a solo shoot.

If you have another solution to dealing with your gear as a lone shooter, send me picks of your setup, or post me a comment and tell me about it.