Panasonic Gh4

Jun 252014
 

It was a cold winter afternoon. There I was, standing at the edge of a 200 foot pier on Lake Tahoe. The wind was killer at the lake. I’m guessing 30+ miles an hour. 200 feet into the lake, on the edge of the pier it was probably 40+ miles an hour. It was miserable and I didn’t know what I was doing.I managed to get down onto an area where boaters/kayakers and jet skiers get onto their aquatic vessel of choice. This vantage point meant I was closer to the water and that no railings would obstruct my views.

All I remember from that day was how frustrating it was to use my cheap crappy tripod. The aluminum was cold. The feet were impossible to level, and the whole thing felt like it was going to fly into the lake. I was squatting throughout because I was afraid to extend the legs, figuring the whole system would topple into the lake or onto the icy pier. I don’t even think I got any scenic photos form this particular visit. I packed my gear and got the hell out.

Tripods

Using Cheap Tripod for Telephoto Lenses

When people say that you can put a telephoto lens onto a cheap tripod; say a 300mm f/4L onto and AmazonBasics tripod, what they really are saying is: Under perfect conditions, the tripod will hold a heavy lens. What they are not saying is:

  • The tripod setup will be hassle free
  • The tripod will be very stable
  • You will get good vibration dampening
  • The tripod is versatile

Can I mount a telephoto lens on my crappy old Velbon? Yes. It will easily hold a telephoto lens. Its not like mounting 5 or 6lbs on a tripod makes it explode. Most tripods will hold gear weighing 5, even 10 lbs. Does this mean you should mount heavy gear on cheap tripods? Not really. Chances are it won’t be stable, won’t dampen the vibrations well, and be a pain in the ass to use.

Tripod Height: Why 60 Inches is Not Enough

Usually cheap tripods don’t extend very high. If you are a six foot human, your eyes are probably around 64 inches off the ground. This means that you likely need a 56 inch tripod. The problem with cheap 50-60 inch tripods is that to get the tripod head 60 inches high you need to extend the center column all the way up. Extending the center column introduces lots of vibration and instability. Not only that, but extending the feet all the way out on a cheap tripod generally sucks because the feet are very flimsy.

So to optimally get the tripod to eye level you need solid feet and must avoid extending the center column. I wouldn’t bother looking at cheap 60 inch tripods, and even the 70 inch tripods wouldn’t cut it (remember, the bottom leg section of a cheap tripod will be very flimsy). In other words, I wouldn’t buy any cheap tripods if I needed a stable setup for my personal eye level.

Forget About Fancy Features: Focus on Build Quality and Design

The main function of a tripod is stability. Thicker aluminum tubes result in more stability. Lack of plastic parts results in fewer breakable parts. Adjustable screws allow for customizing the tightness of your legs and levers to suit your needs. This is what really matters in a tripod. Whether or not a tripod has weight hooks (you can usually add your own), a storage bag, or foam grips is not as important as stability and build quality.

A Good Tripod Head

Part of the reason cheap tripods suck is that they come with crappy tripod heads. The more expensive tripods usually don’t come with tripod heads because the manufacturer expects you to add a custom tripod head that fits your needs.

Manfrotto 055xProB ($150) vs Dolica Proline ($60) vs Velbon ($???) vs Ambico ($???)

You literally get what you pay for. I’d say each tripod has the same bang for your buck. The Manfrotto is big, heavy, almost entirely aluminum (has a few pieces of plastic),  and well built. The Dolica is light, has flimsy lower leg sections, is mostly aluminum, and makes a great light travel tripod (for light gear). The Velbon is old and also mostly aluminum. It is made in America, and that counts for nothing. It is clunky, old, fragile, and not stable. The Ambico is also a piece of crap. I either got it for free, or paid less than $1 for it.

Who Should Buy a Cheap Tripod

Cheap tripods have their place. Basically you should buy one if you feel like you will not use a tripod often. What’s the point of shelling out money for gear you seldomly use? If you need a tripod in an easy going environment (like a family portrait) a cheap tripod is fine. If you don’t have heavy/expensive gear a cheap tripod is fine. If you are a patient person who is gentle and won’t get frustrated by the quirks of a cheap tripod then by all means get one. And if you need a second tripod, for a second camera body, or flash, or ??? a cheap tripod may fit the bill.

Who Should Not Buy a Cheap Tripod

If you have expensive gear, you may want the security of a better designed tripod. If you are out in the elements, and need something that is well built and can handle stress, avoid buying a cheap tripod. If you shoot at the telephoto end, don’t buy a cheap tripod. If you are tall, don’t buy a cheap tripod. If you care how you look, get an expensive tripod. If you want to focus 100% on your photography and video and not worry about the shortfalls of your tripod, spend the money on a better system. If you can afford $150 on a tripod, get a $150 tripod. If you don’t mind spending a bit and having gear that will most likely last a decade+ don’t buy a cheap tripod.

Jun 162014
 

Somewhere on this website, I think I have a post that discusses the best lenses for video. But that post is focused on cinematic lenses, that may be difficult/impractical to use (vintage glass, manual focus, nice bokeh, etc…). Here are a few lenses that I think are amazing for video, are affordable, and practical:

40mm

Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 or Canon 10-18mm STM

If you are shooting on a crop sensor, you will want a lens that is under 24mm. 35mm and beyond can be too zoomed in, making it difficult to frame your subject. More often than not 50mm will be way too zoomed in. Phillip Bloom swears by the Tokina 11-16mm, and I certainly love mine. It allows me to get a nice range of wide shots while still maintaining a fast f/2.8 focal ratio. The build quality rocks, and it is a fun lens.

The Canon 10-18mm is the new kid on the block. It is cheaper, sharper, has Image Stabilization, and has STM focusing technology. Without a doubt it is going to sell well. The only problem is that it is a slow lens. F/4.5-5.6 doesn’t cut it for my photography or video needs. If this lens was a fixed f/2.8 or even f/3.5, I am pretty sure I would have instantly sold my Tokina 11-16…

Canon10-18

Canon 35mm f/2 IS USM

This lens is a face melter. At first it got a lot of hate because of the price tag and the competitive Sigma 35mm 1.4. If all you care about is sharpness, contrast, and build quality, get the Sigma 35mm 1.4. It is an amazing lens. If the Sigma had IS, I would have bought it. For video work, the Canon 35mm IS USM takes the cake. It is priced at $350 less, is relatively fast, is very sharp (almost as sharp as the amazing Sigma), and has very useful image stabilization. The IS makes it a no-brainier for video. Where else can you find an extremely sharp F2 lens with IS for $550?.

Canon STM Lenses: Okay for Stills, Excellent for Video

If you have a camera that can use STM technology for  video auto focusing (the new Canon rebels have it, such as the Canon T4i, Canon T5i, and Canon 70D), then you might want to invest in an STM lens. On the Canon T4i and T5i video auto focusing still sucks. But if you have a Canon 70D, the dual pixel technology allows for faster and more accurate video auto focusing (that is still not perfect). If you are on a budget, get the Canon 10-18mm STM and pair it with the Canon 40mm STM. Low light will be an issue (maybe buy a Canon 50mm 1.8 as well?), but you will get two (three?) awesome lenses that are sharp and cheap.

Canon 40mm f/2.8 STM

Sharpest, cheapest, lightest, fastest, smallest. Everyone loves this lens. Pros, amateurs, the rich, and the poor. Its a great lens that has basically left the Canon 50mm 1.8 in the dust. Despite being light weight, it has a very solid build quality with a metal mount.

Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM

The 18-55mm never gets much love despite being a good beginner lens. I have the non STM version, and it is sharp enough for video. It is slow at the tele end, but the image stabilization is very useful throughout. Often times I use my cheap 18-55 instead of my better lenses when I need image stabilization. I think the STM price is fair, you get a sharp lens, Image stabilization, and STM video focusing.

Canon EF-S 55-250mm F4-5.6 IS STM

I own the non STM version. Without question, this is an amazing lens. Get this lens only if you need the tele end. Otherwise get the 40mm STM. The IS is excellent, the auto focusing is good, the build quality is better than most other EF-S lenses, and it is sharp. Remember, you are paying for the extra features (IS, STM). If you want a sharp telephoto lens, get a used Canon 300mm F4 (I own it as well and it smokes the 55-250 in terms of sharpness and contrast).

Cheap Canon Lenses vs ???

Canon bias? As usual yes. But who else makes high quality video oriented lenses for such reasonable prices? If you are willing to sacrifice a little bit of build quality, lens character, and sharpness you will make life much easier on yourself. You will save money, and you will be able to use friendly lenses that are jam packed with useful video features. If the only thing you care about is a beautiful image, I would suggest the following lenses:

  • Canon 14mm f/2.8
  • Sigma 35mm f/1.4
  • Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art
  • Canon 85mm f/1.2L
  • Canon 135mm f/2
  • Additional vintage lenses such as Takumar, Mir, Jupter, Zeiss Jena, etc…

And I would pair these lenses with an anamorphic adapter such as the  Iscorama 54. $5,000 for the anamorphic adapter, $7,000 for the lenses… yeah um… let me dream for a bit.

Jun 052014
 

The Canon EF-S 10-18mm is the latest wide angle lens to hit the shelves. It is designed of APS-C sensors. It sports IS, STM focusing, and is priced under $300! Whats not to love?

Canon10-18

The Canon EF-S 10-18mm is Very Slow

F/4.5-5.6 is very slow by today’s standards. If you dial this lens in at 18mm, you will only be able to shoot at f/5.6 (allowing in 4x less light than the Tokina 11-16 @ f/2.8). What this means is that your bokeh will suffer, your depth of field won’t be very shallow, and you will need to jack the ISO up of use longer exposures. Granted, people don’t really buy wide angle lenses for bokeh or shallow depth of fields.

Even wide open the Canon is slow. F/4.5 lets in about 2.6x less light than the Tokina @ F/2.8. If you plan on shooting at night, or in low light you will always be relying on the Canon’s image stabilization so that you can extend the exposure duration.

Canon EF-S 10-18mm Image Stabilization: Useful? Useless?

At wide angles, you can get introduce a fair bit of camera shake and still get sharp results. So is the IS actually useful at these wide focal lengths? Of course! You will definitely see the difference if you shoot video. As for stills; it depends purely on the shutter speed. If you are in a low light situation, shooting below 1/50s you will likely see increased sharpness. So, given the small aperture of the Canon, the IS could be a life saver.

Canon EF-S 10-18mm vs Tokina 11-16mm Sharpness

The Canon is poised to be one of the sharpest wide angle lenses on the market. Because it can only reach f/4.5 or f/5.6 at its widest setting it is inherently sharp wide open. The following MTF shows that the Canon is sharper corner to corner across its focal range:

mtf-10mm mtf-18mm

You will notice that the Tokina does fairly well. Note that the bottom curves are at f/2.8 as opposed to f/4.5. The Tokina is considered a very sharp lens. The Canon is just sharper. Check out the MTF for the Tokina:L0000068-mtf1 L0000068-mtf2

 The Tokina 11-16mm Build Quality and Design

The Tokina 11-16 feels like a professional lens. It weighs 570g. The Canon 10-18mm weighs 240g. I own the Tokina 11-16 DXII, and I own my share of Canon EF-S lenses, and I will say that the Canon EF-S lenses always feel very cheap. I am yet to handle an EF-S lens that feels solid in my hand. I have no doubts that the the Canon 10-18mm will feel cheap. I doubt it will be as bad as the 50mm 1.8 or 17-55mm, but I don’t expect the build quality to be great.

The Tokina comes with a lens hood, and a pinch design lens cap. The focusing system is whisper quiet, the focusing and zoom rings are large and smooth, and the build quality seems excellent for a $450 lens.  The Tokina 11-16 isn’t weather sealed, but it feels closer to L series quality than EF-S quality.

What is The Best Wide Angle Lens For…

For video? Honestly the Canon 10-18mm seems very appealing given the IS. But, f/4.5 and f/5.6 is not gonna cut it. If you shoot video, you are limited to 1/30 shutter speed @ 24p. 1/30 at f/4.5 is not going to cut it in most low light situations. So, for video, I recommend the Tokina 11-16. The lack of IS is a bummer, but at such wide focal lengths IS isn’t necessary.

For landscape or architectural photography you would do just fine with the Canon 10-18mm. After all, you will be using a tripod (right? get a tripod, at least for interior photography) and so the small aperture won’t matter because you can shoot at extremely slow shutter speeds. Plus, the Canon can go down to 10mm wide, which is about 10% wider than 11mm, allowing you to get that exaggerated wide angle look.

If you are a beginner, get the Canon 10-18mm. It’s lighter, cheaper, sharper, and perfect for daytime use. It’s a nice little lens that Canon randomly dropped on us. If you are a professional, get a Canon 14mm F2.8. You are likely shooting on a full frame sensor, and so the Tokina 11-16 and Canon 10-18mm aren’t ideal (vignetting, and lack of compatibility).

Apr 102014
 

Letus AnamorphX 1.8x ($????): Man this thing looks like it will surely be expensive. I’m guessing just a tad above $2,000. But maybe we will get lucky and will go for the same price as the original Letus AnamorphX ($1700). Either way I am happy that more anamorphic are being produced. Considering this is great glass with tons of features and an aesthetically nice looking picture, I don’t mind the high price.

Not much new stuff to report, so check out this awesome discussion about 4K featuring some of my favorite people (Vincent LaForet and Philip Bloom):

What Did Canon Announce for NAB 2014?

Nothing really. The announced some very expensive lenses a week ago though. The Cine-Servo CN7x17 KAS S and HJ18ex7.6B will run you $30,000 if I recall correctly so I can’t say I’m very interested. But hopefully we will see some new consumer lenses from Canon by the end of 2014, as well as maybe a new DSLR (7D mkII???) and who knows… maybe Canon will announce that they plan to get into the 4K DSLR game?

Best of NAB 2014

There was a lot of cool stuff. Attendance was over 100,000 people. And it’s always sad to see the show come to an end because if you are into DSLR gear and technology NAB is the Super Bowl of broadcasting technology. The coolest stuff consisted of:

  • BlackMagic coming out with a full fledged professional camera system that features a 10 inc LCD.
  • The Letus 3 axis gimbals (I loved the GoPro gimbal as well)
  • A couple new Atomos video capture devices, bringing ProRes 4:2:2 to the masses with the $300 Ninja Star
Apr 092014
 

All the big stuff has been announced on Day 1, but here are some things that you may have missed:

Panasonic GH4 ($1700): This little camera looks like a DSLR (MFT), shoots 4K, and has won Videomaker’s Best of NAB 2014 award. What does this award mean? Nothing. I just wanted to pimp the GH4 a bit more because it is the most amazing thing you can buy (preorder) for $1700.

Manfrotto KLYP ($112): This is a small case/rig/thing with an LED panel that attaches to your iPhone 5. So basically you can look like a total jackass when you whip out your phone and it has an LED light panel attached to it. At least your selfies will look pro!

Sound Devices 970 64‑Track Dante And MADI Audio Recorder ($4,495): The price of this 64 track audio recorder seems insanely reasonable. First of all, you are professional gear (Sound Devices is used in Hollywood films and in recordings studios by Pop stars, etc…). Secondly, you get 64 tracks. Not bad considering a small SD field recorder can ran you $1,000+.

Zacuto Gratical LT OLED EVF and Zacuto Gratical HD OLED EVF ($????): Both are electronic OLED viewfinders. They have a range of built in diopters from -1 to +4 ensuring that you see the image sharply. I must say, having one of these things would be awesome because they come with all the sexy stuff needed for feeling like a pro; waveform, vectorscope, histogram, etc… Unfortunately Zacuto charges a lot for its high quality gear (I’m not complaining, it’s just out of my price range). The LT model sports 3.3M dots (1024×768), while the HD model ups the resolution to 1280×1024 (5.5M dots). Best viewfinders for indie shooters? I think yes. I’m guessing maybe $899 for the LT and $1099 for the HD model.

Apr 082014
 

Not much to announce so I’ll just post additional stuff from Day 1

Small HD DP7 Pro Series ($1,400+): Small HD produces very popular field monitors. The DP4 is a crowd favorite. The DP7 Pro basically allows you to color grade your shot in the field using your monitor. Cool.. but is color grading in the field really a necessary feature?

Adobe Light Room Mobile ($??): If grading footage on your field monitor was not enough, now you can edit photos in Light Room on your phone or tablet. Woohoo! Who does professional editing on a tablet?

Letus GoPro Stabilizer ($???): This might be one of the coolest things I have seen from NAB thus far. From the looks of it I would much rather buy a Letus GoPro gimbal than the Luuv.

DaVinci Resolve 11 ($1000): I don’t use Resolve (I’m not a f$%ing pro, so I don’t need pro gear or software! Read strait from the horses mouth: Official Details

Apr 082014
 

So NAB 2014 is here. If you like video production, this is the place to be. Las Vegas. Ahh, crack whores, strippers, gambling, the conclusion of March Madness, dudes all over the sidewalks handing out flyers to strip clubs, and NAB. Ideally you do Vegas properly and get a little taste of everything I just listed.

Major Announcements for Day 1 of NAB 2014

  • Atomos Ninja Star ($295): Captures ProRes 4:2:2 in 1080p. Designed particularly for DSLR shooters.
  • Atomos Shogun ($???):  Records 4K. Records in ProRes, DNxHD, and Cinema DNG RAW. Features a 7 inch IPS monitor.
  • AJA Video Systems CION ($9,000): Records 4K as well as 12bit 4:4:4 ProRes (not sure at which resolution). It can record 4K @ 120fps, and has an internal SSD. The big deal is that it is priced at $8,995 which is cheap for all the features this cam offers.
  • Blackmagic URSA ($5,995+): Super 35 sensor size, can record in 12 bit Cinema DNG RAW at up to 4K, features a 10 inch flip out LCD monitor, two additional smaller 5 inch LCD touch screens, and dual recording so you can record continuously for several hours (forever? until the camera overheats and blows up??).
  • Blackmagic Studio Camera HD ($1,995): 10 inch LCD display, and it shoots 1080p. It is not practical for indie filmmakers because it wasn’t really designed with them in mind. With that said something draws me to this camera. Its ugliness maybe? If your specialty is broadcast studio work the BM Studio Camera is literally the camera for your budget needs.
  • Blackmagic Cintel Film Scanner ($30,000): A cool looking device that scans film in real time. Scans 35mm film into digital Ultra HD (4K) in real time.
  • Sony A7s ($1700): Old news, but I may as well lump it in. Basically a Panasonic GH4 competitor. Shoots 4K, has a better sensor. Buckle your seats for a 4K war at the sub $2000 price point.
  • Juicedlink Little DARling: ($???): A small recorder, that is designed to fit on a belt or whatever else you want to attach it to. It records two tracks (main track, and backup track at lower dB).

Pretty cool to see stuff for the amateurs. If you have $5,000 to spend, you can basically have a professional production. The A7s, Juicedlink Little DARling, and the Atomos Ninja Star all contribute to the arsenal at our disposal. Can’t wait for Day 2!

Apr 022014
 

SonyECMCS3I have used (I own) several cheap lavaliers:

  • Audio-Technica ATR-3350
  • Sony ECM-CS3
  • Olympus ME52W
  • Zalman Zm-Mic1

The Sony ECM CS3 is considered to be the best $25 lavalier microphone on the planet. Is it? In my opinion… kind of. It’s certainly the best sounding mic. But the build quality leaves me unhappy.

My First Impressions of the Sony ECM-CS3

This mic has a short cord length (about 3 feet), so you will likely need to plug this thing into a recorder and not directly into your DSLR. Not a big deal since you can buy an extension cable. An extra foot would have been nice. If you are plugging this thiing into your recorder, the cable length isn’t an issue.

Feels cheap as hell. This is thing cost me twice as much as the Olympus lavalier and it feels twice as cheap. It’s very light, the clip is made out of plastic, and it is wrapped in a softish, silver battery-like cover/enclosure. In other words: I hate the build quality, and I am genuinely afraid that I will eventually break this lavalier.

It does not come with a foam windscreen. Not a big deal, but weird since all the other mics I  bought come with one.

It is a stereo mic. You should not use stereo for speech. In your editing software you should delete one of the audio channels and then duplicate the remaining channel. If you record speech in stereo, it sounds very gross which is why no one uses stereo for speech (unless it’s for music, or some abnormal reason).

Sony ECM-CS3 Specs

  • Electret Condenser Microphone
  • Omnidirectional
  • Frequency Response : 50 – 15,000Hz
  • Sensitivity : -38 dB
  • Cable : 1.0 m (~40 in)
  • Power : Plug-in Power
  • Weight (Approx.) : Approximately 12 g (0.42 oz) (with Cord)
  • Price: $18-$25

In Depth Look at the Sony ECM-CS3

The clip does not allow you to articulate the microphone in all three dimensions like the Olympus lav. You can only spin the mic on one axis (kind of like spinning a bottle). The clip is black, and small. I would prefer a larger clip that was not so cheap feeling. Really, there is  not much to say about the lavalier in terms of cool features. This mic is truly all about the sound…

Sony ECM-CS3 Sound Quality

Is this the best sounding mic under $25? Yes, no question. If you need audio quality buy this mic. Does it sound better than my internal mics on the Sony PCM M10 digital recorder? No. The built in mics on my recorder sound better. But guess what, my recorder costs $200+. If you buy the Sony ECM CS3 lavalier, and plug it into a  Tascam DR-05 you’ll get similar sound for half the price.

This mic is very sensitive for a cheap lavalier. You don’t have to turn up the gain on your recorder or DSLR like you do with the Audio Technica ATR3350. Also, having stereo is a nice bonus. If ever I need to capture some stereo sound effects I guess I can? What I don’t like about the ECM-CS3 is the high frequency response. This mic really favors the high frequencies, and so you may need to edit your audio to your liking. Personally, I like the flat frequency response of the Audio Technica ATR3350. Despite the Audio Technica ATR3350 having a “flatter” sound, it sounds worse than the Sony ECM-CS3. If you need a cheap lavalier mic that has decent sound quality, the Sony ECM CS3 is your best option.


Things I Didn’t Like About the Sony ECM CS3

  • Silver color
  • Cheap build quality
  • Plastic clip
  • No Foam Screen
  • High frequencies are a bit overrepresented

Things I Liked About the Sony ECM CS3

  • Great (for the money) audio quality
  • Stereo if needed
  • Short cable
  • No batteries necessary
  • Picks up the low frequencies (unlike my Olympus ME52W)
  • Great off axis performance. Since you have two mics on this lav, if the lavalier shifts on your shirt or something, you will still pick up great audio.

Sony ECM CS3 Conclusion

If you need good sound quality buy it. If you need good sound quality and good build quality, spend more money on a better lavalier because this thing reeks of cheapness. Overall, I rank this lavalier higher than the Audio Technica ATR3350 (still decent in my opinion) and Olympus ME52W.

Film Brute