I'll start with the fun stuff first. The kid is heading home from College for the Holiday Break. I just got a text from my friend, Fred, in Saratoga Springs a few minute ago. He successfully deposited young Mr. Tuck at the Albany airport for the first leg of his trip back to Austin. If I have been slow to post things on the blog lately it's largely because Ben's mom has me washing Studio Dog, cleaning the "boy's" bathroom, shopping for his favorite foods and other errands. She clearly doesn't get the priority hierarchy of my schedule...
We'll both be incredibly happy to see the boy again for all the reasons that most parents would list. On a more pragmatic level I will be happy to see him around the house for the next month because he is a much better cinematography director and editor than I am and has more experience doing it than me. We've got a Zach Theatre project that I just know he'll be delighted to help me with before Christmas..
In computer news I've finally heard about a machine that may meet all my parameters for replacing my current, high performance laptop (see above).While the new, fully tricked out, iMac Pro (about $13,000) isn't nearly as pretty as this old classic it does have slightly better specs and might be a tad faster than what I've got. I thought I'd keep this classic running forever but, golly, it doesn't seem to run the new rev. of Final Cut Pro X (10.4) so it's possible its days are numbered as the "go to" computational apparatus here in the studio. A note to DIY addicts who purport to be able build the "same" computer with PC spare parts...let's see how beautifully you can sculpt a spring enabled carrying handle and integrate it into such a nicely colored design... It is still a powerhouse with its PowerPC G3 processor running at 300 Mhz, its mighty 32 MB (yes, that's megabytes) of RAM and its 3.2 GB hard drive ( good for five or ten PhotoShop files in layers...).
In all seriousness, the new iMacPro seems to be a well spec'd computer for people engaged in daily video editing. A nice, 27 inch, 5K Retina screen, fast, a 3.2 GHz eight core Xeon W processor, one GB SSD drive, and 32 GB of ECC DRAM point to a lot of capability with the base price model. And it's only $5,000. So well priced you may as well get a couple... One for the house, one for the office.
I'll wait and see if the Xeon W family of workstation processors trickle down into the less costly variants in a few months...
Just looking over my shoulder at a shelf in studio and I can see five generations of Apple laptops staring back at me. We use them until they are not practical anymore and then, it appears, we just archive them as future props of a nostalgic past....
I'm ready to make my call for my favorite camera of the year. After much deliberation I've decided that the best camera value this year, for me, was a toss up between the G85 coupled with the 12-60mm kit lens and the Panasonic FZ2500. The winner, surprisingly, is the FZ2500. Here's why: When used properly the lens on this camera is nice and sharp. Its corner sharpness will never match a prime lens on a large sensor body but the center third to half of the frame will give most cameras a good run for their money. The sensor is pretty much the universally used Sony 1" variety and with the right processing it does a great job balancing noise, dynamic range and color depth.
But this camera does things that most camera companies (other than the rival from Sony; the RX10iv) don't even have on the radar in their product lines. It can make very wonderful 4K video files and even more wonderful 1080p files. It one-ups its closest rival by supplying more (video) data throughput (up to 200 Mb/s) and it offers 10 bit, 4:2:2 color when used with an external digital recorder. It offers variable frame rates in video, from 2 fps to 120 fps for all kinds of application beyond just having slow motion capabilities.
It may be the only camera, video or still, to offer 200 Mb/s All-I recording ability for less than $2,000. This creates a more pleasing visual cadence and handles motion much better with far fewer artifacts, compared to Long GoP files. It's got three strengths of built-in neutral density which are usable in shooting both video and stills.
There is so much more. You can buy a V-Log profile for the camera (Sony includes one for free...) and I'm just discovering video features like the button implemented slow zoom controls and the "soft start and finish" zoom setting. Couple all of this with state of the art image stabilization in video, and regular photography, and a intelligently thought out menu, plus a well done touch screen and you have an absolutely great video camera and still camera for under $1,000. Half the price of the new Sony RX10iv.
My intention, earlier this year, was to sell my Sony RX10iii (which I did) and to upgrade to the newer RX10iv. As I waited for the new camera to become available I used the FZ2500 more and more. I became very comfortable with its operation and, as I learned to optimize settings on the camera, I became more and more impressed by its image quality in both still photography and video. I've gotten to the point now where I don't think I could trade off the flexibility and capabilities of the Panasonic for the much different set of strengths presented by the Sony camera.
All of these things combined make this camera my front-runner for the best camera value I've experienced in the past year. It may be the perfect compromise as a second camera in the bag of a working professional. It wouldn't be my choice as my "only" camera but as a secondary camera to a GH5 or a G9 it's pretty darn great. Added bonus? It takes the same batteries as my G85.
The compact, quick reaction kit. Panasonic GH5, DMW-XLR1 Audio Interface, Aputure Diety Shotgun Microphone.
So, about a week ago I wrote a little piece about fine tuning a small and light (but powerful) video package for fast paced situations and assignments with lots of locations packed into a short time frame. I got to try out and interaction of that package yesterday. (as above, just add headphones....).
I got an e-mail yesterday morning asking if I could do a location interview with the artistic director of ZACH Theatre, Dave Steakley. The caveat was that he would be leaving on vacation that afternoon and could only reserve time between 2:30 and 3:00 pm in which to do his interview. I was in the middle of editing photographs for two different projects but thought I could finish up with about an hour to spare and still make it to the theater to set up in a visually interesting location. I said, "yes."
I had this camera package set and ready to go. It even lives in its own bag. I tossed in a video tripod and three battery powered LED panels plus a big white umbrella and three light stands. I also packed a lavaliere microphone, just in case. I knew just the scene I wanted for this interview. I wanted to shoot from the front row of the big Topfer theatre toward the back of the house to show endless rows of seats going out of focus in the background. I would light Dave with the big, 50 inch umbrella and one of the bigger LED lights, put a second light on stage and spray it out into the house behind him, and then add a small LED panel, with no modifier, as a backlight to separate him from the background and kick some light into the shadow side of his face.
I wanted a wide shot so I used the 12-100mm f4.0 Olympus Pro lens between 12 and 14mm and then got close enough to Dave to get the relationship between the rows of theater seats behind him just right. I was about five feet away from him so I decided it would be okay to use a shotgun microphone on camera to record his voice. I plugged an Aputure Diety microphone into the DMW-XLR1 and listened carefully to some test audio. It was clean and clear at a mid-point amplification level on the pre-amp so we were in good shape. I wanted to use anything but a lavalier in this case in order to get more room ambiance in the recording. To aurally show the size of the room.
I walked into the location at 2:10 pm and we were set up, lit, tested and ready to right at 2:30 when Dave walked in. The PR director stood just off camera and asked Dave the interview questions and we rolled. Instead of shooting the video in 4K, which is our usual practice, I shot in 1080p, 29.97, 10 bit 422, All-I.
I kept headphones clamped on my ears to listen for audio hits and misses, and to assess the overall sound quality. Seemed good to me. When I listened later on the studio monitors I noticed I could just barely hear the HVAC as a little background hiss. It was fairly easy to pull out. The overall sound was just what I expected and that made me happy.
We finished up at 2:50 and I was packed up and on the road back to the office by 3:00 pm. Having the camera totally configured, and figured out, before I left the studio to go to the theatre was a huge time saver. All-in-all I'm going to call this one in the plus (thumbs up) column.
Here are some Amazon Links in case you need to buy yourself something nice for the holidays: