Lessons:Smooth moves beat fast moves. Good focus is better than hunting for perfect focus. Keep your hands off the tripod and camera for as much of the show as you can. There's a reason pro event cameras and video cameras for sports have electronic zoom and focus controls located on the tripod arms and not just on the cameras. And, There's always next time.
What I learned from filming an hour long, outdoor concert with three cameras... A few painful lessons.
OT: A quick question about a brand of electronic time-keeping devices. If you have knowledge and/or experience, please toss in a comment. Apple Watch.
Do the batteries last long enough to make the watches fun?
How do you normally use your watch to get the most value from it?
Please, if you are an Apple hater, smart watch cynic, etc. I'll just remind you that it's a gift and not a political statement or an announcement of social status. It's just a watch that does other stuff than just telling time.
I'm guessing that some of you find them great while others consider them useless. C'est la vie.
If you can make me smarter about the Apple Watch 6 I'll appreciate it. I hope it will take some of the
sting out of turning 65....
I've been thinking how grateful I am to continually have fun stuff to shoot. Not everything I photograph turns out to be spectacular but my takeaway is that constantly practicing, and routinely having fun, people-oriented projects to shoot, makes the little differences we go on-and-on about in our latest cameras seem a bit more worthwhile. There's some stuff you don't appreciate until a project pushes you to make use of obscure functions. And there's some stuff we appreciate while we're reading specs and reviews which we subsequently find to have absolutely no benefit for our actual work. It's funny that way. You never know what you'll end up valuing in your equipment...
A post job analysis of our live concert documentation. Video, video, video. (We'll circle back to photography shortly...).
I had a really good idea of what the shooting conditions (lighting, sight lines) at the plaza would be like since we photographed the same show there just this past Wednesday. The concert, with two singers and a three person band, started at 7:30 pm so the sun had fully set. The production folks built a stage just outside the front doors of the main theater but after a few rehearsals they decided to have the performers spend parts of the show out on an elevated walkway in front of the audience; just to add some motion and change to the hour long show. It was a good call for the audience but it meant we would need three video cameras to do an acceptable documentation of the show. We needed at least two views on each stage for editing purposes.
I arrived at 6 pm so I could set up the three cameras while it was still light enough to see. My main camera looked like some sort of "Rube Goldberg" science experiment. We had the DMW audio interface in the hot shoe with a big XLR cable running into socket #1 from the sound board that our engineer was overseeing, about 50 feet from my camera location. Just to the right of the audio interface my Atomos Ninja V was attached to the SmallRig cage. On the other side of the camera I had a headphone cable out, a full size HDMI cable from the Ninja running in, and a USB-C cable for quickly attaching a power bank (just in case) plugged in and ready. The power bank hung just below the camera in case our camera battery ran unexpectedly dry.
All of this sat on top of the new Sirui fluid tripod head. It's a nice head and very smooth but I think my rig was too heavy and totally out of balance. Next week I think I'll rig the Atomos to a tripod leg to take the weight off the top of the camera. I'll also do a better job balancing the weight forward and backward. The 70-200mm f4.0 weighs a lot. I can't imagine trying to balance the whole collection with the f2.8 version mounted on the camera.....
I had the camera set up to shoot 4K in the APS-C crop configuration. It's nice and crisp and turns the long end of the lens into a 300mm with no hit to the aperture. But a long lens, used wide open on moving subjects is very dependent on having that Atomos monitor fired up and working. It's impossible to really tell, by looking at the rear screen of the camera, when you have achieved really sharp focus. Maybe it's my old eyes but that last bit of tweak that provides the real "bite" in a well focused image is beyond my abilities without the aid of some screen tech.
The Atomos screen is bigger and brighter to begin with. That helps. But while you can't use image magnification while recording on the camera you have no such limitation with the external monitor. I could punch in to 1:1 or even 2:1 to see very clearly exactly where the plane of sharp focus should be. And I could fix focusing errors while watching the enlarged screen while the whole time keeping the full frame on the camera's rear screen for composition/framing. The long lens, follow camera footage would be a mess if not for the Ninja V monitor. Truly a lifesaver. I've even started using the monitor routinely in the studio. It's a pleasant way to work with manually focused lenses.
At this point I should mention that I tested out the autofocus with video at the long end of the lens and it's just too hit-and-miss. At least with manual focus once you are well focused and the actors are in a certain spot for a whole song there's none of the hunting that even the best systems are plagued with from time to time.
I monitored the audio coming off the sound board with headphones. We nailed the levels during rehearsal and the audio is flawless on the main camera.There's just scratch audio on the two stationary wide cameras.
There's not much to say about the second two cameras. I had an S1 set up to cover the front stage from side to side and then a GH5 to cover the secondary "stage." Someone asked earlier about the run time of the S1 camera in 4K thinking that it was 29.9 minutes but with the V-Log upgrade package from Panasonic for that camera you now get unlimited record times. Well, at least until the memory card runs out. You can attach a battery bank and charge while shooting so the battery isn't an issue.
And these cameras are actually "Pro" cameras. Unlike the Canons and Sonys none of the four models of cameras we've used from Panasonic over the last two months has ever overheated. Never shown an overheat warning. Barely gotten warm to the touch. And we're not out shooting these in a Canadian snow storm, they work well right up to the 105 degree zone, and beyond. I'll gladly trade off small advantages in continuous AF for robust and bulletproof operational performance. Any Day.
The third camera was the GH5 I purchased a few weeks ago. I put a Meike 25mm cine lens on it and set it up on a small tripod covering the "live" space on the secondary stage. This camera was also shooting 4K and ran for an hour and fifteen minutes, ending up with at least 50% battery power left over. No drama, no acting out. Just a good, solid working camera. Why oh why did I ever sell off the first batch?
All the of the cameras were loaded for bear when it came to memory. I had twin/matched 128 GB, V90 UHS-II cards in the GH5 and the S1H (both have two slots, both of which accept SD cards) while in the S1 I had a 128GB Sony CFexpress card backed up by a 128 GB V90 SD card. All the cameras were set for relay recording to the cards, just in case the show went long. I should not have worried, the show timed out with enough space left over on the cards for another 30 or 40 minutes of run time.
A while back I donated a Panasonic FZ2500 to the theater for day-to-day captures and quick interviews for the web. One of staff (Joshua; who has the task of editing all of this footage together...) used that camera to sweep up a bunch of b-roll while I was shooting the main stages. He got crowd shots, reaction shots, gear shots and wild side angles. Yes. I know. There can never be too much b-roll.
We have three more weeks of shows. Each week features a new set of performers singing totally different shows. We'll be there to document each one of the shows. So, at least I know what I'll be doing (and how I'll do it) for the next three Saturdays. And unlike recent donations they theatre is actually paying me for these.
It's fun to problem solve so many different kinds of projects. From small and intimate to big and boisterous. It's also nice to have cameras in my hands for so long and so often. It gives you a feeling of being totally conversant and comfortable with your equipment. That makes every move and every decision a bit more fluid. It's a great way to learn the ins and outs of a camera system. Everyone should try it. Before they review their first camera....
Hope your weekend was fun and comfy. More to come.
I'll admit that I've acted like one of those recalcitrant photographers from the early years of this century who claimed that digital would never supplant film, that analog photographs would always be superior to electronic files, and so on. But my Luddite tendencies have never been aimed at film versus digital (we started shooting commercially with digital cameras back in 1998) rather I've been a reluctant convert to the relevance, convenience and quality of smart phones.
A number of years ago some wag created a category of image making he called, "iPhoneography" and the whole idea back then left me cold. The phones didn't have the resolution I thought they would need and the video wasn't nothing to write home about, not to mention that storage was small and expensive. But that's all changed. And the ascendancy of photography and video production with phones is being hammered in conclusively with the launch of the iPhone 12 Pro (but was evident with the iPhone 10 and 11 models too!).
One of my video producer friends sent me a link last week that showed an interview with famous cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, and about 3 and a half minutes of wonderful video that Lubeski shot with the new iPhone 12 Pro. It also has him doing a voiceover and explaining why he feels that the new phone will change filmmaking forever. Before undertaking any knee-jerk reactions just watch and listen to what he says: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3m07zMRXXP0
Yes, the video is sponsored by Apple but "Chivo" (Lubezki) is a much sought after cinematographer with a tremendous record of achievement and it's not likely at all that his opinion was "bought." And, yes, it's true that part of the reason the video looks so great is the combination of: great locations, great models, potentially hundreds of thousand of dollars of support equipment (professional level drones, cranes, specialty lighting, etc.) but the fact remains that the files coming out of the new camera are impressive in their own right. Lubezki's great work should be seen as something aspirational, after all, he's using the exact same camera and lens that you can pick up in the next few weeks from your favorite cellphone service provider for around $1K.
To say that it's cheating to show work that was created out of a support-rich environment is like saying that having 30 years of daily, hands-on experience is unfair. The tool is neutral. It creates quality based on what the operator brings to the project. The phone itself isn't a magic wand.... And is actually a democratizing addition to the whole world of filmmaking.
But back to that "magic wand" thing. What attracts me to the new phone are things that I would loved to have used on projects over the last few months. The first one being 4K, 60fps HDR footage. The images coming off the 12 Pro are in some ways more beautiful in their dynamic range than any of the best, under $5,000 traditional hybrid cameras which, in order to match the 12 Pro have to be used in V-Log and then meticulously color graded in long and grueling post production sessions. The difference is that the iPhone 12 Pro is doing all the work with in-camera processing and showing you the finished product on screen, as you shoot. It's the first phone to offer video in 10 bit, 4:2:2 and it's a wonderful to carry around and use on small, lightweight (but very effective) gimbals.
While I might still need traditional video cameras for commercial work it's mostly because, for now, I need to be able to plug in and use professional XLR connected microphones to record traditional interviews. I need long, fast lenses for situations like this evening when I'll need to shoot from a static position but cover a waist up or mid-torso up close-up of a stage performer from 50 feet away. Maybe, just maybe, my full frame cameras will have less noise at the higher ISOs I'll need to use this evening. But, maybe Apple's incredibly fast A14 processor will be able to stack multiple frames in real time and make the noise a non-issue. We'll know when we get hold of one.
The new camera comes with three lenses as well as LIDAR for low light and no light focusing. The lenses have some optical zoom range but I haven't dived into those numbers yet.
The model I have in mind is the 12 Pro. There is a bigger one called the 12 Pro Max but it's too big for me to comfortably use as a day-to-day phone, and it's more expensive but doesn't really have any additional production-oriented features. The price for the one I want is $999. I'll select the graphic finish for mine. I'm not really a big fan of bright colored phones and if I wanted to momentarily become aesthetically flamboyant I can always toss on a cute protective case covered with something topically current.
Of course the new phone won't replace every camera on every shoot but I can't imagine that I'll want to use anything else again on a gimbal. I can't imagine that anything else will be as convenient and comfortable to use.
To the caveat about audio and the need to use external microphones, does anyone imagine that a bluetooth or wi-fi app won't soon be available that will allow the wireless connection of mixers and microphones that will provide the same level of control we currently enjoy with our big, double-use (photos and video) cameras right now?
The technology that Apple is delivering in the new products is just stunning. And it's not just "potential" or advertising stunning; you see amazing results from current iPhones in real life all the time.
If filmmaking gets technically easier and easier then great ideas get more and more valuable. The barriers to entry continue to fall; which is neither good nor bad. You can reject the change or embrace it. It doesn't matter. I'm on board because I've already seen what a two generations older iPhone can do on a gimbal.
A filmmaking powerhouse that really fits in a pocket and creates stuff in a way we would have thought was magic just a few (very short) years ago amazes me. Please deliver mine now.
Funniest comment I've read about the phones so far. Of course from a DP Review commenter:
"If it doesn't have dual card slots I'm out."
I have to assume that was meant to be tongue-in-cheek.
Photographing a "Pandemic Safe" outdoor concert. Our theater figures out a way for "the show to go on."
I'm so happy that I get to shoot all this but that I don't have to edit any of it. The files go straight to the theater's in-house editor and he can decide how to cut the whole thing together.
A quick explanation of why I am happy to pay $1800 and more for some of the Panasonic S-Pro lenses. Since we're working in low light on projects like this one I seem to end up shooting a lot of stuff with my lenses at their longer settings; and also set to their maximum apertures. In the case of the 70-200mm f4.0 I find myself shooting at f4.0 for most shows. If these were like lenses from the past I'd be hesitant to work at such a wide aperture but it seems that Panasonic are taking their lens design cues from Leica. The prevailing philosophy seems to center around making lenses that are so high performing at their maximum apertures that there is little to be gained from stopping down other than to increase depth of field.
I surfed through 300+ handheld images, shot at the long end of the 70-200mm, with the f-stop at its widest and the lens is sharp and contrasty at those settings.
Same with the 24-70mm which I use a lot at the 24mm focal length, also wide open. They work well and deliver very sharp files. Sharper than the images I got from nearly all previous systems. Nice.
This image has nothing to do with the post below. I just liked it and wanted something to put at the top of the post. And...dog.
There is something exhilarating about working in a medium where you are still very much a "student." While I've been feeling that photo assignments have been growing stale for me lately the challenge of working at the very edge of what I know in the video editing world is both daunting and very satisfying.
My friend, Kenny, is a wonderful singer and he was asked to "cover" a couple of songs from an upcoming, virtual, online holiday party. The client wanted him to have us create two videos of him singing; one for each song, with a bit of comedy at the end of the second video. Kind of a "sign-off" for the evening.
Kenny and I worked on a bunch of video stuff for Zach Theatre (you saw him in the opening video of the virtual fundraiser last month - the guy sitting on the bench, on the bridge, at the very beginning of the video. He gets up and leads the first group of people towards the camera) so he called me and asked me to produce the video. The budget was minuscule and the resources scant, but it was a chance to try out a few more video techniques in the service of a friend. I jumped at the "opportunity."
We shot all the footage on Saturday and I started editing last night. The actual files look amazing to me. My edit? Less so. The files have some of the best color I've seen. It actually appears richer and has more apparent depth than the stuff I've shot on much more expensive cameras. I think the secret was shooting 1080p in a high data rate, All-I file. That, and getting a nice white balance at the very beginning of the shoot.
But yesterday and today reminded me of how much I still need to learn in both planning projects and in editing them. Let me tell you what I learned and re-learned.
I shot Kenny in wide, medium and tight shots with a gimbal mounted camera and got great footage. What I didn't get and what came back to bite me on the butt was b-roll. Or the abject absence of enough b-roll. Even though Kenny has a nice enough face and a warm and engaging personality it gets boring to watch the same person sing a song for three minutes and twenty seven seconds.
I should have shot more: hands on the keyboard, playing the piano, more fun martini shots, some "grand piano hammers hitting strings" shots, and even some shots of just his hands in close ups. I flubbed the b-roll and paid for it with some painful editing sessions today. Part of the fault lies with my lack of pre-planning and part with rushing through the shoot.
Here's another super-genius thing I learned when I started editing on a big screen: Stuff that looks great and sharp on a tiny, tiny rear LCD on a camera doesn't necessarily always look sharp on my monitor. I updated my camera firmware and the big benefit was supposed to be much better C-AF. And it sure did look good on the pixie screen but sometimes the camera hunted and I'd be in the middle of a nice clip only to have it fall out of focus in the middle. Wouldn't having more b-roll be a nice thing?
I had to scramble to find better shots and figure out how to edit to cover up my camera's grievous errors. Lesson? If I insist on shooting with those Panasonic cameras I need to make sure I'm using manual focusing instead of relying on the cameras. Sure, go ahead and let me know in the comments just how great those Sony A7Siii focusing features are. I'll read it.
But the thing that saved me in the edit was the fact that these songs and the overall presentation could be a bit campy and a bit retro so I used some transitions that good taste had previously prevented. Aesthetics go out the window when you need to deflect. And entertain.
I did learn a bunch of new editing techniques that work well for making music videos. Since all the clips of Kenny performing were done with the same sound track playing on them I was able to select all four clips (different angles, different focal lengths) and the soundtrack and have them all synchronized automatically instead of trying to sync up each clip individually. I could lay the four visual tracks on the same timeline as the audio track and then cut back and forth between the takes to make the edit. It was a much faster way of working. Very similar to multi-cam editing.
I also learned that when stuff looks good in Final Cut Pro X but parts don't play back correctly after you export everything the safe fallback is to go back to the timeline you edited, copy the whole assemblage, open a new "project" and then paste everything into the new project. I dodged two bullets that way.
Okay. That's enough about video editing for now. I guess it's time to look forward on the schedule and get ready for tomorrow's live theater photography and then another video project on Saturday. Seems like I'm back in the busy mode. But I really am turning a lot of stuff down. I'm only interested in the fun stuff right now.
New motto: Never Enough B Roll.
A lens update. A very satisfactory outcome. And a walk through America's most sought after city with the new lens glued at f2.0. Time to amble.
The perils of divided attention. Or...why audio stuff is always the video component that bites you on the ass.
The best way to deal with screw-ups is to figure out where you fell down and how to fix it and to own up to your mistake as soon as possible. Procrastinating can limit your client's options and make things worse. A timely "mea culpa" followed by a good fix is always the best way.
Jeez. And here I thought I had it all going on.