10.25.2020

Several things I did last night that made my video much, much better. And nicer to watch.


 If you read the manual hard enough you can actually learn stuff with benefits. And if you pay attention to physics you can be steadier as well. 

We've been shooting live, outdoor concerts for Zach Theatre. Last week was our first foray into doing a three camera show documentation and while the client was pleased I saw lots and lots of room for technical improvements with our long lens, follow camera. The one from which we'll pull 85-90% of the imagery.

I won't get too far in the weeds but I'll admit some humbling observations. 

First off, last week I used my Atomos Ninja V monitor on top of the camera cage which put the center of gravity for everything sitting on top of the tripod head much further up than it could have been. With that much weight sitting up so high it accentuated every vibration from touching the camera or lens (and it hurt to crane my neck up to look at the monitor for an hour and a half). 

The biggest issues came when I needed to loosen the tilt control to tilt up or down when compensating for a performer changing position. The top heavy camera and monitor would answer the calls of gravity quickly and gracelessly and I wasn't always able to adequately dampen the movements. Partially, this was because the load on the head was poorly balanced but mostly because the monitor and its battery became a long lever for the forces of physics to exert themselves.

I started over from scratch this week and my first step was to put the video tripod head on the biggest, heaviest and strongest tripod I own. The second thing I did was to move the monitor from the top of the cage off the tripod head assemblage altogether. I used a clamp and a stand adapter to attach the monitor to one of the tripod legs so I could operate the touch screen without any vibration to the camera rig. That was a major good move in the right direction. It was also much more comfortable to look at. 

Next I gave very close attention to balancing the camera and lens on the tripod head. I moved the tripod mount on the lens forward and backward in the quick release until I hit a neutral point where the whole set-up would balance without me having to lock down the tilt controls. To say it made a big improvement over an hour and a half of hands-on operation is a profound understatement. 

Next I fixed a major issue with focusing. I was so impressed that my L series S-Pro lens have a clutch that allows manual focusing with hard stops at both infinity and the close focus point that I felt compelled on the previous week to use them. But that was just stupid. It would have been great if I was looking for rehearsed repeatability but the manual focusing rings is non-linear and has a relatively short throw. That meant that fine focusing the lens when used wide open and racked all the way out to 300mm (APS-C mode) was a nightmare. The short throw made it almost impossible to nail very specific point. I had to rack the focusing ring back and forth to get an exact and satisfying fine focus point. The barest touch would put you in front or behind the point of highest sharpness. It was a frustrating evening.

I could see the focus point go in and out on the monitor. It was very obvious where the focus "should" have been but the short throw just made the process endlessly glitchy. 

A more thorough study of the S1H camera manual reminded me that all of the S1 cameras allow one to choose how they want the electronic focusing ring to work (not the manual ring!). You can choose between a linear or a non-linear focus throw and you definitely want a linear throw for video! Then you can select how many degrees of rotation you'd like between the closest focusing of the lens and the infinity focus. 90° is too short. Even 180° feels short with a long lens. I settled in at 270 degrees ant this generous amount of throw gave me much more controllable discrimination in focusing. Things didn't "jump" into sharp focus, instead you could see a long smooth transition into sharp focus. It made hitting the mark so much easier and the technique so much less obvious to any audience. It felt like you were given 10 times the control of the manual focusing process. And it was all right there in the camera. 

Finally, with a bright set of stage lights and a very dark background it's not always obvious how to set exposure. Waveforms are great on controlled shoots but when people are moving in an out of lights it's great to have a different method of figuring out if you have faces exposed correctly. I started using "false color" on the shoot last night. Each tonality on a scale is given a different color. On the Atomos monitors average flesh tones/skin values fall into a green color. This is something you can see in real time if you are referencing an external monitor. 

Last night was a bit of a triumph for me. I conquered my long lens focus glitches (while shooting video) and took 99% of the camera bounciness out of the shoot. My exposures were tighter and more accurate. In all, I count a week's worth of study and trial and error to be successful. 

Some of you seasoned video pros are probably chuckling at this having long ago conquered most of these impediments to good production. But I would counter that, at least, I have the thrill of learning it all for the first time. 

so, how did the cameras perform? All three of the cameras (S1H, S1 and GH5) ran without any issues or glitches. No thermal warnings. No dropped frames. All were running in 4K, 10 bit, 4:2:2, Long Gop. All ran for an hour and fifteen minutes. While I didn't bother to check the GH5 I did notice that both of the S1 series cameras had over 50% battery power left at the end of the long session. It was interesting since the S1 had image stabilization turned off while the S1H has I.S. turned on. The battery life at the end point was indentical. I guess I.S. on a tripod isn't as much of a "battery suck" as I imagined. 

I just finished transferring files to my hard drives and the made a copy on a third HD to deliver to the client. 300+ Gigabytes of content seems like a good night's work. And, bonus! I don't have to edit it. 

Happy Sunday! 

the GH5. Last night's "set it and forget it" champion. 
That's the Meike 12mm lens on the front.



6 comments:

pixtorial said...

This is all great stuff, please keep it coming. Love how you quickly adapted the follow rig, some valid notes there. The options on the Panny for how the electronic focus works, that is just another example of all the ways Panasonic gets it right for video. This is an area I'm struggling with for MF on video with the X-T2 (and external Blackmagic Video Assist for monitoring focus and exposure). So your notes are super valuable as I'm not shooting with the frequency you are.

From your perspective, which is one I trust, how are these events from a social-distancing/common sense approach with the audience?

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

HI Pixtorial,

Thanks for the feedback. I'm having a blast plunging into video. As to adapting the rig, I have some friends who've been doing video at a high level for a long time. I get quick (and sometimes withering) course corrections. All I have to do is to be brave enough to ask. 😵
But having few responsibilities and lots of time I can noodle around and work on stuff until I finally get it all sorted.

But, on to Zach Theatre and the pandemic:

They seem to be doing everything just right. Here's how they are handling the outdoor concert series:

The plaza is a controlled space. They've marked it out with bright tape to divid it into various sized "pods." Each pod area is clearly marked and about 10 feet from the closest neighboring pod. All seating and pod space is by reservation only. No walk ups. The seating is timed which means each audience group is given a specific time to arrive and to be seated. Masks are mandatory except when you are seated in your pod. Even then masks are strongly recommended. We have a large team of volunteers who are there to both direct arrivals to their seats or pods and also to enforce (very nicely) the rules. Needless to say that everyone on the Zach staff, crew and freelancers is masked at all times. No exceptions. The singers/performers are nearly 45 feet from the nearest audience member and there is a 30 or 40 foot distance that works as a buffer between the stage and the audience.

When the performance is over the audience is also "time released" so that it's not a mad rush for the exits. There are many exit paths and there are ushers and volunteers to guide people to the appropriate egress.

When each crew member or audience member arrives at the plaza there is a health services monitor (person) there to take a non-contact temperature, and to remind everyone about rules and best practices.

In spite of the layers of new rules everyone quickly settles into the music and has a great time. Last night we had three standing ovations during the one hour and fifteen minute performance and people used cigarette lighter animations on their phones to do an audience wave.

I've been to four shows now (two for photos, two for videos) and have seen no instances of non-compliance or unsafe activities.

Our audiences trend older so I guess by the time people hit their 40's and 50's they've learned how to read the terms and conditions on the website and are more interested in being entertained than making statements.

I'm pretty proud of the theatre's ongoing commitment to everyone's safety. Beats the hell out of going to an indoor restaurant.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Another quick note. Performances run through November 8th and all but two shows are completely sold out. Austin doesn't call itself the music capitol of the world for nothing...

I think we're finding paths towards a new sustainability. Also remember that our Gala last month raised over $450,000 in one night.

I guess video can be a source of powerful marketing.

MikeR said...

Tucking away all this information into my long-term (hopefully) cranial storage system. Thanks for sharing with us.

Craig Yuill said...

300 GB needed for storage? Ouch! I won’t complain anymore about the storage I need when shooting 8-bit 4:2:0 (I think) full HD video clips. I think my cameras would need around 24 GB (probably less) for around 4 hours of video footage. I hope you have lots of storage drives.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

HI Craig,

It's not too outrageous. Three cameras all chugging away at 4K file generation in at 150 M/bs each. We'll keep this footage on the drives until we hear that the theater's editor has it all backed up and then I'll probably dump it and move on to the next project. I'm not really "into" archiving stuff any more.

But we do buy two 4 TB drives a month to keep up with the load. They're pretty cheap now and we kinda make the clients pay for them. In one way or another...