I bought a gimbal today. I already know how to use this one. It didn't take long....


I don't know if you can tell in the writing but I'm really enthusiastic about video these days. The project I'm working on for Zach Theatre is allowing me to exercise all those problem solving skills that have made photography so much fun for so long. There's always something new to learn about video and I also get to play with lots of new toys. 

When my friend, James, lent me a big and complex gimbal I thought I might have trouble becoming tolerably proficient with it. It dawned on me that I've never used a modern gimbal before and always told everyone that I preferred shooting on a tripod but mostly because I was afraid that a moving stability device might outwit me and finally expose my blind spot for stuff like that. Too many buttons and options. 

But a wise video guru suggested that before I get too deep into the Ronin S I might want to pick up one of the newer gimbals that are designed to work with smart phones and spend some time getting acclimated in that way. I was leery of the advice but when I got to the camera store I found out that the cell phone gimbals are relatively cheap so the cost of a failed learning curve wasn't going to bankrupt the family and swipe food from our table. 

I opted for a Zhiyun Smooth Q2. It cost $130. I brought it home and watched two ten minute tutorials about set up and use and I charged the battery. While taking a break from my fascinating play date with the Ninja V digital recorder I finally fitted and balanced my iPhone XR and turned the little machine on. It works exactly like I thought it would. Minutes later I was swooping around the office making short but very stable videos and imagining how I'd use this device for some highly mobile shots to pepper in between the more staid and conservative shots I'm also making with the bigger cameras. 

Won't it be embarrassing if the Q2 and the iPhone blow away the S1s and the Ninja? I can't wait to get out and embarrass myself. 

If you have any good hints about gimbal use; especially with iPhones, be sure to let me know in the comments. 

I knew that phone would come in handy.....

Gearing up for better video. Five days of shooting informs some workflow tweaks. And spending money is always a guarantee of success. right....


On a walk with my friend, Emmett, out in Dripping Springs, Texas.

Further and further down the rabbit hole. 

Working out of the studio, on remote locations all around town, is a quick way to find out where your weaknesses are when it comes to shooting video. Sometimes it's just a lack of talent. No arguments there. But other times there are bits of gear that make jobs quicker, easier and...yes...better. 

For example, a stock Panasonic Lumix S1 offers up nice clean video right out of the box but it's a pretty pedestrian spec. It's 8 bit, 4:2:0. whether you shoot HD or UHD. I didn't think I'd see a big difference when I grudgingly shelled out the $200 for the upgrade that unlocks both V-Log and also 10 bit, 4:2:2, all of which can be written to internal memory cards. Now my skies have no banding and the camera is more tenacious at hanging on to highlights. The improvements are readily observable on a 5K Retina™ monitor. The files really aren't any bigger but the colors are clearly more nuanced. 

Once I saw the benefit of the 10 bit, 4:2:2 files and (still in the learning curve) the flexibility of shooting high contrast scenes in V-Log I had to buy the upgrade for my alternate S1 camera since we often use the pair as "A" and "B" cameras on the same shoot. I needed for both of them to have matching files.

That started me wondering about the visual difference between compressed L-GoP files and less compressed, ProRes files which are also All-I. The more I thought about it the more I became convinced that shooting directly to Pro Res was probably a preferred way to work, if the clients have the budgets and the extra time I might need for editing. 

I have a bigger, older Atomos Ninja Flame digital monitor and recorder but it's big, heavy, cumbersome and sucks batteries dry with reckless aplomb. Sad to also find out that the Flame can't be automatically triggered to start recording when you hit the record button on the camera. 

What we're doing right now in video is centered around following moving talents as they dance and sing in uncontrolled, exterior spaces. While the camera does a pretty good job with the dual I.S. Once you add a big gimbal to the mix you are right at my tolerance level for weight. Add an older, seven inch, dual battery Ninja Flame to the mix and you end up with a top heavy package that will slap down a new and shorter time limit to your hand holding tolerance. Not optimal for longer shoots, at all. 

The seven inch screen on the Flame is great and it works well on A/C power in a studio setting but it's hardly the a good part of a hand held or monopod mounted system. I recently started paying attention to the new, smaller, Ninja V which uses a five inch screen and only uses one battery, but I thought I should be a good business person and either soldier on with the gear at hand or just default to Long GoP files and the use of the camera's very good rear screen or EVF. 

Then I heard that Atomos was offering support in the Ninja V for the Sigma fp's raw files!!! That perked me right up. You can write files from Sigma's 12 bit DNG raw files directly to the Ninja V and save them as either Pro Res Raw files or garden variety Pro Res files via the digital recorder. 

I'd been looking for a way to get more daily use from the Sigma fp and this was the perfect conduit. I can shoot the big raw files and I can also shoot 1080p 120 files (in 8 bit but still with 4:2:2 color sampling). 

The Ninja V is great for use with the Lumix cameras but I'll still have to push "record" on both the camera and the recorder. With the Sigma there is an electronic HDMI trigger that syncs up the two perfectly. 

I picked up a Ninja V today from Precision Camera and I've been playing with it since lunch time (it's now after 6) and it does all the things I love about Atomos monitors. You can punch into the image to magnify for fine focusing while you are rolling! You get waveforms and a vector scope. If you are shooting V-Log in your S1 you can bring up a Rec. 709 LUT so you and your client can see what the image (might) look like after it's graded instead of showing a client a super flat file and asking them to use their imaginations.

The new, smaller Ninja V takes the Master Caddy system cartridges that house SSDs. I have a nice stack of them which I bought a year or two ago for the Flame. A bunch of 256GB SSDs that are just begging to be used. We have a lot of the Sony NP-F batteries since these seem to be universal. 

We'll start working with the new monitor tomorrow afternoon on a big dance number out in the open plaza in front of the theater. It's definitely an S1 shoot and not an fp shoot and that's cool. The one thing I don't have for the new monitor/recorder is a sun hood but I've got lots of black wrap and I think I can press some of my Boy Scout training into action to make a DIY hood that should work.

I also bought a silly gimbal. More on that next.....