8.31.2020

In defense of big, fat, heavy cameras...at least where video is concerned.

 

Lumix S1 with SmallRig cage and the 24-105mm lens.

I suppose that the majority of cameras buyers now consider smaller and smaller sized cameras to be the most desirable to buy and use but I strongly disagree about this based on practical matters and actual use in my region.

The rush to making mirrorless interchangeable cameras as light and compact as possible seemed like a good goal when our number 1 use of cameras was to go out all day and shoot "street" photos and other casual work for pleasure. Hence the success of smaller, lighter full frame cameras like the Sony A7 series (which is now experiencing a growth spurt..) the Canon R series cameras and the Lilliputian Nikon Z cameras. Of course all these cameras are glamorously small and especially so if you choose to use a small, slow zoom or a pancake prime lens on the front of them. Much of any advantage there is to "smallness" is, of course, lost when the owners pursue a divergent philosophy when it comes to buying and using lenses with them. 

People go on and on about the advantages of smaller camera bodies and then insist on buying big, heavy and cumbersome "pro" zoom lenses the size and weight of a large can of cling peaches. Then the combination becomes a bit unweildy and tougher to handle.

But the real choke point in usability is down to the body size affecting reliability and performance more than anything else. At least when it comes to using these "hybrid" cameras as video cameras. 

Canon brought out two cameras (R5, R6) which have been immediately savaged for their shortcomings when it comes to thermal management. Seems the sensors and processor throw off tons of heat (and not just at exotic video resolutions) but the cameras aren't built to wick heat away efficiently and that's mostly down to the fact that the electronics are air gapped instead of being anchored to heat sinks and in a tiny body crammed full of non-moving parts there's just no where for the trapped heat to go. Also a smaller body means less magnesium alloy understructure so what heat sinking exists is reduced proportionately. 

After experience a deluge of posts and videos about the Canon overheating dilemma videographers seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when Sony brought out their newest A7SIII. Seems the majority of reviewers didn't experience overheating problems...until some did. Both Hugh Brownstone and Dan Watson experienced shutdowns in ambient temperatures I would consider....cool, or pleasant. Well under 90° f. 

Hugh Brownstone conjectured that it might have something to do with the size and construction of the lens mounted on the body with the idea that bigger lenses with more metal construction tend to reduce the heat load by somehow wicking the heat out of the body. Sounds a bit dubious to me but odder things have happened in the universe.

But in the same video Hugh does state that his primary video camera for the last three years, the Panasonic GH5 (which many poo-poo as being too large "for an M4:3 camera) has never experienced an overheating issue or even the signaling of a heat issue in all the years he's used it and in all the hot Summers the camera has lived through. 

My experience with the S1 and the G9 cameras from Panasonic bears out my understanding of camera construction, size and heat management. My G9 spent four and a half hours of relentless on time in direct sun in high temperatures and high humidity. Much worse conditions than the tests that reviewers have used in the getting both Sony and Canon cameras to quickly hit their limits and to, in fact, shut down completely. In fact, the G9 logged nearly 75 GB of high data rate, 4K footage without a hiccup or complaint. 

In the weeks leading up to my Saturday (camera torture test) I used the Lumix S1 extensively in even higher heat (some days with temperatures reaching 105°) and never experienced even a hint of thermally motivated recalcitrance. 

It seems that there is a body size that is optimized for the actual production of video rather than the implementation of gear fashion. Sony, et al have stepped over (under?) that line and are now taking public lashes for their flawed and (commercially) dangerous camera design flaws. But I guess they'll get away with it because both cameras focus so fast for the five or ten minutes in which they are usable. Not sure if that's a trade off I'd be comfortable making. Or explaining to clients on a tight time schedule...

While the smaller, lighter cameras might be the perfect solution for "stills only" photographers or people who are recreational users of video we're still in an era where there are technical tradeoffs between popular design choices and actual, functional reliability. 

The benefits of a larger body also extend to a less crowded disposition of external controls, better handling with larger and heavier lenses and the ability to take larger batteries. There is also an argument to be made that the larger cameras deliver, along with heat management, a more robust build that should stand up to daily, professional wear and tear better. 

In nearly every consumer product category that depends on people handling the product (as opposed to just listening to or watching the product) there is a variability to choice. Some people value size differences more acutely while others are more drawn to implied or actual reliability. To each their own but I voted with my dollars to opt for reliability in use over cosmetics. 

And, if there is a perception that some cameras are too heavy for some people with limitations...well, I certainly understand that. But if I am shooting video for money (or passion) I'll probably pick an older and much more (heat) reliable GH5 over a small, light full frame recent Sony or Canon any day of the week. 

Just my two cents. 

Bidding Adieu to a valuable and always interesting blog. Ming Thein moves on...


I've never met photographer/writer/watch designer Ming Thein but we have corresponded. Inspite of never having engaged face-to-face I've always enjoyed reading his take on photography, gear and life. He's one of the few photographers I've come across who can think, write and present at a velocity that I find correct. I always felt like he and I approached writing on our photographic blogs from the same perspective: write fast, post now and don't look back. Where Ming's energy far exceeded mine was in his ability to answer every comment attached to a post. He might, on a busy day, have posted dozens and dozens of polite and considered replies, and the answers he provided were either based on his hands-on experiences with gear or a process, or they were just smart. I'll take either. 

I am not writing this as a eulogy because Ming (the actual person) is not on his way out; existentially or otherwise. I am writing this as an appreciation of all the hard work, knowledge and insight into our field he shared and the sheer entertainment of following someone whose life is so different from mine and yet has so many intersections. My perception is that with the collapse of travel, and the lack of opportunities to flex his photographic muscle, he's turned to other pursuits and feels that this is a good time to leave. And to leave on a high note. It also looks like his horological business is taking off.

While Ming has announced that he's finished writing about photography on his blog he leaves for us a rich lode of really interesting reviews, ruminations, photos and opinions. And, he's written that he'll be leaving the blog and website up for the time being (no longer accepting comments...). I don't know how long "the time being" might be but if you have an interest in reading his posts and diving into another photographer's brain then here's the link: 

https://blog.mingthein.com

I highly recommend it as a source of great information, interesting opinions and, for me, an insight into a man from the other side of the world. 

Thank you, Ming Thein for all the joy, fun and insight you provided on your site. I will miss this valuable resource!!!

8.30.2020

An after action report of the outdoor/indoor, 13.5 hour, video shoot with a cast of 60+ in the heart of Austin. A surprise camera emerges as the ultimate workhorse...

This is the S1 fitted with a Ninja V and a Beachtek audio interface. 

I packed the night before. There were too many variables for me not to bring too much gear. And the schedule for Saturday was ambitious; to say the least. I packed three different cameras, five lenses, twenty different batteries, a rolling case of LED lights (and we used everything in the case) as well as an audio kit that contained lav mics, reporter mics, and a couple of shotguns with furry, wind covers. I also brought along both the Zhiyun Crane gimbal (used on the vast majority of shots) and the gimbal for the phone (which never left the car). 

I crawled out of bed at 6 a.m. and made a breakfast of coffee and peanut butter and jelly on toasted sourdough bread. I wore a Cool 32 white undershirt under a Sportif long sleeve technical shirt. A well broken in pair of English Laundry short pants, Merrill hiking shoes and, of course, my wide brimmed hat. 

With so many cameras and valuable other stuff in the cases I didn't load up the car the night before. I hoisted all the cases into the Forester by 6:45 and drove over to Zach Theatre in the dark. I checked in, met up with the producer/director, got my temperature checked (97.3°) and immediately got to work setting up for an interior shot we were scheduled to do at 12:30 pm. It was a standard interview style shot with three lights and a teleprompter. I'm a bit "old school" when it comes to audio so if I have the choice between wireless mics and wired mics I still prefer to go with the latter. With the prevalence of phones and the generated interference everywhere it always seems less tedious and fraught with peril if I just hard wire stuff together.

Lighting consisted of a Godox SL150ii LED in a collapsible soft box as the key along with a Godox SL60 in the same kind of box from the back/opposite corner and then one SL60 with a grid spot, barn doors and a blue filter to hit the background with. Once I had everything set up and tested the producer and I moved on to a quick discussion of the morning's shots. He wanted to use a gimbal and do a lot of moving shots. I'd tested various camera loads on the gimbal and found the day before that the smaller and lighter G9 with the 12-60mm lens was the "just right" option for that kind of work. There are a few caveats but for the most part it was a good decision. 

Ben and I also ran a few tests on color profiles the day before since we knew we'd be in hard sun for most of the morning and, because of intransigence on the part of the owner of the project, our schedule would put us in a situation where there was heavy side lighting and back lighting to contend with. I'm sure our ultimate client's real concern was getting actors filmed before we got to the high temperatures for the day. Scheduling 60+ actors, singers and dancers has to be a struggle... And with different levels of fitness it can be dangerous for some.

At any rate Ben and I played around with the HLG color profile in the G9. It's real name is Hybrid Log Gamma but I think HLG is just fine. It's a file type that was created for HDR TV but it works like most Log files to compress tones in the highlights so they don't burn out. It takes a little bit of work in post to get a pretty file out of it but you'd be amazed how powerfully a well exposed HLG file holds onto highlights. 

The G9 has HLG as an option and it also has an HLG View Assist which basically uses an in-camera LUT to show a normalized view of what the file will (might?) look like once it's processed into a REC 709 color space. I found, when processing, that the profile keeps color accurate, requires a bump in overall exposure, and a curve to push up the contrast. Add more saturation to taste. 

But since I am not editing the project I sent along some HLG test files to the producer/director/editor and asked him to evaluate the files within his workflow (Adobe Premiere). On the morning of the shoot he gave me an enthusiastic approval of that color profile. All good so far. 

At 7:45 a.m., with face masks on and the ambient temperature already 86° with high humidity, I grabbed the gimbal with the Panasonic Lumix G9 and the 12-60mm f2.8/4.0 and we headed over (200 yards) to the wide pedestrian bridge over the river that separates Austin's downtown from the residential neighborhoods of South Austin. We had our favorite stage manager in tow. She would serve as the talent herder and all around facilitator for the entire day. We could not have done what we were able to without her! Creative talent can be unruly and keeping them all in one spot and listening to direction is a major challenge by itself. Fortunately our stage manager has worked many live shows with most of the talent assembled and knows how to nicely but firmly get everyone on the same path.

Our first shots were of individual actors who would walk, dance or sing (all the same song. all lip sync'd throughout for editing purposes) while I handled the camera and gimbal. I have now thoroughly mastered the art of walking backwards (at any speed), walking forwards, crab-walking sideways, and doing 180° walkarounds while keeping an eye on the camera's monitor (adding an external monitor = too much weight on the gimbal and in a configuration that requires too much re-balancing) and not falling on my ass. 

We used as low an ISO as the camera would allow. That's ISO 400 with HLG engaged. That meant we had to use neutral density over the lens for all the shots. Even with strong neutral density over the lens I was impressed at how well the G9 held on with continuous AF. I rarely lost AF connection with the subject, even with lots of camera and subject movements and lots of pushing in and out (walking toward the subject and walking away from the subject). 

Our first few individual shots weren't too tough as far as lighting went. We still could find suitable locations with a bit of open shade and foliage in the background but by 8:45 we were in for the roasting. As the morning went on we went from single talent scenes to groups of five to seven actors and dancers executing well rehearsed choreography, moving towards and away from camera. Some scenes required moving from a tight shot on a "star" singer in a group and taking the camera backwards to reveal the entire group as they then came, briskly, toward camera. I quickly learned how to "reverse pace" them and move backwards at a matching speed. 

By about 9:30 the "mercury" (old school term for thermometer) was heading towards 95 and the heat index was over 100. Actors showed up already covered with a sheen of sweat generated by the 200 yard walk from the air conditioned theater. Our support crew supplied ample face towels and folks would swab off their faces just before we'd start rolling on a scene. 

All the way through we needed to stop and review footage to make sure we were getting what the producer needs for the upcoming broadcast. I'd fashioned an LCD hood out of Black Wrap (heavy duty, black aluminum foil) and gaffer's tape. It was still hard to see if we were in full sun but, fortunately, anytime we stopped for reviews someone on the support crew was right there holding big umbrellas over the producer and me to shade us (and the monitor) from the harsh light. Crew members also delivered ice cold bottles of water throughout. 

We worked our way through dozens of groups and at least as many individual shots up on the bridge. The most complex was a shot that started with a singer on a park bench at one side of the bridge. He looks out over the lake and then, as if having heard a call from beyond ( the music) he gets up from the bench and walks toward the middle of the walk way and starts traveling across the bridge. I am moving backwards in front of him trying to carefully maintain the same distance throughout. As he moves towards me pairs of actors from either side fall into step behind and to the sides of the principal actor until we have a delta of performers all dancing as they move right toward camera --- which is constantly backing up to maintain distance and composition. We end that shot with the principal pointing at the lens and smiling into camera. 

This was one scene that hadn't be rehearsed in advance but everyone fell into place pretty quickly. Since we did not have the bridge to ourselves a couple of takes got blown because of a runner or family ending up in the shot but when I review our final take I feel like a SteadyCam operator on a Jason Bourne movie. It just worked so well.

Our last shot in the morning took us to noon. The producer/director and I had been on that exterior location for nearly four hours. We were hot, tired and suddenly realizing that we'd only gotten through the first third of a long day. By the time we left the bridge location we'd filmed over 60 actors in various groups and single shots. Our tally of takes was over 100 for the morning --- about 75 gigabytes of 10 bit, 4:2:2 H.264 video. 

I guess I don't have to tell most of you that gimbals are pretty amazing. The Zhiyun Crane gimbal I was using never missed a step or acted up. The better I got the balance the better it performed so I rebalanced whenever we changed focal lengths or did anything to disturb the original balance. We used that gimbal to shoot all day long and never saw the battery indicator drop below 60%. And for a lot of the time that was in temperatures over 95° coupled with high humidity. I'll never go on a video shoot without one again!

With a long sleeve shirt, a cooling, evaporative neck scarf, a wide brimmed hat, "ice" gloves and sunscreen on my legs the only complaint I have from the morning's shoot was that I couldn't wear my polarized sunglasses and still see the comp on the screen (which is critical to operating a gimbal mounted camera). I had to either wear reading glasses or my bi-focals. The bright light and, I guess, the need to concentrate second-by-second on the screen as well as my surroundings, left me with a bit of a "optical" headache for the rest of the day. I don't know how I could have prevented that...

Over the course of four hours of shooting, chimping and client reviews we ran through two batteries with the G9. I tried, whenever I was not shooting to either keep the camera and gimbal in whatever small shade I could find or to cover them both with the small, white shop towel I kept hanging from my back pocket. The camera, shooting at its highest res and highest bit rate (4K, 150 megabits per second) never overheated or showed an overheat warning. Sure, it's three year old technology but it's running rings around the dreck Canon delivered a few weeks ago. The Canon might have a nicer overall image quality but it hardly matters if you're keeping a cast of 60+ waiting around in full, tropical sun while your camera cools off so you can shoot another five minutes before you need to cool it off for another half hour.... you'd be out of business by that time..).

Using a Delkin Steel USH-11 128 GB card in the camera we had no card or write issues at all. It just worked perfectly every step of the way. 

A little after noon we headed back to the theater and the wonderful cool of the air conditioned space. I walked in the door and headed straight back to the area in which I'd set up an interview scene earlier that morning. With a bottle of Gatorade on hand I finished the set by adding in an S1 camera on a tripod and wiring a lavaliere microphone to the Panasonic DMW audio interface sitting on top of the S1 (that S1 was the one without a cage and brought along specifically so we could get this shot with the audio adapter in place rather than messing with rearranging the cage and monitor clamp on the other S1. Good to have multiples...). 

We tweaked the sound, made the rounds to ask everyone to be quiet and then miked the managing director for the theater and walked her through her performance a few times. She read the teleprompter, gave an adequate speech (plea for money) and by her third run through we felt like she had warmed up and given a very nice and authentic presentation. She smiled and thanked me and was off to the next fund-raising opportunity. 

At 1:15 p.m. the producer/director and I had our first actual break of the day. We sucked down liquids, ate lukewarm tacos from Torchy's Tacos and checked for messages on our phones. We were both wiped out at that point. But we rallied. I credit the massive influx of water and coffee. 

After a quick lunch and a thorough hand-washing I spent the next half hour breaking down the gear from the "interview" set and re-packing it all in the cases. I spent most of that half hour admonishing myself for not hiring a good assistant; even though it would have been out of my own pocket. It would have been nice to have someone I could trust to re-pack and take care of the gear. Over and over again. 

After stowing the lighting and sound gear I moved the remaining camera cases into the theater auditorium and got everything set and balanced for the afternoon shoots. We'd have groups of the same actors and dancers executing the choreography for each of their numbers; again, in sync with the soundtrack that our audio team had pre-recorded in the weeks leading up. I brought in our "A" camera case with the G9, and S1 in a cage. I also brought in the gimbal, a tripod and a monopod with a fluid head ( which I like very much as a quick production tool). 

This was a fun part of the shoot since we didn't have to worry about getting absolutely fried by the sun and also because I got to collaborate with my favorite lighting designer who, with iPod in hand, worked with me to make light that both looked dramatic and fun enough but also stayed within the exposure parameters of my cameras. A benefit I almost never have when shooting live shows. We also worked almost exclusively up on the stage apron which is something I never get to do in rehearsals and live shows. 

I used the Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm during most of the dance numbers with the G9 on the gimbal. I'd start with a wide establishing shot and then move in and circulate through the dancers getting close enough to isolate them individually. It's important to watch one run through of each number and try to memorize where each person is through the piece so you can plot a course through that doesn't end with you and your camera crashing into a pirouetting dancer. Always bad form. 

Since the stage show is still a work in progress we had a lot of "hurry up and wait" times as the choreographer and the show director (different from my producer/director) tried variations which we would then film--- only to have them modified and ready to be filmed again....and again....

There were a number of set-ups with actors and dancers on stage in which we wanted the lead performer to come downstage and end at a specific mark in front of the camera. We'd put a flourescent tape mark on the floor and then have a stand-in take the position so we could carefully focus and frame. Using the 24-70mm f2.4 S-Pro allowed me to use manual focus settings that were repeatable so I could mark a position on the lens that gave use a good focus on the ensemble and a different focus point that was our pinpoint end stop and I could accurately "rack" focus between them to get the best effect. It's more certain and repeatable than depending on continuous AF; especially when dancers are crossing in front of each other--- which is confusing even for the finest auto focus systems. The other part of shooting like this is making sure you rehearse the moves and make sure the actor can actually hit their marks...

After hours and hours of stage work we changed batteries in the primary cameras and took a fifteen minute break for receiving and re-distributing fluids. We also took a moment to breeze through a bunch of our takes on the stage to make sure we nailed what we needed to nail. It looks like we did. 

Our final shoots were back outside. It was nearly 7:15 p.m. and the cast was dragging. (No dinner...). We needed to shoot a legendary singer lip syncing to the music she'd recorded with our audio team earlier in the month. We wanted to film her alone first, on the big plaza in front of the theater, moving the gimbal mounted camera around her in a 180° half circle as she performed. At that point some delays (not on our part) started creeping in to the schedule. When we finally had the actor our daylight was on the way out and we had a split lighting situation where our actor was in open shade but there was still weak day light on the face of the building. Also, the open shade had no contrast to the light. It was flat as a pancake. I ran inside and grabbed my most powerful LED light (SL150ii) and an open faced soft box (diffuser removed) and rushed out to set it up. It was just the punch we needed for that shot. 

Then we needed to do the actor/singer's performance again but with a crowd "arriving" at the theater and stopping to marvel at the open air singing. And to dance. It took forever to assemble and rehearse the crowd (totally out of my control) but we grabbed the scene with the last few photons of the day. At that point we had two more quick but important shots to do and our daylight was on fumes. The scenes were way too wide and encompassing to light (and we didn't have any time) so I switched from the G9 to the S1 on a monopod and moved all the way up to ISO 4000. We got the last two shots by the skin of our teeth... but we did get them. 

At 9:00 p.m. we started packing and wrapping. You'd think it would have been cooler after the sun went down but according to my phone it was still 97 degrees. I dragged my gear back into the office at home base around 9:30pm and went into the house looking for food and wine....and water, sure. When I woke up this morning I felt like I'd been hit by a truck. I guess eight or so hours with a gimbal in your hands adds up to a decent workout.

I was looking across the web today while eating breakfast and came across a video by Jared Polin (Fro Knows Photos) where he talks about having shot a bunch of non-repeatable video in London and having his memory card go tits up. The card manufacturer tried to recover the data but was unsuccessful. I thought, for half a second, about all the set ups, all the actors, and all the behind-the-scenes efforts that went into making yesterday work and I stood up from the table and almost ran into the studio. I grabbed the G9, the camera with 80 % of our work on it from yesterday, took a deep breath and started the transfer from the memory card to the big 10 GB HD I'm using as the primary back-up. I held my breath for the next 18 minutes as I watched the progress bar slowly wend its way from left to right. On completion I spot checked some of the 200+ .MOV files and sighed a big exhale of utter relief. 

Then I downloaded the work from the other two cameras onto the same hard drive. I hooked up the SSD I'm using to shuttle work to the client and also the HD I'm using as a secondary back up and put the files on these drives as well. So, we've now got the files backed up in three places and as soon as the producer/director gets the shuttle drive he'll do back-ups on the theater's servers as well.  Now I can go in search of a peaceful cup of coffee and curse Jared Polin for temporarily scaring the crap out of me. 

The project isn't finished (we've got a couple more shoots scheduled in the next two weeks) yet but this was the hugest and most nerve racking single day for everyone. We have one or two high profiles performers to go but nothing like the time commitment and sheer size of cast as yesterday's shoot. I learned so much about moving the camera all through the video. I'm coming from a different background where we mostly were concerning with static interviews and complacent b-roll. I feel like I'm starting from scratch and that's both scary and fun. Fortunately, at this point in life, no one is really depending on my photo/video income for....anything. And the price of failure will be measured only by the wounds to my ego and not to my actual survival. Not a bad way to work.
 

8.27.2020

Heading out again today to shoot some b-roll and to test a new gimbal. After today it's all battery charging and judicious packing...


 I had so much fun with my phone gimbal I decided to buy a gimbal for my m4:3 cameras. Specifically the G9 with the Pan/Leica 12-60mm on the front. I chose the Zhiyun Crane V2 because it was well reviewed and cheap. Really cheap. But I guess that's typically the case on past tense products. I know that newer gimbals have more options, can be driven to do more things with smart phones, and have programmable modes but for right now my gimbal needs are simple and I'd rather learn a few things in depth than tons of things in a shallow way. If my needs change I'm pretty sure there's always going to be gimbals out there to upgrade to. 

I'm shooting easy stuff today. The road up to the state capitol building. Some static shots of the lake with the sky in the background. Some landmarks. Joggers on the train. Signage at Barton Springs. And anything else that catches my eye. My real mission is to understand and comfortable with shooting the G9 + gimbal combo and learning the basics. I always think of things in terms of swimming so in my terminology this is doing drills. Drilling the basic moves into my brain. 

Swimming. It's nice to be back on a later schedule. There's something disturbing about getting up super early in the morning and hitting the water while the sky is still deep black. I did the 8:00 a.m. workout today and to be honest I really dogged the whole thing. I worked on technique. I reveled in slow flip turns. I did a lot of backstroke so I could watch flocks of birds fly over head. I doubt I got in more than 2800 yards but it all felt so good. The water (amazingly!!!) is right at 80 degrees, which is five degrees cooler than the water coming out of my garden hose. Perfect to swim in and a very, very refreshing way to start a day that's destined for heat indexes that are scary. I need one more workout like this before Saturday's shoot...

Hurricane news. It sure looks like Louisiana got hammered today by Hurricane Laura. All our hotels are full of weather refuges and the city has also opened the Circuit of the Americas (F1) racing compound to temporarily house the flood of people who fled the storms. It's a good time to make donations to the Capitol Area Food Bank and any other helpful charity you might like.

Kitchen news. Our leak was fixed by an incredible plumber named, Herman. He dropped by and replaced two 25 year old valves with better, brand new ones and the total cost for his house call and same day service, including parts was $120. I went out to the studio, rounded up all the rest of my (non-camera essential) tools and put them on the front curb with a sign that reads, "free tools." I'll never bust a knuckle again. 

Camera news. You know that Canon must have received an overwhelming flood of criticism about the overheating issues with their two new cameras because they've already gotten out the fastest firmware upgrade in the history of camera marketing. I think most of it just resets the clock in the cameras that timed out the unit and blamed it on temperature regardless of actual temperature readings. I hope people who review cameras will take the new firmware into consideration. 

I'm patiently (?) waiting to see if Panasonic will introduce the three lenses I've been waiting on along with the upcoming S5 camera body. The lenses are supposed to be the 24, 50 and 85mm f1.8s. My hope is that they'll be small, sharp and less than half the price of the current S-Pro juggernauts. I love the results of the current lenses but would love lighter lenses for those times when you just want to include a camera on a lighthearted hike.

Tomorrow will be a day of mellowness in preparation for Saturday's marathon movie-making. More to follow....

Hoping your studio is A Clean, Well Lighted Place. 

8.26.2020

What can I tell you about pre-production phone calls with directors and producers? Hmmmm. More than you want to read.... I'd conjecture.


The amazing Martin Burke. 
An Austin Theater Legend.


My left ear is sore. That's the ear that listens most to my phone. My brain tries to listen as little as possible. 

We're going to shoot a twelve hour day on Saturday. It's one part of the theater project I've been working on for the last few weeks. The first four hours will take place outside. We'll film 30 different actors on a wide pedestrian bridge. We'll film some of the more notable talents individually, some in a groups and then get shots of all of them together. Unlike still photography both the camera and the actors/dancers/singers will be moving all the time. We'll get shots of the group coming toward our side of the bridge as I move directly backwards with the camera in my hands. We'll circle around singers with the camera as they belt out the theme song chosen to open the big event. And, of course, we'll try to capture all kinds of close-up shots as well. 

Everyone will be lip syncing to the same music so our editor has a reasonable chance of cutting everything together in post. While the director is aware we're trying to make sure the final client knows that we need to do multiple takes of each part of the process to make sure we get what they need. People unused to video productions have the idea that everyone just kind of magically knows what to do, where to dance and how to move and when someone yells, "action!" everyone will just automatically fall into place. Without rehearsals. And later, in the edit,  we'll just zoom in and grab the parts we like. But it doesn't ever work that way. 

After four hours on the bridge and in the vicinity (exterior) of the theater we'll head inside where I'll light a set for a "quick" into camera welcome speech by an "important person." We'll ask over and over again if they have a speech or need a teleprompter but we'll hear over and over again about how the person in question is a consummate pro and plans to just wing it. We'll remind the client on the shoot day about our script discussion as "the important person" wings it again for the 14th or 15th take. 

Then we move to the stage for three or four hours of piecing together several creative dance and music numbers but we'll need to do it in chunks so we can limit the number of people on stage to ten or fewer to conform to local pandemic safety standards. The client is "certain" that this will work just fine and that the editor will "bring it all together and make magic". The director,  editor and I are not so sure. We're wondering where to make the edits...

After that it's been decided that we'll do a big music and dance number on the exterior plaza which, at the scheduled time, will be half in deep shade and half in full sun. But the client feels confident that we can make that work.  And yes! I could make that work with a crew of grips and some silk diffusion fabric to hang over the hundred foot by hundred foot plaza space....  if only we had a budget...

So, the director and I had an hour long phone call to discuss all the production issues today. The list of topics was nearly endless. We needed to discuss everything from access to restroom and access to drinking water. Those were the easy ones. We discussed timing and whether we would shoot multi-camera or single camera. The director came down on the side of single camera. That led to a discussion of how many takes we'd need to cover each scene. I thought four. Wide establishing shot, small group shots, MCU of the "star" of each segment and then some wild b-roll. The director agreed and then, metaphorically (because I couldn't see him) wrung his hands together and wondered where we'd find time in the schedule to cover so much. 

We discussed time of day and angle of light. We talked about camera moves. We talked about gimbals versus handheld camera work for specific shots. We talked about a "look and feel" for the interior lighting and we even dialed down and talked about who would come early the day of the shoot to rouse the homeless people who sleep on the steps of the building at night. And who would remove the trash and broken bottles from the night before. 

We discussed which kind of microphone to use on our "straight into camera" welcome shot (lavaliere/wireless) and which mic to use for our emcee to start the show (Rode Reporter Microphone/ in the frame). Who will run sound? Me, of course.

When could we schedule breaks? Will we break for lunch or do a "walking" lunch? Where are the restrooms for the actors and our meager crew? Is someone bringing water? Who is handling craft service? Can we do make-up? (no. actors to do their own...). Can someone run two extension cords to the interview site? Who's manning the board for the stage lights during the interior portion of the shoot? Where can we set up a secure location to charge batteries and store back up cameras and lenses? Do we have security at all? Do we have a rain day scheduled? Did anyone think to put said rain day on my calendar? 

We went through the schedule in 30 minute increments and talked through technical issues. We both adhere to the idea that a shoot should be fun and that we can't fall on every grenade that gets tossed nor catch every javelin thrown our way. We can only pre-plan to the best of our abilities and hope that everyone else delivers their best. 

It should be a crazy day. I'm bringing white towels to wrap cameras in between shots. Wide brim hats are mandatory. Face masks a must have. Ice gloves at the ready. Hopefully the coffee will run like water through my kitchen today.

If anyone asks why I do all those walks around town in the blazing heat it's to stay in shape for stuff like this. We probably won't get hit directly by any part of hurricane Laura but we'll get the heat (102° predicted) along with whopping humidity from the edges of the storm. It's best if you are acclimated. We'll have actors in the elements for a half hour at a time. We'll be on that bridge from 7:15 until 11:30 a.m. (more or less). And at that point our day will have just hit the one third mark. Bring your own shade. It's good to be prepared. The Boy Scouts were right.

Ah. The glorious perks of homeownership. The paralysis of turning off the water.

 

It started a couple of days ago; a tiny puddle, maybe an inch by an inch, appeared along the edge of one of the Saltillo tiles in the kitchen. At first I thought someone had just spilled or splashed some water but every time I wiped up the puddle with a paper towel it reappeared. 

I checked under the kitchen sink but everything there was dry and happy. I suspected the refrigerator. They are complicated and sometimes non-cooperative. I thought one of the valves that bring was to the ice maker or the water filter was leaking. Maybe it was the drain hole for condensation run off. I don't know, refrigeration has always seemed like magic to me. 

If the pipes under the sink were still good I decided to blame the refrigerator and call an appliance repair guy who has always done good work for us. I was sure he could minister to our KitchenAid side-by-side and bring it back to good form. In all honesty I did clean the dust off the coils so he wouldn't think we were totally unaware of the idea of maintenance. 

Patrick showed up this morning with his tool kit and usual no nonsense manner and the first thing he did was to pull the huge, heavy, massive refrigerator out of its cubby to look at the back. And there is was; a broken shut off valve on the wall. A valve which should work to protect us from leaks!

The stem of the valve was broken right off and there was no way to shut off the persistent stream of water other than to go to the shut-off valve at the stream and shut off water to the entire house. As I left the front door to go and shut off the water (so proud of myself for knowing where that is!) I heard Belinda yell through Ben's bathroom door, "Ben, finish your shower! Dad's turning the water off in two minutes." 

Patrick is not a plumber. We were clear on that. But he has a friend who is a plumber. He gave us his friend's cell phone number and suggested I attach photos of the valve in question (and a valve under the sink that's had a checkered past) and send along a text. 

Having no other expertise than photography I went into the studio and grabbed a small LED panel and used it, along with my iPhone, to get photos of both valves. I sent the pix along with an urgent message (by this point I realized that toilets work via running water...) suggesting, pleading, and cajoling that today might be much better than tomorrow for this particular act of plumbing. 

It's a little after noon now and I expect our aqueous salvation to arrive around 6-ish. I've retreated into my office to escape the task of floor mopping (which I believe should fall to the youngest in the house) and to order myself a sandwich for lunch. 

I thought I was so clever to pay off the house last year but in truth a house is never "paid off" they just continue to rack up obligations. More or less a ploy by the fates to keep us on our toes.


I hope we have water tonight. But I'm happy it wasn't the refrigerator proper. I have a nostalgic relationship with that fridge and I'd hate to lose it. 

Hope your day is less fraught with domestic aggravation. KT

Thoughts about workflow and new gear.


The gimbal for the iPhone was a good first step. That made movement with the phone smooth and sure but we needed to do something about locking in white balance, frame rates and other particulars. Two days ago I downloaded an app for the phone called, Filmic Pro. It's pretty amazing for $14.95. To take full advantage of the program you'll probably want to download an upgrade that's priced at $13,99 which unlocks Log files, shadows and highlight recovery, noise reduction and a few more goodies. You can get along for most stuff with the basic app but if you can afford it the additional upgrade adds even more control.

As many of you here probably already know Filmic Pro is a powerful software tool for making smart phones into very capable video cameras. You can work in a fully manual configuration and control most parameters just as you would in a video camera or hybrid camera. 

I shot a test roll on Monday, along with the Zhiyun Smooth 2 gimbal. Here are my ungraded results:

I still have a lot to learn about mastering iPhone video and gimbals but I'm ready to do a deep dive and find out as much as I can. My friend, James, took some time to show me how to walk forward and backward with a gimbal in a way that minimizes the up and down motion of walking. It's paying off the more I practice it. 

We won't be using the iPhone as our primary camera for the Zach video projects, mostly because my iPhone XR is limited to a wide angle vision. One other flaw of the iPhone, which was mentioned in a comment yesterday, is the tendency of the native Photo App to over sharpen videos. That seems to be much less of a problem when using Filmic Pro.

The impetus to install Filmic Pro was my realization of how much fun it is to work with gimbals. But after working with my little phone gimbal for a handful of days I'm ready to experiment with other set-ups. I've ordered an inexpensive but well reviewed intermediate gimbal; the Zhiyun Tech Crane V2 (an older generation) to use with my Lumix G9 and I'm taking time this afternoon to charge, assemble and balance the much bigger (and stronger) Ronin-S gimbal that I have on loan to use with an S1 + 24-105mm. 

My hope is that the G9 on the Crane V2 will work well and I'll be able to designate that set-up as my primary gimbal system. It makes sense since the G9 benefitted from a free firmware upgrade that handed G9 owners access to 10 bit, 4:2:2, 4K video files that look really nice. I'm getting great hand held shots from the S1+24-105mm system as long as I don't try for big moves or long traveling shots. Clearly those are the province of either gimbals, or well laid dolly track and a dolly grip. 

Moving on to the Ninja V. I've been very pleased with its basic operation; as a monitor that also records easy to edit files in the Pro Res codec. My one gripe is that the camera and Ninja don't sync up completely. The monitor doesn't automatically start recording when you push the record button on the camera. It's not a fault of the monitor it's down to Panasonic not including an HDMI trigger signal in the S1. If you splash out for the S1H the synchronization works fine. 

Monitors and digital recorders are certainly not essential if you are out shooting your own art or if you've been let off the leash to pursue footage for a client on your own. They do come in handy during those collaborations that include client hand-holding. Many clients, either new to video or just insecure, want you to play back every take to make sure they've got what they wanted before moving on to the next shot. In those instances the external monitors are so much easier to share than having one or two additional people hovering over the back of your camera trying to look at the 3.2 inch rear screen! 

The external monitors are also much more flexible in their placement. I've loved having the monitor set up so it leans away from the camera body and over the lens. It's makes for a much more stable way of holding the camera for a lot of casual shooting. I also love being able to put a camera at the end of a small crane and have the monitor at the other end of the crane where you control the operation. Finally, you can see what you are doing....

But the really interesting thing about the Ninja V is its ability to take 6.5 K information from the S1H sensor or Cinema DNG raw information from a Sigma fp (with available beta firmware in the Ninja...) and write out Pro Res Raw files from them. The implementation from the S1H looks more sophisticated and might be of more interest to fast working pros since the camera works in V-Log and the monitor can use LUTs to show that one is in the ballpark. With the Sigma fp a working videographer will need to make a series of exposure tests to see just how far into overexposure one can get away with in order to raise the shadows. (No Sigma Log file forthcoming...).

But with either camera and a Ninja V you'll be heading into the higher end of what's possible with video. 
It's good to temper expectations a bit though. The Pro Res Raw codec is still a compressed format and while it provides good exposure latitude (at least one full stop in either direction around optimum) the color is mostly baked in and isn't anywhere close to being as malleable as photographic raw files. On the other hand the Pro Res Raw will get you a lot more information on your storage before it fills up, when compared with the totally uncompressed raw files at 12 bit that you'll get directly from a Sigma fp. 

On the video project I've been working on we are still shooting directly to the camera's memory cards. Shooting bigger files would quickly become unwieldy as we're shooting between 30 minutes to an hour and 30 minutes of video per shooting day. If we shot that as uncompressed raw on the Sigma fp we'd be filling up SSD drives about every twenty minutes...and the back end of the process would become overwhelming. 

I'm gearing up for a long and varied day on Saturday. Unwanted mission creep is starting to accelerate its creep-itude. In addition to the stuff I've already seen on story boards we just added an interview style presentation with the managing director who is flying in and then out to do this. So, from gimbal work with a cast of up to 30 on the big pedestrian bridge, to music and dancers on stage we're also adding a completely different set up with different lighting and the need for full audio. Mission creep = the bane of every volunteer project. And the thing that keeps one from re-volunteering for months or years afterward.

If Hercules has been confronted with volunteer mission creep he would have walked away from his labors and changed careers... Makes cleaning stables look like fun...

 

8.23.2020

A Sunday morning spent making video and playing with new tools.

https://vimeo.com/450856968

Blogger seems to have changed the way videos are embedded. You can either upload 

a video from your computer or host it on YouTube. The link above is

where this quick sample resides = Vimeo. Thanks, KT


originally written on Sunday August 22nd. 

I've been working on a video project with Joshua (in house video producer) from Zach Theatre for the last week or so. We've headed to locations around Austin to film actors and dancers doing fun things for short clips. The places he's chosen are popular with Austinites and tourists alike. This morning we filmed a dancer in front of the Stevie Ray Vaughn statue in Zilker Park. We've filmed in front of popular murals and even in the parking lot of a big grocery store chain (one of our sponsors...). And we keep coming back to the big plaza just in front of the Theatre to catch rehearsals for our teams of dancers, for b-roll. 

I'm learning so much about being a one person crew on these shoots. Theatre people are used to working under controlled lighting conditions and are less attuned to things like: Where the sun is in the sky. The contrast of existing light. The need to stay within a dynamic range constraint. How time of day affects the look of a location. And how different focal lengths affect what may or may not be in a shot. That's it's not "okay" to spontaneously stop traffic on a busy street without permits and police (which we do not have a budget for...). 

They are also pleasantly unaware of how difficult it is to grab shots with the camera moving and the actors moving --- without lots and lots of rehearsals --- you know, so we don't crash into each other. But I guess that's half the fun. 

So, part of my job is to gently educate them about all those particulars.  

And, as with most clients, I've dropped reminders from time to time that it takes some ration of time to focus, compose, add fill light, check exposure and tweak the neutral density filters. Just because we suddenly see something fun doesn't always mean we can just turn around and grab it into our camera. 

Every time we all work together we get a tighter and more efficient collaboration. We understand each other's directions and what we need for our shots.  If we do it long enough it might actually be incredibly fun. Right now it's just normal fun. 

But I'd bet my camera could say the same thing about me. That I'm learning and getting better the more often and the longer I have the camera in my hands. A lot of things about this production feel like new stuff for me too. I'm learning to be a lot more comfortable with hand held shots. The secret (besides drinking less coffee) is finding a comfortable grip that you can maintain for a while. 

I used to hold the camera away from my body too far but it was so I could see the little screen on the back. Yesterday I started shooting all my hand held shots with the little Atomos monitor mounted on top of the camera cage and I could put the screen where I wanted it and set the brightness high enough to really, really see a great image. I had the screen tilted back over the lens instead of directly behind the camera. This meant I was looking forward instead of just down. It allows me to hold the camera much closer to my body which takes a bunch of strain off my arms. This makes for much, much steadier files.

I've been practicing my new hold for the last two days and I'm getting better at walking forward and walking backwards but I still need to work on my side-to-side moves. They are choppy. 

The Lumix S1 continues to surprise me in terms of both the quality of the tones and colors in the files generated and also the amazing, almost Olympus-like, image stabilization I get when I take advantage of the image stabilization in the lens + the I.S. in the body. With new holding techniques and the I.S. I'm able to be almost tripod-like for takes that last a couple of minutes... I never thought that would happen.

I've stopped using the auto focus for most stuff because it's easier to manual focus (the Atomos does great focusing peaking indicators!!!) and figure out a depth of field range in which the individual dancers can roam. I'm even starting to get comfortable tweaking focus on the fly with the monitor. 

I started shooting 4K video this morning at 7:15 a.m. to both the camera and the monitor (H.264 to the camera, ProRes in the Atomos) and we finished our last shot around 10 a.m. The camera recorded 28 minutes of video and it spent a lot more time with the power on, in standby. We kept the camera on and kept working on comp and focus as the dancers reset for different numbers... When I got home I was able to download the files to my computer using the last gasps of the first and only battery of the day. That's damn good performance in my book. 

The Atomos Ninja V is nowhere near as good a conservator of battery power and I was on my third Sony NP-F 750 battery when we finally called it quits. 

Would I buy the Ninja V again? In a heart beat. Just having a larger monitor live on our locations meant I could show the producer the images and forgo having to endlessly review after each take.

The video above is not from the Lumix S1 ---- but I'm betting you already guessed that. It's from my iPhone XR and the Zhiyun phone gimbal I bought on Friday. It's an uncontrolled scene when it comes to light but I included it because I am newly fascinated at how much I can move with a camera and still maintain focus while the camera provides very elegant exposure transitions as I move from open shade to full sun. I could have talked about it and described it but I thought it would be more useful to actually see it. 

In my short time with the gimbal I'm already chomping at the bit to get the iPhone 12 for some production stuff the minute it comes out. The 4K I'm seeing out of my phone is over-sharpened but I think I just need to spend some time getting up to speed with Filmic Pro or some other application for the phone. But I am amazed at the performance of the gimbal. Now I'm ready to fire up the big, loaner gimbal, put a G9 and a Panasonic/Leica lens on it and get to work. If it's any bit as fun and smooth as the smaller, cheaper phone gimbal I'll make my benefactor a deal he won't want to pass up. 

I pause for a minute to consider the resources I'm throwing into a long, pro bono job undertaken mostly outside in the heat of the Summer and then I realize how much fun I'm having and decide I just don't care. With some good editing and more great actor performances we'll go a long way toward helping support the theater. And the new toys? I consider them a self-inflicted bonus.

8.22.2020

New Light. I like it. Godox SL 150 II.

This is the heavy, rugged and highly desirable (by me) Godox
SL150 ii. It's a COB LED light with features.
Daylight balanced.

Obviously much attention was paid to cooling. Note the vents on the all metal chassis.

The back panel is straightforward and has a special button (the white one)
that changes the power ranges to turn off the fan. It also comes with a very
simple remote control that only turns the output up and down.

Much attention was paid to heat management. The fan isn't very loud.
It's only noticeable in very quiet rooms. Note also the robust yoke style 
stand connector and the umbrella connector on the bottom. 
Nice. 

I wrote a book about LED Lighting for Amherst Media. It was published in 2010. That was ten years ago. 

LED fixtures for photographers and filmmakers were pretty primitive at that time but I saw a lot of promise, even with what was on the market back then. I purchased a bunch of different LED panel lights and used them for lots and lots of projects, and I could make a good argument that LEDs were useful for nearly all studio still-life projects and for most videos.

At the infancy of the LED revolution for photographers LEDs were plagued with two major faults. First, unless you spent thousands and thousands of dollars on a single light (I didn't) you were going to get lights that had poor color rendering with spikes and deep holes across their color response. This would never have worked for people working in color with actual film but it was possible with digital cameras because you could do custom white balances to cover most of the sins of the lights. If you could measure where the biggest dips in color response occurred you could go a long way towards helping out your lights by finding/assembling filter packs that helped pump up the lost parts of the spectrum.

But that was time consuming. And expensive. And robbed you of many photons.

The other fault of most lights was the fact that their output (sheer level of lumens) was nothing to write home about. I had several big panels that each had over 1,000 individual LED bulbs set in rows up and down and across the panels. But even with several big lights I was hard pressed to get enough light on a subject to shoot, say, a portrait of an active person. If they sat stone still and I could use a tripod and drop the shutter speed way down I could manage but if the person I was photographing was animated and moving then all bets were off. 

One measure of color accuracy is called CRI (color rendering index). My earliest lights measured between 81 and 85 CRI. All of my current lights are billed at CRI 95 or higher. There are other, more exacting measures but this is a good place to start. 

Each successive generation of LEDs made for photographers and film makers has just gotten better and better. And more and more powerful.

Probably the biggest breakthrough was a technology called COB (chip on board) which moved LEDs from a collection of big, discrete lightbulbs spread out on a panel to a single, more concentrated light source that acted more like a focused light than a soft, panel light. These new LEDs generally have a light source that is flat and anywhere from an inch to an inch and a half across. All of a sudden we had lights that acted, in terms of size and beam spread, far more like our traditional, monolight, electronic flashes. 

The Bowen's flash/modifier mount quickly became the "standard" of most makers of economical COB LED units and let all of us working stiffs use the reflectors and speed rings that we were already using on a wide range of flash equipment. Now we can make use of soft boxes and umbrellas in a way that large, flat panels didn't allow. 

My first COB lights came from Fiilex. They were small and not the highest output but it was obvious that they had mastered, to a much greater extent, color accuracy. 

I have owned many other COB LEDs since then, all with Bowen's mounts on the front end. I kept selling them off as newer, more accurate and more powerful lights came to market. 

A year ago I bought three lights from Godox called SL60s. They were the same kind of design style as a monolight flash but all LED. They had 60 watts of power output which was supposed to be the equivalent of a typical tungsten light fixture with a 300 watt bulb. But reality rarely matches conjecture physics....

The SL60s are a great adjunct to four of the Aputure LightStorm LED panels I own and it's really nice to be able to use them quickly, along with modifiers like soft boxes or octabanks. I used all seven of my mix of LED lights  (not counting small, battery powered, on camera-type versions) on my recent shoot at a technology lab and I came away from the shoot wishing I'd had one more higher powered COB LED to provide a giant fill or to use through a window to mimic sunlight.

I started researching what's out in the market right now and came across the Godox SL, FV, and VL series lights. The SL is a traditional COB that runs only off A/C power and provides a fan cooled light fixture with a Bowen's mount and nice controls. It also allows you to turn off the fan and run the light in a lower power mode for close-in video work were good audio is critical. The FV is also a non-battery light but it combines LED illumination and flash (it uses the LED as a flash source so it's not quite as powerful as a much smaller hot shoe flash).  The VL series is the product line that goes toe-to-toe with the Aputure 120D and 300D lights (but at half the price). It uses a three piece power set up that also allows one to use professional video batteries instead of just A/C power. But the VL lights have the separate boxes and cables for the power supply and the control box which take up so much visual space...

There are different power levels available through the product lines. 

Most of my use of LEDs is in studio or on locations that have ready access to power. I was most interested in getting the best mix of light power, price and usability. I went with a traditional SL150 ii. I thought long and hard about the more powerful lights but you gain, in most instances, a bit less than one extra stop of light while you pay for it in dollars and weight. I'd rather have two reasonably powerful lights than one big, monster light. 

The new light arrived last week and works perfectly. It's more efficient than the generation of SL60 lights so it actually puts out more than double their output. The new, faceted reflector is also more efficient. The kit came with a longer-than-usual, and thicker, A/C cable as well as with a set of four way barn doors, complete with a grid spot attachment. Useful for many video lighting situations. 

The power output is both prodigious and accurate. In a large light bank, used five feet from a subject, I'm getting a meter reading of something like ISO  250, f5.6, 1/80th of a second. 

We'll be lighting a live broadcast show in the next month and several of these in good soft boxes will make great key lights. I'll supplement with the smaller SL60's in smaller boxes or used directly on backgrounds. 

This light even has enough output to be used as a mild/weak fill light in full sun. But just barely.....

As I add more powerful LEDs to the inventory I find less and less use for flash. We'll see how it all pans out. 

I'd love to have an even more powerful light in the toolbox but I doubt I'd get that much use out of the difference. 

Fun with lights! KT

The importance of doing fun stuff.

I saw this videographer crossing the street in Montreal. He had a great smile.

Okay. So I'm officially having a fun August. I'm learning to take things one day at a time and to do something I consider "fun" every day. 

My first choices are always to swim and take photographs. Sometimes you have to punt when you can't do your first choices. I guess the secret is not to hold on too tightly to those priorities. 

Today I woke up to booming and crashing thunder and lightning (and some very, very welcome thrashing  rain!). I watched the clock with one eye and the weather with the other and as the minutes clicked by I came to realize that I would not get to swim practice this morning. A bit of a let down since this would have been my first Saturday morning masters swim workout since the dawning of the pandemic shut down. But it's hard to argue with minute-by-minute lightning strikes...

I made a cup of coffee and walked out onto our back porch, sunk into an Adirondack chair, looked over a small forest of trees and enjoyed the smell and coolness of the rain in the early gray of the morning. Except for the occasional peel of thunder it was a soft and quiet way to wake up with the day. 

I'm booked on my video project tomorrow morning so the next swim will be on Tuesday. That's okay. I was a bit sore after four in a row...

Now it's midday and the sun is out. The temperatures are still in the 70s. What a fun afternoon this will be for a long, long walk with an eager camera. I have no plan or agenda for the walk other than to get out and feel the weather on my skin and to see what my city looks like with its ozone creatively rearranged by nature. That means I'll probably take along a less than serious camera. Probably a Canon point and shoot. 

If I get out in time I'll make sure I plan my route to slip by one of my favorite coffee shops for a toasty cappuccino. Because that's fun.

But before I head out the door Ben, Belinda and I will have our traditional Saturday lunch together. Last time I was in the house I got the distinct impression that we'll be having burgers and fries from P. Terry's. Almost healthy fast food... When we get our chow we'll sit around the dining room table and talk about all the different things we're up to and laugh and kid around with each other. Later, I'll circle back to my job/hobby. My "Jobby"?

I always couch my purchases of things like monitors and lenses as necessary for the execution of the business but the reality is that I love how some of my equipment can make photos and videos look so good. I've been making video for Zach  Theatre using the Lumix S1 with the 10bit/422 upgrade and it's been looking great. I did a cursory look at footage we shot on Wednesday right after we shot it, just to make sure we had the basics covered. 

But this morning I had time to bring it up on the 5K screen in Final Cut Pro X to see what we "really" got. I had such a contentment rush. The footage looked incredible. We shot video of a beautiful and talented Zach dancer in the parking lot of a grocery store, early in the morning. I won't go into all the details but the story line is that as she walks up to her car to stow her groceries she hears the lyrics to Dancing in the Street. Our dancer starts moving to the rhythm of the song and then breaks into a full on dance. (Sponsor's grocery bags with prominent logos in the background). 

I had such a feeling of satisfaction today when I really looked at what we'd created. The acting and the motion of the dancer was so natural. The video stuff was just about perfect and the feeling of happiness as expressed by our actor/dancer felt so genuine. I'd worked in enough video sessions in the week leading up to that scene that my camera holding looked steady and I followed my actor perfectly. The color balance (hey!!! do a custom white balance!) was on the money and the exposure was airy, open and still clinging to every last highlight (although I would have been happy to let the bright spots go, if I had to). 

So, in the moment of looking at the footage (and making sure it's backed up in three places) I felt like "fun" had come home to roost in my office once again. Now I'm looking forward with a certain giddiness to the next video shoot. 

That would be this evening. I heard the pre-professional kid actors would be rehearsing this evening for their part of our upcoming production. The rehearsal will be outdoors and I want to catch some great incidental shots that we might use in the final piece (also called: B-Roll). So I asked if I could attend with a camera. 

Since I have a new Ninja V digital recorder and monitor I'm excited about switching gears, camera-wise, and using the Sigma fp for a change. I've got it encased in a Smallrig cage so I can anchor the Ninja monitor right on top. I'll be recording the 10 bit raw files (24 fps) directly to the Atomos Ninja and bypassing the need to write the raw files to an external drive and then transcode them. I can't wait to see what kind of color I can get and also how minimal I expect motion artifacts to be. But most of all I want to capture the expressions, gestures and energy of the dancers. I want to see kids having fun making art.

Tomorrow is another early morning of video shooting with three or four locations scheduled before noon. I'll be back on the comfortable camera (familiarity brings serenity when it comes to some gear) tomorrow but I'll still be digging in to the Atomos. 

But I'll drive the director a bit nuts because I also intend to bring along my new phone gimbal to try out. 

Fun means so many different things to so many people. To me it's being able to do something extra and unencumbered to generate...satisfaction. Creating is fun. Family is fun. Projects that have a good heart and nice goals at their center are fun. And yes, of course, playing with really good gear is fun. Swimming is fun but so is watching movies on the big couch at home with Belinda. And fun is that great novel that's sitting there, bedside, patiently waiting for me to read. 

That guilty Snickers candy bar I munched on this week was fun. Getting back to work is a lot more fun that I remembered.

Being up and out and alive and engaged and surrounded by love and happiness is so much fun it almost feels dangerous. Just what I'm thinking about on a Saturday while waiting for the rest of the family to get hungry. 

note added: Ben just came out to the studio to take my lunch order. Looks like I was right. It's burgers and fries. I did make one nod to "healthy eating," I asked if they could make my burger with a whole wheat bun. That ought to make everything okay!