So we all know that the Sony a7S is great little camera that is capable of creating lovely images. But what would it be like to actually replace an entire ENG camera kit with one? News cameraman turned video journalist Christian Parkinson’s latest posting to Africa is giving him the chance to find out.
Christian has a decade and a half of experience shooting news internationally and is author of the Camera Confidential (which is well worth a read). His new mission is to be able to cover hard news and features with a kit that fits into his backpack. He is blogging about his experiences and below is his first short post about what is in the bag:
I recently started work as a “Digital video producer” (essentially a VJ with a remit to do innovative work) based in Johannesburg. I had a tiny budget to purchase kit (£4000) and was keen to keep it as light weight as possible while still being practical enough to shoot features and hard news… not easy for a guy used to working with a Sony PMW 500 and a tonne of spares and lights etc.
My entire shooting kit now fits in a small photographers rucksack. Below is kit list below for those who are interested:
– Sony a7S with Movcam cage and Black Rapid strap
– Sony 18-200mm Power zoom (this is for the APS-C size sensor and works great on the a7S which can switch sensor size automatically)
– Sony XLR-K1M XLR Box and Microphone Kit (this is the XLR adaptor that allows me to attach two “pro” mics directly into the A7S)
– Sony a5100 camera with the 16-50mm kit lens (this is a great little “B” camera)
– Sony UWP-D11 Wireless Package (cheap as chips radio mic kit. . .Seems Ok so far but I haven’t had to test it in a challenging environment)
– A Rode Reporter mic
– A leatherman
– A 5m long XLR cable
– Mic stand
– 2x Sony Battery chargers
– 7x batteries (the same batteries work for both of my cameras)
So I also have a laptop bag with three small LED lights and a couple of stands in it. My edit kit lives in a small wheeled bag.
So far I’ve shot two pieces using this kit. . . I loved it though I found it hard to get my focus and exposure spot on in bright sunlight with moving subjects. I’ll write a full review of the kit once I have had a chance to do more and put it through it paces.
This blog post originally appeared on Christian’s own Imagejunkies website and you can follow his progress there.
Christian at work in Kenya with his old ENG kit. Picture by Ben Gurney
The CAME-Single brushless gimbal. The finished product will be black not silver.
Chinese manufacturer CAME has become well-known for making reasonably priced brushless gimbals. For a while their solutions felt a little DIY, but their latest offerings are much improved.
They have just launched a brand new grip-style three-axis brushless gimbal called the CAME-Single. Designed to be used held in one hand it can carry compact system cameras like the Sony a7S, Panasonic GH4 and Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera. The design is similar to rival Chinese gimbal maker Nebula’s 4000 model which we previously reviewed.
Unlike the Nebula this gimbal has toolless adjustment for easier setup and a more substantial build. The rechargeable batteries are interchangeable and are said to last around 10 hours.
The adjustments are all toolless
The CAME-Single can also be mounted to sliders, jibs and tripods to be used as a remote head. A joystick on the handle can control the movement of the camera and this should be useful when the gimbal is mounted this way.
The gimbal can be used as a hot head on a slider
Inside the gimbal is a 32-bit controller board and I assume it runs on the Alexmos system. One very neat feature is the ability to aim the camera angle by simply pushing the gimbal to required orientation and holding it got one second. The CAME-Single then memorises this and continues to shoot at this angle until you readjust it.
Maximum payload is claimed to be 1kg and the weight of the gimbal itself is 1.2kg.
The CAME-Single is due to ship in June but is priced higher than the Nebula 4000. Retail price is $988 US, but if you pre-order now there is a $100 discount bringing it down to $888 US. Just how well this gimbal performs needs to be tested, but I suspect it will be similar to CAME’s other gimbals which are pretty easy to fly.
The CAME-Mini 2
Also new from CAME is an update to their MINI model. This is a lightweight brushless gimbal also for the a7S and GH4, but with a more conventional design. I’ve been testing one for a while and the nice thing about it is that it can fold flat for storage and has batteries built into the bar of the gimbal itself. This makes it very easy to transport and it’s the lightest conventionally shaped gimbal I’ve tried. One annoyance though is that the MINI requires tools to set up and the process can be slow and tricky. CAME have recognised this and just introduced a second version of the MINI that features toolless adjustment. I hope to do a more detailed review in the future.
In what must be a response to the low price of the new DJI Ronin Mini and recent reductions to the original Ronin, CAME have also reduced the price of all their existing gimbals.
CAME 8000 down to $1688 US
CAME 7800 ( old version ) down to $1080 US
CAME 7500 down to $ 980 US
CAME 7000 down to $780 US
CAME-MINI down to $ 898US
Grass Valley’s EDIUS 7 editing package – changes are coming to the interface as well as support for Canon’s new XF-AVC codec.
Grass Valley have announced an update to their EDIUSediting software package that will add support for Canon’s new XF-AVC codec. Announced alongside the C300 Mk II and XC10 cameras, it’s a proprietary codec optimised for the larger filesizes and higher bitrates of 4K production.
FCP X and Adobe Premiere don’t currently support the format natively, perhaps unsurprisingly as neither camera is shipping yet. Grass Valley meanwhile are claiming EDIUS will be ‘the first nonlinear editing system to support Canon’s recently announced XF-AVC video format.’ They don’t specify if that support is native, but even if it’s just avoiding the merry-go-round of transcoding that usually accompanies the release of a new recording format, it could be well worth an upgrade.
There are also changes to the program’s interface, accelerated h.264 playback and a promise of free updates post-purchase.
H264 video compression is ubiquitous, well-supported and really really old – the standard was agreed in 2003, which means although it’s a workhorse codec for nearly all online video content, technological advances in the intervening years mean it’s now looking a bit underpowered.
And with greater-than-HD resolutions gradually gaining popularity for acquisition and finishing, h265 is likely to be the format of choice for the next ten years of video transmission on the web.
It’s early days: there aren’t many devices or software packages that can play h265 content yet, but it’s a very appealing as a format, especially if you’re working in 4K. This is because it aims to be twice as efficient at encoding as h264 – it’s also known as HEVC or High Efficiency Video Codec.
Video Mastering Works offers HEVC h265 encoding as well as a long list of other codec options (and an unfortunate proof-reading error).
h265 takes significantly longer than h264 to encode but the output has a much smaller filesize.
In my own completely unscientific test, encoding the same master video to h264 and h265 resulted in a filesize of 82.2MB for h264 and 47.7MB for h265 – and viewed back using VLC there didn’t appear to be any obvious differences between the two files. In fact I’m not sure it would be possible to tell which was which if you didn’t already know.
The application is definitely multi-threaded – this screenshot shows the encoder using all the available computing power of my (admittedly rather elderly) quad-core PC.
The downside? All that extra number crunching takes its toll on the speed of the encoding process: the h264 file was finished in 4m40s but the h265 file took 10m54s. Not such great news if like me you’re using older hardware (an Intel Core 2 Quad that originally launched in 2008) – but the software makes use of all available CPU cores so if you have a more modern i7 chip with hyperthreading you’ll see an improvement on those times. Video Mastering Works was certainly making use of all the horsepower my ageing PC was able to throw at it.
It is possible to use an Nvidia GPU to take some of the encoding load, but disappointingly the software uses CUDA to achieve this rather than the newer NVENC protocol – personally I’ve never found the increase in speed enough to justify the loss of quality from CUDA encodes. So it could be time to invest in that six-core ‘enthusiast’ PC you’ve been promising yourself…
So all in all Video Mastering Works is well worth a download, if only to see how your computer performs with HEVC / h265 content – although the package as a whole seems like a flexible, reasonably intuitive and very tweakable encoder. If you’re Windows-based it could be a handy addition to your editing and file conversion workflow.
Gimbals. We’re spoiled for choice at the moment, and there are certainly a few new arrivals that are very exciting in terms of ease of use, weight, and cost. But for news and documentary shooters, most gimbal rigs are still too slow to set up, too cumbersome to travel with, and too difficult to use for an extended period of time.
I believe that’s changing now with the Letus Helix Jr. At NAB 2015 this little gimbal was recognized by Newsshooter as the Best Pro Video Camera Accessory, so after trying it out with a few smaller cameras (and also with a RED), I decided to get one for my Canon C100.
The top video embedded above is a collection of Helix Jr shots from two recent shoots. The first part is from a trip to Cordova in Alaska, where in a day-and-a-half of shooting (and a day of editing), my Video Dads partner Travis Gilmour and I ran like crazy to follow the first commercial salmon catch of the season, from ocean to fine dining via jets and helicopter. The second part is from a shoot the previous week that began in the same town, where we followed birding enthusiasts to remote islands.
The second embedded video is the final release from Princess Cruises. Of course not every shot used the gimbal, but as one technique in your toolkit, the Helix Jnr really adds value to the final video.
I received the Helix Jr a week before the first shoot. After a couple hours experimenting with counterweights and accessories, I finally struck a good balance where I can use the C100’s hand grip, mounted to Zacuto’s C100 Grip Extender, as the counterbalance.
I also experimented with the gimbal’s PID (Proportional-Integral-Derivative) settings to smooth out jitters and to slow down the pan/tilt. I’d never done this before with other gimbals, but Letus’s instructions made this a pretty simple process. You increase or decrease the P or D settings by 4, until minor vibrations are gone, and you can also increase the power of the motors. I ended up slowing down the pan/tilt speed a lot because I prefer really slow motion.
The software GUI is easy to use, and you can always reset the parameters if your experiments vary widely from the recommended settings. You can adjust the Helix’s PID settings with a computer or a tablet – I would recommend opting for the model with Bluetooth as it means you can connect to the gimbal without a USB cable.
Once everything was all set up, I was pretty impressed with how simple it would be to use this gimbal out in the field. Using a Manfrotto 394 quick release system I could now lock the C100 on the Helix Jr, set aside the top handle, place the hand grip on the back of the Helix Jr, turn it on and be ready to go. It’s balanced in a way where I can change various lenses, and zoom in and out, without having to rebalance. And because I’m using the same quick release system across my other support rigs I can easily transfer the camera across when I want to change setups.
Ok so that’s all well and good, but how did it do in the real world? My shoots for Video Dads are usually for corporate or nonprofit clients, but in a documentary style, where my partner and I are constantly hustling to grab as many shots as we can. We’re not directing the action, and we have to be quick to capture moments or they’re lost forever. The Princess Cruises shoot is a good example, where we had to shoot a ton of coverage during a very fast day and a half, but we wanted the shots to have a little more oomph than regular documentary shoots. From fish processing to flying in a helicopter, to serving the fish, we had little-to-zero time to prepare, charge batteries, change lenses, or just about any consideration other than to get great shots.
For the birding festival shoot, my partner and I were shooting over two days. We knew we would be running around in mostly rainy weather, and we’d also go out on a boat and hike a few miles to a sandy island where the rare birds liked to congregate. The hike out would be wet, sandy, and the gimbal shots would only be a few seconds of the final film. But at this point I had gotten used to bringing along the Helix Jr in my bag everywhere I went, so it was no problem.
Here were the pros:
The Helix Jr packed down very small for air travel. Once balanced, I left it ready-to-go and it was still very compact to carry in my PortaBrace or Sachtler/Petrol doctor bag with other gear.
It can be balanced, and rested when not in use, without a stand. This is really huge.
I used my A-cam, rather than carrying around another camera. And the process of moving the C100 from tripod/monopod to the Helix Jr and back was really easy.
I used the C100’s LCD screen rather than attach another piece of equipment, which was really nice as it keeps the setup small and simple. The hand grip meant I could adjust exposure and turn AF on or off, without putting the camera down. The C-Cup eyecup can stay on, and I can use the heavier C100 batteries. All of which means I don’t have to change my camera setup to snap it into the Helix Jr.
The Helix Jr’s batteries are small, easy to switch out, they have level indicators, and they’re air travel safe (they’re Li-Ion rather than LiPo). They last a few hours each.
Going from a low shot in ‘briefcase mode’ up to chest level is seamless. Jib-like shots were easy to mimic.
I was able to get a lot of shot variety within my normal shooting workflow, in cars and other tight places (like a helicopter), and did not get overly tired, as the gimbal’s design means you can hold the handles close to your body without sweating buckets.
And the caveats:
The Helix Jr won’t miraculously fix the up and down motion of walking or running. Using a much heavier gimbal setup could help cover that up, or getting better at walking/running (I’m still learning), or shooting from a car or other wheels. It also helps to shoot somebody walking, since their movement covers up any up and down motion.
Like any gimbal, the Helix Jr sometimes gets out of whack when you’re pushing it. But you can help or correct it back in place without putting it down or turning it off, which I found very useful.
There’s no top handle to mount accessories, so I didn’t have any sound input for one of the two shoots. But the handles have 1/4″-20 threads on top and bottom, so for the second shoot I mounted a Rode VideoMic Pro to one of the handles.
Also since there’s no top handle, you’re limited if you want to use the Helix Jr in a helicopter or an extended shoot where you want to attach an EasyRig. You can turn the Helix Jr to briefcase mode and attach the EasyRig to the handle, but that seems like it would be awkward for an extended period of time (where do your hands go?). I shot comfortably in a helicopter for an hour flight (turning the Helix on and off here and there), in regular two handed mode.
The thing I’m most unsure of is how I will start to mix gimbal footage in with the more typical wide/medium/tight sequences in documentary edits. Gimbal footage seems to be more at home in commercial edits. But with the Letus Helix Jr, the fact that gimbal footage is now an option for just about any shoot makes me very excited about the possibilities. For me, the Letus Helix Jr has a permanent place in my travel gear bag, and I think that’s a big win for us run and gun documentary shooters.
In this week’s episode of the Go Creative Show our friend Ben Consoli talks to Ex Machina cinematographer Rob Hardy BSC. The Sci-fi blockbuster was shot on Sony’s F65 and has a distinct look that Hardy crafted. In the course of the podcast they discuss how the movie was filmed and lit.
The VideoMic Pro is RØDE’s number one selling microphone worldwide for good reason. Not only does it offer good audio performance at a reasonable price, but its small footprint makes it very suitable for use on a wide range of cameras. Today RØDE has announced an updated version. It features the Rycote Lyre suspension system, along with an upgraded microphone capsule, that aims to improve both the physical characteristics and audio performance of the microphone. The 2015 VideoMic Pro is said to offer even higher sensitivity and a lower noise floor, ensuring clear audio capture over a wider dynamic range.
Already implemented on the VideoMic and VideoMic GO, the Rycote Lyre suspension system is one of the best microphone shock mounting solutions available. It features a suspension structure composed of a hard-wearing thermoplastic and is far more effective at minimising unwanted vibrations, handling and cable-borne noise than traditional elastic suspensions. RØDE claim it is virtually indestructible, and that the Rycote Lyre will never sag, snap, wear out or require rethreading to maintain its effectiveness.
The rubber bands on the previous suspension system did have a tendency to come off
It is good to finally see the Rycote Lyre suspension system being incorporated into the new VideoMic Pro. If I had one small complaint about the previous version it was that the rubber bands used on the mounting system were very prone to coming off. The new design seems to be a nice improvement and the microphone feels a lot more solidly made than the previous version.
The microphone uses a standard-sized shoe mount for on-camera use, and features a 3/8″ thread in the base of the mount for easy mounting on a boom pole. The VideoMic pro is battery powered, and according to RØDE a single 9V battery should last for over 70 hours of recording.
The new RodeMic Pro above and the current version below.
On the rear face of the microphone are the power, filter and level controls. In addition to the microphone’s native 40Hz-20kHz response a selectable high-pass filter at 80Hz is available, which will prevent low end extraneous noise such as hum from air conditioners and traffic from being recorded.
Below these controls are the level settings, which attenuate or boost the recorded level as required. The -10dB level attenuation (or PAD) is ideal for recording loud sound sources, such as live music, motorsport, or interviews where the subject is very close to the camera. The +20dB level boost is designed for use with DSLR cameras, allowing the user to reduce the camera’s preamp level (or mic input level), effectively reducing the amount of noise generated by the camera’s comparatively low quality audio circuitry.
The VideoMic Pro will retail for $249 US and should be available to buy from retailers such as B&H by the end of the week.
This from RØDE:
“The VideoMic Pro was a revelation for DSLR users the world over, making broadcast quality audio accessible to everyone at an affordable price” comments Damien Wilson, RØDE’s Global Sales and Marketing Director. “Now we’re taking it to another level. With the Rycote Lyre upgrade, and an upgraded capsule, it’s now even better value for such an amazing broadcast quality product.”
VideoMic Pro Features:
Rycote® Lyre® shock mounting onboard
All new capsule with lower noise and higher sensitivity
Broadcast recording quality condenser microphone
Compact form factor (150mm/6” length)
Ultra lightweight (85g/3oz)
9V battery powered – over 70 hours use (alkaline)
Integrated shock mounting
Integrated foam windscreen
3.5mm stereo mini-jack output (dual mono)
Two step High Pass Filter (flat, 80Hz)
Three position level control (-10dB, 0, +20dB)
Camera shoe mount with 3/8” thread for easy boompole mounting
10 year warranty with online registration at www.rodemic.com/warranty
Full disclosure: RØDE Microphones are a sponsor of Newsshooter.com
Panasonic has announced the Lumix G7, a highly capable mirrorless micro four thirds 4K camera that will retail for under $800 US in a kit with a 14-42mm lens. The G7 features a 16 MP Live MOS Micro Four Thirds sensor that can record 4K UHD video internally, as well as offering a wide range of options for stills capture and burst shooting. Panasonic are touting the G7 as a true hybrid 4K Video/4K Photo camera, that is designed to offer the same level of performance no matter what you are using it for. It is good to see manufacturers starting to embrace the idea that a lot of users want a versatile camera that does more than one thing well – video functions are often treated as an afterthought in this segment.
As far as video performance goes the G7 looks to offer a lot of bang for your buck, but it does have some limitations and you shouldn’t expect GH4-like performance. It can record up to 30p 4K UHD (3840×2160) at 100Mbps in MP4 and in full HD (1920×1080) up to 60p, but only at 28Mbps. You can also choose to record in AVCHD in HD only, and again you will be limited to a maximum bit rate of 28Mbps. The camera has framerates and recording options listed for both PAL and NTSC settings but it looks like the camera willl be region specific and not a true world camera. Another serious limitation is you can only record a maximum clip length of 29 Minutes 59 Seconds in both 4K UHD or HD. The G7 looks like it can be used in either 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios for video recording which will be good news for those interested in using anamorphic lenses.
What is interesting is there are two Cinelike gamma settings available: Cinelike D and Cinelike V. These appear to be the same as those on the GH4 and can be used in manual-mode video recording. Both attempt to create a more film-like image by tweaking the picture’s gamma curve: Gamma D prioritises dynamic range and Gamma V prioritises contrast.
The G7 features an onboard microphone as well as a 3.5mm input for connecting an external mic, but no headphone jack which is a major oversight. Panasonic also offers optional shotgun-style microphones, including the DMW-MS2, that can interface with the camera. The G7 also features a micro HDMI TypeD connector and according to Panasonic can output the following: Auto / 4K / 1080p / 1080i / 720p / 480p (576p in PAL system) with stereo audio. For users wanting to record at a higher quality than is available internally, it does seem that you will be able to record UHD external to either a Atomos Shogun or Odyssey 7Q+.
Other features of the G7 include low-light sensitivity up to ISO 25600, continuous shooting to 8 fps with single-shot AF, as well as a trio of 30 fps shooting rates based on the 4K UHD video recording that Panasonic are calling “4K Photo Modes.” There are three different modes you can choose from that enable you to record continuously at a resolution of 8 MP.
4K Burst: Just as with video recording, this mode will allow you to continuously record 8 MP images at 30 fps for up to 29 min. 59 sec., making it ideal for instances where you need a fast frame rate in order to capture the best moment. 4K Pre-Burst: This mode is ideal for times when you’re unsure of the critical moment to press the shutter button and will record 8 MP images at 30 fps one second prior to and one second after pressing the shutter button in order to give you 60 frames to choose from. 4K Burst (S/S): This mode most closely follows the 4K video recording process, and allows you to playback your video, pause at the chosen moment, and use the shutter button to mark a chosen frame from the video and save it as a single 8 MP frame.
Complementing the fast burst shooting modes is a DFD autofocus system, which works to boost focusing speeds and, according to Panasonic, ‘emphasise accurate subject tracking for consistently sharp imagery in fast-paced and trying working conditions’.
If you are familiar with Panasonic cameras such as the GH4 you will find the design of the G7 very similar. The camera features physical exposure control dials, six customizable function buttons, a high-resolution EVF and 3″ tilting touchscreen LCD, and built-in Wi-Fi for wireless sharing and remote camera control.
The G7 does lack some of the more advanced video functionality of the GH4, but for those looking for a small digital camera that bridges the gap between stills and video this may well be the camera you have been looking for. The G7 will be available at the end of June for $797.99 US with an included 14-42mm lens, or with a 14-140mm lens for $1097.99 US. There is no indication on whether the camera will be available to purchase without a lens at this stage.
Video Recording Options: MP4 UHD
3840 x 2160p / 30 fps (100 Mbps)
3840 x 2160p / 24 fps (100 Mbps)
High Definition MP4
1920 x 1080p / 60 fps (28 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 30 fps (20 Mbps)
High Definition MP4
1280 x 720p / 30 fps (10 Mbps)
Standard Definition MP4
640 x 480p / 30 fps (4 Mbps)
High Definition AVCHD
1920 x 1080p / 60 fps (28 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 30 fps (24 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 24 fps (24 Mbps)
High Definition AVCHD
1920 x 1080i / 60 fps (17 Mbps)
Aspect Ratio: 4:3, 16:9
Video Clip Length: Up to 29 Minutes 59 Seconds
Audio Recording Built-in Mic: With Video, Stereo
Optional External Mic: With Video, Stereo
Other Camera Features:
-An electronic shutter function affords both a high top shutter speed of 1/16,000 sec. as well as silent operation for quick, inconspicuous shooting.
-UHS-II SDHC/SDXC memory cards are supported in order to benefit the high-resolution, data-intensive 4K movie and raw burst shooting workflows.
-An Electronic Level Gauge can be used to help ensure level horizons and plumb verticals.
-HDR (High Dynamic Range) automatically composites several images of varying exposures in order to gain greater highlight and shadow details and an extensive middle range of tones.
-A built-in pop-up flash provides additional illumination for photographing in difficult lighting conditions, and features a guide number of 20.3′ at ISO 100.
-A Panorama mode automatically stitches together multiple images in order to realize one wide-spanning horizontal or vertical image.
-Photo Style modes: Standard, Vivid, Natural, Monochrome, Scenery, Portrait, Custom, Cinelike D, and Cinelike V.
-Creative Control modes: Expressive, Retro, Old Days, High Key, Low Key, Sepia, Monochrome, Dynamic Monochrome, Rough Monochrome, Silky Monochrome, Impressive Art, High Dynamic, Cross Process, Toy Effect, Toy Pop, Bleach Bypass, Miniature Effect, Soft Focus, Fantasy, Star Filter, One Point Color, and Sunshine.
-Language support: English, Japanese, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese (Traditional).