Rules are made to be broken: Five filmmaking rules Pete Pattisson says you should sometimes ignore

Guest post by Pete Pattisson:

When the DSLR filmmaking revolution took off in 2008, a set of ‘rules’ soon emerged about how to get the most out of these cameras’ video capabilities: shoot in manual mode, record audio separately, use a rig, and so on.

The ‘rules’ are still a useful set of guidelines for filmmaking with DSLR cameras (and mirrorless ones), but I find myself increasingly ignoring them. Perhaps that’s because they were developed for filmmakers who mainly shoot adverts or corporate videos (whereas I make documentaries), but it’s also because camera technology has advanced so far in the past seven years. Like many people, I recently sold all my Canon gear and bought the Sony a7S, and it’s cameras like this which are re-writing the rules of filmmaking.

The Sony a7S has become a popular tool for web video shooters

The Sony a7S has become a popular tool for web video shooters

This became obvious when I made a short documentary for the Guardian about the Gadhimai festival – the world’s biggest animal sacrifice. The event is held once every five years in Nepal, in honour of the Hindu goddess Gadhimai. By some estimates, over a million devotees attend, and over one hundred thousand animals are sacrificed, all in the space of two days. The event has attracted fierce criticism from animal rights activists, but for those who take part, it is an important and intimate opportunity to thank the goddess Gadhimai.

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Journalists were barred from the compound where the buffaloes were killed, so I had to rely on other means to get the footage. One problem with the Sony a7S is that when you have a tripod plate screwed in, the screen cannot tilt downwards, so in this case I was shooting blind.

Journalists were barred from the compound where the buffaloes were killed, so I had to rely on other means to get the footage. One problem with the Sony a7S is that when you have a tripod plate screwed in, the screen cannot tilt downwards, so in this case I was shooting blind.

With so many people gathered in one place, there was little time (or space) to set up shots or predict what would happen next. It was true documentary filmmaking, which by my definition, is a film in which you have very little control of what is going on around you. In circumstances like these, some of the tenets of DSLR filmmaking may be more of a hindrance than a help. So here are five ‘rules’ of DSLR filmmaking which I think are sometimes worth breaking:

1. Always focus manually:
Of all the ‘rules’, using manual focus seems to be the most sacred, but cameras like the Canon 7D MkII and the 70D now have such good autofocus that there are many instances where it may be a better option for filming news and documentaries.

The autofocus on the Sony a7S (with Sony lenses) is also excellent, and transitions in a nice, natural way, even in low light. When I was trying to get shots in the chaos of the festival, it proved invaluable. I tend to set my focus to constant AF, and then use the AF/MF button to lock it on manual focus when necessary. I still don’t nail the focus every time, but I do so more often than when I was just relying on manual focus.

2. Always shoot in manual mode:
I still use manual mode the majority of the time, but in the middle of the crowds of the Gadhimai festival, I sometimes switched to shutter priority mode and/or auto ISO. This really freed me up to concentrate on composition, or simply staying on my feet. The high ISO capability of the a7S is of course legendary, but I do think there’s a risk you overdo it – you still get noise with high ISOs and personally I try not go to above 12800.

3. Always record audio externally:
This advice makes sense when you’ve got plenty of time, but for quick turnarounds I’ve always found that I could get pretty good audio directly in camera, even with a Canon 60D; and the internal audio in the Sony a7S is better than in the Canons. Being able to change audio levels while recording is another strength of the a7S, although I find the Beachtek MCC-2 is an invaluable accessory, which gives me two audio inputs which can be controlled (or at least lowered) separately, as well as two points to add a light or wireless mics.

An a7S and three on a bike - the only way to negotiate the vast crowds and traffic jams.

Three on a bike and little room for a big kit – the only way to negotiate the vast crowds and traffic jams.

4. Invest in top quality lenses:
Sure, if you have a bottomless bank account, it makes sense to buy the best lenses on the market. But you certainly don’t need them to make decent films. When I bought the a7S, I had the option of buying the Sony FE 24-70mm f4, which at the time cost around £1000, or the Sony FE 28-70mm kit lens, which costs a little over £200. I chose the latter, and I find it excellent. For online news video, I very much doubt anyone could tell the difference.

5. Use a rig:
There are no doubt plenty of people in the DSLR video accessories business who would disagree, but I can’t help but think that many of the rigs, EVFs and cages on the market are not essential for good filmmaking. This is partly because cameras like the Panasonic GH4 and a7S have built-in viewfinders, but also because part of the joy of these cameras is their small size. My Sony fits in my jacket pocket, with the lens attached. You’ve got to ask whether the extra functionality you might gain from accessories outweighs the speed and intimacy you lose by having them.

My advice is to take the ‘rules’ of filmmaking with a pinch of salt. After all, rules are made to be broken.

Pete Pattisson is a freelance video journalist. You can find out more about his work on his website.

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Posted on January 31st, 2015 by Pete Pattisson | Category: documentary, DSLR video news, Journalism, Sony a7S | Permalink | Comments (0)

Atomos Shogun 4K recorder gets bigger battery – existing owners can upgrade their old battery

By technical editor Matt Allard:

The biggest complaints from early adopters of the Atomos Shogun has been regarding battery life. Users report they are only getting 30-40 minutes out of the NP-F type battery included in the kit. In a direct response Atomos CEO Jeromy Young has announced that all new Shoguns that are shipping from the end of January will include a larger battery. The battery is double the capacity of the existing version and is rated at 5600mAh.

If your an existing Shogun owner Atomos will upgrade your old battery for the larger version free of charge. You will have to register your Shogun online and then you will be placed on a list and notified when your new battery can be shipped out. It is good to see Atomos address this issue directly and the fact they are now rectifying it is something we don’t often see from companies.

Update- This is what Atomos CEO Jeromy Young told us: “We want our product to be the best it can be and that means evolving over time. It became clear after real world use in extreme environments that our users would be better served with larger battery. Because customer service is at the core of our business we decided to give our users larger batteries immediately.”

Just how the bigger battery effects the weight distribution when using the Shogun on top of a smaller camera such as a Sony a7S or Panasonic GH4 will be interesting to see.

The Atomos Power bar is another solution that would give users even longer battery life, but unfortunately it is not available until March. You can of course also power the Shogun from larger V-lock or Anton Bauer batteries via D-tap.

Posted on January 29th, 2015 by Matthew Allard | Category: 4K, External recorders | Permalink | Comments (0)

FAA imposes “No Drone Zone over Superbowl” – Could Fotokite be a safer way for news shooters to get great aerials?

By technical editor Matt Allard:

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is so concerned about people flying drones over the upcoming Superbowl that they have released a video featuring the slogan “Don’t spoil the game, leave your drone at home.” The online campaign even has the Twitter hashtag #NoDroneZone.

According to the FAA it is prohibited to fly unauthorized aircraft, such as a drone, over or near any NFL games, not just Sunday’s championship game. The same restriction also applies to Major League Baseball games, and any college sporting event taking place in a stadium that seats at least 30,000 fans, as well as some Nascar events. Anyone caught breaking these rules could be detained by law enforcement and wind up facing jail time or a fine.


Last year an unmanned aircraft flew into Bank of America Stadium during a preseason game between the Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs. The operator of the drone was questioned by police but subsequently released.

The use of drones at major news events in a safe and legal way is something that has troubled many news organisations – from long before the latest FAA regulations were introduced. Two years ago, at NAB, Newsshooter editor Dan Chung and I discussed the possibility of building a drone that could be deployed and used safely as well as providing a live picture and power through a tethered cable. We talked in over with some manufacturers and experts but ultimately didn’t take it forward.

Clearly we weren’t the only ones thinking about this kind of thing as start-up Fotokite have come up with a similar concept. They have developed a tethered drone system that provides what they claim is a safer, easier way to get aerial shots. There is a visible, load-bearing physical tether that clearly signals the operator’s location to anyone in the vicinity – be they bystanders or property owners. The concept is that the operator is in complete control of the device at all times (although I guess that would depend on the competency of the operator). The have had interest from news organisations and in particular the BBC.

The Fotokite

The Fotokite

Because the Fotokite is tethered and the power is supplied from the ground it can stay operational for hours, unlike traditional drone systems. For news and event coverage this is certainly a big selling point. The ability to deploy a small drone quickly using a readily available GoPro camera and maintain a level of control over it is crucial for news organisations. The Fotokite doesn’t require detailed knowledge of drone flying and would be far easier to use and control for someone with limited experience than say a DJI Phantom or Inspire 1.

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As far as the regulations go, Fotokite claim that “the Fotokite shares fundamental attributes with conventional kites and is thus welcomed by safety experts as a safe, more reliable way to access aerial perspectives, especially near crowds.” What the FAA and other international airspace regulators think may of course be quite different.

While it is definitely safer to have a tethered drone I still do see some potential problems. If the tether cable gets caught on any object and snaps or breaks the drone will just fall out of the sky as its only source of power comes through the tether connection (Edit: Fotokite tell us that there is an onboard battery that can take over in the event of power from the tether being cut off). There may be a possibility of the tether catching or tangling around objects or people – exactly like a regular kite.

I do think the Fotokite has a lot of potential for news, documentary and event shooters. The fact that the BBC has been testing it shows that mainstream news organisations are very serious about looking into safer ways of capturing unique aerial perspectives.

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Posted on January 29th, 2015 by Matthew Allard | Category: Drones | Permalink | Comments (0)

White House (drones) down – DJI firmware to impose no fly zone over downtown DC

By site editor Dan Chung:

The DJI Phantom with a GoPro Hero

The DJI Phantom with a GoPro Hero

DJI are releasing a mandatory firmware upgrade that will prevent users from flying their Phantom series quadcopters in a 15.5 mile radius area of downtown Washington DC, they have announced today. Coming two days after a DJI drone crashed into a tree on the White House lawn, the move is likely designed to allay the fears of regulators.

DJI were already planning to implement a wider no fly zone policy increasing on the current version that prevents flight around US airports. This will cover other areas where flight is restricted by local authorities. In China a similar restriction in DJI’s drones prevents flight in the centre of Beijing around sensitive government buildings and national landmarks.

How these restrictions will be dealt with in other DJI multirotors designed for professional operators is unclear at this stage. The larger Spreadwings series and Inspire 1 are not mentioned in DJI’s press release – maybe because professional operators are deemed more likely to comply with rules and regulations. (EDIT – I’ve just spoken to DJI who told me that the Inspire 1 and Spreadwings series are currently not flight restricted in the same way but this may change in the future).

Here is the full statement from DJI:

Hong Kong, (28 January 2015) – DJI will release a mandatory firmware update for the Phantom 2, Phantom 2 Vision, and Phantom 2 Vision+ to help users comply with the FAA’s Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) 0/8326, which restricts unmanned flight around the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

The updated firmware (V3.10) will be released in coming days and adds a No-Fly Zone centered on downtown Washington, DC and extends for a 25 kilometer (15.5 mile) radius in all directions. Phantom pilots in this area will not be able to take off from or fly into this airspace.

The restriction is part of a planned extension of DJI’s No Fly Zone system that prohibits flight near airports and other locations where flight is restricted by local authorities. These extended no fly zones will include over 10,000 airports registered with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and will expand no fly zones to ensure they cover the runways at major international airports.

DJI is also continuing to update its no fly zone list in compliance with local regulations to include additional sensitive locations and to prevent flight across national borders.

These new safety features will be released across DJI’s flying platforms in the near future.

“With the unmanned aerial systems community growing on a daily basis, we feel it is important to provide pilots additional tools to help them fly safely and responsibly,” said Michael Perry, DJI’s company spokesperson. “We will continue cooperating with regulators and lawmakers to ensure the skies stay safe and open for innovation.”

Posted on January 28th, 2015 by Dan Chung | Category: Drones | Permalink | Comments (0)

Control Final Cut Pro or Premiere using an iPad with the CTRL+ Console app

By technical editor Matt Allard:

The CTRL+ Console turns your iPad or iPad mini into a editing control surface or editor console for Final Cut Pro X, Final Cut Pro 7 and Adobe Premiere. By downloading the CTRL+ Console app and installing the downloadable software on either a Mac or Windows computer you can get responsive control over numerous key features of your editing system.

There is also gesture control that allows you to keep your eyes on your footage for the most common editing tasks. Jog and shuttle through your footage, mark in and out, and then insert the footage into your timeline – all through multitouch gestures done anywhere on the iPad.

I tried out CTRL+ Final Cut Pro version and was impressed. It was just as responsive as using my mouse or trackpad and gave me access to commonly used features. I liked using it with my left hand and kept my right hand on the mouse. It didn’t take me long to become familiar and comfortable with the control surface. No two editors do things the same way but I think CTRL+ is really quite simple to adapt to.


It is quite hard to find any negative aspects about CTRL+ Console – especially given its low price. If I was to be very critical I would have liked to be given the ability to access the effects window directly from the control surface in FCPX.

Versions Available:

• Quicktime® CONTROLLER (free)
• Adobe Premiere® Pro CONTROLLER ($4.99)
• Adobe Premiere® Pro EDITOR ($29.99)
• Final Cut Pro® CONTROLLER ($4.99)
• Final Cut Pro® EDITOR ($29.99)

• Mac and PC compatible (OS X 10.6+, Win XP+)
• Desktop application:
- FCP 7 or X
- Adobe Premiere CS 5.0, 5.5, 6.0 or CC
- Quicktime Player 7+
• WiFi connection
• CTRL+Console desktop application

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Posted on January 28th, 2015 by Matthew Allard | Category: Video editing | Permalink | Comments (5)

Abelcine show us how to record RAW from the Sony FS7 using the XDCA-FS-7 and Odyssey 7Q

By technical editor Matt Allard:

Our good friends at Abelcine last week released an easy to follow instructional video on how to record RAW from the FS7 using the optional Sony XDCA-FS-7. The XDCA-FS-7 extension unit attaches to the back of the FS7 and provides inputs and outputs, as well as the ability to export RAW for external recording. In addition, the XDCA-FS7 extension contains a codec board that enables ProRes 422 recording internally to XQD media – although this function is not currently enabled.

The Sony XDCA-FS-7

The Sony XDCA-FS-7

You can record 2K or 4K RAW to the Sony AXS-R5 or in this example to the Odyssey 7Q. Be aware that you need to purchase the Sony FS RAW Option to record RAW to the Odyssey 7Q/7Q+.

The Sony AXS-R5 recorder

The Sony AXS-R5 recorder

For FS7 owners the Odyssey 7Q/7Q+ is a much more cost effective way of recording 2K/4K Raw than using Sony’s own solution. Here is a breakdown of costs to record Raw for both systems:

Sony Solution

Sony XDCA-FS-7 $1999US
Sony AXS-R5 $5350US
Sony HXR-IFR5 $2200US
Sony AXS-A512S24 512GB $1800US
Sony AXS-CR1 Card Reader $550US

TOTAL: $11899US

Sony/Convergent Design Solution
Sony XDCA-FS-7 $1999US
Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q $1795US
Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q+ $2295US (currently includes two free 256GB drives)
Convergent Design 512GB SSD $795US
Convergent Design FS Raw Option $795US


Posted on January 27th, 2015 by Matthew Allard | Category: 4K, External recorders, Monitors, RAW shooting, Sony FS7, Uncategorized | Permalink | Comments (0)

Panasonic GH4 firmware v2.1 finally released

By site editor Dan Chung:


After a few weeks delay, Panasonic have today made their latest v2.1 firmware for the GH4 available. It has a range of performance enhancements mainly geared towards better operation with the Atomos Shogun 4K external recorder. A start/stop signal can now be embedded into the HDMI output allowing for easier simultaneous recording to camera and recorder. In FHD mode you can output 30 and 25P signals via HDMI while recording internally at those frame rates.

As we were previously told, one thing missing from this release is the V-log gamma curve that was spotted recently by our technical editor Matt Allard at the InterBEE trade show in Japan. There is still no official confirmation of when, or if, this is going to be released.

You can download the new firmware here.

Here is the info from the Panasonic:

Time code can be embedded to the HDMI output signal.
– Selectable in Motion Picture menu : [Time Code]>[HDMI Time Code Output]
* Available when DMC-GH4 or DMW-YAGH are connected with the products of ATOMOS Global Pty. Ltd. or the products complying with the extended specifications of ATOMOS Global Pty. Ltd..
RSS (Recording Start/Stop) signal can be embedded to the HDMI output signal.
– Selectable in Motion Picture menu : [HDMI Rec Output]>[HDMI Recording Control]
* Available when DMC-GH4 or DMW-YAGH are connected with the products of ATOMOS Global Pty. Ltd. or the products complying with the extended specifications of ATOMOS Global Pty. Ltd..
FHD at 30p/25p native output via HDMI is available while recording video in FHD at 30p/25p.
– Selectable in Motion Picture menu : [HDMI Rec Output]>[1080/30p Set.] or [1080/25p Set.]
Playback performance of recorded 4K video is improved.
[Time Lapse Shot] Program is fixed to start recording at the designated time even when [summer time] is set.

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Posted on January 26th, 2015 by Dan Chung | Category: 4K, Panasonic GH4 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Viewfactor announce DLCM-1 digital servo motor – a smaller, lighter alternative for remote lens control

By site editor Dan Chung:

The DLCM-1 lens motor

The DLCM-1 lens motor

Once upon a time, focus servo motors were strictly limited to the high end of cinema shooting; they were prohibitively expensive and never seen on lower budget shoots. Each motor allows control of focus, iris or zoom via either a wired, or more commonly wireless, controller.

However, the arrival of lower cost large sensor cameras, brushless gimbals and innovative motion control devices has created a greater need to maintain precise focus when the camera is moving. The cost of wireless focus has also come down massively in the past few years. There are now several very cheap systems that use servo motors designed for radio controlled cars – but these are often noisy and don’t have the torque required to smoothly move stiffer lenses, especially cinema ones. Established manufacturers of professional systems have tried to tempt users into getting a ‘serious’ system by creating less expensive versions of their high end digital systems. C-motion, Heden, ARRI, Hocus Products, DVInside and RedrockMicro all sell wireless controllers, receivers and motors kits designed for mid level users.

Even so, these pro systems still cost thousands of dollars and a large part of that cost is the digital servo motor. With the higher end units you can usually use the motor of your choice with the popular Heden M26VE Digital Servo Motor, which costs around $2600 US. RedrockMicro have the reasonably priced microRemote Wireless Bundle starting at just under $2500. Chinese company Tilta have been working on a three motor remote system for some time that is supposed to be aggressively priced.


Viewfactor are the latest company to enter this market with their DLCM-1 lens motor. Recognising the need for small and lighter motors for use on drones and stabilisers, they are developing a new motor that weighs a mere 159g. They claim it can be easily mounted on practically any camera rig. The DLCM-1 uses a “custom high-resolution 10-bit optical encoder as well as a high-torque worm gear reduction to ensure accurate and responsive positioning” and Viewfactor claim it will work with nearly all third party wireless controllers.


The best thing about the DLCM-1 motor is its price: at $1245 US it costs considerably less than some rivals. Of course you still need to add an expensive controller and cables to that cost to make a complete system – but for brushless gimbal and Steadicam professionals, a motor at this price which is so small and light could be just the ticket.


The DLCM-1 is still in the production phase and Viewfactor is taking the opportunity to give prospective owners an insight into how the product is brought to life, keeping them regularly updated on progress via their blog. Delivery is expected in around 7 to 9 weeks.

Here are the official specs:

1- DLCM-1 Motor
1- 15mm Mounting Bracket
1- 0.8 pitch gear
1- Case
Maximum Peak Torque 0.5 Nm (4.4 in-lb)
Maximum Speed 3.3 rev/second (180 rpm)
Encoder Resolution 10-bit (0.35 degrees)
Output Resolution 0.006 degrees
Output Gear 0.8 Mod
Weight (Includes Motor, Output Gear, and 15mm Bracket) 159 g
Power Consumption 3.4 Watts
Voltage 24 Volts Max
Operating Temperature 0°C to + 40°C (-32°F to 104°F)

Posted on January 26th, 2015 by Dan Chung | Category: Brushless gimbals, Follow Focus, Lenses | Permalink | Comments (3)

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