Okay – so I am officially impressed. A week after the Magic Lantern team unveiled their Canon DSLR RAW hack to the world there have already been substantial improvements to its reliability and usability. There is no doubt that the image quality is substantially better than the stock All-I and H.264 encoding of the 5D mkIII. The fact that many older Canon DSLRs are also able to shoot RAW at lower resolutions is also a feat indeed. As other bloggers have pointed out, the RAW-enabled 5D has an aesthetic that is currently almost unique due to the full-frame sensor.
If you already own a 5D mkIII then for some shoots the RAW format may be incredible helpful. There is no denying that the sample RAW footage around the web does look wonderful. Above is a very good example of just what can be achieved by the very talented James Miller; other examples, below, are examples by Andrew Reid of EOSHD and Johnnie Behiri of Cinema5D.
Does the 5D RAW hacked replace cameras like the C300, F3, F5 or FS700 in regular documentary or corporate production? Of course not. But used appropriately, it may have a place. If your shot is repeatable, you have time to redo it if something goes wrong, you don’t need the results in a hurry and are prepared to post-process, and you are not overly worried about potentially damaging your camera or invalidating your warranty, then give it a try. You don’t have to run the hack the whole time, so if you are a 5D shooter then it is a useful trick to have that doesn’t add any weight to your kit bag.
Why don’t I shoot RAW very often on the cameras I own that already have this function? A 5D mkIII shooting 1080P RAW will give you only a few minutes of recording time on a 64GB card – this is similar on my BMCC and KineRAW S35. The post-production workflow is slower and requires more steps than any compressed codec. None of my clients has ever asked for any more than compressed HD. On my shoot this week I’ve been using a Blackmagic Cinema Camera as a second camera to my C300. It can shoot RAW DNG but in my opinion there was no need – I shot Prores instead.
Shooting Prores on the BMCC this week
For the 5D mkIII hack to record 1080P RAW requires a super fast CF card to prevent dropped frames – something like the Komputerbay 1000x 64GB or a Sandisk Extreme Pro. Even with the fastest cards there are reports of occasional recording and image errors.
I know that sooner or later I will be shooting RAW much more often – but that might still be a few years away for most real world shooters (commercial shooters are getting there much sooner, it seems). Before then, recording, storage and post-production options need to improve and get cheaper. Right now I will only shoot RAW if I need the best possible image quality or need the extra latitude for a specific shot that would be hard to expose for any other way. Just what sort of latitude RAW on the 5D mkIII buys you is well demonstrated in this video by Riky Johnson:
Hopefully over coming weeks and months the Magic Lantern team will continue to improve the RAW hack to the point where it is at least as stable as the regular Magic Lantern hack. Extra features like improved reliability in audio recording and spanning of files larger than 4GB will help too. Image artifacts still seem to be present with 5D RAW video – ideally this can be combatted in post or by filtration using a VAF filter from Mosaic design or something similar.
My advice for anyone thinking about using the RAW hack for serious production is to wait. Let the dust settle and then evaluate the hack as a working tool after it is more developed. If you are shooting for fun and enjoy tinkering then by all means give it a go. There are excellent guides on how to set up Magic Lantern RAW over on Cinema5D and EOSHD.
Obviously this invalidates your camera’s warranty so be warned – try at your own peril.
The Kinefinity and Blackmagic alternatives:
NAB 2013 saw other RAW cameras announced that offer what I think is a better solution than a hacked 5D for a similar amount of money – although none of them are also a top rate stills camera or full frame.
The KineRAW mini should be shipping in the next week or so.
The Kinefinity KineRAW Mini is an interesting choice for budget minded shooters looking for a way to get RAW with a large sensor. It has a very nice image and the ability to shoot 2K RAW DNG files to SSD drives. The sensor is a CMOS and is prone to rolling shutter similar to the 5D. Low light sensitivity is not quite as good as the 5D or C300 – there is noise which needs to be removed in post for best results. The camera comes with an electronic EF mount or – for additional money – a short flange PL mount that allows multiple lens adapters to be fitted for different lenses.
But the base unit price is around $3000 and very close to a new 5D mkIII body. The biggest catch for the KineRAW mini is the lack of US and European distribution and support right now. Asia based users can rejoice though. It is available to buy now.
Blackmagic design announced their 4K RAW S35 cinema camera to much fanfare at NAB. They said at the time that they aim to ship in July for just $3995. The camera will have a global shutter and also be able to shoot Prores 422 in addition to CinemaDNG RAW. For now the camera is EF mount only; hopefully a PL version will be along sooner or later. If the image quality is up to spec then it seems like a real bargain – even more so given that it is bundled with a free copy of Davinci Resolve.
Both of these cameras probably make more sense as production tools to be relied on for paying work – but I have to admit may not be half as much fun as the hacked 5D.
The Canon EOS-6D with Mosaic engineering VAF filter
Canon’s full-frame EOS-6D has been largely ignored by most keen DSLR video shooters, mainly because it has bad moire and false colour artifacts in its video image. This was ably demonstrated by Dslrnewsshooter contributor Johnnie Behiri a few weeks ago when he shot this video using the camera. The camera also lacks a headphone jack despite its nearest competitor – the Nikon D600 – featuring one.
Even so, the camera does have a few things going in its favour. It has a reasonably sharp video image and at least a third cheaper than a 5D mkIII, depending where you are in the world. It is also smaller and lighter than its big sister.
But image quality is often what counts and to fix this, Mosaic engineering have launched a version of their VAF anti-aliasing filter specifically for the 6D, which should help turn the 6D into a better tool. For those unfamiliar with the previous VAF filter for the 5D mkII, this is a small unit that fits right inside the camera – fixing the mirror in the up position.
What does it do? Simply put, the filter blurs the image just enough to match the video resolution of the camera’s sensor. The aliasing and the moire are caused by the camera’s processing making errors downscaling the image to HD from the much larger 20 megapixel image captured. By adding a VAF filter the result is much improved.
To prove just how well it works Mosaic have posted the video below. Please log in and download it from Vimeo to get a better idea of the image quality.
As you can see the aliasing is not entirely gone, but the difference is obvious. I am confident that after tweaking the picture profile of the camera, the end result with a VAF filter should actually be pretty nice.
As with previous VAF filters it should not be used for stills as it softens the image far too much. That means removing it between stills and video shooting, which might put multimedia shooters off.
There is also a shift to the back-focus setting of the lens, which means that the distance scale will be rendered inaccurate. Early versions of the filter for the 5D mkII also had very soft and dark corners with wide angle lenses. Mosaic claim to have improved both back-focus shifts and wide angle performance with a new second version for the 5D mkII. The 6D version should share these improvements but I haven’t tested it.
At $365 US this filter is not cheap, but it does seem to do what it claims.
Side note: 6D audio improvements
One thing that has also been mostly overlooked is that the manual audio levels on the 6D have a nice feature letting you switch on a mic-input attenuator to allow direct connection to the output of an audio recorder. This is great in a dual system sound setup because you can monitor the audio from the recorder as well as sending it to the camera (although you might need a headphone splitter cable or recorder with both a line out and a headphone jack). In some cases the audio sent to the camera might even be good enough to use as primary audio.
So where does this leave the 6D? It will be interesting to test the quality of image out of the camera with VAF filter against the 5D mkII and mkIII. Until that is done it’s very hard to say. One thing is for sure – I’m not expecting miracles, so don’t expect it to beat a Canon C300.
However, if you are a student, on a budget, or are an EOS video shooter who wants a full-frame camera, then it is certainly one of the least expensive ways to go. Add the price of the VAF filter and it is a slightly different proposition. Other options at a similar cost include a new or used 5D mkII, or one of Sony’s NEX cameras with a Metabones EF to NEX Speedbooster adapter. Of course adding the VAF gets you much closer to the price of a new 5D mkIII.
Let’s see if the 6D with VAF will have the best image of them all – it is entirely possible.
Steve Sunk, an Australian of the Year Awards finalist, is a master chef who teaches indigenous Australians western cooking techniques so they can get a job and cook nutritious meals for their families. He’s well-known as “the Walkabout Chef” but when I was on a mate’s property I read an article in OUTBACK magazine about Steve as a weapons maker, not a chef. In the article I saw stills of Steve in his shed – red hot steel on the end of a long metal rod, a big flame shooting from an oven, an anvil like in the cartoons, and a magnificent display of various hunting knives with bone handles.
I contacted Steve in January this year, told him about my idea for the video profile and he said “let’s do it”. He lives outside Darwin in the Northern Territory. I thought Queensland summers were miserable; he told me I couldn’t come any time soon because it was still summer i.e. wet season and I’d die. He’d be back from the bush for a week or two in July – the window was set.
The gear for the shoot
I packed a carry-on and a bag to check for my flight. My carry-on was a 1450 Pelican case with:
Canon 5D mkII
Canon 550D (Rebel T2i) Zoom H4n audio recorder
Sony UWP-V1 wireless mic kit Rode VideoMic Pro Canon 24-105mm f4L IS
Canon 70-200 2.8mm f2.8L IS II
100mm macro 2.8 (non L version)
Tram TR-50 wired lavalier
In my checked bag I had a Fancier FT-717 tripod, friction arm, suction mount and Gorillapod, along with clothes, books, toothbrush etc.
The Fancier tripod with home made recorder and wireless mount
I landed in Darwin, picked up the van which doubled as my week’s accommodation and hired two 1×1 LED panels. I met Steve and we got to work. I had a vague idea of what the shed looked like from the magazine photos. The plan was for Steve to make a battle axe from an old English hammer, then a knife from Damascus forged steel.
I had a shot list but no strict storyboard. Steve had no idea what I was doing. Sometimes he’d explain what he was doing; otherwise he worked as if I wasn’t there. I had to be quick because I wasn’t familiar enough with the process to know whether a certain action would be repeated. I tried to anticipate his movement to let him enter and leave the frame as much as possible. I didn’t really get any cutaways so this saved me during the edit. There are a couple jump cuts, but hopefully none too jarring.
For sound at the beginning of the shoot I taped the wireless lavalier to the inside of his shirt. I let the zoom run for long clips. For a shoot like this the wireless is your best friend. Even with the belt grinder going you can hear what he says. It was so hot in the shed with the oven/general temperature Steve’s shirt got soaked and the taped lavalier fell off. Listening through headphones I thought something was wrong with the microphone until I realised it was dragging in the dirt at his feet. After lunch he changed shirts and I could re-tape the microphone.
You have to be alert when the subject starts talking. I treated any speech as a live shot. If you decide what they’re saying won’t be included then you can make a more efficient adjustment to the shot. I think these live moments add to the video versus having his interview voiceover alone. I decided to do an audio only interview, which got the voiceover.
I didn’t need to use my backup Canon 550D. I swapped between the 24-105mm and 70-200mm, sometimes with the 2x extender. Some transitions between steps of the blade-making process weren’t flexible – he couldn’t wait for me to set up – so the two zoom lenses made the most sense. I attached the audio recorder to a metal bracket and a screw, and the wireless receiver clipped onto a metal plate I screwed into the pan handle. At the end of the day I used the macro lens for the final three shots. In the last shot you can see a tiny spider crawling on the blade.
For the grade I used the Cinestyle profile and pushed the shadows towards a blue liked, while trying to stay true to his skin tone.
The shoot was one full day. Steve ended up giving me the axe – a huge honour.
Sue Austin is a performance artist whose ambition is to transform perceptions around wheelchair users. After many years of being bedbound, the wheelchair gives her freedom. For many, a wheelchair signifies the end of something; for her, it’s just a start.
I first came across Sue in my local swimming pool, where she was trying out her modified wheelchair. Despite spending many years running around the world covering different stories nothing quite prepared me for the sheer impact of seeing Sue ‘flying’ underwater in her NHS wheelchair. I guess that says a lot about my subconscious perception of disability and what a wheelchair represents. Within seconds, I’d got it: it was quite a visual shock – wheelchairs trundle along the ground. They don’t fly free, let alone underwater.
But Sue has adapted her wheelchair with battery powered propellers first developed for the US Navy divers and large perspex aerofoils to control turns. She is in the process of applying for a patent and hopes that one day these chairs will be made available at diving centres across the world.
She invited me to join her ‘Freewheeling‘ team. I was in. My role was to collaborate with Sue and help express her vision. As a story teller, I have always been interested in ordinary people whose passion and determination leads them to achieve extraordinary things – I guess it’s life affirming. Sue’s passion is to change what she sees as negative perceptions around wheelchairs for both users and non users. I think her project goes further than that; it inspires us all to face whatever personal challenge we may have.
Also, I’d been a keen diver for several years and had always wanted to do something special underwater. This was my opportunity. Shooting underwater? No problem: whack a Canon 5D mkII in a housing and off we’d go. How little did I know.
Aquatica's 5D mkII underwater housing
The first issue was selecting the housing. With help from Cameras Underwater I soon learnt it’s not just the housing; you have to select an appropriate ‘extension ring’ to match the lens used. Then there’s the port, which is like a giant front element which the lens looks through. Wide angle lenses are critical when shooting large objects underwater; the closer you can get to your subject, the less water and floating ‘debris’ to degrade your image. I’m kinda wedded to my beloved Leica R lenses and was disappointed that no one makes extensions to fit. So I went for a Canon 16-35mm f2.8L lens, which seems to be a standard for many underwater shooters. The quality of the Aquatica housing and their support made them an easy choice. It was while testing in the pool that I realized the physics of digital imaging changes underwater. At first focusing was an issue as the focus point is a virtual image created roughly a metre in front of the 8in dome port lens – I resorted to prefocusing on my fins and was able to shoot at approx f5.6 at 160 asa at 16mm.
Colour management was also a learning curve as water acts as a selective filter; red is the first colour to disappear, followed by orange, yellow and green depending on your depth. This was managed by employing the appropriately named ‘magic filter’ from Magic Filters http://www.magic-filters.com/about.html but still required custom white balancing for every couple of metres of depth.
The housing was a revelation. Combined with my diving buoyancy skills it was like having a Steadicam underwater. Everything was so balanced that if I let go of the camera it would almost hang motionless in the water.
Diving with the 5D mkII / Photo by Ben Davies
We filmed the project in the Red Sea around Sharm el Sheik, Egypt. Diving has been described as like going for a spacewalk, as you float in a semi-weightless environment with your own life support system on your back. Keeping a camera steady on an inanimate object is a major challenge, let alone trying to follow an acrobatic wheelchair which is also floating around in three planes. To make things even more unpredictable, Sue could hardly see due to her aesthetic of not wearing a diving mask. Managing the shoot was, let’s say, interesting… Especially as we were trying to get 5D footage, panoramic Go-Pro footage and stills in each 25-minute diving window. Luckily we had expert help from the immensely experienced instructors at the Camel Dive Club and a team of helpers to act as safety divers and to carry the equipment to make our ‘bubble curtains’ for Sue to swim through.
Even so, constant fear of the housing flooding made for a very nervous novice. When shooting a night dive, the housing’s onboard moisture alarm starting flashing and beeping. Only at 15m I risked a fast ascent to the surface and swam back to the boat with the camera balanced on top of my head fearing the worst. When I opened the housing everything was dry! – an amazing testament to the sensitivity of the alarm. Don’t leave home without one.
360 panoramic film
Part of Sue’s commission was to supply a 360 degree film to be shown at Plymouth University’s ICCI 360 Dome as part of the Paralympic celebrations. They had a rig engineered which would allow 6 GoPros to be mounted giving a 360 degree view.
The Pano rig with six GoPro cameras / Photo by Ben Davies
This was then suspended from a lighting stand to ensure the operator was out of shot.
Photo by Ben Davies
The footage from each camera was then edited by Sue and matched up in a 9600×1080 frame with a 10% overlap. This was then ‘edge blended’ using propriety software from Igloo Vision and then projected in a 360 degree Dome. The audience sat in the centre surrounded by the action.
The 360 degree dome projection
As a result of our initial shoot in the Red Sea , the organizing committee of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games commissioned a film of Sue underwater with the Paralympic torch. This was shown at the 2012 Flame festivals as part of the Opening Celebrations of the Paralympics. For licensing reasons we can’t embed the film here but you can see it here.
Norman Lomax is a former UK Sports Photographer of the Year. Norman spent many years freelancing for Europe’s premier magazines along with stints as a staffer at The Independent and The Observer Newspapers. Always a frustrated film-maker, he has become recently re-energised by the technical revolution in digital video which he believes allows traditional photography skills to be applied to moving image. He is based on the South Coast of England and has set up his own production company, Moving Content.
China’s rural to urban migration has always fascinated me; my first ever student project was documenting China’s Three Gorges dam. I’d read about the scale of the migration so I travelled to China to witness it for myself. I spent time cruising the Yangtze, capturing on camera the fast-disappearing old villages and towns.
Even more shocking than the scale of the migration was the way that rural communities were being squeezed into high-rise apartments in diabolically planned new cities. Villagers complained that while they had new houses, their lives and livelihoods had been taken away. I did another project (Living in the Shadows) in 2008 with David Campbell. This time it was a more typical Chinese migration scenario; rural parents moving to Shanghai in search of a better life for their kids, even if that sometimes meant leaving their offspring behind.
The idea for ‘Ahong’s story‘ came after reading a research report claiming that more than half of young migrant males received such low wages that many were ashamed to ask girls for dates. I thought of doing a migrant love story featuring both male and female perspectives. But then I chanced upon Ahong. His story encapsulates the wider experience and frustration of young migrants and his self-awareness and honesty are compelling. He really expresses how conflicting it is for rural youth to migrate and have all these new opportunities and changed life expectations and at the same time have such limited chances of actually achieving them. Socially, he seems in a total no man’s land, no longer able to relate to his old friends but disconnected from urban youth in Beijing. He has little time or money to build a real life.
I had limited time with Ahong, because of his busy schedule. I knew at the time I likely only had one shot and focused on getting a really intimate interview. I wanted people to connect with Ahong and I wanted to show more than a one-dimensional ‘migrant character’. I wanted to shoot another session to get some visually stronger b-roll, but sadly Ahong left on a trip out of town before I could do this.
Working with the Canon 5D mkII
Sony' UWP wireless laveliere microphone set
My equipment was low-key to suit the assignment, which was a good move as it was difficult to get Ahong to talk initially, although once he started he couldn’t stop.
The set up I used was very simple: a Canon 5D mkII, Sony UWP wireless lavaliere and a Rode Videomic. The Sony lav has become a key piece of my equipment, small and innocuous enough to carry everywhere and deliver good quality audio plugged straight into camera via minijack, with no XLR boxes or separate recorders. Of course there are better options, but it works for me. A PBS senior producer even asked me how I got such good audio. Lenses were a fixed 24mm, 50mm and 70-200mm, all carried in Thinktank’s wired-up bag, which I love.
I edited two versions, one for Global Post and one for PBS Newshour. Both were edited in Adobe Premiere. Sharron Lovell is a multimedia journalist and educator based in China. You can see more of her work in her website.
Twenty six year old Mike Anderson is a talented shooter who has been shooting for NBC Bay Area. Most of his video work is on DSLRs and he was recently awarded an Emmy in the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences 41st Annual Northern California Area Emmy Awards. He took the time to answer a few of my questions:
Who do you work for?
For about two-and-a-half years, I worked for NBC Bay Area, also known as KNTV. It’s the NBC owned-and-operated TV station in the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area. Actually, I’m excited to start a new job soon at Cisco at the end of July – working with their Social Media Communications team. I will be focusing on creating video content for Cisco’s technology news website, The Network. Here we will focus on NBC though.
What was your job exactly?
My official title at NBC was Content Producer, but it’s always difficult to define what I do because I actually do what traditionally required 10 different people. That’s the challenging state of the news business today. The coolest part of my job was creating video pieces that aired on TV stations across the United States. I was responsible for pitching and researching story ideas, scheduling shoots and interviews, shooting video, recording sound, lighting, writing, editing, encoding – the list goes on and on. I also got to shoot some fun still photo assignments like a future airplane being tested in a gigantic wind tunnel and President Barack Obama, when he visited town. Some people might call me a “one-man band” or “multimedia journalist”. The one thing I haven’t done yet, and have no desire to do at this point, is be an on-camera talent. I prefer being behind the scenes.
I also worked heavily on the station’s 24/7 news website, NBCBayArea.com, which feeds content to MSNBC.com and other news sites. I was basically a web producer/editor responsible for curating the homepage and making sure the site stayed fresh and relevant throughout my shift. The site primarily covers local news, sports and the Silicon Valley tech scene. So I posted articles, selected photos, wrote headlines and blog posts, set up live video streams from the news helicopter, updated social media followers and all that sort of stuff. In online news, the deadline is always now. It can be a terribly high-stress, high-pressure environment, especially working in a busy TV newsroom. Sometimes people are yelling, phones are ringing, police scanners are buzzing and hundreds of unread emails are always waiting. It’s a challenging job, for sure, but it’s also very exciting. I definitely enjoyed getting away from the newsroom to shoot video, though.
You are just 26 years old. How did someone like you get a cool job like that?
I get this question a lot, usually from sarcastic coworkers who like to tease me about how lucky I am. I hope my talents played a small part, but luck also had something to do with it. I graduated from the journalism/photojournalism program at San Jose State University in early 2010, and a requirement before graduation was to complete one internship. I ended up landing three internships and NBC Bay Area was one of them. On my first day as a web intern, my manager told me he was leaving NBC to work somewhere else. My internship could have fallen apart right there, but fortunately, the rest of the web team quickly adopted me. The unpaid internship was supposed to last for three months, but I stuck around for nine because I was getting great experience. Eventually, a new manager came in who wanted to take the site in a new direction, with a heavier focus on original video content. That’s when I sort of raised my hand and said, “I can do video!” (I have actually been creating video most of my life. Even as a young boy, I can remember using my parents’ clunky VHS camera to shoot silly home movies).
Around that same time, NBC was launching a new lifestyle site called The Feast, which needed video content fast. There also happened to be a new statewide digital channel coming called California Nonstop, which brought with it a bunch of new shows like Scene in California, Nonstop Foodies and an additional hour-long newscast. Basically, the station was under enormous pressure to help fill all that new air time. And luckily, my new manager wanted me on his team and decided to start paying me. I guess I was in the right place at the right time.
From there, I teamed up with the very talented food and music writer Tamara Palmer. We created around 30 food-related video packages for The Feast, all on a DSLR camera. I also enjoy shooting spot news and violent street riots, so this stuff seems totally fluffy in comparison. But these feature pieces were a ton of fun to work on and the other NBC stations loved them. One piece even ran inside New York City taxi cabs. The work I did for The Feast really paved the way for me to work on my own stories later on.
During that time, I think everyone at the station just started getting used to me doing video. It also didn’t hurt that they read my name over the air whenever the videos ran. The TV anchors would announce “NBC Bay Area’s Mike Anderson brings us this story,” and I think it gave me some credibility. Especially at a station serving the 6th largest market in the country.
What was the Emmy awarded for?
The Emmy judges saw a 14-minute sampling of my work called “Mike Anderson Composite“. I won in a category called “Crafts Achievement: Photographer – Video Essay (Single Camera Only)”. It’s a category for people who produce, shoot and edit video without a reporter or professional talent track.
It’s so weird because I had never considered entering the Emmys before. I saw it as something so up there, so unattainable at this stage of my career, especially in the competitive Northern California region. But one day I was chatting with my co-worker Vicky Nguyen, an experienced reporter at NBC, and she was the first person to put the idea in my head. She encouraged me to enter and I ended up going for it. Later, I found out I was nominated. Then I realized I was the only person nominated in my category, which is very unusual. And at that point, Vicky just said “You are going to have a great night!” because she knew I was going to win it. The whole thing is still sinking in and it truly is an amazing honor.
Do you work in a team or alone?
I enjoy working in a team, but I usually work alone. There are benefits to both. At NBC Bay Area, those who work in the field usually operate in teams of two: an on-camera reporter and a photographer. In TV news, the term “photographer” is used to refer to a videographer, which I still find odd. Anyway, these crews are usually tasked with chasing down the news of the day and shooting video packages to make deadline for the evening newscast. They often cover fires, deaths, press conferences, the same thing all the other competing stations are covering. But because I was part of NBC’s online team, I didn’t get bogged down by the TV schedule. I can only remember a few times I was actually assigned to go shoot something. Instead, I was fortunate enough to have the freedom to pursue my own stories. And since I was shooting in a style that completely cut the on-camera reporter out of the equation, I usually worked alone.
Working alone allowed me to focus on original, exclusive, local feature stories that required a bit more time to put together. In the piece I did about the astronomer, for example, I really wanted to include a basic time-lapse of the stars. It appears about 26 seconds in and it only lasts for about six seconds, but it took me hours to shoot and edit all of those still photos, including two hours of driving up and down the highest mountain in the Bay Area in the middle of the night. Ideas like that would never fly if I was on a TV deadline.
It can be challenging working alone, but I think it allows me to make mistakes and hone different skills much faster than if I had a team doing everything. I think it forces me to learn and improve more rapidly. It’s also a wonderful feeling to be in complete control of the creative direction of your project from start to finish. On the other hand, if you have a rock and roll crew with each person focused on one thing, it will probably be apparent in the final product. It’s a tradeoff.
Who edits your work?
At NBC, I edited all my own video work.
Were NBC okay with you shooting DSLR or did you have to use other cameras most of the time?
There were a couple of times I needed to shoot something that was airing in the newscast a few hours later, so I used a P2 camera. On a tight deadline like that, there’s no way I could say “Just hold on a few hours while I transcode the DSLR files and synch up the sound.” Luckily, NBC was cool with me using DSLR 99 per cent of the time. Since I was part of the online team, I rarely faced TV deadlines. The TV-only photographers at the station use P2 exclusively. The P2 cameras are great, but they don’t offer the same quality and control as the 5D mkII, in my opinion. One P2 shooter even asked me once if the shallow depth of field in my DSLR interviews was an effect I created in post. I guess he didn’t realize the true potential of a wide aperture on a full-frame DSLR.
You shot the winning work on DSLR, can you describe your kit?
Sure, but first off, I believe content and story outweigh all the cool gear in the world. My kit is constantly evolving and improving, and there are many other tools available that are capable of producing quality work. That said, I used the gear below regularly to create the work in my Emmy composite. It’s a portable kit that allowed me to get the job done. I pretty much carried it all in three bags.
- Canon EOS 5D mkII camera
- Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens
- Canon 70-200mm f2.8L USM lens
- Canon 100mm f2.8 USM macro lens
- Canon 50mm f1.8 II Lens
- Marantz PMD661 solid state portable audio recorder
- Sennheiser SK100 G3 bodypack transmitter
- Sennheiser EK100 G3 diversity receiver
- Sennheiser ME2 Omnidirectional lavaliere microphone
- Sennheiser MKE400 shotgun microphone
- Sony MDR-7506 headphones
- Davis & Sanford Provista 75XB tripod with FM18 fluid head
- VariZoom Flowpod handheld stabilizer
- LCDVF LCD loupe
- F&V Z96 5600K LED lights
Can you talk a bit about your DSLR workflow?
Like many DSLR shooters, I employ a double-system sound technique. Using my trusty Marantz recorder, I gather high-quality audio files that need to be synched up to the video in post. I haven’t used any automated plugins like PluralEyes. Instead, I synchronize everything manually. The video pieces I did at NBC usually consisted of two basic parts: an interview and b-roll. After planning and research, sometimes I was able to shoot it all in one day. Sometimes it took a few days. On a non-technical note, in the field, I like shooting interviews before I shoot b-roll. That way, my subjects have an opportunity to get comfortable with me. And after the interview, I usually have a far better idea of what b-roll to shoot.
I normally edit audio and video in Adobe Premiere Pro, which has been my primary editing software for about ten years. When I was working on “That’s a Job?”, I was still running CS3 on my Apple MacBook Pro. Unfortunately, the native h.264 files that come out of the 5D MKII don’t play nice with most editing programs, including CS3. So I was stuck transcoding all my footage into an editable format. It was a huge pain and it usually took hours. I eventually upgraded to CS5.5 and that problem was solved. Now I can drop raw 5D mkII files into the timeline and just start editing. No glitches. No crashes. It’s awesome.
After a shoot, I would backup all my files on a couple of external hard drives and begin editing. I never had time to transcribe interviews, but the interviews were the backbone of all my pieces. Most of the time I spent in editing was definitely spent on sound. Sometimes, I’d have to cut a 45 minute-long interview down to two minutes. And that two minutes needed to be completely self-contained. The story had to flow through the beginning, middle and end, using only the interviewee’s voice. It was crucial that my subjects talked on all the key points during the interview, because that’s literally all I had to work with in editing. Once I had a rough cut of the vocal track, I would start paying attention to editing in the picture and music. I also love using natural sound whenever possible, so when I find stories like the coin washer, I can’t thank the video Gods enough.
Staring at the same project for days in a row can kind of distort your judgement, so I always like to seek out second opinions. I would show my rough cuts to my girlfriend or my family or my boss. They would say, “You should let that shot run for a few more seconds,” or “That ending didn’t flow,” or “I’m confused.” And they were right. And I would fix it. Once I had the final edit, I usually made some minor adjustments to improve sound quality and levels.
I always shoot in full manual mode. I also shoot with a very flat and neutral in-camera picture setting in order to protect the highlights and shadows, which also gives me some leverage in post.
What does shooting DSLR give you that other cameras don’t?
The greatest benefits of the Canon 5D mkII are its 24p frame rate, quickly interchangeable glass, full-frame sensor and performance in low-light. The small form factor of DSLRs in general is also an important selling point since I can get into some tight shooting situations. At NBC, I found myself shooting from the inside of a grave, on a motor boat on the bay and even in a crane 100 feet up in the air. The piece I did about the crane operator probably wouldn’t have been possible if I was using a bulky camera. My subject, who lifts containers from cargo ships at the Port of Oakland, works in a small cab at the top of a big crane. Just to get up there, I had to climb up a tall, thin metal ladder, take a tiny elevator even higher, then move across a small walkway into the cab — all with my DSLR gear. While I was up there, I accidentally dropped a lens cap through a crack in the walkway. I watched it fall and fall and fall until it landed on the top of a container 100 feet below me. It’s an extremely dangerous shooting environment where one slip could have cost me my life. NBC’s lawyers even had to get involved before I was allowed to go up there! Anyway, the DSLR equipment I brought with me barely fit, but it did fit. And I was able to get some powerful bird’s-eye-view shots looking down from inside the crane. I also got my lens cap back later.
But along with all the benefits, DSLRs come with some major downfalls. I hate the jello effect. I also hate the moire and aliasing. And while I don’t have to deal with it anymore, the transcoding situation is completely ridiculous. Other than that, the quality packed into these DSLR cameras is fantastic.
Any tips for aspiring news shooters?
The proliferation of mobile devices with cameras has really changed the news game. Anyone at the right place at the right time can shoot a spot news event and upload it for the world to see online. If you want to make money shooting news, I think it’s wise to focus on doing work the general public cannot do. Find compelling stories no one else knows about. Get access somewhere no one else can. News websites and TV stations want original, quality content from their freelancers and staffers. If you can provide that, you stand a chance. And if you are young, try to find an internship somewhere you’d like to work. Even volunteer. Just getting a foot in the door can be so important. It was for me.
What is next for you?
As I mentioned above, I’m excited to begin a new job soon. I’ve also been starting to do more freelance work through Mike Anderson Media. Lately, I’ve been teaming up with a very talented video producer named Bart Bishoff, who runs DoF Media. Bart is also an NBC alum, so it’s cool working together on some non-news projects. A recent video project I worked on was a two-day women’s hacking event at LinkedIn. I shot all the video on DSLR and Bart edited the final piece.
Anything else you would like to add?
I want to thank you, Dan, for giving me this opportunity. I appreciate your interest and your work on DSLR News Shooter. It’s a valuable resource for the DSLR community. I also need to thank my boss at NBC, Jason Middleton. I pitched him all sorts of random video stories, and he gave me so much freedom to work on each one of them. The Emmy wouldn’t have been possible without him.
You can find out more about Mike and his work on his website.
We at part2pictures were early adopters of the DSLRs on our series, Our America with Lisa Ling for OWN , and for this new pilot, Culture Shock , we delved into the promise and limits of the technology even further. For this show, we explored color, stylized lenses, and techniques that helped create what we hope is a fresh look, even as DSLR becomes the standard for documentaries.
Traveling around the world - in this case China, India, Russia and Brazil - forced some special preparation. The locations were tough on the cameras – from extreme heat and humidity to Russian winters. We made sure to bring extra bodies, traveling with a total of four cameras (3 Canon 5D mkII and one Canon 7D) and about eight lenses varying from 70-200mm with 2x extenders to a 15mm fisheye and a tilt/shift lens. The small bodies were excellent fits for shooting in some tight situations, including Carnival in Brazil, where we jostled in crowds of three million writhing party-goers to a festival of atonement in India. We could be inconspicuous in China (always a plus) and walk onto Red Square in Moscow as if we were tourists taking photos (and thereby avoiding the $1000/hour fees usually charged to film there).
Playing off the dual photo/video purposes of DSLRs, we wanted to shoot this show in a distinctive, controlled, and composed way – inspired by the idea of portraiture. We focused on details in each place, highlighting similarities and differences: the writing on a tube of Indian toothpaste, the slippers under the bed of a Chinese mistress and so on. Each detail gives part of a picture and like a cubist painting, the whole only clicks into place when you see the entire portrait. To do this, we worked with macro lenses and fisheye’s, zooms and extenders. We relied most on a 35mm f1.4 trying to keep the lens as open as possible. And we filmed timelapses in each location on a 24mm. In an unusual approach, we chose to keep the camera on tripods almost the entire time, creating still frames that allow the viewer to think about postcards from far away places.
We also wanted to be able to cut to the same frame in each location as an establishing shot, so we created a plastic template to go on the back of each camera that lined up the horizon and the focal lengths, shooting each time on the same lens. The effect allowed us to make split-frame transitions between different countries as a way of getting from one place to another. It also was the template for our title open, in which three hosts – all filmmakers – walk toward the camera as the backgrounds change. These were time consuming but fruitful.
Each location also got its own color scheme – a cooler tone in China (4.3K), a warmer one in India (6.3K), and so on, which we achieved simply by adjusting color temperatures and sticking to them throughout the stay in each location. Even at night, we shot with daylight color temperatures to give a lurid, shining feel. The colors, sounds, and details of each location were what we were after. And the DSLRs helped bring them into sharp focus, well worth the trouble (two-system sound, 12 minute shot maximum, etc.).
I hope people will tune in and check out the show. It’s a visually rich portrait of the world and one we’re especially proud of. Check it out: Culture Shock, airs this Sunday, July 22 at 10pm on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network.
In the new special Culture Shock, three young filmmakers explore relationships and marriage around the world: from a lavish wedding among Moscow’s nouveau riche, to an on-the-go Indian matchmaker and a mistress village in China where wealthy businessmen support secret second families. By delving deep into the private lives of people around the world, Culture Shock expands our concept of what defines a relationship and what connects us across the globe.
Tune in for the premiere of Culture Shock Sunday, July 22nd at 10/9c.
SmallHD have put on sale their $49 US HDMI port protector for the 5D mkII. It is designed to prevent damage to the camera’s delicate mini-HDMI port which can be damaged if an exposed HDMI cable is knocked during use. I have personally fallen victim to this and had to pay several hundred dollars for a Canon service centre to replace a broken port.
The SmallHD port protector was first seen at NAB2012 where the company were giving away a limited number of an early run to existing users of their products. I was lucky enough to get one then and have been using it since.
Unlike other port protectors from the likes of Zacuto or Lock Circle the SmallHD is not made of metal but of a lightweight plastic or polycarbonate type material. At first I was concerned that it would not be very strong but after several uses it seems to be fine – although I would worry about breaking it if taking it on and off the camera repeatedly.
It works well with most straight mini HDMI cables but not right-angled ones – a 1.5 foot HDMI cable is included with the protector for free. It also provides a fair amount of protection for the other ports on the side of the 5D mkII such as the audio minijack.
SmallHD do warn that you can’t use the protector with a battery grip or neck strap. It only fits the 5D mkII and NOT the 5D mkIII. If you are still using a 5D mkII with a monitor or EVF day in day out then the SmallHD 5D mkII port protector is a very sensible buy.