IBC 2014 live show replay: Philip Bloom talks about shooting documentary for CNN

By site editor Dan Chung:

Philip Bloom has recently been travelling the globe as DOP on an upcoming documentary series for CNN. On the Teradek/Newsshooter live show at IBC last week Matt Allard and myself had a chance to sit down and discuss the challenges with him.

Phil's A-camera of choice for the CNN doc was the Sony F55. Photo courtesy of Philip Bloom

Phil’s A-camera of choice for the CNN doc was the Sony F55

Among the topics covered were what it was like for him to go back to shooting broadcast TV, his choice of cameras for the series and his use of the MoVI. Philip also talks about the importance of good audio (ironically we had a few audio interference issues during the chat – apologies for that).

Hopefully it won’t be too long before we can see the fruits of Phil’s labours on CNN.

Sony cameras including an a7S on a MoVI ready to shoot. Photo courtesy of Philip Bloom

Sony cameras and a MoVI ready to shoot. Photo courtesy of Philip Bloom

Photo courtesy of Philip Bloom

Photo courtesy of Philip Bloom

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Posted on September 22nd, 2014 by Dan Chung | Category: Brushless gimbals, documentary, IBC show, Journalism, Sony a7S | Permalink | Comments (0)

IBC 2014 video: Robots with Nikon DSLRs give London Live studios a unique cinematic look

By site editor Dan Chung:

Video DSLRs may not be the big thing they were a few years ago, but one of the most interesting gadgets at IBC this year uses them to great effect.

On the Nikon booth they were showing their D4 camera mounted to robotic heads to track a moving object and focus on it at the same time. Several of these robots, made by a firm called Mark Roberts Motion Control, are used with the D4 by UK local station London Live for all their studio shooting.

d4 mrmoco

I spoke to Bryn Balcombe of London Live and James Banfield of Nikon about the setup. While regular 2/3 studio cameras could have been used, Balcombe chose DSLR for its more cinematic look and flexibility. One surprise is that the D4 can be left on in Live View mode for hours on end without failing – something that some older DSLRs would struggle to do.

Below is a great video showing just what a Mark Roberts robot with a Nikon D810 is capable of:

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Posted on September 18th, 2014 by Dan Chung | Category: Journalism, Nikon D4 | Permalink | Comments (0)

How to get ahead in video journalism – 10 tips for starting out from Webby award winner Pete Pattisson

Guest post by Pete Pattisson:

In 2000 I got my first photos published in a magazine. Fourteen years later I won a Webby Award for my film exposing the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup.

Along the way I’ve learned a few things about what it takes to succeed (or at least survive) as a freelance video journalist. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I hope one or two of these tips may be helpful to some of you trying to break in to this most competitive of fields. 

The type of work I do sometimes involves breaking news, but more often consists of in-depth investigations, which can take months to film

At the site of the Al Wakrah stadium, Qatar. It is the first World Cup venue to be built.

At the site of the Al Wakrah stadium, Qatar. It is the first World Cup venue to be built.

I currently live in Nepal, where I’ve been focusing on documenting the experience of the country’s migrant workers in Qatar, for The Guardian newspaper. My latest film tells the story of a group of migrant workers who were not paid for over a year, despite fitting out a suite of luxury offices, some of which are currently occupied by the committee organising the 2022 World Cup. 

The Doha skyline

The Doha skyline

So here are my ten tips:

1. It’s all about relationships
Like everything in life, success or failure is basically down to the relationships you build, whether that’s with your editor, your subjects or your fixer. It may seem obvious, but being professional and polite makes all the difference. Building up a network of good contacts is vital, because the key to making a great film is everything you do before you press the record button. Do as much as you can face-to-face, and if that’s not possible, use the phone. In particular, when you’re starting out, don’t email editors; emails are far to easy to ignore. Pick up the phone, or better still, go and visit them in person. However, don’t be too deferential. There’s nothing wrong with asking for a higher fee, or arguing your case about how your film should be edited.
2. Does social networking work?
Having said that networking is important, I’m not convinced social networking has the same benefit. I find it much more valuable to spend an hour talking to a local journalist, than spend an hour on Twitter. Now you can, of course, do both, but it makes sense to focus your efforts on what will have most impact, and in my experience that means producing good material. Almost all the work I have got has come from people who have seen what I have already done. The best way to get work, is to do work.
3. Don’t rely on video alone
I started out as a photographer, then I realised how hard it is to earn a living through photos alone, so I started writing and subsequently making films. This has three advantages. It means you can offer editors a complete package: text, photos and video. It means you have three potential sources of income. And it allows you to tell a story through the most appropriate medium. Not every story lends itself to video, so match your medium to your story.
4. Be a specialist
There are good reasons to start out as a generalist, building up your experience by making films in a range of settings and on a range of issues, but I chose a different route. From the start I specialised in stories about labour rights, and in particular modern forms of slavery. I spent a year documenting different forms of slavery around the world, and then published a book and held an exhibition in central London.

Initially I made a massive financial loss on the project, but it gave me a platform to publicise both the issue and myself. On the back of the project I got numerous articles published in newspapers and magazines, and photos from the project were subsequently exhibited in the US, France, India and at the United Nations in Geneva. And I eventually broke even, about five years after I completed the project.
5. Go and live somewhere remote
Journalism is so competitive, it makes little sense to base yourself in New York, London, Delhi or Beijing when you’re starting out. All the big newspapers have correspondents there and you may struggle to establish yourself. But it’s much easier to get noticed if you’re pitching good stories from a place where there are few other journalists. Furthermore, the cost of living in the remoter parts of the world is often (but not always) much less.
6. They are called newspapers for a reason
Newspapers publish the news. And so the easiest way to get published is to put yourself at the centre of a news story, preferably before anyone else. The first film I ever got published by The Guardian was from Burma, days after Cyclone Nargis devastated the country. I happened to visit a camp for people displaced by the cyclone just as General Than Shwe, the then leader of Burma, arrived in a giant motorcade. I managed to take some photos of him (before I was arrested, and then escaped). I had no problem getting that film published!
7. Shoot actuality
Actuality means things that are happening live in front of you, for example a protest, a funeral or a rescue. This is the stuff that makes for really gripping viewing, and from my experience it’s what editors are most interested in. Seeing the event in real time is much more powerful than listening to someone retell the event afterwards. In other words. ‘show, don’t tell’. One of the best suggestions I ever got (which I think came from Adam Westbrook’s interesting blog) is to watch your film with the sound turned off. If it’s still interesting you’ve probably made a good film. If not, have a re-think.

8. Equipment matters (but not that much)
Equipment matters, but it’s the story that trumps everything. My Webby-winning film on migrant workers in Qatar, was almost entirely shot with a Canon 60D, a Rode VideoMic Pro, a Canon 28mm f1.8 and a 17-40mm f4L. So you really don’t need top-of-the-line equipment to make a decent film, especially as most video journalism is published in highly compressed form on the web.

I would argue that the ideal tool for video journalism is a small camcorder. When you are shooting actuality, you want to at least have the option of auto-everything. Having said that, I’m sticking with DSLRs largely because I can shoot video and stills with one camera.

What’s the best DSLR for video journalism? If you’re just starting out and want to keep costs down, the Canon 60D with Magic Lantern software is not a bad place to begin. I’ve recently started using mine with a Beachtek two channel audio adaptor, which gives me much more control over audio levels.

I would like to be able to recommend the 70D because of its excellent autofocus and remarkably smooth electronic aperture; however, both these features only work really well with Canon’s very slow STM lenses. Furthermore, until we get Magic Lantern for the 70D, there’s no way to monitor the audio through headphones. So if you can afford it, the obvious solution appears to be the Panasonic GH4 or Sony a7S.
9. You’re not a journalist; you’re an entrepreneur
Being a successful freelance video journalist means being a successful entrepreneur. If you can’t make money, you can’t make films. So before you buy anything – a camera, lens, website, software – figure out how many films you are going to have to sell in order to cover the cost. If you do have money to spend, spend it on making films. Think about how to avoid or minimise the really big costs, like flights, hotels and translators. One way around this is to shoot local; you don’t have to go halfway around the world to make a great film. The ideal solution of course is to get an editor to commission you, but in my experience this is quite hard to do when you’re starting out. Conversely, try to diversify your sources of income. As a rule, newspapers do not pay very well, but NGOs and corporates do, so look to them for work too. And there’s nothing wrong in starting out part-time – for a long time I fitted my journalism around working full-time as a teacher.

10. Be persistent
That’s it.

You can find out more about Pete Pattisson’s work on his website.

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Posted on September 8th, 2014 by Pete Pattisson | Category: Journalism | Permalink | Comments (1)

“I didn’t expect it to feel like war”: Covering Ferguson

From original writing by Abbey Adkison for Columbia Visuals, edited by Dan Chung:

The images of heavily militarised police in Ferguson confronting protests over the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by an officer have shocked the world. Even the United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has stepped in, urging law enforcement to respect international standards in dealing with demonstrations.
Journalists at the scene in Missouri have faced a double challenge. The first has been dealing with police hostility – including the arrest of veteran Getty photographer Scott Olsen on Monday.

The second has been covering the underlying story: not just filming the SWAT teams, tear gas grenades and angry exchanges, but capturing the emotions and experiences of residents.

Columbia Visuals have kindly allowed us to run extracts from their interviews with three visual journalists on the scene. For the full stories, please click through to read about the experiences of Salima Koroma, a video producer for Time, on her first out-of-state assignment; photographer David Carson, of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; and Brent McDonald, a senior video journalist with the New York Times. Carson arrived at the scene of the 18-year-old’s death on August 10, “as the police were washing the blood off the street”, he said.

“This is history. This is something that people are going to talk to their grandkids about. It’s important to have a visual record of what actually happened here.

Salima Koroma said that when the curfew was announced, she knew the response would be angry: “I’d been there the night before, and I could feel the frustration and hopelessness.  We [the journalists] knew that something was going to happen. I didn’t expect the police tear gas; I didn’t think that they would really do it. I didn’t expect it to feel like war. I didn’t expect it to be so scary,” she said.

Koroma also noted the practical problems. She worked with a Canon 5D mkII with a Rode shotgun microphone, putting the Tascam recorder away “just because I knew I was going to be running all over the place” and trying to avoid using a light because it was “imposing” for interviewees.

She added: “I am a young, black woman. A lot of people have been a little more trusting of me, especially because I don’t have these big cameras…I’m very low-maintenance. I’m a one-man band. Whereas you have these big news organizations: a lot of them are white, a lot of them seem to not really care.

“There is a lot of distrust from protestors toward the media. When you’re talking historically, about how the media has covered African-Americans, it has not been great. Think of what the media shows of African-Americans: we are portrayed in the media as thugs, as gangsters, as poor, without talking about the root problems.”

Brent McDonald has also been travelling light: “I’m shooting with a Canon 5D mkIII that I’ve rigged out with a Zoom H6 that’s cabled line-in to the camera. Most of that video I went handheld, but sometimes I used a monopod with little feet. My Sennheiser mic is the MKE 600. I also shoot with a Audio Technica short cardioid mic.”

For him it was important to convey “what it’s like to live in this neighborhood, what it’s like to live with a police force that they didn’t trust, and was, at least this with particular officer, responsible for a pretty heinous act, if indeed it happened as witnesses describe.”

He added: “A lot of the way people cover a protest is when it gets gnarly and shit hits the fan, but there’s a whole progression to a protest when it escalates, particularly when there’s the sort of response we’ve been seeing, and it isn’t just that moment…It’s not just about people throwing bottles and police throwing tear gas, it’s about people coming out and having a voice, expressing their anger and frustration and making sense of them, respecting that.

“These are people, not sound bites.”

Like other journalists on the ground, he said his task had been made harder by law enforcement officers.

“Police did not distinguish between reporters and protestors. They threatened everyone there. They’ve threatened arrest. There were reporters who have been shot at with rubber bullets,” said McDonald.

Carson caveated that while there were police officers who had threatened him with arrest and ordered him from scenes, he had also “run into some incredibly helpful and good police officers who are certainly doing their jobs…[and are] interested in protecting me and making sure I’m safe” – just as, while some protestors were keen to see events documented, other people in the area had assaulted him.

David Carson’s Twitter picture with the Ferguson residents who gave him shelter during the protests Aug 13th.

David Carson’s Twitter picture with the Ferguson residents who gave him shelter during the protests Aug 13th.

He warned students who have asked his advice on reporting from the scene: “They’re not fooling around down here.

“I think it’s very easy to get sucked up into the excitement of it, but there’s not a picture you could make out here that would be worth being hurt for.”

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Posted on August 20th, 2014 by Dan Chung | Category: Canon EOS 5D MkIII, Journalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Humanoids: Matt Allard explains how he shot his latest Aljazeera documentary using Sony F55

By technical editor Matt Allard:

Humanoids from Matthew Allard ACS on Vimeo.

Shooting documentaries for broadcast television often involves working on a very tight schedule with little to no set-up time – you’re given a very limited time to achieve good results. A recent documentary I shot in Japan on humanoid robots was no exception. It was shot over 11 days in 4 different cities and that time included all the travel. Different methods of getting around, including planes, trains and automobiles, always makes packing and logistics very tricky. To make things even more complicated I had to take two cameras as a lot of the interviews we shoot require multiple angles.

In Japan people’s schedules often run to the minute: If a person says they have one hour of time for you, they mean literally one hour. I encountered this numerous times during the shoot, where I had an hour to not only film a 45-50 minute interview and reversals and two shots, but also shoot all the B-roll. This often meant making large sacrifices in terms of lighting and then how I filmed the B-roll. You need to think ahead and be confident with your decisions. Every second you waste contemplating where you should get your next shot is time you can’t get back. If you try and make every shot perfect, with beautiful lighting, you may end up with only a few shots: not nearly enough when you’re shooting long format shows. Sometimes content is more important than having a nice back light. On the flip side of this, you don’t want to just go with the available light if it happens to be dark, or go hand-held if it doesn’t fit with the style you’re shooting. It is all about finding a compromise between time and quality and often this is a hard thing to do.

Working with the F55 on the Wally Dolly

Working with the F55 on the Wally Dolly

I shot this documentary on the Sony F55 and I used the F3 as my “B” camera. Most broadcasters don’t want to deal with Log or large amounts of data. The usual standard is 50Mb/s and anything higher often results in headaches. The whole push towards RAW and 4K is great but the reality of it actually being used and accepted by broadcasters is a long way off. I shot the majority of the vision in this story in a 50 Mb/s in a standard REC709 profile and there was only a small amount of material shot in any sort of log profile. The show doesn’t get graded and only small amounts of colour correction, if any, are done. Shooting in a REC709 space limits your camera’s dynamic range and gives you a more baked-in look. You really do need to get everything right in camera as you don’t have a lot of room to correct the image if you don’t.

When you’re working as a one man band on a long format show there is so much you have to be responsible for. Not only are you taking care of the camera and the lighting but often the audio too. A lot of the time you have two radio mics running, so you’re trying to monitor the levels and quality of the audio as well as focusing on the shot at hand. I try to hide microphones as much as possible but without a dedicated sound operator it can be difficult and time-consuming. Certain types of clothing just naturally make noise or that annoying rustling sound and hiding the microphone works better on certain types of clothing than others. If I’m having sound problems trying to hide them I’ll move them to the outside – when you have limited time you don’t want to be stuffing around with fixing microphones. It also tends to annoy and make the person you’re interviewing or filming uncomfortable as you’re right in their personal space, fiddling around with their clothes. When I do hide them I usually use the Rycote overcovers and stickies. I find them to work really well in combination.

Why do I use radio mics for my interviews and not, say, a boom-mounted microphone? I am often filming that person after the interview and it saves a lot of time if I already have a microphone on them. Also, a boom would be yet more equipment to carry around and set up. While it would solve the rustling sound issues you often face, it just isn’t practical when you’re working one man band.

As far as lighting goes I used my go-to lights: the BBS Area 48 Soft as my key and the Litepanels Sola ENG kit as my back light and for lighting backgrounds. Both these lights are versatile, easy to set up and can be powered off batteries. I usually light my subject and then, at the end of the interview, adjust my lighting for various other shots. I often find trying to light two people on your own so that it is set up for reversals and two-shots is just too time consuming and compromises your main interview lighting. It would also mean carrying around a minimum of six lights which isn’t realistic when you’re working on your own. In Japan, especially, you are often conducting interviews in very small rooms and to get a nice backdrop for both the interviewee and the interviewer at the same time is almost impossible. I much prefer to focus on the interviewee and then at the end I can move the interviewer into a more pleasing spot.


I used the F3 as a second camera for quite a few of the interviews. I would often put it on the Redrockmicro one man crew which is a motorised parabolic slider. It is fast to set up and easy to use. You don’t have to attach motors or tripod heads to it, you just take it out, put your camera on and plug it in. It allows you to get some interesting angles. The down side I found is that it does tend to be quite noisy if you make the speed too high. In a very quiet room, if you have it too close, the microphones can pick up the sound. It seems to be more noisy when moving in one direction than the other. I had mixed results when using it for interviews, but put this partly down to me using it for the first time. I did however find it very good for getting various B-roll shots and I use it quite a bit for this purpose.

Working with the Redrockmicro One Man Crew

Working with the Redrockmicro one man crew

For other shots I used the Wally Dolly as again it gave me some movement and is compact and very easy to set up. Using a high hat I was able to get some nice tracking and movement shots when I was shooting these small robots.

I’m all for using various ‘toys’ to get different types of shots, but when you have limited time they can become a burden. Setting up a dolly or a slider or any other piece of equipment that is not “core kit” can dramatically eat away at the time you have been allocated. I always ask myself if the shot is really worth it for the time I have. I try not to over-use any of these things but prefer to use them as a complement to the overall story. A lot of today’s shooters get carried away with using toys and forget about the fundementals of film-making: Composition, lighting, and audio.

Shooting documentaries requires compromises, thinking ahead and a lot of hard work. Ultimately it is very rewarding to shoot longer format shows and you constantly learn from doing them. I come away from every shoot with new ideas on how to do something better and what worked and didn’t work – being a cameraman is a constant learning experience. Even after 25 years of shooting I still get nervous before shoots. I think if you walk into any situation feeling overly confident you will end up making mistakes. Keeping an edge is key to improving. Learning to work fast, regardless of which project you are doing, will ultimately make you a better shooter.

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Posted on August 11th, 2014 by Matthew Allard | Category: Journalism, Sony F3, Sony F5 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Gaza through a lens: Sky News cameraman Barnaby Green talks

By site editor Dan Chung:

We spend most of our time on this blog talking gadgets, but the technology is only the means to an end. Sky News have just published a powerful video interview in which cameraman Barnaby Green discusses not just the logistical challenges of filming the Gaza conflict but – more importantly – the emotional challenges. Please watch.

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Posted on August 3rd, 2014 by Dan Chung | Category: Journalism | Permalink | Comments (1)

A Sony a7S in the field: Al Jazeera’s Miguel Toran tries it out for broadcast TV

Guest post by Miguel Toran:

Shooting Beijing Opera with the Sony a7S

Shooting Beijing Opera with the Sony a7S

Yes, it is an amazing camera. Yes, it has superb video quality. And yes, when shooting in the dark, the camera can go up to a gazillion ISO. But how well does this camera work for news shooters on the field?

China’s Peking Opera tries to charm new crowd from miguel toran on Vimeo.

I bought the Sony a7S because I wanted to have a small camera I could take with me everywhere. I didn’t need it for video work. I had the Canon C300 for feature stories and the Sony PMW-500 and the PMW-200 for daily news, as well as the 5D mkIII and 1D IV as extra cameras.

Like many of us in this profession I started as a photographer and later I went into video production. Before, I used to carry my reflex everywhere, but with smartphones being able to take great still pictures I started leaving the camera at home until finally I stopped shooting proper photos altogether… I felt somehow guilty about that. So for a long time I’ve been searching for that perfect little camera able to fit in my backpack and go with me everywhere. For a while, I was convinced I should buy the Fujifilm XT-1. But then the a7S was showcased and it checked all the boxes on my list. Plus, it had promising video capabilities. I had to buy it.
I’ve been using the camera for a few weeks now on several feature stories for Al Jazeera English. Before, for similar pieces, I would use the C300. At first I was lazy about using the a7S for video shooting since I didn’t want to go back to the hassle of changing the ND filters and dealing with the lack of proper audio inputs and controls. But since I already had all the accessories from my Canon DSLRs, I gave it a try.

China accused of targeting Christian symbols from miguel toran on Vimeo.

Just one day after buying it we travelled to eastern China to shoot a story about authorities removing the crosses from Christian churches. Maybe it was not the best story to start with, since it was the kind of report where police can chase you anytime and there was no time to properly set up interviews and sequences. Luckily, I was travelling with a very patient reporter. The other story was a short summer feature about kids learning Peking opera. I’ve since used it for a couple more stories, but they have yet to air.

I really like the camera, and the reason is that it’s a lot of fun to shoot with it. The EVF is sharp and clear, which means you don’t need to use bulky external viewfinders. You can have the camera really close to your face when shooting handheld and that helps with stabilization. The EVF is so clear that it makes it quite easy to focus, especially with the peaking option.
There are plenty of customizable buttons that give full control of almost every option when shooting video. My main complaint, though, is the record button. Clearly, the engineer/designer who placed it on the side had no idea about how a videographer holds the camera. Currently, the shutter button can’t be assigned to start recording when in movie mode; I hope this is addressed with a future firmware update. Another problem is that the custom white balance can’t be set unless you go from video mode to photo mode and back to video mode. Sony, please address this too. 

The a7S sliding on the Cinevate Duzi with light from Litepanels

The a7S sliding on the Cinevate Duzi with light from Litepanels

One of the major headaches I’ve had with this camera arose when using EF mount lenses, so was not Sony’s fault. I bought a Metabones adapter, apparently the latest mark IV version. Using it has been like playing roulette. When changing lenses they often stop communicating with the camera and it becomes impossible to change the aperture. On some occasions the a7S totally locks up. Sometimes this is solved by removing the lens, sometimes you need to power off the camera, and sometimes it’s necessary to remove the battery. Those are too many steps to go through when you need to change lenses quickly. I went to the store that sold me the adapter to try other other Metabones, and it happened in almost the same way with all of them. After that I decided to buy the much cheaper Viltrox II adaptor and it works better than the Metabones. As for the Metabones, some people had not any problem with them, and others have gone through several versions without any luck. Not ideal for a $400 product.
If the adapter works, it powers the image stabilization motor of the Canon IS lenses and that’s great for handheld shooting. I have only used EF mount lenses, not the Sony’s full frame FE-mount ones, but I may consider buying one, the Zeiss branded 24-70 f4. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of the camera affects the way you shoot with full-frame lenses like Sony FE lenses or Canon EF. I am talking of course about the excessive rolling shutter when recording in full frame. It’s really noticeable with pans and handheld. The APS-C mode reduces the jello considerably but you lose the full frame. I wonder if the Metabones Speedbooster + APS-C mode is the best combination against rolling shutter while keeping the full-frame look… unfortunately with the bad Metabones experience I am a bit reluctant to try it now (Ed – I would recommend using the Metabones Novoflex mechanical only Sony Alpha to E-mount adapter if you are worried about the electronics, although you don’t get any image stabilisation this way). The APS-C crop mode by itself is a great feature for news shooters, giving you two lenses in one, very much like the extender on the ENG B4 lenses.
The Sony a7S records 8 bit 4:2:0 internally but the XAVC-S codec must do some kind of magic because the picture quality is really good. I’ve been using Cine2 Gamma with Cinema Color Mode and it grades nicely. I want to test whether with Cine2 and Pro Color Mode it’s possible to get the same dynamic range with a more vivid picture that needs less grading. I don’t see myself using S-Log for short-turnaround news since S-log really needs to be exposed perfectly. Maybe if Sony introduces the option of loading LUTs in camera I’ll jump onto the S-Log train – but for now I don’t need it. Also, the minimum ISO of 3200 when shooting S-Log will force me to carry a new set of strong ND filters, because the variable ones are not enough on bright exteriors.

The Rode Videomic Pro is a good option for the a7S

The Rode VideoMic Pro is a good option for the a7S

I’m really satisfied with the quality of the a7S audio. For interviews, I used either the Sennheiser ENG G3 wireless system or the ME66 shotgun. For natural sound I tried the Rode VideoMic, but the rear part of the device will touch your forehead when looking through the camera’s viewfinder. So if you need to buy one, the VideoMic Pro is a better option. The internal microphone is much better than on any other video DSLR I have tried so far. It can be used for natural sound if it is not windy or very contaminated, and even for soundbites in an emergency. Another plus is that the audio levels can also be adjusted while recording. I hope Sony soon launches its new XLR audio jackpack that connects directly to the multiple-interface shoe, so we can have XLR inputs and two-channel recording on top of the camera (instead of having to use yet another dangling cable). I guess this jackpack will shorten the battery life even more; as it is I had to use 3-4 batteries for a normal day of news shooting.
I’ve been editing with Final Cut Pro X. At first I was transcoding the a7S files (optimizing as FCPX calls it), but this takes a really long time; much longer than the Canon XF or the XDCAM EX files. So I’ve been skipping the transcoding step and working natively with the MP4 XAVC-S files on FCPX, which seems to work just fine.
Overall I’m really happy with the camera. It’s an impressive little piece of gear for $2,500. It really can be used as the main camera for feature stories and, as mentioned earlier, I had a lot of fun shooting with it. That for me is just as important as the tech specs.

Miguel Toran is a staff cameraman for the Al Jazeera English network based in China. You can see more of his work on his website.

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Posted on August 2nd, 2014 by Miguel Toran | Category: Journalism, Sony a7S | Permalink | Comments (3)

Video review: The DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ that fell from the sky

Guest post by D J Clark:

After playing with a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ in the park for the past month, I felt it was time to take it out on an assignment. 

The untreated footage, shot in standard auto mode with some adjustments while it was up in the sky, looks good on a mobile device but starts to show its limitations on a big screen. I sat down with to talk through my experience so far.

The Vision+ shoots 1080P at 25 or 30 FPS + 1080i & 720P at 50 or 60 FPS. It also has manual controls over ISO, white balance, exposure, sharpness & anti-flicker. All the above can be controlled during flight from the phone app.

In this demo I was shooting 1080P with sharpness set to standard. All the video is straight off the memory card unaltered.

The Vision+ allows you to shoot JPEG or DNG RAW (4384 x 3288 px) and has the same manual controls as you have with video, also controllable in flight.

In this demo I was shooting RAW and the images shown here and in the video have had basic edits in Adobe Lightroom.


Phantom 2 Vision+ versus the Phantom 2 with a GoPro on a gimbal:

As has been demonstrated in other tests online, the video from the GoPro Hero3+ outperforms the Vision+. However, bear in mind to get close to the same functionality as the Vision+ you will need to also buy and fit:

- a Zenmuse H3-3D 3-Axis Gimbal

- a wireless video link for FPV so you can send the video signal back to the controller

- 7″ FPV monitor with built-in receiver so you can see the video on a monitor attached to the controller

– iOSD superimposed flight data on video so you can use the monitor for helping you control the quadcopter
– plus a GoPro Hero 3+
– GoPro batteries

It almost doubles the price and is a lot less compact and easy to set up. You can almost start flying the Phantom 2 Vision+ out of the box and it syncs through an app to an iPhone or Android phone.

The fall from the Sky:
In the video above I describe how my Phantom 2 seemingly fell out of the sky for no reason. Since returning home I have been able to research the incident and found the following.

The crash was most probably caused by the Vortex Ring State – an issue with the stability of multirotors. The DJI Phantom is prone to it when descending too quickly, or in strong winds. My natural action to throttle up, probably made it worse. There are no warnings in the manual related to this issue.

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DJI issued a new firmware update in late April to counter this by restricting the descent speed. Although my unit was purchased in early May it appeared not to have the latest update. I would urge anyone with a Phantom 2 to check you are running the latest software.

I spoke to DJI support in the US and in China. Though sympathetic to my crash, both stated company policy is not to offer replacements to units damaged by this issue. Support in China did offer me 20% off a new unit.

As I state in the video, even with the crash I still have come out with a positive experience using the Phantom. The video from the Vision+ isn’t as good as a GoPro Hero3+ but is so unique that everyone I have showed it to has missed its flaws while marveling at the smooth movements. The still images, once edited, are amazing.

The crash was disappointing as I still had another five flights planned. It was also an important reminder of the potential dangers of flying – especially when above people.

As I say in the video the shots above with the Phantom were done at the end of a network TV shoot I was on. I won’t get to edit the TV package for another couple of weeks and only then will be able to decide whether I can sneak one or two shots from the Vision+ in. It may be a stretch. But for online only, and learning to fly and shoot, I would recommend the Vision+. I am hoping DJI come out with a better camera or a better way to integrate the GoPro soon.

D J Clark is DP for Assignment Asia, a new current affairs program due to launch very soon. He also freelances for The Economist and teaches on the University of Bolton MA in Multimedia Journalism that runs in Beijing, China.

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Posted on July 24th, 2014 by D J Clark | Category: Drones, Journalism, quadcopters | Permalink | Comments (5)

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