September 9, 2014

The Sony a7s: Full Frame, Low Light Monster

Filed under: Inside Rule, Learning Lab Series, New Gear, Technology — rbcblog @ 9:16 am

Once again, here we are with me talking about a new small camera that everyone in the indie shooting world seems to be going bananas over! Similarly to when the GH4 launched (of which you can read my latest blog post by clicking here) — there has been an extreme amount of chatter about this new Sony camera. Is it worth the hype?

Upon launch, it was touted as the end-all-be-all of DSLR cameras (yes, I know it’s not technically a DSLR!), and a direct competitor to Panasonic’s GH4. Both cameras are mirrorless, seem to have more than a few nods to video users, and come in at a fairly affordable price point. After those features, however, the similarities stop. The two cameras are very different animals — both with their own strange strengths and weaknesses.

Family Tree
The a7s succeeds two other cameras in the Sony lineup that, at a glance, seem the same. The a7, and a7r. The design of these cameras comes from almost a rangefinder idea — a small, street photographers secret weapon. And for stills, no one was going to argue the quality. I’m sure even Fuji was taking notice. When it came to video, however, the quality and feature set wasn’t anything to write home about. While the a7r matched that of the 5dIII in most instances, Canon had already bundled up the market years ago. The a7s, though, has built upon this small form factor and has pushed the video feature set to its ends. It continues with the full-frame-sized sensor, but in this case it seems to be an entirely new chip.

Low Light
While I’m not in love with the form factor of this tiny camera (I’ve got big, dumb hands), the image quality is staggering. Particularly, with its low-light capabilities. The color and detail data it is able to pull from near total darkness at ISO’s of 20,000 and even 50,000 is unlike any camera I’ve ever seen, in any market or price range. This isn’t just a low-light camera, it’s a night-vision camera. Take a look at this great test from James Miller — that blue sky you see is actually a night sky. Those green bushes? Dark splotches to the human eye.

SLOG 2 & Grading
Now, we aren’t all nature photographers who need to see into the dead of night all the time — so upon getting the camera in my hands, my first tests were tried and true charts. I was overjoyed to see SLOG 2 and S-Gammut profiles included in the kit. This camera is cheaper than a 5dIII, but it’s now including a log profile that was at one time a paid upgrade to the F3 camera?! Count me in! I set up my chart, brought my middle grey down to 35%, and threw on my SLOG2 luts. You know, the ones I’ve been using for the past 4 years! And wouldn’t you know, it looked… terrible.

What?! What happened? Why were my shadows so grainy and noisy? I thought this was a low-light monster! I couldn’t understand it. After some more research and testing, I figured it out.

SLOG 2 on the a7s rates the native ISO of the sensor at 3200 ISO – as opposed to say 2000 on the fs700 and f5, or 1250 on the f55. As this is a different sensor, it is handling its color science differently. I found that it is so light sensitive, the sensor prefers to be fed LOTS of light – to the point of seemingly over-exposing the image. I found that middle grey likes to live around 75%, rather than 35%. As the camera only provides zebras and a meter internally for exposure help, it’s perhaps easiest to set your zebra level to 95% or 100%, and ride the high end until right before clipping. Bringing the color and gamma down works like a charm, and in no time I had the chart performance I had expected:

So perhaps this isn’t the same old same old SLOG 2 I had assumed – but once I figured out the optimal settings, I was very impressed. The dynamic range on this camera is very high, around 14 actual usable stops. That gets into high-end cinema camera territory.

4K Recording & XAVC-S
The last major feature of the a7s is the 4K external recording option. Now, first off, the a7s is using a brand new “consumer” version of the very popular XAVC codec. Internally, this high bitrate and smart compression is very malleable, especially for being at its base an h.264 MP4 file. It sports a very fiddly micro-HDMI port through which it will send 4K, 4:2:2 uncompressed video. The only thing headed to market soon that will handle this in a portable way will be the new Atomos Shogun – delivery date is still TBA.

I find time and time again that users can get hung up on external recording solutions. One should always push their internal codecs as far as they can to see where the line in the sand is going to be drawn, and I find XAVC-S and SLOG 2 to be a 1-2 punch when it comes to color grading. Here is a very pretty video from vimeo user Florian Knab — check out how even the 120fps 720p looks great in a web delivery situation.

Final Thoughts
With SLOG 2, XAVC-S, a full-frame sensor, frightening low-light sensitivity, and an easily adaptable E-Mount – I think the a7s is a great addition to the indie market. I wish it were able to record 4K internally and high-speed above 60fps at 1080 like its mirrorless GH4 counterpart – but even without these features, it’s a pretty fantastic little camera. If you’d like to learn a bit more about the a7s, my post workflow, and other ways to get the most out of it, be sure to check out my Learning Lab here at Rule Boston Camera on 9/24 at 10am.  If you can’t make it in person, you’ll find it on our Learning Lab Vimeo Channel afterwards.

-Alex Enman, Engineer, enman@rule.com


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August 28, 2014

The Panasonic GH4: An Analysis (Part 2 of 2)

Filed under: DSLR, Learning Lab Series, New Gear, Technology, Updates, What's New — rbcblog @ 3:06 pm

In my last post, I talked all about the versatility of the GH4, and how it can bring some pro features to a semi-pro audience — as well as some pro features to some budget-conscious professionals! In this piece, I’ll be talking a little bit more about some of the higher-end applications of the GH4, as well as its partner in crime – the YAGH interface. (Catchy name, right?)

The YAGH interface unit, or “the bottom thing” as most folks around here are calling it, adds some really fantastic usability to the system. Firstly, it provides HD-SDI connectivity. To my knowledge, there is no other DSLR on the market that currently sports HD-SDI, unless you get into Blackmagic Cinema Camera territory (Yes, I realize the GH4 isn’t technically a DSLR, nor are the BMCCs – but work with me here). This is a big deal. Not only do we get HD-SDI, but we are given 4 HD-SDI ports. The photo above shows how when paired with something like an AJA Ki Pro Quad, we can record 10bit 422 HQ Prores 4K footage. That’s some serious codec right there. The quad also mounts nicely to the rear on rods, allowing for easy powering with an Anton Bauer d-tap. Add a top handle, and I could see someone shooting with this for very long periods for indie cinema, documentary, or commercial applications.

In addition to HD-SDI, we are also given 2 XLR inputs and a full-sized HDMI output – still capable of outputting 4K 10bit. With the added XLR, HD-DI, and 4pin DC power – this is all of a sudden a real, professional camera.

There are, however, some drawbacks to this unit. First and foremost, most people will be surprised to find out that once the YAGH unit is installed, all your power must come from an external source. For the setup, I like to hang a Wooden Camera Anton Bauer gold mount rod unit to the rear, pulling off the d-tap and into the 4pin XLR. This isn’t that bad, but it’s to be noted. All those nice new Panasonic badged batteries you got for the camera? Yeah, those aren’t gonna work with the YAGH.

The only other real problem I’ve found with the YAGH unit is simply misinformation. One DOES NOT NEED the YAGH unit to output 4K via HDMI into something like an Atomos Shogun. What the YAGH does give you is a full-sized HDMI, proper HD-SDI connections, XLR, audio levels on nice easy-to-see LEDS, and a way to power the camera with a big Anton Bauer battery. Professional users will see these things not as detriments, but as huge improvements. Users who require a slimmer profile, and easier rig, will find themselves opting out of the YAGH unit. Each situation will require some foresight into exactly what you will need – but Panasonic has given us the choice, and that’s saying a lot more than any other camera in this market.

Now, with all that being said – this brings me to the next situation people are speaking at length about: External recording with the GH4. While the option to output such high spec codecs is phenomenal, one must again consider their application in what you’re really shooting. In my personal tests, I’ve found the native 4K 100Mbps internal recording to be nothing short of amazing. It hits that beautiful sweet spot between compression and high bit rates — it gives just enough to allow for some flexibility in color grades, but compresses enough to give you 40 minutes of 4K video per 32GB card. I was getting around half an hour per 64GB card recording prores on my Blackmagic Pocket Cam. There’s really something to be said about smart compression. There has always been the cry for uncompressed, but not nearly a loud enough cry for BETTER compression.

This video, shot by vimeo user Emeric, displays just how pretty this camera can be! He lists the lenses as very common Panasonic and Olympus glass, recorded internally and graded in film convert. Take a look and see if you’d be kicking yourself for not recording to a Shogun! (I wouldn’t.)

Lastly, I want to quickly touch on one more aspect of the camera that I believe needs to be spoken about a bit more. The versatility of the MFT mount. The small flange distance allows us to adapt this mount to most anything — though an optimal Canon EF adapter is still slightly difficult. With the introduction of speed boosters, we are seeing some really amazing things happen. Nikon mount Zeiss glass being adapted and reduced, gaining a stop with no optical quality loss. It’s very exciting! Our GH4 has gone out the door a handful of times loaded up with Zeiss Superspeeds and even some Cooke Glass. I feel that in a rental situation, this camera is allowing people the budgetary option of scaling back the camera body, perhaps down from a 1DC or c300, and scaling up that savings into some absolutely exceptional glass. Here’s a photo of the GH4 fitted with the new Leica Summicron-C 35mm. These lenses are smaller than Cookes, and fit very nicely onto the Hotrod MFT to PL adapter.

The instance of lower-cost cameras introducing professional codec options and video features, like peaking, zebra, HD-SDI, xlr, etc., are allowing low-budget shooters to experiment with something that will surely improve your image — the glass in front of the sensor. It is in this that I find the GH4 to be a big deal, giving you options for a high-end studio shoot with an Optimo zoom, feeding a director’s monitor; or in your backpack with a pancake lens, for quick shooting while on vacation.

The GH4, as well as the YAGH unit, Hotrod PL adapter, and a whole host of lenses are all here at Rule Boston Camera for rental – and we also offer the GH4 and YAGH for purchase, if you’re so inclined. Happy shooting!

-Alex Enman, Engineer, enman@rule.com


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August 7, 2014

Up Close with Canon’s New Line of Cine Primes & Zooms

Filed under: Industry News, New Gear, Technology, Updates, What's New — rbcblog @ 3:19 pm

In July, Nick Giannino from our sales dept and myself were kindly invited down to Canon HQ in Long Island for an educational seminar. The aim was to talk about Canon’s new line of Cine primes and zooms. About half the seminar was conducted by Mitch Gross, formerly of Abel in New York. He asked what makes a great cinema lens as opposed to a great still lens? Good question – how about long focus pull range; large, glow-in-the-dark focus markings; 11 iris blades to produce subtle bokeh; warm skin tone glass; and ability to handle flares.  All these factors have been built into both the Cine EF-mount primes and the PL-mount zooms.

Nick and Andrew at Camp Canon

The second half of the seminar was conducted by Suny Behar. He conducts a week-long camera test every year for HBO. What camera test, you ask? Well, HBO is the only network that does this: they spend a week with six different cameras, from a Black Magic 4K to a Phantom Flex 4K, shooting footage under a variety of different lighting situations. This footage is then shown to HBO show runners and DPs who are in the process of making camera decisions for upcoming shows.  This year all the lenses used on all these camera tests were from the EF and PL-mount Canon Cine line. The lenses were chosen over Cookes, Optimos, Zeiss, etc.  HBO was very impressed. In fact, so impressed was David Franco, a DP on Game Of Thrones, he went out and bought the entire Canon Cine line. I heard he paid with golden blood-soaked coins.

Lastly, Canon also showed off the new Cine 17-120mm ENG-style large-sensor zoom lens which will be shipping in September. The lens is designed to be a Cabrio-killer with a larger zoom range, better ergonomics and a price point $15K cheaper than the Fuji Cabrio 19-90mm.

Lots of low-interest rate options are available for the C300, C500 and lens packages so ask Sales for details. We also have most of the Canon Cine line available in rentals so please call us for availability and pricing.

Thanks for reading!

- Andrew Barlow, Rental Coordinator, barlow@rule.com



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July 16, 2014

The Concept of Ease in Filmmaking

Filed under: Homegrown, Inside Rule, Intern Perspective, New Gear, Tried & True — rbcblog @ 3:19 pm

In the place I am now, having recently graduated, looking/hoping/begging for work, and getting this internship and blog to learn from and play with, I feel privileged and prepared to go ahead and share a very quick reflection on a concept that I, and I’m sure countless others, have faithfully explored, willingly embraced, and so readily attempted to reject: ease. What follows are just some thoughts and ruminations, from an RBC intern, on the concept of ease in filmmaking.

As I think and I ruminate, I am inspired by one of the coolest pieces of equipment I’ve been introduced to at Rule, the Kessler CineDrive: an amazing genius robot helper for all your pans, tilts, slides and more. Coming from a class of filmmakers rightfully obsessed with finding unique, professional, and visually stunning ways to capture the simplest and most complex of modern moments, the possibilities here, the ease with which we can achieve them, and the overall potential that the CineDrive represents are enormous!

I’ve also been inspired by another one of the coolest pieces of equipment I’ve been presented with at Rule, the Arri 416 HS Plus 16mm film camera. It’s beautiful. I’ve gotten to experiment with 16mm film just one other very brief time in my life, and because of cameras like this, it sucks to think that the slowly dying “film” in “film school” could soon breathe it’s last breath. I’m very thankful that there are places that still have the resources to teach about film and encourage it to be used.  I don’t mean to say that shooting on film is at the other end of a spectrum, or that it’s necessarily hard, but it is kind of painstaking!  It’s also really different from what I and my generation has gotten used to.

On shoots that I’ve been on and helped with, I always find myself wishing things could be a little easier, move faster, or become magically convenient. Hopefully, I’m not alone in this, but then I look at the crazy cardboard/tape/black wrap/diffusion thing in front of me and realize that ease is awesome, but so is hard work. The experience that has made me seriously crave the endless touch-ups and touchiest set-ups of each and every film set has been this internship. Knowing and learning about the tools to achieve ease, perfection — or dare I say both — has proven invaluable, making me that much more passionate about making movies. It’s also been really wonderful to be exposed to an evolution of filmmaking though RBC, because when I’m around people whose job it is to know the ins and outs of decades of equipment, it becomes fascinating to compare a modern marvel like the CineDrive, if it could be representative of the ease a filmmaker might, deep down, die for, to something like a 16mm film camera, if it could be representative of the perpetual fragility and exhaustion of filmmaking, as well as the amazing reward that results.

Cat Haag, Summer 2014 Intern, intern@rule.com


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July 11, 2014

The Kessler CineDrive: A Robot with A Mind of Its Own?

Filed under: Learning Lab Series, New Gear, Technology, What's New — rbcblog @ 10:57 am

Actually it’s a little more complicated than that. The CineDrive is a multi-axis motion control system that lets you pan, tilt, slide, zoom and even focus your camera. This piece of gear brings a whole new meaning to the word MOTION for your film or project.

With one look at the CineDrive, the first thing that will come to mind is “WOW, with so many moving parts and connections, I’ll never be able to learn all this”.  Actually, the CineDrive is only as complicated as you make it — from a simple sliding and panning motion to a whole 6-hour time lapse that includes the zoom function — it’s really all about the type of shot you hope to achieve.

With shot options including live-action, time-lapse and stop-motion, any of these settings will help your project come to life via motion.  How?  The CineDrive runs off software called kOS which can be controlled through an IPAD, PC or MAC.  This software communicates with the CineDrive’s main system called “The Brain”.  The Brain produces its own WIFI just like the GoPro.  You can connect the IPAD app wirelessly to the system, or if you don’t have WIFI, the Brain has an Ethernet port for a direct connection from your laptop.

In order for the motor to work, the Brain is connected to motor control boxes (MCB), with each box designated with a different function including zoom, focus or slide. The pan/tilt functions are part of the main system so there are no extra boxes for pan/tilt. It also comes with a couple of different motors — one for the slide, one for the zoom function (for your lens), and another for focus. With all these options, there are endless possibilities for creating various shot movements.

When first testing the CineDrive with the IPAD app, I found out it does not work well with the first generation IPADs, so you’ll want to make sure your IPAD or operating system is up-to-date.  The kOS app is frequently updated because it’s still considered pretty new.

The weight limit is around 15 pounds! That’s actually a lot if you think about it since you won’t need a monitor on the camera with the CineDrive staying in one spot. For one of my tests with the CineDrive, I used the TS3Cine high-speed camera, and the ports were a little difficult to attach a monitor while also getting the SD card in and out.

When people see the CineDrive they also think they need a slider, but (good news!), the CineDrive comes with a 100mm bowl mount that fits on tripod legs e.g., the Video 18 or Video 20.

When using the CineDrive with a camera like the 5D Mark III or 7D, you can create a time-lapse with photos in the kOS software, giving you the ability to set the number of photos you want to take within a certain amount of time. For example, say you want to take 1000 photos in 2 hours with a set frame rate.  All you need is a simple cable connection to make it happen!

The Kessler CineDrive is great for filmmakers who enjoy the more technical aspect of shooting.  While a good amount of preparation goes into the set-up, you have a good number of options and flexibility.   RSVP: events@rule.com for my upcoming Learning Lab with the CineDrive on Wednesday, July 23rd from 10am-12n.  If you can’t make it in person, you can watch it later on our vimeo channel at https://vimeo.com/channels/rulelearninglabseries.

–Scott Pierce, QC, pierce@rule.com


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June 19, 2014

The Quest for Knowledge (aka Summer Intern Highlights so far)

Filed under: Homegrown, Inside Rule, Intern Perspective — rbcblog @ 2:45 pm

It’s hard to think of something specific I’d like to say about the intern program at Rule. This is because I’ve gotten to do, see, and learn about tons of stuff in the really short time I’ve been here. I’m getting my hands on equipment I would, otherwise, have had to wait ages just to lay a finger on. I’m learning from some really promising and accomplished individuals about the scenes in Boston and New England, and getting to know names and faces. I’m navigating the streets of downtown with kits and cams in the back of the van, on our way to Boston film and videomaking offices I never even knew existed; and when we get there, people are really excited to see us.

While it’s difficult to abstain from geeking out over being in the same vicinity as ARRI Alexa’s, Cooke lenses and all the amazing stuff that goes with them, I think I’ll say one of my favorite things about the internship so far is interacting with the folks who use this stuff, and seeing what everyone’s renting. One guy rented a bunch of lights and when I asked him how everything worked out, he gave me details about his set and his weekend shoot. It made my day!

As an intern, I’m a little sponge – offer even the smallest amount of info or knowledge, and it’ll be well absorbed for future use. It’s one thing to soak in all the theories and reviews and instructional videos, but as a growing gear nerd, it makes all the difference to hold the stuff, figure it out and see how it works.  And as someone anxious to absorb, it’s really cool to invite all the rental drop-offers to tell me how their shoots went. I want to know what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, and I feel really encouraged as an intern to get them to tell me just a little bit about it.

In the shop the other day, I got to learn about a Steadicam Zephyr which was gear-nerd-monumental because it’s a vital piece of equipment to filmmaking (especially now that I’m much more ready to operate my own one day).  And of course it’s just plain cool.

Interns Mike and Cat with QC's Kevin Bueschen

I’m really looking forward to continuing the quest for knowledge, and to sharing more and more stuff that I learn about – the Panasonics, the REDs, the MoVI– you name it. To me, though, every piece of equipment I touch at Rule is awesome and important, from the Sachtler to the Kino to the Steadicam, because eventually it’ll all come together to make something really inspiring for the sponges like me!

Cat Haag, Summer 2014 Intern, intern@rule.com


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May 30, 2014

The Panasonic GH4: An Analysis (Part 1 of 2)

DSLR enthusiasts and 4K adopters alike have all been talking nonstop about the new Panasonic GH4; the tiny camera that can do 4K internally, high speeds up to 96fps, and some very high bit rates. Panasonic has taken the queues from its users who have in the past hacked and modded the GH series cameras to suit their needs. The GH4 does everything they’ve asked for, and Panasonic has come out strong with a very interesting 4K camera – but how does it perform in the real world?

Size
The GH4 is small. Real small. As you can see in the photo above, even with some rigging it maintains a small profile. Compared to the Canon 5D Mark III at around 2lbs, the GH4 squeaks in at a svelte 1.2lbs. The additional YAGH bottom unit will add a bit of heft to the camera, but at the end of the day it is one of the smaller DSLR’s out there. This can be a good or bad thing, all depending on your situation. For me, the flip out screen and small form factor are fantastic for run and gun situations, specifically in crowded areas or in public. It’s small and lightweight, but packs a punch with its recording quality. The small size will lend itself nicely to stabilizers of all types – including the new Movi M5 (available to buy or rent here at Rule!).

Imager and Recording

The GH4 is another camera in a long line of Micro Four Thirds (MFT) size sensors. MFT is an interesting sensor size. Compared to the Full Frame Canon DSLRs, the crop factor can be intimidating (2.1x, thereabouts). Those of us familiar with shooting with the Blackmagic Cinema Cameras won’t be too surprised, but it can be a shock to some. When using S35 glass, like our beautiful Zeiss Super Speeds, the crop shrinks down to a manageable 1.4x – making the field of view on a 50mm look more like the field of view of a 70mm. Something shooters of the C100, C300 and other APS-C canon cameras will be very familiar with.

Aside from the crop, the image produced by the GH4 is impressive. It’s no low-light monster like the Canon 1DC – I don’t find ISO values higher than 1600 usable without heavy noise reduction and post work, compared to the 10,000 ISO on the 1DC that I’ve filmed with comfortably in the past. I find the standard ISO 800 values to be pleasing, but find that the shadows can still present some blocky looking noise artifacts. This can usually be graded out easily, but it’s important to remember that this isn’t a 1DC, and you’re going to have to take care when shooting dim scenes.

The GH4 does not have an official “Log” setting, as the 1DC does – but I find one can get very close when using the Cinelike D profile. I’ve altered my settings slightly to present a slightly more flat and dynamic range friendly profile. By lowering the in camera noise reduction, sharpening, and saturation, I find you can squeeze a bit more information into the recording. I also use the master pedestal setting to raise the blacks up (+15 in camera menu). I find this to be very near to a proper log setting. In DaVinci Resolve, using the Arri Alexa LUTs shows just how close it can be – though you should bump the saturation down a bit more before applying.

Below is a very quick test I did here at the Rule office. Shot in very bright mid-day sunlight, I tried to see how well the camera would capture detail and dynamic range. You can see it holds up well. The camera loves daylight, far more than tungsten. Though the 4K is only recorded at a variable bitrate, maxing at 100Mbps, it seems to handle detail and movement well. It is able to capture the bright blue sky, as well as plenty of shadow detail. It’s not RAW, like the Blackmagic counterparts, but you can record around 80 minutes of 4K video on a 64GB card – compared to the Blackmagic Pocket Camera that can give you around 20-30 minutes of Prores, or 15 or so minutes of RAW 1080p. Puts it all into perspective, doesn’t it?

Click here for “Panasonic GH4: First Tests” on Vimeo.

The GH4 is also capable of outputting a 10bit 4:2:2 signal via HDMI. This disables the internal recording, but allows for very high quality Prores recordings with the Odyssey 7Q. While it can be a bit of a runaround getting from Micro-HDMI to Mini-HDMI, the image quality is striking. The Odyssey 7Q’s monitor is also a miracle when shooting, and a welcomed respite from using the small 3” flip out LCD screen.

The added focus peaking, zebra, and histogram functions also make shooting life easier. The GH4 does internally offer peaking, zebra, and histogram – but none perform quite as nicely as that of the 7Q.

Stay tuned for a follow up blog post with some more footage and examples, as well as the GH4 Learning Lab I’ll be presenting June 25th here at Rule Boston Camera!

Alex Enman, Engineer, enman@rule.com


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May 9, 2014

Production LEDs in a New Light with Zylight’s F8

UPDATE ON 5/12/14:  Since my original post below, I’ve learned that the F8’s bellows are actually made from silicone which should last significantly longer than rubber and that a redesigned yoke was already shown at NAB.  Zylight’s on the ball!

We’ve all heard about the merits of LED lighting (low power draw, low heat, no bulb changing, etc.), but for the reality of production work, there were always major trade-offs. The throw of an LED light was useless unless you were right up on the talent, their color rendition was poor and their tell-tale multi-shadows were garbage.  LEDs were rightly relegated to being just an easy fill option or kick light.  Even their flicker free qualities were limited by their low output which is not what you need for high frame rate shooting.  Despite a larger power draw and the heat, you were always better off using tungsten or HMI. Zylight’s F8, though, finally spoils us.

This is a focusable fresnel LED fixture (70° flood and 16° spot) that is lightweight, can be powered for over an hour with a standard camera battery, and has the equivalent throw of a traditional 650w tungsten head. I had to break out a light meter to see the proof in lux for myself.  Not to be overlooked is the distinct, single shadow you get from this instrument. You can order the F8 as 5600K or 3200K.

Admittedly, the F8 is a little pricey at $2,400.00 but remember that tungsten replacement bulbs aren’t cheap and neither is your electric bill if you have a studio.  The fact that you can just slap a dionic on the back and you’re good to go anywhere is amazing.  Save yourself from that heavy sack pack of stingers and dimmers.  I appreciate the retracting bellows design that squeezes this unit down to just a few inches thick.  The bellows are rubber, though, so there is the concern of hardening and cracks over time.  The yoke definitely needs a redesign.  Rosettes are for tripods and handles, not lights.  Having two separate rosette mounts to deal with every time you need to make adjustments is annoying.  Flicker free dimming from 0-100% from a small knob in the back or through DMX is a nice feature.  Zylight is very proud of their “Zylink” wireless control control capability but in practice, I could take or leave that feature.  I noticed a USB 3.0 port behind the fresnel lens so who knows what else is to come through firmware.  All things considered, the F8 is already a staple in our lighting inventory here at Rule and once you try it, you’ll be asking for it again and again.

- Jason Potz, Engineering, j.potz@rule.com


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March 18, 2014

The Ever-Evolving F55 and F5

Filed under: New Gear, Showroom, Technology, Updates, What's New — rbcblog @ 2:42 pm

The F55 and F5 are really something.  Just when you think you know them, there’s another update!  For over a year now, the F55 and F5 have been steadily making their way on a pre-planned firmware path that continuously adds to what these cameras can do.  No other camera has gestated outside of the factory as long as these have.  Version 3.0 was going to finish the cameras but then 4.0 was announced and the cameras just keep giving!  The number of codecs (XAVC, MPEG50, SR, RAW and now ProRes and DNxHD!), frame rates (up to 180 internal and 240 on R5), and mount options (PL, F, B4, EF, etc.) make the F55 and F5 the most versatile cameras on the market.  It’s that flexibility, however, that can make them a little tricky to learn at first. Version 3.0 has been out for a little while so we’ve had some time to suss it out. We invite you to another F55/F5 demo in our Showroom on Wednesday, March 26th at 12PM to learn more.

3.0 Stand-Out Features:

Apply, route, and record a variety of LUTs, e.g., shoot RAW and simultaneously record S-log with or without a LUT baked in on SxS.  You can even use Sony’s free software, Raw Viewer, to create your own 1D LUTs to load into the camera.

2K Center Scan mode is not to be overlooked.  Normally, you’re always using the full Super 35 4K CMOS sensor regardless of what resolution you want to shoot.  Windowing in on the sensor, though, allows the ability to use Super 16mm lenses which offers more choices for look, cost, and weight.  This is a great feature that got a lot of people’s attention.

The new color space option, S-Gamut3/S-Log3 offers a more filmic curve that allows more detail in shadows and the application of standard LUTS, not necessarily made by Sony.  S-log 2 allows more information in the highlights, i.e., you can overexpose slightly with 2 and underexpose slightly with 3.


The side panel is now fully functional with quick access to the features you need and word is that 4.0 will even bring the full camera menu there.

-Jason Potz, Engineering, j.potz@rule.com

Dotted Line

March 14, 2014

Live Keying with the Sony AWS-750 Anycast Touch

Filed under: Homegrown, Learning Lab Series, New Gear, Technology, What's New — rbcblog @ 2:41 pm

When the new Sony Anycast Touch live switcher showed up here at Rule, no one really knew what to make of it. The knee-jerk reaction to the dual touch screen, Star Trek looking switcher, was a wave of mild curiosity – followed closely by the inevitable “Where are all the buttons!?” See, in the world of live events, switchers usually have switches — physical buttons, knobs, and other touchy-feely things to give the user some satisfying real-world feedback when using the equipment. The new Anycast Touch, as one could assume from its namesake, looks more like an iPad than a switcher – and after you accept the new form factor, it’s awesome.

In this post, I won’t be going into every nut and bolt on the Anycast Touch. Instead, I’ll be focusing on one advanced ability — live keying. If you’d like to know more about the overall basic operation, my tips and tricks, and a more in-depth outline of advanced workflows, RSVP to events@rule.com for my Learning Lab here at Rule on March 26th. We’ll be going over a handful of real-world switching situations to acclimate both seasoned vets and users who are new to live event production.

In the past, doing live chroma key work has always been a daunting task. Lighting your green or blue screen evenly was absolutely essential to getting a good, passable key – and to a large extent, this is still true today. The Anycast Touch is very forgiving, though. It deals with hot spots and wrinkles fairly well, though spill is something one should always be mindful of. A good rule of thumb is to simply get your talent as far away from that colored backdrop as possible for your framing.

The Sony Anycast Touch is unlike any other switcher when it comes to live keys (or anything else, really). The interface for keying will look familiar to any users who have used chroma keying features in any popular NLE. While it isn’t as populated with intricate refining features like Adobe’s UltraKey or Keylight, it’s surprisingly powerful.


Sony gives us 3 main sections in the Chroma Key settings:  1) Chromakey, 2) Crop, and 3) Size/Position. I won’t spend too much time on the last 2, as they’re fairly self-explanatory. In the main panel, though, we have some interesting choices. The “Auto” mode is very robust, and often gets it pretty close. When in auto mode, we are given a small white box on our main display to move around (I prefer using a mouse and keyboard when using the Touch, as it makes dragging this box around much easier than using your finger). I find that selecting the darker spots of your green/blue screen produce the best results — though lighting your screen evenly is always recommended. Even so, I’ve gotten some remarkable results from wrinkled and uneven lighting — there is enough forgiveness here for users of all levels to give it a shot.

Color Cancel is a great addition by Sony — it is your basic “spill suppression.” Instead of adding magenta to green, though, it simply finds any leftover areas of the sampled color and desaturates them.  This is fantastic for tough keys with fairer skin and lighter hair. I wish there were ways to adjust the amount of hue and luma for the key’s selection, but, even without it, it seems to work very intuitively. Sometimes, if your talent is wearing darker clothing, this can present itself as a fine grey outline. Fiddling with the manual gain and density adjustments is usually enough to get it passable.

Disable Colors will help you select as to whether you want to composite your title graphics, or have them overlay as normal. Not much to worry about here – basic rule of thumb is to leave it be unless your titles are behaving strangely.

My recommended workflow for keying is to use auto mode to get you in the ballpark – if you’ve lit your screen fairly well, you often won’t need to mess with anything else. If you’re finding issue, switching to manual will save the auto settings, then adjusting the Clip slider is usually enough to get you the rest of the way there.

Here’s a photo of the test we set up:


I tried to emulate a portable, lower budget situation for users who would be on location, streaming live to the web or to internal monitors. We used a collapsible Chroma Key flex-fill, clamped to a few C-Stands. For lighting, I threw up some Litepanels 1×1’s, with full diffusion and ¼ CTO to keep the greens looking green. For our single key light, I used the Litepanels Ringlite Mini. A small LED light would be a great addition to this set up for some fill light, but I tried to keep things simple. Our camera? Your standard Canon 5D mkIII with a 24-70mm, stopped down to f4. Here’s a still from this setup, with our own Jenn Jennings reading the weather!



You can see that even with a very basic set up, you can get a pretty convincing chroma key up and running without too much fuss. Green screen live can be a great tool for corporate productions, broadcast situations, and webcasts. It can also be a great way to easily get a visually interesting interview background when space and budget is limited.

In addition to the traditional chroma key situations, one can also use chromakey for using animated titles. The Anycast Touch, at the end of the day, is still a switcher, and switchers are always going to be limited in certain ways. With the Touch, we are unable to import animated graphics into the internal SSD for use in the titling section. Even when exported with an alpha channel, the Touch can’t process it. By using chromakey, however, we are able to circumvent this limitation. We can use the internal media player and chromakey effect to knock out the background, and use live animated graphics. In this way, your graphics are really limited only by your graphic designer’s talents!

Here’s a video sample using a gaudy animated lower third I threw together in After Effects. Exported as a simple MP4, I used a highly saturated green as the background.

The Touch removes it perfectly on the auto setting, and we’re able to use animations to really raise production value. The added text has been created and faded on using the Anycast Touch title interface.

Perfect for sports when you need to throw back to instant replay, probably having two opposing team’s helmets smash into one another and explode. Or maybe a robot doing jumping jacks. You get the idea.  The one drawback to this workflow is that Sony only allows you to have a single media player for internal video at a time — so by using it up on the animation, we can no longer put an internal video behind it at the same time internally. Not the end of the world, or even a common situation, but definitely food for thought.

So there you have it. Not so bad, right? With just a flex-fill green screen, a couple lights and a DSLR, you can add tons of production value to both small and large scale productions. I’ll be covering a whole lot more in my Learning Lab on March 26th, so be sure to RSVP: events@rule.com to get the nitty-gritty details on this cool new product.

-Alex Enman, Engineer, enman@rule.com



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