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The Sony PXW-Z150

  Sony_PXW-Z150 There’s a lot to be said for a good camcorder-styled camera — a format that, in recent years, hasn’t been given the love and attention I feel it deserves. While not the most exciting camera, more often than not (and especially for event and corporate shooters) — it is by far the most practical. The market was given a glimpse of the future late last year, with Panasonic’s release of the DVX 200. The camera provided a Micro Four Thirds imager, with a camcorder-styled body and attached zoom lens. The idea being that run-and-gun shooters needn’t compromise on depth of field any longer. By using the larger sensor, shooters could finally get images that rivaled those of their DSLR counterparts in the sub-$5,000 market. It’s a need that won’t be going away any time soon, either — producers and content creators have come to enjoy the shallow depth of field “look” that one gets from large imagers (the Canon 5D Mark II is probably to blame). But, rigging these small cameras with external recorders, audio interfaces, shoulder mounts, top handles, and shotgun mics was never the end-all, be-all answer shooters needed (although the DVX 200 delivered on these issues). Enter the Sony PXW-Z150, Sony’s newest offering in the PXW line, sitting happily alongside the popular FS5. At a little over three grand, this camera packs a punch. Its imager is slightly smaller than that of the DVX 200, but compared to the ⅓” and even ⅔” sensors of the prior generation of camcorders, the Z150’s 1” sensor adds just enough depth-of-field options to feel very versatile.   z150-medium In addition to its sensor, the Z150 has a few more tricks up its sleeve to bring it in line with its fancier, smaller counterparts. Sony has built the foundation of the camera’s acquisition on the now tried-and-true XAVC-L codec. While it’s not as dense as the FS7’s XAVC-I, it’s a huge improvement from the price-comparative a7SII (XAVC-S). The Z150 records a UHD 4K image internally, using the same SDXC cards as the FS5. It also has the ability to overcrank to 120fps in HD formats. Slowmo seems to be the new battleground for this market, and it’s great to see that Sony has matched the challenge. Perhaps the most interesting feature, for a humble colorist to appreciate, is its ability to record 10 bit HD. Traditionally, any camera under $10,000 recorded 8 bit images internally. To see a camera like this recording a nice and dense 10 bit image is a huge improvement. This camera has far more in common with an FS7 than an EX1. After that, the features meet all the new standards easily — built-in ND filter, a powerful autofocus and full auto mode, and XLR inputs. Run-and-gun shooters will feel right at home with the familiar Sony layout, and even though they’ve simplified the menus — I don’t find myself wanting anything extra. A common criticism of Sony’s latest camera lines is how complicated their menu structures are, so to see things paired down a bit in this camera is a welcome addition. It’s slightly disappointing that the Z150 doesn’t include any LOG gammas, but the normal picture profiles fill any creative gaps you may have. I don’t foresee many people shooting LOG on a camcorder, but with 10 bit, my question is ‘why not’? I would love to use the Z150 as a B camera to an FS7. Those are small potatoes, though, and I find myself very satisfied shooting with the Z150. For folks who are comfortable with the EX1 or NX cameras, this is, most likely, the 4K upgrade you’ve been waiting for. We are currently selling and renting the PXW-Z150, please contact us at answers@rule.com or 800-rule-com (800-785-3266) for more information! Alex Enman, Engineer, enman@rule.com

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

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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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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Canon Cinema with SNL’s Alex Buono

Those who braved the spontaneous monsoon and made their way to the Yawkey Theater at WGBH in Boston on Wednesday, August 1st, were treated to an inspiring, funny and informative discussion with Alex Buono, the Director of Photography for Saturday Night Live’s Film Unit. The event was sponsored by FRONTLINE, Rule Boston Camera and Canon, and guests were wined and dined and encouraged to see, touch and shoot with the new C300 camera, which has been unbelievably popular since its release earlier this year. Buono uses the C300 in addition to several other Canon cameras for his work, including the 5D Mark II, 7D and the XF305. He shared some of his experiences on set and delved into how and why Canon’s cameras allow him to accomplish things he never could before in less time than ever, plus dropped tips and tricks throughout his presentation for people looking to get into DSLR or cine-style shooting. Naturally, I can’t cover everything here, but I’ll highlight some of the most interesting tidbits.

Buono started shooting for the SNL Film Unit back in 1999, when they were still shooting on film. That was a challenge, he said, because their typical shooting schedule goes like this: the writers deliver the script on Wednesday, they prep on Thursday, shoot on Friday and edit and air the final product on Saturday. Those turnaround times were brutal with film, but with new tapeless workflows, especially with the MXF MPEG-2 format the C300 shoots, they don’t have to bog themselves down with film processing or telecine, or even the painful rendering times that other video workflows might require. Canon’s cameras made it onto Saturday Night Live’s broadcasts in 2009, when Buono used the then-new 5D Mark II to shoot the opening sequence for the show. It was a bold step and a big undertaking, but he was impressed by the unprecedented light sensitivity, the ability to shoot in tiny spaces with a much smaller crew, and of course, the picture quality and shallow depth of field that he had struggled to achieve since leaving his film cameras on the shelf years before. After the success of that shoot, they adopted DSLRs into their workflow and have now added the C300 to their arsenal, which is Buono’s favorite tool yet. I was excited to see how Buono uses these cameras in his work every week and some of the additional equipment he has been particularly fond of. He spoke highly of a number of third-party accessories, including the “Target Shooter” and “The Event,” which are two different shoulder rigs from Zacuto and Red Rock Micro, respectively. He also never leaves home without his Zacuto Z-Finder Pro. Buono also showed off some seriously useful smartphone apps he relies on for location shooting, like Sunseeker and Helios for tracking movement of the sun. Most impressively, he showed us how to do “virtual location scouting” with Google Earth. Using their 3D building models and the time of day feature, he could track the movement of the sun throughout the day, plan out all of his framing, plus get contact information for buildings he wanted access to—all within the Google Earth application. Buono spent a good portion of his presentation talking about the technical specifications of the C300, but emphasized an important point (and my favorite tip from the evening): filmmaking is not a science project. In an industry where it’s easy to get caught up in numbers, feature lists and marketing jargon, it’s important to remember that these cameras are filmmaking tools that help us achieve our visions as storytellers. And the introduction of more affordable equipment and the resulting leveling of the playing field has allowed people to focus less on how much money and effort it takes to get a good picture and more on the things that really matter—good writing and good performances. That being said, he went into a detailed discussion about how the C300 captures and records color information, how capturing two green channels on the sensor dramatically improves low-light capability and how the form factor has significantly improved their flexibility while shooting, both with shoulder/handheld setups and in Steadicam applications. He also emphasized how great it is to be able to shoot a scene with Andy Samberg in the middle of Times Square without swarms of tourists taking any notice at all. Shooting incognito is a luxury few crews with SNL’s level of exposure enjoy. I was also pleased to hear him talk about the importance of color grading with tools like Apple Color, Final Cut Pro, Tiffen DFX or Magic Bullet. He also emphasized how critical good sound is, and recommended that everybody use a decent microphone (like the Rode Stereo VideoMic Pro) and record to something other than a DSLR—be it in-camera on the C300 or with external recorder (like the Zoom H4N). Shooting at 24 frames per second instead of 30 or 60 and using a 180-degree shutter (1/50th of a second on a DSLR) was also his recommendation as the single most important (and probably easiest) step for achieving a cinematic look with your video. There was plenty more that Alex Buono had to say about his experiences shooting commercial parodies, skits and other videos for SNL, as well as his impressions of the new Canon C300, but there was simply too much great information to cover here. He’s been traveling all around the country giving these kinds of presentations, so if you’re lucky, he may be making his way to a city near you and you can hear more about what he has to say. You can also follow him on Twitter at @alexbuono or go to alexbuonoreel.com to see more of his work. Peter Brunet, Engineering Technician, brunet@rule.com

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The New Sony PMW-F3

Sony’s most anticipated camera is finally just around the corner with delivery expected mid-February.  The F3 is a dream camera for most in that it offers a large sensor like DSLR’s but with the feature sets and ergonomics of a professional HD camera.  The F3 features a Super 35mm-sized sensor and a PL mount adapter.  On the surface, the camera appears to be no more than an EX1R with a large sensor, but, under the covers, it’s actually so much more.  Its numerous features will mean more to some than others, but, it’s fair to say that Sony has a winner on its hands for both entry level shooters all the way up to seasoned professionals.  Beyond the sensor’s increased low-light capability is a huge increase in noise reduction and the forethought of keeping the flange depth (in relation to the sensor) accurate and in-tune for use with most professional motion 35mm Cine Lenses.  Great features like over crank and under crank are present (1fps-60fps), and the camera features the same amazing 3.5″ viewfinder as the EX1R.  Even with this great viewfinder, it’s advisable to use an on-board monitor since the depth of field is shallower than the EX series and focus will be much more critical.  A good monitor with focus assist is key if not pulling tape on each shot. Photo: F3 camera body with PL mount adapter. I noticed online via various forums, blogs, etc., a lot of confusion about the mount on the F3.  The F3 features a removable PL mount but the camera has its own F3 mount as well.  Many people have asked why there is a zoom rocker on a camera that comes with a PL mount.  The zoom control is specifically for the F3 mount on the body which, in the near future, will be able to control S35mm F3 mount zoom lenses which Sony has plans to bring to market in the near future.  These zooms are the 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 (manual focus and zoom), 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 (auto), and the 17-50mm f/2.8 (auto). These lenses are not due until the end of 2011 and price is TBD.  This is still very encouraging and something that cannot currently be found in the DSLR arena.  S35mm zoom lenses, even in a new F3 mount, are a solution that opens up the use of smaller crews and less external components (microforce, etc.).  Sony has the ability to make lenses like this due to their acquisition of Konica / Minolta.  Outside of the F3 mount the camera comes with a PL mount.  It’s not a dummy mount in that it has the ability to transmit Arri Lens Data and Cooke/i data to the camera body.  These data pins are located in the 12 and 3 o’clock positions inside the PL mount. This metadata is passed onto the SxS cards during recording so you have the ability in post to review lens information (think Canon EXIF data with Aperture but with motion pictures).  Sony also has an F3K bundle which features three of its own PL lenses (35mm, 50mm & 85mm) all f/2.0 with 95mm filter diameters.  I think this is a very clever choice to have a bundle with these primes because they are fast, consistent and can be purchased for a lot less than most PL mount cine glass.  Canon and Nikon users are not left out as Nikon (G and DX will all work) and Canon FD lens adapter to F3 mount are available from MTF Services.  Birger Engineering also has plans to release a Canon EF mount with full protocol control.  I think most users will be looking at Zeiss CP.2 PL lenses as an affordable solution for owning, and lens renters will be looking at Cooke S4, Arri and Zeiss PL mount lenses to take full advantage of the amazing sensor on the camera. Photo: F3 with PL mount. Notice the data pins at the 12 and 3 position in the mount. The Sony F3 uses SxS cards just like the rest of the Sony PMW series of cameras.  The camera records MPEG-2 Long GOP which is also used by the rest of the XDCAM HD cameras in Sony’s professional line.  The bit rate is selectable between the 35 Mb/s @ 1920 x 1080 or 1280 x 720 in HQ mode or 1440 x 1080 if using 25 Mb/s SP mode at all the standard frame rates we are accustomed to with Sony’s CineAlta line of cameras (1fps – 60fps).  This was smart on Sony’s part as it allows you to inter-cut with other Sony professional cameras in the line if needed. The camera features two SxS slots which can hold up to two 64GB SxS-1A cards for a total of 200 minutes of continuous recording time without having to offload (well beyond DSLR capabilities) A great feature of the F3, which also has some lack of clarity on the web, is its ability to output Dual Link 3G SDI 10bit 4:2:2 and RBG.  This is an optional feature available in April via a software unlock (price TBD), and it will allow you to use several different recording options like a CineDeck, HDCAM SRW5500/2, Codex, Astro HR-7502, S.Two, direct to AJA Kona 3G (ideally with CineForm DDR), etc.  You can also use a NanoFlash or a KiPro Mini if you just want to bypass the SxS or as a secondary or primary (with SxS as a backup). With 3D being popular in the past few years, Sony has wisely added a 3D system link option that will allow you to lock-up timecode, genlock and other controls with a single cable — simplifying the process.  This is really smart because it allows you to use simple side-by-side 3D rigs without the need for external devices, etc.  3D focus, zoom, iris can all be done with a Preston HU3 and 2 x MDR-2 units with 6 motors via 3D tweak in the Preston hand unit. When Sony puts out their own S35 Zoom lens with built in servos this process will be even easier as you can use a Varizoom and other simple electronic controls for FI+Z.  It’s also important in that the F3 has an 8pin remote terminal so you can use standard remote units like the RMB150 controller.  I mention this with 3D as it is possible to use one remote to control two cameras with an 8pin adapter cable. The 3D link option will be available in April and price is TBD. Overall, the Sony F3 is destined to become one of the most talked about and popular cameras of 2011.  With the Panasonic AF100 and the Sony F3, it is safe to say a shift to large sensor cameras by manufacturers is a priority.  Sony and Panasonic have been paying attention and both reacted with two quality products that directly address a number of features and requests that we have all had with DSLRs.  Ergonomics, proper audio (XLR connections with monitoring), proper waveform/vector, recording length, codecs, etc., have all been addressed affordably.  The camera comes with a PL adapter, Stereo Mic, Windscreen, IR remote, Shoulder strap (not sure why), manual, CD-ROM with drivers and digital manual and warranty.  The F3K comes with the same supplied accessories with the addition of the PL lens kit featuring a 35mm, 50mm and 85mm lenses. The camera does not come with batteries or a charger.  Luckily, it uses the Sony BP series of batteries so if you already have an EX1 or EX3, you’ll be all set.  These batteries and charger will be sold and rented at Rule along with the Sony PMW-F3 camera.   We’ll be hosting a Learning Lab for the F3 on Wed, Jan 19th 2011 at Rule Boston Camera. Mike Sutton, Senior Account Manager Twitter: @MNS1974

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In the Showroom: 3D, Euphonix MC Color, Tripods, Z-Finders, G-Drives & More

I was recently sitting in the Showroom looking over the latest additions to our stock.  We’re steadily adding to the inventory, so I’ll post what’s new in the Showroom as it comes in.  In the meantime, if you’ve been reading Mike Sutton’s blog posts or following the latest technology in the Learning Lab sessions you’ll know what’s new!   While I was in the Showroom writing this, one of our engineers, Alex Ulloa, came running down the hallway with an unfamiliar-looking manual, and as he pressed it against the glass everything went blurry.  And I bet the same thing will happen to you when you check out the new Panasonic 3D cameras.  They’re currently being tested by our engineers and prepped for rental and demo use.  If you’re looking to buy one, check in ASAP!  For a sense of what they look and feel like when shooting, check out Mike Sutton’s blog post (he recently took one out for a test drive), or come to the October 20th Learning Lab which is all about shooting with the AG-3DA1 3D camera and the BT-3DL 2550 25.5″ 3D LCD monitor (we’ll provide the 3D glasses). Another new product you’ll see in the Showroom is the Euphonix MC Color used for Color Grading.  Most of you Final Cut Pro users have probably heard about it, but what you might not know is that Euphonix was recently bought by Avid.  We like the MC Color because Euphonix built it specifically to avoid breaking the bank.  Any other color grading option out there starts at $3,650. Then there are the new tripods, specifically the Manfrotto 701HDV, 547BK, Sachtler FSB-6 SOOM tripod, Manfrotto 504HD, 546BK tripods (replacing the discontinued 503’s) and the standard Sachtler FSB-4 and FSB-6. Last but not least, we’re doing our best to get in some custom Canon and Zacuto catalogs.  I’m guessing that a lot of you are looking online trying to figure out which kit is best for you, so let us help you with advice from people who have already put together their own custom rigs and know the parts pretty well.  Bring your camera in along with any and all of your parts, and we’ll help you rig them to go with what you need.  If there are any missing pieces, we’ll order them right then and there.  It’s nice to be able to build something that fits your needs, not changes them. We’re becoming dealers for new brands by the week, adding Euphonix, Adobe, For-A, Ross and G-Tech relationships, so keep checking in!  We just got a LARGE shipment of Zacuto Z-finders and G-Drives so come in soon! Michelle Brooks, Inside Sales Representative

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Taking Advantage of Crop Factor

Should I get a Canon 5D MKII, 7D, or 1Ds MKIV ?  This is a question I am often asked when someone is looking to buy or rent an HDSLR.  There are several trains of thought that seem to be the main focus from one camera to another, and usually the conversation boils down to a low light and sensor size issue.  Yes, the 5D MKII has a significantly larger sensor over the 7D, and it does have better low light capability as a result, but there are other factors to be considered.  The focus of this specific blog entry is to address the factor of crop with the 7D and 1Ds MKIV, and how this can be seen as a positive rather than a negative.  I say this because I often hear people complain about using full frame lenses and the focal length multiplier as though this is a bad thing.   With regard to wide angle — yes, it greatly reduces your focal length options.  On the telephoto end, however, is where this can be a huge advantage. Before I go any further I will explain crop factor (I have seen several people try to explain it so I will keep it as simple as possible): When you use full frame lenses on non-full frame cameras (7D APS-C and 1Ds MKIV APS-H for example), the image appears bigger (magnified) because the field of view is smaller giving the lens a focal length multiplier.   If you are shooting sports or nature subjects on stills or HD, you will want to leverage the focal multiplier of 1.6x of the 7D and the 1.3x of the 1Ds MKIV.  The benefits are — you do not require a telephoto adapter or 2x or 1.5x extender.  The reasons for avoiding both are due to loss of 1 – 2 stops of light and the possible introduction of aberrations (chromatic and otherwise), flaring, trapping dust between optics, weight, etc.  You can always add a 2x extender onto a crop camera to get even tighter on your subject if applicable. Here is a brief breakdown of some common telephoto focal lengths when coupling a full frame lens with a 7D: 85mm = 136mm,  100mm = 160mm, 135mm = 216mm, 200mm = 320mm, 400mm = 640mm, 600mm = 960mm & 800mm = 1280mm Now if you apply a 2x extender like the Canon 2x EF Extender II your 960mm (600mm) will become a 1920mm (with a loss of 2 f stops ). There are factors to consider when using these new-found focal multipliers.  First thing to remember is that your foreground / background relationship does not change.  The lens properties remain the same unlike if you switched to a different lens. Second, you want to ensure that when using long lenses like the 100mm and above that you have some form of image stabilization built into the lens or a sturdy support system.  I managed to use the Canon 600mm this weekend on loan and threw it on my 7D for a 960mm equivalent focal length.  To use a multiplier like this requires you to either trigger the camera via remote or hold your breath while shooting as any bump, wind, etc. on the lens amplifies.  I had to use a heavy-duty video tripod with the release plate mounted to the lens foot to get anything useful on video.  This, of course, was an extreme field of view and not typical with focal lengths under 300mm. A large benefit for crop factor is for use with macro video and stills.  I shoot a lot of macro HD video of everything from insects, reptiles, textiles,  products, etc.  Macro functionality even with the focal multiplier is retained — which is important.  This can be handy when dealing with subject matter that may dangerous (shooting scorpions), or jumpy (see frog below), or when you just need more detail or a closer view without losing any stops of light.

Green Frog with 160mm equivalent field of view. (JPEG still pulled from HD Video shot on 7D w/ 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS  @ f2.8 shutter 50, ISO 320 *scaled down from 1080)

If you are going to focus shooting HD video of  nature or sports, you should  take a look at the Canon 7D and Canon 1Ds MKIV as alternatives to the 5D.  The crop factor will save you the weight of lugging around a 400mm or 600mm lens, plus it will save money (long lenses are expensive), and it will keep you more inconspicuous when needed.

Mike Sutton, Senior Account Manager Twitter: @MNS1974

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Nikon To Enter The Fray With New Video DSLRs?

According to the various rumor sites, Nikon might be close to announcing a new video DSLR camera (D3100) in about a week, with another to follow in mid-september (D95).  While there is a multitude of speculation as to what will come out in press releases before Photokina from Canon and Nikon, we should digest our rumors slowly, and with several grains of hopeful salt. Adam Van Voorhis, Equipment Technician

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Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens review

I have owned the 100mm Macro IS for approximately a month now and have used it mostly for nature video and still work. Although this lens is labeled and intended for Macro work it is a fully functional 100mm lens for telephoto use as well. The lens features Canon’s new Hybrid image stabilization which provides 4stops of stabilization correction which allows for hand held work were normally only a tripod would do. The lens is an L series but unlike most is made of a durable black plastic instead of a metal body. Do not let this fool you as the lens is very durable and I think it might be used on future lenses because of its weight, thermal properties, and for cost. The lens still features a weather sealed ring to mate up with your 5DMKII, 1DMKIV, or 7D. Another great feature of this lens is that it has life-size close-up capabilities, something that would require the life-size adapter in the past with other macro lenses. The fast 2.8 aperture is great for documentary work and in the field where bringing in additional light may not be an option. The aperture features 9 blades in a circular pattern that provides a consistent bokeh. The lens features a three position focus limiter to allow for quick AF if you are not in manual mode. Reducing the range of focus that the lens has to hunt for makes the USM work within a split second to achieve subject focus, which can save your shot. I sometimes find myself using this feature and once I am within range switching over to manual focus. A great feature of this macro lens is adding the 2x extender which then gives you 200mm but retains the minimum focus distance. I used this last weekend to shoot macro footage of a Praying Mantis eating an aphid for a project I am working on. I knew I needed to be within 8 inches of the subject to achieve the framing I wanted but the 2x extender made it happen without sacrifice. Because the lens is fast at 2.8 the lose of a stop was still well within the perimeters of the light that was available. For video use the 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM is well matched in color and consistency to the typical lenses used. I found it matched nicely with the 16-35, 24-70, 70-200. Some post correction was required when inter-cutting with the 85mm 1.2, and the 600mm but overall it was minimal. This is a still taken with the 100mm f/2.8L Maco IS USM lens at Lake Fairlee Vermont dusk, wide open 2.8 ISO 200 from a deck approx 100meters from the waters edge. Using the lens as a telephoto instead of a macro. 1″ Tree Frog taken with same lens but using it as a Macro instead of telephoto mode. Overall I think if you require a macro lens the 100mm f/2.8L IS USM is the route to go over the 50, 60, 65 and the 180. Canon only has two L series macros, the 100mm and the 180mm, but the 180mm is f/3.5, does not feature IS, requires a tripod and is much heavier than the 100mm. It is a great lens to have in your kit and I recommend you test one out when you have the chance as I have found myself using the lens as my standard 100mm tele for non-macro use. Michael Sutton Senior Account Manager Twitter: @MNS1974

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Zacuto Z-Finder Pro 2.5x in the field

If not using an on-board monitor for your HD-SLR camera, the Zacuto Z-Finder Pro 2.5x (Z-FIND-PRO2) is essential for Live View shooting with the Canon 7D and 5D Mark II. Zacuto has constantly improved their viewfinders based on feedback from users. It’s good to see that they are implementing features that professional shooters have craved since the initial version of the finder. Many would say to simply use the magnification button on the camera when setting-up your shot for focus, but if you shoot professionally (be it documentary, commercial, corp, etc.) you are dealing with moving subjects / objects, etc., so this doesn’t work accurately. Having a proper viewfinder and being able to focus with magnification (without taking your eyes off the frame) is a huge asset. Personally, I found the 3x version of the viewfinder to be too much magnification, and it was a distraction when shooting. Most shooters I have worked with and talked to seem to agree that the 2.5x is the perfect solution for handheld and rig shooting when or if an LCD is not viable. First thing I noticed about the Z-Finder Pro 2.5x over the V2 of the finder was the mounting system. The Gorilla Plate with DSLR mounting frame is very adjustable and can be easily mounted to a Canon 7D or 5DMKII without worry of it popping off or using bands like the older Z-Finder. Using the 2.5X on the 5D required a bit of tweaking to the frame in order to position it but once centered, it was secure. Using the 2.5x on the 7D seemed to have the best fit with minimal adjustment needed to center the finder over the LCD. The second major improvement I noticed is that the new Pro finder did not fog up when used. This is a huge improvement, so much to the point that Zacuto now has an anti-fog upgrade kit for the Z-Finder V2. This upgrade is $22 and worth every penny if you have the older finder. The Gorilla Plate comes with the 2.5x and the 3x. It has several taped 1/4 20 holes in the bottom, but I suggest getting the plate adapter (Z-GRP-ADPT) for $17.50. This adapter will center your tripod mounting hole which will keep your pan axis point accurate. For under $400 the Z-Finder 2.5x is a great deal. Unlike monitors, you do not have to deal with power, cables, conversions (HDMI to HDSDI) etc. You also do not have glare to contend with or other reflections on the monitor. The Z-Finder will block out all extraneous light sources so you can see your frame accurately. This is a must for doc filmmakers (where power and excess equipment can be an issue) who plan on using the 7D or 5DMKII camera in the field. For the 5DMKII this will be even more of a must as monitoring the HDMI signal is only standard definition and getting critical focus is not happening with an on-board monitor. This is where the Z-Finder 2.5x saves the shot. You can achieve focus which, for this full-frame camera, is critical especially when using long lenses and wide open apertures. Mike Sutton, Senior Account Manager