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Shooting with the New Panasonic HPX250 AVC-Intra 100 Camcorder

I had the unique opportunity last weekend to be one of a select few to shoot with Panasonic’s new AG-HPX250 AVC-Intra  100 camcorder in a real-world environment.  The camera has a familiar look to it with a body style similar to the cameras it’s replacing (the HPX170 and HVX200).  The main difference between these three cameras is that the 250 adds the AVC-Intra 100 codec. The HPX170 has been around since 2008 so the 250 keeps the line fresh with other features like a 21 x optical zoom vs. a 13 x.  Another change is, of course, the sensor which is now a 2.2 million pixel 3MOS vs. the HPX170’s CCD.  Panasonic also decided to jump into the Event and PEG TV markets by adding Genlock and Time-Code interfaces.  A major jump-up in viewfinder quality was also very evident on the HPX250 with over 1 million pixels vs. the 170s 235k.  Although the sensor size is still 1/3″, I did notice better detail in the shadow areas of the images I was recording.   I imagine this was because I was using AVC-Intra 100. I used the camera for approximately 4 hours on one of my Steadicam Flyer LE HD rigs for a Range Rover training video that I’m shooting.   The camera was originally going to be used for BTS shots, but our regular camera package did not have all the components ready to go, so the HPX250 quickly became the “A” camera for the shoot.   Without having time to read the manual, I was able to quickly get the camera set-up and ready to shoot as time was of the essence.  Panasonic has nicely laid out the key features with quick and easy access to buttons on the operator side of the camera.  Everything you need — like focus assist, ND, audio controls, scene file, waveform, etc., is nicely placed in plain view. Once the shoot was done and it was time to edit, the AVC-Intra 100 footage easily loaded into all three of the edit systems I use (and tested it with).  Final Cut Studio, Premiere Pro CS5.5 and Avid MC5.5 and even FCP X worked nicely.  The AVC-Intra 100 held up a little better in post than a few samples I shot in DVCPRO 100, especially when cropping into the image. If you are in the market for a DVCPRO HD or AVC-Intra 100 camcorder, the Panasonic HPX250 is affordable at under $6k.  It’s definitely worth checking out. Mike Sutton, Senior Account Manager Twitter: @MNS1974

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Sony F3’s @ Rule Boston Camera next week !

The highly anticipated Sony F3 is making its way to Rule next week.  We will have the F3 available in our rental department as well as in our showroom.  If you have not put down a deposit on the camera you will want to reserve one asap.   We anticipate the camera will be sold out and become one of the most popular cameras for 2011 due to its familiar workflow, lensing options, sensor size, and form factor.  Myself and the sales team will be available for demos on the showroom camera (please call in advance to book an appointment) with various lenses and accessories. Soon we will have Zeiss CP.2 lenses (several sets on order) on hand in rentals and sales to test with the camera. We will also have the MTF services Nikon mount and Zeiss ZF.2 lenses as well very soon. Come check out the camera everyone is talking about. Mike Sutton, Senior Account Manager Twitter: @MNS1974

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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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The New Panasonic AG-3DA1 3D Camcorder

Rule Boston Camera just received the Panasonic AG-3DA1 camcorder which I decided to take out this long weekend for a test drive.  The camera is similar in shape and weight to the Panasonic HPX170 camera with the exception of its dual lens and longer lens hood. The camera is lightweight and has the core features of most camcorders with the exception that it shoots 3D and has dual HD-SDI outputs.  The 3DA1 uses dual SDHC cards to record media with one card for left eye and one for right eye.  One of the great things about choosing SDHC cards is that they fairly plentiful and inexpensive.  Tracking down an HD deck with dual HD-SDI inputs is difficult and expensive so this camera embodies simplicity and ease of use by going with common media.  Since the camera records AVCHD codec (MPEG4/H.264), SDHC cards are more than fast enough to write to and even a class 4 card will work.   Each card is given a channel and fed time code so it stays in sync in post when locking up left and right channels. The camera has three methods of output, dual HD-SDI, HDMI 1.3 and cards via a card reader to transfer.  There are no analog outputs for composite, component or S-video.  Audio is handled via the on-board stereo mic or via two XLR audio inputs.  Audio is embedded on the HD-SDI and HDMI and can be monitored via a 3.5 mini headphone jack on the back of the camera.  The built-in mic picked up a fair amount of noise during testing so an external mic is essential especially if used on-set indoors.

Panasonic AG-3DA1 head on

First, I would like to say that if you have ever shot anything in 3D before with either a side-to-side or beam-splitter rig, you’ll find that this camera is very easy to use.  Unlike the aforementioned rigs, you don’t need to worry about adjusting two lenses simultaneously for focus, zoom and iris.  Left and right eyes must match in focal length, focus and zoom or the 3D effect is blown, so a lot of control is required with traditional rigs.  The 3DA1 lenses are electronically and mechanically linked so focus, zoom and iris are tied automatically without the need for external hardware.   The AG-3DA1 allows you the freedom to focus without the technicalities of 3D inhibiting the creative process (to an extent).  With all that being said, this camera is not a run-and-gun camcorder.  If your shots are not locked down but stationary, it will work fine.  If you plan on Steadicam, dolly shots, zooming or any movement with the camera, you must plan for it in advance.  You have the ability on the camera to dial in convergence (where the optical axes of the left and right lenses converge) which allows you to dictate what is in the foreground and what is in the background — providing a sense of depth. While this ability is great, if it goes unplanned your shots could become unusable because the left and right eye are separate channels and not multiplexed together.  This can be corrected later (to a degree). Something else to consider is that the convergence adjustment utilizes the same dial as iris and is switchable, so you cannot adjust iris and convergence at the same time.  As long as you plan for this it should not be a problem, but if you are shooting from room-to-room or outdoors-to-indoors, for example, you should plan on remaining equidistant to the subject at all times so you can adjust exposure without affecting convergence.  There is a mix feature on the camera that will allow you to display left and right channels superimposed onto the swing-out viewfinder.  This allows you to see any convergence adjustments you make that you might not otherwise see when monitoring on a single channel.

AG-3DA1 on Kessler Revolution motorized head.

The Panasonic AG-3DA1 features I’m bringing to light are not to dissuade you, but to keep you informed so you can plan properly.  The camera features a slower boot time than most camcorders (approximately six seconds).  This could potentially be an issue but doesn’t really pertain to commercial work or feature work where the camera is turned on well in advance to shooting.  The camera features two 3CCD 1/4.1″ chips, so if you are planning to shoot indoors, you will need to consider a light kit due to the nature of the smaller sensors.  Noise in 3D is not pretty and can be very distracting, so it is imperative to have as much light as possible so you are not shooting at the lower threshold of the lens and sensors capabilities.  The sweet spot seems to be f/5.6 and higher on the lens.  Because the lenses are smaller there seems to be a bit more chromatic aberration than on an HPX170 for example.  This can have a large impact if you plan on shooting for Anaglyph Amber Blue or Cyan Magenta as it will pop on the screen.  There are post tools to reduce this, but, again, well-planned shooting and monitoring on set are probably the best ways to combat any potential issues.  You should plan on using a Kesson 50′ measuring tape or equivalent on location as the minimal focal distance of the 3DA1 is only 3’97” but the reference plane adjustment range for convergence adjustment starts at 7’2″ and goes to infinity.  You have to keep this in mind when shooting in order to maximize the 3D depth control as much as possible.  The camera does a fair amount of control on its own but the convergence adjustment is on the user to adjust if you want your footage to have any real depth to it.  There is a convergence display on the LCD that shows C00-C99 as a guide but its is only for rough estimation, and it is not accurate.  It also does not correlate to any system of real measurement.  The higher the number, the further away it is.  I tried to figure out a way to calculate based on these numbers but it never seemed accurate when using the camera day-after-day.  I used the shot marker whenever I racked convergence so that I would have a reference point in post when viewing in 2D single channel.  The convergence dial that shares Iris is small but usable and takes some getting used too.  After the second day of shooting, I got the hang of switching from iris to convergence and using the dial for both without taking my eye off the viewfinder, but it took a fair amount of practice.  There is also a button that will turn on 3D guide display, but, again, this is only for rough estimation, and it has no accurate distance of measurement built in. Zooming with the camera requires manual convergence adjustment to keep your subject depth accurate.  This is not automatically handled in the camera. It is highly recommended that you rent a 3D capable monitor if you rent this camera.  If you plan on shooting well and if you measure everything out, this is less of an issue, but realistically there is more to consider than just distances and convergence.  Another potential issue:  reflections and highlights which in the 3D world really pop on the screen and can be distracting, ruining your shot.  There were several shots I did that in 2D looked great, but when shot in 3D they were blown.  If I had monitored on location with a 3D monitor like the Panasonic BT-3DL2550, a 25.5″ 3D LCD I would have caught these highlights immediately in order to see which adjustments could be made to correct them.  This monitor will be available in the Rental inventory soon.  This next point might seem obvious, but, because both cards record simultaneously, you cannot eject a card while shooting or your shot will be lost. In a world of cameras that shoot dual solid state media, many people forget that you must treat the two cards as one card. Luckily the cards are located behind a locked plastic door which will keep you from accidentally pushing into and ejecting a card. The next major consideration when using the camera is post-production.  In my test case I used CineForm Neo 3D via FirstLight rather than as a plug-in on a MacPro 8-Core with 16GB of RAM.  A decent amount of RAM is a good idea especially if you are making adjustments and want to have real-time playback in the viewer.  Neo 3D works directly with the AG-3DA1 and allows you to bring in right and left channels independently. The main benefit of Neo 3D is that you can work with your footage in post without having a 3D monitor if you choose anaglyph and if you have the appropriate 3D glasses to match.  Luckily 3D glasses are trendy again and you can find them almost anywhere! My local gas station sells cyan magenta glasses for $1.  I picked up a pair and they worked perfectly.  Once in Firstlight you can select side by side, stacked, fields, onion skin, difference, anaglyph cyan magenta, anaglyph black and white, anaglyph amber blue, etc.  You can also swap eyes, monitor in 2D or just use left or right eye views.  In passive mode you can adjust parallax using the built-in vectorscope which you can also burn into the video. Working in the 3D tab of Cineform Neo 3D, you can adjust horizontal and vertical which can correct any convergence mistakes that might have been made in addition to depth tilt. This is all keyframe-able as well. There is also correction for primary curves on the encode and decode as well as Debayering and basic looks that can be assigned to the footage. If you do not have Cineform Neo 3D there are other solutions that will work such as the Quantel Pablo, Avid Media Composer (3.5 and up), Final Cut Studio (with plug-ins), Iridas, Dashwood 3D toolbox, Adobe and others.  A plug-in for CineForm Neo3D for Adobe will be released within a few months.

CineForm Neo 3D FirstLight stand alone application.

To sum up the experience, the Panasonic AG-3DA1 was great to work with.  Again I cannot reiterate enough the importance of being prepared in advance with pre-production, production and post-production well thought-out before shooting.  This should be the case with any shoot but more so with the special considerations of 3D.  The idea of a 3D camera that can be used with little to no crew is unheard of and the 3DA1’s small form factor allows for shots you could only get with a SI-3D rig.   If you are planning to shoot 3D but have no experience with 3D beam-splitter rigs or side-by-side rigs, and if you have a small budget, you really should check-out the AG-3DA1 camera.  You, too, can make a 3D feature, short, commercial, web project or spot without significant training or budget.  The Panasonic AG-3DA1 is now available in Rentals. Mike Sutton, Senior Account Manager Twitter: @MNS1974

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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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Cartoni Lambda the Perfect SFX and Zero Gravity Head

I have worked with numerous tripods and heads over the past 18+ years, using the worst-to-the-best tripod heads. Some of my favorites are the O’Connor 1030, the Sachtler 7+7, Cartoni 120EX, Ronford Fluid 7 (a bit old school), Weaver Steadman 2 axis, and the Cartoni Lambda.  Most DPs and camera operators choose a tripod and head they are familiar with because of past experience, word-of-mouth or brand loyalty. What do you do when your brand (Sachtler, O’Connor, etc.) doesn’t offer a solution for a specific type of shot? You need to look at complimentary gear or other solid foundations — enter the Cartoni Lambda nodal mount head. There are several nodal mount 2 and 3 axis heads currently in the rental world but none that have the versatility and the adjustment capacity of the Lambda. I think it hasn’t yet taken off due to the lack of education on how and why you would need a nodal head to begin with. The size and weight (46lbs) of the head can also be intimidating if you don’t know how it works. Many people assume it’s only for large film cameras like the Arri 535 or BL4s, etc., but this is not the case. You can use the Lambda head for two different, but similar situations. The first one is if you want a head for instantaneous moves using the mass of the head and camera weight, but on a zero gravity basis. This can be achieved by mounting the camera on the head by balancing the camera’s weight evenly on the horizontal and vertical axis of the head. Because the head is under slung and features numerous adjustments, you can also nodal-mount the camera on the horizontal and vertical axis of the camera’s sensor or film gate and use counter weights if needed for perfect balance. This is the reason why this head is great for SFX work, and it’s the main reason you’ll want to look at this head as an option for your next project. Why would you want to mount the camera on its nodal axis points? The main reason is that with traditional pan-and-tilt tripod heads, you cannot pivot on the horizontal or vertical axis of the cameras sensor or gate. You can achieve horizontal axis centering but only with an additional side-to-side camera adjustment plate. Vertical axis centering on the focal plane is impossible when tilting with a standard head as the camera sits on top of the head’s pivot point and therefore cannot be aligned. To get vertical axis centering on the camera sensor (or film gate), a nodal head or 2 or 3 axis head is required as its pivot point (axis point) can be aligned with the camera’s gate or sensor plane.  Its can do this because the camera mounting plate sits below the pivot point.

What does pivoting on horizontal and vertical axis’ do? It allows for parallax free imaging, meaning you can remove foreground-to-background shifting that occurs with traditional heads. This is important when you need to isolate and lock up your foreground / background relationship. For any shots requiring forced perspective, a nodal mount head is required. If you look at a movie like Elf or Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, these were shot primarily with nodal mount heads. Mind you, for those types of shots, when you have something in the background and in the foreground that appear to be the same distance apart, you would also require either a split field diopter or a large depth of field. Outside of that, however, the Lambda allows for these types of pan-and-tilt shots where traditionally these shots have to be locked off. Using a nodal mount head also allows for focus retention when using a shallow depth of field as the distance on the sensor or the film gate does not change on pan and tilt. There is no shifting or movement (as with a traditional tilt on a standard head) to throw your focus off with regard to distance; and with sensors on cameras getting larger and shallow depth-of-field being popular, this head will allow for greater accuracy with even conventional use. A great aspect of the Cartoni Lambda head is that you can effortlessly tilt 360 degrees even with large cameras like the Arri BL4s including a large lens and 1000′ mag.  You cannot do this on the Ronford F7, and it’s much easier to set-up the Lambda than a Weaver, for example.  The Lambda features a small hand crank that allows for a large amount of overall vertical adjustment and a smaller crank for nodal vertical axis centering, all with indexing. This is built on solid dovetail plates unlike other nodal heads that use tubing. The head will also accommodate wide cameras or simply allow your 1st AC or video assist the necessary tech access to both sides of the camera with a fair amount of room on the right side to make adjustments. This is achieved by unlocking the sliding dovetail and extending the head horizontally. Again–all indexed. Once you have the camera centered and the head counter-weighted, you can achieve zero gravity panning and tilting. If the camera being used has a smaller-than-the-minimal adjustment allowance on the head, a camera riser or mounting block is required to match head pivot axis with the camera’s gate/sensor vertical axis. You will want to drop drag for both panning and tilting to zero for any camera lighter than 10lbs.

The Cartoni Lambda is built like a tank and can accommodate cameras weighing up to 88lbs. The head weighs in at 46lbs, but don’t let that dictate your camera choice. Because its a zero gravity head, there is no minimum camera weight. This isn’t exactly true as the camera either has to weigh equal to or more than the Cartoni’s multi-adjustable tilt/pan handle. I put several cameras on the head — an Arri BL4S (approx 45lbs with 20-100 and 1000′ mag), an SR2.5 Evolution (approx 18lbs with 50mm prime and 400′ mag), a Sony PMW-350 (approx 15lbs with 16x lens and dionic 90 battery), and lastly a Canon 7D (approx 5lbs with 24-70mm, battery grip, and batteries) — all of which exhibited the same effortless panning and tilting. The Lambda features several adjustments of drag on both pan and tilt which even the heaviest of cameras will stay where it is placed (as long as it was balanced properly when centered and counterbalanced). Overall, I would say that the Cartoni Lambda (which is very popular in Europe and on the West Coast) should be seriously considered when looking at a head to rent for your next project. The fact is — the Lambda is pretty much the standard nodal head out west. If you are shooting any type of special effects or force perspective — the head is a must. It should also be considered if you just want to be able to have unrestricted tilting that you cannot get from a traditional head. It’s heavy, but it’s well worth it. I shot with it for 6 hours of testing and it was completely effortless — tracking subjects regardless of how fast they were moving. There is a 3rd axis option with this head for adding roll or dutch, which we currently do not carry, but if you absolutely need a 3 axis nodal head, you’ll want to look at our Weaver Steadman with 3rd Axis option. We will be featuring the Cartoni Lambda in a future Learning Lab. Mention that you read this blog entry and get 10% off your rental of the Cartoni Lambda head. Mike Sutton, Senior Account Manager Twitter: @MNS1974

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Convergent Design NanoFlash

There are multiple field recorders currently on the market with several that stand out from the crowd. The NanoFlash holds a unique position in this area as it is smaller than most units and is completely solid state with no moving components. The NanoFlash is a huge step up from Convergent Design’s first model, the FlashXDR, with regard to size, ease-of-use and flexibility. I think of the Nano as a bug-free version of the XDR, a sort of evolution of the product that was much needed. I want to preface the fact that the NanoFlash is a 100% improvement over the XDR. Not only is the NanoFlash (as it’s named) small, but it’s packed with features that exceed most field recorders. I have used the NanoFlash numerous times on Steadicam shoots as an on-board recorder and back-up for the camera; and it’s always been rock solid — never failing me in terms of functionality or expectations. Eventually I started requesting it on commercial jobs strictly as a secondary (and in some cases as a primary) solid-state back-up recorder.

I recommend the NanoFlash for any camera that has an HD/SD-SDI output or HDMI output as a fail-safe or as a way to rejuvenate life into a tape-based camera that has a great block and sensor. In most cases you can achieve higher quality than the codec in the camera itself (example Sony PMW-EX3 or EX1). Both the EX1R and the EX3 are 35Mbps solid state cameras which are already of a fairly high quality to begin with due to their 1/2″ sensors. They do a pretty decent job with green-screening for example but when coupled with the NanoFlash at 100Mbps the keys are significantly better and require less feathering and tweaking of the image. There is a visible difference between footage shot onto the SxS card versus the NanoFlash. Many field users use the Nanoflash as the primary recorder and the SxS cards as a back-up due to the bump up in quality of the recording. Outside of cameras that have lower bit rates, the NanoFlash also helps retain the value of your higher-quality, tape-based cameras and keep up with current tapeless work flows. Another prime use of the Nanoflash is for POV camera heads like the Iconix HD-RH1 and Toshiba IK-HD1 that do not have a recorder built-in. Because the NanoFlash has a Hirose 4-Pin power connector there is a host of powering options from Hirose, Anton Bauer P-Tap, XLR4 Pin, etc.

Highlights that stand out immediately are the selectable bit rates that vary from 18 to 280Mbps and 4:2:2 sampling. 100Mbps is of course the perfect balance of bit rate and storage availability. Footage can be recording in Quicktime, MXF, or MPG (Sony MPEG2 Codec) formats which work with the majority of NLEs out there including Avid Media Composer and Apple Final Cut Studio. The unit records to compact flash cards which are off the shelf items these days, which is a huge benefit since they are readily available in most cities and towns. You can use two Compact Flash cards in the NanoFlash, but right now you can only record to one card at a time. This will be changed in a future firmware update which, of course, will then allow for you to hand-off a copy to your editor and then vault or archive the second copy. The other benefit over a built-in hard drive is that you can bring a pile of CF cards with you and continue to shoot without the need to dump the media. All-day shoots are possible as the card spans to the next slot allowing you to swap out the card not being used. Hot-swapping is a feature that is going to be added in a future firmware upgrade. The NanoFlash has an on-board LCD display that features recording format, input format, time code, card capacity, battery voltage and audio levels. Both the HD/SD-SDI and HDMI feature loop-thru and can be used as a playback recorder when hooked up to a monitor in the field or studio. The unit features several methods of Timecode input like Embedded via HD/SD-SDI, LTC in, internal record run and Time-of-Day. I should mention audio — the unit features a 3.5mm mini jack which in most cases will not be used if you are using embedded audio. This feature is handy, however, if you want to feed from a field mixer instead of using the on-board camera audio. When recording to 720 and 1090i the NanoFlash has limited capture frame rates but when recording 1080P or 1080PSF most common rates are covered like 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97 and 30. I should mention there is a NanoFlash 3D which is comprised of two synchronized units for stereoscopic recording and playback. The NanoFlash 3D features a combiner function to mix left and right frames to either side-by-side, top and bottom or line-by-line onto one HD-SDI cable. If you are looking for a handy field recorder that will increase the quality of your work for under $3200 you should seriously consider the NanoFlash. The company offers 24/7 support, and in my own experience with the unit, I have never had an issue with the product. Convergent Design has issued numerous free firmware updates over the past year, each adding significant functionality to the product. As a cinematographer, Steadicam operator and editor the benefits of the unit are strong for its price point. For Steadicam, in particular, there really isn’t anything that comes close in regard to size and versatility. I can see hundreds of other applications for the unit like helmet cams for skydiving, covert applications in law enforcement / military use, etc. Wrapping up, if you have space constraints like shooting in a car or a jet, helmet cam, Steadicam, etc., the NanoFlash is a great choice for you. If you are using a lower-end codec or your camera has an HD/SD-SDI spigot or HDMI output the NanoFlash can allow for higher-quality work. If you simply need a simultaneous copy of what you are shooting or just do not have a way to record your footage, the NanoFlash could be the right choice for you. Mike Sutton, Senior Account Manager Twitter: @MNS1974

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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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Philip Bloom DSLR Workshop @ Rule

Filmmaker / Blogger / Twitter fanatic Philip Bloom came to Rule Boston Camera courtesy of the Boston Final Cut User Group this weekend to hold a two-day workshop on DSLR filmmaking. On Saturday, I was lucky enough to listen in and talk with Philip. If you have followed his Tweets or his Blog you know that Mr. Bloom is very charismatic and witty. He made it clear that he was open for questions and didn’t want anyone to feel cheated by not getting the info they came for. After seeing several examples of his non-commercial work (understandably, he cannot show his commercial work), it was clear that the audience had not yet taken their voyage into DSLR filmmaking as deep as Philip had. His approach to shooting was very personal, and he has an affinity for the products he stands behind. Philip Bloom Workshop shot with iPhone 4 using Hipstamatic Float film and Helga Viking Lens. The focus for the workshop was mainly the Canon DSLR lineup (T2i, 7D, 5DMKII, 1DMKIV), and he made it very clear that Canon was ahead of the game in the Video-via-DSLR department. There were a few GH1 and Nikon users in the crowd, but, for the most part, it was a Canon user base. Philip was very opinionated about the lack of quality on the GH1 (out of the box) and the Sony NEX-5, and the new Sony NEX-VG10 (essentially the same as the NEX-5 but in handycam form factor). There was a lot of talk about codecs and low-light sensitivity which was rounded out with Philip expressing his preference for the Canon 5D Mark II over all the cameras currently on the market. As a 7D and 5D Mark II owner myself, I’ve found that 90% of my kit (lenses, AKS, etc.) was identical to what Philip was using as well. Philip’s preferred lenses are the 16-35mm f/2.8L USM II, the 24-70MM f/2.8L USM, the 70-200MM f/2.8L IS USM II, the 100MM Macro IS USM, 50mm f/1.2L, etc, etc. He suggested buying only L series lenses regardless of owning a T2i, 7D, or 5D MKII which I agree with 100%. This was based on build quality, chromatic and other aberration minimization and their full-frame coverage. For those of us who use Canon EF L series lenses, it was nice to hear Philip declare that the quality of these lenses are to resolve resolution much higher than any video camera lens can achieve, and he has had no issues with them. Some of the best lenses in the world are Canon still lenses. Full disclosure — Philip has several Nikon lenses, a Nikon D3s, Sony EX1, Panasonic GH1, as well as a variety of other cameras. A strong believer in the double sound system, Philip also keeps the Juiced Link 454 and a Beachtek DXA-5D in his kit for reference or shoots — which will fit the bill. His main concern with the single system method is not being able to monitor what the camera is recording and for his piece of mind he prefers an external recorder. Audio bit rate has a lot to do with this as well. His main point is to use what works best for you as long as you have AGC Defeat on the Beachtek or the Juiced Link. For Mics he prefers Sennheiser (as do I). Philip was a sound man back in the day, so it is a subject he is well-educated in with real-world practical experience. For external recorders he stated the Zoom H4 is horrible and it’s better to stick with a Tascam, Foxtex, Sound Devices or Marantz recorder with phantom power and ideally a backup power source. Philip took a portion of the workshop to cover post-production and workflow. His thoughts on it are fairly simple and concise and the defacto standard practice for most professionals. Use the Canon EOS Movie Plugin-E1 for Final Cut Pro and use its Time-of-Day timecode via log and transfer just like P2 or SxS. It’s the easiest way to get footage into your system. You can utilize Magic Bullet Grinder or Squared 5’s MPEG Streamclip if you want batch file copying. Philip prefers the FCP method as it adds Time-of-Day timecode onto your clips which is why most of us use it. A good portion of the workshop was on Time-lapse which featured various vignettes from around the world. Prague, Dubai, Miami, NYC, Bulgaria, etc. Most of these were done with the Canon Timer Remote Controller TC-80N3. With this intervalometer you can adjust start / stop time, length of exposures and the timer can be set for any time from 1 sec. to 99 hrs, 59 min, 59 sec. You can achieve stunning time lapse if you allocate time to watch your camera. Overall, the point of the workshop was to focus on shooting and just getting out there and doing it. Philip’s suggestion to just buy a DSLR camera and stop worrying about what is coming out next was probably the best piece of advice heard at the workshop. Waiting and waiting will not make you any money or get your project off the ground. Technology does not replace talent and you can shoot a good movie regardless of what camera you use. However, having a great inexpensive camera like the 5D mark II or 7D will make your projects more interesting and attract viewers you might not get if shot with a noisy 1/4″ sensor. Philip mentioned he still uses his Sony EX1 and fairly often as it is ergonomically correct for video, and it’s a great camera. DSLR’s are not the one-all be-all solution for all situations. The proper tool for the job might be a 7D or a Varicam 2700. If you are a beginning filmmaker or if you have not yet taken the plunge, I would suggest taking Philip’s workshop when it rolls around again in the Fall. In the meantime, come check out our free Learning Labs held every Wednesday. If you are already in the mix and shooting, the workshop will be fairly redundant but would be worthwhile for networking, meeting new people, and talking with Philip in person. Mike Sutton, Senior Account Manager

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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

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Hummingbirds with the Canon 5D Mark II

I had brought my Canon 5D MKII along this memorial day weekend in anticipation of taking some set stills, but found myself on a small nature shoot. The subject was two hummingbirds who were hanging around a feeder that was put out. I put a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L series lens on my camera and had hoped to at least get a few out of focus pictures of these very fast birds. Instead I decided to put the 5DMKII into video mode and the shutter speed at 4000 making the appropriate adjustments to aperture and ISO settings. I waited frozen for a few minutes and then one flew up to the feeder and then banked off into the sky within seconds. I decided to throw the lens into macro mode and go even closer, knowing they would be back for the sugar water to fuel the pace at which they were flying. Within 4″ of the lens the female flew into frame and decided to stay a while completely ignoring me (frozen still with camera). She stayed for over 60 seconds and flew out of frame making for the perfect shot. I had never thought of using the 5DMKII for nature work (video) in the past and this experience made me rethink a few things. I had shot nature footage before with long lenses on my Aaton XTR cameras, and the Arri SR2, etc but it was always a lengthy process and required a lot of gear to make it happen. I had also shot stock footage of turtles, frogs, cranes, and other water animals with XL2’s, SDX900’s, etc but it too wasn’t the same as this experience. Being able to stealthily whip out the 5DMKII and within seconds start shooting hardly seemed like work. Getting to the shutter speed, ISO, F-Stop, and Depth of Field preview all took seconds to accomplish. I highly recommend a follow focus and basic support, as the camera is front heavy with most lenses and hand-holding can become very fatiguing fast (especially the the heavy lens, battery grip, and other accessories). Outside of that setups were a breeze and really allowed for a lot of freedom to rapidly adjust settings. In the future I would definitely bring a Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens and maybe the 185mm f/3.5L Macro USM which would have yielded much better results. A tripod or mono pod couldn’t have hurt either. 😉 Mike Sutton Senior Account Manager Rule Boston Camera 617-227-2200 x 206