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Tools

Slugline. Simple, elegant screenwriting.

Red Giant Color Suite, with Magic Bullet Looks 2.5 and Colorista II

Needables
  • Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
    Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
    Sony
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic
  • TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM
  • The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    by Stu Maschwitz

Entries in Cameras (151)

Friday
Feb072014

Panasonic DMC-GH4

Panasonic has announced the DMC-GH4, their latest flagship Micro Four Thirds camera. Many video shooters loved its predecessor, the GH3—which explains why the folks are flipping out about the so-called “GH4K.” From dpreview:

The real story here is the GH4’s video recording capabilities, which include 4K and 1080p, with support for the IPB and ALL-Intra codecs. Shooting aids include focus peaking, zebra pattern, luminance level adjustment, and cinema gamma presets. An optional ‘interface unit’ adds five SDI and two XLR terminals, and permits 10-bit 4:2:2 output with time code.

High bit-rate 4K and HD cine-gamma video at a variety of frame rates, with a flip-out LCD and built-in focus assist. For the scrappy action filmmaker, funky frame rates, such as the always-useful 22fps, are an option, as is slow motion up to 96 fps (at 1080p). The MFT sensor size is not inspiring, but presumably this would work with a speedbooster.

Personally, I’d skip the terribly-named YAGH breakout box and record separate audio, syncing with PluralEyes. What excites me about this camera is how few add-ons it requires.

Best to let the pictures do the talking though. Here’s some sample footage, shot entirely with Panasonic glass. Go full-screen and choose the highest resolution that makes sense for your display.

Price and availability have not been announced, but Amazon and B&H already have their product pages up. 43rumors.com says the price will be less than $2,000 USD.

I expect this to be a popular camera.

Wednesday
Dec112013

How to Take Good Photos for Under $1,000

Yesterday was a big family Christmas-type day. We picked out our tree, hung the lights, and visited Santa. Usually we wait in line to see Santa, but on this day he was taking a break, helping to run the merry-go-round. My son and his friend were finishing up their ride when they spotted him. He came over to do the Santa thing. And suddenly I realized that Santa was happening right now, whether I was ready or not.

But I was ready.

I posted the photos that evening, and a few friends asked, in a flattering and kind way, how I always get such nice shots. And the answer is not a new one, but as I replied, I realized that it is a valuable one to repeat.

Christmas is coming. Here’s how to take some good photos.

Buy a DSLR

Step one is to put your phone away. Step two is to, for the time being, ignore all the excitement about mirrorless cameras. There are some great ones, but this is my advice, and I use an SLR.

Buy literally any DSLR. The cheapest ones you can get these days are crazy good. There’s the Canon Rebel line, and the Nikon D3200. Heck, buy a used one from a couple of years ago.

Buy the body only. The kit lens that comes with these inexpensive SLRs is not worth the plastic it’s stamped out of. If your inexpensive DSLR is not available without a lens, buy it and literally throw away the lens. Into a landfill. Directly onto endangered waterfowl. I’m serious.

You just spent $400 or so. I’ve bought many pocket cameras that cost more.

Buy a “Fast 50”

The oldest advice about photography is still the best. A “fast 50” is the cheapest, best lens. On your inexpensive DSLR, 50mm is a portrait lens, which means it’s good for taking pictures of people—which are the only pictures anyone cares about.

  • Canon’s 50mm f/1.8 is little more than $100. It’s made of cheap plastic on the outside, but on the inside it’s made of pure photolookbetterium.
  • Nikon’s 50mm f/1.8 is a little more expensive, but its ancestry traces back to some of the best stills lenses ever made.

Use Aperture Priority Mode and Shoot Wide Open

You just bought a lens with a large maximum aperture. That means that the little diaphragm in your lens can “open up” wider than most other lenses, letting in more light. So use it—shoot in Aperture Priority mode, and set your aperture to the smallest possible number. In the case of the above lenses, that’s 1.8.

Shooting wide-open will result in two things: First, you can shoot in lower light, and even capture fast motion like kids on a carousel. Second, you’ll get that wonderful shallow depth of field that mushes busy backgrounds into pleasing blobs of light.

Use Auto ISO

Today’s DSLRs can produce usable images at very high ISOs. The higher the ISO, the less light you need. High IOS images are more noisy, but noise is preferable to motion blur.

By letting your camera choose your ISO for you, and enforcing a wide-open f-stop using Aperture Priority mode, you’re instructing your camera to choose an ISO that will get you an acceptably fast shutter speed for whatever lighting conditions you face.

Manually Set Your Focus Points

The printed manual for your camera will be confusing and mostly useless, but do flip through it to find the part about controlling what part of the frame the camera will try to focus on. With this new shallow depth of field you’re enjoying, you can no longer allow the camera to guess at what to focus on, nor can you center-focus, half-press the shutter, and re-frame. You’re now like Maverick trying to get missile lock—do not push that button until the little box blinks on your kid’s eyeball.

Shoot Raw

Shooting raw gives you two wonderful gifts: It opens up a world of processing opportunities for your photos, which is great. But it also greatly limits the amount of futzing you can/must do with the camera itself. You can shoot all night with the wrong white balance, and it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to choose noise reduction settings, or “picture modes.” Just capture moments. Do that other stuff later.

Do That Other Stuff Later

Post-process your photos using Adobe Lightroom. Lightroom is about $100, and worth every penny and more.

In Lightroom, you’ll both organize and process your photos. If you don’t do either of these things, your photos won’t be good. Failing to process your photos means they’ll look mediocre. Failing to organize your photos means that no one will ever see them.

Shoot A Ton of Shots Like a Crazy Person

Yesterday I shot 367 photos. When I got home, I immediately deleted 147 of those. I wound up selecting 11 to share with friends.

Being selective like this is the only way to fool your friends into thinking you’re a great photographer. To support your new “spray and pray” method of shooting, you’ll want a couple of big memory cards, which will cost you about $30 each.

Use my Lightroom Presets

When I said that failing to process your shots means they’ll look mediocre, you might have panicked a little. That’s OK, processing raw photos to look their best is a deep subject. Lightroom’s “develop” controls are powerful, but daunting.

So don’t use them. Do this instead:

My Lightroom presets make developing your shots a “see and react” operation, instead of requiring you to be an expert.

You just spent the best $20 of your photographic life. #marketing

Get Backblaze

Now that you’re shooting several gigabytes every time you pick up your camera, you’re going to accumulate a frightening amount of data. Frightening, because the drive in your computer will fail someday—one of those things that’s not an if, it’s a when. A Time Machine or other local backup is good. An off-site backup is also necessary, in case of blimp attack.

Backblaze is a good choice for photographers because it backs up connected drives, gives you unlimited storage, and has fast upload speeds. Just install it and forget about it.

You just spent $50 for a year of Backblaze.

Actually do this.

Now that you’ve bought all this stuff, the only thing that remains is the habit of actually doing this stuff. Your iPhone camera is damnably good. Good enough that often you’ll be tempted not to schlep your big, heavy DSLR. If you succumb to this temptation, we’re right back to terrible photos, so here’s how to make sure you bring that big mirror-box with you wherever you go: buy a sling-style camera bag. I like the Slingshot series from Lowepro. You wear it across your back, and when you need to shoot, you flip it around to your chest, where the flap with your camera opens easily. It’s super handy, only a little dorky, and can actually be the difference between getting a shot and not.

You just spent $60.

Share!

Now it’s time to share your shots. Here are some rules of thumb:

  • Flickr is where you share flower photos with strangers. Period.
  • Facebook is, sadly, where real humans that you know will see, and engage with, your photos. Being humans, they are only interested in pictures of other humans. Never put a picture of the Eiffel Tower on Facebook. Only pictures of people.

Boom.

I’m sure you’ve been tempted to buy a camera that costs around $1,000, but the above items, which total well under a grand, will serve you better—and they comprise a real system for making, organizing, and sharing better photos.

Welcome to the world of people complimenting your photography by asking you what kind of camera you use!

Saturday
Sep142013

ARRI Amira

ARRI knows how to make the perfect camera for right now, instead of an imperfect camera for the future.

No one should care about the “in-camera grading.” But everyone should care about 200 fps of “ALEXA image quality” on a camera designed to be used by humans.

Yep.

Friday
Jul262013

The Blackmagic Delays Everyone Saw Coming

…except Blackmagic Design themselves.

Blackmagic Design perplexes me.

The made a flawed-but-great camera. An important camera. A very nice, oddly-shaped camera.

And then, before they could ship it in real quantities, they announced two really cool-sounding cameras. And they swore up and down that they’d be on schedule this time. And they promised a very specific delivery of July 2013.

And everyone said, “Those cameras look great! July is really soon though, are you sure you can do it?”

And they assured us that they could.

And we said, “No, really, take your time. These cameras look to be worth the wait.”

And they said “No, seriously, dudes, we got this.”

(I’m obviously paraphrasing the gestalt here.)

Blackmagic even perplexes me with the little things.

  • An important firmware update addressing many of the original BMC’s bizarre shortcomings was casually announced on someone else’s Facebook page.
  • After an hour of talking my way through several representatives at Blackmagic’s NAB2013 booth about the lack of metadata in the BMC’s DNG files, I finally got someone to reveal to me that they keep the metadata in the sidecar .WAV file. Of course.

And now, at the tail end of the month we were promised the new cameras would ship, Blackmagic held an event to confess what everyone but them knew was going to happen: Delays.

And then John Brawley, the kind and generous cinematographer mostly known for being the first to post shots made with the original BMC, had this to say about the delayed 4K BMC Production Camera:

I prefer the greater DR of the BMCC over the increased resolution of the 4K.

It’s often great to let your customers do your marketing for you. But not always. Personally, I’m grateful for Brawley’s candor—but unfortunately for Blackmagic Design, it’s being expended to fill a communications vacuum.

The Elephant Almost In The Room, We Promise

Why is the messaging around the announcements, delays, and updates so inconsistent? Sometimes it’s honest, candid, and authentic. Other times it’s confusing and disconnected. Look how many people on Blackmagic’s own forum’s are saying things like “I’ll believe whatever is said about delivery dates only when it comes from BMD home office directly, not before.”, despite several sites posting “official” statements on the delays. From Televisual (a site I’d not heard of before today):

“The Pocket Cinema Camera is now in full production. We have the final units in test now and expect it to be a matter of days or, at worst, a week or two before we’re ready to shift the camera out to customers. We’re in full product manufacture with the camera and there are no issues with it whatsoever. We have a considerable number of orders for the camera so it will take a period of time to fulfil all these orders.”

That’s “Blackmagic Design’s Director of Sales EMEA Simon Westland,” (what’s EMEA?), with a statement that seems weirdly self-contradictory to me. How can you “have the final units in test” and be “in full product manufacture with the camera” with “no issues with it whatsoever”?

I’ll remove some racism from Westland’s next quote:

“…There are a lot of rumours out there about when these cameras will be available with loads of different dates being given on different websites. Our products get a lot of attention and the rumour mill is churning away at the moment. I’ve even heard people talking about the 4K Production Camera not being available until next year.”

Gosh, if only there was some way of controlling that. Maybe put something about the delays on your own press page?

One last quote:

“We’re a couple of weeks behind. The 4K Production Camera needs another two to three weeks worth of work on it before it can go into the full production process. We hope to have the first units out before the end of August, which is not a vast shift on our original date.”

A couple is two. Three is more than two. Three weeks of work before it can go into the full production process does not sound like shipping in August to me. I don’t know much about making hardware, but I assume it’s harder than making software, and I’d never make a promise like that about software. We’ll see if this is yet another case of the entire world seeing the obvious truth while Blackmagic remains blissfully optimistic.

I’d love to be wrong.

I know this sounds awfully negative. This isn’t meant to be a takedown of Blackmagic Design. It’s the kind of tough love I reserve for companies I like, making products I care about.

Here’s my unsolicited advice for Blackmagic Design:

  • Control your communication. Beat the rumors to the punch with the kind of candid honesty we know you’re capable of.
  • Collaborate with well-known cinematographers to shoot world-class demonstration of your products.
  • Stop being so eager to please us. Under-promise so that you have a chance to over-deliver.

I love what you’re trying to make Blackmagic. It bums me out that there’s so much unnecessary noise around your efforts.

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and Blackmagic Production Camera 4K are, of course, still available for pre-order at B&H.