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Needables
  • 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 Canon 7D (22)

Wednesday
Nov172010

Sony PMW-F3 Shoots, Scores, Has a Little Brother

 

Sony very wisely lent one of their pre-production PMW-F3 cameras to Jason Wingrove, shooter, director, and co-host of the invaluable Red Centre podcast. He made this:

compulsion - teaser from Jason Wingrove on Vimeo.

I’ve seen the raw footage close-up and it looks amazing (Jason let me grade a couple of the shots using Colorista II). Very film-like, very gradable, and the compression is certainly there but nothing like what we’re used to from our DSLRs. I haven’t yet blogged about the F3 because it’s still settling in with me exactly where the camera fits. But it absolutely does fit.

Jason and Mike will be discussing the camera on the next Red Centre, so be sure to tune in.

Director Martin Scanlan also got his hands on an F3 and shot this short film:

Convergence - Short Film shot on Sony PMW-F3 from Martin Scanlan on Vimeo.

Sony also announced another Super-35 camera today, code-named the NXCAM. Little brother to the F3, it features the same sensor (we think), fewer options, but a much lower price point than the F3, which is said to street for about $12,000 when it becomes available [UPDATE: its now up on B&H for $16,000] [Second UPDATE: B&H reduced their price to $13,300 in short order, and added the promised F3K model with its included trio of Sony F2.0 PL primes for $18,950]. Oh, and a design inspired by Stanley Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odyssey?

Philip Bloom was at the Sony launch and has a great write-up on his blog.

Both of these Sony cameras are, like the Panasonic AF100, examples of a company responding to the turgid love affair the filmmaking world has been enjoying with HDSLRs such as the Canon 5D Mark II, 7D, and my new favorite for video, the Canon 60D. Neither the Panasonic nor the Sonys are breaking new ground in resolution or compression (both are 1920x1080 max, with what are considered to be decent, but not great codecs) the way RED did with the RED One and intends to with future offerings. But both blow HDSLRs away with their professional features that we’ve long taken for granted on proper video cameras, such as XLR audio inputs, exposure and focus assist options, and built-in ND filters. Oh yeah, and true HD images without the aliasing and moiré we get from our SLRs.

It’s a great time to be a filmmaker.

Sunday
Nov142010

HDSLR Shopping? What You Want is a Canon 60D

If you’re shopping for a DSLR right now, for the primary purpose of shooting video (being familiar with all the pros and cons), what you want is the Canon 60D.

I felt compelled to write this because the 60D seems to get left out of the conversation a lot, and it shouldn’t. It’s the best filmmaker’s DSLR out there right now. People still ask my which they should buy, the 5D Mark II or the 7D, and when I recommend the 60D, I sense resistance. How is it possible that a sub-$1,000 camera body shoots video as good as one costing $600 more? 

The 7D is a great camera, and it was the first HDSLR to offer a smattering of useful frame rates and manual control. It also is a Canon, so if you were a 5D Mark II shooter, a 7D was an easy body to fold into your kit. I bought one the day they became available, and encouraged you to do the same — arguing then, as I still believe today, that the APS-C sensor size — while not as luxuriously huge as that of the 5D Mark II — is a perfect size for filmmaking, being a close match to the Super35mm film frame.

The sensors of the 7D and the 60D are the same size, but with the 7D you’re paying for a best-in-class APS-C stills camera, which you may or may not need. It has a more advance autofocus system than the 5D Mark II, a weatherproof metal body, and dual DIGIC 4 chipset for rapid-fire motodrive. If you’re not a serious stills shooter, these features are overkill. They have no affect at all on the camera’s video performance.

Still, the 7D got lodged in the hearts and minds of not only shooters, but their clients. Everyone knows the 7D.

Then along came the Rebel T2i and the 60D. Both have almost the exact same video features as the 7D (with one notable exception, as you’ll read in a moment). The 60D even has a handy feature that the 7D lacks: manual audio level control. But more importantly, the 60D alone has something I routinely wish my 7D had: an articulating LCD screen.

This single feature is enough reason to recommend the 60D. Quite simply, it’s painful and often impossible to shoot video with an HDSLR without an external monitor. While the amazing Zacuto Z-Finder is great for shoulder-mounted work, if you’re like me, you often shoot at something other than eye-level. A flip-out LCD has been on my HDSLR wishlist for a long time, and we finally have it with the 60D. And by the way, you can use the Z Finder with the 60D, as shown here.

I don’t have a 60D (yet) or a Rebel T2i, but everyone I’ve spoken with who has done comparisons says the video from the three cameras is nearly identical. So here’s my recommendation:

If you are just getting started and are on a budget, sure, consider the Rebel T2i. Do not, under any circumstances, buy it with the kit lens. A year ago the only SLR worth shooting video with was $2600. You just got one for $750. Take the extra money and buy some fast lenses. At the very least, get a thrifty fifty.

If you are a serious amateur or aspiring-pro photographer who doesn’t care about full-frame or “real” pro bodies like the 1D Mark IV, and you also want to shoot video, the 7D is a great camera. And it is worth noting that the 7D does have one advantage over the 60D: The 7D outputs an HD signal through its HDMI port while recording, while the 60D, like the 5D Mark II and Rebel T2i, outputs Standard Definition. If your primary shooting mode will be with an external HD monitor such as the SmallHD DP6, the 7D will give you a better signal for frame and focus. 

The 5D Mark II remains an awesome stills camera hampered only by an aging autofocus system, and it shoots lovely 24, 25 and 30p video with better low-light performance than any of Canon’s APS-C offerings, including the 60D. Its full-frame sensor allows beyond-cinematic depth of field control. The 5D lacks 50 and 60p modes though, and costs a lot. It’s entirely possible that your heart and photo soul are screaming at you to own a full-frame DSLR, and if that’s the case, of course the 5D Mark II is great. But it’s no longer the king of the video hill unless achieving the shallowest-possible depth of field is your top priority.

If you are specifically interested in video, and stills are a nice feature but not your raison d’être, get the 60D. You’re basically paying the difference between the Rebel and the 60D for manual audio levels, the flip-out screen, and the (occasionally reported) possibility that the 60D is slightly less prone to overheating than the Rebel. It’s a great camera for a great price, and the articulated screen alone is worth it. Again, just say no to the kit lens.

Proof that the universe loves you: as I began to write this, the Canon 60D went on sale at Amazon for $899. Use coupon code BF8JNEEK at checkout.

If you’re already a Canon shooter, remember that while the 60D shares batteries with the 5D Mark II and the 7D, it uses SDHC cards instead of CF. I’ve put together a 60D Cine page on the ProLost store to help you get your kit going.

Using a DSLR for video is a compromise. In addition to the technical limitations we’ve discussed here at length, the time-honored form factor of the SLR just wasn’t made for movies. The 60D takes a big step toward fixing this. To me, this matters a lot. The 5D Mark II shot you blew because you couldn’t see the LCD well enough to focus is worth nothing compared to the 60D shot you wrangled from an angle.

Tuesday
Oct122010

Do You Want to be a Grown Up?

It’s kinda fun doing things the wrong way.

You can buy a fancy slider (I did, I love my Glidetrack HD), or you can feel so much more clever and agile turning any tripod into a jib arm.

We’ve been having a lot of fun shooting with DSLRs, complaining the entire time about all the obstacles they present. Won’t someone come along and make a camera with a huge sensor, interchangeable lenses, and proper video features?

I’ve been a part of this complaining, but I don’t share the opinion of some that the challenge is easy, if only Canon or Nikon or whomever cared to rise to it. The line-skipping or binning issue is not simply a question of will or understanding — it’s an actual limitation of how fast data can be streamed off the back of the sensor itself. To pull a full 5616x3160 image off the 5D Mark II’s sensor every 24th of a second would likely require a much more expensive sensor and a method of dealing with the resultant heat. We can complain all we want, but we’re the beneficiaries of a glorious happy accident of “good enough” coupled with Canon’s years of experience hacking OK-looking movies off point-and-shoot sensors. The result is that we’re making sexy-looking video (just don’t look too close) with cameras that costs only a grand or two — and most of that cost is due to features we’re not even using.

Still, it seems to be obvious that what I predicted two years ago is true: It’s no longer OK for video camera manufacturers, whether they be Sony or Canon or RED, to make a video camera that doesn’t excite us emotionally. I added: Buttons and features and resolution charts just had their ass handed to them by sex appeal.

But can we have both? Panasonic says yes.

This is the AF100. A proper video camera that will presumably ace its test charts, and also sports a 4/3” sensor like the GH1 and GH2. Interchangeable lenses. XLR mic inputs. HDMI and SDI outputs. No aliasing. Waveform monitor and focus-assist peaking in the viewfinder. A viewfinder. Watch this video and/or read his detailed write-up — Barry Green does a much better job than I ever could of pimping this thing.

It’s easy to understand his enthusiasm — this is everything we’ve been wanting. Or is it?

When I tweeted about the availability of the AF100 for pre-order from B&H Photo, I got a couple of replies to the general effect of “but will the images hold up to those of the 5D?” Now, why would a person ask that? Obviously Panasonic has gone to great pains to emphasize that this is a camera for grown-ups, with no pixel binning or line skipping. They have repeatedly stated that their target is zero aliasing artifacts. Between this an all the other pro features of this camera, such as its focus and exposure aides and various gamma modes, there’s no reason to doubt that this camera will make superior images to the current crop of HDSLRs.

No reason? Oops, I meant to say three reasons. One artistic, one technical, and one marketplace reason.

First, the technical reason to doubt the AF100: its codec. The AF100 is an AVCHD camera. We’ve discussed this codec here before, and while opinions vary, few would argue that it is a professional codec. At 17mbps it cripples the GH1. At 24mbps, the maximum allowed by the format, will the images from the AF100 be “good enough?” That strikes me as a sad question to be asking about a $5,000 camera body with a mission statement of quality.

The marketplace reason has to do with the availability, cost and quality of lenses for the AF100, and how those issues meld with the camera’s unique features. A big part of the cost and advantage of a camera like the AF100 is sophisticated autofocus. Even with my Redrock Micro EyeSpy Deluxe rig and my Zacuto Z-Finder, I find shooting with my 5D and 7D to be laborious for the simple reason of focus. The idea that I could enjoy shallow depth of field with (occasionally, mind you) reliable, fingertip-on/off face-tracking autofocus is actually quite revolutionary. You might save enough money in follow-focus add-ons and blown takes that the AF100 could start looking less expensive than a kitted-out 7D.

But if you want to take advantage of this revolution, you must chose from Panasonic’s small selection of continuous-AF, video-optimized glass. Most of these lenses are zooms, and rather slow:

You can see where I’m going with this. The top reasons for a big sensor are light sensitivity and control over depth of field. But with these lenses, you’ll be hard-pressed to create a sumptuous, DSLR-like narrow-focus world.

Panasonic does offer a 14mm prime that’s F2.5, and an awesome 20mm pancake at F1.7. Here’s a shot made with the latter.

Panasonic GF1, 20mm at F1.7. Photo by Josh Locker

Clearly with the right lens, Micro four-thirds is plenty big to create a shallow-focus look. But so far there’s only one or maybe two video-optimized lenses that offer this. Which might be fine for many users, who look at the Micro Four-Thirds format as an opportunity to collect abundant, adorable little speedy primes, or to use a PL adapter to mount gloriously fast cine lenses. But in doing so, you’re not only making an investment in glass that might start to feel out of proportion to the camera, you’re also back to manual focus, which means an abundance of expensive support gear.

This rambling point I’m making about lenses has one last nuance, and its a personal one that you may or may not share. One advantage of shooting video with the same DSLR that I use for stills is that I only ever have to buy one kind of lens. As a result, I buy them more freely, and I buy really nice ones. If I suddenly had to collect completely different lenses for stills and video, the sad fact is that I’d buy fewer of each — even though these adorable little Panasonic lenses are quite reasonably priced.

The last reason to doubt that the AF100 will impress us more than the 5D Mark II, the artistic one, is the biggest, and it relates directly to the lens issue.

Quite simply, we have tasted full-retard DOF, and it is good.

Canon 5D Mark II, 50mm at F1.2

With a 5D Mark II, its sensor double the size of a motion picture film frame, we can achieve cinematic focus at F4. We can get fetishistically shallow depth of field at F2.8. At F1.2, we can create abstract art in a Burger King. The insanely shallow DOF afforded by the 5D Mark II is the artistic solution to the camera’s numerous technical problems.

Buttons and features and resolution charts just had their ass handed to them by sex appeal.

So the question becomes, if you have a little sex appeal and you nail the buttons and features and charts, do you defeat the less expensive, double-duty camera with its wealth of gloriously speedy lenses and sex appeal dripping down its glistening magnesium-alloy body?

Not with an F4 lens you don’t.

So at long last, here’s the thing about the AF100. It’s the sensible solution. But we might not want to grow up and use it. It’s a compromise. Its sensor is slightly smaller than that of the 7D, which you may recall I also weighed in this sex appeal equation, and determined that it just barely passed. Meanwhile, in this corner, the AF100 — smaller sensor, slower lenses, a $5,000 invite to the “buy a bunch of new lenses” club.

At this point, you must be thinking, “Man, I thought Stu liked Panasonic, and here they built exactly what he’s been asking for. Why so grumpy?”

The truth is, I am thrilled that Panasonic made this thing. They do get it. And by all indications, this camera rocks. Did I mention that it shoots at arbitrary frame rates up to 60fps at 1080p? Including funky frame rates like 22fps, for those post-lasagna-lunch Kung Fu fight scenes? It’s a true filmmaker’s camera.

What it needs is a better codec and some sexier continuous-AF lenses.

That’s all, and it ain’t much. I mean think about it — if this thing shot to ProRes, it and a PL Mount would be a ghetto Alexa for a tenth the price.

Now if I don’t buy an AF100, you can’t take that as a poor review from me. I’m not a pro shooter. Not even a responsible adult. I like doing things the wrong way, especially when I’m trading technical accuracy for images that make me want to lick the screen.

But that’s just me. You’re rockin’ it Panasonic. You’ve begun the flow of sex appeal into the world of proper video cameras. Please don’t stop though, you’re not quite done.

Thursday
Sep022010

Ha ha very funny Canon now get back to work

Image courtesy of Philip Bloom. Click through for his actual coverage of the show.

Canon Expo kicked off with a bang as the venerable imaging giant stunned crowds with its working prototype 4K camera! Is this the future of digital cinema?

Ug. I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

There’s so much wrong with this prototype “concept camera” (as Philip kindly points out below, it’s important to understand that this is not a camera Canon plans on bringing to market) that I hardly know where to begin. It’s an atrocity of aesthetics and ergonomics. It has a fixed, not-very-special 20x zoom lens. The sensor is only 2/3”. It shoots 60fps. Nothing about this camera reflects any awareness of what digital cinematographers want. It’s as if Canon brass lifted the internet ban on the engineer’s dungeon just long enough for them to visit to RED’s web site, and then shut it down again after they’d read as far as “4K.”

Of course, this isn’t a camera, or even a plan for a camera. It’s a statement by Canon. They meant to say “We get it. We know what’s important.” What they actually said is “Ooh, bigger numbers!” I expect this kind of technology dick-swinging from Sony, but not from Canon.

What’s most troubling about this non-camera is that Canon made it at all. Anyone invested in Canon’s gear should be pissed at Canon for squandering their time and resources building this toy. I look at this thing and see my parents returning from Vegas with a sheepish expression on their faces, saying “Remember your college fund?”

Canon, please stop building fake “4K” video cameras when you can’t even make an SLR that shoots actual 1080p HD.

We’ve discussed the very real aliasing/moiré issue with Canon’s HDSLRs. It is both a real problem and a somewhat workable limitation that many happily accept. What is not in dispute is that these are symptoms of a poorly-sampled, low-resolution image. Readers of this site know that I am not a spatial resolution fetishist, but even I am painfully aware that my 5D and 7D footage is lacking detail.

Canon makes it incredibly easy to demonstrate this, since the 5D Mark II that makes such fuzzy pseudo-HD video also makes ridiculously high-fidelity stills. The frames below are a 1:1 frame grab from a 5D video, and the same scene shot as a still and then scaled down to 1920x1080. I did the scaling in Lightroom, using no Develop or Output Sharpening.

Click for full-sizeClick for full-sizeFeel free to download the full-res originals and compare yourself, or look at the 1:1 comparisons below:

Port of Oakland? Or #### ## #######?Chain-link fence? Or a dirty piece of glass?The difference is staggering. And remember, I don’t even care all that much about spatial resolution. What I do know is this: a sharp 1920x1080 camera can make an image with more detail than most female movie stars are comfortable with for close-ups. So for today we can dispense with a discussion about the merits of mastering at 4K. Canon is nowhere near that conversation with their HDSLRs. They’re still falling way short of HD.

To be clear: What you are seeing above is two different ways that the same camera made a 1920x1080 image. One image was hastily yanked off a sensor (skipping entire rows of pixels) and then compressed to H.264 in realtime; the other was captured as raw 5.6K bayer data, decoded slowly to RGB by an engine optimized for quality, then downsampled to HD using every 5.6K pixel to build a 1920x1080 image with as much detail as appropriate for a true HD image.

Does the latter sound unfeasible for “real” video work? Well it shouldn’t — it’s what we do with our RED One cameras now.

The RED One is more than just a “4K camera.” It’s a 4K sensor, some very clever software, an even more clever compressed raw codec, and then more clever software. Not to mention a decent form factor, decent colorimetry, smart proxy workflows for editorial, and viewfinders that actually help you expose and focus. It’s a full-fledged 4K ecosystem.

And look how painful it was for RED to get all that working.

Canon, you have none of that stuff, you have no idea how to make it, and you don’t even know that you don’t know this.

So stop dicking around with your fake 4K toys and start making cameras we can use. That we want to use.

Build a full-frame DSLR that shoots high-quality HD video at a variety of frame rates and the world is yours.

I’m terrified that you won’t though — because then you’d have to put it on a pedestal at a trade show and say “Look, we finally built a camera that actually does what we claim our current cameras do.”

So much more fun to say “Hey look, 4K!”

“We so get it.”