I suspect that some of you may be surprised that a camera or cameras are not our game changers. Don’t get me wrong, cameras are important, but we need to put things in perspective given the electronic and multi-media world we live in. Imaging is big business and it all comes down to two words: Content and Programming. These are the backbone of the entertainment and media business and are what fuels both advertising revenue and consumer viewing, and ultimately results in consumer spending. Advertisers and consumers rarely ask “What camera was this show shot with?” How much revenue and spending are we talking about? It’s huge! In 2011, in the US alone, nearly $1.12 trillion and it is projected to reach $1.4 trillion by 2015.* And how is the content and programming being delivered? It is being delivered via television, movie theaters, computers, laptops, tablets, and the critically important third screen or mobile phone. 227 million people in the US own a mobile phone; and 79 % use them for more than basic calling**. Mobile phones have given and continue to give an unparalleled number of people worldwide, access to the Internet. As a result, content and programming are king.
The Internet has created opportunities for independent filmmakers and product marketers to bypass the traditional distribution and marketing models and promote and distribute their own products often direct to consumer without the need for elaborate infrastructure. With increasing competition and bottom line concerns— concerns for large studios, independents, and upstarts— there is a need to deliver quality content and programming faster, and as economically as possible. HDSLRs, with their larger sensors, have given filmmakers a viable, although often less than optimal tool, with which to economically develop content often with a look and depth of field which could only be achieved with cameras and lenses costing significantly more.
Camera performance, look, file flexibility, workflow and associated costs (including ownership or rental) as well as project budgets are indeed an integral part of the production of content and programming. Interest and use of HDSLRs by content and programming creators have had a significant influence in the development of new dedicated larger sensor, motion capture products that offer the interchangeable lens flexibility offered by traditional SLR and DSLRs and a form factor and features including monitoring controls and connectors missing from HDSLRs. The sub-$20,000 price-point seems to be the new battle ground among motion camera manufacturers. Red Digital Cinema, Panasonic, Sony, and most recently Canon are all players in this developing and critical market segment.
The bottom line is that imagers, both stillmotographers and filmmakers, have an unprecedented numbers of options. Access to competent equipment is no longer a barrier to entry and Internet sites— Youtube and Vimeo among them— are among many cost effective distribution solutions.
As many of you know, the relentless pursuit of the perfect image is so often dependent on the perfect light which, in turn, is often a result of your choice of modifier. Three big names in the world of lighting, Elinchrom, Profoto and Chimera, have all recently announced some noteworthy new products that are (or could be) worthy additions to your lighting arsenal.
Elinchrom’s Rotolux Deep Inverse Octa
Swiss lighting manufacturer, Elinchrom, adds the Deep Inverse Octa (59 inches) to its Indirect Light Bank product range. The Deep Inverse Octa is Elinchrom’s second octagonal indirect product. It is based on the Indirect 190 known as “ the El Octa” and the popular 39” Rotolux Deep (Throat) Octa, the “DI” (shown above without the interior baffle and front diffuser) promises to be as versatile as these boxes and should produce a soft even light when used with the front diffuser, and a more “contrast-y” light without it. Like the El Octa, the 150 includes a tilt head and handle, but uses the Deep Throat’s Rotolux set-up/break-down system. The Deep Inverse, which is just under 29 inches deep (excluding the handle and tilt head assembly), should be available in early 2012 in the US at an estimated retail price of $599. An optional hooded diffuser will be available to help limit light spread.
Umbrella XL from Profoto
Swedish lighting giant Profoto recently introduced the Umbrella XL. The Umbrella XL, which is available in silver, white and translucent finishes, is approximately 65 inches in diameter and has a deeper parabolic shape than most umbrellas, and can be used with Profoto heads and monolights, as well as with their ProDaylight and ProTungsten continuous light products. The lighting effect and distribution can be altered by repositioning light along the umbrella shaft or changing the position of the zoom reflector. The Umbrella XL are priced (Street) at $310, $460, and $540 USD for the translucent shoot-through, white and silver interior models respectively. There is an optional front diffuser available ($150 USD) which gives an effect similar to an octabox, as well as an optional stand adapter ( $110 USD) available. It should be noted that the optional front diffuser cannot be used with continuous lighting products.
Chimera’s Octa 2 –A Beauty Dish ? An Octabox? For Studio Lights? For Speedlights?
If you answered “yes” to all of the above, you win! While Chimera is not the first company to bring a “portable” beauty dish to the market, they might have brought us the most innovative. The Octa 2 is a 24-inch lightweight and truly portable beauty dish: It’s collapsible, just like a Chimera soft box. The basic Octa 2 ($240 Street Price) consists of eight pre-shaped aluminum rods, the 24-inch fabric body, a center reflecting disc, and a front diffusion panel. With the disc in, you have a beauty dish; without it you have a reflector; add the front diffuser and you have a shallow octabox. The Octa 2 requires the addition of a brand-specific speed ring which is sold separately.
For the speedlight user, the Octa 2 really shines as the “Strobist” Kit ($399 Street Price) allows the Octa 2 to be used with your favorite speedlight.
In addition to the basics, The “Strobist” Kit adds the Versi Bracket Speed Ring for speedlights, a back closure to prevent light loss, and an accessory shoe.
So images makers let the light shine!
The demand for online video content continues to grow. While we image-makers debate the merits of camera forms and functions, editing programs, and accessories among other things, viewers want content, and they are not particular about which camera it is shot with. They watch video for entertainment, and boy oh boy, do they watch.
During June 2011, 178 million U.S. Internet users watched an average of 16.8 hours of on-line video each (up from 177 million users who watched 14.5 hours in June 2010.)
• Google Sites, primarily led by YouTube, continues to be the most watched video property.
During June, 149 million viewers engaged in 2.2 trillion viewing session of videos on Google Sites (primarily YouTube) versus 144 million viewers engaged in 1.89 trillion viewing sessions in June 2010.
• VEVO, the music video site owned jointly by Universal Records, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and Abu Dhabi Media Co., moves to the position of second most viewed on-line video property. Sixty-three million viewers engaged in nearly 400 million viewing sessions of video up from 43.7 million viewers engaging in 192 million viewing sessions in June 2010.
• The top five on-line video properties for June 2011 are: Google Sites, VEVO. Yahoo Sites, Microsoft Sites, and Viacom Digital versus the June 2010 lineup of Google Properties, Yahoo Sites, VEVO, Facebook, and Fox Interactive Media.
• Video ads continue to grow in importance: Video ads reached 49 percent of the total U.S. population at an average of 35.6 times during June.
• The average duration of online video and advertising was 5.4 and 0.4 minutes respectively. Source: Comscore Inc.
The statistics above are only for the US. The growth in the popularity of video content grows worldwide. When you consider that video ads only reached 49 percent of the US population, there is real opportunity for growth.
Interestingly, the demand for content is not being driven by tablets, but by attractively priced, large-screen, smart phones and the growing number of attractively priced data plan packages. Smart phones are now in the hands of approximately 77 million Americans up from 49 million users a year earlier. More and more people are using them to access the Internet for personal business, communicating with friends, and entertainment.
Here is a snapshot (as of May 2011) of US mobile phone subscriber usage according to Comscore INC., a leading digital marketing intelligence provider:
• Nearly 70 percent of mobile subscribers used sent text messages to another phone
• Approximately 40 percent browsed the Internet
• 39 percent downloaded an app
• 27 percent played games
• 19 percent listened to music
As many of the nearly 234 million US mobile users 13 and older upgrade their phones, the appetite for content will continue.
The question is what does all this mean for still images? Does it spell the death of the still? Are we rapidly coming to a point where still images will be grabbed or pulled from motion footage? Still grabs just happen. You may or may not get what you are looking for. A dedicated or “deliberate” still image on the other hand has a degree of thought and intention. Personally, I believe that the “deliberate” still will continue to flourish. For starters, stills and motion have co-existed for some time…and that is likely to continue. Second, the experience of looking at stills and video is different: Still images generally tend to be more evocative, as they stop a moment, and leave what happens, immediately before or after, to the viewer to remember or imagine. Motion, on the other hand, while it can be evocative, tends to be more explicit, with scenes chronicling a complete set of actions. A still image of a person leaving the house might leave one wondering where the person is going; a movie or movie clips of the same person would ultimately tell us where the person is going. It is also important to remember that not every project—or subject matter—lends itself to motion.
In the world we live in, whether it is personal remembrance/projects or commercial works, the different experiences that viewers get from stills and motion are both important and I don’t see that changing.
The original plan for this particular shoot was to capture stills with flash and motion with continuous light using the same modifiers. The actual shoot turned out differently from the shoot I had planned. Two things happened that altered my intention: The Profoto Daylight 800 Air truly “HMI-ed” — held my interest; and as photographer Ron Herard, who I had invited to shoot stills, began sharing his observations about shooting with HMIs for the first time, I decided to roll with it: We shot stills and motion simultaneously. The Acute 1200R pack that I had planned to use for still capture was never turned on.
I tend to gravitate towards hard light, so I opted to use the Magnum Reflector instead of the using one of the available soft boxes. An 800-watt HMI placed in a reflector like the Magnum produces a lot of light, so a quarter-stop scrim was placed in front of it to bring it down a tad.
The footage from the shoot which follows only scratches the surface of what can be done with a ProDaylight 800 Air in a studio setting.
A Panasonic GH2 was used to capture motion and a Canon 5D MarkII was used to capture stills.
Ron Herard made the following observations about shooting stills with the ProDaylight. “It took me a while to get into a rhythm. In working with these lights at ISO 320-400, I found myself shooting at a lower aperture than I’m used to in a studio setting with strobe; this really made nailing focus for each shot critical.”
Picking the right tool for the job is an important part of image-making. Had the stills called for freezing fast-paced action, for example, we would not have hesitated to turn to the strobes. Still HMIs, particularly higher wattage models, offer photographers expanded opportunities to capture both stills and motion, during or as part of a single session; or in the case of the Profoto HMI, the ability to shape continuous light in the same way that we have been able to shape light with flash.
Disclosure: No consideration has been received in connection with this blog entry, nor has any manufacturer and/or retailer offered any consideration.
With the continued increase in popularity of motion capture, more and more photographic lighting companies are expanding their lines and offering continuous lighting products. Profoto is one of a handful of respected lighting manufacturers known for their flash units to not only offer a line of tungsten continuous lights, but also HMI lights as well. Continuous lighting tools are not new for Profoto, as they marketed both a HMI and a tungsten unit, several years ago: But the new products, the ProDaylight 800 Air and the ProTungsten Air, are not a simple retooling, but represent a major rethinking and development. For the photographer who is shooting both stills and motion, particularly in a studio location or on a set, these lights expand the possibilities of modifying continuous light with the broad range of Profoto light shapers that they have been using with flash; both units are compatible with Profoto’s zoom reflector system, which gives one the ability customize the light shaping effect. Additionally, Profoto has introduced a few new tools that shape light in a manner that many experienced cinematographers are familiar with.
For anyone familiar with the D1 Air monolights, both the ProDaylight and the ProTungsten will feel like old friends. With the exception of the glass domes and a protective cover that uses the very elegant Profoto collar lock system to secure it to the base unit, the shape, feel and control layout of both the ProDaylight (above) and the ProTungsten is similar to the D1s. Both units are fitted with a cooling system which is extremely effective. I was surprised at how relatively quickly the ProDaylight 800 Air was ready to be packed up after two hours of continuous use. The Air Remote allows you to turn the units on and off as well as control the dimming function — the ProDaylight can be dimmed by 50% and the ProTungsten can be dialed down to 10 % (keep in mind if you dim the lamps, you will see a change in color temperature.) In fact, the Air system gives photographers the ability to not only control both flash and continuous lighting with the remote, but to control them via the optional Studio software.
The lights and all of the accessories are beautifully executed. They feel substantial and the fit and finish are superb. At this point, I want to turn my attention to the ProDaylight. I first have to mention the ProDaylight‘s ballast (above right): I looked at it and thought to myself this thing must weigh about 25 or30 pounds. Was I in for a surprise! It is more in the range of 15 pounds and could easily be picked up with one hand even though it has a double handle. In addition to the smartly executed integrated handles, the ballast is cooled, not by a fan but by heat sinks. This contributes to the unobtrusive operation that is critical when recording sound with motion work.
Now if you want to talk about the quality of light, you really have to consider the light in conjunction with the light shaper system. The quality of light is superb. The ProDaylight is at home in a 300 cm Giant Reflector, the Magnum Reflector, the Softlight Reflector with grid, the soon to be released 7 foot “slim-profile” octobox, or a traditional rectangular softbox. The variety of effects one can achieve by using the ProDaylight in different modifiers and in conjunction with placement is mindboggling. In my opinion, this is the real strength of the Profoto continuous lighting system, and one of the advantages that these and other tungsten and HMIs offer over current LED products.
The two images below show just how different the results can be using the ProDaylight with different modifiers and working distances.
The image above is a still grab from video taken with, the ProDaylight placed in the gridded Softlight Reflector. The image below is a still grab from video taken on the same set (same white background) with the ProDaylight and a Magnum Reflector.
When working with HMI’S and other HIDs you should always caution your models not to look directly at the light.
In addition to the existing photographic tool, Profoto is introducing a new range of softboxes designated “HR” which can be used with either continuous light or flash. They have also added three different sizes of lanterns to the product mix.
For the more traditional movie lighting approach, Profoto has introduced the Cine Reflector, a “PAR” can reflector that can be “zoomed” in the same manner as some of Profoto’s other reflectors, and one to control the light spread without the use of lenses. There is a Lens kit and a Scrim kit available which offer additional and more traditional control.
According to Jae Hong Park, the Swedish-based Product Manager for Profoto, more lighting products are under development. Hopefully this means we will see a 200 and 400 watt HMI unit soon.
The MSRP of the ProDaylight 800 Air is around $6400; the MSRP of the ProTungsten Air (which can accommodate either a 1000 watt or a 500 watt lamp) is $999.
Part 2: Beauty and the ProDaylight Air, an article (with video) on the ProDaylight 800 Air in use shooting stills and motion, will be published here on June 8.
Thanks to Cliff Hausner, Dan Cuny, Profoto USA, and Calumet Photographic NYC.
Disclosure: No consideration has been received in connection with this blog entry, nor has any manufacturer and/or retailer offered any consideration.
images: bk atkinson
The 12 inch Ring Light comes in a corrugated box strapped inside a padded carrying case, with mounting hardware, and an AC cord. Stellar estimates the light output at 1200 lumen. The real appeal of the 12 inch Ring Light in my opinion is that it can be powered by plugging it into an AC outlet, or by connecting it (using the supplied D tap connector) to a 15 volt battery. After pricing several battery systems (with some of the options costing several times the cost of the Ring Light itself,) I elected to power the 12 inch Ring Light by plugging the AC cord directly into a Vagabond Mini Lithium battery from Paul C. Buff Inc. My testing consistently achieved nearly two hours of continuous light on a fully charged battery. The 12 Inch Ring Light can be easily mounted to an extension pole and hand carried along with the battery by an assistant.
The 18 inch Ring Light comes in a larger box and padded case, along with tripod/c stand mounting hardware, and an AC power cord. According to Stellar, the 18 inch Ring Light which uses a 65 Watt lamp produces 4000 lumen (f 5.6 at 4 feet @ISO 200.)
As with most fluorescents, these lights are best used indoors. The color temperature seems most stable after running then for about 3-4 minutes. I find them flicker free.
Now for the deal sealer: The MSRP of the 12 inch and 18 inch units is $199 and $219 respectively. These lights are lightweight and pack a lot of bang for the buck. They are suitable for location or studio work. The only drawbacks are that 1) the gooseneck stand mount that comes with the 12 inch fixture has to be unscrewed (it’s held in place by two Philips head screws) to fit in the box and transport case, and 2) I wish there were an alternative to the cardboard braces used to protect the lamp when being stored or transported. All thing considered, these are both minor issues. Perhaps now you can understand why I’m excited about saying “With this ring, I thee light!”
Disclosure: No consideration has been received in connection with this blog entry, nor has any manufacturer and/or retailer offered any consideration.
copyright 2011 bk atkinson
Since January 1, 2011, the world’s camera makers have announced nearly 85 new camera models and only three of those are HDSLR/DSLR/interchangeable lens— mirror- less cameras. This number does not include dedicated camcorders/video cameras. These announcements have largely been made in conjunction with CES 2011 in Las Vegas and the Japanese CP+ show.
The Bread and Butter of Digital Camera Business
The 80 plus new point & shoot, advanced cameras, and super zooms, most of which have some video capabilities, underscore the fact that digital cameras are a staple of the consumer electronics business and also the continued importance of the these cameras for image capture. The cameras in this segment of the market are generally priced under $500 with the greatest number available in the $100-$350 range. These cameras fall squarely within the segment of the market that is most vulnerable to the camera- equipped smart phone. Camera makers have battled the appeal of the phone imaging by including additional amenities and functionality: higher continuous shooting frame rates, better ISO performance, Wi-Fi connectivity, weatherproofing/ all-terrain proofing, waterproof models, as well as enhanced in-camera filters and processing abilities, and-image sharing options. In an effort to expand the appeal of these cameras to more advanced users, manual control and a raw capture options seem to be showing up with increasing frequency on cameras in this segment. The pitch seems to be that the dedicated camera can give you better images as well as a greater degree of control under every circumstance than your cell phone can.
Even with pressure from smart phones, the Camera and Imaging Products Association (CIPA) forecasts 6.4% growth in this segment of the market with unit sales approaching 115 million. According to CIPA, overall camera sales are expected to reach 131 million units this year, which represents 7.8% growth over 2010.
The Growth Segment
Estimates are that HDSLR/DSLR/interchangeable lens— mirror- less cameras account for the sale of the remaining 16 million camera units this year. These cameras represent a smaller, but faster-growing and more profitable segment of the market for the manufacturers. The expectation is for a 20% increase in sales over 2010. The battleground here appears to be in the $500-$1000 retail price range where every major manufacturer is a player with multiple products in body only and /or lens kit configurations.
The profitability of these cameras is not only fueled by the sale of camera bodies themselves but by the appetite of users for multiple lenses. How important is the demand for lenses? CIPA indicates that lens shipments should increase this year by nearly 22 percent to 26.4 million units. While the traditional DSLR camera makers, have extensive lines of 35 mm lenses from ultra-wide to super telephoto for every conceivable use, they are facing competition from third party lens makers who are aggressively expanding their offerings.,
This potential for growth in lens sales explains the recent expansion of third-party lens manufacturers’ into the relatively young micro 4/3 lens utilized by Panasonic and Olympus and interest in the E-mount used by the Sony’s NEX camera models, which are not as robust as the options available for the traditional DSLR brands, Ultimately, the increase in lens options for cameras that utilize these mounts, should benefit camera body sales and market penetration. Sony recently made the decision to make their E-mount specifications available to third-party lens manufacturers without licensing fees.
The wild cards in the growth in the HDSLR/DSLR/interchangeable lens— mirror- less camera segment are Canon and Nikon, who will undoubtedly release new HDSLR products during 2011, but neither has indicated whether they will introduce interchangeable lens mirror-less cameras and lenses this year. Canon has, however, indicated to analysts that that it believes that sales for all of their digital cameras will top 30 million units.
What the Abundance of Cameras Means
There are a lot of cameras in hands of the general public, and the majority of them are in the hands of people who are not making a living with them. The access to relatively inexpensive and easy-to-use cameras has changed the value of and the way people value both still and moving images. The abundance of still and motion-capable cameras allows people to chronicle their everyday lives with an unparalleled ease. This is a win-win situation for camera manufacturers, their shareholders, and the public.
It wasn’t that long ago that most people associated the word “tablet” with a trip to the medicine cabinet or the drug store. After CES 2011, the word “tablet” will be forever associated with a PEA (portable electronic appendage) or a computer. It is clear that while most of the major camera and camcorder manufacturers were exhibitors at CES, along with appliance manufacturers, car companies, software companies and a host of other companies and disciplines, that among the products that garnered the greatest interest and buzz were the tablets, smart phones and 3D televisions——all items where apps and content count.
Among the tablet contenders: Motorola introduced the Xoom which runs on Google’s Android Honeycomb OS complete with still and video capture capability as well as video conferencing; RIM showed the Blackberry Playbook tablet PC which is made for use in conjunction with their smart phones; LG and T-Mobile announced the G-Slate tablet also running on the Honeycomb OS; NEC showed the LT-W Cloud, a dual Screen tablet/e-book reader; and Kno also showed their dual screen Kno Tablet Textbook which is aimed mainly at students; Samsung had its Galaxy tablet present and announced a Wi-Fi only model coming soon and Toshiba announced that it will release a Wi-Fi only tablet later this year; Samsung also showed their Sliding PC7-a tablet netbook hybrid, that will be available later this year; Asus, announced several tablets running the Honeycomb OS, but also announced the Eee Slate EP121, a slate tablet that runs on a full blown Windows 7 operating system; Dell announced the Streak 7 Tablet (T-Mobile is the carrier) with a forward facing camera for video chatting/conferencing and a rear camera for taking photos; Vizeo announced the VIA Tablet with an 8 inch screen and a forward facing camera for video chat/conferencing (I can see the ads now: Beyoncé VIA tablet!); Acer showed the Iconia tablet prototype; and Lenova showed LePad.
The growth in the tablets and smartphones signals a shift in the importance that content and content delivery will have, and is, perhaps, further indication of a shift in 1) how consumers will be accessing information and connecting to the web and 2) in the imaging preferences of commercial and non-commercial clients. No, I’m not suggesting that the still image is dead, but rather multimedia projects—some combination of stills, motion and/or computer generated imaging—will become increasingly important in satisfying clients and in reaching as well as engaging audiences. (On a personal note, I have found myself more concerned with the content and quality of content I deliver than the device I use to capture/record it.)
So, how big is the tablet market? In 2010, the market was essentially owned by Apple’s iPad (95% of the market) with an estimated 10-12 million units sold. With the other units becoming available from other manufacturers and platforms this year, some analysts are predicting the 2011 tablet sales could be in the range of 24 million units on the conservative side to 40-50 million units if the market truly blows-up.¹ Most analysts also agree that, at least for 2011, the iPad will continue to dominate the market.
But this post isn’t about who will dominate as much as it is about the potential for tablet technology to transform the way people communicate and entertain themselves. This should be a wakeup call to all content creators to get our ducks in order.
1: Sources - Forrester Research Inc and Info-Tech Research Group.
The revised and expanded second addition of the e-book Beyond Stills: HDSLR Motion Capture for the Non-Filmmaker is available at the Beyond Stills Web-site and is also now available at the iBooks for direct download to iPhone and iPad.
The second edition includes a more general discussion of HDSLR and interchangeable lens – mirror-less camera settings and operations regardless of brand, as well as discussion of the including menus, movie settings, and operations of Canon and Nikon HDSLRs including the Canon 60D, the Nikon D7000 and the D3100. The First section of the book focuses on the Camera – operations and settings; Part 2 of the book focuses on accessories to help facilitate motion capture; and the third section focuses on motion capture techniques. The book includes exercises which will better allow you to understand how your camera will behave under different shooting conditions. Additionally, the Interactive Resource Guide, which allows readers to access product and other information from manufacturers and was originally a separate publication, has been incorporated into the e-book.
Here’s a preview of the content:
With the growing demand for still and motion capture from clients, interest in continuous lighting options grow as do the number of products available to meet this need. I have wanted to explore the use of continuous lighting in a studio setting for a while, and thanks to K5600 Lighting and Calumet Photographic NYC I recently got the chance to work with a Joker-Bug 800 watt HMI. The experience is best summed up as “illuminating!”
The concept for the “HMI” shoot was to capture stills and motion clips of a martial art competitor. I had tentatively entitled the project “Shadow Dance.” I knew that I wanted a very distinct shadow to be an integral part of the visual experience. Since I wanted to work with only one light source, I needed the light to be broad. I considered several Profoto modifiers with which the Joker is compatible, but ultimately felt that the K5600 Big Eye Fresnel would allow me to achieve my objectives. The session would be shot with a 5D MarkII with a 24-105mm lens, mounted on a freestanding monopod with a fluid head. A custom white balance would be set.
The Joker-Bug 800 and Big Eye did not disappoint. The light was crisp, clean and with the lamp positioned in the flood position, broad. The light was placed camera right and effectively lit our “set” area which was an isolated 15 x 15 foot area in the Gallery space on the second floor of Calumet Photographic NYC. I decided to work in Manual mode and settled on a working aperture of F5.6. In making the decision to shoot at F5.6, I knew that I would not be shooting stills during this session at ISO 100. The light meter readings in the model’s “working” area confirmed my belief with a shutter speed range of 1/20-1/30. Further metering indicated that in order to achieve a minimum shutter speed of 1/100 to ensure sharp stills that I would need to be at ISO 320 or higher. I set the camera to Auto ISO, and took a few stills. The stills’ information display confirmed that the camera would be operating at ISO 320 or higher. The camera was placed on a monopod with a base support and a fluid head for stabilization during video recording.
I shot using one camera and decided to shoot Full resolution RAW stills during the video recording process. The shutter sounds that you hear during the video clip were actually recorded during the session. The pause and still display in the video is longer than the actual video recording interruption and was an editing decision. The actual interuption experienced capturing still while shooting video with the 5D MarkII is approximately one second. Because of the pause action when shooting stills while recording video, one might consider using multiple cameras. At some point in the not too distant future, simultaneous still and video capture will become available on HDSLRs. Had I been shooting with multiple cameras, I would have set the camera recording video to a shutter speed of 1/60 (using the 2x FPS guideline), but my priority to capture stills drove my shutter speed considerations.
I walked away from my experience feeling that HMI lighting is a compelling option for the studio photographer interested in capturing stills and video during the same session. The 800 watt lamp allowed me to light the set, and place the light at a comfortable working distance from the model. It was actually kind of mindboggling that this six-pound lamp was capable of putting out the equivalent of nearly 4000 watts of tungsten. Although I elected not to use other light shapers, I knew that I could use a variety of tools from beauty dishes to soft boxes to giant reflectors to alter the character of the light if I had wanted to.
At $4,500 for the Joker Crossover 800 (includes the Adapter for mounting Profoto light shapers), there is no question that these are expensive lights. If your business demands power and versatility, they may be a smart investment. If you can’t justify the expense of an outright purchase, rental on an as-needed basis is a viable option.
If you are interested in learning more about the K5600 product line, visit: http://www.k5600.com/crossover.
For Corporate and Studio sales in the New York Metro area contact Jamie McDougall at: Jamie.firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have elected not to cover some material in this entry because there are some wonderful resources available on line:
To view videos on the many parts of the Joker-Bug system, click on the K5600 youtube Gallery.
To see a video of the Big Eye setup, click here.
To read S1 Group, Toronto’s “K5600 HMI Light Output Test with Mola, Profoto and K5600 Lighting Modifiers” click here.
Again thanks to K5600 Lighting and Peter Bradshaw and Calumet Photographic New York.
All images -still and video- in this entry and in this blog are copyrighted and used with permission.
While the average camera enthusiast may not be familiar with the name Frezzi, those in the world of electronic news gathering (ENG) and broadcasting most certainly are. Frezzi lighting products are often spotted atop professional video cameras and their daylight balance HMI products are among the more popular sun gun fixtures available in the market.
image courtesy of Byron Atkinson
With the growth in HDSLRs among broadcasters, Frezzi has taken an integrated approach and offers platforms to its customers that address the need for lighting, power and stabilization. This integrated approach is not new for Frezzi: It is consistent with their product offerings for traditional video cameras. But they are one of the few companies offering this kind of integration solution for HDSLR users, and in doing so, may undoubtedly find their product have appeal to a far broader market.
Kevin Crawford of the New Jersey-based company provides us with an interesting look at the company and its latest products.
Q: Frezzi is probably best known for its lighting products. What sets Frezzi apart from the other lighting companies?
KC: Frezzi has been innovating and designing portable lighting and power packs for television news since the beginnings of terrestrial broadcasting. My grandfather, James Frezzolini, founded the company while working as the Chief News Reel Cameraman at WPIX Channel 11 here in New York City. As a skilled machinist and inventor, he developed the world’s first portable lights for use with 16mm Bell and Howell Film cameras used for news at that time. It all started there and continued for the TV news industry with a broad range industry firsts, including lighting, power packs and Frezzolini 16mm film cameras.
We offer photographers and videographers their choice of lighting products; tungsten, HMIs, and LED replacement lamps. Frezzi is the only company offering a line of highly portable and lightweight HMIs, from our 15W Micro Sun Gun to the 400W HMI Super Sun Gun. They all can be DC battery-powered, making them great field lights. Additionally, Frezzi lighting products are made and serviced here in the USA.
Q: What made Frezzi decide to enter the market with HDSLR compatible products?
KC: It was an easy decision for us. We have been providing Frezzi Mini-Fill lights as continuous light sources to the still photography market for years. We actually saw a growing number of still photographers using tungsten fill lighting rather than flash units for some of their glamour and wedding work. This eliminated harsh flash shock while utilizing continuous lighting for highlighting and accenting. Also, you cannot replicate the warmth and full color spectrum of a good tungsten lamp source.
Given the fact that our products are designed to be portable, support and improve the handheld camcorder shooting experience, expanding the Frezzi product line to include HDSLRs was a natural. Since some of the products we offer for HDSLRs are adaptations of products originally used for and proven to work with professional broadcast cameras.
Q; How important is the lighting component of the HDSLR rig or system? What advantage does the Frezzi approach offer?
KC: The lighting is extremely important even though the HDSLR can shoot at low light. We’ve seen some good available light video, but when a subject properly lit [with a Frezzi,] you’ll see a dramatic improvement in image quality. The image will be more vivid and the colors will really “pop” as the light will help to separate the subject from the background. You’ll see that “sparkle in the eyes” and bring your subject to life. Being low light sensitive is good with the HDSLR because you can gently wash your subject with accent lighting by adjusting the dimmer control just enough to bring up the warm, golden skin tones and fully saturated colors while having the camera’s sensor working in the “sweet spot” for an ideal image. Our rig has the advantage of the light being powered by a Frezzi battery on the back of the shoulder support which also serves as a counterbalance as well as a power source for those using a monitor and/or other accessories.
Q: You have two types of rigs available: one which is hand held and the other which is shoulder mounted. Can you tell us about them?
KC: Customers soon find out HDSLRs are heavy and cumbersome to shoot video, creating painful wrist and arm fatigue over time. This makes it difficult to acquire smooth, professional-looking video when shooting for extended periods of time.
The Frezzi Hand Held Rig is a multi-purpose stabilizer and camera support arm. It mounts the HDSLR to the support arm, on the opposite side; it has a handle with battery mount. This configuration is well-balanced and easy to handle because the weight of the camera, lens and other accessories is distributed along the support arm. The Power Block battery on the handle
Image courtesy of Frezzi
acts as a counter-balance and power source for the Frezzi light or any other 12V accessory. As you know, having a balanced rig helps keep the camera steady when doing handheld and roving shots.
The Stable-Cam Shoulder Rig is a full HDSLR platform for camera, battery, and light with multiple cold shoe mounts for additional accessories like monitors, wireless mics and audio recorders. One big design concern for us was to create the Stable-Cam as a “tool-less” assembly and also have the ability to fold up small enough to fit in a carry-on. When deployed, the Stable-Cam is fully adjustable to different body types and every joint articulates. One of the
Image courtesy of Frezzi
advantages the Stable-Cam offers is a lower waist boom which provides an additional point of contact for stabilization and relieves the weight from handholding. You can easily adjust focus and camera settings using the Stable-Cam as 100% of the weight is balanced on your shoulder and waist. Many users refer to it as a “Human Tripod” since it offers the ability to shoot for hours without any wrist or arm fatigue while holding the shot smooth and steady. Again, our high capacity batteries which can power the Frezzi light, monitor or any other 12V accessory are integral to the system.
Using one of the Frezzi HDSLR Stabilizer rigs results in the camera and accessories being both balanced and more manageable which makes for smooth and professional looking images and video clips.
We offer both stabilizers in “kit” configurations which include the Stabilizer, a MINI-Fill and a battery. There are different kit configurations available with MSRPs between $1150 and $1950.
Q: Your mini “sun gun” can utilize a tungsten or LED bulb. What factored into your decision to offer both?
KC: The Frezzi Mini-Fill Dimmer is an industry standard video light used by tens of thousands of professional broadcasters around the world. It accepts any standard MR-16 lamp, with a GX5.3 socket base, up to a 100 Watts. With the wide proliferation and availability of LED MR-16 type replacement lamps, LEDs are a logical choice when lower power consumption and long run time are considerations. LED MR-16 lamps are “direct” lamp plug-in replacements, suitable for any MR-16 fixture. So it’s a simple evolution of technology that has made this possible. Being able to switch back and forth between Tungsten and LED has its advantages based on shooting and lighting conditions as well as the photographer’s intent.
Q: What kind of run times are you estimating with the batteries that come with the systems?
KC: Run times depend on the wattage of lamp and accessories being powered, but in general when using our Hand Held Rig and Power Block battery, the Frezzi Mini-Fill Dimmer with 35W Tungsten lamp will run for almost two hours continuously; with an 8W LED replacement lamp, the run time jumps to over eight hours of continuous light at 5500 degrees daylight color temperature.
On our Stable-Cam powered rig which uses a more robust battery, the 35W Tungsten Mini-Fill Dimmer will run almost 2.8 hours With an 8W LED replacement lamp will run for over 12 hours.
But keep in mind, with the addition of a LCD monitor and other accessories that require power, the battery run time will decrease.
Q: Can your HMI units be fitted on the HDSLR rigs, and if so are there any advantages to using them over tungsten and LEDs?
Frezzi HMIs can be fitted to the HDSLR rigs with ease. Frezzi lighting has standardized shoe mounting and power connectors making substitution simple. The advantage of HMI is their high output at daylight color temperature 5600K. When shooting outdoors in direct sunlight or when the subject is back lit, HMIs are unequaled among continuous lighting products in their ability to light a subject effectively to eliminate shadows. Tungsten lamps need to be color-corrected from 3200K to 5600K which will reduce their light by approximately one f-stop. Most LED sources at this time do not have enough throw and fall off very rapidly to be effective outdoors in direct daylight.
Some of our customers are using our 15W HMIs on HDSLR rigs as a fill-in light, and our 24W HMI stand mounted, as key and back lighting. Being all battery-powered, small and extremely portable makes them great as HDSLR portable light kits. While these customers are using the lights as portable lightings kits with “HDSLR for News” crews, documentary work and ENG crews, we believe they will be attractive alternatives for other segments of the HDSLR market.
Frezzi HDSLR support and light products are available now. For more information on these and other Frezzi products visit: http://www.frezzi.com or call (800) 345-1030.
Thanks to Kevin and James Crawford of Frezzi.
All images in this entry and in this blog are copyrighted and used with permission.
What’s in our Sister blogs:
HDSLRS-n-motion: HDSLR Cameras: Products to Watch For
Byron Says: Story Telling
Not surprisingly, as more and more people embrace shooting stills and motion with HDSLRs, the interest in lighting products grows at a record pace. And many are discovering—and singing the praises of—LED lighting. While many HDSLR users’ initial exposure to LED lighting is often with the small units which can be seated in the camera hot shoe, those lighting applications are merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of applications for still and motion work. LED lighting, which is short for Light Emitting Diode, has become a staple in the film and broadcasting industry. I approached A.J. Wedding of ESS, the worldwide distributor of LEDZ products, to talk about the LED market and their unique product range.
Q: What’s fueling the growth of LED usage for stills and motion?
AW: There are several factors influencing the growth we are seeing: As companies increase their online advertising, there is a demand for more multi-media collateral. Advertisers now have an increasing need for motion. Right now, many shoots are being done as hybrids…half still photos, half video footage. And you can’t shoot both at the same time with flash. The only continuous lights that have been powerful enough to match flash have been HMIs. As more powerful LED products have become available, they have become viable competitive lighting alternatives for many imaging professionals. While LEDZ lights can currently only take the place of low-end HMIs, this is still an amazing feat. And the technology continues to develop.
There is also the Green factor: With the whole world going green, everyone wants to find smarter and more efficient energy solutions, and this trend has tremendous appeal in “Hollywood”. Any time you can create lights that are more energy efficient, create less heat, and still give off the true color spectrum needed for serious cinematography, it’s a no brainer.
Then there are the cost considerations: The upfront cost of the more powerful LED units like our Brute 30 unit tends to cause sticker-shock, but you really have to compare it to all of the costs associated with an equivalent HMI. Our LEDZ lighting units and their diodes are guaranteed for 40,000 hours of usage; for the same life that our lights are guaranteed for, you will pay $55,000 for new globes for an equivalent HMI product. The savings to a rental house which on average spends $250,000 on globes per year…well, you can do the math. This translates into immediate and long term cost savings.
Q: What distinguishes the LEDZ line from some of the other LED options in the market?
AW: LEDZ is definitely a very different type of light from other LED lights. That is why we compare our products with HMIs, rather than other LED brands. Most LED brands are very good at offering a nice, soft fill that is great at a distance of three to four feet. That is not our world. Our engineers have created a unique product that has the kind of throw and punch equal to the more powerful tungsten alternatives and HMI lighting in the 100 to 400 watt range. LEDs offer inherently soft light, and getting them to fire long distances is quite a challenge, but we have created that punch and in doing so have distinguished ourselves from other LED product on the market.
Q: Tell us about the LEDZ line.
AW: The LEDZ Line consists of: The Mini Par (a compact light with three interchangeable lenses for spot and flood settings); the Brute 3 (an amazingly powerful light that can fit in small spaces, be used as a reporter light, or any 1/4″ 20 mount); the Brute 9 (a “sun-gun” alternative which can be fitted with a handle, or used as a soft fill on a stand); the Brute 16 (our workhorse, equivalent to a 200 watt HMI or 1k tungsten source); and the Brute 30 (equivalent to a 400 watt HMI or nearly a 2k tungsten source.) All of our products are fully dimmable.
Q: What power options are available?
AW: Currently, all of our lighting units come with AC/DC power. With the exception of the Brute 16, all of our units are 12V compatible, so they can be plugged into many commercially available battery units. We are, however, in the process of manufacturing a universal battery system that should be available later this year.
Q: Are LEDZ products only for the “professional” market?
AW: LEDZ lights are distributed by Hollywood Rentals, and in order to cater to our main customers, we had to make sure that the lights we created were durable, powerful, and could withstand the scrutiny of Hollywood’s top cinematographers and gaffers. Does this mean that non-professionals can’t use them? No. Anyone who wants a high quality light for any reason, be it a Web series, home video, or whatever you shoot should consider LEDZ lights. In terms of our product price range, The Brute 3 retails for $450, while the top of the line Brute 30 retails for $4900.
Q: Where can people who are interested in LEDZ products buy them?
AW: The best place to go is www.led-z.com, and you can find your nearest dealer. If you can’t find someone near you, you can contact Manny Barreras at ESS. His info is on the Website.
Thanks to A.J. Wedding and Manny Barreras of ESS.
I do want to make final point and this is a general observation about the use of smaller LED lighting units. While LEDZ does not offer lights with a hot shoe mount, their smaller lighting units can be used on-camera with third party adapters. While many people are inclined to mount smaller LED lights on their cameras, unless you are using your camera for “ENG” (electronic news gathering) type applications which have very specific lighting objectives, I recommend that you move those units off-camera, and mount them to a stand or on a handle. “On-camera” continuous lighting, like “on-camera” flash, although usually less powerful, is still direct light and is more often than not, less flattering than other alternatives.
On Thursday May 13 and Friday May 14, I am running a two-day workshop is intended for the “non-filmmaker,” and is set up to provide an intensive introduction to shooting motion with a Canon HDSLR. This first workshop is being put on in concert with Calumet Photographic’s New York City Store, at 22 West 22nd Street (212-989-8500.)
The program is divided into two parts:
Part 1 will cover all the shooting fundamentals with a focus on understanding the camera set-up and equipment/accessories which can enhance the motion capture experience. Areas that will be explored include the following:
– Camera controls and settings
– Batteries and memory cards Stabilization and stabilization options
– On-camera Lighting
– Essential equipment for motion capture
– Software alternatives and basic editing considerations
– Common shooting courtesy
Part 2 is intended to put you, the camera, the stabilizer and the other essentials together with a story or theme and provide an opportunity to apply what you’ve learned in the workshop. Areas that will be covered include:
– The importance of a story or theme
– Framing, composition, and movement
– Interior and exterior lighting (made easy)
– What you need to know about shooting stills and motion on the streets of NYC
– Editing considerations
Additionally, workshop participants will have an opportunity to develop a story and shoot their story with actor/models included in the workshop’s $299 cost.
(The Canon 5D MarkII and 7D cameras will be used for demonstration purposes and attendees are encouraged to bring their cameras and memory cards and other accessories if they so choose. We will supply the models and lighting, as well as some stabilization alternatives for use.)
Handouts covering both days will be provided for you to keep.
For More information about the course and to sign up, click here.
For information about the June and July dates additional workshops contact email@example.com.
Never underestimate the value of custom white balancing, whether you are shooting stills or motion. Custom white balance is all about your making decision about color, rather than allowing your camera to make the decision for you. Custom White balance is also all about consistency: As long as you are shooting under the same light, regardless of what is in the picture, your white balance will be consistent. There are two ways to create a custom white balance: the reflective method or incident method. The Incident method of white balancing, which was recently covered in our companion blog, www.hdslrs-n-motion, generally involves placing a neutral filter over the lens and shooting a frame from the position of your subject, to measure the light and color of light hitting the subject. The reflective method, which is covered here, involves shooting a neutral gray or white card, which captures and measures the color of the light reflected off the card, from the subject position to the camera sensor. That frame becomes the benchmark reference, under those lighting conditions, that renders white “pure” whether you use it to set the in-camera white balance or use it to set white balance during post processing. You should refer to your camera manual for step-by-step instructions on how to set the custom white balance using the reference frame.
Let’s get one thing clear, white balance is not absolute, as in if you have ever used or compared the results from more than one white balancing aid, you may see some subtle differentials in the rendering of “neutral.” Sometimes one may produce a slightly warmer or cooler tone than another. Custom white balance is a tool, and for those who intend to get creative, whether it’s a simple black and white conversion or an edgy fashion image, accurate color is a great place to start from. There are people who are perfectly happy with their camera presets, and depending on the conditions they are shooting under, the presets may indeed be acceptable.
In addition to solid color white balancing tools, there are multi-color balancing aids available which allow for color checking, balancing and correction during post processing as well as exposure evaluation during a shoot. One of my new favorite color balancing tools is the X-Rite Color Passport Checker. This pocket-sized package has everything you need to manage white balance and a color-corrected workflow and comes with camera calibration software which allows users of Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom products to develop DNG camera profiles.
There are a number of choices available for managing white/color balance from the very basic and inexpensive 18 Percent Gray Card, to more sophisticated, durable and expensive products like those from WhiBal, X-Rite and others. Many of the manufactures have tutorials on their sites to show you how the products are best utilized.
A final word on choosing products to use for setting color balance: Although people often assume that white paper of fabric are acceptable alternatives to use for setting white balance, you should exercise caution when using these materials as some papers and fabrics contain brighteners and/or bluing agents which may adversely impact their neutrality.
Feel free to click on the embedded page below to check out some “Nice Bytes” picks for white balance and color corrected workflow.
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For the past four years I have been a fan and user of Moab Paper’s Chinle Portfolios and several of their papers including the Entrada 190 natural. The Chinle Portfolios which come in two sizes 8”x9” (with an 8”x8” printable page area) and 12”x13” (with a 12”x12” printable area) are beautifully crafted leather-back books (with a slip case for storage) which use a screw-and-post configuration and accommodate pre-scored and drilled pages of several varieties of Moab paper. The wonderful thing about the Chinle Portfolios is that you can add and remove pages at will. The Chinle Portfolios can handle between 35 and 40 pages of the Entrada paper. These books have never failed to impress. There is a lot to be said for the look of images on paper as compared to images being viewed in a plastic sleeve as well as the very different in the sensory experience. I started with the larger size Chinle Portfolio and added the smaller one because I wanted a portfolio that could be easily carried around. You see, in New York City, you never know when the opportunity to show your work may arise and sometimes you want something a little more substantial than having a client look at an iPhone screen.
It was with great excitement that I ordered an 8” x 9” Ice Nine Portfolio which was shipped with 10 sheets of Entrada 190 paper. Both the front and back covers of the Ice Nine Portfolio, which is available in the same two sizes as the original Chinle Portfolio, are a grey, translucent vinyl-like material. I have to admit that I was a bit of a skeptic, having gotten used to the look and quality of the leather-bound books. I jokingly referred to the Ice Nine as “Chinle light”; but that was before the book arrived. Make no mistake about it, although it is more compact than the original Chinle 9” book, the Ice Nine is a not just a contender, but the real deal. The collaboration between Moab Papers and Case Envy by Lost Luggage has resulted in a nicely sized, lighter weight, elegantly simple, and cost effective solution for photographers who need to physically show their portfolios. Heck, some clients may even find the Ice Nine, as they have with the leather bound Chinle, a great solution to hold and display their images.
The Ice Nine is actually easier to put together than the original Chinle Portfolio, because the front and back covers have no internal lip/flap that has to be folded inward and the hardware (consisting of two screws) is on the outside. It took me less than two minutes to unscrew and disassemble the book, insert 22 printed pages and re-fasten it. The translucent grey cover in combination with my printed title page looked amazing (see the top image.) When everything was finished all I could say was wow!
In addition to the double sided Entrada Rag Natural and Bright papers, The Ice Nine Portfolios kits are also available with the Lasal Photo Matte paper. Moab’s wonderful Colorado Fiber papers, both Gloss and Satine, are also available sized to fit into the Ice Nine Portfolios. Whatever paper you choose, don’t forget to visit the Moab Paper site for more information and to download the appropriate icc profiles for your printer.
Yes, nice ice baby says it all!
( The Ice Nine, top; The Chinle leather bound 8″x9″ Portfolio, bottom)
The product names mentioned in this entry are registered trademarks. Please note that Moab Paper is part of Legion Paper.
I recently made a presentation on H(d)SLRs to a group of photographers in New York, and two of the concerns the audience had included the amount of money needed to get your H(d)SLR video ready and the size of the equipment. It got me thinking about a reasonably-priced, handheld stabilizing solution that would allow for growth and expansion as needed. If your curiosity is peaked, click here to read on….
The Thought of the Week:
Photography and the Olympics
The 2010 Winter Olympics are well on their way: Hopefully, the photographic community will celebrate the accomplishment of the athletes as captured, as opposed to getting caught up with which brand of camera was used to take the picture.
Last week my sister, who is a Yale alum sent me a link to a YouTube video, that was a forward of a forward with a very cryptic note “Watch this, you will enjoy it.” I was not sure she was sending me the video to watch because I too am a Yale grad or because of my total fascination, make that obsession, with all things visual and this multi-media world we live in. It turns out that she sent it for both reasons. The first thing I noticed when I clicked on the link was that the video which was posted on January 14, had logged in over 180,000 viewers.
Within a few minutes of watching the video, the “still-mo-tographer” in me realized the hallmarks of motion captured with a CMOS sensor, and I knew this film was shot with the Red One. My interest in technology and HD motion capture is not what kept me glued to the small screen for the next 17 minutes. It was the innovative college admissions video that unfolded before my eyes that had me transfixed. Admissions video, marketing collateral, musical or musical admissions video- I’m not sure what to call it, but it is different, and surely will speak to the target demographic with glee, high school students considering college.
“That’s Why I Chose Yale” is the result of a forward-thinking Admissions Dean and a collaboration of Yale undergrads, recent alums, and recent alums working in the admissions office. According to Andrew Johnson, who produced the movie, the project developed out of conversations in the admissions office concerning the need for a new marketing piece to give prospective applicants a snapshot of life at Yale. Johnson’s survey of the admissions video efforts among colleges found that they were so similar that it was difficult to identify which school’s collateral you were looking at. “I went back to my boss and told him if we are going to do something, we should do something unique. I felt that the best compliment anyone could ever give our video, would be for a prospect to want to watch it twice or for someone who has no interest or intention of applying to Yale to find it interesting and engaging. I told him that I thought we could do this with a musical.” Johnson indicated that after a moment, the Dean agreed that if they could get and keep the tone right, it could be a good idea. So with a very small budget, which would be used for camera and lighting rental, and an army of student and alumni volunteers, the project got its green light.
“When we showed the video to the Yale administration, they thought it was certainly a big departure, but they thought it was funny, and engaging and entertaining,” says Johnson.
Is the movie technically perfect? No, and if you wear a cinematographer’s hat, there are a few small things you may note. But I have long said that sometimes the spirit captured is more important than technical perfection, and this movie captures the spirit, energy and imagination that will be important for and to the target audience.
I decided to write about this project for a couple of reasons. As a writer who covers photography gear, I try to strike a balance between talking about gear, its actual use, and trends. This video was shot under conditions which lots of us are familiar with, small budgets/constraints, short timeframes, with volunteers, and yet it is an amazingly big and ambitious undertaking. This movie was not shot for the purpose of promoting or marketing a particular brand of camera, or demonstrating what a camera is capable of, or for a contest. It was shot for a real world application. This project is significant as it speaks to the growing importance of motion capture in reaching Internet-savvy audiences, and audiences that expect not only to be informed but to also be entertained. It is a stunning example of what digital motion capture technology can enable, and it should be a reminder to all of us that the cameras we use are just the tools to achieve an end. The fact that as of this writing more than 289,000 viewers have clocked in according to the YouTube counter cannot be dismissed.
I asked cinematographer Streeter Philips why he chose the Red One for use on the project. “I had used the Red One for a short film that I shot last summer, in part because I wanted to know what they hype was about. After seeing the dailies [for my short] I was convinced that given what Andrew (Johnson) and director Ethan Kuperberg (Yale ’11) wanted to achieve visually—they wanted a high-gloss, bright, saturated image—and we definitely didn’t have the budget for film, that the Red One was the right choice.” Phillips who is no stranger to motion capture and has been using the Panasonic HVX for much of his motion work as well as the Canon 5D MarkII, says he has become a real fan of the Red One. He indicates that once you learn how to operate it, that it is pretty easy to use. The learning curve was steep however, and his learning curve was helped along by a five-hour workshop and a lot of on the job experience.
While the outdoor shooting relied heavily on natural light, the supplemental lighting of choice for indoor and outdoor applications was HMI. “Our indoor lighting consisted primarily of 1.2k HMIs, Pars and Fresnel’s which were heavily gelled.” One of the advantages of shooting at Yale was unlimited power: the constraint, placement of outlets, was easily overcome with extension cords.
“That’s Why I Chose Yale” was filmed over 10 days and in 30 locations last September (Philips says that sometimes they were in five or six locations in a day.) The movie is a testament to what happens when you have the right team of people working towards a common goal, great direction and oversight, and a killer idea to begin with.
The movie is not without controversy as there are those who have expressed concern that the musical genre cheapens or damages the Yale reputation and the admissions message. Then there are those like myself who applaud the willingness of a venerable institution to understand the dynamics of their market and adapt accordingly to reach it. The enormously talented pool of people associated with its creation, student and alums, both in front and behind the camera should also not be overlooked or get lost in the discussion of the videos merit as an admissions tool. What an incredible student body!
As I was writing my concluding remarks, I realized that I was humming a catchy little tune…yep, you guessed it: “That’s Why I Chose Yale.”
To view the movie, click on the link below:
To view what’s new in our companion blog, www.hdslrs-n-motion.com, click on the article title below:
Mention beauty dishes choices around a group of photographers– working or enthusiast– and invariably Mola Softlights will play a prominent role in the discussion. One of the reasons that the Mola brand may be synonymous with beauty dishes is that they are the sole product the company manufactures. Unlike most manufacturers who offer the “familiar” 16-22 inch product, Mola offers four sizes, from the 22” Demi to the 43.5” Mantti. The unique stepped or undulated interior that is a signature of the Mola line makes their products easily identifiable. Mola has expanded the current interior finish options beyond “white” to include silver finishes. While there are lots of things to like about Mola products, one of the most attractive features is that Mola products can be adapted, via speed rings, to accommodate many different brands of strobes, and continuous lighting products. If you change your lighting brand, and own a Mola product, all you have to do is change the mount.
Mola founder Walter Melrose notes that each of the Mola offerings shapes the light in a unique way before it hits the subject, because they were each developed with a different use in mind. “The 33.5 inch Euro was actually the first product we developed. I designed it with versatility in mind: It is a well-rounded, no pun intended reflector that can be used for beauty, fashion and product work; the Mantti on the other hand was designed to simulate window light. The Demi is a smaller version of the Euro.”
Based on size and price and a well-established beauty dish market, I suspect that the 22” Demi is among, if not the most popular Mola product. As a user of the Demi and the larger Setti, the Mola dishes have never disappointed. While the interior of many beauty dishes including the Molas is characterized as being “white”, the interior finish of the Mola is a “softer white” than my Profoto beauty dish and the texture gives it a “pearl-like” appearance. While the light wraps the subject in typical beauty dish style, I have always felt that the Mola stepped surface resulted in a larger surface area and increased the efficiency of the light. The resulting light is slightly warmer, and in my opinion, it subtly enhances most skin tones. I say “in my opinion,” because with lighting as with so many things there is always an element of subjectivity. Some one is bound to be wondering how the Demi compares to the Profoto dish. I really can’t tell you because other than both being classified as beauty dishes, a comparison would be apples to oranges. The differences in size (22” verses 20” or so in diameter) interior finish, and surface area are all going to impact optimal placement, amount of light and fall-off.
The 28” Setti is deeper than the Demi and more parabolic. It produces a more focused light with greater contrast and more rapid fall-off. While the Setti can be used close-in, in a similar manner as a traditional beauty dish, it is large enough to be used for full body applications. If there is a downside to the larger Mola products, it is the fact that they do not collapse for transport. You just have to be sure you factor that into your considerations when going on location.
Melrose also points out that while the silver finished dishes appear to be new, that Mola offered dishes with silver interior finishes 20 years ago. “The harder light was not as popular as the softer light, and we stopped offering the silver interior for a while. We brought silver interiors back simply because the market asked for it.” What sets the silver dishes apart from their white counterparts is a cooler light (color temperature wise) and a light with both greater directionality and contrast.
So what’s new from Mola as we move into 2010? Melrose says that they are now offering polycarbonate flex grids for the Demi and the Setti, which will give users another option for light control. For the location photographer who uses, small flash heads from Lumedyne or Quantum, speedlights, and/or heads that do not generate a lot of heat as a result of modeling lights, an ABS version of the Demi is on the way.
As far as the Mola mystique is concerned, the products are analogous to the perfect storm: that combination of shape, color, size, and interior finish that result in some amazing lighting.
For more information on the Mola line visit them on line by clicking here.
To see Mola products in use, visit their blog at: http://blog.mola-light.com/
This morning I got a chance to sit down with H.W. Briese, the founder of Briese Lichttechnik and Gerd Bayer who oversees their New York operation, Briese-NY. As part of his stateside trip, Mr. Briese is here showcasing their full line of continuous light and flash products today-10/21, until 10pm and tomorrow-10/22, from 10am-6pm, at Jack Studios (601 West 26 street, NY, NY 10001- between 11th and 12th Aves.) The studio is perfect for showcasing the line of focusable parabolics, strip boxes , ballasts and packs that Briese is known for. I must admit I was overwhelmed as I walked between the two rooms; it is rare that light modifiers themselves are as captivating to look at as their output.
Among the new products Mr Briese is showcasing here in New York are the Focus 96 and 150 parabolics and the remote controlled, Focus Help which allows for changing and/or fine tuning the lamp position, without having to lower the Focus manually for adjustment and then reposition it.
Mr Briese describes the Briese lights as “efficient.” He maintains that the special quality of the light is the result of its components; from the u shaped flash tube to the movable lamp to the shape of the modifiers themselves. He also reinforced my belief that the key to understanding and unleashing the power of the Briese light is learning how to adjust the position of the light within the Focus as well as adjusting the power of the pack. For some photographers this may represent a paradigm shift, as many of us look at adjusting power as the sole means to control the light once in the modifier: With the Briese system, the movement of the flash head within the modifier is fundamental and as important as adjusting the power.
Mr Briese also made me realize how versatile the Focus range can be: you have a light source that can go from a spot to a flood and cover a lot of ground in-between. Usually when people are talking about parabolics and particularly the larger ones, they talk of the brilliance and wrap of the light. In moving the lamp within the Focus (the amount of movement you have varies according to the size of the Focus product you are using) you can indeed change the light characteristic and falloff.
Unlike many companies that specialize in either flash products or continuous lighting products, Briese does both. According to Mr Briese, they have been manufacturing HMI products since 1985, and added tungsten to their product line a few years ago. With the bases covered from “3250k to 5500k to flash,” Briese feels that his company is well positioned to navigate and serve the converging stills and motion markets.
If you are in New York and want to get a first hand look at Briese products, the event at Jack Studios is open to the public.
One of the reasons I decided to undertake a series on lighting for still and motion at different price points is to underscore the fact that there are lighting solutions for every wallet and pocketbook. While a lot of the outdoor footage which is being shot with HSLR/HDSLRs which include cameras such as the canon 5D markII and the 7D and Nikons D90 and D300s, makes use of available/ambient light, indoor motion recording often requires a different approach. While some of the products offered by the big names in professional lighting for stills and motion may cost more than many people can or are willing to spend, there are lots of options for those just getting their feet wet experimenting with the dual mediums as well as for the “seasoned” dual medium shooter.
For the under $500 off-camera solution while high power, low heat production, and low wattage were still priorities, I also wanted a solution that had multiple power options. I decided that I wanted to go with LEDs. The bad news was that I could not find a solution in my favorite brick and mortar stores in the target price range. The good news is that I found what I was looking for online! My search led (no pun intended) me to, Nevada-based, Cool Lights USA.
The lighting unit of choice was their CL-LED600. I choose the 5600k flood model with a 60 degree LED beam angle, over the spot (40 degree LED beam angle) and 3200k degree models. I thought the 20 degree beam angle advantage that the flood had over the spot would produce a broader and more flexible light for my shooting needs.
The Cool Lights Website indicates the LED600 has a lot going for it and after using it, I have to agree that it does. The unit is approximately 10”x10”x3.25” and weighs about three pounds. The unit is shipped with a set of barn doors mounted, which increases the weight to 6 lbs or so. The LED600 is solid, well-made, well-finished, and offers a lot of lighting control: There is a master switch and a dimmer as well as five bank switches which allow you to select and brighten or dim various bank combinations from zero to 100% of the fixture’s LEDs. While the CL-LED600 ships with an AC cord, its rear panel has a 4 pin XLR outlet, which allows the unit to be run off a 12-18 volt battery. As an alternative, you can purchase an optional battery adapter plate, either Anton Bauer or Sony “V” mount, and attach the appropriate battery directly to the rear of the unit. Three power options: how cool! This makes the CL-LED600 a versatile tool.
According to Cool Lights’ Richard Andrewski, the CL-LED600 puts out the equivalent of a 650 watt incandescent light but uses around 50 Watts of power. As you can see from the images below, the unit does indeed put out a lot of light.
In addition to the AC cord and barn doors, the unit also ships with a shoulder bag, directions, and four filters for use in the built-in filter holder: Two minus green filters of different strengths, a full CTO filter and a diffusion panel.
For those looking for a lighting solution which offers a lot of power, tremendous control, and AC/DC flexibility, the CL-LED600 is definitely worthy of consideration. For more information on the CL-LED600 visit: http://www.coollights.biz/
I decided to explore an under $100 lighting solution first. I was a bit skeptical as a people shooter that I would find anything I felt comfortable with in this price range. After doing a fair amount of searching, I settled on a couple of $42USD, Adorama, Flashpoint brand umbrella-style soft boxes and cool fluorescent bulbs. In fact, I added $30 to the budget and bought three “Kits.”
Basically a “Kit” consists of a 20 x27’ soft box built around a light bulb: Take the bulb out, remove the cord, collapse the unit and you are ready to go. Now let me “be perfectly frank;” for $42 you shouldn’t expect and don’t get premium brand construction or finish: The plastic base plate assembly is not the most elegant solution in terms of opening for mounting to a stand and/or tightening it when mounted, and I found myself struggling a bit to get the baffle evenly attached to the box as well. What you do get for $42 however, once you get the light attached to the stand and the baffle on snugly, is a light that works overtime and the comfort of knowing that if you damage the bulb or break the box, replacing either won’t set you back a king’s ransom. And most importantly, you get a light which can be used for video or still work and does not generate the kind of heat that can make a set uncomfortable. If there are drawbacks, the biggest is that the light is not dimmable. One solution might be to buy a few bulbs of different wattages for flexibility or place additional diffusion material on the front. Another drawback is that even with the baffle, there is a “hot spot” in the center of the box resulting from the bulb: You may see it in the catch-lights. The biggest downside is that the 85 watt “spiral” bulb is huge! If you buy these lights, feel free to discard the box the entire assembly ships in as the soft box, cord, baffle and adjustment lever come in a nice black canvas case, but you will want to keep the box and form the bulb comes in. Drawbacks not withstanding, yes indeed, I love these lights!
According to Adorama, the 85 watt bulb included in the kit I purchased roughly puts out the equivalent of a 480 watt tungsten bulb. My conclusion—it is indeed close to that. Adorama also says the temperature of the bulb is 5500K. That may indeed be the temperature of the bulb, but my unscientific eyeball test felt that the light in the silver box with baffle mounted was cooler than 5500k, so you may want to custom white balance for the best result.
The kit currently on the Adorama site comes with a 70 watt bulb and sells for $39.95. The only difference between the “Kits” I purchased for $42 and the one currently listed is the bulb. The 70 watt bulb according to Adorama, puts out the equivalent of a 350 watt incandescent light.
I feel this is a wonderful product worthy of consideration for those seeking to light for motion and still work at a most compelling price.
- ^ Stills captured during a video shoot using a single Flashpoint “umbrella-style” Soft Box Kit.
I want to make a few general comments in closing: First, for those of you who own flash lighting equipment already, if you try using those modifiers with continuous lights, make sure they are properly ventilated and heat rated as a lot of light modifiers which are routinely used for flash applications are not made to be used with continuous lighting and particularly those that generate a lot of heat. Going forward, if you are going to be shooting with flash and continuous lights and want to use the same modifiers, you may want to make sure that you buy modifiers that are appropriately rated. The second point I want to make is that even though some lighting is considered “cool” the term cool may be relative: Be careful handling fixtures and bulbs, especially immediately after turning them off. If you are shooting with fixtures that require installation and removal of bulbs, store and transport them with care.
H(d)SLR stands for “hybrid digital” or “high definition” single lens reflex cameras -you decide which. This is what I call cameras such as the Canon 5dMarkII and 7D, the Nikon D90, and the D300s, and other DSLRs that are video capable.
While I have several light stands of different heights, the stands I most commonly use when traveling and on location are eight-foot stands. The promise of less bulk has tremendous appeal to me and most location photographers, so with that in mind I ordered a pair of Manfrotto 306B Stacker Stands from the Calumet Photographic store in New York. When I picked the stands up, I responded positively to the narrow rectangular boxes which affirm how streamline these stands are. In fact, my response was so positive that the fact that the three-section Stacker Stands were taller closed than my “generic” brand four-section, eight-foot stands went unnoticed. In my defense, I had been using a 13-foot stand for testing for several weeks, so that impacted my frame of reference.
The 306Bs are well made; I did not, however, find them substantially better or worse in build to my other stands. What struck me when I set the stands up was that they were occupying more floor space than I recall my “generic” brand 8 foot stands requiring. The footprint diameter of the 306Bs is 42.5 inches versus 36 inches for my generic brand eight-foot stands. Closed, my generic stands were a relatively “compact” 26 inches versus 34.3 inches for the closed 306Bs. So the Stacker Stands require more floor space, and in terms of packing, a longer bag than my generic eight-foot stands. This is not surprising given that the 306Bs have 3 sections versus my “generic” stands which have 4 sections. Additionally, each 306B weighs nearly a half pound more than each of my generic eight-foot stands. Now, one might expect me to conclude that there is no real advantage to the Manfrotto 306B stands in terms of closed lenght, weight and footprint when compared to my generic eight-foot stands. It is not quite that cut and dry.
For the traveling photographer concerned with bulk and containment and/or the location shooter, the Manfrotto 306Bs offer tremendous advantages. They can be clipped together and the irregularity in shape and cumbersomeness of transporting conventionally configured light stands is substantially reduced or eliminated. A shoulder strap can be attached to the collapsed stands offering a great hands free carrying option. If storage space in the studio, home or even in the car trunk is a premium, you will definitely see an advantage with or benefit from having multiple Manfrotto Stacker Stands. According to Bogen Imaging, which distributes Manfrotto products here in the USA, seven Stacker Stands requires the same space as four traditional light stands.
If you are buying a single stand, you may not see or appreciate the utility of the Stacker system; but if you need or intend to buy multiple stands, the 306Bs or the other Manfrotto Stacker Stands may be worthy of consideration. The 306Bs can be purchased individually or in three stand “kits.” All in all, I found the 306Bs an elegant and efficient solution to a concern or problem that many photographers face. Thumbs up to Manfrotto!
If I were in the market for a 1200 w/s battery pack today, there is no doubt in my mind that the Hensel Porty Lithium 12 would be a top contender. I reached this conclusion after having the opportunity to spend some time with the Porty Lithium 12 thanks to the folks at Hensel USA, and Fotocare in New York. For the location photographer, there is much to like about the Porty Lithium 12: It is one of the lightest 1200 w/s battery powered units weighing in at 13 lbs and that is with the battery on-board. The unit has outlets for two heads which can be powered 1:1, 1:2 or 1:3. There are seven f-stop power levels (a six f-stop range) which is adjustable in 1/10 increments or in full stops. The Porty Lithium 12 is also among the fastest 1200 w/s battery generators with recycle at full power in 1.95 seconds, placing it a mere .15 seconds behind the heavier, more expensive Profoto B2. With the Porty Lithium 12, Hensel has bested the performance or its own popular Porty Premium with respect to three aspects which are important to photographers: Weight, size, and performance.
If you are considering the Porty Lithium 12, the one light kit seems to be the most attractive and “cost-effective” option. In addition to the generator (which has a built-in Hensel Strobe Wizard radio receiver) and battery, the kit includes: One Hensel EH-Pro Mini 1200P flash head; a fully detachable head cable; a 7” reflector; one light stand; the Porty Lithium Quick Charger; and a soft wheeled case. The flash head has a 65 watt modeling lamp which puts out the equivalent of 120 watt incandescent bulb. As with most battery generators, the lower powered modeling lamp will be useful under some circumstances and sub-optimal in others. The kit comes with a Hensel Strobe Wizard Plus Transmitter which can be mounted on the camera to facilitate flash triggering, as well as being used to adjust flash output and modeling lamp intensity. While the current MAP of the Porty Lithium 12 Kit is $4450USD, you should check with Hensel dealers for street pricing and availability, as availability may vary by dealer. A complete list of dealers is available on the Hensel USA site.
The Porty Lithium 12 is well made. The fit, finish and extent of “environmental” sealing/protection is excellent. The controls are as intuitive as it gets. The squat profile of the unit and wood handle suggest it is substantial in weight, but when you pick it up don’t be surprised if you marvel, as I did, at how light the unit actually is. I was also keenly aware at the lightness of the Pro Mini 1200P head. Hensel officially list the weight of the head at 5.7 pounds, but that includes the 16 foot cord. The head alone weighs in the vicinity of three pounds. Hensel wisely designed the unit with a detachable cord, which is of great assistance for packing and storage, and is a feature I would like to see more manufacturers adopt. The head comes with a clear dome and a protector cap. The light is clean and in my opinion on par with that of other premium brand products. In my testing, the units recycled as fast as Hensel claims at full power.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the Hensel Lithium 12 is the battery. Hensel is the first lighting manufacturer, to my knowledge, to offer a lithium battery in a portable generator. In order to understand the significance of the lithium battery, one only has to compare the battery of the Porty Lithium 12 and the older Porty Premium Plus: At full power, Hensel estimates about 230 pops for the lithium battery vs. 250 pops for the Porty Premium Plus battery. Let’s not split hairs over 20 pops and call them roughly equivalent. The Lithium 12 battery/cassette weights 2.5 pounds; the Porty Premium battery and drawer weighs nearly 9 pounds. For the traveling photographer who is concerned about weight of gear, the weight differential, particularly if one needs to carry multiple batteries, is significant. If the weight of the Lithium 12’s battery is the upside, the downside of the lithium technology is that the batteries are expensive: A second lithium battery/cassette runs over $500 USD. To be fair, the price of an extra Hensel lithium battery/cassette (2.5 lbs) is in the same range as a second battery and drawer (11.4lbs) for a Profoto B2.
The Hensel Porty Lithium 12 may become an even more versatile tool for photographers if the long-rumored AC adapter becomes available this Fall. For some an AC/DC Porty Lithium 12 may become an all around lighting solution for their shooting needs.
I should mention that Hensel also makes the Porty Lithium 6, which is a 600w/s unit. Given the fact that there is only a $330 USD difference between the price of the Lithium 6 and Lithium 12 generators, I personally would be hard-pressed to consider the less powerful unit as the Lithium 12 offers more “pop” for the buck! Hensel also offers a robust line of light shaping tools, many of which are attractively priced.
In order to give photographers an opportunity to experience all that the Porty Lithium 12 offers, Hensel USA has been making several two light kits available for rental through their dealers across the country. The Porty Lithium 12 Kit has been in New York at Fotocare, and in Los Angeles at Samy’s. You can check the Hensel USA Website for the current location of the kits for rental or contact Sharon or Mark Gottula through the Website for additional information.
Note: The images displayed are of the two head rental kit and may show and/or include items that are not a part of the one head kit available for purchase.
I got a lot of positive feed back on the July entry which focused on education and seminars opportunities, so I thought I would do it again this month. My picks this month are a seminar and a studio space here in New York City and a conference in Los Angeles.
This month’s seminar pick is for the aspiring fashion shooter and is courtesy of B&H Event Space (420 9th Ave, New York, NY 10001)
Monday August 24,
Joey Quintaro will be conducting a seminar entitled: “The Fundamentals of Model Testing and Fashion Photography.” The seminar will cover a broad spectrum of topics from searching for models, to building relationships with agencies. The participants will also have an opportunity to do some shooting. While you won’t walk away ready to take the fashion world by storm, you will come out of the seminar with a better understanding of the tremendous amount of work and coordination that model testing and fashion shooting requires. I have known Joey for several years and in addition to being a nice guy, he is extremely knowledgeable and is an accomplished photographer.
For more information on the seminar, and other B&H events, visit the Event Space page on the B&H web-site. I remind you as I did last month, even if an event is filled to capacity, there is a good chance you will be able to get in as there are usually some last minute cancellations and no-shows.
My other (New York) August pick is a small studio space. Many times people are interested in getting their feet wet working in a studio setting or need a small studio space at a reasonable price. Such a space is actually available courtesy of the Camera Club of New York. Located at 336 West 37th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues, CCNY, the 16” x 20 foot space is available for rental at some of the most attractive rates around. You can bring your own lights if you choose, but the rental rate includes the use of one pull of either white, gray, or black seamless paper, and access to the Club’s lights, modifiers and stands. So how attractive is attractive? The current summer promotion which goes through Labor Day is $40 an hour with a two hour minimum, $125 for four hours and $200 for an 8-hour day! For more information on the studio rental, as well as on the Camera Club of New York, its programs, activities, and membership, click on the hyperlinks embedded in the above text.
I also wanted to mention for those who may be in Los Angeles August 29 and 30th the Image Mechanics Expo Collision Conference, which is being held at the Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood. The “collision” referred to is in fact the convergence of still and motion capture. For more information, on the schedule, registration, speakers and sponsors, click here.
It’s been nearly a year since the first wave of “motion capture” enabled dslrs which I have been referring to hslrs or hdcds were announced. So after my eight months of using the Nikon D90 and the Canon 5D MarkII, I decided to revisit the concept of stills and motion.
Needless to say the reaction to the convergence of still and motion capture was mixed and depending on whom you talk to or which Internet forum you read, remains mixed. Some hardcore photographers expressed the sentiment that motion capture in a still camera is a gimmick. Some videographers pointed out limitations that make hslrs suboptimal for capturing motion. Some people adopted a wait and see attitude; yet others have embraced the possibilities with enthusiasm. There are also those who were or are indifferent, as motion capture may be one more feature among many they will not use. The discussions on the convergence of stills and motion reminds me of the discussions several years back when Olympus first “lifted the mirror” facilitating live-view in a dslr or when the monotone capture option which was a feature on point-and-shoots, made its way to dslrs; or even further back to some of the passionate debate on digital capture versus. film. There appears to be a direct correlation between time and acceptance or in some cases perhaps resignation.
Prior to the inclusion of motion capture in dslrs, photographers depended on the high frame-rate per second capability of their cameras to chronicle action. This eliminated many cameras from consideration for action shooters. The inclusion of motion capabilities in still cameras opens up new possibilities for action shooters, and may make cameras, that otherwise would have not been considered for action shooting, contenders.
One thing is for certain: Whether you are talking about the hslrs from Canon and Nikon, hdcds like the Panasonic Lumix GH1 or the Red DMSCs, a convergence of dual capture in a single package is not just coming, it is here. I don’t really understand why the discussion for some comes down to one or the other. Point-and-shoot cameras have had this capability for years and I don’t remember this ever being discussed in the same manner. But then they were not capable of producing the quality of video we are seeing in the current crop of motion capable still cameras.
My own stills/motion “ah ha” moment, came not because I woke up and realized there were three monitors on my desk, or because I found myself rotflmao courtesy of a YouTube video or watching a product promo on a manufacturer’s web-site, but rather while walking between locations in Central Park last August during a wedding shoot. I wasn’t thinking about recording a blockbuster, only capturing a few moments of motion that were visually arresting. I thought my clients would have appreciated such footage, and would have wanted to share it with their friends and family as they had been doing with their still images on Flickr for quite some time. The great irony here is that I usually do not shoot weddings. That was about a week before the Nikon D90 announcement was made. My only experience with motion capture up to that point had been relegated to my cell phone camera.
Since the arrival of the Nikon D90 and the Canon 5D MarkII, video camera accessory makers from Zacuto and Redrock Micro to independent image makers like Bruce Dorn have developed products to enhance the “still to motion” capture experience. There are a growing number of products targeting hslr users with items ranging from focus follow and sliders, to mounting rigs and screen enhancers, some reasonably priced and some extremely expensive. The effort to produce accessories at every price point suggests that still and video convergence is a growing segment of the imaging industry and that there will be a demand for tools to exploit the combined capability by amateurs, enthusiasts, and working image makers. The fact that many products have lengthy waiting lists or are back-ordered, suggests that the manufacturers simply cannot keep up with demand. Perhaps, those embracing motion are not as vocal on Internet forums as those who do not. And perhaps the term “silent majority” is being re-defined.
The number of camera model specific sites which provide information on motion capture or celebrate the capability is growing and is both surprising and impressive. Additionally, there are plenty of people posting samples and instructions on-line of their DYI accessories for motion capture. You might argue about whether a still camera with motion can be used to record a box office hit, but clearly they are very capable for many of the Web-based multimedia and monitor/television-viewed applications that are growing in popularity and becoming a more important part of the entertainment and knowledge acquisition processes.
The area that there has been surprisingly slow to respond to the convergence of motion and stills is lighting, and this remains one of the biggest areas of concern and challenge for photographers. While the camera makers continue to provide either built in and/or supplemental flash solutions, none market a continuous lighting option as part of the available accessories. Additionally some of the more popular names in flash photography continue to release new studio and location powered flash units, but have been silent with respect to continuous lighting products. Between small flashes, small video light solutions, studio flashes and larger continuous lighting sources, the prospects of having four different brands and solutions is mind-numbing, and potentially expensive.
Perhaps no individual early on had a greater impact on getting dslr users to consider the potential of motion capabilities than Vincent Laforet. Laforet’s self-produced and self-financed short “Reverie” which was shot with a Canon 5d MarkII and has become the centerpiece of the camera’s print marketing campaign, generated a tremendous amount of interest and activity. In less than four weeks after Canon announced the camera and nearly two months before the camera hit the stores, Laforet and his blog became a “real-time experience” resource for many. Over a 10 day period, between late September and early October 2008, “Reverie” was reported to have been viewed over 1.5 million times.
With recent firmware changes which have given users greater manual control over the 5D MarkII, along with stir caused by “Reverie,” I cannot help but wonder if Canon was even remotely aware of the possibilities that people would see for the motion enabled dslr beyond the “quick grab.” I am sure this has caught the attention of the other camera manufacturers as well. It is just a matter of time before HD motion capture becomes as common as auto focus in every dslr.
One of the arguments that I hear often with respect to still vs. motion capture is that they are such different disciplines. But in the stills arena, I could make the case that shooting weddings and shooting landscapes are different disciplines; or in the motion arena that shooting shorts and shooting full length features are also different disciplines. There are some substantial differences in stills and motion work, and I don’t want to minimize them – sound, lighting and processing are three of the more obvious ones. But in purely visual terms, I think that the response to how different they are, may be “it depends.” It really does depend on one’s frame of reference. A photographer who is used to shooting against gray paper or muslin backdrops with posed subjects, may find the transition from stills to motion a different experience from a photographer who works from story boards, on sets or in rooms and locations, where the environment is key and the lighting considerations and needs are different; and/or from the photographer who actively directs his or her subjects; or the photo-journalist. It should be noted that photographers have been moving between stills and motion for quite some time. Three photographers who come immediately to mind who made the transition are Stanley Kubrick, Gordon Parks and Herb Ritt.
I asked New York based photographer Mike Kobal, who has embraced the motion capabilities of the first generation of hslrs/hdcds in a big way, to describe the differences he finds between capturing stills and motion. Mike says that “Shooting stills is a subtractive process: I choose the moment to press the button and hopefully capture the essence of what I want to say and what I saw; whereas shooting video is more of an additive process, anticipating the flow of things and editing to complete the story.” Mike has been shooting with the Nikon d90 and Canon 5DMarkII, and recently began working with the Panasonic Lumix GH1.
While some photographers may continue to debate still vs. motion or motion vs. still and often with great passion, there are three things that are not debatable:
- We live in a multi-media age
- The Web continues to evolve and grow; and
- There is a there is a demand for content.
The people who are looking for content don’t care what camera is used: They just want to see the end product. You do not need a $50,000 camera or for that matter even a $1,000 camera to shoot content. But hopefully better tools will lead to better visual quality.
Without getting emotional, let’s look at a few facts related to the U.S.A:
- In April 2009, nearly 79% of the total U.S. Internet audience viewed online video.
- The average online video viewer watched nearly 6.4 hours of video.
- Over 107 million viewers watched 6.8 billion videos on YouTube.com which equates to almost 64 videos per viewer.
- 49 million viewers watched 387 million videos on MySpace.com which equates to nearly 8 videos per viewer.
- The duration of the average online video was 3.5 minutes.
Source: comScore Inc.
The growth in the video trend is not just an American phenomenon:
- The total number of videos viewed online in the U.K. in April 2009 grew to 4.7 billion videos, a 47%increase over the same period in 2008.
- Google sites were the most popular U.K. online video property in April 2009. 2.4 billion Videos were viewed, which represents a 58% increase over the same period in 2008.
- YouTube accounted for 99% of all videos viewed on the Google sites.
Source: comScore Inc.
Sites such as Flickr (Yahoo), SmugMug, and Photobucket (Fox Interactive Media) that were built around the business of photo sharing offer video sharing options to their members: Stills and motion, side by side. Now at this point at least one reader is thinking that a lot of those 5 billion or so videos that were watched are mediocre; but then so are a lot of television shows and movies, not to mention many of the still images that end up on stock sites or are posted on the Web. But there are also plenty of gems out there. It is up to the viewers to choose the wheat or the chaff.
How we image makers define ourselves may have a lot to do with whether and how we embrace the convergence of stills and motion or motion and stills. Even though technology has marched on, we may be saddled with legacy baggage from the film days. Call yourself a photographer and you may be confining yourself to one camp; call yourself a videographer and you may be confining yourself to a different camp. Consider yourself something else like an image maker, or a “stil-mo-tographer,” be open to trying and doing new things, and you may just find that it frees you from the perceived constraints of one discipline versus the other, gives you an advantage and/or opens up new avenues or perhaps keeps you competitive.
I just realized something: As a child the one thing I never did was go to camp.
Hslrs – hybrid single lens reflex cameras
Hdcds – hybrid digital capture devices
DMSC – digital motion and still camera – the Red designation
Rotflmao – you can Google this one!
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Last month, Hamburg based Briese Lichttechnik established Briese NY, its first U.S. division office. I recently sat down with Gerd Bayer, who heads the office to talk about Briese, and to get an up close and personal look at some of their products.It doesn’t take a whole lot to figure out what makes the Briese light different – and that’s before you even plug it in. You may see deflectors, pencil or stick type lamps and large parabolic reflectors among other companies’ products, but none put them together the way that Briese does. The result is a unique way of distributing and controlling light. Briese was the company at the forefront of the large, umbrella style parabolic movement. With seven sizes available today, no one comes close to matching the range of focusable parabolics offered by Briese. The other thing which makes the Briese Focus unique is that it is essentially an exoskeleton with a reflective surface underneath. The beauty of this arrangement is that since the structure is on the exterior there are no ribs or spreader assembly compromising the interior.
Gerd already had a Focus77 set up when I arrived at the Briese NY office on West 27th Street. As I watched him move the flash head utilizing the focus tube or wand from the flood to the spot position and back (near the outer edge of the umbrella inward and out) the change in the position of the light on a subject is very much like watching a Fresnel being opened up or closed down.
The linear flash tube which the Briese Focus uses seems to produce a directed, even and efficient light. I’m going to address one thing right now as a user of the wonderful Elinchrom Deep Throat Octa which is a little larger than the Focus77 because someone is bound to ask: Inspite of being similarly shaped, the differences in the shape of the flash tubes, the interiors, as well as the ability to move the Briese flash tube, nets differences in lighting patterns and characteristics. With the addition of diffusion materials on both however and depending on where the Briese flash is positioned, I believe the differences may be narrowed. The Focus100, which was not available, and the Deep Octa are essentially the same size.
The components of the Focus system excluding the power pack and a light stand include: The Focus umbrella, the flash tube, shield and deflector: the focus tube/wand, the flash/lamp base, the mounting assembly, the set up assist/storage post, a breakdown ring and a transport bag. Gerd cautioned me that one of the most important things to remember in handling the Focus is not to pull on the ribs. He says that the most common repair he sees is exterior rib breakage, and usually because of someone trying to open or close the Focus improperly. If you place the collapsed umbrella on its end, insert the set-up post into the ring opening and apply a little pressure, the Focus takes shape. The breakdown process while different is just as simple: You place the breakdown ring on top of the exterior rim of the Focus, insert the set up post, apply some pressure and the umbrella collapses. Perhaps because I am a bit of a “gadgeteer,” I did not find the set up/breakdown process at all intimidating, but I do think that I would have felt differently if a Focus220 or 330 had been in front of me; where some things are concerned, size really does matter! I can certainly understand how some people might find the set up/breakdown process different enough to be a little too involved or worrisome.
The Briese Focus comes in one finish: hard silver. If you want to alter the characteristics of the resulting light, diffusion panels can be secured to the tips of the Focus. A soft grid can also be attached to the tips for another level of spread control. I pressed Gerd, as to what type of material is used on the interior surface of the Focus. I had heard that it was Kevlar; he smiled and indicated Briese does not disclose that, but went on to say that the material is special because the Focus range is also compatible with the Briese line of tungsten and HMI products and has to be able to withstand substantial heat. All in all, I was impressed with how well made the Focus components are, and how seamlessly they fit together.
The Focus77 was attached to an 800w/s multi-voltage, Briese Yellow Cube Pack. The 800i weighs about 17 pounds and when the lid is on — you guessed it — is a yellow cube with a carrying strap. This obviously is a real departure from the typical black or grey box one usually sees in the studio. The air cushioned sliders on the bottom of the pack are both a thoughtful and utilitarian touch. The pack has outlets for 2 heads. Interestingly while I wasn’t intimidated by the Focus77, the 800i was a different story. There are a lot of pressure pads for flash and modeling light control. I’m confident that if I spent time with the pack, that its operation would become second nature, but my initial reaction was “Oh my God!”
With the Briese pack, the shortest flash duration is achieved at maximum power. A four-stop range is the price one pays for the multi-voltage capability of the “i”series packs. The “e” series packs which are designed for use in Europe and are 220-240v have a seven-stop range. While the lack of familiarity with the pack controls can be overcome, for some photographers, the four-stop range of the ‘i” packs may be regarded as too limited. Hopefully this power adjustment range issue will be addressed in future products and/or updates. Given that the “i” series power adjustment range is not as robust as other premium brand generators, it was interesting to watch how making power and focus adjustments can work hand in hand in with respect to light output. The Briese generators start at 400w/s and go up to 6400w/s.
Among the new products which Briese has introduced is the “Focus Help” (FH,) a remote controlled unit which will tilt the Focus umbrella as well as move the focus tube in and out. For users of the larger Focus models, the FH will allow precise adjustment and fine tuning of the lights after they have been positioned. This device is clearly an assistant’s dream. While the Focus may be the product that people most readily associate with the Briese name, Gerd made it clear that there are several other stellar modifiers including a line of strip boxes. Like the Focus, the Strip is essentially an exoskeleton lined with reflective material. There are no ribs or wands inside the reflective surface area. The interior appears to be softer silver than that found in the Focus. The Strip comes in a few different sizes and there are louver and baffle options available to provide additional control.
Briese products are available at a couple of studio here in New York for in-studio and location use: Among them is Milk Studios. I was told by one of the equipment gurus that “We [at Milk] like the product and the client demand is definitely there.”
While I did not press Gerd about future product development, we did talk about growth. He indicated that “Continuous lighting and HMI specifically is definitely a growth area.” I was not surprised by his comment: As motion and still applications continue to converge and offer visual continuity across formats, clients may be able to realize significant economies of scale in being able to handle both of these needs on one set, at the same time. As of now his sense is that the Briese flash products are used more in New York for still work as opposed to Los Angeles, where the use of Briese continuous light products is driven by motion work.
Ken Allen of Monster Lighting, a professional film and video lighting house in Los Angeles has handled Briese products for approximately a year now, and says of the system, “It’s just a great product.” Ken confirmed that the light weight of the Briese continuous lamp fixture is an advantage in using and placing them on sets.
The one topic that I have held off mentioning until now is price. There are a couple of reasons for this: I wanted the focus of this entry to be on the Briese products which personally, I find intriguing. The target audience for these products is not the casual shooter, or the guys going at it on Internet forums as to which brand of lighting is better or trying to define what constitutes “professional lighting.” Let’s call it like it is: The market for Briese products includes high end commercial applications and photographers who have the client base and budget to justify or warrant the expense. They must feel that the Briese product will perform on the set as they demand and give the image the look they want and need. In my opinion, products like the Profoto 8Air, the new Profoto Giants, the Broncolor Scoro packs and Paras are aimed at the same markets and photographers make similar decision about there use based on their performance needs and desired look.. The only point here is that Briese is not alone in this regard. Let’s also acknowledge that many photographers rent this type of equipment when they need it, as opposed to buying it outright. You don’t find the Briese product in the popular virtual or brick and mortor stores, but they are found in a growing number of studios and specialty rental houses. I also did not want the discussion of expense to drive this entry because many times discussions on expense and value, just as discussions about “quality of light,” tend to be both subjective and relative.
But for those who are curious about the cost of ownership of the Briese kit that Gerd had set up in the office, here are some familiar products or services for which the price range, in U.S dollars, is comparable: One (1) 2009 Toyota Yaris; or a brand new Phase One 645 camera with a P30+ back and 80mm lens kit; or six (6) 17 inch 2.8GHz Mac Book Pros; or two (2) Nikon D3x camera bodies; or one (1) Canon 5d MarkII and the seven (7) fastest L prime lenses from 14mm through 200mm; or a face lift and tummy tuck.
For more information on Briese, their products, and availability, or about Milk Studios and Monster Lighting, click on the embedded links in this entry.
One of the more popular trends in photography today is the use of parabolic reflectors. Now we are not talking about small metal reflectors but rather large and in several cases significantly larger umbrella shaped reflectors; at one end of the spectrum are the 5 to 10 foot tools like the Broncolor Paras, and the Profoto Giants, and at the other end the Mola Setti and the Elinchrom Deep Octa, are examples that come to mind. The quality of light that these shapers produce is truly wonderful, and is owed in part to a combination of their size, shape, depth, surface finish, and in some cases the ability to focus the light source. With the exception of the Elinchrom, few of these light shapers are extremely portable, and none lend themselves for use with speedlights.
I have had a long standing love affair with these larger parabolics, as I like the directional properties of light they produce. They play a prominent role in my photographic lighting. I found myself looking for a smaller version that I could easily carry and have the option of using with speedlights. Hensel must have seen me coming, because their 32 inch (80cm) Master White Parabolic Umbrella is just what I was looking for.
Now I am not a big user of ‘traditional’ photographic umbrellas. I have four of them: Three came in lighting kits, and the fourth, a 60” silver model I purchased after using a 5 foot Profoto Giant, hoping I might get similar results for a fraction of the cost. Not even close! The distinctive deep profile of the Hensel was too hard to resist. Vinnie at Foto Care, placed an order with Hensel USA and within a few days the umbrella which I have dubbed “Paralite” arrived.
The umbrella which is extremely well made comes in its own carry bag. The setup and take down couldn’t be easier; if you have ever used an umbrella, photographic or rain, you know exactly what to do. Get a light stand, the flash of your choice and you are ready to go. The light from this umbrella is smooth as opposed to brilliant, which is no surprise as the interior is white. Because of its shape, the angle of spread is narrower than a conventional umbrella of the same size. The results are a directional but diffused light, with more defined shadow and contrast. While you may be able adjust the position of some lights along the umbrella shaft, I would not characterize the Hensel as “focusable” in the same way that the Broncolor, Profoto, and Mola products are, as the shaft is relatively short.
For the portrait, wedding and/or location shooter looking to travel light, this umbrella is just different enough to be compelling. It’s portable, easy to set up, and offers diffuse yet very efficient light. If you are using a speedlight, consider using the widest setting for the best light distribution. Hensel USA tells me that contrary to conflicting information on some retail sites, the umbrella comes with a two year warranty.
In my opinion, the “Paralite” is a real winner.
When LPA Design announced the new Pocket Wizard MiniTT1 transmitter and FlexTT5 transceiver earlier this year, there was a tremendous amount of buzz and excitement. The makers of the best known and probably most widely used flash triggering devices, was coming to market with products capable of communicating Canon’s E-TTL-II and Nikon’s I-TTL protocols wirelessly via radio signals. While Leap Devices with their Radio Poppers line and Quantum Industries with their Trio line brought radio TTL products to market before LPA, neither of these brands have the user base that PocketWizards has. The good news was and is that users of Canon and Nikon flash systems now have 3 wireless radio system alternatives, all of which work differently, to the Nikon and Canon “line of sight” wireless solutions.
As reports surfaced over range limitations with respect to several Canon Speedlites including the flagship, 580EX II, and some initial operational incompatibility with the very popular 5D Mark II camera, some of the excitement gave way to disappointment. Add to that product shortages at release, and the new generation of PocketWizard products was off to a less that auspicious start here in the USA.
To its credit, LPA Design was quick to acknowledge and address issues. While the radio interference issues with certain Canon flashes will be addressed by a soon to be announced “supplemental” product, many of the performance related issues and bugs have been addressed via firmware updates. They have also demonstrated the ability to enhance performance via firmware. I have been impressed with the firmware updates which LPA has made, as well as by the customer service and technical assistance which both the MAC Group (the U.S distributor of PocketWizards) and LPA Design have rendered.
My interest in the new generation of PocketWizard products was fueled by several factors:
- I wanted to carry a light weight lighting kit that would afford me reliable wireless triggering without having to rely on line of sight.
- I liked the idea of having a small transmitter atop the camera as opposed to a flash acting as transmitter, or the MultiMax.
- I wanted one wireless triggering system that could be used with my studio strobes, light meter and Speedlites.
- I wanted E-TTL II functionality
The new PocketWizard products appeared to address all of my desires. I was less concerned about being able to trigger an E-TTL II controlled flash 800 to 900 feet away as my outdoor shooting on the streets of New York City would preclude that anyway. When I thought about it further, I decided that I needed some context as to how long 900 feet really is. Thanks to Google, I now know that 900 feet is the length of the USS Intrepid, three times the length of a football field and a tad under 2/3 the height of the Empire State Building.
Now I have to admit, that I did feel a bit like Dorothy, the Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow on the way to “OZ” as the journey down this wireless road was fraught with obstacles: For starters, only one of the two Flex units I ordered came in. While waiting for the second Flex to arrive I discovered that with the 580EX II/Flex combination mounted on my 1DS Mark III there were extreme fluctuations in shutter speed. At this point I was questioning my heart, my brain and my courage and wondering could the “Wizard” deliver! There was a little voice screaming “send the Flex back!” Had it not been for the excellent technical support and assurances that the issues were noted and would be addressed, coupled with my longstanding experience and satisfaction with PocketWizard products, I probably would have sent it back. My decision was made, I would press on. So what’s a guy to do with one FlexTT5? In my case it was read and re-read the manual, as there is a lot there to digest, and then learn how to integrate using my one Flex into my existing PocketWizard/MultiMax workflow.
The MiniTT1 and the additional FlexTT5 arrived between the two firmware updates. The Wicked Witch of the West clearly had put a hex on the Mini! With the Mini mounted to either of my cameras, any button I touched on the camera resulted in the triggering of the remote mounted flashes. A call to tech support resulted in a preliminary diagnosis of a contact problem with the Mini. The next morning I took the Mini back to Foto Care where they exchanged it for another unit. No random firing with the new Mini. There were noticeable performance improvements with the first firmware update, but with the second update, the Mini and Flex became a joy to use: No more erratic behavior, reliable triggering and perfect execution of E-TTL II.
Indoors I have shot with the both the 580EX II and 430EX II flashes mounted to the Flex units behind me, in two different rooms lighting a hallway, in dimly lit rooms at relatively slow shutter speeds and in sun dappled bright environments with fast shutter speeds and the units have fired without any issues. Outdoors with either a Flex or the Mini on camera, I have gotten the 580EX II mounted on a Flex to fire at a distance of 80 feet away from the camera. I stopped testing at 80 feet simply because I realized that this distance is substantially in excess of where I would typically place my flashes. To put some context to it, 80 feet is a tad under a 1/3 of the length of a North -South block in Manhattan. I do not want to minimize the concern that some have over range. Based on venue, subject matter and location, as well as focal length of lens, there are those shooters for whom greater range latitude is critical. There is information and suggestions for increasing the range of affected flashes when used in combination with the FlexTT5 on the Pocket Wizard site which may prove helpful. For some photographers however, the necessity of having to take some of these extra steps in order to get the performance they need, significantly reduces the attractiveness of the system.
Given the feedback of people getting more or less range with the same model of flash, there may be some credence to the anecdotal accounts that the degree of radio interference attributable to the 580 II may vary by production run. It is not uncommon during the lifecycle of a product for components to be substituted based on changes in availability for example. In most instances these changes are not apparent to end users as the overall performance as the manufacturer originally specified remains the same. While production changes could be a possibility which helps to explain some of the range differentials 580EX II users are reporting, there is no evidence that indicates this is the case. For those who have criticized Canon with respect to the radio frequency and shielding issue, it should be remembered that few to none of us would be having this discussion about radio frequency interference if we were talking about using the wireless protocol as designed by Canon for use with Canon products.
If there is anything that I’m not wild about with the Mini and the Flex it is the fact that the with the latest firmware update, in order to enjoy the new 5D Mark II functionalities, one needs to specify the camera model in the PocketWizard Utility. This can be a problem for people like me who shoot with multiple Canon models. Prior to the update I had the model selection set to auto and used the units with either camera.
The other area of concern has to do with changing the Mini and Flex settings in the field: If you have a PocketWizard product such as a Multi-Max or one of the Plus models, you can at least use the learn process to change the channels on the Mini and the Flex should it be necessary. Without a MultiMax or Plus, or access to the PocketWizard Utility, the only option you have if you need to change settings is a reset to the defaults. For me this is less of an issue as I rarely am shooting in an area with other photographers, but for those shooting in venues with other photographers or who discover while on location the need to adjust the offset, disable Control TL, change to a channel other than the defaults or make other changes, this may indeed be an issue.
Now, I have decided to take a slow and deliberate approach in unlocking the full power of the new PocketWizards. The first steps included getting my arms around E-TTL functionality as well as getting the new units to function in a more “traditional” PocketWizard role in the studio. There is a lot of capability packed in these units and a lot of complexity with regards to the settings, and performance. There are things that can be done with one flash that cannot be done with another, so it is imperative that you read the manual very carefully. The truth is that there is more capability in these new PocketWizard products than I will probably ever need or use.
My benchmark for evaluating the Mini and Flex was how they stacked up against the “line of sight” Canon system as I have used and would use it. For my shooting and lighting needs and desires, the Mini and Flex work extremely well. In real world usage, I have not experienced the same reliability issues and frustrations that I have had from time to time with the camera mounted St-e2 controlling flash activity and I have certainly not gotten the range and versatility from the St-e2 as master that I am seeing with the Mini or Flex.
While one would hope for a seamless and smooth product launch, the Mini and Flex introduction for use with Canon products was not; it is unfortunate because a lot of the focus as to what these tool can do has taken a back seat to what they can’t do at this time. It is clear from talking with the folks at LPA that they are committed to addressing both current issues as well as those that may surface, and refining and enhancing performance.
The newest generation of PocketWizards for me is a reminder that much of the technology that we purchase and use today, are works in progress. Our computer software, printers and digital media devices are routinely updated though patches and firmware which fix bugs, address problems and enhance operations. And this is how I have come to regard the new PocketWizards-“Functional Works in Progress” that will evolve as we use them and just keep getting better.
And as far as this trip to “see the Wizard” is concerned, it looks like the USB cable gets the coveted role of the ruby red slippers!
Note: I have been told that an official update on the availability of the Nikon compatible products will be released soon. Check the news on the PocketWizard Site.
Update - July 13: PocketWizard has released a firmware update for the Mini and Flex. For details, follow the link below: http://www.pocketwizard.com/news_events/news/firmware_v4.300_press_release/
I have been intending to write about the new PocketWizard products for the past several weeks, but every time I’ve scheduled an outdoor shoot, we’ve been rained out. Hopefully the weather will cooperate this weekend and I will be able to finally shoot the project that has been thrice postponed and put the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5s through their paces as I normally would use them and share my experience. I’ll warn you now since I will be shooting on the streets of New York, that I won’t be going for distance records with respect to flash placement.
All has not been lost during this wet spell: LPA Design has been busy updating firmware which addresses issues and enhances the performance of the new PocketWizard products; and I added the Profoto D1 Air 500s to my lighting arsenal. The very favorable impression I had of the D1 Airs when the MAC Group made them available for my review in March continues.
Over the past week I was assessing my lighting equipment – Profoto packs with built in PocketWizards, a couple of MultiMax units, a MiniTT1, a couple of FlexTT5 units , a couple of current generation Canon Speedlites, the D1 Air 500 units and last but not least, a Sekonic 758 meter. I found myself trying to make sense of all this stuff and how I could get it all to work best together.
Since I like the low profile of the MiniTT1, it has become my PW apparatus of choice on top of the camera. I set configuration 1 in the PocketWizard utility to allow for Control TL and triggering my MultiMax units and Profoto packs on the Standard/Legacy Channels. For configuration 2, I disabled ControlTL, and set the receiving channel on the Flex units to match the receiving channel for MultiMax units and the Profoto packs.
I hooked up a couple of speedlites to the FlexTT5s put the Mini on the camera and ControlTL worked flawlessly–in the same room, down the hallway and two rooms away. I then hooked up my Profoto packs and in configuration 1, they fired along with the Canon Speedlites. This served as confirmation that I had set the ControlTL and Standard/Legacy Channels up correctly.
I decided to add a single D1 Air 500 to the mix. I placed the Air Remote in the shoe of the camera mounted Mini, turned the Mini on, then the Air Remote and last the camera. I took a shot. In configuration 1, with the Air Remote seated on the Mini, the D1 Air fired along with the Canon flashes and the Profoto packs. I got adventurous and added the Sekonic 758 Light Meter to the equation. One of the perceived drawbacks of the Profoto Air System is the lack of wireless triggering compatibility with their products with Built-in PocketWizards as well as with the PW equipped Sekonic meters. I already knew from earlier experimentation that ControlTL had to be disabled and the Speedlites had to be in manual mode in order to be metered with the Sekonic. So I changed the Flex units setting to configuration 2, and left the Air Remote seated on the Mini on board the camera. When I triggered the Sekonic meter, everything fired except the D1 Air! As I was getting ready to take the setup down, it occurred to me that since the Mini TT1 was a transmitter, it was not receiving the signal from the Sekonic, whereas the Flex units as transceivers were getting the signal. So I mounted the Air Remote on a Flex unit and triggered the Sekonic meter. Yes, the D1 Air fired with the other lights. I then removed the Mini from atop the camera, and placed the “Air Remote /FlexTT5” combo on camera and triggered the Sekonic: the D1 Air fired again. And this photographer became one very happy camper because I discovered that I can have the contol capability of the Profoto Air system and full PocketWizard triggering functionality right on the hot shoe of my camera.
Footnote: I was about to hook the Air Remote up to a MultiMax to check whether that combination would work with the Sekonic meter, when I realized that my two dogs who had been exceedingly well behaved during my testing session, were having a good time chewing up the miniplug connector cable!
Whether you are an enthusiast, emerging or working photographer, wherever you reside or are planning to shoot, it is prudent to find out what the regulations are with respect to photography and photographic equipment. I can think of very few places where this is truer than in New York City.
I thought I would start with a quiz on taking photographs on the sidewalks of New York City. Answer each question True, False or Depends:
1. I am using a tripod/monopod on the street: I do not need a permit.
2. I will be using an apple box as a prop: I do not need a permit.
3. A permit gives me exclusive right to use the designated sidewalk.
4. I am shooting with off camera strobes: I need a permit.
5. I need a permit if I put my tripod on a dolly.
6. I’m working with just a reflector and no flash: I do not need a permit.
7. I need insurance to get a permit.
8. The Permit is free.
9. I am planning on shooting in Central Park and will be using a couple of light stands and props: I need permission from the Park management before I can get a permit.
10. All parks in New York City are subject to the same regulations with respect to permits and fees.
1-True, 2-False, 3-False, 4-Depends, 5-True, 6-Depends, 7-True, 8-False (see update), 9-True, 10-False
There is a very easy way to determine whether or not you need a permit to photograph on the streets of New York City: If your camera equipment is handheld, you do not need a permit. Tripods, monopods, and shoulder stabilizers like the Bushhawk 320 are all considered handheld. Place anything down on the ground — an apple box, a prop such as a chair, a light stand with either a flash head or reflector attached, a battery pack, any wires, or mount your tripod to a dolly base, and you need a permit. If your light, power source and all wires, or reflector, are being held by an assistant as opposed to being placed on a stand, you do not need a permit as the equipment is considered handheld. Even with a permit, the photographer does not have exclusive rights to use or block the sidewalk. You must leave adequate space for people to use the sidewalk, as well as having ingress and egress to residences and businesses.
The regulations for still photography on the streets of New York City fall under the purview of The Mayors Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting (MOFTB). The Regulations as they relate to whether you need a permit or not are clearly meant to separate the casual shooter, enthusiast and tourist from working photographers. The MOFTB production coordinators are knowledgeable, helpful and efficient with respect to answering questions, directing you to appropriate parties when permission is required prior to permitting, as well as processing permits. It should be noted that if you need a permit for still photography, you actually will be filing out and submitting the Motion Picture-Television Permit form. The process and documentation required to be filed is outlined and available online.
UPDATE: As of July 11, 2010, the processing fee for initial applications for permits goes from no cost to $300. The fee, which is being implemented to offset budget cuts, must be paid in the form of a certified check or money order, and must accompany the permit application. To read more click here.
If you are not utilizing equipment which requires a permit, you may want to apply for what is called an Optional Permit. While you need to know the date, time and specific location where you will be shooting, there is no insurance requirement. An Optional Permit offers some evidence to property owners, security or law enforcement personnel, who may not be familiar with the subtleties and nuances of the regulations for photography on City owned property and question your right to photograph at a location, that you have the “right and permission” to use the sidewalk for your activities.
If there is one area where the permission and permitting process may appear difficult to navigate, it is where the Parks are concerned. The handheld rule applies to most New York City Parks (including Central Park). If you are using equipment that requires a permit, you must get permission from the Department of Parks and Recreation manager for that park or in the case of Central Park, the Film Office of the Central Park Conservancy, before applying for the permit through MOFTB. There are, however, three public parks in Manhattan — Bryant Park, Battery Park City and the Hudson River Park— for which permission to shoot and permitting are administered through dedicated Conservancies, which results in very different application processes and cost, permit fees and regulations. While the permitting process for these parks is aimed at photographers shooting for commercial use, if you are shooting for a non-commercial use and are planning on using any equipment (tripod included) in addition to your camera, it is best to check with the appropriate Conservancy in advance because their definition of “handheld” is much narrower than that used by MOFTB. In checking with the Battery Park City Authority, for example, I was told that use of a tripod would require a permit.
Many people do not realize that the park property extends to the adjacent sidewalks. So in the case of Gramercy Park, for example, which is a privately owned park located on Manhattan’s Eastside between 20th and 21st Streets, while you can get a permit from MOFTB to shoot on the sidewalks across the street from the Park, the permit will explicitly exclude photographing on the sidewalk which runs around the Park because while it is open to pedestrian traffic, it is viewed as an extension of the Park property.
A lot of the process of shooting stills in New York or any city involves using common sense:
· Whether you have a permit or not, you are expected to comply with any request that law enforcement officials may make. So if you are asked to move…
· If you have equipment, keep it as contained as possible. Have adequate assistance to help setup and dismantle your equipment. Make sure your equipment is not left unattended and/or does not become a safety hazard.
· Be respectful of people living and doing business in the location.
· Be mindful of pedestrian and vehicular traffic and do not block the sidewalks, buildings or streets in a way which is disruptive.
· Remember that you are expected to comply with all posted City regulations and rules-including parking and those governing park admissions.
Now go take some pictures!
Here are links to some additional resources that were not embedded in the above text:
Last fall, I got a taste of “rare air” at Photo Plus Expo in New York, courtesy of Profoto and their magnificent Pro-8 Air system. I refer to it as “rare air” because its performance and price point put it in the stratosphere for many photographers and small studio owners. While the blazing speed was impressive, the most interesting aspect of the Pro-8 Air system to me was the switch from the analogue controls of the Pro-7 series to digital and the wireless control capabilities that evolved as a result. I left the show wondering if and when we might see “Air” in other Profoto products.
Last month, with the announcement of the D1 monolights, Profoto has made “Air” available to a broader audience. It is also an indicator that the Pro Air system is becoming a standard wireless protocol for Profoto products. As a user of Profoto battery packs and ComPacts, I was particularly interested in the D1 system as the specs seemed to address my issues with the current generation of monolights.
If you have ever worked with monolights on a boom or placed high up, you know that making manual adjustments to output can be difficult and time consuming. The Profoto D1 Air system addresses this problem with the Air Remote which literally puts control of the lights in your hand or in the camera hot shoe. No more raising and lowering light stands to fine tune the power or to adjust the modeling lamp. While Profoto is not the first major lighting manufacturer to move in this direction, it is a welcome move nevertheless!
My other issues with the current ComPact units are size and weight: My ComPact 600 from the end of the unit to the tip of the glass cover measures a whopping 16 inches long. The D1 is nearly 5 inches shorter, is lighter, and includes an integrated handle and reflector. While the power may vary, the housing of the D1 units is the same, so if you are shooting with a 250 or a 1000 w/s unit, the physical dimensions of the units are identical, but weight will vary. The D1s also offer a greater degree of lighting control than the ComPacts: 7 stops (500-7.8w/s) adjustable in whole stops or in 1/10 increments versus 5 stops (600-37.5 w/s) adjustable in 1/8 increments; shorter recycling times and for the international traveler, they are multi-voltage.
One of the biggest concerns I had with respect to the D1s design was the built-in reflector. With a 77 degree spread, I worried that light quality/quantity would be compromised especially when using a beauty dish, one of the giant parabolic reflectors, or the magnum reflector. The folks at Profoto must have anticipated this reaction because there is an optional dome-shaped glass cover available that should give the additional spread that many of us are use to. Since I did not have access to the dome, I cannot comment on the spead differential. I suspect that transport and handling concerns may have influenced the decision to go with a built-in reflector.
I found the D1 well-designed, well-built and extremely easy to use. The controls are straightforward and intuitive. Now the D1s come in several flavors: the big question if you are considering the 250 or 500 watt/sec units is whether “to Air or not to Air?” The 1000w/s unit only comes with Air. Personally, I would have to have Air. Much of a photographer’s work is about control, consistency, and efficiency; all benefits of the Pro Air system. Users of the Pro-8s may find the D1s attractive as they are fully compatible and controllable with the same Air Remote and optional software. The optional Air Sync makes it possible to trigger non air equipped packs and monolights. Profoto also has indicated that an external battery will be available, possibly as early as this summer, as an option for the D1 system making it a potent tool for both studio and location work.
The D1s are not priced for the faint of heart. If you have a limited lighting budget, at $1179 for a single 500 w/s Air unit, (the Air Remote must be purchased separately) or $2679 for the D1 500 Air Studio Kit (which includes: two D1 500 Air units; a case; two light stands and umbrellas; and the Air Remote), the D1s may not be a viable option. If, however, you like or use Profoto generators and the Profoto Light Shaping System, or use criteria other than or in addition to absolute cost to determine value, the D1 Air units may be a very attractive and versatile addition to your lighting arsenal.
While I believe the D1s have tremendous appeal on their own and in conjunction with the Pro-8 system, as well as with more products as the Pro Air “stable” expands, for many users of Profoto products like myself, with built in Pocket Wizards, there are some interesting considerations, none of which are product killers or insurmountable. Unlike the Pro-8, there is no option for a built in Pocket Wizard with the D1s. If I were to use a D1 500 Air in conjunction with Pocket Wizard equipped Profoto products, I would use the Air Remote to adjust power, and plug a Pocket Wizard in to trigger the lights. Another option, but in my case not a cost effective one, would be to purchase a couple of Air Syncs to trigger the non air equipped lights and generators. And what about metering? My Sekonic light meter works perfectly with the Pocket Wizard set up. If I were opting to shoot only with the D1 Air units, I would have to set the light meter to “cordless flash mode” and make sure the lights are triggered with the Air Remote within the 90 second timeframe. These are not the most seamless solutions, but they are workable. Profoto does not appear to be resting on their laurels, so the options and considerations may change.
For more information on the Profoto D1s and other Profoto products, click.here.
Update: After purchasing the D1 Airs in April, I discovered that it is possible to mount the Air Remote to a PocketWizard Flextt5, and fire the D1Airs and my PocketWizard equipped packs simultaneously! Additionally, in this configuration, the Sekonic Meter with the PW module will also trigger the D1 Airs. To read more about this, check out my May 5, 2009 entry.
I often look at equipment with an eye on whether it will allow me to accomplish a task more efficiently: More efficiently for me usually translates to mean easier to carry and easier to set up, as most of my work is on location. So it was with great interest, and I’ll admit a healthy dose of skepticism, that I went to the Calumet Photographic Store on West 22nd Street here in New York, to spend some quality time with their Portable On-Site Background System (PBS). I say skepticism because I have tried collapsible 8′ muslin systems, as well as the more traditional crossbar type background support systems and have yet to find one that has impressed me enough for consistent use. In fact one of my more embarrassing photo shoot related stories centers around the difficulty I had trying to get a collapsible background back in the bag.
When I arrived at Calumet, I was greeted by Ron Herard. Ron handed me the bag which housed the Calumet system and we headed upstairs to their second floor gallery space. While Calumet lists the kit as weighing 12 pounds, it did not feel that heavy. When we got upstairs Ron asked me if I would time how long it takes him to get the system out of the bag and up for use. One of his colleagues doubted it could be done in less than five minutes. Well for the doubting Thomas, it took Ron a grand total of 2 minutes and 40 seconds. I watched in absolute amazement: An adjustable stand, a central cylinder in which you insert 4 flexible rods with round ends, 4 flexible extension rods, an 8×8 sheet of muslin which fits on the “arrow” tips of the extension rods, and you are good to go! It is simple and intuitive. It took me 3 minutes and 12 seconds to take the PBS out of the bag and erect it. Not bad for a first timer! I was able to dismantle the frame as quickly as I erected it.
Also surprising to me was the fact that the system does not require any additional clearance beyond 8 feet to erect. Unlike the traditional cross bar support systems which require additional space on each side to accommodate the footprint of each stand, the Calumet PBS does not. This is one elegant and efficient solution. The muslin sheets have pockets on each corner which fit securely on the rod arrow heads. The pockets are well reinforced. Additionally the tautness of the fabric and frame interface, acts to stretch the fabric: This resulted in a substantial number of wrinkles and creases in the folded sheet that was used either being reduced significantly or eliminated. If you are getting a sense that I like this system, it is because I do.
One of the downsides to this system is that you may not want to use this system against a window or with a light source directly behind it as the stretched muslin is thin enough that the x frame may be seen. Others may find the lack of availability of a floor apron as a drawback. But all in all I found the system superior to the other alternatives I have tried and yet competitively priced.
I thanked Ron and Store Manager John Dessereau as I left, but not before placing an order for my very own.
For more information on the Calumet PBS, click on the blue highlighted text in this entry.
With the availability of full frame dslrs from Canon, Nikon and Sony, there has been a lot of discussion, both on Internet forum boards and in print about camera pricing and in particular, the pricing of “professional” dslrs. John Rettie in an article called “The Pricing Controversy on High-End DSLRS” which is in the current copy of Rangefinder Magazine commented that in his opinion, only the “top of the line” (in marketing speak – professional designated models) of Canon and Nikon cameras are overpriced and shares his take on where he believes these cameras should be priced.
It seems that a fair amount of disappointment with respect to the announced $8,000 price of the 24mp D3X, Nikons flagship camera was the result of Internet speculation and guesses, as well as Sony’s pricing of the A900, as opposed to any real indication from Nikon as to what the price would be. I have never regarded the professional designated cameras from Nikon or Canon, even though objects of desire in photo publications and on Internet forums, as the sales volume leaders for either company relative to their consumer-oriented entry and mid range products.
Rettie’s article got me thinking: “How much longer can companies charge a premium for their professional designated camera products?” It took a while but I had an epiphany: The answer is “as long as there are photographers who feel that the product will add value to their work flow and have the level of business to justify the expenditure.” There will also be a home for these expensive dslrs in many of the same rental houses that have $30,000 digital backs and $15,000 lighting systems available. And like the high end lighting products, the cache and halo of marquee dslrs often spills onto the less expensive, more mass consumer-oriented product lines.
As I consider the number of working photographers I know and/or am acquainted with, their specialties, clients, and billings vary tremendously. I wondered whether their decision making practices as it relates to equipment varies in the same manner.
Dave Black is a world class sports photographer, and Nikon shooter. Dave recently shared his rationale for buying the Nikon flagship in an article entitled “The Nikon D3x…Part 1″ on his site. Dave’s analysis led him to conclude, that the addition of the D3X will open up new opportunities for him. Whether you agree with him or not, isn’t the point or an issue: Dave has made his decision based on the analysis of his business and market evaluation. This is a vastly different decision making process from the enthusiast who bases his or her purchase decision on the availability of discretionary income; or the person who lust for it but finds the price is too big a stretch for him or her, and expresses discontent.
Photographers who use the Canon 1DS series cameras have been making similar analyses for longer, as Canon has been offering a full frame professional designated model since 2002. John Pinderhughes, a premier commercial and fine arts photographer, and Canon Explorer of Light, shoots with a Canon 1DS Mark II and a 5D Mark II. When I asked John why he is still shooting with the 1DS Mark II and not the more current 1DS Mark III, he said that he felt “no need to rush” to change bodies sixteen months ago when the Mark III was introduced. He felt that he was still getting so much “amazing output” from the 1DS Mark II. His stance runs counter to the prevailing but unsubstantiated belief that every time a new body is released the working photographer automatically upgrades. As for his reason for shooting with a 5D Mark II: John cites the size, weight and output as major factors. When asked is the camera good enough for professional use, John’s response was “absolutely.” He did however say that under some circumstances and shooting conditions, he would opt to use the more robust 1 series camera. Additionally, he is considering adding a new 1 series camera to the fold “sometime in the not too distant future.”
Today, the high mp count is no longer limited to the top of the line. Both Sony and Canon have twenty-something mp cameras for under $3,000. So do they have all the bells and whistles of the Canon and Nikon flagships? No, but for many shooters who need and/or want the resolution advantages, all the bells and whistles of the flagships may not be necessary.
New York based photographer and studio owner Rod Goodman recently made the decision to replace his cropped sensor Canon camera with the 5D Mark II. Goodman felt that a 21mp camera at under $2,700 was a business expense he could justify; the $8000 1DS Mark III was not. As for Goodman’s reasons for shooting with the mid-level Canon consumer/prosumer cropped sensor models until recently; the driving factor in that decision was economics: 1) because he had opened a studio which was a major investment, 2) he primarily shoots head shots where the margins are smaller; and 3) the fact that his clients rarely need prints larger than 8×10. Goodman is quick to admit that he drooled over full frame dslrs for some time, but points out that running a business is about knowing how to allocate resources. His decision to stick with mid-level cameras and the “non-professional” designated 5D Mark II has not been a stumbling block in building his business.
Three working photographers, three different specialties and clients, and yet, all have made their camera equipment choices around their business needs, sometimes opting for the top of the line, sometimes not; sometimes opting for the new, and sometimes holding the line.
From a photographer’s vantage point and even that of product reviewers, it is dangerous to get into the camera company’s business model and workings. While it might be interesting, I know that personally, I am better off not ruminating on what their production costs and the like should be as there are too many unknowns and it sets a dangerous precedent: How long will it be before my customers or yours start telling us what the cost our product/services should be and how much profit we should be able to make? Or how long before readers tell publishing entities how much their magazines should sell for based on their analysis of ad sales, ink and printing costs and circulation? As photographers, we are consumers of camera company products, not Wall Street analysts, not investors or shareholders. We run our business and the camera companies run theirs. We should be making our decisions to spend our dollars based on good business sense.
I’d like to thank Dave Black, John Pinderhughes, and Rod Goodman for their willingness to be resources for this entry.
To learn more about Dave, John and Rod or view their work, or view referenced articles, scroll over or click on the blue highlighted text in the entry.
One of the most significant products that I have come across in my examination of stabilizers for hslrs is the U-Boat Commander. The Commander, as I will refer to it, is an innovative product developed by photographer/director Bruce Dorn, a Canon Explorer of Light, writer, and gadgeteer extraordinaire. I call him a gadgeteer because Bruce has a wonderful ability to craft solutions to meet his shooting needs. A visit to his site www.idcphotography.com/blog/ is extremely enlightening.
I consider the Commander significant because it is, to my knowledge, the first stabilizing rig developed from scratch to accommodate the Canon 5D Mark II for video capture. The other rigs which I looked at were existing products. I have had use of the Commander for the last five days, and I will admit that as I boxed it up this morning to send it back to Arizona, there was a bit of mist in my eyes. Nikon D90 users do not feel slighted: I encourage you to read on.
The Commander offers something for lots of people due to its modular nature: In its most basic form it is a two-handled platform; the intermediate configuration adds a plate on top (bridge) as well as a handle and cold shoes, which allows you to mount a microphone and/or lights, as well as facilitating low angle shooting; and in its most complete form it adds a shoulder stabilizer, which can also aid in table top stabilization and or panning and tilting movements.) The anodized aluminum plates and bars are beautifully finished. I do want to note that the knurled handle grips come without handle pads: They will take standard bike handle grips (I used weightlifting grips.)
In many respects, the Commander reminded me of shooting with the Fig Rig, in that the unit is held out in front of you and the body acts as a shock absorber when moving. I also found that there was tremendous mobility although the Fig Rig does enjoy an edge here due to the circular frame. Unlike the Fig Rig, since the bottom plate of the Commander is flat, the camera can be safely placed on a flat surface when not in use. The 5D Mark II can be mounted directly to the commander base or attachment can be achieved via an optional quick release assembly. Either way, you have access to the 5D Mark II battery door. For those shooting with the Nikon D90, the battery door of the camera is also fully accessible when it is mounted to the Commander base.
The modular nature of the Commander brings together the best aspects of many of the other products I own/have used and/or considered, both less expensive and more expensive. It offers good range of motion, and shoulder stabilization on demand, the ability to mount accessories such as lights, microphones and monitors. The low angle shooting ability is a functionality that can be very costly with other systems.
I found setting up the Commander pretty intuitive. There is, however, an excellent video demonstration on Bruce’s site for those who want an understanding of how all the pieces fit and work together. While I spent most of the time with the Commander in the intermediate configuration (Kit 2) with the bridge and handle attached, there is a lot to be said for attaching the shoulder stabilizer. I found it much easier to access camera controls while moving around with the shoulder stabilizer than without it. I liked the option of being able to use the stabilizer either over my shoulder or pressed into my shoulder. I also “pimped” the Commander and discovered that with the addition of small furniture gliders on the bottom of the base plate that I could achieve similar action to a dolly and track system on flat surfaces.
As I was mulling over my thoughts, I realized that most equipment reviews/commentary are written by men. I asked my sister to try the stabilizers out and share her reactions. Of the three pieces of equipment, her hands down favorite was the Commander. For her use, the Commander offered the best balance, was lighter than it looked and than she thought it would be, and she liked the over the shoulder stabilization option as opposed to the into the shoulder bracing.
The Commander kits are not inexpensive: While the intermediate configuration (Kit 2) exceeded the $300 budget I set by $69, the basic configuration (Kit 1) at $239 would have been within the parameters. The Works (Kit 3) would have been way out of range. The good news is that very soon there will be upgrade modules available for purchasers of Kits 1 and 2 so that you can add on as you need to and/or grow.
In looking at the options for products, I always suggest to the extent possible that consumers not only look at how they think they are going to use a product, but to try to look at the versatility and the range of applications for which a particular product can be adapted or used. I think that this is the most appropriate way to consider a tool like the U-Boat Commander. When I look at its functionality, and modular nature relative to the universe of available tools and add ons, the U-Boat Commander looks very, very good.
Don’t be surprised if you see one of my cameras mounted to my own Commander in the near future!
If you want to seriously stabilize your Canon 5d Mark II or Nikon D90 (referred to as “hslrs,”) a tripod and/or monopod along with a fluid head are, at a bare minimum, essentials. They are available in different configurations and at various price points. A critical consideration is making sure the tripod/monopod and the head can support the camera and lenses that you are going to mount. Be sure to check the load capacity of the equipment you are considering. While tripods and monopods address relatively stationary shooting where you may primarily be interested in panning and tilting movements and you have the space to use them, they do not address dynamic shooting conditions or shooting in tight spaces. And that’s when you need to look at the portable stabilizing solutions.
Just like with tripods/monopods and fluids heads, there are portable stabilizing options to fit every budget. Personally, I did not want to wear a belt, vest or any contraption which made me look like I was in traction while trying to stabilize my hslr. In addition to keeping the camera steady, I also wanted to keep my wallet steady. After giving the matter serious consideration, I arbitrarily set my budget for a portable stabilizing solution at $300 maximum: Too much over that amount and I felt that the solution would be overkill since my primary usage for both cameras is still work. The solution had to be easy to transport; easy to set up and break down; and just as importantly, easy to use. The stabilizer also had to be able to support the camera body and substantial telephoto lenses. I was aware that this last consideration might knock out some of the support products aimed at the palm sized camcorders. My last requirement was that I had to be able to physically handle the product before purchase. The “video virgin” in me was driving this requirement.
After doing a lot of research, I found two products that piqued my interest, and were readily available here in New York for purchase. The Manfrotto Fig Rig which I found at Calumet Photographic and the BushHawk 320D camera support which I picked up the next day at Adorama. These are two very different solutions, but two products with impressive lineage: The Fig Rig being the brainchild of writer/director Mike Figgis in conjunction with Manfrotto, and BushHawk offering stabilization products for many nature and wildlife photographers.
The Fig Rig
What do you get when you mount a camera inside a steering wheel? You get a Fig Rig!! I keep hearing the Joni Mitchell song “Big Yellow Taxi” every time I think about the Fig Rig! People may find the concept of walking around holding a “steering wheel” in front of you, strange but I have to tell you it works. The Fig Rig offers incredible freedom of movement. The two handed navigation if you will, results in tremendous stability and smooth shooting. The body acts as the shock absorber and does not transfer the jarring movement to the Fig Rig. The wheel itself can accommodate add on’s such as video lights or a microphone using the optional Fig Rig clamp.
The Fig Rig is made of aluminum with padded hand grips. You attach the supplied quick release mounting assembly to the frame and plate to the camera and you are essentially ready to roll. Also supplied are 4 cable clips which allow you to manage any wires for accessories you might attach to the frame. You are looking at somewhere in the vicinity of 2 pounds before you add the camera.
The biggest drawback with the Fig Rig is the fact that it is impossible to place the camera down in a stable position when it is mounted. I find myself removing the camera from the cross bar when it is not in use (perhaps some sort of surface brace or stand can address this.) The other possible drawback is that you do look a bit weird walking down the street with one. But to those worried about how they look, I say get over it! The price of admission: $299.
The BushHawk 320D
The other product that I found myself very excited about is the BushHawk 320D Shoulder Support System. If you think steering wheel with the Fig Rig, think shotgun with the BushHawk! This shoulder based stabilizing system is what is called gun mount with a trigger which with the appropriate cable release will “fire” the shutter. Now one of my big concerns about taking this thing out and using it on the streets of New York is that someone is going shout “gun” (as Clint Eastwood in “In the Line of Fire” does in a crowd) and wrestle me to the ground!!
The 320D Pro Kit (one of two Canon versions and there is a Nikon version as well) I purchased included:
The 320D double handle stabilizer with trigger and shoulder pad; Canon shutter release cord; Quick release assembly and wrenches; Window Pod; Strap; Release cord case; and Storage bag.
The 320D is a modular thermoplastic frame which is extremely light and strong. An adjustable arm, which has a shoulder pad at the end slides into the main frame, and is locked into place by tightening a knob. While BushHawk advertises the product with both hand grips in the same plane, I loosened the front hand grip and rotated it 90 degrees (as pictured to the left,) which gave me better balance and greater stability while shooting video.
One of the biggest plusses for the BushHawk 320D is that with the cable release cord attached, you can effortlessly capture stills while shooting video with the 5D MarkII via the trigger button. I also found the BushHawk worked well for normal viewfinder shooting, live view shooting or video. If there is a negative associated with the 320D, for some people it will undoubtedly be having the shoulder pad braced against them. It does take a little getting use to. The price for all this at Adorama was $212.
Whether you go with either of these systems, or with another, the stabilizer is only part of the equation. The other part of the success of any of these systems depends on you and your ability to hold and move with the product of your choice. For me, a heel toe combination seems to work best for removing variability from my stride under most circumstances when moving with either of these stabilizers. I urge anyone buying a stabilizer to practice moving and finding their own “right” stride. And don’t forget about picking up a light set of weights to get your shoulders and arms into shape. You will thank me for this advice!
In Part 3 of this series, I will be looking at the Bruce Dorn U Boat Commander. I have elected to talk about this system independently because unlike the Fig Rig and the BushHawk, both of which I purchased, the U-Boat commander is on loan for evaluation purposes. Also unlike many of the available solutions, the U Boad commander was developed specifically for use with the 5D Mark II.
Early last August, I had an opportunity to shoot wedding pictures for a couple in New York’s Central Park. As my assistant and I were walking a few hundred feet behind the happy couple, and I looked at them leaning into each other as we moved to another location, I remarked how we were witnessing a video moment! The problem was that I had no video camera: Just two dslrs, one a Nikon and the other a Canon. Just a few short weeks later, Nikon and Canon announced the D90 and the 5D Mark ll respectively, both of which would have high definition video capability, and in many respects will alter the feature set of still cameras going forward.
Now the reaction to video in dslrs has been mixed to say the least. Some people both professional and enthusiast, embrace it, and others call it a gimmick. Funny, I think back to only a few short years ago when Olympus put a dust shake system, and live view in their cameras. Features which many marginalized then have become the expected norm today.
After experiencing that “Ah Ha” moment in Central Park last August, I am happy that I now have the option to shoot a little video and stills in a single package. We do live in a multimedia age. With the rise of YouTube, Vimeo, social networking and image sharing sites such as My Space and Flicker, as well as commercial product advertisement and news sites, the importance of video capture capability in any imaging device, should not be lost or minimized.
These hybrid cameras, as I refer to them, are not meant to replace dedicated hi def video cameras nor are they intended to shoot a box office blockbuster; but for clips and even shorts, they are indeed valuable and intriguing tools. I can tell you in shooting with both available options, that there are things I like about both and things which I don’t care for! Each manufacturer could learn a thing or two from how the other has incorporated the video feature for future refinement. The most important thing for those of us who are embracing the feature is to learn how the system of our choice operates and to exploit it to the fullest. What is clear is that the technology will develop and develop rapidly. A year or two from now the amount of control and flexibility in shooting speed will make today’s groundbreakers seem crude. But for now I encourage all who have purchased them to enjoy the feature.
Coming next week – Part 2: Mounting the Hybrid Camera for Movement
Resources for learning more on shooting video with dslrs:
Ask most people about on-camera lighting options for their dslr, and the default response is usually a dedicated flash unit. And certainly the ttl capabilities of these units make them a natural. But over the last six months I have been exploring alternative on camera lighting options and have found myself genuinely excited over the new generation of LED continuous lighting options. They are small, don’t give off much heat, and what you see, is what you get. They also don’t give that obvious “flash” look image that can result with speedlights .
With the arrival of the Nikon d90 and the Canon 5d Mark II, both of which have hi def video capability, continuous supplemental light sources are going to grow in popularity as they can be used for both still and video capture. While there are several manufacturers who have led lighting available. I have been using the Litepanels Micro units. I found my units at the Calumet Photographic Store, here in NYC, but they are available at other major photo retailers as well.
What I like about the Litepanels Micro specifically, are the following:
- They are daylight balanced( about 5600k)
- They can be mounted in the hot shoe or off camera. They are a little over 3”x3”x1.5” in size and weigh about a quarter of a pound.
- No power tap compatibility issues.
- They are fully dimmable and flicker free! You can dial in your desired fill easily.
- There is an integrated filter holder and you get a tungsten conversion gel, as well as warming and diffusion gels in the kit.
- The run time using lithium batteries is about 7 hours.
- They can be run off ac with an optional adapter.
- They allow for quick location shooting without drawing the kind of attention that flash use often does.
While Litepanels doesn’t indicate the power rating, I suspect that at full power the micro is equivalent to about 25-30 watts. The 3”x3” panel configuration results in a pretty wide beam coverage area, and can impact scene illumination up to 10 to 12 or so, feet away.
If you are interested in continuous lighting options, such as LEDs for your still or hybrid (still and video capable) camera, make sure the unit is fully dimmable. You definitely want this level of control. Some products offer it while others do not. Try to buy a unit that has gels/filters available. If you do not buy one with gels, you should fashion them on your own.
For still and video work, the latest LED products are definitely worth exploring. As LEDS go, I have been extremely pleased with the performance of the Litepanels Micros.
Here are a few samples of images taken where one or two Litepanels Micro units:
When I decided to blog on photographic equipment, I did not want to end up doing what is becoming typical in reviews, where products are evaluated as if they are an “Immortal” from “The Highlander” movie or series, “where there can only be one!” Frankly some of the language used by reviewers such as “category killers” or “brand/product slayers” is plain juvenile! The state of equipment reviews and previews, had a lot to do with my decision to move forward here. I also did not want to write lenghty pieces which combine lots of information, diagrams, and images available through the manufacturer, with impressions after using something on a limited basis, to come up with sweeping endorsements or pans. Far too much of what is in print and available on the internet already does this.
I think you can effectively take great images with just about any camera or using just about any brand of lighting. And frankly, control, layouts and ergonomics is a very personal thing: While some prefer how one brand works over the other, so many reviews are written with a sense of one company’s approach being definitively better than another! The fact is that there is a lot of variety out there, and consumers have tremendous choices.
The real key is learning how to use your imaging equipment, and learning what its’ strenghts and limits are. Often reviews talks about what the equipment can’t do, or what it should have done as opposed to what it can do. A 21 or 24 mp dslr is a very different animal than a 39 or 50 mp digital back, but there are lots of situations where the operating environment would make the dslr a more appropriate choice than the resolution king: a dslr with video capability is not a replacement for a dedicated high definition video recorder. There are very few all in one solutions in imaging! In fact the all-in-one printer where fax, phone and printer functions have been combined, is the exception rather than the rule.
So with tremendous excitement I am launching this blog, HDHD, which stands for High Definition-High Drama, to discuss aspects of imaging products that I find interesting and discussion worthy. Sometimes I will discuss products which are well known, and sometimes they will be less recognized, but all in all I am hoping to provide you with an informative read on a regular basis. The first product post will be up on Monday, January 26.