Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Even MORE 5D Stuff

This is officially my first blog entry of any kind. Fairly Exciting.

...So I'm in the process of "tricking out" my 5D for a doc I'm going to shoot in Albania. It's been a ton of research and I still don't have all the answers, but basically the 2 main options for turning your still camera into a viable option for video are: www.zacuto.com or www.redrockmicro.com

Although Zacuto is way more expensive (and arguably more well-made), I prefer the red rock hand grips, follow focus, and the red rock quick release system so I may end up making a composite from the best of both manufacturers. In my case, it's complicated because I shoot "Goofy-Eyed" (left eye) and so I need to offset the camera to my left.

The thing I am most proud of is discovering that if you mount a quick release plate to a cheeseborough plate you can go from handheld to tripod mode in a matter of seconds.

What gets expensive in all honesty (besides lenses) is a decent mattebox, filters, and tripod. You will no doubt end up spending way more for the accessories than for the camera, but you will have a better product than most prosumer cameras in that price range. Optically anyway.

As for audio, becahtek makes an adapter which should make audio decent if not professional quality:

You still have the 30p to 24p issue to address and this guy has one solution which I haven't tested and can't speak to, but is interesting to ponder: http://philipbloom.co.uk/2009/05/30/how-to-convert-canon-5dmk2-footage-from-30p-to-24p/

Anyhow, I still have a lot more research to do, but it is exciting to play and explore the phenomena of a still/video hybrid.

Friday, June 19, 2009

More 5 D video stuff

So I ran into a very nice guy in the park the other day named Marc Steiner who had a great rig for recording sound on the 5D Mark II. It's a Sony UWP-V1 Wireless Lavalier ENG Microphone Package.

Marc was kind enough to upload a photo of his system.

It's about $525 at B & H. I noticed it specifically because the biggest problem I have found with shooting video on the 5 D is the fact that there is no way to monitor the sound and he was shooting with earphones plugged in. I was intrigued enough to hang out and wait till he was done shooting so I could ask him about it.

The system is still limited by the fact that the Mark II uses a relatively unshielded mini jack (which can be affected by certain ambient frequencies, like fluorescent lights), but it's by far the slickest rig I've seen and I'll be buying one as soon as I have a project to justify the expense.

The new manual firmware (available from the Canon website) makes the camera a much more viable video camera. I've been shooting an experimental film with it this summer and took some of my footage over to the guys at the NYU SCPS video department who were pretty blown away by the quality of the image and the ability to shoot video on a full chip camera.

The best part is that all of my beloved, and fast, Nikon primes that have been sitting in my closet for the past 5 years now have a new mission as video lenses thanks to a great lens adapter I found out of Hong Kong that is is cheap (about $ 25) and has the necessary electrical contacts to auto confirm focus.

The final addition comes from Tisch alumni Clayton Burkhart who showed me his very nice Zacuto loupe which attaches to the back of the live view screen and makes it a viable electronic viewfinder that is better than anything I have used on a dedicated (video only) camera. I didn't spring for the $ 425 Zacuto (which is much nicer) but went for an $140 Hoodman loupe which is functionally just as good but not nearly as comfortable or nicely made as Clayton's Zacuto.

By the way, the most recent video entry on Ceci's blog (Butterfinger Ice Cream) was shot entirely on a 5D with the crappy little mike I carry around in my camera bag that it just clipped onto my lens hood. Even with youtube compression it looks pretty good in HD. If anyone has any really good settings for uploading to youtube or vimeo I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Dream Assignment

There's an internet contest sponsored by Microsoft that is a $50,000 grant to do any photo project you want.  You simply propose it and then people (family and friends) vote for it

Also, The Eddie Adams Workshops are currently accepting applications for the summer workshops.  The final date is  May 11,

Friday, February 27, 2009

Lens reviews/ Chromatic Aberration

One of the most awesome aspects of the  1Ds Mark III and the new 5 D Mark II is the fact that the resolution of the new cameras actually outstrips the performance of (some ) older Canon L series lenses. This is why there have been so many new " II " series additions to the Canon lens line.

Chromatic aberration in particular was never a huge problem in the past when a print from a 35mm negative was seldom enlarged past 11 X 14.  We just never looked at stuff with that kind of magnification.

Now I check almost every image I submit at 100%.  Why?  Because the client probably will.

I just sent some photos to a designer who called back wondering why there was a little red/green fringing on an image, even though the photo was slated to be used on a website at about 5 X 7 at 72 dpi.  People are really picky about digital images.

Given the amazing low light abilities of the Mark II,  I've been  daydreaming about buying a really stupid fast lens, but the 24mm f 1.4 (just upgraded) is almost $ 1700, so I wondered if there were any bargains to be had that were really good from secondary suppliers like Sigma or Zeiss.  

I came across this great website, The Digitalpicture.com that has the most extensive and in depth lens reviews I have found. Unfortunately he only reviews Canon related gear but I always check it when I am looking to buy a new lens.  Alas, there are no bargains in the fast wide angle category, but it did save me from buying a Sigma 24 or a Canon 28 mm 1.8 that I am sure I would have been disappointed with.  However the tests do show that are some really outstanding lenses for Canon cameras that are real bargains, like the 85 F 1.8, the 100mm F 2.0, and the very surprising 18-200 and 10-22 EF-S lenses. 

So what is Chromatic Aberration and why is it suddenly such a big deal?

The easy answer is that it's just the inability of the lens to focus all of the wavelengths of visible light to the same point.  However with digital imaging there are more things to consider:

When photographers shot color film the different colors were recorded on different layers so lenses could actually be optimized to take advantage of the slightly different focal planes for each color layer.   Film had a certain amount of physical depth that lens designers could use.  However a digital sensor is a truly flat plane, so CA is more noticeable.  We also shoot a lot more with zoom lenses, and it's tough to correct a zoom lens so that it performs perfectly throughout the range.  Smaller chips also mean shorter focal lengths and CA is much more of a problem in short focal length lenses.

Finally, the imaging sensors in digital cameras also have micro lenses on each photosite in the chip itself.  These small micro lenses introduce another form of CA because they are tuned to more accurately focus green wavelengths, at the expense of red and blue wavelengths (perhaps because it's the midpoint in the spectrum?) and this can result in purple fringing.

I've actually accentuated the CA in this photo to make it easier to see.

CA is also more visible in digital images because the digital sensors responds better to light rays that hit the focal plane perpendicularly.  Film didn't care.  When you add it all up it is easy to see why Canon has been revamping their L series lens line.  The old lenses were optimized for film and all of the new lenses are marked by less CA when used for digital capture.

While it is possible to mitigate the effects of CA in Lightroom and Camera RAW, it doesn't always work perfectly and it is really time consuming, so good lenses are still the most important factor to overall image quality.

One other interesting side note:  Like almost everyone else I use skylight filters on my lenses to protect them.  I recently replaced the $ 20 Sunpack filter on my 17-40 mm lens with a primo, $ 100 Rodenstock skylight filter.  The very small amount of CA that lens had was virtually eliminated by simply upgrading the filter, and lens flare was also reduced to a negligible amount.   It was really worth the extra cash.

I might start a Rodenstock dealership.  Maybe then I 'll be able to afford the $1700 24mm L series II.

By the way, there's a nifty little tool in Lightroom 2 that can help with any residual CA you can't fix with the Chromatic Aberration sliders:  Grab the paintbrush tool and just de-saturate the edges.  

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Living with the 5D Mark II

So yes. It is all that. Quite simply the most capable, best camera I have ever used. The files are as close to perfection as I have seen from a digital camera that was less than $ 40,000. I tested it against the 28 MP Leaf back and preferred the Canon images (which I think had more to do with the Canon lenses vs. the Mamiya lenses).

So should everyone run out and buy one?

Sorry, but if you are not paying your rent as a photographer it is complete overkill. The fact is that I've only had one job in the past three years that required this kind of resolution ( I rented a 1Ds Mark III). It's better than medium format 6 X 7, not quite 4 X 5, but I'm not selling my view cameras or my Mamiya 7. Film still rules on many levels.

The best part of the new 5D is not the resolution, or the video, it's the lack of digital noise. Visible noise levels at ISO 800 are about the same as my 40D at 100! When you combine it with the advanced noise controls of Lightroom 2 you have a camera that changes all your thoughts about shooting in available light. Absolutely stunning. I do get a teeny bit of pixelation if my exposure isn't perfect at ISO's over 1200. As always, it's best to expose a bit to the right (ETR), especially in low light conditions. In my casual photography I set the camera to sRAW (10MP) to take advantage of the reduced noise, but save the space on my card and hard drives.

The new 50D has the same Digic 4 processor as the 5D Mark II, it has 15 MP native resolution with a smaller APS sized chip. so the noise levels should be very similar, if not identical to the 5D Mark II. It's also almost half the money for a camera that should be capable of producing a spectacular 30 X 40 print (assuming careful processing of RAW files). Remember that resolution is measured linearly, so the jump from 15 to 21 Mp is only about 12 percent. If you aren't a working pro, then save the cash and buy an L series lens with the savings. Every time I test a new camera system the lens quality is always the single most important item in the equation, with noise running a close second. Given the choice to shoot a 10 MP 40D with a primo lens or a 5D mark II with a sub par lens I 'd actually take the smaller camera with the better lens.

But wait! What about HD video on a full chip camera? Hasn't that been the Holy Grail for videographers? Beautiful bokeh that takes advantage of longer focal lengths and bigger lens openings; HD that looks like it has the production value of a Hollywood feature?

The 5D Mark II delivers as promised, but here's the fine print: You have to shoot it like you are a professional cinematographer. That means tripods and fluid heads, assistants to pull focus, dollies or steadycam for tracking shots. If you aren't using an IS lens there is no steady shot to help you, and the camera won't auto focus when shooting video (actually it will, if you press the AF button, but the aperture opens up to admit more light and will ruin a shot with a few seconds of overexposure). Pulling focus smoothly on a tripod is tough, and almost impossible on a small handheld camera without a brace. Besides, the video only works in Live View so you are pulling focus while looking at a small video
screen; not optimal.

In order to get the most out of it you need to treat like its' a 16 mm Arriflex. Here's rig from Redrock that does exactly that. Yes, that's a Canon 5D on the back end.

Then there's the sound issue. Forget the built in mike, it's right next to the lens and picks up all the noise your hands make while working the controls. My solution was to adapt a Stroboframe flash bracket so I could mount a shotgun mike. Finally, there is no output jack to monitor the sound while you're shooting. If I were shooting something that was really dependent on great sound I'd probably add a separate wave recorder and a boom mike into the equation, Again, just like a real film maker.

For all of you who were blown away by Vincent Laforet's "Reverie" (shot on a 5D mkII), look at that film again and you will realize that while it looks great, it is also shot in a style that maximizes the good qualities of the camera and minimizes the problems. It's essentially a series of still photographs. This isn't a camera for shooting documentaries.

So yes, am I happy, but given my immediate needs, I might have been better off with a 50D and an $ 800 Vixia HD camera. For the average student, photojournalist, or prosumer this would probably be the better option. The 5D will be perfect for a short film I'm going to make in a few months for the same motorcycle I shot in this post. It excels at MOS beauty shots, so as long as I add a cute little Vixia for pickup shots I should be in great shape.

The thing that's interesting is that the 5D has been banned from Formula 1 racing events and World Cup Soccer. Why? Because TV and film producers pay for the rights to shoot at those events. The 5 D Mark II enables anyone to produce broadcast quality video. I will be really bummed if I am banned from shooting stills at motorcycle races this season because I am working with a hybrid camera.

This is what I see on the horizon, (imagine a future 1Ds Mark IV): In my camera collection I have a very unique camera from the 70's made by Canon, the Canon Pellix. It was a specialty camera for sports photographers with semi-silvered (pellicle)mirror that didn't move. The light was transmitted through the mirror so there was no blackout at the moment of exposure. Why not incorporate a pellicle mirror into a digital camera? That way you could still use the cameras finder instead of the screen on the back. Add a couple of zoom lenses with power zoom capability, a headphone jack, 24 FPS capture rate, and you would truly have a hybrid video/DSLR!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Health Insurance (revised)

One thing that a lot of younger photographers take a chance on is trying to get away without health insurance, and fewer employers are providing care for their full time employees.   Ceci and Eli racked up over a half a million dollars in hospital bills when he was born between both of their hospital stays, and we won't even start on my doctors bills from crashing into things when I was still racing.

A friend recently told me about some low cost options from Freelancers Union.  They offer a range of plans, including premium family plans and dental coverage,  all of them are pretty inexpensive compared to other options. They have one particular, ($10,000 deductible), plan (assuming you are young and healthy) that seems too good to go without.  For $ 150 bucks a month you are covered against the kind of catastrophic accident or illness that can cripple your finances for life.  

After I posted this the first time Avi Gerver sent me an e mail suggesting that I also mention Fractured Atlas.

This a terrific artist support organization. They actually have an even cheaper plan with a $ 5000 deductible.  

Nice call Avi.

Whaddya waitin for?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

More resources

Mastheads.org is a fantastic resource.  It lists the masthead directory for every magazine in the US.  It's free if you have a .edu email address.  The only caveat is that it isn't updated as often as I'd like.

Rob Haggert's blog, A Photoeditor.com is fast becoming the best source for news about the photo industry.  I log on at least once a week and there is always something interesting.

EditorialPhotographers. com is full of useful news and information on usage fees and estimating.

Finally, I was shocked to find how few students knew about the Eddie Adams Workshops.  This is a free four day workshop in upstate New York that enables young photographers to work with some of the top photojournalists and photo editors in the country.  Careers have been launched there.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Video fun

I love this blog stuff, it's so easy to put stuff up.

Here's a little film I did for the Machineart (an industrial design firm)  prototype motorcycle. It was shot old school, on a 16 mm Arriflex.

"Get Off"

They're working on a new prototype that will be done by the middle of February.   If everything works out we'll be shooting it as a demo in my Advanced Lighting class.

About two years ago I got to spend one day shooting on the floor of the New York Commodities Exchange for a corporate client.  It was one of the most interesting things I've ever shot; like watching a Superbowl game being played with billions of dollars.  Every day these guys gamble on the value of things like oil and copper, betting on values for dates as far into the future as ten years, often with their own money.  They can become a millionaire in a day, lose it the next, and make it back tenfold on the third.  It is not a profession for the faint of heart.

Later on I was noodling around with the images on Quicktime and created this little slideshow. It's too bad the video window is so small because some of the subtleties of gesture and expression are lost.  

Given the current state of the economy it seemed timely....

"One Day" 

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Death to film, Strobist, and a great book

One of my students, Kyle Newberry, turned me on to this site.  It's written by a group of digital techs/assistants in L.A..

It is very techy but full of useful information (including a few video tutorials)  on digital workflow, back up storage solutions, and digital specific exposure techniques for professional digital photographers.  

This is an absolutely amazing site and I'll admit that it was the inspiration for this blog.  It was started by David Hobby, a staff photographer for the Baltimore Sun, and has grown into an internet phenomenon.

Many years ago, back when the legendary Karl Peterson was still assisting me, we invented some techniques for doing quality lighting "on the fly" using small, battery operated strobes slaved with primitive optical slaves. I was shooting transparency film at the time so this technique required real skill and great communication between the photographer and assistant (who was controlling the remote strobe) .  I didn't know anyone else who was doing it then.  As time went on I perfected the technique with different assistants to achieve a mix of production value, and an available light "look", combined with flexibility in a fast moving situation.

As a photojournalist, David Hobby found his own ways to use the new generation of small portable TTL flash units with wireless triggers and started sharing the techniques online in his Strobist blog.  It's the same idea as what I was doing, but David's tools and techniques, combined with digital capture, make it much easier now.  The Strobist blog now has it's own Flickr group (with 50,000 members!) and a rabid fan base on the web.  There is so much information on this site that it actually constitutes an entire lighting class.  I interviewed David when I was writing my book and plugged it several times in the final version. The site is very deep and inclusive.  David now travels the country doing "Strobist" lighting workshops.

Finally, I have to give a shout out to "Light, Science & Magic", the best book ever written on lighting.  For years I have looked for a textbook I could use in my advanced lighting class and I hated them all.  This is the textbook I wish I had written.

Most books on lighting aren't much more than war stories told by photographers on how they did a shot.  "Light, Science, & Magic" is based on the physics of light and optical principals.  The first chapter is heady reading but after that it really picks up and gets into real world problem solving.  Absolutely indispensable for any budding, or experienced, professional.