February 28, 2010

Steadicam Smoothee rig for iPhone

The smaller and lighter a camera is, the more likely it is to shake when you go hand-held.

Many cameras have built in image stabilisation systems, but some of the smallest and lightest don't, such as Apple's iPhone.

However, there's an app for that, or there soon will be. The Steadicam Smoothee, from Tiffen, is the smallest of the famed Steadicam camera stabilisers.

You simply clip your iPhone 3GS into a holder, fit it to a small carrying system, and you can do smooth looking camera moves, with no shakes.

It will also be available for the Flip HD, and probably for other small cameras in the future. As demonstrated by Robin Thwaites (International Director of Sales, Tiffen/Steadicam), it is quick and easy to set up, and to move. Its iPhone mount can also be used as a table-top stand or mounted on a tripod.

There's no price yet (it'll probably be in the £100+ range), or release date, but probably later this year.

February 23, 2010

Sony NX5 - features and workflow

We spent three days last week at Broadcast Video Expo 2010. While we were there we had a chance to talk to Rob France, Sony UK NXCAM product manager, about the practical aspects of the HXR-NX5, such as workflow, how it operates with the main non-linear editing systems, and where the NXCAM range will go next.

Sony NX5 - features and workflow.

One of its interesting features is its HD-SDI output. If you record the image from that it will be in the 4:2:2 colour space, which is better for those doing green screen work. The camera normally records 4:2:0 to flash memory or its add-on solid-state drive.

For those of you who've seen our NXCAM preview video (vimeo.com/7882773), this compliments that video, with practical tips for working with AVCHD and a discussion of the benefits of solid state.

Related posts:  Sony HXR-NX5 is NX big thing and Sony NXCAM video

February 15, 2010

Panasonic 3D camcorder gets AVCHD

Panasonic has released the specifications for its integrated HD 3D camcorder and confirmed that it will record in AVCHD. This may be a good choice from a cost point of view, but it isn't exactly edit-friendly.

It uses MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, a very efficient codec, that packs a lot into a little space (in this case up to 24Mbps), but because all the picture information is spread out among a group of pictures (typically over 12 frames at 24fps) rather than included in every frame, the computer has to work hard to give you the ability to edit on each frame. Or, of course, you can transcode all the video as you import it (as you have to do with Final Cut Pro and Avid anyway – Premiere and Edius can edit AVCHD natively).

However, the AG-3DA1 (as it will be called) does have dual HD-SDI outputs, so you'll be able to record to a pair of Convergent Design nanoFlash recorders, or Fast Forward Video's compact two-channel 100Mbps JPEG 2000 recorder.

The AG-3DA1 will weigh less than 3kg, have two lenses, with two 1920x1080 2.07 megapixel 3-MOS imagers, recording 1080/60i, 50i, 30p, 25p and 24p (native) and 720/60p and 50p. It can record for up to 180 minutes on dual 32GB SDHC cards at 24Mbps, and has HDMI output, two XLR connectors, built-in stereo microphone and twin-lens camera remotes. A lot of traditional 3D rigs use a lot of power, but the AG-3DA1 promises to use only 16W.

It incorporates stereoscopic adjustment controls, to allow the convergence point of the lenses to be adjusted for the best 3D effect, and it will also automatically correct horizontal and vertical displacement. These sort of adjustments are usually fairly fiddly on existing 3D rigs, typically requiring you to connect a laptop or some other video processor.

The camera could appeal to anyone wanting to do handheld 3D shots – if you find that the subject matter of some of the more extreme observational documentaries already make you nauseous, just wait until you see The World's Most Disgusting Diseases, Ever in 3D.

The camera will be available Autumn 2010 (made to order).

Related posts: Panasonic unveils HD 3D camcorder and Ikonoskop goes stereo with 3D A-Cam

By David Fox

February 14, 2010

Canon's codec choice

As the last of the major camcorder manufacturers to introduce tapeless professional camcorders, Canon has had a little longer to make its choice of recording codec, and it seems to have been listening to broadcasters as it will adopt MPEG-2 4:2:2 at 50Mbps and MXF for its upcoming professional file-based camcorders.

This has been the minimum requirement for full HD recording put forward by several European broadcasters, such as the BBC, so will be a welcome addition for what will almost certainly be a budget camcorder (probably in the £4,000 to £8,000 bracket). Rival camcorders from Sony and JVC typically record at 35Mbps, while Panasonic's most recent small camcorders have used 24Mbps AVCHD (the 10-bit 4:2:2 HPX301 is a larger, shoulder-mounted P2 camcorder).

Canon's current line-up of professional camcorders, the XL H1, XH G1s and XH A1s, are all HDV models, so the new model will record at twice the data rate, and with double the colour data, and will record full HD (1920x1080) instead of 1440x1080.

Canon showed a mock-up of the proposed camera under glass, which looks to be between the XL H1 and XH G1s in size (with 1/3-inch sensors and two XLR audio sockets), although the eventual form factor may be different.

Instead of choosing a more efficient codec like MPEG-4 or a wavelet-based codec (such as JPEG 2000), "MPEG-2 was chosen because it is widely compatible with current IT technology and workflow environments and therefore more beneficial to our customers. Furthermore, the MXF wrapper is the industry standard, with well structured metadata that is easy to search," explained a Canon Europe spokesperson.

There isn't a lot more information on the camera yet, but it will have two card slots (although the specific media hasn't been announced), and Canon is working with Adobe, Apple, Avid and Grass Valley "to ensure compatibility" with their software.

Canon took part in the recent Final Cut Pro Supermeet at Macworld Expo, and MacVideo's Rick Young recorded its announcement of the new codec (and, first up, the new DSLR plug-in for FCP). He also shot an interview with Joe Bogacz, of Product Marketing, Canon USA, which includes shots of the mock-up camcorder (pictured above).

[UPDATE: The cameras, the XF300 and XF305 have been launched - more at Canon fires out first 4:2:2 file-based camcorders ]

By David Fox

February 12, 2010

Panasonic does 1080 50p on a budget

Recording Full HD (1920x1080) at 50 or 60 frames per second has not been a realistic prospect for camcorder buyers on a budget, but it will be soon… at consumer prices. Panasonic has announced three new hand-held, tapeless "semi-professional" three chip camcorders that will record 1080 50p/60p in AVCHD (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264) at 28Mbps (variable bit rate) – Sony's new NXCAM and Panasonic's own professional AVCHD cameras (AG-HMC41E, HMC151E) record at 24Mbps for 1080 at 50i/60i (or 24/25/30p).

The small new 700 series camcorders could be of interest for professional use, especially for sports applications (such as a helmet cam or in-car camera) as 50/60p is better for fast motion recording than 24/25/30p. The cameras are also claimed to be particularly good in low light, and will be available from March 2010.

However, there are compromises. The 3MOS sensors are tiny (1/4.1-inch diagonal – packed with 3.05 megapixels each, with a total of 7.59 effective megapixels in 16:9 – they can also be used for higher-resolution still images). The new "wide-angle" 12x Leica lenses are anything but – when most professional, low-budget camcorders offer lenses of 24-28mm (35mm equivalent), this is 35mm, so will probably need a wide angle adapter for in-car use – although in low light it opens to F1.5 and has a manual focus/iris ring.

The cheapest version, the Panasonic HDC-SD700, is £799 (and only seems to be available in Europe). It records to SDHC/SDXC memory cards. The HDC-TM700 (£899), records both to cards and 32GB of internal memory. The slightly larger HDC-HS700 (£1,099) records to a 240GB hard drive and the cards.

Other features include: Optical Image Stabilization; an Intelligent Auto function with Face Recognition, which can track any of up to six registered faces in the picture and optimizes the focus and exposure for them; Smile Shot, which automatically takes a still photo during video recording when it detects a smiling face; 5.1-Channel Surround Sound using five zooming (highly directional) built-in microphones (plus an external microphone mini jack); an improved Wind Noise Canceller for the microphones; Electronic Viewfinder; a 3-inch LCD that automatically adjusts its brightness according to the ambient light; and HDMI output.

Edius offer extended

Panasonic has extended its Edius Neo 2 Booster promotion, and will now bundle the Grass Valley editing software, free, with its professional AVCHD (AVCAM) systems until September 30th 2010

The promotion was due to end on April 30th, but has proved popular. It applies to the AG-HMC71EU, AG-HMC151EU, and AG-HMC41EU camcorders and the small AG-HMR10EU recorder. Edius (which is Windows only) can edit AVCHD natively (as can Adobe Premiere), but the format has to be transcoded when used with Avid or Apple's Final Cut Pro.

By David Fox

February 09, 2010

Canon cuts cost of HD

Canon has introduced a new, entry-level HD DSLR that will cut the cost of shooting full HD, taking it well below the price of any semi-professional camcorder. The new EOS 550D (Canon Rebel T2i in the US) camera will probably be available for under £800, including a kit lens, when it ships on February 24.

It uses a newly developed 18 Megapixel APS-C (22.3x14.9mm) CMOS sensor (more than five times the size of the 2/3-inch sensors commonly found in broadcast cameras), with Canon’s advanced DIGIC 4 14-bit image processor, as used in the larger 7D (which we used to shoot our video at the Canon event).

Users can record 1920x1080 at 24, 25 or 30 frames per second, or 720p at 50 or 60fps. As seen with the 7D, the 550D Rebel T2i should produce excellent pictures in low light – it can record at ISO settings of 100 – 6400 (expandable to 12800), with noise reduction delivering clean looking images. It also has a 3.5mm stereo microphone socket for an external microphone.

Highlight tone priority can be set independently for movie capture, without changing any still image capture settings. The 550D Rebel T2i also has a new Movie Crop function that records with the central 640x480 pixel area of the sensor, giving 7x magnification, however this isn't available for HD recording (where it would probably have to be 4x or 5x – perhaps an HD version is something for the future).

From an ergonomic point of view, the smaller size, and lighter weight (530g body) of the 550D Rebel T2i, may make it easier to hold than Canon's existing, larger, HD DSLRs.

For video output, there is a mini HDMI port, but this doesn't give access to the uncompressed video signal (for recording to an external recorder). Recording, to a SDHC card, uses the .MOV format with H.264 video and Linear PCM audio at 45Mbps (for a maximum duration of 30 minutes or 4GB file size).

There is also a 3-inch 720x480 pixel LCD screen (which has to be used in video mode as the conventional viewfinder can't be used because the internal mirror is locked up).

Plugging in to FCP

Canon has also announced a new EOS Movie plug-in for Final Cut Pro, to enable quicker and easier editing of EOS footage. A free Beta release of the plug-in will be available to download in March.

The plug-in will enable the log and transfer of video footage from the EOS 5D Mark II, EOS 7D, EOS-1D Mark IV and the 550D, and convert the recordings to Apple’s high quality ProRes 422 codec at approximately twice the speed of Apple’s standard conversion. Users will also be able to add timecode, reel names and metadata.

Related posts: HD DSLRs: Still developing and HD DSLRs: nice pictures, nicer price

By David Fox

Ikonoskop goes stereo with 3D A-Cam

Ikonoskop has created a 3D version of its tiny A-Cam dII uncompressed HD camera. The Stockholm-based manufacturer already has several clients lined up who want to shoot with the new camera, which will be built to order and could be five or six times the cost of the standard version. Both versions of the a-cam should be available by the Summer – the A-Cam dII at the new, lower price of 5,000 Euros.

The A-Cam3D will record 1920x1080 at 25 or 30 frames per second, uncompressed, at 12-bits, using Adobe's Cinema DNG RAW format. The video signals from each lens will be captured to two separate, timecode-locked 80GB memory cartridges.

The initial version (pictured) has been designed for action use, with a distance between optical axes of 91.5mm, and would weigh about 2.8kg including battery and memory cards. However, models could come with different fronts, to allow for the use of different lenses or lens positioning. This is one of several aspects that will have to be worked out in conjunction with the initial users, according to Ikonoscop's creative director, Göran Olsson.

"What's great about our camera in 3D work is that we work in uncompressed RAW. It's a very good thing for compositing," he said. "Also, for action, it is very compact. You can mount it easily and put it in tight situations." The only other twin lens 3D camcorder yet announced is Panasonic's $21,000 unit, which will record a compressed signal. There are compact 3D rigs for small cameras from several makers, but these won't be as simple to set up.

"We can provide our clients with something they can't find anywhere else," he said.

By David Fox

February 01, 2010

HD DSLRs: Still developing

Review of the Canon EOS 7D - DSLR Camera

There has been a lot of interest amongst video users in digital stills cameras recently, mainly because DSLR camera manufacturers like Canon, Nikon and Pentax have brought out reasonably priced, large sensor models that can record HD. Now, if you want a 35mm camera that can shoot HD (720p or 1080p), and take different lenses, you can buy one for less than the price of a used Sony EX1.

Canon has been the major player, especially with its 5D mark II, although that only records at 30 frames per second. We have been promised a firmware upgrade which should add 24 and 25fps - possibly due April 2010.

However, the latest Canon EOS 7D already has all the frame rates, and costs less, although it has a smaller sensor (APS-C, about 23x15mm).

It is an impressive stills camera, but while its 18-megapixel CMOS image sensor is great for still images, CMOS is not so suitable for video (although many video cameras have them). One of its problems is skew. This happens when you pan the camera and verticals don't look vertical on recording because the CMOS sensor reads line by line rather than all at once.
Some users may also notice aliasing. 

But, in the right hands DSLRs can produce stunning results.

The Canon EOS 7D It is not exactly a light camera (it weighs about 1.39kg with an 18-135mm zoom lens). Even with the image stabilisation in the lens switched on it was tricky to hold still because you couldn't hold it up to your eye (in video mode it only uses the rear LCD) so, it went on my Miller tripod and stayed there.

The 7D offers ISO speeds of 100-6,400, expandable to 12,800. My first thoughts were that any image taken at such a high ISO would be very grainy – but the camera's DIGIC 4 processors remove colour and luminance noise to give a cleaner image.

It has the usual optical eyepiece and a 3-inch LCD with 920,000 dots. I'm used to staring at LCD screens on cameras like the Sony HVR-Z1 with only 250,000 dots, so the Canon's screen was a joy to watch. Unfortunately, it is shiny and you do get a lot of reflections that are distracting when trying to shoot. If you were seriously considering buying this camera (or any of the other DSLRs) for video work you should take a look at the Zacuto Z-finder V2. It will keep out the light from the screen and, importantly, act as an extra point of contact with your body, for stability, if you are going hand held.

For video the camera uses MPEG4 AVC encoding wrapped up in a .mov file, and records onto Compact Flash cards at up to 45Mbps.

This is not a format to edit with. So, you'll need to consider software to convert it to something more edit friendly. MPEG Streamclip from Squared 5 gets consistently good reviews and is free.

In HD mode you can only record about 12 minutes of video on a 4GB card. There is only one card slot – so you can't hot swap like a Panasonic P2 camera or Sony EX. Buying a bigger card won't necessarily solve the problem, as the camera will stop recording once the file size reaches 4GB. So this might not be the perfect camera for doing that 'locked off shot'.

Recording times

4GB card
16GB card

1920x1080 HD
12 mins
24p (23.976fps), 25p (25fps),
30p (29.97fps),

1280x720 HD
50p (50fps)
60p (59.94fps)

640x480 SD.
1h 39mins
50p (50fps)
60p (59.94fps)

Stills cameras have been able to shoot video for some time – although not very well. But now the technology has improved and it is hard to deny that the results can be very good. I recommend you type 'Canon EOS 7D' into the www.vimeo.com website search box so that you can see some incredible results. If you shoot news and docs look at Guardian photographer Dan Chung's work on Vimeo and http://www.dslrnewsshooter.com

If you are a Mac user there is a lot of help getting your footage from camera into Final Cut Pro. One very helpful page is on Chris Fenwicks site. Vincent Laforet is also very helpful with advice and mentioned an upcoming new plug in (again for FCP).

The audio however is a different story. The camera does have an on board microphone which may come in handy as a guide track but it definitely won't be good enough for broadcast, it will also pick up camera handling noise and wind noise.

You really do need to record the audio on a separate recorder. Trawling through the forums it looks like most people buy the Zoom H4n. It has its own built in stereo mic, if all you need is some atmos. But, it also has two XLR sockets and can record at 48kHz, which should keep your editing software happy. With a splitter you can take an output from the Zoom for monitoring and feed the recorded audio in to the camera as a guide track for synching later. The problem is where do you put it? Maybe it might signal the return of the sound recordist.

You can swap info with other Zoom users at the Zoom forum.

If you don't want to be tethered to the recorder. Then you'd better brush the dust off your clapper board as it will once again come in handy to sync sound with vision. Funny how the more technology improves the more we rely on the old ways of working.

The evolution of the video camera has given us a body shape and layout that puts everything you need just where you want it. The iris, gain and white balance can be found without even taking your eye from its fully adjustable viewfinder.

I know many GTC members hate the Sony Z1 type cameras because of (amongst other things) their shape. But these DSLRs are even trickier to hand hold for any length of time. Unless you have the arms of a weight lifter you'll also need some sort of rig to make it feel more like a shoulder-mounted camera. Add in the cost of the viewfinder and your cheap video camera starts to look a little more expensive.

Rigs available include:
Check out their sites for demonstrations of how to use the kit and examples of user's videos.

But, if your budget is tight, start with a good old fashioned tripod. I used the camera on a weeks holiday and to keep the weight down I used my Manfrotto 561B monopod (which has feet!).

There is no peaking to help with focusing (and, even if you wanted to, Canon doesn't recommend using auto focusing when the camera is in movie mode.) There are no zebra stripes either, but there is a histogram which takes up about 1/9th of the screen. If you are used to using a shoulder mounted camera then using a DSLR will require some time to acclimatise.

Certainly, if you intend to use the camera, I recommend you download the manual (and any drivers you may need) and have a play with the camera before the shoot. For example, it took me a while to work out how to manually white balance. It isn't intuitive. 

You can also watch simple tutorials on the EOS 7D at Canon's USA site. 

Why buy one of these cameras?

Lenses, lenses and lenses. The range of lenses you can get for a DSLR is eye watering, but the prices generally aren't. So, if the director needs a one off special shot in a difficult location this camera could make you the hero of the hour.

I'd recommend you read photographer Doug Klostermann's page on "Why You Shouldn’t Buy the Kit Lens".

If one thing stands out, it is the possibility of very shallow depth of field. It seems everyone wants that film look and with 24p and a little help in post – you can have it at a relatively cheap price. The camera body costs around £1,200.

Time lapse on these cameras is stunning. If you are a timelapse newbie, start with Timothy Allen's starter guide. Take a look at the some great examples of DSLR timelapse by Tom Lowe at TimeScapes.

And if you mix timelapse and HDR (high dynamic range) photography - the results can be beautiful.

If you set the camera to record the largest still image size (5184x3456 pixels) you can import the time lapse stills into your editing software and pan and scan around the video. For a tutorial on how to do this on a Mac, Philip Bloom comes to the rescue. 

However, for timelapse you will have to spend about £100 extra on an intervalometer remote control unit to tell the camera when and how often to take each still image.

If money is tight, this camera may be all your low budget production can afford, and some people have shot incredible footage on it. It is not primarily designed to be a video camera, which means almost everything you do with it will be some sort of workaround, but considering the price, it could be worth the effort.

Would I buy one? 
I originally had a camera on loan from Canon for a week to write this review for the Guild of Television Cameramen's magazine, Zerb. I genuinely liked the camera - enough to buy it. I'm still experimenting with it and it really is essential to have the Zacuto Z-finder, which I now have on order.

Related post: HD DSLRs: nice pictures, nicer price and Canon cuts cost of HD

By Christina Fox