August 31, 2010

Canon XF100/XF105 camcorders

Canon has extended its XF range of professional camcorders with two new palm-sized cameras, the XF100 and XF105 – the smallest cameras ever to include broadcast quality MPEG-2 Full HD 50Mbps, 4:2:2 recording.

They share many of the features of the existing XF305 and XF300 camcorders, but in a smaller package.

"A broadcast-standard MPEG-2 codec in such a compact body makes these new products unique, and will offer a level of HD image quality that was previously out of the reach of many users. The XF105 and XF100 will combine with XF305, XF300 and EOS DSLR cameras to offer a comprehensive range of Canon HD video tools for all sorts of applications," said Terunori Tajiri, EMEA Video Product Manager, Canon Europe.

Both cameras have professional features, such as XLR audio input (16-bit linear PCM at 48 kHz), while the XF105 (tech specs here) has HD-SDI output, with a shared Timecode input/output and Genlock input (pictured left), so that it can be used in studio or for multi-camera shoots (or record to a nanoFlash).

They record 1080/50i, 1080/25p, 720/50p or 720/25p MXF files to Compact Flash memory cards, using either Relay Recording or the security of Double Slot Recording (to two separate CF cards simultaneously). During recording, a card that’s not in use can be exchanged or initialised. There is also an SD card slot for stills and user settings.

The cameras have a new 10x zoom, 30.4mm wide angle Canon HD f/1.8 lens, with an eight-blade metal diaphragm, Optical Image Stabilizer, and an increased number of moveable lens groups to help reduce chromatic aberration and the overall size of the lens.

They use a single new 1/3-inch, 2.07 Megapixel Canon1920x1080 CMOS sensor, adapted from the 3CMOS sensor system employed in XF300-series models with high-speed data readout to minimise rolling-shutter skew.

Variable frame rate recording (12-50fps in 720p or 12-25fps in 1080p), Interval Recording (time lapse) and Frame Recording (for stop-motion animation) are included, as is a three-second Pre Record (cache) option.

For nighttime use, there is an Infrared shooting mode and built-in IR lamp (with both green and white light shooting options available), which will appeal to users of Sony's HVR-A1.

For 3D use, there are two 3D Shooting Assist functions: OIS Axis Shift uses the lens-shift image stabilizer to help correctly align two connected camcorders during stereoscopic 3D recording, while a Focal Length Guide helps to precisely synchronise zoom adjustments.

There are manual controls for experienced users, plus automatic and assist functions for beginners. A manual lens ring is switchable between focus, zoom and iris, and various settings, including iris, can also be adjusted using a custom key and control dial combination.

A dedicated button enables switching between manual focus and autofocus. There is also Face Detection AF and unique Instant AF modes, plus a new Face-Only AF mode, which limits autofocusing to detected faces only and is particularly useful for self shooters.

Both have a 3.5-inch side-mounted LCD screen with 920k dot resolution, a built-in waveform monitor and Edge Focus function, with menu selection performed using a joystick interface. There is also a 260k dot electronic viewfinder with 100% field-of-view coverage.

Users can configure more than 90 individual, image-related variables using a Custom Picture function; including selecting one of six preset gamma curves. Operators can also assign one of 34 individual functions to ten customisable buttons.

Up to nine ‘customised pictures’ can be stored to each body, with CINE.V and CINE.F gamma settings among three presets supplied as standard. Preferred settings can be saved and transferred from one XF100-series camcorder to another via SDHC cards.

The cameras will be on show on the Canon stand (11.E50) at IBC in Amsterdam next week (10-14 September).

Related posts: What makes an HD camera? and Canon fires out first 4:2:2 file-based camcorders

By David Fox

August 27, 2010

Budget buster lights and camframe

We bought a couple of little LED lights from the 7Dayshop for £20 each that are a useful addition for video or stills photography.

Lights off, F5.6, 0.3s, 400 ISO
The 64x LED Video/Camcorder and Photo Modelling Light is fairly basic - it doesn't have a dimmer (just two settings, low with 36 LEDs lit or high with all 64). It fits into a hot shoe, but does come with a handy bracket that allows you mount it off to the side of the camera (you screw it into the camera's tripod mount - especially handy on the many small camcorders that don't have hot shoes). With two you can mount them either side, which is the way we'll usually use them - typically to shoot product shots at exhibitions (which are often poorly lit with black products often displayed on a black background...). Flash guns can be too harsh, especially the camera's built-in flash.

Lights low, F5.6, 1/8th second
The little LED lights can also be overkill if you are in close, when switching to low mode is advisable. We'll put a little pouch of Half Tough Spun filter (from Lee Lighting) over each, to diffuse and soften the effect, especially necessary if shooting people. The three photos on the right are shots of Panasonic's little HDC-SD700 camcorder taken in poor light without the lights, then with them on low and on high, from about 60cm away (as ever, click pic to see full size).

Lights high, F5.6, 1/10th second
The four AA batteries should power it for two to four hours (depending on the mode used). The colour temperature is claimed to be 5,500K (which seems about right), with an output of 480 lumens. It weighs only 198 grams and is prety small, so it won't take up much space in your camera case - although you'll have to take out or reverse a battery for transport as the on/off switch is annoyingly easy to push on...

We have better, fully dimmable lights for video (such as the excellent Dedolight Ledzilla), but these are great value as a simple light for either video or stills (and having just broken a previous LED light used for stills, we needed a replacement). You can also stack several of them together to make one big panel (or pop them around a room or location for a nice moody effect - they can also mount via a standard 1/4-inch socket).

Hague DSLR Camframe

The Hague Digital SLR Camframe in the photo above (with the 7Dayshop lights and Canon EOS 7D) is another new addition to the UrbanFox.TV equipment collection (we wrote about its introduction in June). There are numerous DSLR rigs and "cages" available - almost all of them fairly expensive for what are relatively simple pieces of metal. VFGadget's new DSLR SwissCage Kit costs about $560, while the Letus DSLR Camera Cage costs $699 plus. Both are beautifully made and versatile, but the Hague Camframe does essentially the same job and cost us £65. It makes it easier to hold the camera for low shots (it has a handle at the top of the rig) and you can hold it with both hands in the driving position for fairly stable shots in more normal use.

It can also sit on a tripod and has hot shoes and mounting points for lights, a monitor (very useful if you do low angle shots) and an audio recorder. It was pretty simple to set up and get the right balance point for the 7D (you need a screw driver - or just a coin for the camera plate).

By David Fox

Canon EOS 60D - more of the same

The new Canon EOS 60D has been designed to fill the gap you hadn't spotted between its existing EOS 550D and EOS 7D video-friendly models.

The end result will, in video terms, be essentially the same. However, it has a few new features that 7D owners (us…), will wish for, and might tempt some would-be 550D buyers to spend a little extra.

The most obvious feature is its articulating LCD screen, which will make it a lot easier to get low- or high-angle shots.

It also has full manual control of video settings, which is certainly nice creatively, and manual audio controls with the ability to turn off automatic gain control (it also has a stereo mic input), which would be a jolly useful addition to the external audio recorder you'll probably need to have anyway.

Otherwise, the picture quality (stills and video) seems to be unchanged from the 550D/7D. Is it a less expensive 7D without the tank-like build quality and a couple of features useful for stills, or a more expensive 550D with extra features and better build quality, or both…?

Specs: it records 1920x1080p HD video at 24, 25 and 30fps or 720p video at 50 and 60fps onto SDXC cards, using the MPEG-4 AVC, H.264 codec (.mov files) at 44mbps. It will list at $1,100 (body only) or $1,400 (with 18-135mm kit lens – a very nice lens with a useful range for video).

Canon has also announced an updated version of its EOS E1 plug-in for Apple's Final Cut Pro with support for the 60D. It converts recordings into ProRes 422 at least twice as fast as Apple’s standard conversion and allows logging with timecode, reel names and metadata. It also provides support for multi-core processing, for faster conversions on higher-powered Macs. It already works with the Canon 5D Mark II, 1D Mark IV, and 7D.

By David Fox

Transparently Sony for HD snappers

Sony has announced new HD DSLR cameras that record 1920x1080 video, with some interesting new features and the usual bitrate stupidity…

The Sony A580 and A560 models will be its first DSLRs to do video of any sort. It also has two Single Lens Translucent cameras (DSLRs without the reflex), which use a pericle mirror to deflect some light up to a fast phase-detection auto-focus sensor while still letting about 70% of the light through to the image sensor.

Sony Alpha A580
The 16.2 megapixel A580 and 14.2mp A560 use Exmor APS-C HD CMOS sensors with enhanced Bionz processors. Both have 3-inch pivoting LCDs and good low-light capabilities (up to ISO 25,600). The €900 A580 will be available in October and the €800 A560 ships early 2011.

The fixed, semi-transparent mirror in the SLT A55 and SLT A33 (pictured top) means that they can use their faster, more accurate phase-detection AF sensor all the time, including video mode. HD DSLRs can only use phase-detection in stills mode (while the mirror is down), because the mirror has to be locked up for video, which requires switching to slower, less accurate contrast detection AF (which isn't even available during recording on some cameras and is so slow it is almost unusable on others).

Typical Sony A55 users
Of course, users should really be skilled enough not to have to use any fancy auto focus. They should be capable of doing everything in manual, including, no doubt, hand cranking the shutter…. :^)  While manual focusing is probably the best way to shoot many subjects, it isn't always easy to focus precisely with stills lenses, especially if you want to adjust it seamlessly during a recording, because the focus mechanisms aren't as precise as they are on a dedicated cine lens – and the cameras don't have the focusing aids you might expect on a professional camcorder (such as peaking). Most DSLRs don't give you much manual control over any functions during recording (these only allow you to adjust the aperture), so the quality of their automatic controls is important.

As the SLT cameras don't have to retract the mirror to take stills, they can also be used at high frame rates for photography (up to ten frames per second on the A55), and the cameras are significantly smaller than DSLRs. Although less light gets through to the CMOS sensor, this reduction is only the equivalent of about half a stop.

Sony A33 makes a splash
The 16.2mp A55 ($749 October) and 14.2mp A33 ($649 September) have a 3-inch articulated LCD, and go up to 12,800 ISO. All the cameras have HDMI output and mini-jack stereo microphone input.

All four Sony cameras record 1080 50i/60i (25p/30p capture on the sensor), using AVCHD at only 17Mbps, which is daft. When even its Handycam camcorders can record AVCHD at 24Mbps, why is Sony crippling these cameras by limiting them to 17Mbps?

Even so, it looks as if they can record reasonable video – have a look at the ever-excellent DP Review in-depth review of the A55, which has unconverted files you can download – the sixth clip is a great example of the jello effect you can get with a rolling shutter.

Given that for a similar price you can buy Canon's EOS 550D, you'd be nuts to buy any of these Sony cameras if you want to shoot video; but as consumer stills cameras (or even prosumer in the case of the A580/A560), which also shoot home videos, they could be worth considering.

By David Fox

August 23, 2010

WiFi control comes to studio lighting

Photon Beard has developed a new, low-cost wireless control system for studio lighting that promises to simplify set up.

The new Wi-Light will be launched at IBC and promises to reduce, or in some cases eliminate, the need for traditional wired DMX-controlled systems, which are time consuming and messy because of multiple cable requirements for each luminaire.

"Wi-Light does away with the need for in/out DMX leads making installation very quick and easy - simply hang the light and apply power, link it to the wireless network and it is ready to use," explained Peter Daffarn, Photon Beard's MD.

Despite the ubiquity of wireless devices in other applications, the lighting industry continues to use multiple, wired data links to carry the universal DMX512 stage lighting and effects control standard. "This is suitable for conventional incandescent lighting, but many of the new generation of efficient, low-heat lighting fixtures work best with a direct, wireless control connection."

Wi-Light is primarily designed as an add-on to Photon Beard's DMX-controlled series of Highlight fluorescents, but it can also be used to control a mixture of fluorescent and incandescent lighting systems.

Wi-Light rear view
It consists of one master transmit/receive module, which can be located at studio floor level; and individual receive modules or dongles added to each light source or dimmer. The master unit can also be configured as a receiver for point-to-point links or as a repeater to cover wider areas. Transmitter range varies but is typically up to about 100m, which is adequate in most installations and can be extended using repeaters.

The small receiver module or dongle fits to the base panel of a Highlight, on the outside of the casing. The master unit takes a conventional DMX512 data stream from a standard control desk. An assignable block of channels are selected from the input stream and transmitted via wireless. The original address positions of each channel in the block are preserved, which means users can set the receive address on each light source in the usual way.

However, the basic DMX512 standard sends data continuously, even when nothing changes, and this is extremely wasteful in a wireless system, so the Wi-Light transmits only the changes – using a special protocol designed to make best use of wireless control in a lighting application. All parts of the Wi-Light system are bi-directional, so that the master can pull information from a receiver.

Each Wi-Light has a unique identity that is added to all transmissions. To close the network and eliminate interference, each receiver can be remotely set to respond to only one transmitter. It also includes error checking, which is not part of the DMX512 standard. Its 2.4gHz operation and compliance with FCC regulations mean that it can be installed worldwide, including the USA.

This is intended to be the first of a family of products that will be added to the Photon Beard range to provide cost effective and easy-to-install control options for small- to medium-sized TV studios.

By David Fox

Belt-drive follow focus for HD DSLRs

The German manufacturer Intuitfocus has developed what it claims is the first hands-free follow-focus system for HD DSLRs.

The Intuitfocus HF-IF1 uses an rubber belt-drive that goes around the lens and on to an electric gear ring, which is remotely controlled using a wheel mounted on a pan bar, grip handle or hand held (via cable). It can be used to control focus, iris or zoom, with only one finger. The wheel is progressive, offering feedback, so that it can be used instinctively.

"Intuitfocus is so simple and easy you can change lenses in seconds," and "is designed to let you focus intuitively," said its designer, Martin Longmore. It works with a wide variety of lenses; from 14mm to 600mm. Being able to use it off the camera is particularly handy for use with long telephoto lenses, as it minimizes the possibilities of camera shake. It is claimed to be compatible with most lenses, including Zeiss still or compact prime lenses.

There are four different rubber belt sizes supplied for various lens diameters, and no additional geared drive rings are required for individual lenses. It requires and applies very little force, and is claimed to offer "practically friction-free movement with low noise level".

"It is the perfect tool for every Steadicam operator," claimed Longmore, as it allows them to adjust the lens while keeping their hands in the best position to operate the rig without the need of an assistant or focus puller.

It should be available in September at a cost of about €3,000 for a complete kit.

Intuitfocus follow focus demo from Marko Butrakovic on Vimeo.

By David Fox

DSLRs rigged for video Gadget show

VFGadgets has unveiled new rigs for Pro Video DSLR users: the rod-based DSLR Handheld Video System and the DSLR SwissCage Kit.

The DSLR Handheld Video System (pictured top) "is designed for flexibility, longevity and durability" and uses standard 15mm rods, making it easy to configure and accessorize. Its core is the DSLR Camera mount, loaded with a variety of threads for mounting stuff. It fastens to the 15mm Rod adaptor with VCT-14 base (compatible with the EX3 Baseplate system as well). It can also be fitted with a quick-release Camera Plate. The addition of shoulder mount and handles gives an adjustable, lightweight grip system.

The moulded grip handles have two axis adjustments and can be individually moved along the rod for maximum comfort. An Articulating Arm Handle is optional to convert a Noga Cine Arm to a flexible grip that works as a carry handle. You can add any handle that mounts to 15mm rods.

The aluminium DSLR Shoulder Mount fits any 15mm rod and can be configured for right or left shoulder or rifle-style. A basic rig would cost from about $1,000.

The DSLR SwissCage Kit (pictured right) boasts: "rock-solid gripology to mount the camera anywhere, and mount anything to the camera". It allows a camera to be securely mounted between both the standard bottom thread and the top hot-shoe. Together with the integrated lens support, the whole camera configuration is firmly supported.

It allows the camera and accessories to be mounted in almost any configuration, and has been designed to allow access to all active sections of the camera without having to remove the camera from the cage to install media or replace batteries. The top plate is adjustable in the vertical to allow for cameras that are not as tall as the Canon 5D Mark II like Nikon's new D3100. Kits will cost from about $560.

By David Fox

Thelight articulates case for LEDs

The new range of high-powered LED lights from Thelight uses articulated panels that "mark a turning point in professional LED lighting". They offer "extremely high output and low power consumption" and are claimed to provide  "a real alternative to any fluorescent or softlight and outshine any other LED fixtures."

The 150W 6Light (pictured above) and 200W 4Long (pictured right) models are composed of aluminium rods that hold triplets of high-powered LEDs with Fresnel lenses and are electronically controlled to emit high quality light with a high index of colour reproduction specifically calibrated for broadcast use. A remote control allows adjustment of colour temperature and dimming without colour deviation.

The remote control's display (below left) shows dimmer and colour temperature values and the software allows fine tuning of colour temperature in steps of 100K and dimming by calibrated increments of 1/2 a stop each. For added versatility the control unit has a switch to divert the light to green or magenta in steps of 1/8 or 1/4.

The panels are flat and just 7cm thick, offering soft light that can be focused, thanks to the lenses, while the articulated structure can vary the width of the beam angle.    

The 6Light is composed of six articulated rods and measures 337x302x70mm, while the 4Long has four, longer articulated rods measuring 620x207x70mm.

Accessories include: a quick link swivel-ball head, diffusion filter, removable barn doors, and a yoke that joins several units.

By David Fox

August 20, 2010

Nikon D3100 video interview

Nikon D3100 HD DSLR launched from UrbanFox.TV on Vimeo.
We did an interview with Nikon UK's Enthusiast Product Manager, Simon Iddon, about the new Nikon D3100 HD DSLR, which is due to start shipping in September.

Related post: Nikon D3100 full HD DSLR

August 19, 2010

Nikon D3100 full HD DSLR

Nikon was the first DSLR camera manufacturer to offer a stills camera that recorded HD. When its D90 was introduced in September 2008 it was 720p. Only now has it developed a DSLR that shoots full 1920x1080 HD – however, its new D3100 model only shoots 24p. This may leave some unhappy, particularly in Europe where 25p works perfectly with our video standard. However, the camera offers other much-requested features that make it worth a look.

The D3100 is Nikon's replacement for Europe's best selling DSLR, the D3000, and with a list price of £500 (body only) or £580 (with 18-55mm kit lens), it will undercut Canon's entry-level 550D.

It should be easier to shoot video on than its Canon rivals, as it has auto-focus while recording, which seemed very quiet when we used it on a pre-production model. It also has face detection and auto tracking, so that it can follow a face in a shot and keep it in focus. It draws a box around the face, or faces it has selected (it can prioritise up to 35 faces - so long as they are looking in your general direction), trying to select the best focus settings to suit as many as possible. As DSLR lenses typically have narrow focus wheels with limited travel, having to focus manually while recording usually lacks precision, which is why add-on focus wheels or follow-focus systems are recommended for any serious work, so auto focus that works as well as this seems to is a great feature.

It also records MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 .mov files, instead of Motion JPEG AVI files, which should make it more edit friendly – it comes with video editing software and users can do simple trimming in the camera. It only records mono audio, but any serious HD DSLR user will use a separate audio recorder anyway (we use the Zoom H4n). We recorded several brief tests (which we can't show as it wasn't a production model) that indicated a variable bit rate around 20Mbps (compared to up to about 44Mbps for the Canons) – as Nikon couldn't give us an official figure this may change. It also exhibited rolling shutter defects (skewed verticals during panning), as you'd expect of a CMOS sensor.

With the replacement for the D90 expected soon (there is rumoured to be an announcement in September), it may be that Nikon is leaving higher-frame rate (and hopefully higher bitrate) recording for its more professional model, which should also benefit from auto-focus, making it a better competitor for Canon's HD DSLRs.

D3100 specifications

The D3100 has a new 14.2 megapixel CMOS sensor (the D3000 used a 10MP CCD), which is APS-C sized, although marginally bigger at 23.1x15.4mm than the 22.3x14.9mm APS-C sensor used in the Canon EOS 7D and 550D (Rebel T2i).

Other features include: HDMI output; "great low-light performance" (ISO 100-3200 with a boost to the equivalent of 12800); a more powerful Expeed 2 digital signal processor (1.5 times faster than the D90) for higher picture quality and greater efficiency; and 1280x720 recording at 24, 25 and 30 frames per second. It is also small, light, and has improved ergonomics. We found it good to handle, with all the main controls easily accessible.

Nikon also announced four new lenses with built-in vibration reduction: a DX 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR (for APS-C cameras), plus three full frame 35mm lenses: 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR; 24-120mm f/4G ED VR; and 85mm f/1.4G – a replacement for one of its most renowned lenses.

[UPDATE: DP Review has a comprehensive review of the D3100]

See the Nikon D3100 promotional video below.

At the press launch in London they had shot another video in Covent Garden that looked a lot more colourful than this Colorful Moments video (below) which looks rather washed out (over exposed) to me, but today's video doesn't seem to be available online (probably due to music rights).

Related posts: Canon cuts cost of HD and HD DSLRs: nice pictures, nicer price and Nikon D3100 video interview

By David Fox

August 18, 2010

LED headlight for HD DSLRs

Bebob has introduced a new LED light for DSLR cameras and compact camcorders: the Lux-led4AA.

It weighs just under 200g and can be powered from four AA batteries or externally (6v to 18v). For external power it comes with a D-Tap cable. It has very low power consumption, less than four Watts, allowing an operating time of more than two hours (with four AA Li-Ion batteries). It delivers 250 lux of light (at a distance of one metre) and is full dimmable. Optional extras include: barn doors (two-leaf and four-leaf) with diffuser and tungsten (2900K) filters. It costs €249.

By David Fox

Backup for memory card users

NextoDI has developed an improved, faster storage device for camcorder users who record to SxS and P2 solid-state cards.

The Nexto Video Storage Pro+ NVS2525 is due within the next few months and promises to back up a 32GB SxS or P2 card in seven minutes, at up to 80MB per second. It then performs verification, comparing the file on the card to the file on the hard disk to make sure the data is copied accurately (this takes the same time again). At the end of each backup, it automatically generates an html-based Index file containing a decoded frame and metadata that can be viewed in any web browser.

For reviewing footage as thumbnails or to preview video clips, the NVS2525 has an LCD screen and can preview XDCAM EX or many other formats including Convergent Design nanoFlash files, HDV and most Panasonic DVCPro, AVCHD and AVC-Intra files.

It allows users to plug in a second eSATA hard drive to generate a second copy without needing a laptop. It can also burn back-up folders to a Blu-ray drive.

If video files contain a bad sector they might not load onto a computer for editing, so the NVS2525 recovers bad sectors to make a useable file. Although a few frames may be lost, the rest can then be used.

By David Fox

Camera protection after a fashion

The new Golla Cam Bags are more fashion oriented than most camera bags. They are available in three sizes, but in many different colours and designs, and are claimed to be "fashionable, protective and practical" - and it's nice to see that they have depicted a typical working environment in the photo that came with the press release....

The Golla Cam Bag S is designed for smaller DSLR camera or camcorders with minimal bulk. Features include: magnetic and drawstring closing as well as a Velcro fastener, styled to give "abundant protection, but easy and quick access to the camera".

The Golla Cam Bag M has heavily-coated cover material, magnets to close the front flap, and an extra strap on the outside to secure closing; plus zipped pockets for accessories and two detachable inside walls.

The Golla Cam Bag L is the largest model, with flexible storage space for camera and lenses, small lights, memory cards and accessories.

By David Fox

MSE gets to grips with car mounts

Matthews Studio Equipment's new car mount is designed as "a strong, safe, reliable and versatile system" for mounting cameras to cars, trucks, boats, trains or even low flying airplanes.

The MSE Car Mount System integrates MICROgrip technology with the recently introduced MSE family of Ball Heads.

The PRO-Mount version can carry up to 12kg using the Matthews BH-20 Ball Heads, a series of three suction cups and MICROgrip heads and rods.

The MASTER-Mount version handles up to 18kg and is based on the Matthews BH-30 Ball Head mounted on a 25cm suction cup and two 15cm suction cups, integrated with the MICROgrip supporting components.

Both systems come with an instructional video and suggestions for camera placement. MSE also offers camera risers in both 7.5cm and 15cm lengths to offer a maximum of 22.5cm further extension of the camera from the mounting.

By David Fox

August 17, 2010

Batteries charge Through The Roof

A nine-day climb on Mount Kilimanjaro requires lots of energy, but for one documentary team just three batteries were enough. Through the Roof, a documentary following Erica Davis, the first female paraplegic athlete to reach the summit of Africa's highest mountain, was shot on a Panasonic AG-HPX170 P2 HD handheld camcorder, powered by Anton/Bauer ElipZ 10K batteries.

Matt Peters and Chris Theibert of Captured Life Productions had taken six batteries with them, expecting to use them all, but only needed three to capture 12 hours of primary footage.

Through the Roof follows Davis, plus Tara Butcher (an amputee below the left knee), as they and a support team scale the 5,893-metre mountain. It took seven days to reach the summit, with temperatures varying from the heat of the African plains to well below freezing at the top.

“We did a lot of research to determine the best type of equipment for a shoot like this, where we would be operating in harsh conditions and without access to a power source for several days,” said Peters.

“We were amazed that we actually had unused batteries when we got off the mountain,” he added. “It was something we didn’t think was possible, because we ran out of room on the camera before we ran out of battery power. It was a really good thing for us, very comforting, and it just clinched it for us.”

The almost toy-like ElipZ 10K uses the highest capacity lithium ion cells available, providing field runtimes of more than 7.5 hours on a 10-Watt camera load. The lightweight battery can improve the comfort and handling characteristics of a compact camcorder by lowering its centre of gravity and providing an additional handhold. It fits to the underside of the camera, away from operator controls.

By David Fox

Virtual cameras in among the action

There are often 30 or more cameras covering a big soccer match, but they don't always provide the perfect view.

It might be nice to see what the referee sees (or misses…), or see what is happening from the perspective of your favourite player. This is becoming possible, thanks to virtual cameras, according to Johan De Geyter, manager of the imec Vision Technology group.

Its iVC technology (imec Virtual Camera), which will be on show at IBC (Stand 13.A21), allows an arbitrary camera position to be created, synchronic with the real camera images, in real time, and to fly it about like a crane camera. It can even be used to create 3D video.

"IMEC's multimedia group has a lot of expertise, but it usually comes down to only bits and pieces. This is because companies call in our help to solve the hardest problems. We worked for example on stereo matching for video telephone applications, feature detection to distinguish trucks from cars in tunnels. Within the virtual camera we have assembled different expertises to demonstrate that all these technology pieces are capable of quite some things," said De Geyter.

Working with Outside Broadcast, Belgium, it installed five cameras at a match to shoot the demonstration shown in its video. "The images of these cameras are being assembled, after which computer-generated high resolution images are being created, as from an arbitrary virtual camera position. For the demo set-up, we were still working with standard broadcasting cameras, but our aim is to make use of small ip-cameras, which may for instance be plugged in at fixed positions in a soccer stadium.  The installation of about 30 small cameras can show you images of the whole soccer field. For example, if you would like to have a camera image taken from in the centre spot, this will be possible without having to install a real physical camera at this spot."

In theory viewers could select their own virtual camera position. "But let’s be honest: the typical soccer game viewer already has his hands full (with potato crisps and beer) – I do not think he is willing to handle an extra joystick to change the camera position. Our technology is meant for the professional market, for producers that want to make good TV. We could indeed make different versions of one broadcast, for example a version for the Manchester United fan and one for the Real Madrid fan, both filmed from the point of view of their favourite team. "

Applications extend beyond soccer. "Imagine you can put the camera on the shoulder of the pitcher at a baseball game. At a concert you would be able to portray the whole stage without the camera crew disturbing the artist. The virtual camera technology would also be ideal for cooking shows. Today, it is apparently quite a challenge to shoot all from the right angle in cooking shows. And you have only one chance to shoot the right images, because nothing can be repeated, of course. At political interviews it seems also interesting to me to work with a free camera position. For example, when filming the US presidential candidates you need to install the cameras at quite some distance in order not to disturb them during the debate.”

It can be used to create moving cameras where you have none. It can even be used to create a 3D view, slow motion replays, do speed or offside analysis on players or objects, or to highlight the movement of an object (the flight of the ball, for example) or player (without the other players appearing in shot).

Plane sweeping

The image interpolation for foreground objects is based on plane sweeping - which casts rays from the virtual camera onto the scene and projects points at different depths on this ray into the images of the physical cameras. The projection depth that results in the best colour match over the different cameras is assumed to point to the real 3D location where a foreground object with that matching colour is located.

Since this generic plane sweeping procedure and matching process is very difficult, the iVC prototype technology explicitly exploits some of the characteristics of a football game: the dimensions of the field are known, and it is filled with relatively small and rapidly moving players and a ball on top of a mostly fixed, planar background. This application domain can easily be extended to other sports. iVC exploits these characteristics of the football game through a modified depth box constrained plane sweeping algorithm.

The analysis information gained from this algorithm also allows it to be used as telestrator (player marking, offside lines, running trail), provide game statistics (running speed) and create digital signage.

Before the virtual shots can be processed, the real cameras must go through a one-time calibration, which is fairly simple to do, although it has to be much more accurate than for telestrator applications.

While processing, iVC continuously detects and tracks the exact position of every player, the ball, and referee.

Once the virtual camera is positioned, the viewing angle is selected, and the speed of the input streams are controlled (live, slow-motion, still), iVC generates an HD video stream, based on these parameters and using the depth box constrained plane sweeping algorithm.

This technique only works for objects visible in at least two cameras, so the more cameras there are, the better (see illustration above right  - click for larger view).

By David Fox

Videssence launches LED key lights

LED lights can do just about anything traditional fixtures can, as Videssence demonstrates with a new range of key lights. It will have three models making their European debut at IBC: the ExceLED 25; ExceLED 50; and the ExceLED 100.

The numbers refer to the Wattage of each model. The ExceLED 25 is a compact, low heat LED, measuring 24x23x11cm, and can be used for broadcast or studio general accenting, key lighting or back lighting. Its concentrated beam "can compete with many 500 or 650 Watt Fresnel fixtures in spot beam focus", claimed the manufacturer.

The ExceLED 50 uses two of the 25W LED cubes in a fixture measuring 45x36.5x12.5cm and light levels are claimed to come close to many 1kW Fresnel fixtures in spot beam focus.

The ExceLED 100 (pictured above) is claimed to be the most powerful 100W light beam available in LED. Sized at 45x48x12.5cm and it can provide an adjustable beam-spread without lenses, using only one set of LEDs. An adjustment knob at the back of the fixture rotates to move from spot thru flood mode and locks in place, giving large production studios and other areas that require a long throw and high light levels a viable LED option.

The ExceLED 100 is able to produce "amazing light levels" at a distance of 7.6m or more. It out performs a typical 1kW Fresnel fixture in spot beam focus and comes very close to competing with many 2kW fixtures. The ExceLED 100 daylight option can replace a 400W HMI fixture.

All models generate a concentrated beam of light with even coverage of consistent 3200K light (5600K optional). Additional control can be achieved with the gel frame, lens and barn door options. They should have a 40,000-hour life.

By David Fox

August 04, 2010

Dedo on camera and wide eyed

The new Fillini Plus on-camera light from Dedo Weigert Film provides more than three times the light intensity of its predecessor.

The LED light looks similar, but instead of having four internal AA batteries, it now uses compact broadcast batteries from Sony, Panasonic or Cannon. It can also be powered from the DC output of professional video cameras or Anton Bauer Gold Mount plates. The LED’s output daylight colour and the fixture includes a tungsten colour correction flip down filter "designed to withstand a heavy beating".

Also new is Wide Eye, an attachment that makes classic Dedolight's even wider. The Dedolight dual lens already offers "an unprecedented focusing range" (1:23) compared to many small studio lights (typically 1:3). This translates into a change of angle from 60° to 4°.

However, when lighting in very confined spaces, even 60° may not be wide enough. Adding diffusion material can help, but the light is no longer controlled. Instead, Dedo has borrowed an approach from camera optics technology: an aspherical wide-angle attachment is commonly used on video camera zoom lenses, but not on lights.

These Wide Eye attachments, for the 200W daylight Dedolight and the Series 400 lights, gives wider angles (from 58° to 84°), "perfectly even light distribution", minimum light loss, and still allows focusing. They can include barn doors for control, and the barn door leaves can rotate (one of Dedo's patents). "Practically all lighting is done from an angle where shadow edges of traditional barn doors are no longer parallel and you end up with trapezoidal shapes. This is not the way rooms, doorways, paintings or most anything is built. Rotate the Dedolight 8-leaf barn doors and you can light vertical or rectangular objects with precision," said the company.

By David Fox

DSLR accessories and carbon design

German accessory maker, Chrosziel has extended its HD DSLR support range and introduced a new carbon design for impact-resistant housings.

The Canon EOS 7D DSLR can be modified to take PL-mount lenses, so Chrosziel has designed a new €339 LightWeight Support (401-425). It has a thread insert for the camera’s 3/8-inch thread, and the Chrosziel Mini Wedge Plate (401-140) secures the Support onto the Chrosziel Bridgeplate with QuickLock or onto an ARRI DigiCine Baseplate. This system allows for both 15mm and 19mm support rods and comes with 15mm rods that slide under the camera. It is based on Chrosziel’s 401-400 series, which can be upgraded for €92

For cameras with large bodies, there is the new LightWeight Support 401-93, which will accommodate the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV, EOS 5D Mark II with battery grip, or Nikon D3s. It costs €299.

DSLR telephoto lenses often come with their own tripod mount and thus support the camera. Chrosziel’s new, extremely low lens support (401-34) utilizes this mount and supports the lens for rod/mount distances between 4mm and 11mm. A 1/4-inch screw locks the mount to the support from inside. It costs €322.

Chrosziel's existing lens support, Photo Universal (401-33), now comes with a modified elevating screw. One end is covered by a plastic cap as before; the other is equipped with a 5mm adapter that can engage the tripod mount thread by turning the screw (or the whole Support). This provides relief for the camera’s lens mount and prevents the lens from moving laterally, especially for lenses with mechanical end stops.

Most of Chrosziel's MatteBoxes and SunShades are now available with impact-resistant polystyrene housing in the new Carbon Design. The high-volume models such as MatteBox 450 (pictured right) for 1/3-inch chip cameras and SunShade 412 for 2/3-inch cameras, as well as MatteBox 415, are now only available in Carbon Design. Prices are unchanged.

By David Fox

August 02, 2010

IBC SuperMeet showcase for editors

Apple-based video editors visiting IBC can network, find out about the latest technology, win stuff, and have a pretty good night out at the FCPUG SuperMeet.

The Third Annual Final Cut Pro User Group Amsterdam SuperMeet takes place on Sunday, 12 September at the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky in Dam Square, and promises to be "the single largest gathering of Final Cut Pro, Avid and Adobe users, gurus and digital filmmakers in Europe during 2010."

There will be user-driven presentations, including show and tells from European filmmakers, new ideas and product demonstrations, Final Cut Studio tips and tricks, and the seemingly endless raffle with lots of prizes.

"The hotel's not only easy to get to, but it's a beautiful venue to visit and network. And SuperMeets are all about networking," said Michael Horton (pictured above), SuperMeet co-producer and head of the Los Angeles Final Cut Pro User Group (

New this year is the Open Screen Theatre, giving filmmakers and digital content creators a ten-minute chance to show what they can do. It is open to anyone shooting with DSLRs, camcorders, iPhones, or anything that makes video, to screen their content and interact with the audience. Sign-ups begin at 16:30, when the doors open, and are open only to ticket holders. Content must be on DVD or a QuickTime movie.

Tickets are on sale online only for the early bird price of €10 for adults and €7 for students until August 12. After that the price goes up to €15 and €10 respectively.

Doors open at 16:30 pm with an FCP Digital Showcase with 20-plus exhibitors. Presentations begin at 19:00 and continue until 23:30.

By David Fox

Mastering 3D - An overview

We've put up an introductory guide to 3D on our main site; covering many aspects of 3D production, from the business case, to negative and positive parallax, to books and iPhone apps worth getting.

This is based on the day-long 3D Masters conference held recently by TVB Europe magazine at BAFTA, and TVB has comprehensive coverage of the event in its August issue (readable online - if you don't get the print edition).

A version of our report will also appear in the Autumn edition of Zerb magazine (the journal of the Guild of Television Cameramen - pictured above), which can be picked up from the GTC stand at IBC and includes much more on 3D.

August 01, 2010

Shape supports get UK distributor

Prokit has become the exclusive UK distributor for Canadian camera support manufacturer Shape. Their products are built by cameramen, for cameramen, and include an evolving range of shoulder mounts, handles and supports, all of which are making their first appearance in the UK.

The Shape Sumo (pictured right) is a simple, comfortable, low-cost shoulder support for DSLR cameras and camcorders.

The Composite Grip range (pictured top) offers a greater level of adjustment and customisation, also suiting a wide range of camcorder and DSLR configurations. 15mm parallel bars allow the addition of a matte box and follow focus unit.

The Shape Paparazzi is a lightweight handle that can be used to attach accessories such as LED lights, spotlights, LCD screens, remote controls, microphones, etc.

All shoulder models feature quick-release handle angle locks; each handle can rotate individually through 360ยบ. Simply push and hold the button located at the articulation, and rotate the handle to find a comfortable shooting angle.

The range also includes waist supports, counterbalance weights and accessory holders.

By David Fox

Put a Glide in your hand-held shots

Glidecam has re-engineered its HD-Series of hand-held camera stabilizers to offer "advanced features and a degree of sophistication never before seen" with this type of stabilizer.

There are three lightweight models: the HD-1000, HD-2000 and HD-4000. Each has an offset, foam-cushioned handle grip that is attached to a free-floating, three-axis gimbal. This allows your hand to move up and down, and side-to-side, without affecting the camera. This up and down movement alleviates the bouncing, pogo type action seen on systems where the handle cannot move up and down. Coupled with the overall higher inertia of the HD-Series, this is claimed to produce "superior stabilization" when compared with its competition.

By varying the amount of counter weights on the base platform, or by changing the length of the no-tools telescoping central post, users can adjust the camera's vertical balance, allowing the camera to float.

The proprietary Dynamic Base Platform can expand or contract, to allow users to easily adjust the system's dynamic balance or to increase or decrease its rotational pan inertia.

The $399 HD-1000 extends from 30cm to 40cm, weighs less than 1kg (without counter weight plates), and can carry cameras up to 1.4kg. The $499 HD-2000 extends from 37.5-55cm, weighs just over 1kg (plus counter weights), and can carry compact, low profile cameras weighing from 900g to 2.7kg. The $599 HD-4000 extends from 50-70cm, weighs about 1.5kg, and can carry compact, and full size cameras weighing from 1.8kg to 4.5kg.

By David Fox

Sony gives 3D the bootcamp

The BBC, Sony and RealD got together to host a series of Sony three-day 3D Bootcamps in London over the last two weeks, training about 250 people.

They were lead by Buzz Hayes (pictured), Sony's Chief Instructor and Senior VP of its 3D Technology Centre in LA. He is a very experienced 3D producer, working on animated movies, concerts and live action features for Sony and other studios that have post-produced at Sony Imageworks.

One of the best things about the bootcamps is that they are free. They've been running this year at Sony's Culver City studios, where about 300 people have been trained over some 16 weeks (the dedicated facility is a lot smaller than the two Television Centre studios provided by the BBC).

Sony isn't just doing the training out of benevolence, it wants more creative people trained in 3D and producing 3D content people want to watch, to fuel its movie making, buy or use its technology, and to give the consumers who buy its 3D sets something worth watching. "Good 3D is good for the entire production industry," said Hayes. Although, "it's hard to do well."

He focuses on how to tell a story in three dimensions, rather than getting too bogged down in technical minutiae (although there is a fair bit of technical detail too – and very well explained). If you get the chance to take part in one of the bootcamps, it is certainly worthwhile – although there is considerable demand.

If you want to read more about Hayes' advice for 3D wannabes, read the full story in the September issue of TVB Europe magazine.

By David Fox