Japanese Friendship Garden, San Jose

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Was in town for a shoot at Kelley Park and had some unused footage of the Japanese Gardens. It’s a pretty cool location but can get noisy with kids. Lots of cameras too, I think I saw a few Sony’s out there! It’s a pretty quick edit in FCPX and I fear I might have entered a purple faze. Let’s hope the exit is around the corner.

A few shots were with the 7d and 70-200 2.8 is. Everything else was with the 5d and 17-40 f4. Slider shots were done with this. If you take your time you can get some super smooth shots (note: I didn’t and I think some of them were semi-silky)

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Pocket Camera Cinematic Challenge

There are certain rules when it comes to creating cinematic moving pictures. Shoot in 24 frames per second (or 23.98fps exactly). Record in widescreen formats, either 16:9 or 1.85:1 (anamorphic 2.35:1 looks really epic too). De-saturate and get some shallow depth of field shots.

I wanted to see what these rules would look like with a pocket camera as the recording device. Case subject: Sony HX9V. A pocket camera from last year with middle of the road reviews but regarded as a decent video shooter.

The biggest challenge was the small sensor. This meant making sure there was adequate light, as a lack of it would lead to noise reduction activation and a resulting super soft image. The other disadvantage of the small sensor, compared to the larger ones found in DSLRs, is the lack of shallow depth of field. Everything is focus, which has it’s advantages for sure. People definitely and defiantly overuse this effect. I’m guilty of it too. To overcome this I had to focus really close and use the camera’s good macro mode and to zoom in and switch focus locks.

Most of everything else was done on Final Cut Pro X. The HX9V records in 60 or 30 frames per second 1080p only but the 60p conforms nicely in FCPX to a 24p timeline. The added bonus is being able to slow mo any recorded scene smoothly since the editor has 60 frames to work with instead of 24 traditionally. I recorded in 16:9 but added some additional crops for a 1.85:1 ration. Finally I took saturation far down, the colors are actually quite nice on the camera, and added a slight vignette. Finally I added some slight orange, purple and teal.

 

Sony’s HX9V, and assume the replacement HX20V & HX30V, produces some sharp images that rival the GH2’s resolving power when there is sufficient light. There are two image stabilization modes that can be used together. One is optical, in the lens, and the other is software that when combined has a VERY smooth effect. Probably best I’ve used and similar to what a couple hundred dollar steady cam would achieve. The 16x zoom (20x on the newer HX20v) is pretty amazing as well as it effectively gives me a walk-around 24-385mm lens that fits in my pocket! Best of all you can probably find one used for a hundred bucks if you hunt around.

Sidenote: Stills suck, comparable to iPhone 4 photos.

So here are the results using a day of random shots:

See how this bite-sized camera stacks up against DSLRs 4-7 times the price.

Mountain Lion 10.8.2 roars onto Macs. (courtesy ESPN title makers)

Truth be told, the last Mountain Lion update did little to rectify the battery issues that plagued the Retina Macbooks. 10.8.2 unofficially brings battery life on par with the 10.7.x build of Lion. Facebook and tighter integration of contacts with other apps accompany this update the same day that io6 is available.

Also, for Retina Macbook users, the latest Office 2011 update supports the dense pixel display. Looking forward to it as I’ve ditched MS Word in favor of Pages solely because of my inability to get over the jaggy edges of Retina un-aware applications. I resort to discarding my glasses in order to remove individual pixels from my sight, which results in the harsh gradient blur of surrounding reality. I start to believe I’m capable of impossible feats, such as flying or breaking a concrete slab with a left-handed Judo chop. Thank goodness for this update. It just saved me from gross injury.

This time.

Game Changers

So Apple has revolutionized the way we interact with technology and have a big iPhone unveiling tomorrow. Sony have their own announcements tomorrow that may make the same sized waves in the world of photography/videography. One major camera that’s to be publicly introduced tomorrow is the SLT a99. It’s Sony’s first Full Frame camera since the a900 was released in 2008.

The a99 was created with special attention made to video. Some things that stand out are:

1) Sony’s switch away from it’s propietary shoe mount into the universal mount. There are many microphones, lights and recorders that can now be mounted without clunky chinese adapters.

2) The video resolution seems to be sharper. Sony’s line of SLT cameras had pixel counts many times greater than what standard Full HD 1080p required so there was a downscaling process that produced some soft images. Panasonic did a better job of scaling HD video from its sensor in it’s GH2. Sony’s RX100 point and shoot produced some sharp images as well. The a99 seems to be on par.

3) Manual Audio Gain Controls! Plus there’s a headphone in jack to monitor your recordings.

4) There’s an aps-c crop mode that will automatically detect if you mount a lens designed for the a77. It will crop the image accordingly.

This seems like an amazing camera along with the other rumored Sony product announcements like the full frame point & shoot RX1 and a pro NEX ILC. Can Sony inspire people to switch away from Canon and Nikon and in the process save itself?

Sony Camera Hack Project is Official!!!

For all Alpha and Nex users here is the link. The project is led by Someone 1.00 who managed to hack the a55. It is also backed by the infamous and legendary Vitaly Kiselev who hacked the GH1, GH2 and Gxx series of Panasonic cameras. This is exciting as Vitaly once said that Sony’s firmware was infinitely more difficult to hack than the Panasonic’s. But here we are!

Sony Alpha a55 has been hacked?!?!

Here’s the link to the forum on EOSHD.

Fingers crossed it makes its way over to the a77. Just as the hack on the GH2, any modifications to the firmware that allows bitrate and/or audio controls will make for a much better movie making camera. The alpha line records at a maximum 28mbps in AVCHD 2.0 codec which delivers fairly decent video but lacks detail and resolution. The hack may not help that, but 28mbps AVCHD can break up in post. Generally the higher the bitrate the better. The hacked GH2 can deliver up to 176mbps all intra frames. They both use the same stock codec, which means the first (i) frame is the most detailed followed by b and p frames that is composed by the processor’s guess of where movement in the video will occur. This can create macro-blocking and odd artifacts in the video. As such, a hack producing a codec with all first i frames and a high bitrate is popular.

I’ve talked about how annoying Sony’s insistence on only auto gain control for audio is. The hack might open things up in that department, like it did for the Canon line of DSLR’s with the Magic Lantern hack.

There are also rumors of the new full-frame a99 Sony SLT and an update that will be released around that time for the a77.

With the NEX and RX100 topping the sales charts it’s exciting times for the Sony community!

GH2 Hack on a Mac

The hack was pretty simple but gathering all the required parts and instructions took some laborious searching. The accompanying video hopefully helps speed the process for you, lends confidence you won’t brick it and remind me when I forget, I will forget. This is the main link you’ll need.

I’ve found that any bitrate below 100 mbps writes to cheap transcend class 10 cards fairly problem free. I’ve yet to receive a speed card error unless I go over that. As far as the quality, I can’t tell the difference between the stock firmware and the hacked one, with any settings even up to 176 mbps, unless I’m grading the footage. I was surprised when I pushed the shadows down on one shot to seehow much detail held up. Doing the same everything on the a77 crumpled the screen to black. For the most part, I can live with the footage from the a77. However, a hacked GH2 gives me 12,800 iso, audio controls, bitrate that can stand up to harsh treatment in post, noise that looks like natural film grain and a higher resolution video, even unhacked.

The Fotodiox adapter that allows me to attach all my Sony/Minolta lenses is pretty sturdy. It’s all metal with a dial to control aperture. There are no markings so you’re going to have to guess but it works well with the GH2 in A or M mode. I purchased the adapter here.

Mountain Lion on the New Macbook with Retina Display Report

UPDATE 8/1/12: Quicktime in Mountain Lion now supports AVCHD, great for Sony and Panasonic users out there!

Took the plunge and can report that wifi has not been a problem. Updating took 20 minutes and was simple. Redeeming the update from the App Store was fun. You have to wait for an email with a code to open a pdf with a new code that needs to be entered for redemption.

Everything is much faster, from scrolling and zooming through Safari and general internet speed has been quicker than Lion. I haven’t seen a spinning beachball yet, not even in Final Cut! The new Safari +  Mountain Lion offers in window tab scrolling which I do find myself using. The dock is isn’t transparent anymore which looks modern in comparison. If you have an Apple TV then airplay mirroring works as flawlessly as it does with an iPad.

Apple doesn’t allow you to run apps downloaded outside of the App Store by default. You have to go to system preferences, security & privacy, and select anywhere under the general tab. There is already an SMC update for Retina users that improves stability issues from sleep/wake.

Finally, the fake stitching is gone from the calendar but the faux leather and digital torn pages remain. Progress not perfection.

OSX Mountain Lion and the new Macbook Pro with Retina Display

Mountain Lion is available for download but I’ve been recommended to hold off for a few days until the wifi problem becomes a non-issue. Reports are that with the upgrade, wifi signal is apparent but data is not being transmitted. Ethernet connection is unaffected. However, there are still some nice updates for all Retina Macbook users. The complete iWork Suite is now Retina aware and it’s gorgeous. No more blurry text in pages! Aperture and Safari has been updated as well. You can now search in the address bar and things are pretty snappy.

I’m still looking forward to Mountain Lion. As a Retina user, my experience has had many hiccups. I’ve seen more spinning beachballs, especially when I’m using Final Cut Pro X, in the last month than I had in the two years I had my last Macbook Pro. Mountain Lion Potentially addresses some of these issues as scaling algorithms get worked out and work gets offloaded more onto the GPU.

Don’t forget to redeem your code if you’ve purchased a Mac after June 11, 2012 here.

Breaking News: Fake leather and stitching is still a part of OSX. Whoever is in charge of that needs to be tortured.

Nothing to gain from AGC

After many tests I accepted the fact I have to capture audio on a seperate device.

I’ve had to make affiliations for the better part of my life. I went with Sega when my cousins had Nintendo as their console of choice. I stuck with the now software-only video game company as they released the Master System, Genesis, Sega CD and 32x. Yes I had all of those systems. No, I don’t regret it. Really. I had yet another choice when the Saturn was to launch against a heavily hyped upstart in Sony’s PlayStation brand. I went out and dropped $599 on Sega’s 32-bit Saturn, wrote an article for the school paper and convinced a handful of people to hop on the Sega Bandwagon. We were a lonely bunch. Yes, I regret that. I was a Warrior fan when they traded Chris Weber for Tom Gugliotta and stuck with them through the Sprewell choke and Mookie playing hooky. Let me use that HD DVD as a frisbee because I’m popping in a BluRay. Give me WCW not the “Hitman” headlined WWF. I will supply you with charts and graphs if you tell me a PC is better than an Apple. And if I could take a picture of your face right now, it won’t be with a Canon or Nikon.

I’ve made my affiliation, for better or worse, with the Sony line of cameras. I’m loyal to them. Which is too bad, because they frustrate the hell outta me. That proprietary hot shoe is a nuisance causing me to seek obscure adapters through eBay in order to mount a simple microphone. Speaking of which, an external microphone on a Sony Alpha Camera or Nex Camcorder is a moot point because of AGC. Auto Gain Control (AGC) is the only option you have when recording audio on a Sony Camera. It means that it determines for you how sensitive the mic is. So in a noisy environment, it’ll crank the levels down so you don’t pop any speakers on playback. In a quiet environment it will push the levels up as it searches for some kind of audio to record. That’s when the real problems occur as it’ll pick up and amplify the lens motor noise and just render the audio useless. AGC will also introduce a faint humming in the background that screams amateur which is not what you want if you plop $2,000 on the a77 or Nex-VG20. It doesn’t matter if you mount an external microphone, all those unwanted noises will be picked up and recorded on the audio track.

You would think Sony’s algorithm when designing this SLT specific external microphone would cancel out lens noise. It helps but not enough to make usable audio. I personally could not tell the difference from the onboard mic when sound was placed directly in front of the camera.

Unfortunately, Canon saw this as a problem and have fixed their line of cameras through firmware updates. 3rd parties introduced Magic Lantern that gave Canon DSLR users full audio control. Nearly two years ago! The a57, a37 and a77 came out months ago and Sony chose not to address these issues. You can bypass picking up lens noise by focusing manually of course but then you can’t utilize the major selling point of the Sony’s SLT line with their blazingly fast phase detection auto focusing. I’ve tried the Rode Video Mic Pro and Sony’s own ECM-ALST1. They both suck on my a57 because they not only pick up but amplify lens motor noise.

Now most pros will record audio separately anyways. This gives them a second audio track, which is handy to have so one can serve as a back up, and the ability to control/monitor audio feeds. Something like the Zoom H2, which I use, can record audio and be synced to match the video later in post. It adds a wrench to workflow but the results are usually better than recording off a shotgun plugged into a camera, manual gain or not. But in ENG or run-n-gun type situations this won’t be an option and it’s no wonder paid work is usually done on a Canon or Nikon if shot with a DSLR. On the bright side, Sony’s xx7 line of cameras have a pretty good onboard stereo mic that makes syncing in post easier.

Rode is a standard for prosumer audio mics. This shotgun has -10db, 0 and +20db settings and they all stink on the Sony because AGC will crank up until it finds something. Usually, you guessed it – lens noise. Maybe silent films is the way to go. “The Artist” did well this year, yes?

If Sony’s history says anything then Alpha/Nex users cannot look forward to a firmware update to resolve this issue. Sony does pay attention but they usually address them in the form of a new product. It’s a shame. Audio is important, it’s 50% of the experience. You can usually take a shitty video track and with good audio, make it usable. It doesn’t work the other way around. Delving into video production has given me this unnecessary headache but I’ve made my affiliation. Hey, Sega turned out alright, right?

Macbook Pro Retina: Showdown

My previous Macbook Pro was a beast and it wanted to go out fighting before finding a new home. Check it out:

I’m working on a review of the new Retina Macbook Pro and hope to have it up soon. I can confirm that you cannot see a pixel onscreen. If you want to upgrade your current monitor to achieve this and have vision like me, just take off your glasses…you can’t see a pixel. I know and you’re welcome.