A Real Life Warrior

Screen Shot 2013-06-09 at 10.52.51 PM (2)

I got an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. A long time ago my dad brought home UFC 1 when it was banned years ago and we became fans from the beginning. This was when people came in with styles like ninjitsu and sumo. No gloves, no rules. I’ve been following the sport since. Film editing has been an adventure and I wouldn’t trade it right now for anything, but the hours are crazy! 10 – 14 hours a day on the same chair. So when a free day rolls around I’m all for it. “IT” means, in my case, a full on assault on doing nothing.

The opportunity came in the form of a UFC fighter that wanted to do a video, updating friends, family and fans on his progress from an injury. I decided to take my one free day to travel to meet him. It was a gruesome injury that blew out his knee. The warrior he was had no doubts that rehab was the next step because there wasn’t a question as to if he wanted to fight again. I’d have my doubts. He didn’t.

Josh Clopton moved to San Francisco, specifically to train with his idol, Gilbert Melendez at El Nino Training Facility. It’s an awesome location and everyone there was super friendly. Gilbert was even there fresh off his championship match with Benson Henderson to lend some words to Josh. For those that don’t know, Gilbert along with Jake Shields and the Diaz brothers form the skrap pack. It’s a highly successful group of crowned MMA fighters that fought in Strikeforce and now the UFC. It’s a testament to the skill level Josh is at that he is a part of this elite group.

A former IT guy from a small town, Josh made it The Ultimate Fighter television series and the UFC. From what I can tell, his work ethic is unbelievable. His will is undeniable. Upon meeting, I realized I towered over him (I stand 6’3″). A part of me thought, I could easily land a take down and turn this guy’s lights out. Then we filmed a section of him on the heavy bag. That part of me quickly left. Any thoughts like that ran away with dust trails. This guy is a beast.

I filmed this piece with the 5d mark iii as my main camera, still hesitant to shoot RAW on a gig like this. I used the 7d with a 50 1.2 for parts of the interview portion. Audio was captured with a Sennheiser G3 or a Rode VideoMic Pro. Other lenses I used were the 70-200 2.8L is ii and the 16-35 2.8L ii. The telephoto was good for the main interview shot, it condenses the background, and gives a nice bokeh for a very cinematic look. The wide angle paired with the Manfrotto Fig Rig was great for the training shots where I circled Josh while he shadow boxed. I love the steadicam look but don’t ever have the time to balance it. I decided on the Fig Rig because I can achieve similar shots but it’s super quick to attach a camera to it since I’m in the Manfrotto system and everything I have has a quick release. The outdoor shots at night were done with the 50 1.2 wide open with the 5d Mark 3 at iso 6400. No denoise applied. Not bad! Josh liked this song called Saturday NIght by Travis Barker and wanted to integrate that into the video. I also liked the Warrior soundtrack and thought it was a fitting, albeit obvious, backdrop to the initial arc of the story. I shot this thing at 7pm and finished editing at 3:30am the next morning.

The important part was the story. Josh has an inspiring one. I’m a fan of his and will be rooting for him come August 3, 2013 when he flies to Rio De Janeiro for his fight at UFC 163.

Please check out the video and hit the Like button. Thanks!

Director’s Version:
Saturday Night is a great song that fits nicely with the message Josh has. In this case I wanted to the feel of the opening soundtrack to permeate through to the end. I also desaturated the highlights and blacks while boosting the midtones. Finally, a small touch of film grain. I thought overall it gives it a more dramatic and cinematic tone.

Advertisements

Comedy

These guys hilarious and talented. I shot and edited this episode a while back on a 5d mark iii, plain old .h264 =(, and a 7d. All audio was captured through a Rode shotgun. Edited and graded on FCPX.

Thoughts on FCPX multi cam

FCPX-icon

I think it’s great that so many features are built into FCPX that allows me to stay there. Things that in the past required me to take something out of it and into Motion or After Effects are simple and easy to use plugins in Final Cut. I can quickly color correct, key and add titles. FCPX’s Multicam feature unfortunately fall short.

Very often I’m stuck having to use Plural Eyes 3 to sync and then re-import back into FCPX. Some of the things I’ve noticed are:

1. anything more than about 6 clips and FCPX multicam will have trouble and/or take substantially longer than plural eyes to sync

2. clipped audio may result in unsyced clips

3. each clip will get its own track. In other words if i shot 4 clips on the 5d, instead of making one continuous track it will get split into four tracks which sucks when editing.

side note:  I edit on a 15″ Macbook Retina and multicam clips present a real challenge especially since I’m only at 8gb of ram. So I change the timeline viewer to no thumbnail and edit on a single screen when cutting realtime.

Even with all these drawbacks I still find ways to use it. I had to edit a basic music video for a client. He shot it and gave me the footage. Wide, medium and close. 2 takes each. 6 angles plus audio at under 3 minutes. Used FCPX multi cam and it synced it perfectly and quick. VIdeo was shot in black and white. I recommend not doing that, you can always remove color in post but you cant put it back in. I don’t like black and white personally, but I understand the motive for it. I thought I could achieve the same feel by adding some blues into the shadow. Music video done in record time. Thanks in part to FCPX’s built in Multicam.

Here it is:

It’s all about the lenses?

70200s

I count five. Maybe six conversations I had with myself on the drive up to purchase the Canon 70-200 2.8l is ii. I had the mark i version. It was heralded, legendary and considered the best. The mark ii was considered better, more consistent sharpness throughout the entire range but was nearly twice as expensive. Also, we’re talking stills. This would probably be a no brainer, resolving power for a lens can be seen easily when looking at a raw still file. Would I be able to tell the difference when shooting video, which is what I use all my gear for. Could lenses make a difference on an image that isn’t even really true 1080p?

70200mkiweb

70200mkiiweb

From the pictures above I think it’s safe to say yes. The top one was the original mark i. This was shot at 200mm on a 5d mark 3 wide open. I took a screen shot from the .mov file. The mark ii is sharper with better microcontrast. Now that the most pressing question was answered a new one propped up. Could I have saved the money and just sharpened the image in post. I loaded the clips into FCPX and ran an unsharp mask and a sharpen filter on top of that.

70200mksharp

70200mkiiweb

It’s closer, but not quite. If I sharpened it further, I would have gotta some pronounced, sharpened noise as well. The mark i is the top one by the way.  The 70-200 range is great for getting that cinematic compressed background look. The mark ii focuses closer which comes in handy indoors. I couldn’t tell the difference when it comes to stabilization ro build quality. Lastly, you can still sharpen the mark ii.

70200mkiisharp

Good call on the upgrade, right? Mike, hello?

The Frat TV Season 1

frat

I have to bite my hand to keep from laughing, shaking the monopod and ruining a shot. Everytime I film these guys. Everytime. They are the some of the funniest, off the cuff, wittiest people I have ever met. They are music producers. They are the Frat.

This is the trailer. We have 5 episodes in the wraps. They will be released 2 weeks apart from each other. It was and is a great privilege to work with artists that I myself would listen to, without having that connection. Most of all I like to laugh and they make me.

They are a serious bunch when it comes to music and I believe they are super talented and on the rise. Please stay tuned, like, subscribe and support them.

Melissa’s Story

Screen Shot 2013-02-21 at 7.37.13 PM

I’ve been working for the Be You Campaign over the past few months. So let’s get this out of the way, it’s so much nicer when work leads to good things for others. I believe that the founder, Tisa, is genuine in her drive to help others that are struggling. Whether it be from rape, cutting, or bullying. I recently saw the Bully documentary and it was dumbfounding. It’s sad and I’m glad that there are forums for this type of thing. I’m glad that I can be a part of such a forum.

Down to the nitty gritty. I shot this piece on a couple Canon cameras. For those that follow my blog, I’ve been an avid Sony supporter. From the a300 to the a57 to the a77. The natural progression would have been the a99. I was in the market for a full frame camera and the video results just didn’t cut it for me. Sorry Sony. The moire and aliasing, the lack of deep depth of field and responsiveness to sharpening made me look elsewhere. I had a GH2 and though it is superior to the 5d mark iii in resolved lines, I wanted the full frame look (to make shallow shots easier to achieve at more angles and distances) and good low-light. I’m able to shoot at 6400 with minimal noise, get shallow below 30mm and sharpen to ridiculous amounts in post.

The set-up I used was dual. I had a 7d on a monopod with a 50mm and ND. On sticks I had the 5d with the 17-40mm at f11. I captured audio through a lav attached to a Zoom H2 (forgot to hide the wire!!!!!) and had back-up with the Rode Video Mic Pro set to +20db connected to the 5d at a little past 0. Everything was shot with the CineStyle picture profile and graded within FCPX. The sparrows were added in post.

That’s pretty much it! I really enjoyed working with Melissa and she is a bright, young woman with a great attitude. We had to stop something like 8 times as people drove by because they knew her. So popular! I don’t have nearly as many friends. Very sad. Is it me? I might need help. What’s that website again?

www.beyoucampaign.com

You’re damn right I did.

Work, Work, Work

Wow. Time passed by quick. Half the month is over and I haven’t posted in the new year. My apologies. I’ve now filled all seven days of the week with work, multiple jobs on most days, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I my anxiety levels are going through the roof. I want to do well but sometimes I feel like I’m spreading myself thin and the quality of work suffers. I hope everyone’s happy.

I’ve been getting just a few hours of sleep and came across Phillip Bloom’s recent post here. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d rather have more work than less, and it’s amazing that I get work with amazingly talented and genuine people, but his story makes you think. Maybe it’s just because I look up to the guy and his talent. For now, as long as I stay focused on the moment, it’s wonderful.

I’m working with an uber-talented squad of musicians. They’ve aspired to make some monthly web episodes to highlight what a hilarious bunch they are. Here’s a test run of the opener. Full pilot episode should air Monday. I wanted a Leverne and Shirley vibe but they opted for this.

They cut that track and it’s huge bonus to work with artists that produce music you would buy.

Here’s what the pilot episode’s timeline looks right now. I prefer FCPX’s workflow but it’s a pain sometimes.

Screen Shot 2013-01-16 at 1.05.20 AM

Stay Tuned but check them out here for now:

Thefratmusic.tumblr.com
Thefratmusic.com
@thefratmusic on twitter

A Painful Gain – Reviewing Sony a77’s Video

The a57 was a world opener for me. The video I was able to capture was remarkable and got my creative juices flowing. For inspiration I swallowed the addictive drug that is YouTube and Vimeo. I knew I needed more glass (lenses), faster glass (smaller f-stop) and wider glass (16mm or below on the aps-c crop). Sony makes a well-regarded 16 – 50mm f/2.8 lens (through the whole range!) with SSM that goes for $800. This is relatively cheap considering the Zeiss equivalent goes for $2000 and is universally agreed to be on the same level (minus the Sony’s being aps-c specific).  Ready to pull the trigger I found that they package this lens with Sony’s high end DSLT, for $1750 at my local camera shop.  In essence the $1,400 retail body would cost $950 since I was set on the lens. I put my beloved a57 on Craigslist. Enter the Sony a77.

On the surface I thought this would be a clear cut upgrade and there would be no remorse changing cameras. I get 24.3 megapixels over 16.1 (I know I said it didn’t matter but the option to do huge prints is nice), a three-hinged articulating screen over the a57’s troublesome two, oled vs lcd viewfinder, better colors and a weather-sealed magnesium allow body over the plastic one I got used to. I didn’t realize I was going to lose a few things along the way. First I lost light sensitivity. The megapixel crammed a77’s sensor doesn’t fare as well as the a57 in low-light high ISO situations and cannot go above 1600 in video mode. The a57 can do 3200, not great mind you but better than no video. The a57 has a focus magnifier in the digital zoom function that can aid manual focusing in video mode. The a77 does not, but they both have peaking (where focused areas are highlighted in red, white or yellow). It’s also substantially heavier, though good for durability, making long handheld shots a workout. Overall, I still consider the a77 a huge upgrade. Moving on.

I started to unknowingly pixel peep the videos that streamed to me from Vimeo. I compared them to the raw footage from my new a77 and wondered why I wasn’t seeing the same quality. I was semi-obsessed with how the Canon 7d (most relative price and build quality-wise to the Sony) had such clear images let alone the $500-700 range Rebel t2i, t3i, & t4i line. Let’s not get started on the hacked Panasonic GH2 which produces a $10k sharp image. I know you can take an iPhone and produce some excellent video. It’s up to the framing and story telling to make motion pictures captivating but I needed to know why my highly rated a77 wasn’t delivering the goods. I dug a little deeper.

It’s in the codec. Sony created the AVCHD standard tp avoid paying h.264 royalties to Apple. While the 2.0 version is highly efficient, the 4:2:0 and 24 mbps bitrate (4:2:2 in the Canons and upto 170mbps in a hacked GH2) doesn’t hold up well to color grading. Things can fall apart if pushed too far. The codec also macro blocks (creates large blocky screen artifacts) in blues and exposed blacks. Video is softer than the Canons and retains less detail than the GH2 as a result of downsampling that monstrous 24.3 megapixel sensor to 2mp (or 1080p). I started to get depressed at my investment.

Then I realized something about all the videos I was watching. Canon’s DSLRs have been out for about 3 years and Panasonic had the hack on the GH1 which came out two years ago. Professionals have been using these cameras. That means they had the right setup, knowhow and equipment (lighting is huge). The launch of the Sony a77 in August 2011 was hugely affected by the floods in Thailand and they didn’t become readily available until early this year. So all the videos out there were enthusiast-level but hardly professional studio filming. Upon further investigation, searching for raw video test footage from amateurs on the Canon Rebels-T3i yielded the same quality footage I was seeing out of my a77. I was a Sony enthusiast once more. This was a challenge.

Thanks to the Alpha SLT shooters across Vimeo and the people over at EOSHD I learned a few things. One was to shoot in Sunset mode with manual white balance (important otherwise the reds will be pushed). Sunset mode creates smoother gradients and exhibits less artifacts. TURN DRO OFF. Sony’s dynamic range optimizer is on by default and though it brings up shadows, it’s artifact happy. Try and get the picture the way you want it in camera and don’t rely on heavy fixes in post. I like to keep sharpness at 0 with whatever picture profile I shoot. -3 is the standard but the a77 is softer than the Canon’s and +3 yielded choppy aliasing. (after further testing I’d suggest -3 sharpness). If you’re shooting in auto set the max ISO to 800. If you’re shooting in 1080 60p and want to use autofocus, point to different lighting sources and toggle the ael button on when you 1/125 shutter speed. Rule of the thumb is to double the frame rate. So a 24p rate should have a 1/48 shutter speed. On a DSLR/SLT 1/50 and 1/125 are the closest you can get for 24p/60p respectively for the most eye-friendly motion. Combat low light with fast glass not higher ISO but you knew that. I use an old photoshop trick to get cleaner images by overlaying a copy of the video and setting opacity to 50% with a slight Gaussian blur in Final Cut Pro X. It gets better.

If you’re a Sony shooter and were wondering about the video, be happy. First off, I’m pixel peeping on a Retina Macbook display and all faults are null and void when outputting to a tv or projected. We have a lot things that other cameras don’t currently. In body electronic stabilization for video works great negating the need for expensive IS glass. Cheaper lenses, money saved. Although it crops part of the video image to give it room to stabilize it, you still get aps-c sized depth of field. 60 progressive frames at the full 1080p resolution means super clean slow motion. It’s as easy as dropping the footage in a 24p timeline and conforming the speed. No need for Twixtor, money saved. That translucent mirror that blocks a third of the light, giving us the high ISO problems, enables us to see what we’re filming through the OLED. No need to glue a view finder onto the lcd screen, money saved. The way the lcd screen articulates and focus peaking means you don’t need a separate monitor. Money saved. Now the Audio Gain Control is a nuisance but it does work well and the on board stereo mic is not bad for B or ambient audio. The SSM in the kit lens designates it as fast and silent. The AGC surprisingly doesn’t pick up the sounds this lens makes under normal conditions. I also find that if you yell (it’s silly) into the mic when you first hit record, it pushes the AGC down creating a better floor level. Combine that with the fast Alpha SLT-only phase detect auto focusing and it’s a great run-n-gun/sports event camera. The AVCHD 2.0 codec is efficient and you’ll probably end up spending less in SD cards and hard drives if you record a lot. The GH2 and Canon’s Full Frame Mark iii still provide better video but one requires hacking, the other costs three grand body-only. In the end, composition and framing will do a lot more for video than the tech behind it.

Oh yeah, it takes pictures too…

…here’s some test footage from the a77

Moving stills

I was stuck in Palo Alto waiting for an appointment at the Genius Bar. With a couple of hours to kill, I took out my new Sony a57 to see what would happen. I learned a few things along the way …

…the built in mic under most circumstances is useful only as a reference to sync audio recorded from another source

…lots of CMOS wobble in handheld shots

…history lesson – image capturing sensors are either CMOS or CCD. CMOS is regarded as cheaper and arguably superior in taking photographs so it’s found in most DSLRs. Because of the lens selection, which can give a shallow depth of field and natively blur the foreground or background, digital SLRs became a popular choice for restricted budgets as a means of producing high quality film-like movies. the trade off is CMOS sensors have a tendency to make images look warped or rubbery when fast pans are used.

…I didn’t expect this much wobble just walking with it though. It may have to do with Sony’s in body stabilization which suspends the sensor and moves it to counteract hand shakiness.

…hand straps are better than the neck straps that come with cameras

….whenever you think your done recording wait another 10-15 seconds and try and give that same time before hand if your going to do some panning. the extra footage comes in handy for editing especially if transitions are going to be used.

…Sony and Panasonic helped create the AVCHD codec in which their cameras record. It’s pretty advanced and from what I can tell is part of the reason the resulting 28 mpbs avchd .mts files are comparable to a canon that records in 50 mbps .mp4. The downside are the .mts files don’t play well with Final Cut. So don’t drag all the files off the SD card onto a drive. Instead use the import from camera option in Final Cut. Something about keeping them in the camera created folders makes it easier for Final Cut to use the clips otherwise it’ll be an extra unnecessary step converting all the mts files into prores.

… 1080p (progressive) = 1,080 horizontal lines of resolution displayed all together. 1080i (interlaced) = 1,080 horizontal lines of resolution displayed alternately, so in actuality at any given frame your only seeing 540 lines or half of the 1,080 lines that make up that frame.

…1080p at 60 frames per second is not going to happen right now in Final Cut. The clips I shot at that quality were not useable in FCPX and was changed to 24 frames. I haven’t found a work around yet. 1080i at 60 frames works well though. 60 frames a second is desirable if one wants to slow motion things in post. The effect looks smoother since there are frames of information to work with.

…if you want that cinematic film look these are the things i would do to my camera settings. 1) 24 frames per second 2) lower saturation and contrast all the way – it’s easier to color grade in post 3) use a lens with an aperture of 3.5 or below – for that shallow depth of field, blurry goodness effect.

…the huge Microsoft Store is just wrong next to the tiny Apple Store. The huge empty Microsoft store is just right next to the packed tiny Apple Store.

…all of the above only helps to enhance. if there isn’t any thought into the composition or emotions than the greatest camera and editing really only dresses up poop. It’s still going to stink. Because it’s poop.

…I guess dressed up poop can be entertaining sometimes. So here’s some high resolution doo doo.

Sony A57 Sample Images

RAW images were all shot during the daytime with ample light. JPEG images were taken in fairly lowlight conditions.Lens used was an old Minolta 50mm prime.

JPEG ISO 400 50mm f15.6 1/8
JPEG ISO 400 50mm f1.7 1/100
JPEG ISO 400 50mm f1.7 1/80
RAW ISO 100 50mm f6.3 1/500
RAW ISO 100 50mm f5.6 1/200
RAW ISO 100 50mm f4.5 1/8
RAW ISO 100 50mm f3.2 1/320
RAW ISO 100 50mm f1.7 1/250
JPEG 2X CLEAR ZOOM ISO 100 50mm f1.7 1/250

Sony A57 Review

So it goes, “a picture’s worth a thousand words.” It looks like Sony remembered that video is the master of pictures in motion. That’s my take on Sony’s new mid-range A-mount camera in it’s Alpha series. The Sony SLT A57 is a fast, quality camera with impressive video capturing capabilities.

RECAP: A DSLR (digital single lens reflex) is the digital version of the same flipping mirror technology that has dominated serious photography of the past half-century. You look into a view finder and when you snap a picture, the mirror that you were actually looking at flips out of the way so a sensor can make a copy of what you saw.  Sony, with it’s SLT line, fuses a forgotten technology with it’s background in electronics to make a completely innovative camera that threatens the royal DSLR family of Canon and Nikon.

Instead of a flipping mirror, the a57 uses a semi-transparent one that doesn’t need to flip which enables this $700 camera to take rapid 8 (full control), 10 (aperture control), and all the way up to 12 (cropped resolution) frames per second. In this respect, the transparent mirror is allowing Sony’s SLT cameras to compete with others 4x it’s price. That stationary mirror is paired with an acclaimed 16.1 megapixel CMOS sensor that has a very fast phase detection auto focus.

The A57 has all the other details a DSLR would afford you. The things that work especially well are its ISO performance, up to 16000 for quality in low light conditions. It has a host of fun borderline gimmicky options like auto-portrait framing where the Bionz processor takes a look at a photo and crops it using the rule of thirds. The in camera digital zoom works unexpectedly well allowing my kit lens to get some respectable macro shots. It houses a larger battery than it’s predecessor, the well-received A55, allowing up to 550 shots on a fresh charge. Memory Pro Duo and SD cards (class 10 recommended for keeping up with a57‘s decent buffer) are accepted in the larger rubberized grip.

Sony’s newest offering is larger than the model it replaces inspiring confidence that the company was listening to customer feedback. It turns out mid-range DSLR customers didn’t want smaller and delicate in their models but something more substantial with plenty of grip options and spaced out controls for one-handed activation for most features. Sony’s live view has been excellent since it entered the DSLR market after acquiring all things Minolta. It’s fully articulated though it’s majorly annoying that it’s hinged on the bottom, which means even on a tripod it’s difficult to do self capturing. The electronic view finder (since its not a true DSLR, no flipping mirror remember, everything’s recreated digitally) is easy to use and greatly enhanced from the A55, though still no OLED inherited from the higher end A65 and A77.

If you have a collection of Minolta Lenses or have one of the first few Sony Alphas that didn’t record video, then the A57 represents digital SLR movie making in it’s prime and now would make right for an upgrade. Video capture is where Sony’s camera shines utilizng its in-body camera stabliziation (they call it Steady Shot) and its constant phase detection auto focus. Regardless of price, few DSLR’s can compete with how fast and accurate the A57 is when recording in movie mode. There’s no flipping mirror so auto focus is never turned off or in need of readjustment unless you want full shutter and aperture control. For indie film makers, probably the most important thing of note is that Sony’s new SLTs record in full 1080p at 60 frames per second and now also 24 progressive frames a second. The A57 records video at a bitrate up to 28 mbps which is a bit less than a hacked Panasonic GH2 or Canon’s T3i but neither do 60 at 1080p. Unless your going to do extensive and repeated digital manipulation to your videos, my opinion is 28 mbps is of very high quality.  In any case, shooting video with a DSLR and the many lenses that offer up a shallow depth of field can yield expensive looking results.

There’s a lot of fanboy-ism when affiliations are made to a camera manufacturer. Nikon and Canon make excellent products in the DSLR market, Panasonic does well with its micro four thirds system and Sony’s stronghold as underdog may well change with it’s SLT line of semi-transparent mirrors. With any of the above you get large image sensors and full manual control options over exposures which is why they yield better results than cheaper point and shoots or typical smart phone affairs. In my opinion, what it really boils down to are the lenses. Not the mirrors, definitely not the megapixels and not the brand’s name. If you have a bunch of Canon or Nikon lenses then stick with Canon or Nikon. However, if you have old Minolta lenses (don’t forget all Minolta Maxxum A-mounts work with all Sony A-mounts) or are starting from scratch then consider the A57. It’s the cheapest Sony camera that does 24p and, like all Sony DSLR and SLTs, have both in body stabilization (negating the need for the more expensive stabilized lenses) and a built-in auto-focus motor. The last two things simply mean that you could save money in the long run if you plan on buying a few more lenses.

Did any of this make any Flipping sense?

Note: Sample photos and test video clips are here and here.