DP and Director Sam Nicholson is one of the people you mean when we say 'Hollywood people really like the Canon 5D MkII'. He likes it so much he has direct communication with the engineers in Tokyo and sends them his wish list – recently some of those wishes have come true.
When I first got the call from Dan Clifton to work with him on The Calculus Of Love I was very excited to collaborate on a fictional piece after working with him on a number of documentaries. Dan is great to work with he is very flexible in his approach and fast on his feet which comes from the documentary background. I like the organic feel to his style, once again born out of documentary. For example if an actor leans out of frame or there is a focus buzz on a take it's all part of that organic feel which I feel we have lost to a large degree in cinema
The film involves a Mathematics Professor Bowers who for the better half of his life has grappled with the 250 year old unsolved Goldbach Conjecture which states that any number greater than 2 is the sum of two primes. Reknown for being one of the world's leading mathematicians he runs a tight ship and his class is seen as hallowed ground.
The beginning of a new term sees a young student called Hopkins join his class who clearly has an aptitude for the subject. Bowers has more in common with Hopkins than he realises.
Working with the SRW-9000
I first heard about this camera through a colleague who had been to a Sony presentation of it. He was amazed at the spec and price of it which intrigued me so I called up Mike Thomas at Top Teks and asked if he would mind me having a play. I mentioned the short film Dan and I were planning and he offered to let us use it on the production which was fantastic.
At first sighting I thought it bulky and pretty un-ergonomic but realised that unlike the F35 it's recording system the SR deck was built into the chassis.
The 2/3in chip presented a problem for our purposes because I wanted a shallow DOF to hide some of the aberrations on set. So we decided to use a Pro 35 adapter with it. Take 2 Films very kindly offered up the lenses and grip equipment. I wanted to use the Master Primes because of their speed to compensate for the Pro 35 1.5 stop loss but after a little hiccup with insurance they became unavailable and we ended up using the Zeiss Ultra Primes T1.9s which are beautiful lenses. I decided not to use any filtration once again because of the Pro 35 and loss of resolution shooting through the extra glass but as it turned out I feel that helped aesthetically it seemed to tame the sharpness that's so apparent with HD at this level. I wanted to shoot using the full gamut the camera has to offer which with the correct boards is 4:4:4 in Sony's S log which is essentially raw and allows for the greatest elasticity in post. For more than half of the film I had 3db of gain in the camera which according to Sony rates the camera at 500ASA – this helped me a lot having lost 1.5 stops using the Pro35, it also increases the dynamic range of the camera at the cost of a little noise which I felt suited those particular scenes.
Hilda Sealy my first AC had a difficult task with pretty much everything being shot wide open on the Ultra Primes. We have worked together for awhile now and she deals with this with gusto. We used the dolly a fair bit and ended up shooting a lot of our scenes in one or two setups which under the time constraints was a necessity but a conscious decision in our prior planning.
Dan and I spoke about many films and referenced a wide spectrum of looks including Hard Candy for the feeling of claustrophobia that the director creates.
In the Italian film Consequences Of Love we spoke about the look being very unforced and natural light which is always a lot easier to create than one imagines especially with a limited lighting package. The colour palate was fairly uniform, nothing jumping out. Framing was important to single out our main character Prof Bowers (Keith Allen) we wanted to isolate him and so we opted for wide frames with big head room and placing him in bottom left or right of frame when we could.
My lighting approach was simple, the package included 1X 4K HMI and 3X 2.5K HMI, two Image 80s, two Diva lights, and a small tungsten package. I wanted to create a natural feel not stylised so as not to detract from the characters but have them immersed in a natural environment which we tried to make feel claustrophobic. we used blinds on the windows so you can barely see outside which enhances the claustrophobia, this presents challenges in being able to light from the outside.. bowers world is an internal one and the blinds feature both in his office space and the lecture room which is the space he occupies physically and mentally.
The final scene I feel is interesting photographically it takes place in what is supposed to be the basement of the university. I didn't have a gaffer on this day so we were restricted in what we could achieve. The scene is lit with three Cooly lamps which feature in the shot, each lamp had a 100W undiffused pearl bulb in it and this is all we had apart from two small tungsten fresnels on the back walls. The scene was shot wide open with 3db gain and the camera handled it marvellously the stop range was from 5.6 in the highlights under the lamp to 1.1 in the shadows. Keith Allen is balding and I thought a shiny head would be a problem in this scenario but the camera handled well.
Every studio, big or small, has one – a drawer or toolbox or such like crammed with adapters that plug something into something else. Jacks to XLRs or BNCs to phonos or whatever.
Now you can have another drawer crammed with Black Magic Design’s new Mini Converters – a range of five little boxes that are useful (and relatively inexpensive) ways of connecting gear together.
The five boxes are:
Analog to SDI
Converts analogue video to digital, embeds audio and generates two identical channels of 3Gb/s SDI. The analogue video can be HD or SD component, PAL, NTSC or S-Video and audio can be balanced analogue or AES/EBU. The audio connections are balanced ¼ inch jacks (so you’ll probably need one of those XLR-jack adapters from your drawers). Obviously, this is a handy box, not the finest A-D in the land, but it does a pretty presentable job. It even managed to lock to a dodgy old VHS deck which is great – I could digitise all my old Star Trek tapes. Oops, did I say that out loud?
SDI to Analog
This converts SDI to analogue video (HD or SD component, PAL/NTSC composite and S-Video) and extracts embedded audio (as analogue on balanced ¼ inch jacks again, or AES/EBU). Basically the opposite of the Analogue to SDI converter (unsurprisingly).
HDMI to SDI
One of the simplest (in a range of very simple boxes). This unit produces two identical SDI outputs from an HDMI (v1.2) input. You can embed audio in the SDI, either from the HDMI or from stereo analogue or AES/EBU inputs on those balanced ¼ inch jacks. The unit won’t pass video from an HDCP protected signal, but is a fantastic way of getting SDI from all those budget camcorders out there with HDMI outputs.
SDI to HDMI
Yup – you guessed it. Takes SDI and converts to HDMI, stripping out the embedded audio. This appears on the HDMI connector (as you would expect) but is also available as AES/EBU or analogue.
Plug it in and you get six sync outputs on BNC. Formats supported are PAL, NTSC, 1080i/59.94, 1080i/50, 1080psf/23.98, 1080psf/24, 720p/59.94 and 720p/50 which covers most requirements.
Each Mini Converter comes with a universal wall-wart mains adapter – the metalwork has a handy hole so that you can firmly attach the power cord. They also have a USB port for firmware upgrades, should any be necessary, and include a redundant SDI input – you run two identical SDI signals to the unit and if one fails the unit will automatically switch over to the other one. I can imagine location AV setups which convert HDMI to SDI for a long cable run and then back to HDMI again for the stage screens – redundancy in this situation is very handy. Each unit with an SDI input also has a re-clocked loop through SDI output, so you can daisy-chain units together.
The setup of each unit is very simple – there is a set of DIP switches on the side of each unit and screen printed instructions on the underside. Interestingly, the end switch turns ‘Processing’ on or off – this is currently unused by may do something in a future firmware update.
A minor gripe is that the SDI BNCs don’t have lock nuts fitted. BNC cables tend to be stiff and heavy and can break the soldered connection between the connector and the circuit board if the strain isn’t taken by the metalwork. You could always fit your own if you were worried about it though. Blackmagic’s manufacturing quality is generally pretty faultless and the Mini Converters are no exception – I took a couple of the review units apart to look at their handiwork.
OK, so they’re not the sexiest products in the world, but at £287 plus VAT for the converters and £160 plus VAT for the sync gen, we’ll forgive them a lack of flashing lights (actually, they have a few), full colour, high-resolution displays and Bluetooth connectivity. They just do a job, do it well, and don’t cost much. I wonder if Blackmagic would like to run my local council.
Mini Reviews - iFunia Converter / Grundig FreeSAT DVR / Canon 5D MkII 25p update / Stills In Motion DVD
iFUNIA MEDIA CONVERTER
With the myriad of competing CODECs for video and audio in the world, inevitably you need to be able to convert from one to another. iFunia (www.ifunia.com) is just such a converter - available for Mac only, it costs $32 to download, and it’s really not very good.
First of all, the user interface is pretty terrible. Sure, you can drag and drop files onto it and there’s a big, friendly ‘Start’ button, but the drop down menu to select output formats looks like it was designed in crayon by a dyslexic monkey and there is very little control over the presets you get – for instance, with output to H.264 there doesn’t appear to be a way to select the number of passes, though you can control framerate and bitrate. You can select the output directory, but not the output filename – you are stuck with using the original’s filename.
Those might be considered minor gripes, but just wait ‘til you hit that Start button. I tried to transcode a 57 second TV commercial to H.264 at 1920x1080. The first couple of times iFunia crashed and burned. The third time, it succeeded in producing an output file, though it got the aspect ratio wrong. It also took 3’51”, which seemed a long time, so I fired up the (free) application MPEGStreamClip. This encoded the same file (and I could select my quality options - the highest available) in 2’36”. That’s even faster than Quicktime Pro, though the interface of MPEGStreamClip assumes you have some knowledge of video compression.
As an aside, if you are a Snow Leopard user you’ll have noticed that Quicktime X doesn’t have the export options the Quicktime 7 Pro had. Fortunately, there is a version of Quicktime 7 on the Snow Leopard install DVD (when you install the extras) - if you have the Pro apps, (e.g. Final Cut Pro) then QT7 will automatically enable its Pro output features. Otherwise, just use your old Pro enable code.
So there you have it. You could spend $32 on a slow, ugly, buggy piece of software, or you could download MPEGStreamClip from www.squared5.com, a faster, more flexible and more stable application, for free! Why not then send the developer of MPEGStreamClip (Stefano Cinque) $10 as a thank you for saving the purchase price of iFunia - his email is available through the help menu of the application.
GRUNDIG FREESAT 500GB HD DVR
One way of escaping the clutches of the Sky Television ‘spider monkey’ is to use your legacy satellite dish from your Sky days and get in a new FreeSAT box. One such box is from Grundig and offers a 500GB DVR for about the price of an annual ‘middle to low rated’ Sky TV subscription, £279.99 (£23.33 a month). Yes wait one year and you’ve paid for it in Sky sub chunks and there’s nothing more to pay!
FreeSAT’s launch was maybe on the ‘soft’ side (founders are the BBC and ITV and the service is ‘not-for-profit’) with all the ‘TV on the Internet’ talk surfacing that has had TV types obsessing over the last couple of years. Also FreeVIEW HD is seen as the nirvana status as there is a huge and contented client base already out there watching SD TV without dishes grafted on the sides of their houses. FreeSAT was maybe the ugly duckling from the litter but swan’s feathers are emerging from the water.
It is worth it the £279.99? Well if you are signed to Sky Sports no it isn’t although you do get ITV HD, something you won’t get on Sky. ITV have a contract for some FA Cup and Champion’s League football games and you can watch them in HD on this service. The quality is the same as a Sky match as are the production values – probably the same OB outfit. But if you had a Sky+ subscription without a Sports flavour to it, FreeSAT HD becomes a very tempting option.
Installing is as easy as changing over the two wires coming from your Sky dish and then following some simple set up protocols. You’ll be up and running in minutes, the only thing you’ll be missing when you are set-up is about 1000 channels you never watched anyway. FreeSAT has about 140 TV and radio channels as of now. When analogue signals are turned off, you’d expect that number to go up.
The BBC’s iPlayer is also available on FreeSAT as long as you have at least a 1Mb broadband pipe plugged in to the back. If yours isn’t working at the moment then it should be very soon – check the FreeSAT online site for the latest on this news as this makes the box even more appealing.
If you’ve had Sky+ then the Grundig box shouldn’t hold any conversion fears for you. Small things are a bit clunky like recording programmes as you navigate but you won’t miss the Sky partitioning of your hard drive with programmes that they think you would like – most of them on expensive subscription packages so you can’t watch them! 500GB on the DVR gives you a genuine feeling of being your own scheduler, just record everything!
Downsides are a noisy fan but it switches off after a while of idling. The programme guides don’t have the panache of Sky’s but hey who cares. Your programme choices may look like they’ve had a drastic crash diet but I bet you only watched a small bunch of channels with Sky anyway. Overall a big recommendation.
CANON EOS 5D MKII FIRMWARE UPDATE 2.0.3
Of all the new Canon EOS HD DSLR cameras I’m an advocate of the Canon 5D MKII camera. I love the full frame sensor and the fantastic depth of field it affords the user. Up until now though with it’s locked 30fps and more importantly it’s Auto gain controls (AGC) on the audio recording has meant using quite a few ‘work arounds’ to use it with any serious results.
With this new firmware update all this has now changed. Canon has released a new firmware for the camera (2.0.3). Easily downloaded via the Canon website and then loaded onto your camera via the compact flash card. The main changes are:
24 fps @ 1920 x 1080
25 fps @ 1920 x 1080 (PAL mode)
29.97 fps @ 1920 x 1080 (NTSC mode)
Manual sound recording option with the audio rate moving from 44khz to 48khz
Histogram in video mode
Video mode in TV (shutter value) & AV (aperture value)
To start off at the top of this list it’s great to see that 30 fps has now been dropped and 24fps, 25fps and 29.97fps have been added. It’s a real shame that 50 & 60 fps @ 720p hasn’t been added which matches the 7D & 1D MKIV. I have been told under good authority though that we will not see 50 and 60 fps on this camera. Shame but I’m just really happy we have 25fps.
For me personally I think the next issue is by far the most important. The worst aspect of the ‘old’ 5D MKII was the auto gain controls (agc), and also the audio rate of 44khz. With the new firmware you are able to adjust the audio manually (not whilst recording though) and also it has been upgraded to 48khz, which is broadcast quality. So now we have a serious sound recording option and no longer need to dual sound record, use a clapperboard, resynch in the edit and use Plural Eyes or the 99.9% rule just to record a talking head or good ambient sound! As I mentioned though the sound level can only be set before you record and can’t be adjusted whilst recording but this is easily worked around by using a sound mixer (SQN, Sound devices, Beachtek etc...) and setting the level on the camera fairly low and then increasing the level on the sound mixer. This is the same method if you use a broadcast video camera and a sound recordist. Essentially on my Digi beta camera a sound recordist sets his level at the beginning of the day on the camera and then controls the sound level using his mixer.
The Histogram which has been added in the new firmware for video mode is another handy addition and can only help while trying to set your exposure but once again it is only displayed when you are not recording and when you run the camera it switches off the screen. As I say it is handy but it’s not ‘zebras’ and the fact that it doesn’t display whilst running which is probably because it covers at least a 1/3rd of the screen means you have to set it before you run and if there is an exposure change whilst recording you don’t get the support of the histogram when you adjust the exposure.
Finally this last addition I really don’t get at all. You can now shoot video in shutter value mode or aperture value mode. Personally I always shoot in manual mode and don’t really know when or why you would really want to use these other modes. They would only increase the chance of problems especially in the shutter value mode, because when you shoot with this camera you really want to be working at a 50th in the UK or 60th in USA otherwise you get all manner of problems with lights flickering and stuttering movement. So having these two new video enabled modes doesn’t make sense to me.
All in all I’m really pleased with this new firmware and it shows that Canon does listen to its consumers and it now means that this superb camera can be used in many more serous situations.
My last point is that Canon have not charged for this firmware upgrade and recently when Sony upgraded there PMW EX1 to the PMW EX1R a firmware upgrade was not offered to consumers who had just bought the PMW EX1 camera. They would have to go and buy a new camera ( approx £3000) and their ‘old’ PMW EX1 would now be…old! So well done Canon and thanks.
‘STILLS IN MOTION’ DVD PREVIEW - REVIEW TO COME
Another video DSLR training DVD and digital download product from FStop Academy but this time without DP Philip Bloom. Doing presentation and explanation duties for ‘Stills In Motion’ is advertising photographer Drew Gardiner. Drew takes us through a raft of mostly Canon DSLRs, what they can do with video and how you do it.
As you would expect it’s pretty comprehensive and goes from ‘The Fundamentals’ to ‘Applying the Theory’ with bonus chapters on timelapse, slow motion and using a clapperboard. $97 for the download and add $10 for the DVD.