I hosted a local pro photographer meeting in my studio last night. Only had a few people show up but we had some fun talking shop and shooting with lights. We just played around with the lighting, trying different settings and poses with one of the photographers girlfriend.
I just completed my very first HD video project! Well, that is not completely accurate. Since my Sony PD-170 camera gave up the ghost a couple of years ago, I have dabbled in HD video with a prosumer JVC camera. It was a decent system and shot full 1080P video, but it just didn’t have the control and lenses that I am used to. So I did a few videos here and there but nothing I was all that proud of. They looked OK but just not at the level I expected for pro quality work.
I had been planning to purchase a new Sony HD cam but I wasn’t wild about what you had to pay for what you got. Initially most of the HD cams still had a tape based workflow, and I HATE dealing with tapes. I knew that technology was going to be dead soon and hated to spend $6-$10K on a soon to be obsolete technology. I almost purchased a Sony EX3 but those are right at $10K and still fairly big to tote around. So I just kept waiting and finally made the move to the DSLR market with the Canon 5Dmk2.
I am SO happy I waited. There are a few limitations of the 5Dmk2 you have to work around, but the payoff is an awesome interchangable lens camera with full HD 1080P, a tapeless workflow, and a feel and handling like my Nikon DSLR’s.
For the past couple of weeks I have been getting my system rigged up and figuring out how to work with the 5D. It is quite a bit different than older camcorders like the PD-170 and you have to work around some of the issues involved. But my, my, the image quality is absolutely outstanding and easily makes up for all the limitations of the camera. I see now why they are starting to shoot TV shows and full length digital movies with the camera.
A few things I learned shooting with the 5dmk2 this past week:
1) Focus is CRITICAL. With my Sony PD-170 and my prosumer camcorders, they used a smaller chip with built in lenses. Hence the depth of field was plenty wide all and you needed to do was get the focus close and it would work fine. Plus you were dislpaying on a 720×480 screen so it was hard to tell if things were tack sharp anyway. Not so with the 5Dmk2. It has a full frame 35mm sensor and I am using fast Canon and Nikon prime lenses, so the depth of field can be millimeters. In other words, you can have a shot with the tip of their nose in focus and their eyes out of focus, and that doesn’t work. And since we are displaying the footage in high definition on a 50″ screen, anything that is not focused spot on is easily noticable. And the 5dmk2 is hard to focus anyway, so that is one of the major challenges with the camera. I have some work to do here. I ended up with footage that was unusuable since it looked in focus on the LCD screen but would be slightly out of focus on the subject and this would be clearly visible in the final product. I think an external LCD monitor and some type of manual focus rig is going to help here.
2) Audio wasn’t the problem I thought it would be. I was really worried about the audio capabilities of the 5Dmk2. Basically they suck. But the funny thing is, I knew that going in so I prepared for it. I recorded audio with an external Marantz recorder, using a couple of good quality microphones, and synced things up in post. This turned out better in the long run, since I had much better audio quality than using a shotgun mike on the camera or a lav mike on my subjects. It was more work up front but the audio quality was much better and more consistent. The audio on the 5Dmk2 still sucks, but knowing that I have an even better workaround now.
3) I need a steadycam. There is just no way to shoot such a small, light camera handheld. I could get away with that on the PD-170, but no way with the 5D. I see some videographers building these big rigs that make the 5D system as big or bigger than much larger pro cameras, but to me that kind of defeats the purpose of having such a small, powerful camera. So for now I shoot on a tripod or worst a monopod, and will soon end up getting some kind of steadycam for movement shots.
4) Need more STORAGE! Wow, HD video takes a HUGE amount of storage. I am used to working large high quality still images. I have a 4TB RAID 5 sever in my office on a gigabit Ethernet network, with several very powerful workstations accessing the images. But that setup just cannot handle the amount of storage needed for HD video. I talked to a friend who is also doing HD video and he said he buys 1TB drives by the dozen. So I ended up getting some 1TB drives and trying to figure out my backup strategy without a RAID server. I will be working on getting my computer systems to handle all this storage. My friend said he has about 40TB of storage in his studio!! Luckily I have a strong IT background so that is no big deal.
Unfortunately my first HD video is private so I cannot show it on the public Internet, but everyone who sees it is amazed and also invariably sheds a tear when they see the video. Even with HD video, the storyline is still paramount. You MUST have a good storyline and all the other stuff are just tools to better tell the story.
WOW. I am so excited I can’t sleep. Just purchased a Canon 5D Mk II for video production. After a lot of research and testing out several cameras, I have come to realize this camera is a true game changer in the world of video.
I have always used Nikon products and have been extremely pleased with them. I know a lot of photographers that use Canon and a lot who also use Nikon like me. In still photography both camera makers offer excellent product lines, with one maybe leapfrogging the other on various features from time to time.
I have shot video on and off for about 5 years, trying to learn all the intracacies of shooting good video. I have a well worn Sony PD-170 that is an excellent video camera, but it has a lot of limitations, two of which it is not HD video and it has a fixed lens. It also shoots to tape, which I abhor. But it did work well and was a great learning tool, especially on how to work with video editing and most importantly, how to deal with audio.
But my PD-170 broke for the second time about a year ago. I hated to spend new money to repair old, really obsolete technology. The cameras that I wanted costs in the tens of thousands of dollars, but still weren’t perfect for what I do. To get a good HD camera that used interchangable lenses, you had to spend close to $100,000 and since I didn’t have the revenue stream yet to justify that kind of cost, those cameras were out of the picture. I looked very closely at the Red ONE, which is an awesome video camera in it’s own right, but even though the camera was certainly more affordable than the $100K and up cameras, you would still need to spend close to $40K to get something fully functional. That was certainly a lot closer to being affordable for me, but it still was big, bulky and really overkill for what I needed. Since I do a LOT of motorcycle work, I really wanted a camera that I could somehow carry with me on my motorcycle yet shoot high quality video.
Since I was a Nikon guy I had not paid all that much attention to the Canon cameras when they came out with video. But then I started hearing and seeing on the Internet these incredible videos coming from the 5d. I was excited but kept waiting for Nikon to produce a comparable product. I have a HUGE investment in Nikon glass and wanted the ability to take advantage of this substantial investment. The Nikon D90 was interesting but not what I would consider professional level. The D300s was a bit more interesting but still with way too many limitations, not the least of which they did not do full 1080p HD video. When the D3s was introduced, I thougth “maybe this is it”. I absolutely love my D3 cameras and felt “finally”. But the D3s also had a lot of video limitations, most notably is they also did not do full 1080p HD video. There are other problems with video on the D3s that just made me hold off for a spell.
But as spring crept closer and the motorcycle riding season approached, I really wanted to find something to produce video with. I have a very busy April with a bunch of important assignments coming up, and while I am hired to shoot stills, I wanted to work into shooting video also. So yesterday I headed to my local pro camera dealer, Epperson Photo, to talk to my sales rep Carissa. She has helped me greatly over the years and really knows her stuff in regards to photography. Not so much on video however, but still she is great to work with and very knowledgeable.
I told Carissa I wanted to look and, touch and feel every small pro DSL they have that does video, both from Nikon and Canon. I was underwhelmed by the D300s. She didn’t have a D3s in stock. But she did let me handle and play with the Canon 7D and 5D Mk II. I shot some video, spent an hour playing with the menus and shooting stills, and just fell in love with the 5D. I left for lunch and read the Canon manual and did a bit more research. I couldn’t get my mind off the incredible capabilities of this camera, and it was $2,500 less than the D3s. Not to mention there is a huge base of aftermarket products being developed for this camera to shoot video. I was so excited I couldn’t wait for next week, I went back to Epperson and plopped down money for a new 5D Mk II and a 50mm F1.4 lens.
I brought the camera back to my office and started learning to use it. That is a big undertaking. I also started digging through the Internet trying to figure out how others have dealt with some of the limitations. I found a $10 lens adapter that allows me to affix many of my Nikon lenses to the Canon. Excellent. I figured out I am going to have to spend another $2,500 or so to make the camera fully functional as a video camera. It needs things like an external monitor, a better way to deal with audio, and some type of mounting and stabilization rig. I will also have to transcode the Canon video into something that is easier to edit, but I have that same problem with my current prosumer JVC video camera, so nothing new there. But I can fully equip the 5D to shoot pro level video and audio for the starting price of a Nikon D3s, AND I get 1080P video versus 720P video. And I get a much smaller camera that works better when on my motorcycle.
So you can see why I am SO excited about this new camera. I finally have a system that can shoot very high quality video using my existing lenses for an investment of around $6K. A comparible Sony system would be closer to $100K. As I said, the 5D Mk II is a game changer. I am looking forward to learning to use this new tool!
Today I started a personal project to photograph boots – primarily boots that people ride motorcycles in, but I will probably end up shooting all types of boots. I think boots have so much character and each boot can tell a different story. They can be rugged, dirty, rough, dainty, clean, scuffed, or a host of other conditions. The dirt can be from different parts of the world. It can be dust, mud, clay, etc. This is a pair of my wife’s motocross boots.
At the urging of friend and writer Bill Dragoo, I attended the third annual Rawhyde Adventure Rider Challenge last May held in Castaic, California. The day before leaving for the competition I traded my 2008 Honda GL1800 Goldwing for a 2009 BMW R1200GS Adventure – my dream bike and by far the best bike I have ever ridden. What a great choice. I borrowed some luggage and loaded up my camera and camping gear and headed west for two weeks of riding, camping and taking pictures. What a perfect gig!
My goal was to photograph the competition at the event. These are very difficult pictures to do right. You not only have to deal with the elements – dirt, dust, sand, mud, wind and cold – but also you have to ride your bike along some pretty challenging trails, loaded up with camera gear. You also have to hike over 600 acres of steep hills to get the good pictures, loaded down witih two heavy D3 cameras and lenses, along with off-camera flash & stands. Photographing the competition was WORK, let me tell you. While the other riders were relaxing after a hard day of riding, I was back at camp hunched over my laptop, processing photos and cleaing equipment for the next day.
As I write this I am making plans to attend the 2010 event. Jim Hyde and the folks at Rawhyde Adventures always put on a great event and are really nice folks to deal with. I will once again be riding my BMW R1200GS Adventure there, but this time I will be riding with Bill Dragoo, camping for 2 weeks along the way. Afterwards we plan to travel north to Yosemite and trail ride in the Sierra Nevada mountians for some upcoming stories in Adventure Rider Magazine. Should be a great time once again! We should be publishing several stories from this trip.