Essential Filmmaking Gear – Lean and Mean.
On our previous equipments lists (here’s #1 and here’s #2) we covered the essential gear while working with small crews constantly on the move. Today, we’ll list the equipment we usually bring on “Lean and Mean” jobs. On these jobs we usually spend more time at each location, and don’t need to carry everything on our backs, so we can add a few bigger/heavier tools.
List #3 – Lean And Mean
Hybrid or Video Only Assignments
Small Crew On Location But With Some Time To Prep
Example: Maragas Winery Commercial.
1. If the job doesn’t require stills I’d swap the GH4s or the Sony a7R IIs for a couple of Canon C100 Mark II bodies (Amazon and B&H). At this point we are seriously considering investing on a couple of Sony PXW-FS7 (Amazon and B&H), but we are waiting to test it against a Sony PXW-FS5 (Amazon and B&H) to make the call.
3. In terms of lighting I usually bring three 1×1 Bi-Color LED Panels (Amazon and B&H) with batteries (B&H) and two Chimera 1×1 Lightbanks (Amazon and B&H) with grids (B&H). That pretty much covers my basic needs. Another option is a Fiilex kit (Amazon and B&H), which I like a lot, but it is too expensive for most people.
5. Most of my grip gear is made by Impact simply because it is inexpensive, versatile and durable. I consider essential a few accessories like adjustable Gaffer Clamps, and Collapsible Reflector Holders (Amazon and B&H) which also double as mic or light stands. These very inexpensive items effectively function as additional crew members.
6. We would bring a second Tenba Transport Rolling Tripod/Grip case (2 total) (Amazon and B&H), add a second Benro S8 tripod (2 total) one more Benro S4 monopod (2 total), and a very compact and portable slider (Amazon and B&H) that would take the same fluid head from the S8 tripod and/or the S4 monopod.
Here’s the complete list of what we are currently using.
Well, there you have our essential gear. There isn’t a perfect gear list, just like there isn’t a perfect camera, but the most essential items have been working great for most assignments. Of course, there are those long and complex projects that require everything and the kitchen sink. If I forgot something essential, please let me know here!
We also have produced several Filmmaking courses on Lynda.com, two of them specifically designed for photographers transitioning into video. Check them out!
Essential Filmmaking Gear – The Moving Crew.
On a previous article we covered the essential gear for solo gigs (List #1). On this article, which we call List #2, we’ll concentrate on the equipment required for longer/bigger hybrid assignments where I’ll have a few more people fulfilling different roles (gaffer/grip, second camera/editor, BTS camera/DIT). We are usually moving from place to place very quickly, so traveling light is essential. When possible, I added direct links to Amazon and/or B&H for your convenience.
List #2 – The Moving Crew.
Small Crew Constantly On The Move
Example: Panasonic Anamorphic.
So, in addition to everything on List #1 we’d typically add:
1. In addition to my sharpest and heaviest lens, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 (Amazon and B&H), we’d also bring a Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 (Amazon and B&H), and a Sigma 24-105mm f4. (Amazon and B&H). These are the same exact lenses I used last year on another one-man Hybrid project in Istanbul and Europe. To make the Canon and Sigma lenses work on the Panasonic GH4 we’ll need a Metabones Speedbooster (Amazon and B&H).
5. A USB 3.0 reader for the Solid State Drives (which are generously included in the Atomos Shogun kit).
7. Two RodeLink kits (Amazon and B&H). They are great for interviews and to record clean sound while doing on-camera tutorials or even getting some BTS. The RodeLinks are extremely light, small, reliable and fairly inexpensive.
What else are we using? Here’s the complete list.
As you can see, anyone involved in run-and-gun, single-operator scenarios like weddings, events, corporate shoots, documentaries, red carpet premieres, product launches, sporting events, video podcasts, and even student films could benefit from these lists, so feel free to share them.
We also have produced several Filmmaking courses on Lynda.com, two of them specifically designed for photographers transitioning into video. Check them out!
Coming next week: List #3 – Lean and Mean. Working with a small crew but having a bit more time to settle down and prep. Bring the big guns!
Essential Filmmaking Gear – The Solo Gig.
In aviation, an MMEL (Master Minimum Equipment List) is a categorized list of on-board systems, instruments and equipment that must be operative in order to flight. Any additional equipment not included in the MMEL may break temporarily, but it won’t make the aircraft inoperative. For several years I’ve been attempting to create my own MMEL for “hybrid” productions. My simplest definition of “hybrid” is “productions or assignments where a skeleton crew (from one to four people) is required to produce, direct, shoot video and stills, record sound, and even edit. Most of these assignments will be happening on location, more often than not over several days.”
Like it or not, these gigs are becoming increasingly popular. It sounds crazy and indeed, being on the field trying to wear so many hats at the same time can be extremely stressful. The keys to make these projects run smoothly (and even fun) are simple: invest as much as possible in pre-production, bring only the most essential gear, know your equipment well, and be decisive.
Regarding gear, a substantial challenge is how to pack and travel as light as possible while carrying a full production and post-production setup that is literally on your back, so “essential” in my book is something you will use all the time, not “maybe, just in case, what if.”
Over time, we have created three “lists of essential items”, depending mostly on the crew’s size. When possible, I added the product’s link to Amazon and/or B&H for your convenience.
List #1 – The Solo Gig
When working and traveling alone, a single carry-on backpack (like a Tenba Roadie Hybrid bag) contains every item I’ll need for up to three days, except some clothes and toiletries that will go on a smaller backpack the gets checked in or shipped in advance.
Hardware & Software:
2. A second camera (“Cam B”) to capture stills and B-roll, ideally identical to Camera A. Having the same brand, model and firmware can save you a lot of time in post. Plus the batteries, chargers, media and lenses are the same.
3. I like to carry a third (even smaller) camera for location scouting and behind the scenes stills. My weapon of choice is the Fuji X100s (Amazon and B&H). A compact camera is especially handy after a very long day, when I don’t want to carry more gear but still want to capture a few night scenes of nice-looking dishes during my evening meal. Here’s my original X-100s review. Believe it or not after all these years, I’m still using (and loving) this camera.
4. Two or three lenses. In this case I’d bring a Lumix 12-35mm 2.8 lens (Amazon and B&H) and a Lumix 35-100mm 2.8 lens (Amazon and B&H). I like these lenses because they are the equivalent to a 24-70mm 2.8 and a 70-200mm 2.8, but extremely small and light, yet very sharp and fast (2.8 all the way.)
5. For sound I’d bring a field recorder like the H4n (Amazon and B&H) or a more current model and smaller version like Tascam’s DR-05 (Amazon and B&H) to capture interviews and my own production notes.
While like the versatility of the H4n, it is bulky and too slow to start up, so we are considering something newer like the Zoom H1 (Amazon and B&H). I probably would also add at least one Rode VideoMic (Amazon and B&H) to capture soundscapes and decent scratch sound for interviews. And of course, we need to add good headphones to our audio package. (Amazon and B&H).
6. Two (2) G-Tech 1TB external portable hard drives (Amazon and B&H) and one (1) compact, super fast and awesome 6TB G-Tech External Hard Drive (Amazon and B&H). And by the way, I ONLY trust G-Drives, even if they fail every 14years.
8. A small tripod (Amazon and B&H). This thing is worth its weight in gold. I’ve used it for time lapses, low angle shots, as a handheld rig, car mount, microphone stand, and even to attach small lights for quick interviews. Priceless.
10. A variety of Tenba Tool Boxes (Amazon and B&H) to pack all the batteries, chargers, cables, adapters and other small accessories. At first, they might seem a bit bulky but having everything neatly organized and protected is worth it.
11. One of my favorite photo bags ever, the new Tenba Shootout (Amazon and B&H). It is small enough to meet carry-on size limitations, but large enough to fit my most fragile and essential items. Plus, it is extremely comfortable.
13. Two ND filters are essential when shooting daylight exteriors. By the way, we recently found out how to save $250 per filter.
1. Obviously, the most important tool if you are crossing any borders: the passport. This website compares the “power” of passports from many different countries, and, as Americans, we are blessed to have the most powerful one.
2. My good ol’ Columbia jacket/vest has been traveling with me to more than 40 countries. It has lots of pockets, a hoodie, and because it has a self-stowing pocket, it sometimes doubles as a pillow on the road. A priceless item, to be sure.
3. Media credentials which sometimes (but not always) can give you special access, get you discounts and the most important part, allow you to travel with some heavy or oversized gear without paying a fortune. Here’s a link to Delta, American, and United Media Baggage policies.
4. A hat, sunglasses and sunscreen — truly essential items.
5. I like to dress in layers and in dark colors when shooting on the road. Black hides dust and stains very easily. A cashmere sweater is worth its weight in gold, well perhaps even more.
6. I always bring gloves unless I’m going to the Caribbean in July, comfortable shoes, and plenty of granola bars.
What else do I bring with me? Here’s the complete list.
As you can see, anyone involved in run-and-gun, single-operator scenarios like weddings, events, corporate shoots, documentaries, red carpet premieres, product launches, sporting events, video podcasts, and even student films could benefit from these lists, so feel free to share them.
We also have produced several Filmmaking courses on Lynda.com, two of them specifically designed for photographers transitioning into video. Check them out!
Are you working with a small crew constantly on the move? In that case here’s our List #2 – The Moving Crew.
A filmmaker’s perspective on Japan.
Back in 2011 I made the best decision of my life: to get engaged. Wanting to “pop the question” at an unforgettable location, I asked my wife, then girlfriend, to write down her top five destinations that she had not yet visited. Coincidentally, and even though we both have traveled extensively, her first pick matched mine: Japan. The decision was made, air tickets were purchased, and hotels booked, but the timing was off. Just a few days before our departure, and with the ring well hidden in my camera bag, the Tohoku earthquake hit Japan. It was the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world since modern record keeping began in 1900, and the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan.
A few weeks ago we FINALLY had the chance to visit this incredible country and culture, and on this article I’d like to share some of the most amazing things we learned and saw. Like some of my previous videos there’s a generous mix of stills, videos, soundscapes, music and narrations.
First things first
Most of us learned in school that Japan closed its borders in 1639 for more than 200 years, keeping only one seaport open for foreign trade exclusively with Dutch and Chinese sailors. A lot has changed, of course, and the country is currently the world’s third largest economy after the United States and China. This is truly a miracle for a nation that consists of more than 6,800 islands, has a population of 127 million people, and is smaller than the states of Montana or California.
As a little kid I spent countless hours poring over my grandparents National Geographic magazines. I dreamt about far and exotic places like “Antofagasta,” which I related to cannibals, “Ushuaia,” which to me was a synonym for the end of the world, “Oaxaca,” which I imagined full of little skulls everywhere, “Marrakesh,” with stunning belly dancers and crazy sword-fighting warriors, and “Kyoto,” elegant, peaceful, and extremely expensive. I loved the sound of each place.
Now, a “few” years later, I’ve had the privilege to visit all of these magical places and work in well over 700 cities in 50 countries, covering 40% of the world (according to Tripadvisor). Compared to my childhood pipe dreams, some countries have been much more interesting (Hong Kong and Thailand), and a few hugely disappointing (Russia and Vietnam top that list). There are no cannibals in Antofagasta, you can see little skulls in Oaxaca for “Dia de los Muertos,” and Ushuaia can’t be described in words. But Japan, in fact, so far, has been the one experience to closest match my dreams.
A World of Contrasts
If I had to define the country in a single word it would be contrast. Not necessarily as in the wide social and economic disparities one sees in India, China, or South America, but in the everyday culture itself; super-modern buildings next to architectural crimes, decadent meals followed by inedible dishes, massive pedestrian crossings and jam-packed subway cars followed by serene gardens, and very polite and quiet people during the daytime that get insanely wild and loud after dusk.
Random Fun Facts
Coming from New York, it always strikes me how clean and quiet other large cities are in comparison. Even Los Angeles and Houston seem muted in comparison. In that regard, Tokyo, the most populated metropolitan area in the world, is impossibly silent. And spotless. And huge. For example, Tokyo doesn’t have an actual downtown, but 23 of them, some with a daytime population seven times higher than their nighttime population.
Having been born in Colombia and experiencing first hand the country’s well documented violence during the 90s, it is hard to grasp how Japan, with the tenth largest population in the world can have the second lowest homicide rate, with only TWO gun-related homicides per year, and a conviction rate close to 99%. My brain can’t even process that information.
There are many fascinating things about Japan, from the expected, like magnificent temples, pristine gardens, and stunning package and lighting design, to the highly unexpected like the super-salty cuisine, and the lack of English speaking people and information in English even in popular tourist areas. Regarding tourism, we based most of our itineraries on Frommer’s and Fodor’s guides, which proved to be excellent sources of information.
We also tried to understand why there are virtually no public trash cans, but no garbage on the streets, millions of people everywhere, but no benches, and restaurants with vending machines, but no napkins. I’m still looking for those answers. Please hit me on Twitter if you have a good guess. And, speaking of Japanese vending machines, one can use any of the 5.5 million to buy beer, wine, canned coffee, cigarettes, food, comic books, toilet paper and even “adult literature and pleasure products.”
To widen our Japanese experience, we stayed at a high-end hotel in Tokyo, and at a Ryokan in Kyoto. The Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn with tatami floors, paper blinds, a low table for tea and super tiny pillows, provided a unique, but not very comfortable, experience. As an added bonus we located a Ryokan that offered a private Onsen, or spring bath, that was masterfully built with exquisite wood, and harvested the local volcanic waters. Of course, Japan being Japan, even this relaxing moment had many strict rules to be followed in precise order before even touching the water. Overall it was an interesting experience, especially after walking 30,000 steps each day (according to my wife’s pretty handy Fitbit).
One early morning we got the rare opportunity to attend sumo training. As architecture buffs we used some rainy afternoons to visit buildings and stores by our favorite Japanese designers. We tried hard to cover as much of the Japanese culinary spectrum as possible, from quick lunches at shopping centers’ basements, vending machines, and food trucks, and dinning at traditional Izakayas where we tried delicious Yakitori and horse sashimi.
We obviously “had” to fit in a few Michelin-rated restaurants as the respected “foodies” publication has awarded Tokyo the most stars of any city in the world. More than the food itself, the service, presentation, and attention to detail are what truly offers a remarkable experience.
More Random Facts
Japan imports 85% of Jamaica’s annual coffee production, but the fancy coffees we tried were consistently inconsistent. I might get shot for saying this, but the $1 coffee at 7-Eleven was MUCH better than most of the $8 fancy brews we tried. And I’m Colombian, I do know my coffee.
Japan is also the world’s top importer of reggae music and has the largest proportion of jazz fans in the world. We treated ourselves with a jazz concert (and grossly overpriced drinks) at the Park Hyatt‘s bar, from “Lost in Translation” fame. The city views from the fancy bar are great, especially at nighttime, but you get pretty much the same view for free only two blocks away, from Tokyo’s Metropolitan Government Building, where you can also get a very filling lunch for about six dollars.
Gulping down your drink and slurping is NOT considered bad manners (mom, are you reading this?), but somehow eating or drinking while walking down a street is considered very rude and nobody does it. The Zen proverb “When walking, walk. When eating, eat” is silently but effectively enforced all the time, and everywhere. One day we had to go back to our hotel, just a few blocks away, to finish our Bento box lunch.
We did enjoy bowing on meeting someone, but sitting on the floor with your hands in your lap and your legs tucked under you, not so much. Perhaps because I’m less flexible than a tree. When wearing my first kimono I created a small “fashion emergency” with the Ryokan’s owner, as one should always wear the left side over the right side. The opposite of this is only observed at funerals. Something similar happens with chopsticks; do not point them at other people, never wave them in the air or stick them upright in the rice, since they’ll look like sticks of incense at a funeral. How are you supposed to know all this?
Cash is definitely king, and many ATMs in Japan do not accept international debit cards, with the wonderful exception of the ATMs found at the 10,000 7-Eleven stores. Coins are required for buses, trams, and lockers. We had read that Internet access was horrible, but I have to disagree. Both our hotels, many subway stations and bus stops provided free Internet access. If all you need is checking your map or access something on Dropbox you should be fine. If you are planning to stream movies or video games, stay home.
In terms of packing, we broke a new personal record for this trip. We were able to fit everything into ONE suitcase. In case all the women reading this article are wondering, yes, my wife wasn’t too happy at first, but she came to appreciate my logic while navigating major transport hubs like Shinjuku, which serves 4 million passengers a day, and holds the title as the world’s busiest station.
Regarding photo and video equipment, I’ve been traveling extremely light and small. This time I brought two Panasonic GH4s (Amazon • B&H), two Panasonic Lumix lenses (Amazon • B&H) , and a Fuji X100S (Amazon • B&H). This is pretty much the same gear I’ve used on assignments in Europe (article on Sigma’s website), Turkey, and commercials like this.
Something I failed to pack (and struggled to find in Tokyo) was a “3-Prong to 2-Prong Adapter.” Considering one can get two for $6 on Amazon, it was very painful to waste precious time walking from store to store and trying to explain what a “3 prong” means with body language and childish drawings. To connect multiple devices I ALWAYS bring two essential items: a mini power strip to charge phones, batteries, and laptops using a single outlet, and a compact USB hub, to connect multiple hard drives to my laptop. This year I’ve been using these small and cheap external hard drives on my travels, and so far they’ve worked perfectly. If you are interested in seeing what’s inside my camera bag, I wrote an article with “The Essential 41 Items” for photography and video assignments.
The Final Product – The Video
Shooting stills, and video, and recording soundscapes while traveling alone is hard, I’m not gonna lie. Doing all that with your (extremely patient) wife is even harder, but totally worth it.
Obviously it’s impossible to understand a country, city, or even a neighborhood in just a couple of weeks. I’ve spent nine years in New York and every weekend we find something new to do, see, or eat. But, we only have one chance to get a first impression, and I believe those first reactions are great ways to identify interesting trends and cultural differences.
The video below has tons of additional information about Japan in general and our travel adventures in particular. If you like traveling—and eating delicious food—I’m sure you will enjoy it, and if you do, please SHARE the love!
Shooting 4K Anamorphic and V-Log with Panasonic’s GH4. Ten Valuable Lessons.
UPDATED: I just added two video tutorials: one comparing “Panasonic’s V-Log L vs. Cinelike D” and the second one “Conforming 4K Anamorphic Footage in Adobe Premiere Pro.”
Anamorphic is enjoying a huge comeback. The reasons to go this route vary from project to project, but generally it’s the desire to achieve a different look and use as many pixels from the sensors as possible. Panasonic’s Firmware Update v.2.2 (available here) enables an Anamorphic (4:3) Mode capable of recording video in 3328 x 2496 pixel (equivalent to approx. 8.3-megapixel) resolution at a frame rate of either 23.98, 24, 25 or 29.97 fps. With an anamorphic lens such as 2x Lomo lenses (see below) we now can capture and un-squeeze a 3356×2496 image in post-production. To make things even better, 4:2:2 / 10 bit HDMI output is also available.
Just like in 2013 when we had the opportunity to field test a GH3 in the Middle East and last year when we shot with one of only three prototypes world-wide of the GH4, for the past couple of weeks I had the privilege to work with director Davis Northern, DP and tech wizard Sean Davis and many other talented people on one of the very first GH4 Anamorphic AND V-Log L projects, shot exclusively for Panasonic North America and produced by The Digital Distillery.
The project was exciting and very challenging, as working with hardware prototypes and beta versions of software or firmware always is. We had a lot of moving pieces and an extremely tight deadline, but I’m proud of the final results and very satisfied with the lessons learned. This article covers some of the most significant ones, and it is written from my very own personal perspective. As always, I try my best to be as objective and brand agnostic as possible. The lessons aren’t in any specific order and some links will take you to articles with additional information . Please consider using our links to help support our very time consuming articles and tutorials.
Ready? Let’s go!
1. Shooting Anamorphic
It can definitely be achieved by a very small crew on a small budget. We mostly shot with a crew of three, with very limited gear and time. I’ve always assumed you needed a 2-ton truck and a crew of 30 to pull this off. Clearly, this was not the case for us.
In terms of lenses, we opted to keep a “low profile” while keeping our options open. In other words, we rented a set of vintage anamorphic Lomo lenses (35, 50, and 75mm) and tested an SLR Magic as well as a Letus AnamorphX 1.8X Pro Adapter and a Veydra Mini Prime.
The lenses are huge and heavy. Lomo 50mm + 75mm with case = 25lbs. Lomo 35mm with case = 35lbs with each case weighting about 30lbs. Not ideal for the “guerilla” approach we needed for this project. They definitely have a unique look, but are very hard to focus, especially when using a very flat profile. We rented the set for $500/day or about $1,700 for a week including tax. Not cheap by any means but definitely worth the investment in terms of time and quality.
If I were to shoot this project again (or on upcoming anamorphic projects) I probably would test the Cooke Anamorphic/i Lenses (25, 32, 40, 50, 75, 100, and 135mm with a 2x squeeze). Unfortunately these lenses cost about $30,000 each, and the rental rate is about $500 per lens, per day.
B. SLR Magic:
We had access to a very nice selection of Panasonic glass that we wanted to use with an SLR Magic adapter. The first challenge was that the front diameter on all the lenses has to be below 62mm in order to use the step down rings. The second limitation was (for the Panasonic lenses) that anything wider than 28mm would vignette. We could have used the Panasonic 12-35mm lens, at 28mm or longer (kind of pointless), but for some odd reason with the SLR Magic adapter it vignetted all the way even at 35mm. The Panasonic 35-100mm didn’t vignette at 35mm. Go figure. The next usable lens on our Panasonic arsenal was the beautiful 42.5mm Noticron f/1.2, but we needed a step DOWN ring (from 67mm to 62mm) that wasn’t included with the kit. The last option was the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 lens, which worked well but focusing was a MAJOR issue (not Panasonic’s fault). I found the SLR Magic system very finicky and unreliable and unfortunately I can’t recommend using it.
C. Letus Anamorphx:
The Letus Adapter worked much better than SLR Magic but it was also cumbersome. A matte box is pretty much required and there was an issue with one of our widest lenses. The lesson here is, if you are shooting anamorphic, use the real thing.
There’s some heavy math involved when shooting Anamorphic. An anamorphic lens produces roughly a 2X horizontal squeeze of the image onto film. Traditional anamorphic lenses were designed to work on a 4:3 standard. The anamorphic footage captured with the GH4 on the Atomos Shogun is 3840×2160, so not technically 4K but pretty close. Shooting internally (to an SD card) the footage is 3328×2496, so greater vertical resolution than the 4K standard, but not full 4K horizontal resolution. To keep things in perspective, the 4K footage out of the GH4 4096×2160.
As you would expect, the files are huge. Shooting ProRes 422 you need about 4GB per minute of footage. Two cameras: 8GB, after only one backup you are at 16GB per minute. So somewhere around 20GB per minute is a pretty safe storage estimate for a two-camera setup. As always, we trusted all our very valuable assets to G-Tech Hard Drives.
Regarding Solid State Drives, Atomos has a great chart with all the supported drives for the Shogun and other devices. Make sure you triple check the chart before investing in one.
One SECOND of footage takes about 50MB so even if you are shooting into seemingly endless Solid State Drives, being smart about when to start rolling and when to stop can save a lot of storage.
As we were shooting, Atomos was literally finishing writing the Shogun’s firmware update (available in May or June as a free download) will enable a number of awesome features:
- Anamorphic de-squeeze for Panasonic GH4 and standard lenses
- RAW recording to ProRes, DNxHR and Cinema DNG for compatible RAW formats
- Expanded RAW compatibility to include Sony FS series, Canon, Arri and AJA
- 3D LUTs on HDMI/SDI output
- Cinema 4K DCI support
- Uncompressed V210 support
We had to use a Small HD Pro7 (to de-squeeze) and the Shogun (to record in 4K). The setup seems pretty obvious after a lot of trials but it wasn’t at first. Here’s the executive summary that will hopefully save you some time and stress:
1. Micro HDMI to Standard HDMI cable from the GH4’s HDMI OUT to the Atomos Shogun HDMI IN
2. Standard HDMI to Standard HDMI cable from the Atomos Shogun HDMI OUT to the Small HD HDMI IN
3. In the Shogun, the 4K downconvert option should be OFF while connecting the Small HD and turned ON when everything is properly connected.
Our Small HD had a nasty tendency to constantly lose signal for no apparent reason, so step #3 had to be repeated many times throughout each shoot.
5. Premiere Pro CC 2014 Workflow
To be totally honest, I was shocked by how easy it was to conform the footage in post. Here’s what you need to do:
1. Import the footage the way you normally do.
2. Select the anamorphic clips.
3. Go to clip > Modify > Interpret Footage
4. Under “Pixel Aspect Ratio” select “Conform To” and “Anamorphic 2:1 (2.0).
5. Create a “new sequence from clip” and start cutting.
6. Done and done. Wow!
Here are some screen grabs from the camera’s LCD:
Focus is super, extra, hyper critical, especially when shooting with a very flat profile like the one we used. Unfortunately we couldn’t trust the SmallHD and had to rely 100% on the Shogun at a 1:2 zoom.
• A sun hood for your external monitor is absolutely essential (if given the option get the black version).
• Obviously you will need lens adapters if you are planning to use the SLR Magic or Letus AnamorphX options.
• Make sure you get plenty of batteries, The small battery that comes with the Shogun lasts about 30 min only and we got about one hour of recording time with TWO Canon batteries on the Small HD. Instead of buying tons of batteries I’m a big fan of renting them (more here). The same goes for additional Solid State Drives.
8. Bonus lessons:
• Shooting anamorphic takes a lot practice and fine-tuning. I’d recommend scheduling at least a full day to test all the gear before a shoot.
• If we keep a small footprint and move fast, we can get a lot done.
• The “shoot without lens” on the GH4 must be turned on in order to work with the Anamorphic lenses.
The 8 Best Tools of 2014.
Here are some of the tools that made a real difference for us last year. Just in case, the order in the list is completely random.
What can I say that I haven’t already said about this gem? Tiny, inexpensive, intuitive, sharp, full of features—this is a truly remarkable feat of engineering to take our visual stories to a new level.
No, it’s not a typo! I know this is not the latest model, and that’s exactly the point. This little camera is so good that I see no need to upgrade, change, or even try something else. This is the perfect camera to take out on weekends, and when paired with a super sexy, real leather camera strap, the camera not only works well, it makes ME look good!
In the next couple of weeks, Sigma will release a couple of videos I shot for them in Istanbul, Paris, and Belgium. All the lenses I brought with me were extremely good, but the 35mm was so extraordinary that I ended up NOT returning it.
I rented these lights from Adorama for a Lighting Workshop I did in D.C. Among the reasons not to bring my own light kit were size, portability, and the ability to use multiple accessories with the same fixtures. For example, did you know that these lights can use all the accessories available for Profoto? Mind blowing.
The Fiilex more than delivered on all ends, and the guys at Adorama Rental provided their usual stellar job of testing, packing, and shipping the gear in time for my presentation.
Transcend 64GB UHS-3 SD Card
My tendency is to not put all my eggs in one basket, and to not keep all my day’s footage or photos on one card. I resisted switching from 8GB to 16GB for a while, while HD “forced”me into 32GB cards, and 4K made me seriously consider the 64GB Transcend, not only for the additional capacity, but for speed. The card was affordable when it was released and now it is almost half the price I paid for it just months ago. This one’s a no brainer.
DJI Ronin Camera Gimbal
Heavy. Difficult to set up. Costly. But when you make it work, it sings! We shot a lot of stuff with this toy, and the production value it added to our projects was simply outstanding.
Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2014
I was very much against Adobe’s Creative Cloud concept (and wrote about it here, here, here, and here), but after a year or so of using the apps pretty much on a daily basis, I love always having the latest version to work with. The significant efforts that Adobe has put into their video applications is totally worth the monthly payment.
13” Apple MacBook Pro Retina
This turned out to be not as fast as expected, more expensive than expected, and the latest OS X Yosemite was way worse than expected. Yet it made it into my “top tools”list. Why? Simply because the MacBook Pros are still, in my opinion, the best line of laptops available. The fact that we can edit, grade, and export 4K video on a plane or from a coffee shop still blows my mind. But Apple’s reign might be coming to an end very soon. 2015 will be a VERY exciting year for technology. I can tell you that much.
If you like what you saw in this summary and want to know more about how we actually use these tools, please check out our new online courses on Lynda.com along with some of the video projects we worked on during the year.
We look forward to keeping the conversations going this year.
Visual Serendipity Week 85. Al Capone in the Bronx.
Fuji X100S Hands-on Review.
I’ve put this little thing through every imaginable shooting situation, and tried most, if not all, of its settings, shooting more than 8,200 images on four different assignments in 5 countries in less than a month’s time. And yeah, I know, I’m almost a year late to the Fuji party.
But, as I tell my students who seem to be magnetized to the flatiron building after moving to New York, it doesn’t matter if other people have photographed or written about the same subject that you are interested in. It’s exciting to see how each of us uniquely interprets our surroundings. So, here are my personal impressions of the Fuji X100S.
It is important to mention that I am not being paid by Fuji, or anyone else for that matter, to use the camera or write this review. I’m doing this just as a way to give back to the photo community, so if you are inclined to purchase this system, please consider using our Amazon link. It won’t cost you a penny more, and it would definitely allow us to spend more time working on projects like this:
Why the hype?
The Fuji X100S is a small and light, retro-looking 16MP APC-C magnesium body camera with a fixed 23mm f2.0 lens (equivalent to a 35mm focal length on a 35mm camera) that captures 14-bit RAW. It looks and feels like a Leica M8 or M9, but it comes in at about a fourth of the price.
Size and weight
I was going to spend 26 days working in five Asian countries. With a limited amount of free time to explore on my own, I wanted a camera that would allow me to use any form of transportation (biking with a backpack full of lenses and accessories was not an option), that would capture RAW (a cellphone wouldn’t cut it here), and that was inconspicuous (the Canon 70–200mm f2.8 was out).
So, the main reason I chose this system was weight. Many years ago I was willing to carry two bodies with two lenses and a small daypack with water and accessories (monopod, memory cards, filters, batteries, more lenses, cable releases, etc.). Not anymore. I want to travel as light as possible and be able to fit ALL of my clothes and gear in a carry-on rolling backpack.
When I travel, I break all the rules my mom taught me: I talk to strangers, I eat all kinds of weird food (especially street food), I sleep as little as possible, and I intentionally try to get lost. I enjoy discovering cities on foot, often walking 12 hours in a single day. Deep inside myself, and for some masochistic reason, I also wanted to push the limits of my comfort zone. Not having a set of super-fast zoom lenses with me would be a major restriction—but also a liberation.
Day 1. First issue.
After years of using Canon and Nikon DSLR systems, I naively assumed that all camera companies were up to date on battery technology. I was terribly mistaken. If there’s one issue with the X100S it is the battery life. Thankfully, and with proper planning, this is something that can be worked out.
The ONE battery I brought with me lasted a couple hundred images. Assuming I had not charged it completely I went through the same issue the following day. Finding digital gear overseas is often difficult, time consuming, and expensive. Locating batteries for this system in northern Thailand was a nightmare.
If you are planning to buy this camera, I’d recommend getting at least a couple of extra batteries. The original Fuji NP-95 is $38, but you can obtain much cheaper ($10) generic batteries, too. The best deal I’ve seen is this Wasabi kit with two batteries, charger, European plug, and car adapter for $20. A no brainer investment.
Why do you need a second charger? Well, it so happens that the Fuji charger does not tell you the percentage of charge that you have. It is either charging (the light on the charger is on) or full (the light goes off). For some reason, if you take a fully charged battery and attach it to the charger, it can take 10–15 minutes to show that it is full. To add insult to injury, it takes 180 minutes (three hours!) for one NP-95 to charge from dead to full. That’s 50% of the time the battery lasts under normal use without the LCD display. Fuji’s battery charger has no folding plug so it requires a long separate cord. One more thing to pack.
The battery issues continue on the camera: the battery-level meter simply goes from normal to dead in a few images. Just like that. Unlike a DSLR, a mirrorless camera sensor is powered up all the time, even if you are just focusing or reviewing images. If you use mostly the optical finder, turn the “OVF power save mode” on. The display’s info will be dimmed a bit, and the live histogram is no longer available, but it will greatly extend the battery life. I strongly recommend reading pages 18, 36, 41, 47, and 91 from the Camera’s Instruction Manual (available here as a PDF).
On paper, the NP-95 is rated for 300 shots per charge. After all these tweaks, I’m getting an average of 450 shots if I switch from EVF to OVF when possible, if I turn the camera off instead of keeping it on standby mode, and if I don’t use the viewfinder.
That’s a lot of ifs! The battery’s design is also poor, as it allows you to insert the batteries incorrectly and still be able to close the “battery-chamber cover.” You will know if you’ve done it wrong because the camera won’t turn on.
Having the battery life improved to a maximum of 450 pictures gives me about five hours, which is about a third of my working day when traveling. The poor battery performance and long charging cycles were by far the biggest drawbacks using this system on the road.
On several occasions I could not get the AF to lock, even in bright daylight. In low light the AF does hunt and it is slow. I also had a few instances where the camera “back focused” for no apparent reason.
The AF-C Mode (continuous auto focus mode) was extremely unreliable. The camera is simply too slow to track, lock, and capture a moving subject. Additionally, on AF-C Mode you can only focus on the dead center of the sensor. In my opinion, these two issues defeat the purpose of AF-C.
The manual focus works great. I love the focus peaking feature.
I absolutely love the hybrid viewfinder. It took me a couple of days to realize that the little switch on the front of the camera almost magically changes between the optical and electronic viewfinder.
The fixed 23mm f2 lens is very sharp, and impressively corrected for distortion. In combination with the sensor’s ability to capture noise-free images up to 3,200 ISO this makes shooting under low-light conditions bliss.
Low Light performance.
As you can see, low light performance is impressive. The sensor performs very well up to ISO 3,200 and decently up to 6,400. Relatively long exposures are not an issue.
Dynamic Range – Highlights and Shadows detail.
Another excellent spec; the detail that this tiny sensor can capture is truly remarkable.
If shooting video is extremely important to you, stop reading this right now and consider another camera. The camera offers Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 30fps or 60fps and a decent 36MBps bit-rate. But, to access the video mode, you have to select “Movie” in the drive mode menu. You can’t use the optical viewfinder. Manual exposure can only be modified before you start recording. The ISO and ND are inaccessible while in video mode. In terms of quality, if you have good light, perfect exposure, don’t care about sound, can pre-focus, and the camera doesn’t move, the footage is decent.
The built-in Panorama works well.
I download and back up my images at the end of each day when I’m on the road. I also add key captions (locations, names, etc.) and a few general keywords. I wanted to create Smart Previews and edit them in my “down time” (doctors offices, the DMV, and long flights are ideal locations). That didn’t quite work out. On a two-year-old Mac Book Pro and a fast portable external Hard Drive, Lightroom 5 took on average two-and-a-half hours to import 450 RAW images, convert them to DNG, and build Smart Previews, which I still consider the best feature in Adobe Lightroom 5.
So, every night, after a day of working and lots of walking, I’d download the cards through Lightroom and charge the batteries, take a shower, grab something to eat, call my wife, return emails and phone calls, plan the following day, and…continue to wait because neither Lightroom nor the battery were ready.
• I wish the camera had built-in GPS, which in combination with Lightroom’s Maps Module would make captioning images MUCH easier. My poor-man’s workaround is to simultaneously snap a picture with my cellphone at key locations. Since the phone adds the GPS information to the image I can later copy and paste the GPS coordinates to the relevant RAW and video files. Nothing fancy, but it works.
• It takes an annoying “long press” of the shutter button to wake up the camera from stand-by mode.
• If you’re shooting in burst mode, you can’t review individual images or zoom in/out. The images play back in a pointless slideshow. This was truly frustrating, as you can’t know if you got the desired image until you download the files.
One day, many moons ago, as a student shooting for a newspaper, the photo editor asked me if I had more than one lens. I proudly answered, “Yes, I have three!” To which he replied, “Then use them! All your pictures look the same.”
That was a serious concern I had about spending a month with a single fixed wide-angle lens. I’m glad to report that the advantages in quality and weight greatly outperform this challenge.
Is this camera going to help me take better pictures?
Cameras are tools, no different from hammers or toasters, when you get down to it. I own very little gear because I prefer to rent the best tool for each job. That way I keep my overhead low and have access to the latest technologies.
That being said, after a few days getting used to the cluttered and somewhat illogical Camera Menu, I felt like shooting with my first Nikon FE-2, except now I had more than 36 frames and could switch the ISO as I pleased. There was, and is, an inexplicable emotional connection with the X100S—a feeling that I haven’t felt in a decade. Technically speaking, the camera is wonderful. But, there’s more to it. I can and want to take it with me everywhere I go. I have been taking more “snapshots” than ever before. I can get closer to my subjects, and shoot silently and almost invisibly.
If you have been drooling over this camera and are ready to pull the trigger, I hope this review provides that extra little push. It’s OK, go ahead and make the jump! You can tell your spouse that it was my fault. Please consider using our Amazon link. It won’t cost you a penny more, and it would definitively help support this site.
Visual Serendipity Week 78. A shelter for the wealthy.
The Andrew Freedman Mansion, a wonderful building in the Bronx, NY, designed specifically as a retirement home for wealthy people who had lost their fortunes. We are working on a project here and will be sharing a pretty cool clip very soon. Stay tuned.
Here’s a New York Times article about this place.
Visual Serendipity 73: Neighborhood of make-believe.
This past weekend we came across a great exhibit at The American Museum of Natural History entitled, “Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture,” that explores how food is produced and distributed throughout the world; from farm to fork.
This miniature from the exhibit reminded us of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood of Make-Believe. (more…)
The Future of Storytelling is Transmedia.
What is the future of storytelling? We’ll begin our day with a story on our phone. On our subway ride to work a new character will be added to the story and we’ll learn all about him on a tablet computer. At lunch we’ll catch up with the character’s newest adventure on our office computer via Facebook. Later in the day the story takes an unexpected turn—and we’ll learn about it from a digital billboard. Before going to bed we’ll plant the seeds for tomorrow’s developments while playing a video game on our television. This is transmedia—the future of storytelling. (more…)
Visual Serendipity 72. Soap Bubbles.
A very quick snapshot that brought back a lot of wonderful childhood memories. This girl knows how to enjoy the Summer in New York.
Discovering Cirque du Soleil Las Vegas: Visual Serendipity.
I recently met two acrobats from one of the eight shows in Cirque du Soleil Las Vegas. A multinational spectacle, Cirque du Soleil uses the imagination, arts and creative talent to present a show like no other. (more…)
Shooting with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3. Field report and impressions.
The friendly waiter at the Turkish restaurant in Sohar, Oman, saw the camera on the table and asked “Nikon? Canon? Which one is better?” To which I replied, “actually, this is the Panasonic GH3.” He stared at me, his expression turned from excited to perplexed to confused to annoyed within seconds. After an uncomfortable silence he finally asked, “Are you ready to order?”
That was pretty much my reaction when, a few weeks ago, just two days before I started teaching a “Digital Cinema for Photographers” event in Dubai, I found out that Panasonic, a major sponsor of the event, REALLY wanted me and my students to use a couple of GH3s and several lenses in my hands-on workshop.
Panasonic is one of the largest consumer electronics companies, and the GH3 is the third generation of their very successful Micro Fourth Thirds DSLM (Digital Single Lens Mirrorless) system. For a while I have been aware of the low-budget-filmmaking community’s devotion to the hacked DMC-GH2 and its ALL-I codec. I saw the DMC-GH3 at Photokina last year, but I had never before shot a single frame with a Panasonic camera. The bodies that I was given were running Firmware v0.5. Add to this a nine-hour time zone difference and jet lag, and you can begin to imagine my pain.
While I’ll be using some geeky terms, this is not an in-depth technical review, nor a scientific analysis of the GH3. You can dig into tech specs and MTF charts somewhere else. My goal is simply to share my honest and independent impressions, go over the things I liked and didn’t like, and communicate my wish list for future features. I want to emphasize that all the conclusions in this article are subjective and strictly based on my own personal experience.
“I have to warn you, I’ve heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.”
-Keanu Reeves in “Speed”
I have to respectfully disagree with Keanu on this one. Much to my surprise, the camera was much more intuitive than Sony’s NEX system, and several video features got my full attention right away.
• Full HD 1920×1080 60p/50p (NTSC/PAL) with 30p/25p/24p options.
• Ultra-high bit rate video recorded at 72 Mbps (ALL-I) or 50 Mbps (IPB).
• Capable of recording continuously for an unlimited time for NTSC and 29 min 59 sec for PAL.
• Native support for MOV (h.264), MP4, and AVCHD formats.
• Time Code support in the MOV and AVCHD formats.
• Extremely fast and accurate contrast-detection Autofocus.
• A 3.5mm mic input AND a headphone jack AND the option to manually adjust the sound recording levels via touchscreen controls.
• Full-time AF, AF Tracking, and Face Recognition AF are available for VIDEO. The Touch AF mimics rack focusing.
THE WORKSHOP STORY
Not having enough time to field test the Panasonic systems before the Workshop, I shot dummy clips in my hotel room and made sure that the footage would work in Adobe Premiere Pro CS6. The test went surprisingly smoothly. I then set both GH3 cameras to the same video settings: MOV at 1920×1080, 24p, 72 Mbps ALL-I, Standard Photo Style, White Balance at 5500K, got ND filters for all the lenses, extra batteries, and a few Class 10 SD cards. And then I prayed.
Note: It’s extremely important to point out that full HD on this camera requires memory cards with the fastest speed available. My “older” memory cards didn’t work, giving me only four seconds of recording time.
We spent the first day of my three-day Digital Cinema Workshop covering all the technical similarities and differences between stills and video. On the second day, we planned a location shoot with a Capoeira team and spent a couple hours shooting in the afternoon. On the third and last day we covered the different hardware and software requirements for post production and spent three hours editing the footage. I am especially proud of the short clip my students put together in such a limited amount of time and with newly acquired knowledge (and using brand new gear!).
We could obviously use a few more days sweetening the audio, fine tuning transitions, and grading, but for a two-hour shoot and a three-hour edit, I believe this is a good example of what can be accomplished with great teamwork, interesting subjects, and the GH3’s many customizable options.
Below you will see a few additional sample clips, all shot as H.264, 1920 x 1080, 23.976 72Mbps ALL-I, using the GH3’s “Standard” profile (Contrats = 0, Sharpness = 0, Saturation = 0, Noise Reduction = 0). The Exposure and White Balance were set manually. The lens was the Lumix GX Vario 12-35mm F2.8 set on AF Tracking mode, which worked very well most of the time. Despite the lens having “environmental sealing,” as you can see the fine desert’s sand inevitably found its way to the sensor. I put the clips together on Adobe Premiere Pro CS6, and have NOT done any grading nor sharpening. These short clips are intended to show you what the GH3 is capable of, not to tell a specific story.
So, mission accomplished, right? Not so fast. A couple of days later, as I was wrapping up my day, a friend asked “Are you busy? I wanna show you something interesting.” With only the GH3, the 12-35mm 2.8 lens, a 4GB card and a low battery I jumped into his car. The “something interesting” happened to be access to the Royal Suite at the 7-star Hotel Burj Al Arab—a notoriously difficult area to access. With limited amount of storage space and battery life I managed to capture a few keepers.
The very next morning (on my “day off”), I headed out to meet an old friend for brunch at the Atlantis. Should you ever find yourself in this neck of the woods, I strongly recommend that you pay the Atlantis a visit. As we enjoyed the seemingly endless food, my friend received a call to drive to Abu Dhabi right away to pick someone up and then drive back to Dubai. Would I like to come? Guess what I had hanging on my shoulder? This time I had a full battery and a 16GB card, but nothing else to shoot the magnificent mosque and the impossibly opulent Emirates Palace. Once again, the GH3 did a fantastic job.
These are some of the GH3’s features that are not obvious to the naked eye, but are interesting once you are aware of them:
• A magnesium alloy camera body that Panasonic describes as “splash proof and dust proof.”
• The Panasonic RAW files (RW2) work fine in Adobe Lightroom [add link to LR workshop] but the most current version (4.3 as of this writing) is needed. Unfortunately there are no Panasonic lens profiles available as of this writing.
• All the video formats worked seamlessly on Adobe Premiere Pro CS6. Even the video recorded at 72 Mbps was easy to preview and edit on a two-year old MacBook Pro (with 8GB of RAM and an external 7200 RPM Hard Drive as a Scratch Disk).
• HDMI monitor output can be sent with or without information overlays.
• I had a DMW-MS2 Stereo Shotgun Mic with me, but was happy to learn that the camera’s built-in internal microphones provide stereo audio.
• The GH3’s sensor has a 4:3 aspect ratio.
• Built-in Time Lapse, and HDR but unfortunately it works only for JPGs not RAW.
• Five physical function buttons, and two touch-screen function buttons, all customizable with close to 40 options to choose from.
• Virtually all the key shooting controls are within the right hand’s reach. This frees up the left hand to hold the camera or focus manually.
• Excellent battery life, lasting a full day under normal operation. For extended video sessions I’d consider getting the DMW-BGGH3 Battery Grip.
• Apparently (I have not tested this) the GH3 is also capable of real-time image output to the LVF or the rear monitor AND to an external monitor via HDMI.
I shot extensively (more than 2,000 images in 18 days) with the Lumix GX Vario 12-35mm F2.8. The lens is tiny. And fast. And awesome. It has the equivalent focal length to a 24-70mm F2.8 on a 35mm system but it is a fraction of the size and weight. As you already know, this is a very good start when dealing with packing issues.
In terms of depth of field, the lens behaves like a 16-45mm F3.5 lens on an APS-C sensor, or a 24-70mm F5.6 lens on a Full Frame sensor. It is hard to get used to this, especially when shooting another system simultaneously, but it is not a disadvantage per se.
Click to keep reading (more…)
Visual Serendipity – Bull Fighting in Oman.
After driving for 3 hours from Dubai to Sohar with my good friend Issa AlKindy and about 10 minutes before reaching our final destination, we spotted a traditional Omani Bull Fighting on the side of the road. With only 10 minutes of sunlight left, we reached for the first camera available and started shooting. I was crazy enough to shoot both stills with my Canon 7D and a 70-200mm 2.8 lens, and video with a Panasonic GH3 and a 12-35mm 2.8 lens. Issa is from Oman ad this was the first time he saw bullfighting. A very rare visual treat.
I believe we are the ONLY photographers happy and willing to get into a cloud of sand and dust with digital cameras. =)
Visual Serendipity. No Funny.
I respectfully disagree. I think it is pretty funny. Found at the storefront of one of the many “Halal” bodegas in my neighborhood.
What’s the big deal with ND filters?
What’s the big deal with Neutral Density (ND) filters? Do we REALLY need to use them when shooting motion? We created a short video tutorial using Canon’s (super awesome) EOS C300 to demonstrate what happens when you can’t really control the light (shooting outdoors), you have too much of it (bright day, noon) and you want to use the aperture as a creative tool, not only as an exposure compensation tool. Remember that when shooting video we pretty much set and forget the shutter.
The C300 has three built-in ND filters; ND1 (+2), ND2, (+4) and ND3 (+6). We don’t have that luxury when using HDSLR systems, but we can always get a very nice variable ND filter that covers up to 8 stops!
Check the video below:
Looking for answers to your workflow questions? Want to make the most of your new gear? Book a virtual or on-site consulting session today.
Even the North White Plains Metro North station has a Wikipedia page! This is the view from the South tunnel, while running to catch my train. Visual Serendipity is our weekly series of images captured on an Android Nexus 4 smartphone.
The iconic Empire State Building as seen from the also iconic New York Public Library’s Main Reading Room.
Our Lady of Guadalupe (Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe), also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe, is a celebrated Roman Catholic icon of the Virgin Mary and recognized as a symbol of all Catholic Mexicans. I walked right into this procession while leaving my apartment in Brooklyn.
After finishing a client meeting on Lexington and 66th Street, I walked by the “Seventh Regiment Armory” and saw this. I diligently took my weekly picture, and rushed to my next meeting. A few days later we found out that what was happening inside is called “the event of a thread”, a multisensory affair, with “readings, sound, and live events within a field of swings that together invite visitors to connect to the action of each other and the work itself, illuminating the experience of the singular and collective body.”
Here’s the complete info. Please share below if you have been or are planning to go to this event! Sounds pretty cool.
Fresh Images. Europe.
These are some of my favorite images from a trip to Europe a few weeks ago. Even though I was overseas for almost three weeks, I only had about four days (or 96 hours) to shoot for fun. I’m working on a more elaborate project for these images. For now, check this PhotoShelter slideshow.
Visual Serendipity. NYC Subway.
By now, New York City’s subway system has been restored to “limited service”, as efforts continue to dry out flooded tubes, track, signals and other components damaged in last week’s “Sandy” storm. Below is the condition of the subway map after the hurricane:
It doesn’t get more serendipitous than this. After Hurricane Sandy passed through Brooklyn leaving behind floods, fires, and a long trail of destruction, this was the first image I saw when I woke up. I had several cameras handy planning (unsuccessfully) to document the hurricane from our window. Two images later, the clouds covered the rainbow and it was gone!
Looking for inspiration? Find a Mutoscope.
After three jam-packed weeks attending Photokina, the Glimpse Conference, Cloudforce, and PhotoPlus Expo, I have something to confess: the most interesting and inspiring gadget/technology/trend I saw was NOT Samsung’s innovative Galaxy Camera, Fuji’s slick X-E1, Blackmagic’s Cinema Camera or a new powerful software application.
It was a Mutoscope I saw at Frankfurt’s Film Museum. “A what?” you may ask.
The Mutoscope, an early motion picture device, was patented by Herman Casler in 1894. Cheaper and simpler than Edison’s Kinetoscope, it did NOT project on a screen, and it provided viewing to only one person at a time. The system was marketed by the American Mutoscope Company and quickly dominated the coin-in-the-slot “peep-show” business.
I am in love with the simplicity of this device, the way the viewer interacts with the story by using a hand crank. And story is what really matters. In under 60 seconds (the “movie” starts below at 00:34) we get to see a “crazy wheel” running free through a small town, and the villagers trying to catch it. See, this is about storytelling, not technology. It’s not about sensor size, firmware updates, bigger-is-better, or faster-is-better. It is about the story, something I feel we have been loosing at an ever-increasing speed. If you are looking for some inspiration or motivation, look no further.
Events like hurricane Sandy make us revalue some of our priorities, the real significance of things we often take for granted, like running water, electricity, and true friends. In a similar way the Mutoscope hit a nerve. For some strange reason, the idea of producing something simply for fun or pleasure is becoming obsolete. We should, and we will, go back to the basics. Work harder on telling more engaging stories, developing new angles, communicating better ideas and asking deeper questions. Technology is great, but it is not the be-all and end-all that most photographers assume it to be. I’m sure some of you feel the same way. Want even more inspiration? Check this out.
The 1964 World’s Fair New York State Pavilion designed by Philip Johnson is simply awesome. It “featured three observation towers, one of which at 226 feet, was the tallest structure at the Fair. Speedy “Sky Streak” capsule elevators whisked visitors to the observation platform above. Beneath the towers was the Tent of Tomorrow, the world’s biggest suspension roof (larger than a football field), supported by sixteen 100 foot columns. Translucent colored panels in the roof flooded the tent’s interior with colors.” Sources here and here.
We normally don’t use other images on our Visual Serendipity series but these two are too good to skip.
I found this image yesterday while walking around the Lower East Side, or “LES” as it is called by the locals. I believe it shows how many different and simultaneous things are happening in this city at any give time. Living in New York City can be very exciting, or very exhausting, depending on your day.
A movie about the most inspiring Brazilian artist you’ve never heard of.
UPDATE 0905: Mission Accomplished!!!!!
My extremely talented friend Andre Constantini has been working on a feature film called “Bel Borba Aqui.” The movie is about the most inspiring Brazilian artist you’ve never heard of.
While chatting with Andre about the film and his current Kickstarter campaign, I was schocked to know that they have well over 600 hours of footage. Andre shares here snippets of our conversation.
I just recently completed my first feature documentary film. With over 600 hours of footage and 3 years in the making, there has been a lot of time invested into the project. I had made short films before but increasing the scope of any project of this magnitude seems to exponentially increase the time it takes to complete it. But I digress, before you start a documentary it helps if you know the story you want to tell or the topic you want to explore.
Put It Out There
One year before I even knew that the subject of my film, a Brazilian artist living in Salvador, Brazil existed, I had a conversation with a colleague of mine expressing my desire to make a feature documentary on a living artist. A year later, I received a phone call from the same colleague stating that he found him and he was in Brazil and that I should come and meet him to see if it would work out.
Always Be Ready to Go
Even though we were just supposed to discuss the possibilities, on the first trip, I brought all of my equipment to shoot and after meeting the first day, we started shooting the second day. When I returned from my week long trip, I had already filmed for three days. This was enough to start cutting a short piece together to excite the subject and support.
The Edit Room
The editing process went along simultaneously with the shooting to some extent, coming up with rough sequences or themes. The key is not the is not where you start, it’s THAT you start. I find that as you have an idea for one scene or footage that you know worked out or you like, start there and find other footage that supports it visually or thematically (maybe even both). This part always takes the longest. But plan to have plenty of time to do this. Personally, I am best when I have large chunks of time where I can focus without distractions.
Here’s the Trailer:
The film is scheduled to release theatrically on October 3rd for a two week run at Film Forum in NYC. Let’s support Andre with his Kickstarter campaign. It could be you needing financing in a few years…
After spending a very hot and humid Sunday afternoon in Central Park we were looking for a restroom, and this is what we found instead. Gotta love this city.
Another hidden gem in Brooklyn. If you are willing to bike with me for 1.5 hours I’ll take you to this location.
Woody Allen’s, Manhattan, is about a divorced New Yorker dating a high-schooler, and looking for love in the mistress of his best friend. Quite a dark story there. I’m sure the city has changed a lot since the movie was released in 1979.