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DIY V-Mount for Cheap

The V-Mount system is a popular battery mounting standard that is designed for large batteries in the 60-90+ Wh range. This means that with such a system you can run small cameras all day and even many of the more demanding ones for hours. However, since this is gear for serious enthusiast and professional filmmakers, it does cost a lot of money. After I got my hand on a second-hand Li-Ion battery pack, I decided to explore the options in making my own V-Mount for under $150.

Overview

The main components of a V-Mount system are listed below. For a great little overview of affordable batteries, check out this DSLR Video Shooter blog post by Caleb Pike. I will compare semi-professional solutions as found on Amazon or B&H with the parts that I used for my build:

  • The battery pack: should use good, branded Li-Ion cells for obvious safety and performance reasons. There can be pretty dramatic differences even between branded off-the-shelf V-Mount battery packs as seen in this (highly entertaining, like the whole channel) video (these guys deserve more views!) I don't expect to compete with high-end V-Mount batteries but the recycled pack I'm using still contains genuine Panasonic 18650 cells. We managed to find a pack for, I would say, 1/10th of the price of a good V-Mount battery but because it was quite a lucky find and specific to our local area I won't post details or exact costs. Individual 18650 cells go for around $11 a pair so you could still build your own 90 Wh pack for about $66. The configuration is 3 batteries in parallel and 4 in series. Make sure your pack has over-current and over-temperature protection! So let's say total cost so far: $70.
  • The battery pack mount: This keeps the battery securely attached to the mounting system. In V-Mount batteries it is part of the battery pack mould and there shouldn't be any way it could fall apart under normal usage. My recycled pack didn't have much in the way of strong attachment points and I didn't want to rely on glue but luckily some bolts through the plastic tabs on the side worked great. There is no way the battery is falling off and the mounting plate can hardly move despite my mediocre machining skills. Purchased from Aliexpress this was the most expensive part at $33. This brings the total cost to a nice round $100.
  • The camera rig mount: Most packs mount directly to the back of a camera or a 15 mm rails rig. Besides strong rail mounts, the mounting plate usually also provides outputs at varying voltages to power different devices such as camera, monitor, audio equipment, etc. Decent plates, e.g. from Lanparte or more professional brands, can easily cost $250 or more. Buying the parts separately, it really comes down to a cheap $9 plate, a $1 voltage converter, and a $18 rail rod clamp from SmallRig. This only bumps the total cost up slightly to about $130.
  • Now all that's left are some cables to connect the battery plate to your camera, your monitor, and other equipment. Since we're already building this ourselves, absolutely avoid regulator cables like the ones listed in the DSLR Video Shooter blog post above: they are horrendously over-priced for what they do. A standard low-power step-down voltage regulator (this means it's efficient and won't produce much heat) only costs $1. For my camera I got a D-Tap to BMPCC cable for $3.50 feeding the 14-15V from the battery directly into the DC input, and for the monitor a dummy LP-E6 for $4 which has to be regulated down to 7.2V to match the LP-E6 batteries.

Cost

So there you have it: a fairly sturdy DIY V-Mount system for just $150, maybe less if you can find some cheap recycled batteries. Obviously, cost is the main reason why an enthusiast would go through the trouble of building something like this from scratch, spending 1-2 days getting everything figured out and assembled, instead of dropping $300-$500 and just getting something off the shelf. Time will tell if it is sturdy enough to hold up to regular hobby usage (to be perfectly honest, I wouldn't recommend it for daily and professional use). Hopefully my instructions and photos are useful and will save others a lot of time.

Assembly

So here is how it was put together. First, I had to drill several holes in the metal bottom plate of the V-Mount adapter that will be screwed onto the battery. These holes are for the five wires that are connected to the battery pack. Two are positive and negative (make sure the insulation is sturdy since the plate is made of metal) and the three others get soldered onto the control pins of the battery pack to put it into discharge or charge mode.

The receiving plate already has a D-Tap socket built in so I only had to add the 7.2V output for the dummy battery for my monitor. The regulator has a little screw that needs to be calibrated using a multimeter to output exactly 7.2V (input voltage can vary as long as it's over ~10 and below the regulator's maximum of 23V). It is so small that it easily fits inside the housing.

I then bolted the SmallRig rail clamp into the bottom (two would be better but I don't see a need at the moment) to mount the whole system onto my camera. With the cables I've linked to earlier, I can then connect my camera and monitor to whooping 90 Wh, compared to the next-to-nothing mAh of the BMPCC batteries and the 1800mAh of genuine LP-E6s.

To charge the pack you'll need a dedicated Li-Ion charger or a good programmable power supply. However, this is the case for any battery system and there are of course proper V-Mount chargers out there. Because the receiving plate was so cheap, it would be easy to use one as a dedicated charger port.

Please use the comment section below or head over to Google+ or Twitter @tobiaswulff to discuss this article or any of my photography and videography work. My Flickr, 500px and Vimeo pages also provide some space to leave comments and keep up to date with my portfolio. Lastly, if you want to get updates on future blog posts, please subscribe to my RSS feed. I plan to publish a new article every Wednesday.

Documentary Shooting: Interviews

We are finally at the stage where we conduct and film the interviews for our TWALK documentary. After a few days of acquiring and testing gear and then test-driving the setup, we now have something that looks great (not perfect but better than many other documentaries I've seen) and is very mobile and easy to set up for a 1-2 person crew.

But first, here is the latest trailer for our project with a bunch of little interviews (sound bites) we took during the event:

Gear

Here is a quick rundown of the gear that I think is required to get a well-lit interview with solid, good sound:

  • 1-2 cameras that can be matched in terms of exposure and color profiles (I struggle with matching them perfectly since one is a Blackmagic and the other one a GH4 but a color chart like the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport (de) helps tremendously to fixup color space and color temperature issues with one click in Davinci Rsolve)
  • A sound recorder because most camera pre-amps are really bad and don't offer enough inputs or control such as rotary dials and limiters - I use the excellent entry-level Zoom H5 Four-Track Portable Recorder (de)
  • Good microphones: it took me a while to accept that it is important to spend a good chunk of your budget on sound equipment - maybe not as much as on cameras and lenses but still enough to get at least one middle to top of the line microphone. I like to always have a backup option in case one microphone experiences cloth rustling, room echo, or simply stops working, so I usually mix a lavalier/"clip-on" mic like the Rode LAVALIER Condenser Microphone and a shotgun mic: the Sennheiser ME 64 Cardioid Condenser Capsule Head is great for indoor interviews, for outdoors think about the more directional ME66.
  • 2-3 LED lights with big enough batteries to work for at least an hour: depending on your exact kit and the conditions of the space you are conducting the interview in, you might actually need more lighting devices (see the section on the detailed setup below). All lights' color temperatures should match as closely as possible, unless you go for an extra warm fill light, or an extra cold hair light, etc. Mine are all daylight balanced (around 5500K) and have a good CRI value (95+). The entry-level smaller Apature Amaran LED lights work a treat indoors if you darken the room anyway, for more power I would look at the Aputure HR672W or Apature's more professional lineup.
  • A reflector and/or diffusion panel (or softbox): your light, in particular your key light, will always look better the softer it is, unless you are deliberately going for a harsher look. To achieve this you have to send it through a (the bigger the better!) Softbox (de) or white semi-translucent panel, or bounce it off a 5-in-1 Collapsible Multi-Disc Light Reflector (de) .
  • Enough Light Stands (de) for all those lights. Also a Microphone Boom Stand (de) for the shotgun mic.

I'm sure this sounds like a lot of gear for just one interview, and if it is not possible to buy or borrow all those things, an interview in natural light might be a better option (I'd still recommend having at least one reflector). However, for the style I was going for I needed a dark space and all those lights to make it work.

Setup

When you do the setup, make sure it's ready when the interviewee arrives. You don't want to bore them with 20 minutes of fiddling with lights and cameras. This means you need a stand-in, e.g. your interviewer, producer, grip, etc.

The first thing to do is find a good spot for the interviewee in regards to space (all the equipment you'll have to set up around them) and background. The background should be not too boring (avoid a plain wall but patterns are good) but also not distracting (no harsh light, no movement). This obviously depends on the subject of the interview and how you want to associate the interviewee with the environment. Typical examples are athletes and their trophies, scientists and their awards and books, and so on. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference and the style you are going for.

Next I will set up my key light. This is the main light that illuminates the subject. The typical rule is to have to about 45 degrees from the camera on the side of the camera the interviewer is sitting. You need a good light stand because the key light also has to be above the subjects head (again, about 25-40 degrees). Eye level can work as well but avoid a light source below eye level because it will make them like starring in a horror or zombie movie. Personally, I actually like my key light to be 90 degrees to the camera line and at about eye level. This gives the face a very strong divided look between the lit and unlit half right down the nose. I use a big diffusion panel to soften the light as much as possible. We will take care of the unlit half of the face in the next paragraph.

At the moment, the shadow line is too strong. Even with some natural light, this is what often makes cheaper productions fall short because the subject will have fairly strong shadows on their face. Our next job is to get rid of them. This is achieved with a fill light which can either simply be a reflector that bounces natural light or the key light, or an extra, smaller LED light than shines some light at eye level at the subject's face. Even at the lowest setting, it does immediately get rid of any hard shadows. The fill light should be closer to the camera to make sure what the camera sees is illuminated enough to give a pleasing and soft look. There are examples of professional interviews well done without any (noticeable) fill for effect, for example my personal favorite In the Shadow of the Moon (just google images for it plus "interview").

We've dealt with the absolutely necessary lights, now for the bonus: add a hair light behind the subject, slightly to the side of the fill light and just out of sight from the cameras. This will add a light onto one side of the hair, head, and shoulder of the subject and make them stand out more against the background. The background at this point should be as dark as possible as to be not too distracting. If it is receiving too much light spill, try to flag the lights with so-called barn doors/french flags or some cardboard. Another option is to move the subject further from the background and use the fall-off of the light's intensity to make it appear darker.

Now it is time for the subject (or "talent", i.e. interviewee) to take a seat. Set up your shotgun mic so that it points down at their chest, and either hide the lavalier mic under their clothing or position it low enough (but not below their sternum) so that it is out of the shot. I use a very tight picture that usually only shows their head and maybe the shoulders so getting the microphones out of the shots isn't very hard. Now do a sound check, get the cameras rolling, use a clapper board or do something similar (clap your hands or snip your fingers in front of the cameras) and you are ready to go for the interview. It can also be a good idea to use a color chart at this point to get a good reference with the final lighting setup.

This post has got long enough so I will talk about any workflow, interview tips and how to edit an interview in Davinci Resolve in another one. Just remember to do all your backups first thing after the interview is over!

Please use the comment section below or head over to Google+ or Twitter @tobiaswulff to discuss this article or any of my photography and videography work. My Flickr, 500px and Vimeo pages also provide some space to leave comments and keep up to date with my portfolio. Lastly, if you want to get updates on future blog posts, please subscribe to my RSS feed. I plan to publish a new article every Wednesday.

Home-built LED Panel for Video

Over the last weekend plus a few days I put together an inexpensive DIY LED panel that is so bright it will blind your interview subjects but doesn't break the bank - at all.

I won't explain all the steps and parts for this build because someone else has already done a much better job than me: DIY Perks on Youtube (you'll want to watch most of his builds once you discover the channel!). Watch the video from start to finish, then check your electronics and tools box for the few parts that are needed. I had to get a roll of 300 LED lights, a voltage regulator (or PWM controller if you're not worried about flickering lights but for video work a voltage dimmer is recommended), some MDF and some woodworking and power tools I didn't have (but they will serve me for many years to come). The rest is really simple and if you decide to skip painting it can probably be all done in one afternoon.

The colours here look a bit funny because I had the whitebalance on my camera set to my working light which is a tungsten light bulb whereas the LEDs are clearly much cooler. However, even though it was a cheap roll of LEDs (about $15), it doesn't have that nasty green shift that cheap LEDs are kind of known for. Its colour probably isn't perfect but I'm pretty happy with it. DIY Perks linked to some equally cheap LEDs that he measured at something like 95 CRI (which is really good) but I had already ordered some from another seller on Aliexpress.

The brightness is amazing and while I haven't tested its limits in daylight yet it's definitely too bright to point at your talent (say at an interview) at full power. Note that you need some fairly thick wires to hook everything up until it gets fanned out to the individual LED strips - I chose AWG16 but 18 is probably alright as well as long as you don't power more than 300-400 LEDs. With bigger panels your wire thickness requirements (and the ones for your power source) will obviously go up. I power the panel with 18V from a universal laptop power supply (I would prefer around 14V but the power supply chooses 18V with the 2.1 mm DC connector at the end) but a good LiIon or LiPo battery does work as well.

The box that houses the regulator as well as a switch and a potentiometer is actually a clear Raspberry Pi case that I had lying around. Due to the thick wire it was a bit of a squeeze and a solder joint popped off at one point due to the strain on a cable so better give yourself plenty of room for the electronics. This will also help with dissipating heat but with only 300 LEDs the heat sinks on my regulator don't get too hot.

One section where I deviated from the instructions in the video above is the dimmer circuit. While DIY Perks uses a multi-K Ohm resistor and a 22K pot, I used a 10K pot and no fixed resistor. I get the perfect voltage range out of it (I think my trim pot on the regulator is actually turned fully clockwise), meaning 7V (when all the LEDs just turn on) to about 11V which is as high as I want to go without compromising the lifetime of the LEDs.

To mount it on tripods etc I sandwiched a coldshoe with 1/4" thread between two pieces of MDF glued together, than screwed (and glued) that onto the back of the panel. Because the panel isn't very heavy, this is an extremely sturdy connection. Just watch the video to see exactly how it's done. I've since applied the same technique to make some adjustable mounting "bricks" for my motorised timelapse slider.

Please use the comment section below or head over to Google+ or Twitter @tobiaswulff to discuss this article or any of my photography and videography work. My Flickr, 500px and Vimeo pages also provide some space to leave comments and keep up to date with my portfolio. Lastly, if you want to get updates on future blog posts, please subscribe to my RSS feed. I plan to publish a new article every Wednesday.

Fast Editing and Color Grading with a Gaming Mouse

There are many control surfaces out there to help with editing and colour grading but they are mostly geared towards professionals and are very expensive. Examples are surfaces from Tangent and Blackmagic.

North RouteburnSunset in the North Routeburn, Aspiring National Park, NZ. Cropping, exposure and contrast adjustments, monochrome processing in Darktable.

For amateurs and enthusiasts there are multiple cheaper options. I've written about my DIY controller for Davinci before but there are also consumer devices that can greatly speed up editing and grading. Because I have to use a mouse anyway (for lack of a complete, fully-features control surface), the Logitech G700s gamging mouse(de) is one of my favourite tools. Its main feature are the four thumb buttons on the left side that can be assigned arbitrary actions or shortcuts through the Logitech software. The configuration is stored in the mouse itself so once set up the Logitech software is no longer needed. This means the settings will work the same on any computer or any operating system. The mouse wheel is kind of special on this mouse because it can be pushed left or right (very useful for scrolling on a timeline), and it can be put in a free spinning mode with the button next to it. This is useful for browsing websites or scrolling through long documents such as the Davinci Manual (PDF).

Edit

For editing I use three of the buttons to switch between Davinci's three edit modes (pointer [shortcut A], trim [T], razor blade [B]). The fourth button is used to toggle snapping on or off since I constantly find myself switching between shifting clips around (in this case I want them to stick to the next clip so that there is no gap) and making fine adjustments to the length of clips or exact cuts. Another good option for those four buttons are the clip modes Insert, Overwrite, Replace, and Place on Top.

The top buttons aren't used as heavily because they are a bit awkward to reach while holding the mouse. At the moment I have the three buttons on the top left set up to set in and out points and to toggle video/audio linking for the selected clip. I almost find the I and O keys on the keyboard easier to reach but I also miss them sometimes when I don't look down. The two buttons in the center of the mouse switch through the profiles and turn the free-spinning mouse wheel on or off.

Colour

The most common action when colour correcting and grading, and the central piece of Davinci's colour page, are the nodes. So I set up the four buttons on the side of the mouse to quickly add serial, parallel, layer nodes, and also to add a serial node before the currently selected one. I haven't found a specific use for the three top buttons yet as there are so many possible shortcuts but none of them are used as often as handling nodes. Maybe I'll go for undo/redo, or for handling clip versions or the gallery.

Summary

Using a gaming mouse together with a few keyboard shortcuts or a simple control surface (I'm looking forward to see what the Tangent Ripple can do) can greatly speed up your editing and colour grading work. If you've only been using a normal three button mouse so far I highly recommend giving a gaming mouse with 7-10 additional buttons a go.

Please use the comment section below or head over to Google+ or Twitter @tobiaswulff to discuss this article or any of my photography and videography work. My Flickr, 500px and Vimeo pages also provide some space to leave comments and keep up to date with my portfolio. Lastly, if you want to get updates on future blog posts, please subscribe to my RSS feed. I plan to publish a new article every Wednesday.

Preparing for a Documentary Shoot with Blackmagic and GH4 - Part 1

The actual production time for my first proper documentary is coming up in a few weeks so I want to start writing about the pre-production process and my experiences as each shooting day happens.

Upskilling

There are so many areas you have to cover as a mostly one-man-band when making a short feature and there is always more to learn. Most of those areas also go hand in hand so even if you want to hand something off to someone else it still pays to learn the basics and get into the editor's head, or the audio guy's head, and of course the camera man's/DP's head.

Over the last year I slowly learned to use Davinci Resolve 12 to edit and color grade, and even though color grading (and editing to some extend but luckily a documentary isn't 100% creativity and some things just fall in chronological order) probably takes decades or a lifetime to master I slowly get the hang of matching shots and giving it a certain look. So while I think that there is lots to learn on an actual big project I've also got the basics to tackle a short film. Really useful tutorials I used to learn the skills are the Youtube tutorial videos of Casey Faris and Miesner Media. The official Resolve manual is very content-rich and well written. It is definitely worth a read if you're serious about using the program to produce films - at least it should be handy as a reference document.

For dealing with RAW timelapses and turning it into an edited and color graded video the recent mountain timeapse was a good exercise.

Equipment

I've slowly gathered all (most? acquiring equipment never ends) of my equipment over the last few months and am now ready to shoot a variety of scenes in different weather and lighting conditions. The cameras and how I plan to use them:

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera with Metabones speedbooster and full-frame or APS-C lenses (from 11mm to 105mm, some of that with optical stabilisation): use whenever feasible because it produces the best image but it won't shoot slow motion. It is also too heavy to go running with (unless way stripped down) and therefore won't work on my Roxant stabilizer.

GH4 with speedbooster and full-frame or APS-C lenses: due to the different crop factor gives slightly different focal lengths than the BMPCC. Can shoot 4K and slow motion so will be used when those features are necessary. Is also more rugged (see my test in the rain here) and works on the stabilizer with a small MFT lens. The GH4 has decent audio input (as long as the pre-amps are turned down) so I don't necessarily need a separate audio recorder - something that is absolutely required with the BMPCC.

GoPro Hero 3: I don't like the image of the GoPros that much but it is a great little camera and can do super wide-angle shots, good slow motion, and fit in tight corners where other cameras won't go. I plan to use it for timelapses with a tiny rig (e.g. on a Gorilla pod) and to leave it outside for longer periods without having to worry about it too much.

Either one of those or a photography camera like the Olympus E-M1 will also be used to shoot timelapses without using any of the precious video equipment.

I've experimented a lot with rigs from Smallrig and will write a post at some point about the specific parts. At the moment I'm still swaying back and worth between more parts and attachments and a smaller rig so I don't want to finalise it just yet. What I can say, though, is that a minimal cage works best for small HDSLRs like the BMPCC and GH4, and Nato rails and top handles are amazing.

What's next

The next step is to shoot a daytrip in the outdoors where we prepare the course for the event. It will involve using the stabiliser and trying to record good audio while being on the move.

Until then, here again is the clip from last year's event:


Please use the comment section below or head over to Google+ or Twitter @tobiaswulff to discuss this article or any of my photography and videography work. My Flickr, 500px and Vimeo pages also provide some space to leave comments and keep up to date with my portfolio. Lastly, if you want to get updates on future blog posts, please subscribe to my RSS feed. I plan to publish a new article every Wednesday.

RAW Timelapse Workflow with Darktable and Davinci Resolve

I shot a new timelapse in the mountains, this time exclusively recording all the frames in full resolution and RAW (unlike my previous outdoor timelapse). It was recorded with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 (de) and Olympus 12-40mm F2.8 PRO (de) lens.

Out in the field

Basic outdoor timelapse 101: all manual settings, that is ISO, white balance, aperture, shutter speed. White balance was obviously daylight and I kept the ISO at its minimum (200). Shutter speed should be set to something "video-like". Video and film cameras usually use something called a 180 degree shutter which essentially means that the shutter speed is 1/(2 x frame rate). So for a 24 fps video that means 1/48 or (because photo cameras usually don't offer this setting) 1/50. Anything faster than that runs the risk of making the timelapse feel jittery and too sharp. For fast movements, like people or clouds, I like to go even slower and aim for something like 1/20 - 1/40. This gives the video a more dreamy and pleasing look.

I record every frame in RAW. I like to store JPEGs as well so I can generate a quick timelapse when I get home without having to go through the RAW workflow (described below) first.

To do the actual timelapse recording, there are several option depending on your circumstances and your equipment:

  • Using the camera's in-built timelapse function: most compact solution and works well on the E-M1 except when you want faster than 1 second intervals;
  • using a remote shutter release or remote timer: works great but you have to dial in the intervals using the anti-shock functionality and it's an extra cable flapping in the wind;
  • a slider or panning head triggering the camera: whenever the E-M1 sits on the panning head (see next section), it will receive it's shutter releases from the Genie. The result: accurate intervals perfectly timed with the stops between motions of the moving parts of the timelapse setup.

For filters I often use a graduated ND filter to make the bright sky and the darker ground a bit more even. This is particularly important at sunrise and sunset because the ground will be really dark. I also have a circular polarizer that lives on my lens 95% of the time: vegetation looks more lush, colours more vibrant, and annoying reflections of leaves or glaring surfaces disappear. It can also cut through a lot of haze and mist on a more cloudy day. Time in Pixels just released an excellent article about filters for video with many visual examples.

Getting moving

I've written about my DIY slider before and it is actually undergoing some major upgrades right now to make it more usable and flexible. However, I don't usually take it very far because it is heavy and big. In order to have something that always fits in even the smallest bag, is compact and rugged (not weather-proof, though) and "just works", I got myself a Genie Mini which is actually being developed here in NZ. It's controlled from a smartphone via Bluetooth so setting it up takes a few minutes since my phone is usually off when I'm in the outdoors (no reception anyway) but it's very intuitive and flexible (watch the videos on their website). All the shots in the video at the top of the page that have some side-to-side movement are done with the Genie Mini.

RAW workflow

The out of camera JPEGs are alright but (especially for landscapes) don't look nearly as good as they could when I develop my own final images from RAW: better colours, more dynamic range, more wiggle room in the highlights (and some in the shadows). This is particularly important when photographing sunsets, sunrises, or rapidly changing lighting conditions because the exposure can be adjusted so much in post. I load all my RAWs from one scene into Darktable, then do all my adjustments on one of them (shadows, highlights, general exposure, Velvia/saturation filter, contrast, noise reduction, but no cropping - I can always do that later when editing the video). Then, I copy the settings to all the other RAWs and export everything to bitmap files with a high bit rate, such as 16-bit PNG or TIFF. In theory, one could also make fine adjustments to individual frames at this stage.

Editing

The last step is to edit the photos into a timelapse video and maybe add some music and sound effects. I mainly use Davinci Resolve for editing because it also has colour grading built in but the colours should already be fairly correct and good looking from the last step. Davinci can directly import image sequences (i.e. individual files) and display them as video clips.

Please use the comment section below or head over to Google+ or Twitter @tobiaswulff to discuss this article or any of my photography and videography work. My Flickr, 500px and Vimeo pages also provide some space to leave comments and keep up to date with my portfolio. Lastly, if you want to get updates on future blog posts, please subscribe to my RSS feed. I plan to publish a new article every Wednesday.

Shooting on the River

A few weeks ago I was shooting photos and a short film on and next to a river while also doing grade 3 whitewater action. This is a quick summary of some gear I used and some helpful tips to keep your gear dry and in good working condition. But first, here is the finished short film about the trip:

Equipment

First and foremost, your equipment has to be stored in a safe way. This means a good water-proof (even when submerged) and to some degree crush-proof case, ideally with foam inserts to protect against shock. Pelican cases have a great reputation and I use the Pelican 1200 Case (de) because it's just the right size for a MFT camera and a decent sized lens plus some accessories. It also fits perfectly behind the seat cushion of the river bug that we are using. Pelican makes cases in a lot of different size, for memory cards, small electronic devices, cameras and up to big carry-on roller cases that themselves weigh 6-8 kgs already. I did a few rolls in the river (as you can see at the end of the video) and everything stayed perfectly dry. The main thing to watch out for is that absolutely nothing gets in between the rubber seal and the lid when closing the case. Many a camera have been lost in the past due to a bit of cloth or a camera strap preventing the seal from working correctly.

I also keep a small micro-fibre towel in the case to absorb puddles and to be able to wipe off any water on gear or your hands. As usual with any photography/video gear, there is also a small lens cloth to wipe off moisture and clean the lens. One lesson I learned - even tough nothing bad happened - is to always put small and vulnerable things like batteries and microphones into zip-lock bags. Sooner or later your camera will get a bit wet or water will drip from you or your equipment into the case so extra protection is required for things that should never ever get wet. It also keeps everything more organised and things can't fall out as easily.

Action cameras (such as my GoPro HERO3: Black Edition (de) ) are of course the main work horses of all thrill seekers and outdoor enthusiasts. I put a piece of paper towel or toilet paper inside the case to absorb moisture - that's basically all the more expensive GoPro absorption papers do. It also helps you verify if everything stayed tightly shut at the end of the day.

Main main camera was the Olympus OM-D E-M1 (de) but in the future it will definitely be the Panasonic LUMIX GH4 (de) with Metabones Canon EF to BMPCC Speed Booster (de) because of its slow-motion ability and better codecs and video features (unless I need a smaller foot print or the IBIS of the E-M1). I couldn't use a good microphone but I think the sound of the river is still ok and luckily there weren't many other sounds to record on location. The E-M1 and PRO lens performed flawlessly in the heavy rain which was great because for basically any other video camera I would've needed an umbrella or camera bag handy whenever I took it out of the case.

Post-processing

Because I've only used the on-camera microphone and also because a GoPro in its water-proof housing doesn't record sound very well, the major "trick" to improve the finished video was to make a good wild river soundtrack and apply it to all the tracks where it made sense, that is where there are rapids and whitewater - but I also left the GoPro sounds (they are more like clicks when hit by a wave) in on a separate track because they give it a more immediate feedback to what is happening visually. The same is true for the sound of the rain on the camera: it doesn't sound great because it's the built-in mic and it's the sound of rain hitting the camera housing but it helps with audience immersion.

Color grading has taken another big step forward in this project: I used Davinci Resolve 12 Lite and the color themes are cool/high-contrast for the bad weather scenes and a warm slightly teal/orange look for the good weather scenes. The GoPro footage was graded to fit well into the surrounding clips but it also has a more realistic and less stylised look. For the supermarket indoor shots I added glow around the highlights to give it a slightly dreamy feel because it is so different to the harsh outdoor and action shots. I will post some before and after color grading shots soon.

Please use the comment section below or head over to Google+ or Twitter @tobiaswulff to discuss this article or any of my photography and videography work. My Flickr, 500px and Vimeo pages also provide some space to leave comments and keep up to date with my portfolio. Lastly, if you want to get updates on future blog posts, please subscribe to my RSS feed. I plan to publish a new article every Wednesday.

Weather-proofing the GH4 with Speedbooster

When I upgraded from an Olympus OM-D E-M1 (de) to a higher-quality kit, it was pretty clear that the weather-sealing of the camera body, lens and accessories won't be as good - it doesn't get much better than the Olympus OM-D E-M1 (de) plus Olympus 12-40mm F2.8 PRO lens (de) (rain, dust and freeze proof) so it could only decrease. However, watching most professional documentary and expedition shoots, apart from when using GoPros, video cameras are simply not made for rough conditions. Usually you work around the weather-related issues, often with a crew, using umbrellas and camera bags/sleeves.

The Panasonic LUMIX GH4 (de) is a great video camera and it is weather-sealed. For a full weather-proof package you would have to get the Panasonic lens which isn't really the best option for video shooters for multiple reasons:

  • MFT lenses deliver amazing images and they certainly make sense in a lot of situations (my landscape photography camera uses one and I wouldn't dream of putting Canon L glass on it when going hiking) but they are not a good long-term investment for film;
  • going wide with a GH4 in 4K mode (2.3x crop) or with a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera (2.88x crop) is quite difficult so a focal reducer is a must for wider than normal angles;
  • smaller sensors such as MFT and Super16 still have quite a disadvantage over full-frame or cinema cameras such as the C100/C300 when it comes to low light so a speedbooster can greatly help to get those f1.0 or better apertures.

All of this combined means that vintage or modern Canon EF or Nikon mount lenses, both APS-C and full-frame, are the best choice for film. Good glass greatly improves the image and will work on many other, higher end cameras as well, for instance Blackmagic Ursa Mini or RED. Canon L lenses are great because not only do they deliver the goods optically, they are also weather-sealed, one example being the very versatile Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS (de) .

This, of course, leaves only the Metabones Canon EF to BMPCC Speed Booster (de) in between the camera and the lens vulnerable to the elements. It's a shame that Metabones hasn't implement better sealing because the front and back end of the speedbooster is a pretty standard EF and MFT mount, respectively, and it is made of solid metal. I think the lens side of the speedbooster might actually be slightly sealed because of the rubber gasket from the Canon L lens, however, the camera side of things is just metal on metal and therefore not sealed at all.

Taping over the speedbooster with Gaffers tape works pretty well since it is easy to work with, and it comes off without leaving and residue behind (unlike Duct tape and other, stronger tapes). Unfortunately, it is kind of hard to get the camera to speedbooster interface taped off perfectly because of the awkward protrusion that is the GH4 EVF/flash housing. I added a layer of cling film as a first layer of protection, then taped everything in place. So even if the sides of the tape let some water in (which they shouldn't), hopefully the plastic will still keep the openings in the speedbooster dry.

My test consisted of a roughly 40 minute walk in moderate to heavy rain, keeping the camera level or pointing down (mostly to keep rain off the front of the lens) and always horizontal. I also decided to throw my SmallHD 501 On-Camera Monitor into the mix which also meant exposing the HDMI interface of the GH4. A plastic bag and more tape covered it nicely and I could still operate the buttons and joystick on the monitor. Swapping batteries on the monitor also still worked but it'd probably try to cover it more completely in the future and just cut a little opening for the HDMI cable (it was easier if it attached to the bottom of the monitor instead of the back at a 90 degrees angle).

Overall, it worked beautifully and I feel like I could venture out into a few hours of rain if I had to shoot something without the help of an assistant holding an umbrella. Swapping batteries or lenses or fiddling with any of the accessories is almost impossible without additional cover, though. Also, using a microphone would require a broader rain cover as well.

Please use the comment section below or head over to Google+ or Twitter @tobiaswulff to discuss this article or any of my photography and videography work. My Flickr, 500px and Vimeo pages also provide some space to leave comments and keep up to date with my portfolio. Lastly, if you want to get updates on future blog posts, please subscribe to my RSS feed. I plan to publish a new article every Wednesday.

Use a MIDI Controller as a Video Editing and Color Grading Surface

Control surfaces can greatly speed up editing and color grading work and also avoid issues like CTS because your hand can move around more freely instead of clutching a mouse all day. However, like most things in the video/film world, they can be very expensive. At the top end there are full suites like Blackmagic's Davinci (multiple $10,000s), the Avid Artist line (many $1,000s) and smaller devices like the Shuttle Pro V.2 (de) ($129). While they are often very well made and can be worth it if your profession is to produce multimedia every day as efficiently as possible, the actual cost of the functional parts is actually much lower. So I decided to build something similar to the Shuttle Pro but with a few key differences:
  • Sends MIDI messages instead of registering as a keyboard
  • Fewer buttons but a shift function that doubles the number of functions, including the jog/shuttle wheels
  • Different placement so that the hand can rest on the left and easily access buttons on the top and the right

MIDI

The MIDI protocol has been around for decades and is primarily used in the audio and lighting world for input devices and synthesizers. As opposed to using an input device that emulates a keyboard, MIDI has got the advantage that the incoming messages can be easily translated to keyboard shortcuts, whereas an Arduino emulating a keyboard will always send the same shortcuts. This gives much more flexibility, e.g. when changing programs or modes within a program (think media, edit, and colour pages in Davinci Resolve).

Within Resolve, shortcuts can be configured (or are configured by default) for pretty much all functionality apart from curves and colour/lieft/gamma/gain wheels - without a dedicated control surface one still has to use the mouse to modify these parameters. In order to process incoming MIDI messages on Linux I use mididings. I actually gave a talk at KiwiPyCon 2014 about using mididings to control photography (or any) software on Linux. On Windows I wrote my processing code in C++ and used the rtmidi library which is easy to compile (I use MinGW gcc) and comes with many excellent examples.

Assembly

The physical parts come down to a few buttons (cents to a few $), LED(s) (cents) and the jog/shuttle made by ALPS ($15-20). Figuring out the pins on the jog/shuttle was pretty straight-forward but this article goes through the process in more detail and might be useful to anyone trying to get a similar part working. I already had the plastic case and an Arduino to power the project lying around. In order to turn the Arduino into a MIDI device you'll have to replace the firmware on the ATmega used to communicate with the computer via USB (which is different from the main ATmega on an Arduino Uno!). The firmware and detailed instructions can be found on the HIDUINO Github page.

The shuttle controls forward and backward play at different speeds (J, K and L in Resolve) and the jog dial advances or rewinds the playhead one frame at a time (left and right arrow keys).

I still need to figure out a way to make an outer wheel for the shuttle and a knob or inner wheel for the jog rotary encoder. 3D printing might be the best way but first I'll have to learn how to create the virtual parts for it. At least the shuttle and jog wheels have sturdy grooves that should make it fairly easy to attach knobs or wheels to it.

At the moment, the Arduino will be connected to each button, LED and ALPS shuttle/jog through cables that go into the female headers on the little green board. Eventually, the Arduino will have to move into the enclosure and more sturdy, soldered connections between its pins and the components will be made.

Please use the comment section below or head over to Google+ or Twitter @tobiaswulff to discuss this article or any of my photography and videography work. My Flickr, 500px and Vimeo pages also provide some space to leave comments and keep up to date with my portfolio. Lastly, if you want to get updates on future blog posts, please subscribe to my RSS feed. I plan to publish a new article every Wednesday.

New Olympus OM-D Firmware (4.0)

Olympus has just released firmware version 4.0 for the OM-D E-M1 (de) and version 2.0 for the OM-D E-M5 Mark II (de). I haven't seen an announcement on their website yet but the updater software can already download and install both camera and lens updates. One tip that took me a few tries to figure out: when connecting the camera to the computer, select "Storage" from the camera screen, otherwise the Olympus updater software won't be able to see the device.

It's a free upgrade and brings a lot of exciting new features to both of those cameras. Unfortunately for me as an E-M1-only owner, some of those are for the E-M5II only. Before upgrading keep in mind that the upgrade process will wipe all your settings from the camera!

Update: After having played with the new firmware for a day now, I've updated the sections below with some observations and new discoveries (in bold). I will also try to put a sort of E-M1 guide page together with useful settings and little quirks.

Electronic Shutter

It looks like finally the E-M1 is getting an electronic shutter mode which will be great for situations where the loud mechanical shutter is not appropriate. I don't know who made that decision but the heart symbol for the silent shutter (next to the familiar rhombus for the anti-shock mode) is kinda cute. However, be aware of the limitations: rolling shutter (if panning while taking a shot) is worse and flickering lighting such as florescent lights or projector lamps can make photos shot with electronic shutter nearly unusable.

Update: The electronic shutter setting is in the second camera menu (menu button, then on the second page down). Select Anti-Shock/Silent, then pick a silent delay (0 seconds for no delay but no mechanical shutter), then half-press the shutter button to go back to photo shooting mode and select drive mode Single Silent (heart). This is a lot of setup but once it's done you can quickly switch between mechanical and silent shutter using the drive/HDR button on the top left of the camera body. I'm looking forward to using the electronic shutter in my timelapses to go a bit easier on the mechanical shutter mechanism.

Focus Stacking and Bracketing

The biggest feature additions are the new modes for focus stacking and bracketing. Both do essentially the same thing, that is taking a whole bunch of pictures with the same exposure settings but slightly different focus points. This is particularly useful in macro photography where the depth of field usually is very small. It works with compatible auto-focus lenses such as Olympus's M.ZUIKO PRO lens series (de) by automatically shifting the focus point after each photo.

In focus bracketing you will end up with all of those photos and you can post-process them however you like (similar to Panasonic's new Lytro-like focus-later technology). However, when focus stacking is selected, the camera will do all the magic inside and produce one photo out of 8 individual ones, all with slightly different focus points. This should result in a macro shot where the whole subject is in focus.

Update: It works - as long as nothing in the frame moves. Focus stacking only works with the electronic shutter and it's so quick that it can easily be done hand-held. I don't have a dedicated macro lens so I couldn't really shoot any meaningful examples but it turns long focal length f2.8 into "everything is in focus" which is pretty cool. When focus stacking is selected, it also keeps all 5 individual files on the card so you can post-process them later. Some of the little but great improvements that I haven't mentioned in the original article are:

  • the menu system remembers where you left off last time so you can quickly play with settings without having to go through pages and pages to find it again,
  • not only are there more colours for focus peaking (red or yellow is so much better than black or white!) but the intensity can also be changed,
  • histogram, level gauge and over/under exposure indicators can now be displayed at the same time: this is huge because previously I had to jump through all the different options with the Info button to get my camera level, then get the exposure right; you can selected two different custom modes to cycle through using the Info button and selected which parts you want on each screen - the settings are under Menu - Gear D - Info Settings - LV-Info.

Simulated Optical Viewfinder

The S-OVF mode disables some of the "live view" features in the viewfinder, such as boosting the light levels. This means that it won't assist the photographer in bad lighting conditions but on the other hand, you'll see exactly what a true optical viewfinder would see, that is it depends entirely on the currently selected aperture on your lens. White-balance compensation is also turned off for a "truer" image. I think most of the time a appreciate the assisting features of the EVF and I use the histogram to accurately determine whether my exposure is good, so I can't see myself using this mode too much but it's still a free new feature that could come in very handy in certain situations (e.g. when not using the histogram for some reason).

Update: I probably didn't get it fully right in the paragraph above because I didn't know how optical viewfinders used to work. When S-OVF is selected, exposure compensation is completely disabled so you see pretty much exactly what your eye would see outside the camera. If you want to judge exposure you have to go by the metering number - the histogram doesn't help at all because it only turns what's currently in the EVF into a graph which means it won't change as you alter ISO, aperture or shutter speed (because the OVF doesn't change). To see the photo as it will turn out when you press the shutter you have to do two things: 1) go back into normal EVF mode, and 2) turn off Live View Boost under Menu - Gear D - second page. This is my preferred setting because it gives the least unwanted surprises, and I've mapped the S-OVF to Fn2 so I can change to it if I want a more realistic view.

Video

There are a few upgrades that apply to video only, such as a new picture profile (E-M5II only) and synchronised recording with an Olympus audio recorder. I don't own either so sadly, video won't receive any useful improvements (I was really hoping for focus peaking during recording but at least they are adding more colours to choose from for the outlines). Another minor addition is the slate tone generator which I assume can be assigned to a button. Using this probably looks more professional than snipping your fingers in front of the camera when recording audio with an external recorder.

For the E-M1 there is another good and bad update for video: a new framerate. It's great that Olympus has added 24p but it is also still missing 60p to become a useful sports and documentary video camera (which otherwise the rugged and weatherproof body and the in-body stabilisation makes it perfectly suited for). I don't quite understand why Olympus is adding features like timecode (and those awful movie effects) first before improving on the essentials.

Lenses

The PRO lenses will also receive a new firmware which will add support for disabling the MF clutch. I only usually use the clutch to switch to a true manual focus while shooting video. When shooting photos I have previously pressed my back-button-focus button just to find it didn't do anything because the clutch was still on manual focus. This update might help in those situations.

So overall it's a great update and we should keep in mind that not all manufacturers release such improvements for free. However, there are still features missing that I'm sure the camera would be capable of handling. They might arrive in the future with another free upgrade despite the E-M1 Mark II probably not being too far away anymore. I'm optimistic because in this upgrade Olympus has added features to the E-M1 that at first looked like they were for the E-M5II only.

Please head over to Google+ or Twitter @tobiaswulff (see links on top of the page) to discuss this article or any of my photography and videography work. My Flickr, 500px and Vimeo pages also provide some space to leave comments and keep up to date with my portfolio. Lastly, if you want to get updates on future blog posts, please subscribe to my RSS feed. I plan to publish a new article every Wednesday.

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