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INVESTING IN THE RIGHT VIDEO CAMERA FOR YOU

Camera Collage
Thinking about investing in a new camera? If so, you know it’s tough to make a decision, and it can be quite the struggle to find one that suits all of your needs and fits in your budget. Also, with new cameras and great new features coming out constantly, it becomes a challenge to pick a camera with some staying power. So what do you do? The best thing to do in this situation is to analyze your needs, see what is available, and weigh the pros and cons. This post will tell you what you need to know to make sure you find the camera that works best for you.

If you are looking for the right video camera for your needs, you need to consider the following points:

WHAT ARE YOU SHOOTING MOST
This is the most important factor in determining your camera purchase. What you shoot most will affect all the points below. Whether it’s interviews, documentaries, commercials, stop-motion, 3D movies, green screen, broadcast, weddings, etc. you will be glad you thought about this before making any decisions. It will help you determine if you need a specialty camera or a more universal camera that can cover lots of needs.

FORMAT
When talking about format, I am referring first to the final video project’s format. Will your projects be going to a movie theater screen, a website, YouTube, mobile devices, etc.? Secondly, I am talking about the actual format that the camera records. Both of these will play an important role in your decision.

COMPRESSION
Cameras differ greatly from each other in terms of the way they handle compressing the video information they record. It becomes a file size vs. quality battle, choose wisely.

COLOR SAMPLING
Color sampling plays an important part in the image quality your video camera will be able to capture. For example, a professional dedicated video camera’s color sampling will be superior to that of a DSLR’s. This comes in handy when shooting on a green screen. Getting a good clean key in post production will be easier if the footage was shot on a camera with great color sampling.

AUDIO CAPABILITIES
Make sure your camera suits your audio needs. Until recently, most DSLR’s have had sub-par audio capabilities. This is a huge advantage that professional dedicated video cameras have over DSLR’s. You want to make sure you have XLR inputs, as well as a way to monitor your audio while recording.

MONITORING CAPABILITIES
Whether it’s just an LCD, or you are running HDMI out to a big screen television, you need to make sure you can monitor what you are recording (video AND audio). Make sure you choose a camera with the right monitoring options for you.

INTERCHANGEABLE LENS
You need to determine if you need a camera that has an interchangeable lens option or not. If you get a camera that does not, you are stuck with that lens, which could be good or bad. This is where you consider zoom range, aperture, etc. With DSLRs you can always find a lens that suits your needs, but they can get quite expensive if your day to day requires many focal lengths, low light situations, Image stabilization, etc.

LOW LIGHT CAPABILITIES
Low light capabilities are largely affected by the size of the image sensor in the camera. In low light situations, digital video can often get grainy/noisy. You can get cleaner low light footage with better sensors and/or with a lens with a wide open aperture.

SIZE/PORTABILITY
Depending on what you shoot most, portability can be a big issue. It can be the difference of using a large broadcast camera for a news station or using a tiny GoPro camera attached to a snowboarder’s helmet for a sports/action video. The Avengers movie even used a few DSLRs for some of the scenes that required more portable cameras to shoot.

STABILIZATION
Ask yourself if you will you be shooting handheld, need a tripod, a shoulder rig, a steady cam, etc. Most video cameras have stabilization built in, however with DSLRs, the stabilization is dependent upon the lens that’s mounted. Image stabilized lenses are more expensive than those without. Lots of times stabilization will depend on other equipment, not just the camera.

CUSTOMIZATION
Do you need a camera that is easily customized? RED cameras aren’t cheap, but you can customize them in pretty much any way you want. You may need a camera that you can attach lots of accessories to? This all depends on what you shoot most, and there are loads of DIY projects for customization out there.

Now that you have considered these points, you should be ready to determine the right camera for you.

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DSLR NIGHT TIME PHOTOGRAPHY

Some amazing images have been captured at night time, however, there are many factors to be considered before attempting to shoot when it’s dark outside. Some of these factors include subject, lighting, stabilization, and of course shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Below you can view a couple of images that I shot at night.

Example – Bogue Inlet Pier
Bogue Inlet Pier
Summer of 2011 @ 12:30AM

Example – New Year’s Eve Stars
Stars
New Years Eve 2011/2012 @ 11:45PM

Whereas these aren’t spectacular images, they are good examples of what can be photographed at night without expensive gear. These were both shot with a Canon T2i and it’s simple kit lens the 18-55mm F3.5-5.6. The pier is Bogue Inlet Pier in Emerald Isle, NC and the shutter was open for 5 seconds to capture that image. For the image of the stars, I had to leave the shutter open for 30 seconds to capture all of the light information. There were nowhere near that many stars visible to the naked eye that night. If you are interested in getting well exposed images during the night time, please consider the points below before shooting.

Lighting
In most situations shooting photos at night, you will not have the ideal amount of lighting for your subject. In this case, you may need to bring your own lights to set up a scene just the way you want it, or adjust settings on your camera to compensate for the low light conditions. Optimal low light settings include a wide open aperture, slow shutter speed, and moderate to high ISO (and of course for different effects/subjects this will vary).

Shutter Speed
In general, for low light settings you want to keep the shutter speed as slow as you can. If you are handheld, about the lowest you can get away with without streaking in your image is about 1/60. If your camera is completely still, you can leave the shutter open for much longer. Be sure to have a tripod, other stabilization device, or somewhere to set your camera where it will be perfectly still. Letting it expose for longer periods of time will allow the sensor to capture more information, ultimately producing a more defined image. See what some people have done with slow shutter speeds and “light writing.”
Flickr Group – Light Junkies

Aperture
The optimal setting for your aperture in a low light setting is always going to be wide open. So if you have a lens that can go down to f1.4 that can let in a significant amount of light compared to a lens that will only go down to f3.5. This makes your depth of field shallower while allowing for a properly exposed image.

ISO
ISO is a setting on DSLRs that mimics the sensitivity of film. Basically, the higher your ISO is, the more sensitive your sensor becomes to light and your image will appear brighter. This comes at a cost however. With higher ISO settings, your image gets grainer due to digital noise. It’s really a matter of finding that happy medium when shooting in low light conditions that allows for you to get a properly exposed looking image, but still keeping the digital noise down.

Subject
Be it a landscape, a portrait of someone, a car, an animal, or anything, you need to know the limitations a subject will provide before you photograph it. If shooting a landscape at night, chances are you may not have enough available lighting for it. A landscape however is not a moving image, so you can slow your shutter speed down to let your camera expose the scene longer, taking in more light and producing a good image. Be sure your camera is completely still when shooting with slow shutter speeds.


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DSLR AUDIO RECORDING OPTIONS

Dear Readers,

If you have not had the chance, please visit the Rising Stream Media blog. I write for that now, and below you can read a re-post of my most recent blog for RSM.

Capturing good sound with your video projects is incredibly important. Some would even argue that it’s just as important as capturing good quality video. DSLR cameras are fantastic for capturing cinematic quality video, but they are notorious for their sub-par audio capabilities. Their built-in microphones would capture acceptable audio if recording in a quiet area and very close to the subject, however this is not the typical setting for most productions. Most DSLRs are equipped with a small hole to record audio, and sometimes it is not on the front of the camera. Also, there is a monitoring issue with most DSLRs, until some recent models (Canon’s 5D Mark III), the cameras have not had a way to output audio for monitoring during a production. These are some downsides to capturing audio with a DSLR, but if you know how to jump over these hurdles, there are ways to get great audio to sync up later in post production.

There are many different options to capture separate audio for your DSLR video project like wireless lavalier microphones, boom microphones, XLR boxes, handheld microphones, shotgun microphones, etc. For DSLR audio recording, there are a few diverse little products out there that are affordable and will help produce great results when working with any type of these microphones with an XLR input.

The Zoom H4n and the Tascam DR-40 have become standards for capturing audio for DSLR videography, and they are both capable of 4-channel recording to 2 separate stereo tracks. The Tascam has a friendlier price point for a very minor difference in features. Not only can you plug in different microphones for different setups, but both of these recorders also have their own built in recording capabilities that aren’t too shabby. You can plug headphones directly in to both products for monitoring, and they each sport manual controls to find the sweet spot for your recording situation. Either one of these products is a great addition to anyone’s DSLR production arsenal.

Zoom H4N | Amazon
Zoom H4n

Tascam DR-40 | Amazon
Tascam DR-40

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PICO FLEX DOLLY

Recently, I got my hands on a really neat piece of equipment that I ordered with the intention of just trying out at a wedding for some interesting shots. Now, I think I will find a lot more uses for it. The Pico Flex Table Dolly is a very affordable, portable, and professional quality table dolly. This dolly has enabled me to get some very interesting shots with my Canon T2i. It will work well with pretty much any other DSLR too, and even Smartphones, GoPros, point-and-shoot cameras, etc.

The Pico Flex Table Dolly sports adjustable wheels making it great for getting general dolly/sliding shots, or even sweeping all the way around an object in a circle. It is a very handy tool to have for relatively small product shots, and helps you get a great smooth dolly shot. The only downside I have found so far is it’s inability to hold up the heavier model DSLR cameras with long lenses. For instance a Canon 7D with a telephoto lens mounted to it would not be ideal for the Pico Flex Table Dolly.

For more information on the Pico Flex Table Dolly, please check out CheesyCam.com and view their videos on the product too.


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TIME LAPSE PHOTOGRAPHY

Greetings Readers,

I apologize, it has been quite sometime since my last post (*see NAB 2011) and I hope to get back into the groove of providing new content regularly on the blog.

I’ve been tinkering around with time lapse photography recently and just wanted to share some of the things that I am learning along the way so that maybe they will be helpful to others. This is my first real attempt at time lapse photography and I made sure to read up on it a bit before trying, but still found that I was lacking in terms of the amount of time and patience needed, so once I experiment some more and get the results I want, I’ll come back and edit this post. Below you can view my tiny experiment with a time lapse video of the night sky with rolling clouds and the moon.

I didn’t have nearly the amount of time to dedicate to this particular experiment as I would have liked but I’m not too disappointed in the way it turned out. Especially considering it was just a test to begin with. One should account for at least a few hours to create a solid time lapse, and consider your environment as a factor as well. Also, think about how long you would like the end product to be versus how long your exposures are and how often the camera will be capturing photos. Until recently, I didn’t think I had a way to program my DSLR camera for time lapse photography without an intervelometer. The Canon T2i (and most DSLR cameras) come with software that is VERY useful, I had taken this software for granted until recently. I was able to connect my camera to my laptop and program the time lapse through the camera’s software just the way I wanted it. The downside being you have to have the camera connected to the laptop, which is NOT ideal, but it works well in certain situations and is a more budget-friendly method than purchasing an intervelometer. Here is a nice tutorial on setting the T2i up for time lapse via it’s own software.

For this night sky time lapse, I decided to do 20 second long exposures every 30 seconds and ended up with 125 photos. This took about an hour and 15 minutes, and with 125 photos at 24 frames per second, the video was right around 5 seconds long (however I slowed the track down slightly to get an extra second out it). I made sure to change the picture quality to JPEG instead of RAW. The big advantage with this is the file size. You will be taking hundreds of photos for a time lapse and you don’t want to have to deal with hundreds of large sized RAW files when converting for video. Granted, there are times when you would want to do this, but that is another beast to deal with at a later time. So, I set my tripod up on the porch, aimed it at the moon, and started the programmed time lapse. With the naked eye, no stars were visible in the sky. But as you can see with the time lapse video, there are definitely stars in the sky. Leaving the shutter open for 20 seconds allowed the camera to expose them 🙂

There will be more to come once I practice some more, but I just wanted to share this and hopefully inspire someone to try out time lapse photography. Below you can find some helpful tips that I’ve learned along the way, thanks for reading.

Tips:

• Shoot in JPEG mode, not RAW as you will be taking hundreds (if not thousands) of photos for your time lapse
• Count on spending hours on this, consider how much time you want to capture in the time lapse
• It’s a given, but use a tripod and a very sturdy one that will not move with the wind or vibrate with people walking around
• You want a controlled environment, you will be there for quite sometime and you don’t want people walking around you and your equipment
• Long exposures (low shutter speed) are ideal
• Never shoot for time lapse in an auto mode, settings may adjust automatically in an unfavorable way
http://3exposure.com/ is a great resource for learning about time lapse photography