Sony Digital Wireless

A few months ago we bought the new Digital Wireless system from Sony and here are a few thoughts after taking it out into the field.

To start off: As with most things in this crazy industry on thing is for sure: YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. This is not an inexpensive system. Its not any more expensive than say Lectro, Sennheiser, Wisycom or any other high end system in the same class. But by paying the little extra you also get a reliable system with the extra features that you might find useful.

We chose Sony wireless for a few reason. First, I’ve had the 855 and 860 diversity systems for the last 10 years and can say nothing but god things about them. I can easily count the number of dropouts I’ve had in that period, which is very very few. They’ve worked over great distances and in some miserable conditions. If this was the next generation from Sony I’d expect nothing less.
Secondly the receiver fits into our PDW-700 and allows 2 channels of wireless audio directly in the slot. Great news!!
Thirdly and this is actually just a bonus is the fact that we own a bunch of Sony lavs already wired for the transmitters.

I think one of the main advantages of this system is being able to control features remotely. Say you’ve hidden a transmitter on a talent, taped down and under clothing for example. Being able to change output, enter a LowCut filter, or “sleep” the transmitter to save batteries is awesome. You can also change a frequency if you run into interference, all directly from the camera meny

in camera meny to control transmitters remotely

or the top of the receiver. The little indicator that shows you battery level on the TX is just so so so useful. No more guess work or running up to the talent to lift clothing to check. Just wish you could actually switch the batteries remotely…. 😉

remote access to features on transmitter

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We do a lot of ENG style shooting for feature news pieces and documentaries where range and rock solid performance is an absolute must. On thing with the Sony system is being able to up the transmit power to 50 mW. I know other manufacturers go even higher but I’ve used 10mW with the 860 and 855 for so many years, I think 50mW will serve all my needs. 🙂 There is also the aspect of battery drainage to consider. When I switched the transmitter to 50mW I could definitelely notice more battery usage. But the option is there to go from 1mW (close sit-down stuff) to 10mW or 50Mw as range increases. In the time we’ve had the system it has worked like a charm on long distance applications and transmission has been solid.

There is also a feature to encrypt the transmission, but this is not a feature I’ve dug into as of yet. Perhaps down the line.

These new transmitters also allow for LINE level input which is great if you’d like to “tap” a mixerboard for example. Very useful again to have 2 channels in the slot providing a stereo pair.

Great build quality Also micro USB for firmware upgrades

The transmitter are, as expected, really well built in a metal chassi and like my old WRT-860 these DWT-B01 will stand up to a lot of abuse for a long time to come. Also there is a Micro USB port to allow for future firmware upgrades. Units run on AA batteries which I personally like better than 9v. The size of the transmitter is a little smaller than the old WRT. For really small transmitters hiding in hair and such there are other option from other manufacturers.

The optional mixer bag slot attachment is a great way to use this system as stand alone (by a mixer console) or in a mixer bag in the field. Here is a link of some pictures of it attached to our F3.

So any downsides or negative issues I’ve run into. Not really. One thing I think of the Analog VS digital side of it. I come from the analog wireless sound where if there is a dip/hit in transmission you might just get a hiz sound/small break up but still be able to hear a voice for example. Well with digital it is ON or OFF. Its nothing wrong with the system, just how digital works.

Also I’ve had a small issue with the “pilot connection” (feature control) on one of the transmitters to the receiver and connection has been lost a couple of times, and I’ve actually have had to reset the transmitter to factory default. It now works fine, and it may have been a user-issue. I am not a sound guy and user manuals are not my cup of tea. 🙂

Also the “pilot signal” doesn’t have a best range, and I’ve found it looses connection if it’s put to sleep. For example, if you sleep a transmitter you’ve placed on a mixing console on the other side of a room, you’ll make it sleep but might have a hard time waking it. Move in a little closer and it will connect up again.

We have a few other systems as well, lower end ones costing about half of this system. But I go back to my first thought in this post, YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. You really do. I hesitate every single time we take the lower end systems out into the field, which is not a reassuring way to start a shoot. They’re ok to use in a sound bag with someone monitoring them but for a camera link a high end system is the way to go.

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Disclaimer: I have no ties to Sony in any other way than having spent and enormous amount of money on their gear over the years. We payed full price for this wireless unit as well.

FS700-First thoughts 1/2

Today I finally got to test the FS700. I will try and write a more detailed post in the coming week but here some “first-thoughts”.
Slow motion is the main attraction here. 240 fps in full HD. Up to 800 fps with reduced resolution. It’s a 4k (later upgrade option) super 35 sensor, with a wide choice of lens choices.

The FS700 offers a mid size sort of awkward body, but once you add a cheese plate and all your gizmos and such it will look like any other camera system. A small smart brain with a sensor somewhere hidden underneath a myriad of add ons.

Today’s first test was totally unscientific. First a liquid pour with a Nikon 70-200. Quick quick setup, 2 lights. Then some exterior shots, a 16-35 Canon lens, no monitor, outside and exposing on a whim only helped by zebras on the sun lit screen shooting some rollerblading and skateboarding. Makes for nice slow motion right… Yes it does! 🙂
From what I’ve seen so far, only in camera, and on a Mac Book Pro it looks really nice. CINE 1 gamma holds the high lights nicely. Can’t wait to watch it on a proper monitor. 🙂

I must say I am not crazy about the choice of AVCHD and those .mts files. 8bit AvCHD is not ideal but seems to hold up reasonably well from what I quickly saw on my Mac. Transcoding is a must and I would have loved to see the trusted EX codec instead. Competing product lines I suspect.

My next interest is how well this camera plays with the bigger brother Sony F3. I can definitely see this camera as a B Cam to our F3.
Lots of testing left but so far very exciting. More to come, for sure.

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New Fujinon Cabrio PL lens

New products announcements are coming one after the other from all directions week before NAB. Here is a short intro to a new lens from Fujinon, the 19-90, T2.9 “Cabrio”. It is a PL mount lens with a zoom rocker. It covers all the way to full 5K Epic and will work with the Sony F3 using the zoom hand grip/handle.
Retail price: $ 38k
Well worth a read. Provided by Abel Cine Tech!

http://bit.ly/IdkquU

Nikon D4 on location

I’ve had the D4 for about 10 days now and here are some quick thoughts.  (I will write a more thorough review as soon as time allows)

Since I got my hand on this camera I’ve shot mostly video – for a commercial where the camera acted as B-cam mounted inside/outside a car as well as a few specialty shots. We chose to record in 1080/25P to internal CF cards.  Main camera on the spot was a Sony F3 with S-log.

Inverted D4 mounted inside car for Driver shot
Mounted on car
Mounted to cheese plate outside car

 

There was one shot we wanted to get from above an ice climber wanting to believe he was hundreds of meter up in the air.  This was a perfect shot for a DSRL looking straight down with very shallow depth of field.  I put a 70-200 VRII on the D4 and got some amazing shots.

Shooting straight down leaning into a harness

 

There were also a few other short shots we captures with the D4.  I was sitting on a snow mobile with a gyro attached to the camera (14-24 and 70-200).  We got both wide angle speed shots as well as steady closeup with this setup.

14-24 and gyro
70-200 VRII with gyro attached

All in all as a first shoot I am very happy with the results. The body is on the heavy side for mounting, the D800 will be a better choice for that. I found that adding one more point of attachment, using hot shoe, was a good way of keeping the rig solid. I am working on getting a release for some frame grabs and will post as soon as I know.  On the other hand the bigger body makes for much easier hand holding IMHO, especially with a 70-200 attached.

On the still photography side (I also shot some stills for the ad campaign) they’ve added some really cool new buttons and an extra grip-pad to the body. This really is nice and makes for easier handling, especially in vertical mode. AF is blazing fast and spot on.    More sooooon.

 

Artemis

In the series “Top iPhone apps” here is my favorite right now.  “Artemis” which act as a directors viewfinder.   I just got back from a locations scout in the north of Sweden. Later this week we travel up to Kiruna to shoot a commercial for a tire company.  A location scout was really needed to have some clear locations in mind once we all get up there.   So you may ask: why buy an app instead of just using the camera in your iPhone??

What is so great with this app is that you pick a camera and lenses and it will allow you to see what you’ll see once you bring the gear on location. What will the 85mm lens look like here?  Will the entire house fit in frame on a 25mm lens from this distance??  

And even cooler is being able to save a snapshot with added metadata (like location name), lens choice and at what angle (tilt) the shot was taken. GPS location is also added to each frame.
The one downside, not the apps fault, is the lens on the iPhone.  Any lens choice in the app wider than “23mm!!” (on a super 35mm dig sensor i.e. Sony F3) will be wider than the Iphone can picture.  The app will then add an orange marker as show what’s missing.

This is a pricy app at 30 USD but definitely worth every penny.   Thanks to Artemis I was able to deliver an email with 19 pictures with lens data to the producer in a far away land, all before leaving for the airport. Really really helpful when talking storyboard over the phone… This app is also available on Android.

 

Pix240

So we’ve had the Pix240 for a few months now and I thought I’d post a few thoughts on it.

As we all know cameras like the Sony F3 have amazing sensors and output a stunning picture but the codec written to the internal media is less desirable for high end work. Enter an external recorder. There are many on the market like the Aja KiProMini, Atomos Ninja, Convergent Design Gemini and a few others.

They all have some features that set them apart but all of them have one thing in common, taking the great picture that leaves the sensor and capturing it to a better/higher quality format than what’s being recorded in the camera.

The Pix240 is made by Sound devices, most well know perhaps for their top of the line audio gear. Well they’ve moved on to video as well, a very well executed move in my opinion. This Pix records in industry standard Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHD. Input/output options are a SDI/HDSDI/HDMI as well as Analog XLR and AES3 digital audio. Timecode and Genlock are also available. On the side there is also a headphone jack with the option of choosing which channels to monitor.

One of the first things you think of is the big display on the front. To be honest it is not a very good display to judge either focus or color but it still serves an important purpose. To have the full on-screen-display (OSD) of the User Interface (UI) is simply outstanding. To see able to see all the audio channels, codec, frame rate, disk space, recording, etc is really reassuring in a stressful situation. The recorder triggers to start recording with the TC in the HD-SDI stream or you can simply hit REC.

Also being able to scroll through your clip list and quickly review a take is very handy. Of course you could watch it on board monitor (which you’ll still need to see focus and color) but having the display in the unit makes it easier. You can quickly toggle the OSD on and off.

Great On Screen Display

This is really well built recorder made in a metal/carbon fiber chassis.

Scroll wheel and meny buttons

The buttons on the front are all small and recessed in the frame but easy to operate. On the side there is a push enabled scroll wheel which controls the meny, again, very easy to use. The UI and the meny system in divided up into 7 categories and with the display and all many options in plain text, you can’t go wrong in your setup .

The bigger buttons on the front are lit up and you have the option of choosing how brightly the’ll shine. You can easily see what button is active, even in full daylight. Great!

All data is written to the on board Compact Flash card or an SSD drive. The option of using an SSD drive directly in the unit is one aspects I like most. We bought a bunch of SSD drives and labeled them up. 120GB a piece gives us roughly 90 min of footage in ProRes HQ /25p. SSD are a lot cheaper than CF cards and also really fast to offload.
Built into the SSD “sled” is both USB3 and FW800 which helps if you need to offload in the field. We actually bought an extra just to use as an offload dock.

SSD "caddy"
CF card slot

The Pix records in a variety of resolutions and bit rates and wraps the files as .MOV in either Apple ProRes or DNxHD depending on your editing platform. It will also Up/Down/Cross convert your video to suit your needs, also very handy.

Underneath and on the side of the unit are all the I/O ports. Easy access and pretty self explanatory :=)

We power our both camera/on-board monitor and Pix240 off a single big brick V-lock battery which works great. See our V-lock plate We had a special cable made to pull power for the pix from the remote port on the camera but this overloaded the system and shut everything down. You can also power the pix through the Sony battery plates on the back of the unit.

One of the most frequent questions I get is if the unit is too big? It is bigger and a little heavier than other recorders but I don’t think it’s a problem. I think the display and the SSD option outweigh everything else.

Side and top view of Pix240 on Sony F3


So. Overall I am very happy with our choice. I’ve used it on both small one interview shoots, as well as multi day drama shoots and it suits my needs perfectly. It now sits on our XDCam 700 or F3 for basically all our shoots.
If ProRes or DNxHD is your choice of media you should take a serious look at this recorder before deciding what to buy.
Next step would be the Gemini for 444… 😉

Disclaimer: I have gotten no compensation from either above mentioned companies to write this post. We payed full retail price for our Pix240. I have used both the AjaKiPro mini as well as the Pix240 in production.

F3 Prep shot

Here is our F3 getting prepped for a shoot. I got to see some footage from the pilot shoot being graded the other day; WOW. It makes me happy every time. The footage really stands up when being pushed around in a DaVinci Resolve. Great retention in highlights and shadows. There were a couple of night scenes and it just looked great. Will try to post some footage if the producer agrees. Everything was shot in 10 bit DNxHD 220.

The amount of detail you can extract from the shadows in just mindblowing from a camera in this price range. I remember my first test and we couldn’t believe all the images we found “in there”

I really like this camera and we are looking forward to an S-log upgrade which will add even more goodness to this amazing little camera.

Cineroid LED light- First Look

At NAB as IBC last year these lights were announced and now its time to have a look.  I am looking for a nice small fill light for a car interior and thought the Cineroid LED a try.

I went over to our dealer and borrowed one of their lights. It is a small battery powered LED light made up of 96 small flat LED lights. The kit comes with 2 “fronts”, light grills, one tungsten (3000K) and one daylight (5000K) as well as charger, battery and battery plate. The “light fronts” snaps on and off with 1 release on each side of the light. There is no glass or protective cover over the LEDs but the construction seems solid enough, and only time will tell if they stand up to regular field use.

The light is made of a hard plastic and feels like a pretty solid build. The buttons on the back, both On/Off  as well as the for switch controlling the fan, are recessed and fairly protected against damage.  The fan has an option of running automatically or manually. In manual mode it has 5 different speeds. At the higher settings it could cause audio issues in a really quiet room. Since I’ve not spent any time shooting with this light yet I can’t say how much the fan is needed to cool the unit. The back of the detachable LED also work as a heat sink which hopefully reduces the need for the fan. You can set the manual setting to 0 and effectively turning the fan off. In case of overheating the display will warn.

One minus is the power connecter which sticks out on the side and is a regular consumer connector. I don’t understand why every manufacturer making these lights insist on NOT using a more robust power connector. I really doubt it would affect the price that much and I think people would gladly pay and extra $20 for a connector that will actually last during regular field use. It is not as flimsy as other lights I’ve seen but one improvement for the next version would be to incorporate the power connector in the battery plate, attaching between the plate and the light. This would eliminate the need for the external cable.

On top of the light there is a rotary wheel which controls the dimming in 30 different steps. This is also a possible weak point in case the light would take a hit. The level of dimming is shown on the little LCD display on the back of the light.

 

 

SO how does the light actually light?

Positive first: A powerful little light.  What I really like about the output is the spread. At a distance of 2m (6,5ft) the spread is 3m (10ft) and with a difference of only 2/3 of a stop between the sides and the middle. So no more of the flashlight look that is a dead give away of an onboard light. This is Great. Output is roughly 12fc at 2 m giving a f2,8/800iso/180degree shutter/25fps.

If you want to narrow the throw there is a detachable grill that snaps on with 4 magnets holding it in place. This of course also cuts the output of the light.

The negative. As with most LED lights there is a problem with multiple shadows especially when lighting something close up, so also here.

This shows up mostly on a flat bright surface and it almost not noticeable on a face as you can see below.

You can reduce this greatly by putting some diffusion (Lee 216 in picture below) over it which softens the shadows enough not to show.

Conclusion. Before I actually published this post I popped over to Scandinavian Photo and bought one of these lights. I think it is a nice little light to use as fill or for a car interior for example. The dimming feature is nice but one thing I miss is the ability to dial in different color temperatures.  I will post back what I think once I’ve actually used it in production a few times. Then I’ll really know what’s what especially when it comes to color and such… 🙂

Disclaimer: I Borrowed the light for the testing and bought one to keep. I have received no compensation in writing this article and all opinions are my own.