More disk space on your Macbook Pro??

Ever feel like you need more internal hard drive space in your Macbook Pro? I dump so much video, test footage and other media onto my internal drive, the 750GB drive doesn’t fulfill my needs any more.

My other question. How often do you use your DVD drive in your laptop. I seriously can’t remember the last time I did, I think it was about 4 months ago.

So the solution I chose was to install a second hard drive in my Macbook Pro. It’s called MCE Optibay Hard drive option. It replaces the internal DVD drive with a hard drive of your choice, spinner or SSD. The DVD drive is then installed into the included external case and hooks up to your computer via USB.

All of a sudden I have another 750 wonderful gigs at my disposal. At a $175 plus the drive it is more than getting an external drive but the convenience is worth the cost I think.

My first question was about battery usage. I was told by the tech who installed it that the battery consumption will only increase a little. This sounds a bit odd but time will tell…

Matching ENG setup

In the process of matching 2 ENG cameras for a sports shoot tomorrow.
Always fun, especially one SD and one HD camera, both shooting SD…. Using 2 XDCam’s one PDW-530 and one PDW-700.

Using 1 monitor, recording a clip on one camera and painting the second camera toggling between playback (from camera 1) and live view of camera 2. Using a bit of black wrap on the monitor to make a hood helps. If matching HD, On a small monitor like this detail/focus is tough and really needs a bigger monitor. (if you match the 2 same cameras more than once just check on big monitor and make a note for next time… )
This is a Quick and easy way of getting close. Skin tone is always nice to check as well as white.
Obviously this is Not the way of doing it for anything higher end/critical work, but for this sports 2 camera shoot tomorrow, it will work great. 🙂

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5 minute setup

Its not my first choice, but when it pays and its a loyal client you go along. The sit-down interview, and this time we are talking about the quick setup, no softboxes, no flags, dimmers, no fancy. But you still want the interview to look as good as possible. In my opinion background is key. If you only have time to set a couple of lights, pick a background that doesn’t need to be lit.

In this example we entered an apartment, a fairly dark apartment with not a lot of lights. Walls were pretty thin with exciting backgrounds. The living room was big but dark and sterile. So I choose the kitchen, a very small kitchen where we barely fit, but the background is the nicest I can find in the apartment. Out of respect I didn’t run around this person’s apartment taking still pictures so you’ll have to take my word for it. 🙂

Kitchen before setup

This interview setup is nothing I’ll put on my reel but when you need a talking head shot and time and space is a luxury this was the best option. The clipping in the window looks worse on the still than it really was but there is some and I’ll live with it. Why I chose the window as a background? There was no time to light any other background in the apartment and Not lighting the background would have left it dead and dark… Also the curtains in the back worked as a backdrop. My first thought was to take a bead board (or styrofoam board) cut it in half and bounce light into it. But time did not allow the rig.

Final frame from on-board monitor. (XDCam disk left with the client and I didn’t have time to grab an actual frame)

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The worst part of these run ‘n gun setups is spending the next 2 days thinking how I could have made it better, look a little cleaner, changed this and tweaked that… 🙂

One more example. A hotel room in a foreign land. Limited light kit and again, space is really tight. Grab a towel from the bathroom, gaffer tape it to the wall. Hit a 300w into it, and set one quick backligt. Choose your background and setup something of color to break the background perhaps. Done. A setup in less than 5 minutes.

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.

 

Wireless sound on SonyF3

I realize there are tons of options on wireless audio, big, small, expensive, less expensive. On a small camera one might choose to have a small light weight system to minimize form factor and weight. Not to long ago we bought the Sony Digital wireless system (DWR-S01D) and today we got an external case, DWA-F01D for it. Most of the time this 2-channel receiver is housed in the slot of our PDW-700 but we also want to be able to put it in a mixer bag or on the back of our PMW-F3.

External case DWA-F01D on the back of the F3

The adapter/case has 2 XLR connectors for 2 channels analog audio. It can be powered by a Sony L series battery which is a great option in a sound audio bag. It also has a 4 pin Hirose connector and a consumer DC in power plug making it really versatile in power options. A BNC connector for AES-3 digital audio output as well as word clock for sync also in BNC is included on the side.

I stuck it on the back of the F3 and here are my first thoughts.

First thing: it is pretty big/wide. Sony makes a slimmer case, without the option of powering by battery, which might actually be a better solution for attaching it to a camera. But since we intend to use it in a mixer bag as well we chose the bigger case. Considering all the other stuff we have stuck on there it doesn’t feel all wrong. It is sitting on top on the battery just underneath the PIX240 and it is just as wide as that.

Sittin on top of the battery in the back

We power the unit through a 4 pin Hirose connector attached to our battery plate. Works great. In the picture below you can also see the AES/EBU output and Sync input. There is also a headphone out with a volume control.

Powered by 4 pin Hirose

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On thing that was s little annoying was that the audio inputs (XLR connectors) were so close together I had to really work to fit 2 right angled XLR’s next to each other. I had to angle one to the side. I understand to fix this would have made the unit even wider but it was still annoying… 🙂

Tight fit for angled XLR connectors

This is something we’ll use when flying the F3 on a steadicam or moving about without being tethered.

F3 fed wirelessly from a sound mixer bag

So to summarize: if the receiver was going to be on the F3 all the time, I would get the slimmer adapter DWA-01D, but if you want a versatile case for stand alone use or in a mixer bag plus more power options this is the one to get. So great to get this system up and running on the F3 as well.

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Disclosure: No one asked my/payed me to write this post. All opinions are my own. We payed full list price for this unit.

XDCam log your footage

I bought the XDCam system (PDW-530P) early, in the summer of 2004 when it was still a new unproven format. Since then XDCam optical disk has almost become an industry standard for a lot of broadcast shows reality/news/sports and shows with lots of footage. During this time we’ve also invested in both the PDW-700 as well as our baby F3.

The 530 and the 700 both record to an optical blue laser disk (with disc media inexpensive enough to just hand off to clients) and the F3 to SxS solid state cards. They all fall under the XDCam format (with different bit rates and color sampling) and they are all file based. So you ask: Everything is file based now a days, so what?

Well there is more to file based video than just the ease of editing in your favorite NLE.  One thing that often surprises me is how few people actually take advantage of the benefits of file based acquisition.  I am going to focus on one of these aspects; how to easily log your footage.

Thumbnail view in XDCam PDW-700

We often work with clients who have no idea they can walk away with all the material we shoot, on their laptop, at the end of the shoot, and log everything with audio and timecode. The best thing is they can do this on the trip back, in their hotel room or even better; on the couch at home…  I still hear producer/directors saying they have to go to the office and log their footage using a deck or an edit suite…just like the old days.

For every take, the camera creates one high resolution and one low resolution ( proxy) clip on the optical disc/SxS card. It is the low resolution clip (proxy) we are looking at for logging. The proxy file contains video, audio, timecode and meta data.  The data rate is really low (1,5Mbit) so you can’t judge focus, color or video/audio quality but it is perfect for audio  transcribing and performance review.

On the PDW-700 for example you can even add all these proxy files to a USB stick at the time of shooting.   We use 1 USB drive per disk, which the client can bring home at the end of the shoot or send off to have transcribed.

USB drive to add proxy files when shooting

If you choose not to add the proxy files to a USB stick while filming, you can add them to a computer later.  This is a quick and painless process which takes a couple of minutes per disc.  Simply hook up the camera via firewire (or even ethernet) and transfer your footage.  Sony has specific softwares for browsing your proxy files i.e.  PDZ-1 XDCAM Proxy Browse.  Since we are Mac Based we use the very simple and easy to understand XDCam Transfer software intended for Final Cut Pro.  We run this software as a stand alone application.  Some clients scare at the thought of learning a new software but after 3 minutes they just smile.

XDCam Transfer

It installs in a minute and takes no computer skill what so ever, which is a must sometimes 😉 .  Click on a clip and hit spacebar. Look, Listen and note timecode. Make your notes, enjoy your cup of coffee.
Information about the clip is right there in the proxy window. Timecode, in/out marking, clip name, bit rate audio channels.  If you use an external recorder you can, depending on what brand/model, set it up with matching clip names and of course timecode will always match.

This is a broad overview on how we try to get producers/directors/clients to log the footage if they have a need to.  You can of course take this 1, 2 or even 3 steps further within the proxy softwares to add comments, change clip names, create sub clips, export rough cuts, in/out points and so on, but then you’re talking about operations that require a little more than just hitting space bar… 🙂

 

Disclaimer: Usual stuff, no one asked me or payed me to write this article.

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.

Hard Drive Failure – Backup?!

This morning an awful sound came from the closet that houses my server at home. It sounded like someone had stuck a fork in a blender… Funny enough, just yesterday, I made a comment about how my hard drives spin, day in and day out. EYEtv is running 24 hours a day recording tv to the disks. Well the computer must have heard me… cause it showed me a big red text that read “stripe slice failed” 🙂

I’ve been lucky through the the years and despite failed drives I’ve lost very little data. I know of people who’ve lost enough data to make a grown man cry. Because as you know, it’s not if but rather when the next hard drive will fail. I don’t think it’s an option, it is a requirement to have a good backup system setup, both at home and at the office. How would you deal if you lost all pictures of your kids/friends and family becuase they were on that drive with no backup. Not to mention work related files.

I have an elaborate backup system setup, involving both redundant drives on-site as well as an off-site backup in case of fire/theft/flooding…but I am a nerd. 😉

Nowadays there are many great options for automatic backup solutions. External hard drives thats sense a new file and automatically makes a copy  or Cloud solutions costing next to nothing that synchronize your data as soon as something new is added. I am just surprised how few people use them… How do you backup all your data?