Notable Posts of 2013

Here are 9 notable blog posts from 2013, in chronological order:

1. Everything You Have
In early 2013 Joy Ike released her new album "All or Nothing" and her first single "Everything You Have" for which I directed the music video. Any shoot that involves throwing cupcakes is a good time.

2.  Photo Blog #149: Secret Service
A photo taken at Obama's second inauguration as the parade down Pennsylvania began. These secret service guys were on the car just before Obama's limousine. Police from every state lined the parade route and you can see two from Florida on the sides of the frame.


3. Black Skinhead Goat Remix
I really enjoyed Kanye's new album "Yeezus" but when I heard the track black skinhead I was compelled to make a Goat Remix of it. If you are not aware of the phenomenon of Goat Remixes do yourself a favor and search for them on Youtube.

4. Intervalometry: Washington D.C. Fireworks
The view from my Mom's apartment probably has the best view of the 4th of July fireworks in the city. I couldn't resist making a time lapse.

5. Photo Blog #154: Nude Descending a Staircase
My first photo blog entry that I made since moving to Washington D.C. This was shot in the Russell Senate Office Buidling

6. Photo Blog #155: Indestructible Self-Portrait
Man Ray is one of my favorite artists, so when I saw his famous work "Indestructible Object" in the Smithosonia American Art Museum, I was compelled to take a selfie of sorts.

7. Portrait of an Urban Beekeeper Premiere
On October 26th, I premiered my short documentary "Portrait of an Urban Beekeeper" at CMU in Pittsburgh. Keep an eye out for the public release of this film this year.

8. Intervalometry: Sunrise Partial Eclipse
On November 3rd, there was a partial eclipse of the sun visible just at sunrise. On a whim, I decided to film a time lapse of it. There were many clouds in the way which obscured the sun for the most part, but that lead to this dramatic imagery. This video turned out to be the most viewed video I have on my Youtube account.

9. 2013 Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony
Occasionally, I like to wander the tunnels of the various congressional buildings. One day in December while doing this, I ran into a group of protesters occupying the hallway outside of John Boehner's office. They were protesting his refusal to allow a vote in the House of an Immigration Reform bill which passed the senate with bipartisan support. Since the speaker is traditionally responsible for lighting the Capitol Christmas tree, they took it as an opportunity for a holiday themed protest.


10 Years with Final Cut Pro

It was a bit surprising to me, but I recently realized that I have been using Final Cut Pro for 10 years as of Fall 2010. I can see no better time to take a personal look back a this software that has been so influential on my life as well as an entire industry.

Final Cut Pro 1.0
My first exposure to Final Cut Pro was during my senior year in high school, back in 2000. The previous semester, the school had begun a Digital Media class and Final Cut Pro was the key component.  I signed up for the class as one of my many "slack-off" electives. We were shooting with Canon GL-2's and Sony VX-1000s and learning the basics of logging and capturing. I actually didn't spend too much time with FCP1.0 because the school uprgraded to 2.0 mid semester. One funny memory about 1.0 is that the Dither Dissolve transition would cause the program to crash instantly. It was fun to tell unexpecting classmates "Dude, check out the Dither Dissolve, its awesome!"

Final Cut Pro 2.0
This was the version where I really began to understand editing. I made a whole lot of bad films my senior year in highschool but with each one, I understood what I was doing a little bit more. I remember one project where we had to use at least 3 layers and some effects. My piece had 5 layers and at least two effects on each. One minute of DV footage took over 5 hours to render on our dual processor G4's (still on OS9). Now we can edit full HD on a laptop. It was also around this time, when our teacher had the OSX beta on one of the computers and when I decided that Macs weren't all that bad after all.

Final Cut Pro 3.0
Version 3.0 was the first Final Cut Pro that I owned. In community college I decided that I really did enjoy filmmaking and decided to buy the student version so I could experiment with my own projects. I also enrolled in an adult-education class in video production to continue my learning. It was around this time that I decided I wanted to go to film school. My knowledge of Final Cut Pro gave me a good head start at Brooks Institute of Photography. Final Cut 3.0 was the first version to include Cinema Tools which allowed for film workflows. I used this tool with the telecine material after some 16mm projects. I also saw Walter Murch speak about editing Cold Mountain using Final Cut Pro 3.0 at the LAFCPUG.

Final Cut Pro 4.0 and Final Cut Pro HD (4.5)
This was a marginal update for me and I didn't use it very much. I do remember that that changed the user interface in a little bit strange way. The free update to 4.5 added DVCPROHD editing capabilities, which by todays standards, is hardly HD. It was a good step forward in HD editing though. I wasn't editing any HD projects at this point in time however.



Final Cut Studio and Final Cut Pro 5.0
I was going to graduate from Brooks Institute very soon, so when Final Cut Studio came out, I took advantage of my student discount and bought it. Final Cut Studio was the first time they marketed a suite of software, the most notable addition being Motion 1.0. I saw a early preview of Motion at a LAFCPUG meeting and was impressed. I still think it is a great program, if not as fully capable as After Effects. I used this version of Final Cut Pro longer than any other version. My documentary H.R. Giger's Sanctuary was cut with it. The biggest feature in verson 5, in my opinion, was the ability to edit HDV footage natively. Which made working with cameras like the Sony Z1. Anyone who used this version dreaded the final render of a HDV project and the "Conforming Video" progress bar -- it was damn slow.

Final Cut Studio 2 and Final Cut Pro 6
Color was the big product addition to the Final Cut Pro suite, however the biggest upgrade, and probably the most important in FCP history was the introduction of ProRes 422. This "visually lossless", variable bit-rate codec allowed for editing full HD, raster video with the file size of uncompressed SD. The codec has had such an impact that AVID now supports it and the ARRI Alexa has the ability to shoot directly to this format. I use ProRes422 video every day.


Final Cut Pro 7
In this version, for some reason, Apple reset the name back to Final Cut Studio (it should be Final Cut Studio 3). Anyway, after suffering with FCP 5 at home for too long, I decided to buy FCP 7 for myself. Using ProRes at jobs made me really want that capability at home. I am glad I waited for version 7 though because Apple dropped the price significantly on this verson. None of the new features excited me too much, though the inclusion of new flavors of ProRes were quite nice. I use ProRes422(LT) all the time for VDSLR footage since their bitrate is lower than that anyway.

I am looking forward to whatever Jaw-dropping news Apple has coming this year. I am hoping for something big. We'll see.

This article was originally written for and posted to

The Polaroid Image System

I recently acquired a Polaroid Image Première camera and have been having lots of fun with it.
The Polaroid Image System (known as Spectra in North America) was a new integral film format introduced by Polaroid in the 80s. Its main distinguishing feature is a wide image format instead of the square format of the popular 600 series. The Polaroid Image System also offered more features and better build quality than the 600 series. My particular camera has a 125mm f10 lens, an ultrasonic autofocus system, focus display in feet or meters, a 10 second self -timer, autofocus on/off, autoflash on/off and exposure compensation +/- 1.5 stops.
very expired filmEven though the Image System is more "professional" than most of the other Integral Polaroid cameras, it is still essentially a fully automatic camera. That said, once you learn how the camera operates, you can coax it into doing what you want most of the time. When you press the shutter button halfway, the camera meters at and autofocuses on an area in the center of the frame. Since this camera is a viewfinder, not an SLR, you can only tell if you have correct exposure/focus by reading the display line. A green light indicates exposure is good and a number is displayed to tell you the focus distance. If you want to focus on something that is not in the middle of the frame you can press the shutter half-way and then reframe. If you are working with a bright background or a spotlight situation you can use thebeautiful DOF, beautiful wife. exposure compensation switch. One thing that is a little strange is that the camera always flashes to some degree unless the flash is turned off.

In my opinion, the best thing about this kind of instant film is the size of the format. It is a medium format camera with an image area larger than the average (9.2 x7.3cm), which means you get great amount of detail. At this point I am limited by the resolution of my scanner and not the film. You can also achieve really beautiful shallow depth-of-field in the right situations.

This particular model of camera also has a trick that allows multiple exposures by engaging the self-timer. The film won't come out until you flip the self-timer switch back. If you close the camera half-way, the timer is re-engaged and the camera will expose the film again. You can see examples of multi-exposure here and here.

As opposed to the 600 series, which built special features into single-function camera, the Image System had many accessories built for it. The kit I bought came with a special effects filter set.
Now the big question: What film do you use with this thing? A few years ago I would have not bought this camera, because I would have feared that the film would soon cease to be available. That is different now thanks to The Impossible Project, who is manufacturing new film for integral polaroid cameras. In fact, when I got this camera, Impossible didn't make any Image/Spectra film. They only offered expired original Polaroid film, of which I bought several packs. I didn't know if or when they would produce new film for my camera. Thankfully they announced about 2 weeks ago that they have manufactured their first batch of PZ 600 Silvershade for Image/Spectra cameras. My first two packs just arrived. I look forward to them producing their new Colorshade film for this system as well.

Just a few years ago the future of instant film was doomed. Now it seems we are at a new beginning.


All Polaroids in this post were taken with either the very expired film that was with the camera when I bought it or the more recently expired Polaroid Image film from The Impossible Project.

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Canon 550d Movie Crop Mode

The Canon 550d is an excellent photo camera with its 18MP(5176x3456 pixels) sensor, but the main reason that I purchased one was for its HD video modes. It is capable of shooting 1920x1080p at 24, 25 & 30fps as well as 1280x720p at 60 & 50 fps. In order to produce these frame sizes/rates while still using the full sensor area the camera "cheats" by skipping lines. When shooting 1080p for example, i believe that the camera is skipping every third line. The 550d has another video mode which doesn't use this cheat. It is called Movie Crop Mode which is interesting but in most cases not very useful. Check out this diagram:
The part of the image outline in red represents the entire usable pixel area of the 550d. Outlined in green is the 16x9 part of the sensor used in the HD modes with gray lines in half the frame to illustrate showing the line skipping occurs. The little blue box in the middle is the part of the sensor used in Movie Crop mode. The camera is cropping out the standard definition-sized center of the sensor to make videos of 640x480 resolution. This is essentially the same as taking a photo from the camera and cropping it to 640x480, except that it is 30fps video. What does this mean? The most apparent thing you notice when using this mode is whatever lens you have on is effectively 7 times longer. A 50mm lens becomes a 350mm lens. A 200mm becomes a 1400mm. It also means you have some incredible macro capabilities because the minimum focus distance of the lens doesn't change. Finally, it actually has less aliasing artifacts than the HD modes in the camera. As interesting as all of this is, it is not HD so it's actual applications are very limited. Here are some real examples:
iPhone/iPad compatible Youtube Link 

A few notes about this video: The camera has a normal 640x480 mode which is not included in the diagram at the top of the article. It works essentially the same as the HD modes by line-skipping. I included two HD clips at 100% to show that the Movie Crop really does resolve more information than the HD mode. The footage of the green bug was taken with an 80mm lens, which really shows off the macro abilities of Movie Crop. The baby foxes were shot at 3200 ISO, it is amazing that one can film in such lighting conditions even if it is grainy.

Movie Crop is a fun feature to have, but the lack of HD makes it mostly useless. It would have been nice for Canon to include a 1080p Movie Crop function which would give non-line-skipped footage with a crop factor. Maybe this is something that will be included in professional Canon HDSLRs in the future.

Questions? Comments? Contact me.

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Plastic Bullet Review

Plastic Bullet is a new photo-manipulation app for iPhone developed by Red Giant Software (the app's name is a reference to their popular video color correction software Magic Bullet). Plastic bullet is intended to simulate the effects of cheap, plastic-lensed film cameras like the Holga, Diana, etc. intro screenWhen you open the app it prompts you to either select a photo from your camera roll, or take a photo in the app. After the photo is chosen or taken, you are presented with four randomly generated variations of the image.  variationsThe variations are based on a combination of color toning, contrast, saturation, simulated film burn, vignetting, blur, etc. If you tap on a variation you are giving the option to save it or go back. If you do not like any of the four choices you can simply press the refresh button to make 4 entirely new variations of your image.    I really like this app. The quality of the results are great. I also like the fact the it is selectionrandom, but you still have the choice of which random variation you choose. It's all the fun of shooting with a crappy plastic camera with none of the commitment. The one big downside to the app is it will only save images at 800x600 resolution. However Red Giant has said they will allow full resolution saves soon. I look forward to this update. Plastic Bullet costs 1.99 in the app store. Here are a few more images.





Questions? Comments? Contact me.

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Very Unscientific Canon 550d Tests

I haven't bought a video camera in a very long time. The main reason for this is that I believe that every camera on the market is either too expensive or has too many drawbacks. However, two weeks ago I bought a Canon 550d which is the first camera that meets my price-perfomance requirements. I was close to buying a Canon 7D a few months ago but decided not to. The camera's shortcomings (line-skipping sensor, h.264 codec) didn't justify the price to me. Shortly after I decided not to get the 7D, Canon announced the 550d (known as the Rebel T2i in the US) which made me incredibly glad I didn't make that purchase.  The video functionality on the 550d is virtually identical to that of the 7D. The only notable differences are the lack of 1/3rd stop ISO settings, white balance fine-tuning in Kelvin, and HD external video output while recoding. The other differences between the cameras are purely build quality and photo shooting speed -- neither which I care about too much. The other big difference: the 550d costs half as much as the 7D.

I haven't had the chance to use the camera on any legitimate projects yet, however I have made some very unscientific tests:
Download High-Bitrate 1080p h.264(307MB)

The main purpose of these tests was to investigate overall image quality and to see how the camera looked with varying depth of field. The lighting is clearly not constant at all (I had no real cinema lights handy in my apartment at 1am), but Spock's face should be consistently exposed throughout. All of the tests were shot using a Canon 50mm f1.8, some of the other random footage was shot using a Manual Nikon 24mm f2 or the Canon 17-55 f2.8 IS. I recorded at 1080p 25.

I think the camera performs quite well. The noise (even at ISO 1600). though noticeable, isn't really distracting. One problem I noticed and was expecting is in the last test clip where I rack focus. There is some shimmery aliasing on the card in the background. This must be an artifact of the line-skipping sensor.

Any questions?

Convergence - a Review of Nexvio ReelDirector & the Future

Today I created something very interesting. Here it is.

Fairly standard fair for YouTube, right? Nope. The bit that makes this video interesting is the text at the end. This video was shot, edited and published entirely on my iPhone 3GS. The new iPhone app ReelDirector from Nexvio is the app I wished for in an earlier post. The iPhone 3GS is now a miniature video production studio. What this means for the future is quite profound, but first let me talk about the app it self.
The ReelDirector timeline ReelDirector is no Final Cut Pro or even iMovie. It is as simple as a video editor can get. You select and trim videos with the same method that is built into the 3GS, but then you bring those clips into a timeline where you can cut it together with other clips. That is the basic functionality. That alone is a big deal. With those tools you have all you need to tell a story with video. However, ReelDirector has done a little more than that. The app has 27 different transitions that can be used between clips and you can also add reasonably customized titles at the beginning and end of the video.
What is missing? The main thing is audio. Sound is linked to the video and you cannot separate them which is pretty obvious in the video. This means you cannot have the audio from one clip continue underneath another. You also cannot add other sound such as music or voice over -- though Nexvio says they are working to add this. Another feature I would like to see is effects and color correction. It would be nice to optimize the look of the videos while editing them. While they are at it Nexvio could bundle in the functionality of their SlowMo iPhone app, so you can change the speed of video.
Ok, the future. The ability to edit video on the same device as it is shot with is unprecedented (as far as I know). More than that, since the iPhone has 3G, you can upload theses videos straight to a distribution source -- practically in real-time. I shot My Morning Commute this morning. It was uploading to YouTube by the time I was sitting at my desk. The workflow was great. I shot some video, then switched over to ReelDirector and cut the shots in. When I stepped out of the train I just had to shoot the last two shots, cut them in and I was done. I edited the story together as it was happening! The iPhone now represents the convergence of the entire video workflow into one device. Welcome to the world of tomorrow!!
Ok, the iPhone is not going to put Hollywood out of business. The video quality is good for a phone but that is about it and it gets worse when you upload it to YouTube with the built-in photos app (here is a full quality version for comparison). Where I think we will see this convergence utilized first will be in journalism and documentary. A journalist can file completed video reports from the field with a single inconspicuous device. This can be done while on the move and as the story is taking place. The revolution may not be televised, but the story may be told by someone armed only with iPhone. I think ReelDirector is a must-have app for all 3GS owners.


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Technologic Overkill

Everything You Wanted to Know About iPhone 3GS Video

the 'eye' of iPhone 3GSThe iPhone 3GS feature that I was most excited about was video. The very first thing I did when I got my phone was shoot Technologic Overkill, so I could put the video camera through it's paces. In the process I discovered quite a few useful bits information about how the video works. Here is random list of that information:

  • The video quality is surprisingly good for a cameraphone. In bright daylight the camera performs excellently. Like most small video cameras, it performs worse in low light. The iPhone will automatically lower the framerate in low light to compensate. The Frame rate will not go lower than 15fps
  • The iPhone shoots 640x480 at 30 frames per second. It records to the h264 codec at about 3700 kilobits per second. This equates to roughly 28 megabytes per minute. That's not too shabby. Audio is recorded in Mono at 44.1 khz using the AAC codec.
  • Compression artifacting is not very prevalent in good lighting. I think this is where a device like iPhone shines over other small video cameras. It has a very good CPU comparably, which allows for higher quality compression.
  • You can select your focus point in video mode by tapping, but only when you are not recording. When you begin recording focus is locked to the point you chose. This means you cannot rack focus while recording. This is a small gripe, but if you consider most tiny video cameras are fixed focus, it is still a big improvment.
  • Close focus is the same as in still mode -- 10cm. This is a great feature. When you are filming at a macro distance you can achieve a pretty decent shallow depth of field look.
  • Where you tap on the screen also 'guides' the exposure of the video. However, as opposed to focus, exposure remains on 'auto'. If your scene changes enough the exposure will automatically compensate.
  • The video works very nicely in iMovie, which is expected. One thing I noticed is that you do not have to convert the video to use the slow and fast motion feature. The codec Apple uses is already suitable for that.
  • The "Jelly" effect that most small video cameras exhibit is prevalent in the 3GS. This is due to a rolling shutter.

Here is a short video illustrating some of these points.

iPhone Friendly Youtube Link.

One thing I keep thinking about is how the iPhone 3GS video compares to my Flip MinoHD. In resolution, the Mino beats iPhone hands down -- the iPhone is not HD. However, the other features of the iPhone 3GS might just compensate for its lack of HD. Let's compare and contrast:

  • The iPhone 3GS has autofocus with a macro mode, the MinoHD is fixed focus at 1m
  • Exposure on the iPhone 3GS can be influenced by touching a point, the MinoHD is 'full auto'
  • The viewing screen on the iPhone 3GS is gargantuan compared to the MinoHD.
  • The iPhone has the ability to upload video directly to the web, the MinoHD does not.
  • The MinoHD has 4GB of storage, the iPhone 3GS has either 16 or 32 GB.
  • You can trim video on the iPhone(I did this on Technologic Overkill while riding the tram to save time making in/out points.)
  • The iPhone's lens is wider than the Flip.

Here is the biggest benefit of the iPhone 3GS over the Flip, and in fact, all video cameras. I always have it with me. There is a saying: "The best camera is the one you have with you." The same is true for video cameras. I enjoy capturing unique moments in daily life (I post these videos in my Pocket Cam series). A video capable iPhone means that I will never miss out on these moments.

After all of my glowing about the iPhone 3GS, here is a wish list of what I would like from it.

  • Full manual exposure. Maybe this is possible for third party developers with the API
  • Manual focus -- being able to input a focus distance.
  • Ability to change focus while recording. Being able to program pull focus would be great.
  • Apps! Something that allows you to cut clips, add titles/effects in the phone!
  • And the obivious one, HD.

It is interesting to not that most of my wants could potentially be fixed by software -- all but the HD thing.

Ok, now the big picture. Why is the iPhone special? There are many small video cameras that can achieve the same quality. In fact, there have been cameraphones that can do the same for ages. Many people are asking, what is the big deal? To me there are a few obvious reasons. First, the iPhone is ubiquitous. It is the most popular smart phone. This puts a lot of attention on its functions, which makes more people aware of their ability to record video. There are probably many people with phones that can shoot video, but don't because they just don't think to. I think that the 400% increase in mobile uploads to Youtube since the 3GS release is proof enough of this. Second, is ease of use. The iPhone is incredibly simple to use, it has an large screen, and the videos are easily transferred and edited on your computer. Most other cameraphones can't say this. Finally, there is the quality. The iPhone 3GS has very good quality for a cameraphone, there are competitive phones -- but not many. The 3GS has good enough quality that a local news station in South Florida shot a report about the iPhone with one (very meta.) I am also not the only one who has shot a music video with it. I know of at least one more. Pro video/film accessory manufacturer Zacuto thinks the quality is good enough, that they even made a special hand grip for it.

Don't get me wrong, the iPhone will not replace any professional cameras. I will not be proposing use of an iPhone on my next job. However, I do foresee a lot of legitimate use of the 3GS beyond shooting videos of your cats -- particularly in the areas of hobby filmmaking, documentary and journalism. In fact imagine that in the not to distant future (with the right apps) I think we will see journalists shoot, edit and file reports from the field with only an iPhone. That will be very fascinating.


CameraBag for iPhone. It makes the iPhone Camera Usable!

Those of you who follow me in Twitter might have noticed me talking about an iPhone app called CameraBag and noticed some unique shots on Twitpic. I had heard of this app for a while and finally decided to drop the $2.99 and buy it. It is now one of the apps I use most.
CameraBag is a simple app that processes photos from the iPhone camera or photo roll with one of 9 different effecst. All of the effects are meant to mimic vintage camera or development process. Such as Helga(a Holga Look), Instant(- Polaroid style), or 1962(a high contrast black and white look). Check out these examples:

Article continues:

I never really used to take pictures with the iPhone camera because a.) it sucks and b.) I always have my Canon g9 with me. With CameraBag however, I have started to take a lot more pictures with the iPhone. I now find my self thinking things like "this shot would look great in a square crop like a holga" or "this would look great in black and white". Now I can take a shots with a CameraBag setting in mind.

I think the brilliance of CameraBag is that it is not trying to improve the images, but degrade them in a artistic way. CameraBag let's you shoot with your iPhone for the same reason you would shoot with a Holga or Polaroid - for that unique, lo-fi look.

One caveat with this app. In the settings you can choose what resolution the files are processed in. I have noticed that if you use the highest setting, the app can be buggy and crash. I have had no problem with the 800 pixel setting however.

List of CameraBag effects and my opinion of them.

  1. Helga
    Simulates the look of a Holga toy camera. Complete with vignette and square crop. Adds contrast and desaturates a bit. Its a good one.
  2. Instant
    This is a polaroid simulation. As you see in the examples about, it even adds the polaroid frame. This adds contrast and a brownish tint. I also like this one a lot.
  3. Mono
    A simple black and white conversion. Also adds a white border. This one can be nice when you want a smooth Black and White look.
  4. 1962
    Another B&W conversion. This one is much higher contrast. It can be nice in certain situations. The first image example used this effect.
  5. Fisheye
    This one is basically worthless to me. It would be better if they added some other kind of processing to it istead of just warping it and making a circle crop. There is not example of this on my post because it's too lame.
  6. Infrared
    Simulates shooting on infrared B&W film. Camerabag does a great job at this. Daytime skies go pitch black, greens glow white. High contrast. The second shot in my examples is infrared.
  7. Lolo
    I assume this is a play on Lomo. This is a square cropped, punchy saturated effect with a white border. I like this one a lot.
  8. Cinema
    A bluish, contrasty, desaturated look in a 16:9 crop. I'm not a fan of this one.
  9. 1974
    Slightly sepia and desaturated with a border. Not my favorite.

In conclusion, if you find yourself not using the iPhone camera, give this app a try. It might just be what you are looking for.


The Ultimate Flip Mino HD Review

I have shot with the entire range of HD cameras -- from HDV all the way up to Genesis and RED. The first thing that people should know is that the FLIP MinoHD does not compete with these cameras in any way. You can't get professional quality(or even prosumer quality) for 200 bucks. The MinoHD is basically a toy. However, there is something very charming and unique about having a HD camera that will fit in just about any pocket you have. This blog called the FLIP MinoHD the Holga of video cameras. I can agree with that. I have spent several weeks playing with this camera. Here are my impressions:

The Lens
Rear View of Flip Mino HDA camera's lens is one of the most important factors for image quality. If you take into account the cameras cost and that the lens is made of plastic, you can feel free to be impressed by this lens -- but it is still a plastic lens. The most impressing thing about this lens is it's speed. Flip says it is an f2.4 which is quite fast for what is basically a pin hole lens. The lens has a fixed focal length and fixed focus. Flip's specification page says nothing about focal length, but I have compared it to having the equivalent field of view of a 50mm lens on the 35mm format. The focus range is from one meter to infinity. Although, I have noticed that objects slightly closer than 1 meter are acceptably sharp due to the very deep depth of field of the camera.

The Sensor
From the specs page: The sensor is a 1/4.5" sensor with 2.2µm pixels. Compared to ther Standard Def Mino(5.6µm), these pixels are tiny. However, they claim that the HD has lower light sensitivity than the SD version. I am not the kind of guy to do technical tests, but I have been impressed by the low light response of the camera. However, a small pixel size will increase the signal-to-noise ratio of any camera. This is probably the main cause of compression artifacting that I will talk about later. The other thing I have notice about the sensor is its skew. CMOS sensors commonly use rolling shutters, meaning they record horizontal lines from the chip in sequence during a frame. If this read-reset time of the chip is too slow, you can get a 'jelly skew' effect on scenes with fast movement or pans. This is because the top part of the frame is recorded slightly before the bottom. The jelly skew effect of the MinoHD is quite noticeable, especially for such a small chip. But if you are careful, you can avoid it. (Hint: use a tripod, or stabilize the camera somehow)

Sound is record in Mono at 44.1kHz and encoded in AAC. The microphone is located just to the right of the lens and is fairly tiny. These aren't the best sound specs in the world, however actually listening to the sound is more than acceptable. It has a tendency to be tinny, and sometimes peaks out.

The Screen
Front View of the FlipMinoHDThe LCD screen on the Flip is probable its worst aspect. The 1.5"(diagonal) screen is tiny! It is squint worthy. Also, the screen resolution is 528 x 132, which is less than half of the recording resolution. The means you can't see all that you are recording. When filming a far off flock of birds, I was just guessing where they were. Also the viewing angle is pretty bad -- If you are not looking straight at it, its difficult to see what is happening.

The MinoHD is the size of a small cell phone. This is great for portability, concealablity and camera mobility. However, holding the camera is a little bit challenging for adult hands. You hold it by the bottom vertically like you would with a standard 'candy-bar' camera phone. The small size, low-weight and vertical format makes it difficult to keep steady while hand holding. The sensor skew can be noticeable with these little hand held shakes. A pocket tripod of some sort is very helpful.

The controls on the Flip MinoHD are minimal. They consist of 1 big red record button, 6 multi-purpose capacitive touch buttons, and the power button. The center button is solely for record and stop. There are 4 buttons around the center button. They are left and right arrows(used for navigating the playback menu) and plus and minus buttons(for volume control during playback and digital zoom during recording). The two buttons above the others are a play/pause button(used to play and pause playback and also as an "enter" button for some functions) and a trash button(used to delete individual clips, all clips and by holding it down for 2 seconds, locking and unlocking the ability to delete.) The power button is on the right-hand side of the device. A well designed feature of the touch sensitive buttons is they are back lit. The back lighting turns off for buttons that cannot be used at that time. For instance, while recording, the only the plus and minus buttons are lit because the other buttons have no function during recording.

On-Screen Menu
The flip MinoHD has 3 modes. Record mode, Playback and setup. You will probably only use setup once. It is accessed by holding the record button when he device is starting up. Here you can set the date, time and whether you want the device to make any sounds. Once the device boots up, it starts in record mode. You can do two things in record mode. First, record and pause a recording. While recording you can use the 2x digital zoom. You cannot use the zoom while the device is not recording however, which I find kind of lame. The second thing you can do in record mode is delete the last clip by pressing the trash button. You can enter play back mode by pressing the play/pause button. While in playback mode you can watch clips, navigate between them, delete particular clips, change the volume(with plus/minus buttons), and fast forward and rewind(by holding down left/right buttons). You re-enter record mode by pressing the record button.

The camera is powered by an internal lithium-ion battery. You cannot remove it. The Flip specifications page says that the battery lasts two hours of continuous use. I haven't done any scientific tests of this, but have found that you will probably fill the devices memory before the battery runs out. The device is charged via USB either by connecting it to a computer or by purchasing the optional AC adaptor. It charges in 3 or 2 hours depending if it is connected to a computer or to wall power respectively.

Computer Connection
The 'Flip' in the MinoHDI imagine the name "Flip" comes from the action of releasing its hidden USB connector. A switch on the left-hand side of the device causes a full-size USB connector to flip out of the top like a switch blade. The allows you to plug the camera directly into a computer -- no worrying about forgetting cables. When the device is plugged in, it will appear on your computer like any USB storage device. The Flip MinoHD comes with some basic editing software on its memory which you can install. This software is very basic and easy, I won't say much more about it as I don't find it very useful for my needs. For a absolute beginner to video however, it should work fine. The clips are stored in the DCIM folder which means that many software like iPhoto or Aperture will recognize them for importing. I prefer to manage the files manually though. The clips are named VID00001.MP4 in sequence as they are shot. I have found these clips are easily editable in iMovie, FCP 6 and FCP 5(with a little trick). In FCP 5, however, you will have to render the audio.

Video Format
Quicktime calls the flipvideo codec "AVC Coding", which I imagine is a version of Mpeg4 that has been modified by flip to work specifically with the camera. The bit rate is a healthy 10mbits/s. The pixel size is truly 1280x720 square pixels. Despite the decent bit rate, the video doesn't look that good when viewed in its full size. I think this has to do with a combintion of factors. The small pixels, the lens, and some in-camera sharpening all lead to a less than ideal image.


The FlipMinoHD is an awesome little toy video camera. The key word there is toy. If you are expecting to do professional work with it, prepare to be disappointed. If you just want to catch moments of your life in HD, or experiment with video -- it is an awesome gadget. That said, I can envision some professional implementations of it. It would be great for undercover journalism, shooting 'amateur video' for storytelling purposes, or getting a camera in a space that is not possible with a larger camera. I have also recently used to quicly pre-visualize an upcoming short film. I am sure there are more.  Am I happy with my purchase? In one word, Yes.

Flip MinoHD Initial Test

I bought a Flip MinoHD camcorder a couple of days ago. I haven't had a chance to really put it through its paces, but I put together a few of the clips I have shot while going about my day. I also tested some basic color correction and a few effects to see how the footage would hold up.
Overall, I am fairly happy with the video quality, given the fact that it is smaller than a lot of cell phones and only costs 300chf. There are some obvious issues with the video quality though. In the footage I shot out of the train window, you can see some serious image skew, but I guess you can't expect a really quick sensor reset time on such a small camera. The camera performs impressively in low light situations, but there is a noticeable increase in noise, which also exaggerates the compression artifacting. In bright light conditions, when the camera is still, compression is very minimal which is nice.

I will shoot some more rigorous test footage and make a more detailed review in the next week or so.

Gekko George: Strange Name, Amazing Light

George attached to an Arri Film CameraAbout a month ago, Maximilian De Vree and I shot a short film which we are still in the process of editing. During the shoot we experimented with two new pieces of equipment. One was the Sony EX1, which I reviewed in a previous post, and the other was the George Ring Light by Gekko.

George is an LED ring light with with 32 LEDs and a diameter of 360mm, big enough for any camera you can think of. The light will attach to the camera by most rail systems. We used a quick release system by cavision. George can be powered either by battery or direct wall current and the light is full dimmable. It is also divided into 4 sections (top, bottom, left and right) which can be switched on and off indiviually. One of the most unique things about this light is its magnetic mount system. George comes with two sets of lenses (Wide and Spot) which snap into place with magnets. There is also a magnetic diffuser ring and a magnetic clear ring for using gels.

George provides a nice soft fill light. From the first moment, I was incredibly impressed with this light. It was very bright, especially for a battery operated LED light. I didn't do any objective measurement, but I would say it was about the equivalent brightness of a 400w tungsten lamp. The spread of the wide lenses with the diffuser on was also quite impressive. Shooting in a couple of indoor locations, it added just enough ambient light to the scene to bring my exposure into a usable area. I also liked the spot lenses, though we did not use them as much for our purposes. The ability to turn off sections of the light also camer in handy. There was one shot where a shiny table was in the bottom of the frame. We simply switched off the bottom section and the problem was solved.

Another really great thing about this light is being able to work hand held. The rig is incredibly light. All you need to do is strap the controller box on you belt and have somewhere to put a battery (we happend to have a vest with a nifty front pouch). Moving around freely with a nice, soft, front light source was very enjoyable.

The one downside of the light is the price. It is prohibitively expensive for most people to buy. The full Kit is about 9000 dollars. Not too many people want to pay as much for a light as they did their camera. It is definitely great for rentals though.

Overall, I was very happy with this light and intend to use it again soon.

A Personal Review of the Sony EX1

The Sony EX1 solid state video cameraLast weekend Maximilian De Vree and I shot a short film. I will post details of the film a little later, but one of the main purposes of this shoot was to test the Sony PMW-EX1, an HD video camera that shoots to propreitary flash memory called SxS. Until last friday, my practical experience with video was tape only. I have always been wary of tapless shooting for back up reasons. I have realized, however that this is where the future is heading and it was time to jump in.

In the back of my mind, I always knew I would fall in love with tapeless recording once I tried it -- and I did. The benefits far out weigh the negatives. Shooting straight to sA still from the EX1 showing nice, shallow depth of field.olidstate memory allows instant replay of shots, the ability to delete bad takes, variable framerates, higher data rates, reusable media, easy and quick transfer to the computer, and so on. With all of these benefits, the main downside is you really need a computer on set to back up to (and an extra harddrive to be safe.) This makes shooting in the field a little more cumbersome. Also the media more expensive. I can carry 4-6 hours of Professional HDV tape for about $80. If I wanted to have 4-6 hours of SxS cards with out downloading first it would run about $2500. You can get away with one one set of cards that shoot for an hour or two, but downloading and backing up really slows down your shooting process. I can see this as a big problem for Documentary shooting. For short narrative work however, this was not a problem.

The camera we rented came with two 8 gigabyte SxS cards, each able to record about 20 minutes. I didn't even bother using both cards in the camera. When one would fill up, it could be downloaded while we shot the other. In this way, the workflow was similar to shooting rolls of film. Besides the solid state recording medium, which was the biggest new thing for me, I would like to point out a few other things about this camera:

  • The Lens
    The lens on the EX-1 is a Fujinon 5.8mm to 81.2mm zoom (this the 35mm equivalent of 31.4mm to 439mm.) What impressed me the most about this lens is that it has a constant maximum aperture of f1.9 all the way through the zoom range. This allows for very nice shallow depth of field and excellent performance in low light  conditions. On the downside, I often found myself wishing the lens was a little wider.
  • Focusing
    The EX-1 has two modes for focusing: AF/MF and Full MF. AF/MF mode is what most prosumer video shooters are used to. In this mode you can use autofocus and manual focus, but the focus ring will spin infinitely -- there are no fixed focus distances associated with the ring. In this mode you can turn on macro focus which allows for very close focus. However, the minimum focus distance changes as you zoom. Sliding the focus ring back puts you into Full MF mode. In this mode the ring physically engages the lens and gives you absolute focus readings from a scale on the lens. This is the kind of lens film shooters are used to. In this mode minimum focus shifts to about 1 meter, but does not shift when you zoom.
  • Cool onscreen readings
    There are quite a few nice onscreen readings on the EX1. There is a histogram, which is great for exposure. A spot meter that gives you the percentage of grey that is read in a box at the center of the screen. And lastly a depth of field scale, so you can know exactly where you image will be sharp. This is also great for getting hyperfocus.
  • Slow and Quick Motion
    The EX1 allows you to to Overcrank and Undercrank your image which they call slow and quick motion. If you shoot at 720p you can overcrank up to 60 frames per second which gives very nice slow motion. The really cool thing about overcranking on the EX1 is that you don't lose any light. I assume the camera is always sampling at 60fps and is just taking less when you are shooting 25 or 24.

Those are a few of the cool things I noticed with the camera. We start editing the footage this week, so I will have a better idea of what the camera can really do then. Feel free to ask any questions about the camera. I will post more still images and some video as the post-production progresses.

HD Timelapses FTW!

Shortly after I bought my Canon G9, I learned about the CHDK firmware hack for Canon point and shoots. I was instantly  Look Out!excited by the possibilities, especially the timelapse capabilities. Unfortunately, the CHDK hack did not work on the G9 -- until a couple of days ago. The hackers over on the CHDK forums finally made a working version of the hack for the G9 and I am loving it. I have been playing with the ultra high shutter speed along with motion detection to take pictures of my cats middair. Timelapse, however, is the best part. The G9 is a 12 megapixel camera. That means I can make timelapses that are well over HD quality. Even the medium JPEG setting (2592 x 1944) is larger than HD video (1920x1080). I did a quick test yesterday at sunset. Here is the result:

Film is Dead.


Well, maybe not dead -- but the revolution definitely will not be shot on film. I had the pleasure to shoot with a RED ONE for the first time this weekend and it really is the game changer that everyone says it is. I have been a fan of shooting video for a long time (I guess I am just of the digital generation), but the RED ONE  is the first digital video camera to really compete with film in all categories. For the record, I would like to make comparisons between Common video formats(MiniDV, HDV, Digibeta, etc), Film and the RED ONE.


  • Video: Ranges from 640x480 pixels to 1920x1080 pixels with a variety of different pixel apsect ratios (rectangular pixels) thrown in there for good measure.
  • Film: No pixels, but comparable to 4k. Though most digital intermediates are done in 2k resolution
  • RED: 4k -- 4096 x 2304.


Recording Medium

  • Video: Lots of tape formats, some proprietary solid state and hard disk formats.
  • Film: 35mm or 16mm Negative Film.
  • RED: High Speed Compact Flash, Raided SATA drives, anything that accepts HD-SDI


Dynamic Range

  • Video: Varies wildly but averages between 4 and 6 f-stops
  • Film: Depends on the stock, but reliably 11 stops.
  • RED: Technically 11, but in reality around 9.


Image Plane Size

  • Video: Anywhere from Tiny up to 2/3rds inch.
  • Film: Super 35mm -- 24.89 mm × 18.66 mm
  • RED: 24.4mm x 13.7mm


Hardware Cost

  • Video: Starts from as low as a few hundred, tops out around 100,000
  • Film:  A new Arri 435 is around 75,000 body only. Prices vary in the + 20,000 range
  • RED: 17,500 body only.

Shooting Cost

  • Video: Some tapes and hard drives for editing. Quite cheap.
  • Film: Raw film stock, Film Processing, Telecine. Hard drives for editing. Quite expensive.
  • RED: Some CF Cards, Maybe a RED RAID, Lots of hard drive space -- probably a raid for storage. Not cheap, but cheaper than film.


Frame Rates

  • Video: Most commonly 24, 25 and 29.97. Some newer cameras can shoot up to 60fps
  • Film: As fast as your camera will let you go. Ultra high speed cameras can shoot 10,000 fps. Up to 120 is quite common
  • RED: Varies depending on resolution. Up to 30fps at 4k, 60fps at 3k, 120fps at 2k


In all these categories the RED is fairly equivalent to film, but beats film in terms of cost. A few other areas where I think the red wins are speed of use and safety of footage.

Ease of use: We shot a short film in 48 hours in 4k resolution this weekend. This would have been incredibly difficult with film. Film needs to be processed and telecined before you can begin editing. Both processes that would have taken valuable time. It probably would have been impossible here in Switzerland due to the lack of 24 hour facilities.

Safety of footage: Film advocates will say that a hard drive can crash or a CF card could fail. However, film is obviously more perilous to use than digital. Just one little light leak and your footage is ruined -- not to mention what can happen in the lab to make your work unusable. With file based digital shooting you can make as many back ups as you want on set. With film your camera original is all you have until you have a work print made.

One of the areas where I found RED more difficult to use than Film was focusing. The RED shoots 4k, but as of now, all of the monitoring options only go as high as 720p. This makes it difficult to see what is in focus. There is a pretty nifty focus assist that outlines in focus areas with red lines, but this is not perfect. That said, with a little practice, I was able to pull focus fairly well.

There are a few other great things about the RED: REDCODE RAW, Speed Ramping, Stop Motion, User definable buttons, Modularity, etc. Too much for me to go into right now.

I am ready to shoot on RED again as soon as possible. Last weekend makes my dread shooting HDV again.


PS. I know I left out cameras like the F23, the Panavision Genesis and the like. They have lots of the same benefits of the RED but so far none of them shoot 4K.