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.
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.
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.
I am in the middle of a generational divide. When I was a child, there were no digital cameras. Digital photography only became a somewhat viable replacement for film when I was in my late-teens. All of my photography classes in community college and at Brooks Institute were film-based. I purchased my first digital SLR in 2005 (a Canon 300D) and seldom looked back. Today, though I know film well, I am more comfortable with digital.
In the time period when I was shooting a lot of film, I shot mostly black & white Ilford stock, some Provia, and of course plenty of various color negative films. The one film I never got to shoot, however, was Kodachrome -- and if I ever want to, I have to act fast. Kodak announced on June 22, 2009 that Kodachrome would be retired. Dwayne's Photo in Kansas is the only certified lab left in the world who can process whatever film remains, and December 30, 2010 is the last day that Dwayne's will process Kodachrome. Any unshot rolls left in the collective photographer's freezer after that will transform from potential art to simply worthless rolls of polyester and silver-nitrate.
The Film Recently, I decided I should shoot a roll of Kodachrome before it's too late. It was a bit challenging to find -- no local stores in Zürich have any left. On ebay, it is expensive and of unknown origin/quality. I eventually made my purchase through a Swiss online shop, and it was pricey for a single roll. I ordered it over a month ago, since I intended to finish this project before November 30th. My reason for this deadline was based on the fact that everywhere outside the U.S. Kodachrome is sold with the processing cost included. To receive the processing with the cost of the film, you have to send it to Kodak's office in Lausanne, who then forwards the film to Dwayne's. The deadline for processing through Kodak Lausanne was November 30th. It seems that the company through which I ordered my film had as much trouble tracking down a roll as I did, because they took over a month to send it. Needless to say, I was disappointed, which is why I am not mentioning the company's name. Now my only choice is to send my film directly to Kansas and pay for processing a second time. The roll I recieved is the standard 36 exposure Kodachrome 64 with an expiration date of 11/2010 and the batch number of 1563 -- which wikipedia confirms is the last batch ever.
The Camera I own a few different film cameras, and I took a long time to decide which one I wanted to use for my first and last roll of Kodachrome. I have a Canon Rebel 2000, but it seemed too new and plastic-y to shoot such a classic film with. I also have a Leica Z2X, which was a tempting choice, but because the camera doesn't have any manual settings, it also seemed like a shame to shoot the Kodachrome on it. I finally decided on an old camera that I had actually found several years ago in the garbage -- an Olympus 35RD. This camera is perfect. A classic, fixed-lens compact range-finder with a 40mm f1.7 Zuiko lens, it is one of the last cameras made with an automatic setting that can be also operated completely manually even with no battery inside. This last feature is particularly great, because the light meter on mine doesn't work well, so I will be carrying my Sekonic light meter with me when possible (that in combination with an impressive free light meter iPhone app as well as the Sunny 16 rule).
Before I could shoot with this camera, I needed to send it in for repairs. Every 35RD still around has a sticky shutter due to the kind of grease they used when they were built. I took it to Claudio Fabio of camera-service.ch, who did an amazing job. He fixed the shutter, the light-sealing, and replaced a few faulty parts. I shot a test roll with it and it works like new. Here is a shot from that roll: 200 ISO Müller Color Negative (probably rebranded Fuji Superia) Shooting starts now. The camera is loaded and I have already taken four shots around Zürich. I have made a list of the subjects I want to shoot with this precious roll. I want to finish it before December 15th because it has to make it all the way from Zürich to Kansas before the 30th. As soon as the slides are back, there will be a new blog post with my impressions and some shots. I also intend to occasionally post iPhone photos to my Twitter with the subjects of particular exposures. Stay tuned.
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)
Audio 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.
Ergonomics 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.
Controls 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.
Battery 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.