Experimenting with various repair methods.
Rycote windshields are awesome and essential tools that should be in all filmmakers kit box. I had a couple of badly damaged rycote’s, so I decided to bite the bullet and attempt repairing both.
One windshield had suffered trauma to the basket at both ends and along the middle, badly cracked staved in and split. I decided I would need two different methods of repair for each end. One end had clearly taken many blows from being dropped on its nose and the domed front end was badly cracked. The other removable end had also suffered trauma from being dropped but rather than cracking at random points in the basket weave it had sheared at the intersection of the weave, maintaining the full lengths but flapping about making it very fragile and prone to deforming.
I decided the removable dome rear end could be repaired with needle and cotton thread, by sowing a criss cross stitch at every point where the basket weave previously intersected. This is a simple but time consuming technique. I used a tiny dob of super glue on the cotton thread to reinforce it and prevent the thread wearing or loosening over time.
I found sewing through the exterior and securing the thread on the inside made for the tidiest and visually most pleasing repair.
It ends up looking a bit ugly on the inside but who cares, it wont effect sound quality and nobody is going to se it in use anyway!
Once I had sewn all the sheared intersections of the dome it became much firmer and reassuringly robust.
Here you can see all the sewn joints from the outside and inside, this part of the job is DONE!
Next job is to fix the front end dome which was so badly cracked it had totally deformed and was concave in places instead of convex! Sewing wasn’t an option as there wasn’t enough complete structure there to make it work. I had to form new lateral strands for the basket weave. For this i decided the best bet was a hot glue gun!!
I used some rolled up socks forced into the inside of the basket to gentle push the dome end out back into its natural shape so i had a rough hemisphere with which to built my new lattice work of glue on.
The round ring type structure that helps to give some strength and shape to the basket was also cracked in 4 different places around the circumfrence. I also repaired this with hot glue.
Could this be the answer to lens mounting Micro 4/3 cameras with battery grips?
Andrea from Roesch Feinmechanik kindly sent me their newly designed Acra Swiss compatible foot that screws into their collars for the Panasonic 100-300mm and 35-100mm lenses. This is the third iteration of foot from Roesch Feinmechanik and demonstrates a progression and evolution. The first foot was not Arca Swiss compatible and was designed to attach to support equipment via two ¼” UNC threads in its base. The second edition incorporates a clever and elegant Arca Swiss compatible dove tail as well as the two ¼” UNC threads.
The new foot is designed to work with battery grip equipped cameras. The foot is essentially the same Arca foot as before but with extra machining at the point where it affixes to the collar.
It’s approximately 2.5mm thinner at one end. The original Arca foot just about clears the GH3 with battery grip when used with the 100-300mm lens. With this new foot you have an extra few mm space between the grip and the foot itself. That is a welcome increase in clearance.
The original Arca foot did not fit with battery grips when used with the 35-100mm lens. I have written an article that shows my solution to the problem (here). Unfortunately this new foot (designed for battery grip equipped cameras) doesn’t work with the GH3 and battery grip (and therefore the GH4 and battery grip). It’s till just a little two tight; about 2mm extra clearance is needed.
In testing with the 100-300mm lens the new foot feels similarly rigid in use, although obviously the reduced thickness will have weekend the foot to a degree. I doubt it will be significant in practice, however I don’t intend on testing its tensile strength out!!
For me the close tolerance fit of the original Arca foot with the 100-300mm lens was not a big problem, I am just careful when mounting and dismounting the lens from the camera when the grip is attached. However if you’re the kind of person who is all fingers and thumbs the extra clearance will certainly prevent cosmetic damage to either the grip or the Arca foot. From an aesthetic and mechanical perspective there is something very pleasing about the newly designed foot! I have to say I prefer its feel, fit and function compared to the original Arca foot. The fact the new foot is still a few mm too tight to allow the 35-100mm lens to clear the grip is a great shame. On the positive side of things hats off to Roesch Feinmechanik for acknowledging the battery grip issue and responding to filmmakers and photographers requests!
How to make the Lumix 35-100mm f/2.8 lens even more awesome!!
I have always found lenses with tripod mountings or tripod collars to be much easier to use than simply fixing a tripod plate to the bottom of the camera body itself. Why? Well for starters it allows for quick landscape to portrait shifts when using tripods or monopods etc. It puts the lens on axis with the head of the tripod for smoother panning shots. Its often easier to change lenses and camera bodies when the lens itself is the mounting point. It also allows for swift battery changes as the bottom or sides of the camera are unobstructed. It also tends to give more stable shots, in the sense its easier to control and stabilise the image. Theres probably a whole bunch of other advantages I haven’t mentioned here too.
There is another big reason to prefer lens mounting over camera body mounting when using the wonderful and much under rated Panasonic GH3 (Also the GH4 which shares the same battery grip as the GH3), in particular when used with the battery grip. Nice as the battery grip is I find it to have two major flaws. The first being the tripod mounting thread is not inline with the axis of the lens / sensor, this may not seem too big an issue but it makes for some rather cumbersome and unwieldy handling. The second major flaw of the GH3 / GH4 battery grip is it causes a certain amount of play between the camera and the grip. This small amount of play makes the combo feel wobbly and less stable than it should be.
One way to solve these two major flaws is to mount the camera via the lens rather than the base of the camera grip, it puts the tripod plate back in line with the lens / sensor axis and should by all rights side step the issue of play in the camera body / grip.
Sadly none of the Panasonic Lumix lenses come with a lens mounting point or a tripod mounting collar. In fact Panasonic doesn’t even offer such a thing as an accessory!?! Shame on you Mr Panasonic!!!! This is where an intriguing little engineering company based in Germany comes in. Roesch Feinmechanik (http://roesch-feinmechanik.de), run by Rudolf Rösch, has designed and machines a tripod collar for the Panasonic Lumix 100-300mm f/4-5.6 I.O.S. lens. As I own one of these cracking lenses I decided to take a punt and try one out. I contacted them, placed my order and a few days later it arrived in the post. I was expecting it to be a bit umm, how should i say this… a bit rubbish. Oh boy was I surprised!! Its incredibly well designed, its beautifully machined and fits like it was always meant to be wrapped round the lens from new. And heres the best bit, it works too!! It makes the Lumix 100-300mm f/4-5.6 I.O.S. lens easier to use, more stable, and the tripod fixing threads are bang on axis with the lens / sensor!! Yippeee!!!!
Only snag is I don’t use my Lumix 100-300mm f/4-5.6 I.O.S. lens anywhere near as often is I use the Lumix 35-100mm f/2.8 I.O.S. or the Lumix 12-35mm f/2.8 I.O.S. lenses, which by the way are excellent lenses and will form a lengthy post later on. So I spent several months begging Rudolf and his wife Andrea to design and manufacture tripod collars for both these popular and excellent lenses. Initially I don’t think they were too interested. However after many many long emails with Andrea eventually they decided to design a tripod collar for the 35-100mm Lumix lens. I don’t know if their decision to do so was in anyway effected by my continual harassment or if they had received similar requests from other people? Andrea told me construction was underway and I made it very clear I wanted to get my hands on this tripod collar ASAP! In fact Andrea tells me I own the first two 35-100mm tripod collars they manufactured 🙂
Yippee once again!! Oh but hang on, wait, when the tripod collar is attached to the lens it doesn’t allow the battery grip to be used as theres not enough room 😦 booooo!! So all of a sudden the two major flaws of the battery grip that would normally be solved with a tripod collar are now scuppered as one simply cannot attach both the tripod collar for the Lumix 35-100mm f/2.8 I.O.S. lens and the GH3 / GH4 battery grip at the same time!! I was really disappointed, especially as I had explained in great detail to Andrea how important it is for their collars to allow the use of battery grips. I had sent them a series of photos of the GH3 with the grip and both the 35-100mm f/2.8 I.O.S. and the 12-35mm f/2.8 I.O.S. Lumix lenses so they could see what I was on about. However it seems this may have been lost in translation.
I wasn’t having any of this, I couldn’t let it go. So I decided to pay my good friend Tom New a visit. Tom runs New Techniques, a fine tuning engineering company specialising in high performance track racing cars (http://www.new-techniques.co.uk/). Tom has a nifty shed full of big machines named things like Ronford, Preswich, Huntington or some such like. Any hoo, I had designed my own little solution to the problem and Tom kindly spent all of his saturday patiently helping me machine the tiny little parts out of aluminium and make some adjustments to the collars designed by Roesch-Feinmechanik. And here it is!! tada….
As you can see my sophisticated solution to the problem was to shift the tripod collar “foot” forward a few mm. The little silver block has two M3 screws fixing it to the collar section and another M3 thread underneath to secure the foot. By shifting the foot forward it now clears the battery grip, allows the lens to be fixed to the tripod on axis with the lens / sensor and its very steady and firmly clamped to the lens so there is no play! Yippeee!!!! Well done me and Tom 🙂
Not content to leave it there I wanted to see if it would be at all possible to make the tripod collar for the 35-100mm f/2.8 I.O.S. fit the 12-35mm f/2.8 I.O.S. Lumix lens. So thats exactly what I did, my design solution to the problem allied with Tom’s mad skillz!! here it is….
I had to make a collet to fit inside the collar section as the 12-35mm f/2.8 I.O.S. lens is slightly smaller in diameter than the 35-100mm f/2.8 I.O.S., I used a PTFE plastic because its hard but not too hard. I may change this collet for a nylon version, I have to test it out a little more first.
The ultimate quest for the truth, well maybe not…
Why bother comparing the two? Both manufacture quality cameras and optics right! Well I am often asked which brand to go for. This article relates to that simple question with a somewhat lengthy answer.
I have always been a big fan of Nikon cameras, from the FM2 and in particular the F3 I have always loved Nikon SLR and DSLR cameras. For me even more important is the optics these companies manufacture.
I really like the AIS range of Nikon lenses, essentially majority metal construction combined with amazing glass, these lenses are fully manual, with aperture rings and clear barrel markings. As far as SLR/DSLR lenses go I personally love using Nikon AIS glass. In particular Prime lenses (ie non zooming, fixed focal length) are a sumptuous pleasure to use.
A fantastic resource for these and Canon optics is Ken Rockwell’s site www.kenrockwell.com I highly recommend spending several days reading pretty much everything on his site. He has lots of recommendations, detailed analysis, useful info and statistics as well as being a very entertaining read (at least for those in our field of work anyway).
Canon also make some awesome lenses. When it comes to autofocus image stabilised lenses, particularly non prime zooms, Canon is hard to beat. Canons L series of lenses are just incredible, optically superb but particularly durable and robust. I’m sad to say I have accidently dropped L series zooms and sometimes they sustain ugly cosmetic damage, sometimes they barely mark, either way they almost always continue to function perfectly. I’m not so keen on Canon primes, they are not as pleasing to use as Nikons AIS manual lenses, only a few Canon primes feature IS (image stabilisation) which is absolutely essential for video without using some form of camera support gear.
A very useful resource for Canon lenses is Bryan Carnathan’s http://www.the-digital-picture.com/ full of excellent detailed reviews of many of Canons EF and EFS lenses! I Highly recommend reading his reviews before buying a Canon lens!
Lenses are one thing, cameras are another. In the olden days before the internet pro photographers would buy a camera body like the FM2 or F3 and use it day in day out until it died a horrific death or until they retired, usually the latter. Indeed cameras were designed and built to take this kind of demanding usage.
DSLR’s are different, their life span is determined by technological advancement, not by the time it takes to fail due to usage or maltreatment. What this means is that a DSLR becomes redundant when its imaging specification becomes considered below par in comparison to the latest camera products. So DSLR’s aren’t designed to be your sturdy lifelong friend, always there by your side to capture that crucial moment. They are designed to provide the latest the manufacturer has to offer. Eventually that becomes old hat and looked-down-on. The camera is simply replaced for a more up to date or higher spec model.
When the F3 came out it cost more than most pro’s make in a month, nowadays the modern equivalent costs as much as what can be made in one or two jobs! You will probably keep that camera for 4 maybe 5 years if your lucky, the last 2 years it will be your beater camera, relegated to the most dirty or risky jobs.
Back to the question, Nikon or Canon. I always think about Nikon and Canon as being like BMW and Mercedes. Both cars are German, both cameras are Japanese. Both cars represent the best in everyday usage road vehicles. Both cameras represent the best in everyday professional DSLR’s. Some people prefer BMW some prefer Mercedes.
It boils down to personal taste to some extent and features being the other major deciding factor. I think if you drive either German car you probably have little to complain about (except maybe cost). Likewise if you choose either Nikon or Canon you don’t really have to worry too much.
Either will be your best buddy for acquiring imagery. For my personal tastes I am happy using either Nikon or Canon for stills work. I ever so slightly prefer Canon, why? It’s a matter of personal taste, I prefer the physical layout of buttons and find the menus more intuitive on Canon. When it comes to video however I have a much stronger bias towards Canon. They have been offering decent quality video in their DSLR’s for some time now, while Nikon has been very slow to integrate decent quality video into the DSLR’s. That’s not to say this cant change. If Nikon produce some killer video DSLR’s I’m certain I will buy them.
So there we have it, IMHO I believe both manufacturers cameras to be excellent. I am more than happy to use either for stills but video at the moment is a different matter. The video feature added to DSLR’s was an after thought, a gimmick facility that was seized by indie filmmakers and professionals alike, taking the manufacturers and public by storm. I am disappointed that Canon haven’t fully realised the potential of DSLR’s for video.
For the last 3 years their camera offerings have added a few minor improvements, addressing precious little of the many failings these cameras posses for shooting video. You could argue why should they bother, they are primarily stills cameras after all! Well I would argue from a business perspective if your customers are screaming out for decent video DSLR’s then why not give it to them and reap the rewards financially? Happy customers and happy company bank balance. I guess my over simplistic view of the DSLR manufacturing industry doesn’t offer any great insight.
However I for one would be more than happy to continue using DSLR’s for video if they were developed sufficiently to solve most of the key short failings they currently posses. I cant see it would take much, a 7D sized DSLR with average stills performance, 8Mega pixel sensor with the capability to record to internal media at full HD with a robust high data rate pro compression codec suitable for editing directly onto the timeline. Some form of hotshoe or battery grip that enabled XLR balanced mic and line level, phantom powering and live gain adjustment for audio. Suitable metering via headphones and audio meters. A complete lack of moiré and reduced jellow effect. It should have options for full frame and S35 crop factor. A decent articulated LCD display. 1080p 50/60fps. Those few things alone would yield an awesome camera that could sell for less than $3000 – £2000. And it would sell like hot cakes!
Sadly I have no say in the design of video DSLR’s and there is currently no sign of such a product in development let alone close to release. So I will continue to use DSLR’s for video and stills of course. I will look upon the down sides of these cameras as technical challenges to solve in those moments when I’m staring out of a window sipping coffee or just daydreaming.
In conclusion then if stills is your bag, buy a Nikon or Canon and be happy. If video is how you roll then currently Canon still has the leading advantage but who knows what the future will bring?
Why I am completely uninterested in Apple’s current product line
I remember many years ago Apple licensed third party manufacturers to design and create Mac clones, they were ugly, poorly made, unreliable and down right unsexy.
For me those were some of the darkest days of Apple products. All Apple made back then was computers and basic stuff like monitors, keyboards, mice etc.
Apple seemed to be out of step with the computer world, proprietary connectors, odd bus architectures and what seemed even at the time to be outdated i/o technologies. Apple was moribund and worst of all nobody cared what products they were about to launch. The thought of someone, anyone, queuing outside of a store the night before to be one of the first to own the latest Apple product was unheard of and down right inconceivable!
Then something very significant happened, Steve Jobs came back to work for Apple. It wasn’t long after that the world received the very first “i” product, the iMac! It was as if Steve Jobs had a direct high speed line to the future and was channelling that power into Apples design and product development. The iMac changed things, computers were no longer grey tarp boxes that made lots of noise, now they could be colourful, translucent, funky, quiet, playful, but more importantly it was something you wanted have in your stylish apartment, or equally in the reception of your hip business premises. Suddenly it was cool to have a computer. Who cares if it only had a 13inch CRT screen, tiny hard drive, little ram and distinctly average processing power. None of that mattered. Steve Jobs had reinvented the PC.
As if guided by the illuminate, Steve then went on to change the way we used the internet, listened to music, not to mention mobile phones; which have become something we happily spend almost £800 to own!
Looking back, Apple managed to drag its ass off the floor and go on to design some of the worlds most desired, beautifully engineered, stylish products ever. How it managed to about-turn and become a wonder company is beguiling, one can only dream of what went on behind those R&D doors in Cupertino! It seemed that Apple could do no wrong, if Apple decided it was going to reinvent the handkerchief they could do it in such a way that you would immediately discard all your existing handkerchiefs and be willing to pay incredible amounts of money to own this new Apple handkerchief, which required you camping outside the Apple store days before the launch!! Apples profitability and net worth rose exponentially, indeed I watched as shares in Apple rose from $25 (1984) to a record $700!!! (September 2012) Apple was the benchmark, they had a team who could seemingly see the future, and that future had a once-bitten fruit emblazoned on it!
So that brings me back to the present day, sadly without Steve Jobs (1955-2011), Apple seems to be concentrating a vast amount of its time and energies on suing other companies, even their own suppliers!!! Alright, maybe they are trying to protect all that “from the future” intellectual property, so lets concentrate instead on Apples current product line.
I’ll start with the iOS devices, we have the iPhone 5, don’t get me wrong I am a big fan of the iPhone, I use two and its changed the way I work, I literally couldn’t work as I do without them. But with the iPhone 5, essentially we have a longer screen version of the iPhone 4 in a slightly different case. One that IMHO is not as stylish, innovative and “cool” as its predecessors. Its almost as if they have lost that feel for the future and have created what looks like a combination of the present and the past!
Moving on through the product line, so now we have an iPad mini, big deal, so its like an iPad but smaller…. but then doesn’t that make my iPhone 4 an iPhone mini when compared to the iPhone 5? What I’m saying is Apples vision of the future is to make the screen of our smart phones larger, and the screen of our tablets smaller. Is that it!!! I remember when Apple created new products like the iPod, Magic Trackpad and Mouse, the iPod Touch, Timecapsule and of course the original iPhone and iPad etc. Is this the best they can do? Have they lost the divining stick to the future, or did Steve Jobs take it with him?
OK forget iOS products for a minute, Apple has made some great Mac products right! Well When I look at the current Mac product line I cant help think Apple is starting the great decline, back to those dark old days of the Mac clones and boring grey irrelevant boxes of the past. Am I being a bit negative? I don’t think so, am I being unfair? I don’t believe so. Bare with me, the Mac mini, it was a nice idea and I even owned one for a while, and I liked it, but did I ever use it for work, or any serious projects? Not a chance! I really don’t see the point of the Mac mini, its not cheap enough to be an entry level Mac for the user on a shoe string budget. Its not powerful enough to justify its price, its clever diminutive proportions make it unsuitable for most applications (non software definition).
Next in line is the MacBook Air. Now I have had two of these lovely machines, both from the unibody generation, all flash architecture and I loved them. Did I use them for serious work? Yes! I did! But the limited I/O is an issue, besides Apple has something far better that takes up almost the same space and weight!
It’s the amazing Retina display MacBook Pro’s. These machines are without doubt the last word in laptop design, I firmly believe there isn’t a finer laptop out there. They look good, are designed well and are a reasonably powerful work tool.
So why don’t I like them or the Airs? Well, specifically for what they are, Laptops, and IMHO laptops are a dying product. Sure we’re gonna see laptops being made and sold for many years, but for those who are looking to the future for cutting edge design, powerful tools for on the move, then laptops isn’t where its at. These guys have got it somewhere in the right direction, but even then its not right. http://www.modbook.com/
And the reason this is not quite right, is because Apple didn’t design and engineer it, but more specifically Apple didn’t design and engineer it with the direction of Steve Jobs! That is my point. Laptops are dead, tablets will rule, or some hybrid of the two will lead to a completely new product line, dare I suggest the iPad Pro? Apple should be the company to bring this new marvel to our hands, sadly I just don’t think they will.
Then we have the most disappointing of them all, the iMac, the product that started it all, Steve Jobs gift to the world. Again I’m going to sound sort of contradictory here, as I’m currently typing this on an iMac. I think the 27inch iMac is the best Mac ever made to date without a shadow of a doubt. The perfect screen, the stylish sexy design, the quality materials used, attention to detail, functionality, processing speed etc its an amazing computer product. So why do I find the latest iMac so disappointing? Again its like the iPhone getting bigger and the iPad getting smaller. This isn’t the future, it’s a loss of clear vision!!
When you looked at the previous generation 27inch iMac, the one thing you noticed was its lovely screen. You never really noticed the back or the sides unless you were plugging something in or carrying it. So why then would you create an iMac that is incredibly thin on the one axis that for most of the time you will be completely unaware of?
Oh and you can forget an optical drive by the way. Those of you who hoped Blu-ray would have to come to the Mac, sadly your day will never shine. I rarely use my optical drive but when I do I’m really glad to have it, and would I like to be able to slot a Blu-Ray disk in there and watch a film in lovely HD on that amazing screen, you bet I would! Would I like to be able to edit and author my own films onto blank blu-ray media all from within my iMac? You better believe it!! Sadly I cant. Oh and the SD card slot on the back, am yeah that’s a step backwards. It was already a fumble to insert an SD card into the side mounted SD slot, but now I have to get up out of my chair, lean over the back of my iMac and struggle to find a slot that I can’t clearly see due the curvature of the rear of the case. How stupid!?
I think the new iMac with its 5mm edge is amazing to look at, from the side, but as I spend most of my time looking straight at mine, I’m not going to appreciate all the engineering that went into making it so thin. Does it yield more desk space? No it doesn’t, I can just push the previous generation iMac back an inch on the desk and I have the same result. I am also concerned that heat issues will be a problem and therefore fan noise will result for this new iMac. I like the laminated screen with etched antiglare treatment, I like USB 3 and Thunderbolt ports, about bloody time!!! I just think the effort that went into making it thinner could have been put into making it more energy and therefore heat efficient, ultimately aiming to make it quieter if not silent. Fusion drive is a good idea, but to be honest once you have used SSD you don’t ever want a mechanical HD inside you computer ever again. I’d rather use external HD’s via USB 3 for data storage and simply keep the system and software on the internal SSD for silent, speedy operation.
If it were in my control, I would develop two kinds of iMac, one for mums, dads, kids, students etc which would be pretty much like the previous generation iMac but with the screen and connectivity etc of the new iMac. Then I would have the iMac Pro, It would be similar to the aforementioned with the exceptions that its processor range pushed the limits of current technology, it had 6 USB 3 ports, 3 TB ports, a blu-ray super drive, ram expandability beyond the standard iMac, SSD as standard and fusion as an option for freaks. I would include two card slots, one for SD and the other for CF. These are without a doubt the industry standard memory card media for almost all our acquisition tech. I would make sure the case was well vented and cooling was a priority design element to keep fan noise to an absolute minimum. Why would I split the iMac range into two? Well lets consider the Mac Pro!
Have you ever spec’d up a Mac Pro on the Apple website? If you haven’t give it a go just for a laugh. What you will see is it doesn’t take long to generate a cost figure that is normally associated with second hand luxary cars or brand new vehicles for that matter. What do you get for all that money? You get a thudding great box of space eating, noise generating, heat emitting history. Even if they updated it to have USB 3 and TB ports (absolutely shameful they didn’t do so long ago!!!) Its still not worth considering. Why? Well you buy a Mac Pro coz it has options for installing third party products that allow for specialist tasks to be achieved in less time and more integration with high end software products. Things like Digidesign’s ProTools or Avid’s Media Composer etc. Mac Pro’s are basically all about their enclosures, which allow for expansion. Expansion within the computer enclosure was how things were done in the olden days. We don’t need that any more. We have Thunderbolt! You cant find a faster data throughput interface, its adaptable and broad architecture opens up a world of possibilities. If you want expansion there are already TB based solutions that allow you to use PCI and PCIe hardware with any TB ported Mac, even your Mac mini (as if you would). TB is the future for now, its bandwidth is immense, possibilities are endless and it opens up a new industry of expansion hardware products based around this new interface. Simple plug and play for the big boys and girls! So no I cant see the point in buying a Mac Pro. An iMac Pro would make a much better choice. Lets not forget the larger iMac already comes with its amazing 27inch screen, maybe they could go wild with a 32inch iMac Pro?!? Either way its got to be more space, time and money efficient than the Mac Pro.
In summary then basically I am saying the Mac Mini, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac Pro tower are all dead products. The iMac or some variant of it for power users is the way forward but not as some ultra thin design quest, engineered out of lacklustre imagination. iPhones will continue to be the best smart phone for some time, that is until some other company sees the future and brings us the next development in mobile internet communications devices. Tablets are here to stay for a while but they need to be complemented by some kind of tablet laptop hybrid type product for power users etc. I sincerely hope Apple gets its priorities right in the coming months and years and continues to be a trailblazer in the product design and development world, providing us with the future of technology to assist us in work and play. My concern however is that its already too late.
Why I Love Genelec speakers
I have always had an obsessive interest in sound, from both perspectives of creativity and technology. I really enjoy audio post and sound design in the studio. Much more so than editing, grading and image manipulation. For me sound is so important for filmmaking. If the soundtrack to a film is beautifully recorded and crafted one can forgive other aspects of a films production values. Yes picture quality is very important but if the sound is poor it becomes very distracting and therefore hard to watch. However if the picture quality is not top notch, lets say lower resolution for example, it can be somehow overlooked or forgiven if the sound is rich and artistically mixed etc. Some may disagree with me on this, it is merely my personal opinion after all. Walter Murch and Michel Chion have written many fantastic books and articles on film sound, some of it very complex indeed!
I highly recommend researching these two masters of sound and reading their works. Both of these masters are emphatic that sound is very important for film, sound often does most of the story telling, with the pictures adding details to the mix. So if sound is so important then as filmmakers we should give it a high level of importance within our work.
DSLR’s have revolutionised what is possible from relatively cheap cameras, often yielding beautiful visual results. There isn’t really anything like that at present in the film sound world. If you want good sound you still need to get your hands on the best kit you can. And you have guessed it, excellent audio kit costs money. It seems crazy that a camera such as the Canon 600D can give fantastic video results with half decent functionality all for the tiny price of £400 or less. Yet a simple piece of audio kit like a wireless microphone will set you back as much for a baseline model and many many times more for a midrange kit. For instance a field mixer such as one of SQN’s amazing units will cost more than a 5D MK III. Essentially all it will do is mix different audio signals into your camera, compare that to what you can do with a 5D MK III and the SQN seems like poor value, and for an indie filmmaker on a budget its unobtainable. Audio kit hasn’t undergone the hyper speed evolution that video/film cameras have in recent years. Maybe that will change? Who knows. What I do know is the kit used ten years ago by sound recordists in the field is still perfectly valid and suitable for today’s film sound. Maybe that’s why it’s so expensive in comparison?
Recording equipment is a huge subject, something which I will discuss in other threads. How to hear that sound in post so you can accurately integrate it into your films is absolutely vital for filmmaking. There are two main ways to “monitor” sound in film post. One is via headphones, which is my preferred method when editing away from the studio or on location etc and obviously the most practical. On the whole, good quality headphones make for a very effective monitoring device.
The other method is to use speakers, but not just any speakers. There are all kinds of speakers out there, most of them aren’t good enough for monitoring film sound. We are looking specifically for a special kind of speaker simply called a “monitor”. That’s confusing because monitors can also mean the thing we stare at when using computers. Audio monitors are the sound equivalent of computer monitors, the better the monitor the more accurately we can asses and edit our pictures. The same goes for Audio monitors except we are assessing the sound and not the picture of course. Computer monitors can be calibrated to give accurate true to life or trusted colours, audio monitors can also be calibrated to give a clean accurate sound within the room they are positioned in. We want our audio monitors to be very accurate, uncoloured or tainted, giving the most accurate representation of the sounds we want to use in our films, that way we can accurately mix and blend them with other audio to form the sound track. Once we have completed our film we can view and listen to it in our studio with good quality video monitors and audio monitors. This is essentially the pinnacle of your films replay. Chances are it will never sound or look better than this. From here on in our films will be played on all kinds of screens and mediums with which we have no control over. Most of the time the replay equipment or environment will be less accurate than our own studios. Getting a good sound mix is important because if it sounds great in our studios on our monitors then it stands a better chance of sounding half decent elsewhere. With sound design its not uncommon for final mixes to be replayed through very poor quality speaker systems such as those found in cheap TV’s or PC speakers so the sound mixer can get an idea of how the mix will sound in a worst-case replay scenario. But before we can get to that stage we have to have made our sound mix with excellent quality monitoring equipment.
I recall being kindly allowed to use what seemed then to be a fantastic edit suite to cut my A-level Art final film. The room was packed with many tens of thousand £’s of kit, all very impressive, but the one thing that hit me and left a lasting impression even to this day was the sound I heard. The monitors were Rogers legendary BBC LS3/5a speakers fed with a Quad amp. I couldn’t believe the lovely sound I was experiencing from these tiny little speakers.
I was so impressed I had to ask the manager what were these speakers and how much did they cost. Back in 1991 as a 17 year old student £350 seemed like a kings ransom for just a set of speakers. As the years went by I spent many tens of thousands on all kinds of speakers and HiFi, audio monitors, headphones etc but nothing impressed me the way those LS3/5a’s did. In fact I almost bought a pair but by this time Rogers had long stopped making the LS3/5a’s and Rogers was now just a badge name for a crappy Chinese electronics company. LS3/5a speakers were so sought after I was considering parting with £1250 for a boxed, mint, matched pair on eBay. I didn’t buy them in the end.
So I remained always slightly unsatisfied with what I heard from audio monitors, that was until by chance i found myself listening to a pair of Genelec active monitors. I was absolutely blown away, they were incredible! Tiny little metal bean shaped enclosures with XLR inputs and mains power for the built-in amplifiers. This was it, this was the Rogers LS3/5a moment I had been looking for all these years. So I immediately sold almost all of my speakers and bough a pair of Genelec monitors.
Genelec is a Finnish company, formed to meet the needs of the Finnish broadcasting company YLE. How similar this is to the story of Rogers who designed the LS3/5a’s in conjunction with the BBC to be their standard issue audio monitor. Regardless of the history I have never found a company to date that makes a better all round audio monitor than Genelec. There may be some incredible studio monitors out there that might (subjectively) sound better than Genelec but I firmly believe the Genelecs would be a better choice in the long run. I have been using Genelec monitors with all my workstations for several years now and I doubt that will change any time soon!
OK why do I like them so much, well you have to hear them yourself to fully understand. The sound reproduction accounts for about 70% of what I like and the other 30% comes down to the design, functionally, durability, company ethos etc. Of course they aren’t cheap, but just like the Rogers LS3/5a’s they are well worth it!
Why are they important to filmmakers?
I use Mac computers for all my work, from pre-production all the way through to post and authoring. If you’re a filmmaker or photographer you know just how important getting footage from the cameras memory cards onto a drive and backed up is a key part of workflow. Having a fast and reliable method of data transfer is crucial. After a video shoot I could have 4-5 32GB CF cards and 2-3 64GB SDXC cards full of rushes. So potentially I am looking in the region of 250-350GB of rushes to get into my computer, swiftly and safely. Most Macs these days have an SDXC card slot and Sandisk make a rather tacky looking but so far reliable USB 3 multi card reader. I have experimented with CF to SATA adaptors and HD docks, that have also proven fast and reliable. But for a simple, safe, reliable and fast transfer of all that data the Macs built in SDXC slot in conjunction with a Sandisk USB 3 card reader does the trick.
For me this is one reason why USB 3 is so important. USB 3 is significantly faster than USB 2 and off the charts compared to USB 1. USB 3 is our best friend at this point, its fast enough to allow the best HD’s to run at their full potential without bottlenecking. Its also cheap, USB 3 builds on USB 2 and is relatively cheap to manufacture external caddies etc. Its fast enough to edit HD video footage. OK you might struggle with 8K pro res but we can leave that to the big guns right now. For the serious pro shooting HD USB 3 is just fine.
When I have copied all my rushes to an external HD, transcoded and edited my footage I then like to make a shelf back up. Usually the entire project will range from as little as 350GB to 900GB of data. Now copying 900GB of data at USB 2 speeds takes time, lots and lots of time. Will USB 3 make that significantly shorter? Well yes and no, it will definitely take less time but it all boils down to the weakest link in the chain. In most cases that will be the speed of the HD’s that are being read and copied to. In a best case scenario we could expect two USB 3 drives interfacing at USB 3 to transfer data at approx 150-180mbits. That’s nowhere near USB 3’s theoretical limit of 5Gb/s, not even close. But it will be faster than USB 2, which typically works out at about 30mbits or so. So we should see data transfer times reduce to about a fifth, theoretically. The limiting factor in the USB 3 scenario is the HDrive’s data rates, not the interface. In the case of the USB 2 scenario the bottleneck is the USB 2 interface. So your HDrives aren’t approaching anywhere near their potential. This is what makes USB 3 important for me. Time saved acquiring the rushes to HDrives and time saved backing the project up. There are huge time savings to be had with USB 3. That’s great news for all of us! Speeding up the more tedious aspects of our workflow.
Thunderbolt (TB) is very important because it not only has a bonkers theoretical 10Gb/s data rate, it also allows for almost limitless expansion possibilities. TB can be used to interface HD’s, SSD’s, monitors, adaptors, PCI and PCIe expansion chassis and hardware yet to be invented! TB is the port that allows us to adapt our Mac computers to do very specific high end tasks such as turning them into audio post production work stations, or film edit suites, of the highest level and specification! TB is like Firewire in that it can be used to connect drives but it can also be used to connect other kinds of peripherals, except its so so much more than that, TB is the high speed jack point right into your Mac’s brains! TB allows me to use high end expansion hardware hooked up to my desktop machine and when I need to go portable, hook it up in exactly the same way to my laptop! The potential here is awesome!
This for me is why USB 3 and Thunderbolt is so important.
Canon EOS 1Dx for shooting video
I remember being very excited to see what Canon would come up with in the 5D MK III. When they finally released it, like many other filmmakers I was very very disappointed. I knew many photographers who were over-the-moon with their new 5D MK III, rightly so, it’s an awesome stills camera. Lets not forget that is it’s primary function. But for us weirdo’s who use DSLR’s for video it left a lot of us considerably underwhelmed.
Yes they have given us some nice video related features with the 5D MK III but so many key issues were unresolved. Sometime later people like Philip Bloom started scratching around with the 1Dx. Canon’s current flagship DSLR. For stills shooters I can see the 1Dx is an amazing camera. What it offers photographers at that price it’s hard to not love it! But Philip Bloom http://philipbloom.net/ had shot sections of a music video with a 1Dx and seemed very enamoured with it. This was just what I wanted to hear after being so disgruntled with the 5D MK III. So I decided to get my hands on one to play with.
Philip describes the 1Dx as having something special about it, hard to put his finger on but nonetheless a certain lovely something. I have to say I totally understand what he means. I can’t quite put my finger on it either. I have studied 100% pixel blow ups comparing the video resolution of the 1Dx and 5D MK III and it’s hard to see any great difference. But when you view rushes from the 1Dx the images just look lush.
The 1Dx is a serious pro piece of kit with a price tag to match, one could comfortably purchase two 5D MK III for less than a 1Dx. Indeed you could get your hands on both the 5D MK III and the Nikon D800 for less than a 1Dx. I have to say the Nikon D800 is a kick-ass DSLR. It’s no wonder many stills shooters have grabbed one for themselves. So bearing in mind the cost difference between these cameras can I justify paying the price for a 1Dx, taking into account the difference in video output is somehow indescribably better but its hard to know why?
Yes and no is my answer. I personally think the 1Dx when used as a stills camera and a video DSLR is definitely worth the money. However if all you do is shoot video then you have to consider other options such as Canon’s own video camera the C100 which costs less and is after all a dedicated video camera with some lovely features and none of the nasty drawbacks of DSLR’s for video. You have to except that the 1Dx, albeit delivering a more pleasing video image, still doesn’t solve many of the short falls of DSLR’s for video. Heck it doesn’t even have a headphone socket to monitor audio! Yes moiré seems well handled as does aliasing, but jellow is still there, no audio input with XLR’s or phantom power, the rear LCD is fixed into the body of the camera, necessitating a separate monitor or EVF. But it does resolve much more detail than previous video DSLR’s such as the 5D MK II or 7D.
So why would you buy a 1Dx for video when Sony have some very tasty offerings now, Canon’s C100 sounds very promising and new HD video cameras with some amazing spec’s seem to be announced every week or so lately! (Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera!)
Well for me I love the ergonomics of pro body DSLR’s like the 1D series over the likes of the 5D MK III or Nikon D800. When I buy a new DSLR the first thing I do is attach a battery grip to its base so it forms a larger more hand filling shape. I have quite large hands and the 1Dx fits into my hands perfectly (no grip required). Some shooters I know have smaller hands and don’t like using battery grips or full size pro bodies. It’s a personal preference thing. I like the way the 1Dx’s buttons fall under my fingers. Does that justify buying it for video? Probably not. For me the special look of the 1Dx’s video, the ergonomics and its pro build quality all combine to make for a very compelling choice for shooting video. That’s not to say I wouldn’t still consider the C100, but in conjunction with the 1Dx. But now were getting into a different price range where one could almost consider the ludicrously expensive yet deliciously absurd Canon 1Dc or even a C300, Sony’s F55 or even a RED! (well almost). All of which have significant advantages over a 1Dx and C100 combo.
So the 1Dx sits in a very tricky position for me, it’s not quite good enough for me to not need another video camera yet its price makes it a very expensive purchase if it’s not to be used day in day out as my primary video camera. The wise filmmaker would wait a while to consider their options, to learn more about all the other camera options that have come out recently and I’m certain there will be even more cameras to choose from in 3-4 months time. Will I buy the 1Dx then? Probably, as a filmmaker I’m drawn to that special look it generates that I cannot quite describe!