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October 6, 2015

Tech Tuesday: New GoPro Hero+ vs Hero4 Session

GoPro Hero4 SessionThe King of Action Cameras

There is no denying that GoPro has for a long time cornered the market on action cameras and that their name has even become synonymous with the wide-angle, “point-of-view” shot. Of course, in a market that has quickly become over saturated, there are plenty of competitors like Sony, Contour and Drift that make cheaper (and arguably better) video cameras, but GoPro’s long lineage, constant innovation, superb marketing and industry wide adoption maintains their stronghold. Now with their release of the Hero+ and Hero4 Session in their 2015 lineup, GoPro attempts to broaden their appeal to everyone in the market. So, which is better: the Hero+ or the Hero4 Session?

 

GoPro Hero4 Session

Hero4 Session: Small & Simple

Aimed at people who want an action camera with a smaller foot print, the Hero4 Session is 50% smaller and 40% lighter than the standard Hero. This is due to its completely redesigned waterproof body:

Two surfers dive under a wave

HERO4 Session is rugged and waterproof to 33’ (10m), eliminating the need for a separate housing. Its convenient, ready-to-go design makes it easy to get out the door quickly to capture and enjoy your session.

 

Also, they simplified the cameras operation with a single button press.

 

A single press of the shutter button powers on the camera and begins capturing video or Time Lapse photos automatically. A second press of the shutter button stops recording and powers off the camera. It’s that simple.

Female climber uses GoPro Hero4 Session

 

Though it doesn’t have 4k video like its series counterparts, it still packs a pretty good punch with 1080p60 video and 8MP still photos, however, so does the cost at ~$300. Not bad for video professionals, but this price puts it outside of the amateur budget.

 

GoPro Hero+

Hero+: Affordable With WiFi

Placed right in the middle of GoPro’s Hero lineup, the Hero+ is $100 less than the Hero4 Session and has the same 8MP stills and 1080p60 video specs. And unlike the entry model Hero, it has the same WiFi connectivity as the Session. The most notable difference is that iconic Hero body, which is not inherently rugged or waterproof. For this, you’ll have to use the supplied housing, which in my opinion, is perfectly fine for almost any user: amateur or professional.

Skydiver with a GoPro Hero+

 

Professional videographers may miss the Session’s Protune™, dual mic and subtle picture adjustments, but as someone who has used these cameras extensively, I really don’t think that these are huge selling points for an action camera.

 

Snowboarder on the mountain

The Best Action Camera for You

Ultimately, your needs and budget will determine which camera is best for you, and with six cameras in GoPro’s lineup, you may find the others to be a better fit. If you want an action camera with a small foot print and customizable picture options, than the Hero4 Session is a great camera for you. However, if all you want is a camera you can stick most anywhere to get a creative angle, than get yourself the Hero+ and use the $100 you saved for some nice mounts.

 

Surfer girls take Selfie

Happy shooting!

 

* All photos are courtesy of GoPro and their affiliates.

October 1, 2015

What You Need To Know Before You Shoot In St. Louis

Welcome to St Louis

Gateway to Video Production

Saint Louis has to be one of the most interesting cities in the Midwest to shoot a video production. While most major American cities grew in the late 20th century, St. Louis actually shrank as people moved out to the suburbs, leaving behind hundreds of homes and commercial buildings vacant or abandon. Time has taken its toll on some of these structures giving certain areas a  post-apocalyptic look without all the effort of the Set Design department. However, St. Louis still maintains gorgeous turn-of-the-century buildings, cathedrals, parks and some modern commercials districts with high-rises. As a videographer and photographer, I believe that St. Louis’s diversity is all the reason to flip on the video camera and start shooting, but there are a few things you should know before you start shooting.

 

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Unions Rule

When I first moved to St. Louis, I was surprised to learn that it is very much a union town, especially with the hotels, event centers, news stations and sports arenas. So before you set your sticks down in Busch Stadium, make sure you have checked in with the local and received their permission. A few that I know are IBEW Local 1, Local 600, IATSE Local 493.

 

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Clear Skies Ahead

We have all heard about FAA restrictions on the use of aerial drones and that they are now offering  special licenses for commercial use. However, getting caught flying without a permit can cost you time and money and St. Louis law enforcement is on the lookout for unauthorized UAV’s. The people over at Know Before You Fly have some great advice to save your video production from hefty fines.

 

Watch The Weather

While you are unlikely to see tornadoes in the city, if you are filming in the suburbs or outskirts of St. Louis or in southern Illinois, summer afternoon thunderstorms and high winds can derail your production schedule. During the winter time, ice storms are common and can cripple the city’s roadways. So always keep an eye on the weather radar.

 

Keep An Eye On Your Gear

While most areas of St. Louis are nice, peaceful places to film, the quality of the neighborhood can change from street to street. Break-ins and theft are very common throughout the city. So, be smart and always have a PA or grip watching your video equipment and grip trucks.

 

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Rent From The Bad Dogs

The biggest and baddest rental house on the Mississippi is Bad Dog Pictures. I was tuned onto this place by producer, Ray Voltz, over at Wells Fargo Advisors. They stock all the gear you need and can help you find local crew, as well.

 

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The Best In The Midwest

So, while there may be a few things you need to keep in mind before shooting video here, there is no substitute for the iconic, unmistakable beauty of St. Louis.

 

September 29, 2015

Tech Tuesday – What does each video editing system excel at?

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Courtesy of Adobe Systems, Inc.

It all starts with a question…

Recently, I learned about a crowd sourced Q&A website called Quora that allows people to ask questions and have them answered by experts in the subject. Each question can receive many answers, but the best answers are “UpVoted” for priority. I love sites like these that allow people to get answers when Googling may not be effective. That being said, a question was asked “What does each video editing system excel at?” Having edited on almost every video editing software out there over the years, I thought I’d give this question a stab. So for today’s Tech Tuesday, I take a look at the top three video editing systems (Adobe Premiere, Avid Media Composer and Final Cut Pro X) and give my perspective on what each one excels at.

 

What does a video editing system do?

Every editing program will provide you with basic capabilities such as trim, cut and add clips to a sequence. The higher end programs will have more features that allow you to create a polished video including adding graphics, adjusting (sweetening) audio and create transitions between cuts. There are plenty of high end editing programs to choose from but the most widely used in the United States are Final Cut, Adobe Premiere and Avid. Each one will provide you the tools to create your masterpiece, but how you get there will vary depending on the program.

 

Final Cut Pro X

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Courtesy of Apple, Inc

In 2011, Apple’s much anticipated redesign of their popular editing system, Final Cut Pro, was debuted to mix reviews. The program that was once set to be the new leader in professional editing systems confused its die-hard fans by releasing a stripped down product that was likened to a “glorified iMovie” or “iMovie Pro”. The simplified interface and tools showed that Apple was targeting the prosumers and amateur market more than professional film makers and production houses that had adopted Final Cut. At this time, many users either stayed with the prior version, Final Cut Pro 7, or switched over to Adobe Premiere, AutoDesk Smoke or Avid Media Composer. However, after many updates and plugins, new and former users are coming back to Final Cut Pro X.

Final Cut Pro’s biggest strength is the ability to bring in mixed format footage and integrate them on a timeline without having to render (Conform for Adobe users) them first. This saves time when having to edit in the field or on a tight deadline. However, since the program does not consolidate footage, it is easy to lose or un-link files, especially when archiving projects. Also, the new interface puts commonly used tools, transitions, effects, etc. easily accessible with one click buttons. This gives the program a more intuitive feeling. Finally, the new event library with the ability to scrub through footage without loading it into the preview window (a cross-over feature from iMovie) is a nice and quick way to scan footage before you load it. Overall, Final Cut users love the program’s intuitive layout, accessibility of common tools and media integration.

 

Adobe Premiere:

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Courtesy of Adobe Systems, Inc.

Prior to Final Cut X, Adobe was also working out bugs that it had with Premiere CS3 and took its cues from Apple on creating an intuitive interface, stable operating system, separate rendering program (Media Composer) and integrating their other programs including the popular compositing program, After Effects. Thus, the completely redesigned CS4 addressed many of the concerns professionals had with Premiere and set them up to take a large portion of former Final Cut users with CS5. The release of CS5 gave editors the intuitive usability of Final Cut combined with the seamless integration of Adobe’s powerful lineup of After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator.

Adobe then made another giant leap by offering their programs on a subscription-based cloud platform, Adobe Creative Cloud (CC). Now, professionals, prosumers and amateurs alike could have access to all of Adobe’s up-to-date products for a low-monthly fee.

Like Final Cut, Adobe Premiere allows users to bring in various formats of video and combine them on a sequence, however, the program will want to “conform” the footage. The good news is that it does this in the background, but depending on your system, it can slow down the editing process. Otherwise, Premiere has an intuitive interface; quick access to transitions, effects and tools; a separate rendering program that allows editors to render in the background while continuing to work; and the biggest advantage, seamless integration between other Adobe programs.

Overall, Adobe listened to its users, saw what its competitors did well and created a product that addressed all these things while still playing up their strengths. In addition, by doing away with the high upfront cost in favor of a subscription based service, they effectively opened themselves up to everyone in the market for a solid editing system.

 

Avid Media Composer:

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Courtesy of Avid

Avid was the original non-linear editing system. Debuted in 1988,  it was “the biggest shake-up in editing since Melies played around with time and sequences in the early 1900s“. The system allowed users to non-destructively edit sequences and create EDL’s for processing houses to cut from. Even now, Avid is the most widely adopted editing platform in the industry. However, high cost, legacy operating system and archaic interface design limits Avid’s adoption by new users. In recent years, Avid followed suit with Adobe by offering Avid Media Composer as a subscription-based service and Symphony as a plug-in upgrade.

Despite some of their short comings, Avid is still an incredibly powerful system. The core of Avid is an exceptional media management system. Unlike Final Cut and Adobe, Avid likes all media to be “consolidated” into “bins” in Avid’s DnX format, otherwise, you will need to do a “video mixdown” at the end of your edit. This keeps all your footage in one place and prevents lost footage or broken links. Also, regular Avid users know about the “Attic” which is a backup copy of all projects in the system program folder that allows for easy recovery of archived projects.

When it comes to learning curve, Avid is notoriously unintuitive and as the saying goes “there is only one way to do it and that is Avid’s way“. However, once an editor learns “the way”, with a few keyboard strokes, they can edit a project quickly and efficiently. Plus, with built in 3D title generator, keyers, grading tools, etc., you don’t need to leave the program to create special effects, coloring or chroma keys. Once you master Avid, everything else is child’s play.

 

Which video editing system is the best?

In summary, each program will do just about everything the others will do and all will allow users to create professional looking edits. Honestly, when choosing an editing system, budget, project demands and personal comfort with the program are going to determine which program you adopt. Either way, the only real limit is one’s own creativity.

September 22, 2015

Tech Tuesday – The iPhone 6s: A Cinema Camera Revolution?

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“I started a joke…”

So it has been a long standing joke in the industry that every video production will soon be shot on the iPhone. And like with any good joke, there is a grain of truth in it. While working for the Army, I experienced times when a General or Colonel would rather shoot a ceremony or presentation message on their phone rather than have a me set up a camera with lights and a microphone. Were the results the same? No, but the convenience of having an adequate video camera in your pocket out weighed the time it took to set up for a professional looking (and sounding) video. But in the right hands, the iPhone was actually a decent tool for indie film makers and professionals alike. Check out this short film by Matthew Pearce that was shot and edited entirely on the iPhone 6:

 

 

Not joking anymore

With films like Tangerine getting high praise at Sundance Film Festival, the iPhone has wiggled its way into the box office. Now, Apple plans to secure their foothold in the cinematic game by releasing the new iPhone 6s with 4k video capabilities and a 12MP camera!

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The all new 12MP sensor reduces noise and creates a sharper image than the previous generation. Also, with built in image stabilization and cinematic autofocus, it is a great tool for the indie film maker.

Of course, this upgrade is not a complete shock. There were rumors of a major camera update back in May. However, adding 4k capabilities and the processor to actually edit the video, is pretty exciting. Apple claims that iPhone 6s’s A9 processor will be able to edit full 4k footage with the newly released iMovie for iOS. Here are the iPhone’s video specs:

iphone 6s, apple, macintosh, camera, video, cinema, cinematography, videography, sensor, indie, film making, all new, brand, 4k, high definition, HD, specs, technical, specifications

Boasting 4k and 1080p @ 120fps, the new iPhone 6s has impressive video capabilities

 

A Tool in the Right Hands

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Dominic, Dreamclip Films, records behind the scenes video of a Army commercial

So, will the new iPhone 6s revolutionize the film making industry like its predecessor? Quite possibly. The fact is that good films have always been driven by intriguing plots, interesting characters and engaging storytelling. The camera has always just been the tool for creatives to express these stories visually to an audience. With the iPhone 6 being a readily available, inexpensive tool with high-quality capabilities, we should expect to see even more young film makers using it to create the next cinematic classic.