Archives For Equipment Review

“What microphone can I use with an OSMO gimbal camera?”….

I have been asked this question a few times in recent months so wanted to share a piece from our friends at their MyMyk blog.

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Thanks for being a loyal MyMyk email subscriber. We appreciate hearing from you and
be sure to check into our Myklopedia page for hints and tips on capturing quality audio. Please contact us if you ever have any questions, our team will do their upmost to help you. If you have a contribution we would love to hear from you. Our products are being used in some very interesting ways about which we are always keen to learn.

Todays mail shot is inspired by one of our regular Myklopedia subscribers from Canada, who has been using SmartMyk and SmartLynk PLUS with the OSMO Gimbal camera. He has been using this combination for shooting Ice Hockey games. The OSMO camera is without a doubt a superb device for single shooters who need to capture action whilst on the move. Large steady rigs are either to cumbersome or inappropriate for the situation, especially at crowded events such as those at a sports stadium.
The answer is the OSMO, however, the OSMO has very basic audio features which are limited to one microphone input.  By integrating SmartMyk and SmartLynk PLUS into the rig, the combination of these MyMyk products and the OSMO camera transforms the whole system to a new level of performance. We thought you maybe interested to read Scotts posting that he sent to us over the weekend.

Dear MyMyk friends.
I have recently been using the SmartMyk & SmartLynk PLUS Combo Audio system with the OSMO camera for shooting Ice Hockey games. Unlike many other camera mounted microphones that I have tried, SmartMyk is a low profile design and does not encroach into the view of the lens when following the play. SmartLynk provides me with two microphone inputs and because SmartLynk has Plug & Power on the inputs I have been using the MyMyk SportsMyk,clipped to the peak of my cap with the mini boom effectively positioned near my mouth as my commentary mic.
For the setup, I plug SmartMyk into input 1 and the SportsMyk into input 2. I plug the mic output of SmartLynk into the mic input of the OSMO to record the action directly to the picture. I set SmartLynk to Split mode, recording my commentary separately from the action on the rink, which is now being recorded onto the OSMO by SmartMyk.
I record the commentary with SportsMyk using the MyMyk reporter APP, which is plugged into the SmartLynk APP output.  In the post production process I then edited and posted the commentry while keeping the audio from the action, intact.
It can be very noisy in the Ice Stadium, fortunately SmartLynk PLUS has a powerful headphone monitor amplifier making it easy to hear the audio and adjust the levels going to the camera and the APP. I mounted the system directly to the OSMO as shown, although I understand that it can be mounted separately on a pole or stand.
I have discovered that the mobile phone view monitoring option works well when hand held rather than being attached to the camera. The game moves very quickly and fortunately the wide camera angle on the OSMO ensures that I capture the action.  I can reference this by quickly checking on the phones screen.  I found mounting the MyMyk audio suite to the camera the best option to ensure it collects the sounds from the particular piece of action.
This is a very cool system and it all packs neatly into my pocket. If you have any comments on my set up I would really be glad to hear from you.
Scott Robbins – Montreal Canada

 

For more information on MyMyk’s range of products please go to their website www.mymyk.com

 

 

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Nikon just announced three  1″sensored premium compacts: the Nikon DL18-50, DL24-85 and DL-24-500. They have all the bases covered and at a great price. The two smaller cameras promise to produce great images and still fit in a pocket, so a great option for expedition and travel. The big brother is still relatively compact but offers an amazing zoom range. One huge benefit of these types of cameras is no dirty sensors as they never get exposed to the elements. A big bonus when on the road

The  electronics of all three models appear to be very similar (sensor, processor, AF system), and what attracts me as a filmmaker is that they all support for 4K video. Add to that, they have a clean HDMI output so I can use an external recorder if I want to up the recording quality even more. I  often use a monitor like the SmallHD 502, which will also be great with these cameras, but for unobtrusive street shooting, just stick with the built-in tilting screens.

All have  3″ touchscreen OLED displays, the 18-50 and 24-85 offer just tilting options but the screen on the 24-500 is  fully articulating. I am also keen to try the improved capabilities of  ‘SnapBridge’. This allows a more robust connection to a smartphone so you can control the camera or instantly share images through social networking.

I am about to test a Nikon D500 and will be pushing the new AF system to the limits as I shoot a wildlife story, it is good to see the DL range also sports an updated system which combines 105 phase-detect points with 171 contrast-detect points. The specifications say this will allow for continuous shooting at 20 fps!

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I am most interested in the 18-50 version as it is equipped with a ND filter that will be of great assistance when shooting video, while maintaining suitable shutter speeds in outdoor conditions (1/50-1/60 sec to mirror the look of a film camera). The lens is also fast f1.8-f2.8, so should be good in low light. I can see this being a really useful camera for shooting from the waist when you want to capture street scenes and stay low profile. Also good for us video shooters is the fact that the camera has full manual control. Along side this it also offers  Raw support for stills. I would love to see a 42mp sensor as seen in a competing camera, but for the price, this is a great feature set.

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The DL24-85 is perhaps more suited to those of us who shoot more stills than video, although the quality fo the images would be great from this or its wider lensed sister. It lacks the ND filter, which makes it less handy for video, but adds macro capabilities. I guess you need one each of these cameras and grab the one most appropriate for the task in hand.

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Less pocketable but superbly equipped for travel is the DL 24-500. The 24-500mm equivalent lens offers a great range for travel and anyone interested in wildlife shooting.

These cameras should  be available in early summer. For more information go to the Nikon site

 

Pre-orders

 

Steve Draper and Dave Halton of AerialVue

 

Over the last year the sales of drones for aerial filming and photography have exploded. I may be one of the few people in my circle of friends that has resisted the temptation to purchase one. Many of my colleagues have made the investment with varying degrees of success in the results they are achieving. Over the last year I also had the pleasure of working on a new 20 part documentary series titled Big Picture Earth. It is scheduled to be available in March through the new online service Curiosity Stream. The series gave me a thorough education in the do’s and don’ts of aerial filming with drones.

We used aerials in many of the episodes, each showcasing an iconic landmark, during which time I mostly directed the aerial shooting or occasionally operated the camera gimbal, but never acted as pilot. I quickly learned that flying at a professional level takes a commitment and skill level that many owner / operators do not meet. Fortunately through some colleagues at the BBC, I started work with the team from a UK based company called AerialVue. The company is run by Dave Halton, who has an engineering background and an amazing understanding of how to build, maintain and operate what he prefers to call a heli-cam… drone has too many connections to the aircraft flown by the military for less peaceful activities.

In contrast to the AerialVue team, and with a few exceptions, I have also seen some horrors, both in terms of the lack of understanding of the film making process, lack of skill in operating the aircraft or just plain bad judgment that can be dangerous for the crew or innocent bystanders.

In the last twelve months I have witnessed multiple crashes, fortunately the drone being the only fatality, seen unusable footage due to technical issues with the camera and copter, as well as running into issues with no fly zones….  So as a filmmaker, how do you either become a good pilot or find someone else to work with to capture good aerials. My time working with the AerialVue team taught me a lot of valuable lessons of how to do it right.

Here are my ten points to look for if you want to be successful.

  1. Find a very skilled pilot to work with or spend the time to teach yourself, making sure you have excellent skills before flying on a real film project. Yes, you can buy a rig from a big box store like Best Buy, take it home and be airborne ten minutes later but that will end badly! The AerialVue team have tens of thousands of hours logged, made the rooky mistakes long before trying to become professional, skills that takes years to hone, but as the rest of the points will describe, many of the things you need to know can be implemented next time you fly.
  2. Set up a safety protocol which includes
    1. A designated take-off and landing pad that is clearly defined, is safe for the copter and has good separation from bystanders. That means the machine is not in danger of turning over and is clear of dust that will dirty the lens and over time damage the mechanics of your rig. Take a weighted blanket or tarp into the field for this purpose or even a folding table.
    2. Have a clear idea of your flight plan, which takes into account legal restrictions, permissions from property owners and is understood by the whole crew
    3. Know a clear a set of commands or announcements that are verbally given as the machine is powered up, takes off and lands eg “Spinning Up” “Taking off” “Landing”… this may seem obvious but it is essential so that someone does not approach the machine at the wrong time and this keeps people focused.
    4. DO NOT… and I will say again…. DO NOT fly the UAV out of visual contact, even if your system is equipped with a GPS map that appears on a tablet. In most places this is illegal, as well as being down right foolish as it is impossible to be completely aware of situations you may be getting yourself into. If you don’t crash into something, fly into a restricted zone, chances are you will lose reference of where your machine is, run low on battery and end up crash landing. I have seen this more than once with copters ending up in a lake, narrowly avoiding ending up in crevasse on a glacier or getting broken when the operator can’t get the machine back to the designated landing pad.
  3. In addition to the flight plan, have a good understanding of the shots you want to achieve before taking off. That means whoever is directing needs to communicate clearly with the aerial team before any flight and have direct and simple commands for them during the flight. If you fail to do this, half the battery pack will be spent before the camera starts to capture usable images on any particular flight
  4. Have enough batteries for the UAV and camera to complete the task. This seems obvious, but countless times I have been on shoots where the drone team has perhaps 4 packs, when the flights will require 12. Always check this at the planning stage and assume nothing… remember the golden rule of production, “assumption is the mother of all screw-ups”. Although most of my producer friends would word that a little more crudely.
  5. Make sure that the charging situation for the battery packs is carefully monitored. Many units from companies like DJI now have smart chargers, but other rigs do not and require chargers to be programmed every time they are used. A mistake can literally be fatal as if incorrectly charged, packs can easily ignite, burning with immense heat that can not be extinguished easily. There are countless example of homes or offices burnt to the ground thanks to mishandled batteries. If you are on a shoot and staying in a hotel and recharging at night, ask yourself if you want to be responsible for starting a fire with the possible loss of life and property being catastrophic! Stay with the batteries as they charge and keep monitoring them during the entire process. Never leave them unattended.
  6. Talking of batteries, don’t try to squeeze in one more shot when your batteries are low, towards the end of a flight. Have a defined cut-off point when you are something like 20% capacity and always return to the landing point at this time. First you are in danger of losing power and crashing but also this practice will damage batteries and mean they have to be replaced… an expensive day out.
  7. Not only should the pilot have visual contact with the copter, but they, along with the gimbal operator and director should have access to a video monitor that is showing the camera feed. Last year I worked with a pilot that refused to work with a monitor. He could not see his ground speed and how it related to the landscape we were shooting, couldn’t see if the framing was correct and wanted me as director to feed him this information as we proceeded. I heard panicked requests like “are we moving yet?” It cut down productivity to a fraction of what it should have been and wasted everyone’s time.
  8. Keep checking camera settings and the lens as you shoot, making regular adjustments as required. I try to avoid any automatic functions such as focus or exposure unless using a cheaper unit that is designed to be used with something like a GoPro. We were flying over Rome last year and despite requesting full manual mode, the operator thought he knew best and enabled autofocus on a Panasonic GH4. We were in low light conditions and the camera kept hunting for focus due to the lack of contrast in the image. In and out it went as the shot went on, and to compound the issue, he also had such a bad video downlink that you could not see this happening. Guess what he had to come back another day and redo everything. As an extra note about cameras & lenses, carry a polarizing filter and a selection of ND filters so you can maintain a filmic look by shooting at 1/50sec for 24/25p filming situations. This means you can shoot a mid range aperture (f5.6-f8) in sunny conditions. Not having to stop the lens down too much (f16-f22) as this means you will not being getting optimal sharpness from the lens. The polarizer will also give more saturated colors. This will also mean selecting a lens that can take a filter. Some wide-angles have dome fronts that will not allow this. In my experience using this kind of lens can also lead to more issues with flare when flying into the sun…
  9. Illustrated by this experience in Rome, make sure the downlink for video monitoring is solid and of good enough picture quality to judge composition, focus, whether there is dirt on the lens and whether the flight is of the correct speed, altitude and bearing.
  10. Bring spare parts with you into the field. That is everything from extra batteries, cables that might break, cable ties to secure loose wires, antennas… basically anything that might break or be lost. The team from AerialVue take no chances, not only do they have spare parts, they bring at least one spare drone that can be airborne in minutes should there be a problem.

 

Apologies if many of these points seem obvious but when you hire an aerial team assume nothing as all the things that I have described going wrong have all happened to me in the last twelve months when I have trusted operators will be well prepared. Of course with the exception of the AerialVue team (and a few pilots here in the US such as Matt Ragan of Birds Eye of Big Sky) who showed us how to do it right!

Dave flies a wonderful UAV called a Skyjib and that he has modified so that he has incredible control of the flights and camera positioning. The first time I flew with him I asked him to catch the rays of the rising sun at dawn along the top of a large ruin in Yorkshire. As a cinematographer, it was the dream shot to capture but most of the previous pilots I had worked with would have had a one in ten chance to getting it right… Of course Dave and his camera operator Steve Draper nailed it first time. And all thanks to them being more prepared than any other team I have worked with.

 

Dave Halton of AerialVue with the typical selection of heli-cams he brings to locations

 

As you know, I am a dedicated Nikon shooter, but also work as cinematographer, so have moved into the world of shooting 4K video in the last two years. While it is still more of an acquisition format than a delivery format, that is rapidly changing thanks to streaming video delivery through services like Curiosity Stream.  They will be delivering a 20 part 4K series in the next few months that I shot, along with colleague Darryl Czuchra, and features iconic landmarks around the world from Stone Henge to Petra. Produced by Compass Light, the same company that delivered the hit series Sunrise Earth, I will keep you posted once it goes to air. Now back to cameras….

I have not had chance to do a hands on test of the new Nikon 4k cameras, the D5 or D500, and there are plenty of other reviews online, but look forward to some real world field tests very soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the last few years I have been lucky enough to work with Mark Soares of the Nikon marketing team and he was just featured in a video talking about the D500 and its exciting new features including Snapbridge, a great new technology to allow photographs to be transferred to your smart device.

 

 

While the D5 is aimed at the professional photo-journalist market, I think the D500 will have a much wider appeal, especially with those of us that take wildlife or sports images. The DX format is ideal for that extra reach from a telephoto lens and the new senosr promises stunning imagery.    Welcome to the 4K world Nikon….

PS  More to come on a third 4K camera also just announced by Nikon, their 360 degree action camera… very exciting news!

For information you can get the latest news at Nikonrumors.com

 

Exploring the Kamchatka coast

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I just returned from exploring the rugged coastlines of Chukotka and Kamchatka to photograph native villages, wildlife and the region’s landscapes in this far outpost of the former Soviet Union. Based on board an expedition ship, life is easy, but each day, trips ashore meant transferring into a zodiac and braving the turbulent oceans, relentless salt spray and waves crashing over the bow. This is followed by a ‘wet landing’ on a beach, dodging the surf and attempting to get onto dry land as soon as possible.

On shore, we then faced the uncertain weather conditions that the wilds of Siberia would send our way. There to take photographs, it meant keeping camera equipment safe in these challenging conditions, one mistake could mean it is swamped by salt water and ruined. I watched this very thing happen a year ago while making a landing at Gold Harbor in South Georgia. It is a truly spectacular wildlife location as the beach is home to hundreds of thousands of king penguins. Eager to get a shot, a fellow traveler has his new digital camera around his neck and ready to shoot as we approached the beach. Six foot swells pounded the landing site and as the zodiac hit the beach, it was pushed sideways by the powerful swell and a wave dumped right on top of us. In an instant, $6000 of camera equipment was lost and to make matters worse, the photographer no longer had his camera to use and we still had two weeks to go, visiting some of the world’s most spectacular wildlife locations on the planet. This must have been heart-breaking.

 

 

D24wXeds_000140Over the years of doing this kind of expedition D24wXeds_000139everywhere from the heat of the Kimberley coast in Australia, Antarctica and now the Russian coast of the Bering Sea, I have tried many different combinations of cases, dry bags and packs. The pile of packs in my office closet tells the story of never finding quite the right solution. Then on a recent trip to start shooting a story on the water crisis in the Owens of Valley of California, I decided to take a look in an outdoor equipment shop in the town of Bishop. A pack immediately caught my eye. Light weight, waterproof and made of a very durable material it looked ideal for my ship borne adventures. Produced by Hyperlite Mountain Gear, I researched the company and to my surprise found out that is based in my home state of Maine. Its great to see such a well made product that is made locally. Their innovative product line is ideal for everyone from hikers wanting to keep the weight of their packs to a minimum, to adventure sports fans that play around the water as the roll top closures make the bags waterproof.

During my trip to the Russian Far East, we visited villages like Tymlat and Lorino where I shot a portraits of the villagers, we also hiked in the mountains of Kamchatka experiencing everything from sun to torrential rain. My new Hyperlite 2400 accompanied me on all these adventures, providing a ideal way to get my camera gear ashore safely, as well as giving quick access through the roll top when I needed to quickly change lenses or a battery. Although the model I have is designed for ice climbing, the outside pockets and straps also provided an ideal place to keep a can of bear spray handy, essential as we passed dozens of brown bears on our shore trips.

I have more adventure planned that include sailing around the coast of New Zealand and Macquarie Island, back to the Kimberley and also exploring the coast of Chile. The Hyperlite pack will be with me all the way.

 

Special thanks for the photographs go to fellow adventurer Luca De Santis. A talented photographer & graphic designer, he also helps produce the Italian travel magazine Meraviglia Paper

Traveling Drives

August 25, 2014 — Leave a comment
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Transcend 500Gb drive

 

Traveling the world shooting video, we have seen cameras evolve from shooting on tape to card based memory such as SD, CF or even the latest like CFast cards. While its great to see the results of each day’s shooting, it also means that you can no longer simply hand a shot tape to the producer to take home to the edit room. Instead, it means late nights backing up to drives. That means fast write speeds are essential if you want to enjoy dinner, a good night’s sleep and to avoid hovering over your computer.

I set up a nightly routine of backing up both video and photographs to a drive. Starting with a folder for each day, I then create sub-folders for each camera. I also take the precaution of taking the drives in pairs and cloning the folders, so I have a back-up in case a drive is damaged or lost.

With growing file sizes from both video and still cameras, this means I can easily fill a 1Tb drive on a shoot, along with its twin for safety. On documentary shoots for television clients, it can easily exceed this….

I often travel to places where there is no replacing items in the field. This means the drives have to be reliable to minimize the chances of one failing. While I try to hand carry the drives, it also seems gate checking bags on small planes is getting to be the norm. I split the cloned pairs across my two bags, so sometimes get forced to trust one set to the airlines. Seeing the injuries that baggage handlers can inflict on my otherwise indestructible Pelican cases, I was immediately drawn to the products from Transcend when I saw that they are rated to withstand use by the armed forces. Although the jury is out to whether they are as dangerous as the airlines! But so far, so good….

As a result I just took a pair of Transcend drives on our expedition to the Russian Far East. Shooting images of the wildlife, landscape and people of the region was a great experience and detailed in two previous stories on Tymlat and Lorino villages.

Each unit worked flawlessly and with a USB3 connection, cut down the transfer time from my memory cards to the drives.

Transcend make a wide range of drives and I would recommend heading to their website for specifications. In general I would recommend the 500Gb or 1Tb units with the fastest connection that can be utilized by your computer. Bottom line…. I would thoroughly recommend these military spec drives to anyone and will be buying fresh units for each of my upcoming expeditions.

One addition to the mix would be a small USB hub if your computer has limited built-in connections when cloning from one drive to another. It seems Apple are saving money by limiting the connectors on their new designs…

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The Milky Way captured using the Triggertrap mobile. (ISO 3200, 30ecs, f4 with a Nikon D800, 17mm lens)

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I have been using a remote from Triggertrap for a while, but they just updated the product so the I headed out at the first opportunity last night to test it out. The cable connects your camera to a smart phone, or other device like an iPod, and runs the camera through a very well featured app’. You can do anything from run a timelapse, to trigger the camera by sound or take a series of images to stack. The reason I first started looking for a control like this as I wanted to take control of the bulb function on my DSLR and be able to accurately dial in long exposures for night photography. For this example, I was using an exposure of 30 seconds for this shot of the Mliky Way.

The great thing is that Triggertrap also make a cable for just about any camera on the market, it also splits in the middle and so if you change systems, you simply purchase a new plug. This makes upgrades very easy and inexpensive, it also means you are not forced to buy a whole new remote. I would really recommend you give their products a try. Best of all, they are bringing out a new remote in October called Ada, amongst other things, it will trigger when it detects motion or lightning flashes. Below is a video explaining its features. I am on the waiting list for its launch and I suggest you sign up as soon as possible.