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Pittsburgh Thunderbirds Set Up

Last year we had the opportunity to work with Dave Onomastico and his team in the equipment set up for the inaugural season of the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds AUDL (American Ultimate Disc League) team.  We utilized a few tripods, some PAN bars, and a couple XA20 cameras.  But this year, Dave wanted to step it up quality wise, shooting in 60 frames per second, in low light, while outputting to a broadcast set up.  Luckily, he gave me plenty of lead time and here’s what we came up with.  

IMG 1278
  • Core Equipment
    • Sony FS-700R - This was pretty much a no brainer for starters.  While the FS700R is an older cinema camera at this point, for high frame rates it cannot be beat.
    • Metabones Speedbooster Adapter + Canon EF 100-400mm f/4-5.6L IS USM lens - Admittedly, I never would have thought of this lens as an option, but Dave suggested it after contacting some other groups and now I see why.  It’s a great focal length, especially when used with the Speedbooster, to cover the whole field.  The key though is that with the Speedbooster, this lens remains a 100-400mm lens (no crop factor) AND it becomes a 2.8-4.0 lens on the aperture range.  That one extra stop, especially in lower light, can make a huge difference.  
  • Capture and Output
    • Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q - We wanted to do two things.  1) Shoot in at least 60 fps 2) Give Dave extra resolution to work with for cropping in in post.  What we decided to do was to shoot the entire game in 4K at 60 frames per second.  The Odyssey was the only way to pull this off.  It takes the 4K RAW output from the FS700 and stores it as ProRes 422 footage onto the SSD drives.  With 2 1TB drives, we could get three hours of footage in regular ProRes 422 format.  
    • Atomos HDMI to SDI Adapter - As I mentioned above, this camera was going to be part of the live stream feed for the game, so we had to do two things.  We had to meet Dave’s requirements for recording but also produce something that we could send to the truck for video streaming.  The bonus of the FS700 is that it has both the HDMI and SDI ports is that we could utilize the SDI port for recording (outputting 4K RAW) and use the HDMI port to output a regular 1080i60 signal for streaming.  
  • Support and Power - With the core taken care of, we had to figure out how to support it all and make it quick to move from a tripod configuration to a shoulder configuration
    • Manfrotto 526/545 Fluid Head Tripod - Manfrottos high end broad-cast style tripod was ideal for this as it offers smooth pan and tilt while being sturdy enough to support the weight of it all.  
    • Zacuto (Everything) - Almost everything else came from Zacuto.  We started with the Zacuto VCT Universal Baseplate which doubles as a shoulder pad.  Pair that with the VCT Tripod Plate and it was easy to move from a shoulder setup to a tripod setup.  We used Z-rails, Zacuto Top Handles, and the Z-Axis to mount the Odyssey securely to the camera.
    • Powerbase-70 V-Mount Battery + Plate - Finally, we had to power it all.  The Powerbase-70 mounted easily to a set of rear rails and when coupled with a V-mount plate gave us D-Tap connectors for powering the camera, the Odyssey, and the HDMI to SDI converter all from a common power source.  

All in all, this was an incredible project to tackle but truly shows how far Pittsburghlenses.com has come since our early beginnings.  No one else in the AUDL is capturing in 4K @ 60fps - heck, most pro sports teams aren’t doing that.  But we were able to make it happen.  Thanks to Dave for the chance to partner together on this project.  

How I made my Mac Mini a 4K Editing Machine

I’ve always been a Mac kind of guy and only took a seven-year hiatus during college and seminary because Grove City gave me a Windows PC.  When I returned to the Mac world I fell in love with the Mac Mini.  I’ve never been a fan of the integrated display iMacs (just a personal preference) but the Mini was perfect.  Small, economical, and still packed plenty of power.  

That was, until the 2014 Mac Mini’s came out.  Previously, the Mac Mini was one of the best machines to buy because it was so easy to upgrade.  But the 2014 Mac Mini changed that.  In short, what you see is what you get.  8GB of RAM, and a hard drive that is really hard to get to.  

Honestly, this wasn’t much of a problem until two things changed.  1) I need the ability to edit 4K video.  2) My wife started using my computer.  I understood that with all the things running on my machine that it would take a while to boot up.  My wife?  Well, it just annoyed her.  

The problem?  I’m limited on what I can upgrade on the Mini, most notably the RAM is fixed at 8GB.  So I started with what I could - fast disk drives.  

I’ve used Mac OS X’s built-in RAID function for a number of years now and while it’s not as fast as hardware RAID, it’s still faster than just a disk.  But I knew this round I might need more, so I bought a Western Digital My Book Duo (8TB Edition) (Amazon link).  Although this disk was faster than anything I had had before, I actually bought a second identical disk and now have a 16TB 4 Disk RAID 0 drive.  How fast is it you ask?  This fast.  

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 7.04.46 PM

While I ended up spending as much on external disks as I did on the computer itself, what I ended up with a blazing fast 4K capable disk setup for less than $700.  This drive set up can sustain playback of 4Kp60 footage in ProRes 4444 mode.  

But that was only part of my problem.  That worked great once the machine had booted up and Final Cut Pro X was up and running, but to get to that point was still a long and arduous process.  So, next stop!  Interal hard drive!

Or not.  

Again, the old Mac Mini’s used to be so easy to upgrade but when I looked on iFixIt for how to upgrade the internal drive on my Mini even I was intimidated.  But then I had a thought.  Could I run my Mac off an external system disk?  As it turns out, you can - and it’s completely supported by Apple.  

I had a Sandisk Ultra II 480GB SSD drive on hand and was just going to do that, and then I thought of something else.  Sure, one SSD would be fast - but what if I got two and made a RAID drive out of them.

Where I splurged a bit was getting a Thunderbolt Hard Drive dock (this one) rather than USB 3.0.  My reasoning was simple though.  Thunderbolt is the fastest connection I’ve got and I’m relying pretty heavily on my USB 3.0 bus already since that’s how my external RAID connects.  Plus, Thunderbolt would be a dedicated connection and therefore maximize the speed of my drives.  So, I order the dock and a second (identical) 480GB Sandisk Extreme II SSD (this one).  I used Carbon Copy (30 Day Free Trial) to clone my start up disk which was much better than using Time Machine since all I had to do was clone the drive, select it as a start up volume, and was off and running.  As for speed?  Well, here’s the comparison:

Disk Comparison

Simply put, my SSD Drive array is 5-6 times faster than my internal hard drive, and it’s very easy to tell the difference.  Programs launch in seconds instead of half a minute and the boot up time is incredible.  The biggest benefit though is the increased speed for virtual memory.  Simply put, when your computer runs out of RAM is uses hard drive space to temporarily store items.  When you have limited RAM (which the Mac Mini does) and a slow disk (which it did) it makes the whole system drag when you’re trying to transition between programs.  Now, I’ve got RAM-like speed from my hard drive.  

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 7.24.58 PM

The last thing that kills the Mac Mini?  The graphics card.  Although my Mac Mini has the Iris Pro graphics it’s still not great for editing and playback of 4K material, particularly within Final Cut Pro.  But there’s a very simple trick you can use in Final Cut Pro X - change your priority from Quality to Performance.  What this does is downgrade the quality of the video during playback so that it doesn’t drop frames.  Kind of a bummer, but when you stop playback it reverts to full quality.  It’s a trade-off, but one that enables smooth and even speedy editing of 4K footage.  

My logic in doing all this (instead of just buying a new computer) is that I was going to have buy new disks no matter what - even if I got a Mac Pro.  So in essence my only cost was for the SSD Array which amounted to about $270 (since I already had one drive on hand).  The speed upgrade has been completely worth it and has given my little Mac Mini a new lease on life.  




Canon EOS C500 First Shoot

From Brian

We recently added the Canon EOS C500 Cinema camera to our lineup.  I had played with it a little bit (just around the house) to test it out but I hadn’t really had a chance to do a shoot with it since I got it.  Last weekend it was available and we had a production at church that we normally record so I thought I would give it a whirl.  

IMG 0225

The Setup:

  • Canon EOS C500
  • Zacuto Accessory Grip/Mounts
  • Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q + 2 Sandisk 1TB Hard Drives
  • Powerbase-70 Battery Pack
  • Sigma 50-150 f/2.8 OS HSM Lens
  • Manfrotto MVH502A Head
  • Audio feed direct from the sound board.  

The Shoot:

The shoot was an hour-long worship service that included a 25 minutes children’s program.  I set the C500 up to shoot 4K RAW (3840 x 2160) at 23.98fps.  The advantage to shooting in this format was that at this frame rate the Odyssey 7Q can record in ProRes HQ format.  Plus, given the nature of the shoot there was no need to shoot in 60 fps or RAW  

One of the real pains of using external recorders is having to worry about multiple batteries.  With both the C500 and FS700 we’ve set them up so that you can power everything from a Powerbase-70 battery pack that mounts to the rails.  At the end of the first service the Powerbase was at 50% and I didn’t want to run out of power so for the second service I put a BP-975 battery into the C500 and kept running the Odyssey off of the the Powerbase.  This worked fine as I had plenty of power left on both batteries.  I was glad I had decided to keep running the Odyssey of the Powerbase because I knew it wouldn’t run out of power and I could just keep an eye on the battery level on the camera.  

The only hiccup I hit in the first service was getting a “fan” warning on the camera.  When the C500 is running in RAW mode it generates a lot of heat and normally the automatic mode for the fan works just fine.  Automatic turns the fan off while you’re shooting and then on when you’re not to keep the unit cool.  Fortunately, I was able to switch the fan to “On” while the camera was shooting and didn’t miss a thing.  

After recording two services I had recorded about 600GB of footage.  The good news about this?  I had another four hours of capacity left before I would have run out storage room on the Odyssey.  

In Post

Although I’m a professional when it comes to gear, I don’t make money off of video editing and production which means my computer is somewhat pedestrian.  I was afraid that would be bad news when it came to working with 4K footage in post.  I must say, I was pleasantly surprised that even my 2014 Mac Mini was able to edit the 4K ProRes footage.  I work in Final Cut Pro X and as long as I set the priority on performance over quality my computer was able to playback the footage no problem.  Color grading went quickly as well.  I will say though, I have lots of fast disks and that was a life saver.  My editing array is made up of two striped (RAID 0) 8TB Western Digital My Book Duo RAID drives which give me a read/write speed in the range of 500 MB/sec.  That made copying the footage to my computer relatively painless and allowed for quick read/write access as I scrubbed through the footage.  I will say, I didn’t do a lot of heavy editing in post - just some color correction and adjustments to the audio.

I should add, I wish I could show you the footage but given that it involves lots of children - I can’t.  But trust me on this - 4K RAW footage, even captured in ProRes, looks amazing.  

Conclusion

Of course I am biased, but I wouldn’t hesitate to use the C500 again for a job like this.  Using one power source along with the strong and sturdy Zacuto support system makes using the C500 plus a recorder set up relatively painless.  Just make sure you’ve got plenty of storage room on your system for working with the footage.  

Find out more about the C500

New Equipment - Lighting and Studio Equipment!

For quite a while now our new purchases have focused a lot on our video customers.  BUT - we’ve been listening to our still photo customers and we’ve heard consistently one thing: off-camera flash.  

So, we took the plunge and we’ve added a couple new things:

  • Dynalite Strobe Kit - We’ve gotten a number of requess for a full featured strobe light kit and after some research, the Dynalite Kit won out.  It’s small and portable but packs plenty of power.  Plus, you can vary the output quite a bit giving your maximum flexiblity.  Everything you need comes in one case - two lights, two umbrellas, two stands, cables, and power supply.  See more on our Off Camera Lighting Page
  • Off-Camera Flash Kits - We couldn’t find retail what we wanted, so we’ve put together some kits using an 8-foot lightstand, Canon Speedlite 600RT Flash, Softbox, and Pocketwizards.  Perfect for off-camera flash in a studio/portrait setting or for a wedding reception.  Although we use a Canon flash, these kits will work with either Canon or Nikon cameras.  See more on our Off Camera Lighting Page
  • Pocketwizards - Probably our most requested item, we now have Pocketwizards.  We purchased four of these, so you can control up to three off-camera flashes with them.  See more on our Off Camera Lighting Page
  • Impact Background Kit - Last but not least, we added a durable yet lightweight background kit that is portable but well-made.  This kit supports a weight up to 20 lbs.  We also have a number of different 10x12 backgrounds that work with this kit.  See more on our Studio Page

Canon 70D Now Available (and first thoughts)

From Brian:

Canon's last few APS-C DSLRs have been, well, shall we say disappointing.  The last truly exciting one was the T2i, which brought the same sensor from the 7D into an affordable consumer-priced camera.  18 Megapixels with support for HD video of all sorts (720p60, 1080p24, and 1080p30 being the most important).  Since then pretty much every APS-C DSLR has been some variant of the 7D and the T2i.  The 60D added a nice intermediate option between the T2i and 7D that included a flip-out screen that was nice for video.  But it left out one of the most important features (I think) for any body that will be used in a professional capacity: micro-focus adjustment.  This feature is a must (I believe) because there's just enough variance in manufacturing that your lenses are bound to be just a little off, and little off can be the difference between a tack sharp image and one that is painfully close but not quite there.  

With the 70D, Canon has upped it's game considerably:

  • Live View Autofocus - This is the headliner, and it's as good as the hype says.  The continuous autofocus in live view mode is really really good - even with non-STM lenses.  With STM lenses, I would say that is comparable to a camcorder with how smooth the focus is.  Below are two tests I did.  One is with the 18-135 STM lens, the other with the Canon EF 35 f/2 IS USM Lens.  
  • All I-frame Video Recording - This feature, which is shared with the 5D Mark III and 1D X, allows you to select an All-I frame codec.  Quoting Canon, "The Intraframe (All-I) method is designed for users working in high-end editing systems or those looking for the highest quality possible".  If you want to know more, I'd suggest you read their article on how video compression is handled.  In short, this is really nice feature for video editors who will be doing a lot of post-production editing as it is a much less compressed format and that makes frame by frame editing much easier.  
  • 19 Point Autofocus System - But enough with the video features - let's talk about some still features.  The 70D inherits a similar 19-point autofocus system from the 7D that is much improved over the 9-point systems you find in the older Prosumer models (50D, 60D) and Rebel series.  It doesn't allow quite as much customization as the 7D's AF system does but it does have the primary modes that are the most useful.  
  • Micro-focus Adjustment - YAY!  It's back!  Safe to say, if you use your camera to make money, save yourself some headache and frustration and do micro-focus adjustments.  It'll help you nail your focus.  

The 70D also introduces Wi-fi in camera which I label as a nice feature but not a real game charger (although for remote shooting it's really handy).  I also believe that there is some improvement in the high-ISO performance for this camera, but I'd suggest you visit the-digital-picture.com and look at their comparisons

All that being said, here's my recommendations:

  • For Videographers - This is a great camera.  (1) Built-in autofocus (2) Flip-out rotating screen (3) All-I frame codec make this camera ready to go for video production on a professional level.  Unless you really want the full-frame look or need high ISO performance I think this camera is very comparable to the 5D Mark III.  (Here's a helpful video comparing the video features)
  • For Portrait/Wedding Photographers - If you're currently shooting with an APS-C DSLR (except the 7D) I'd recommend you consider upgrading.  I think the addition of autofocus micro-focus adjustment alone is enough to upgrade, but the improved autofocus system and high ISO performance make the upgrade all the more worth it.  Plus, you'll gain the ability to shoot at 7 frames per second.  
  • For Sports Photographers/7D Owners - Here's where I hedge a little.  The 70D is better than the 7D in some respects, but for sports photographers I think there's two major areas where the 7D is better.  (1) Buffers (2) AF System.  The buffers on the 7D are ridiculous and basically you'll never fill the JPEG buffer and the RAW buffer is very substantial - not so on the 70D.  Also, the AF system is similar, but one of my favorite modes for sports on the 7D is the single point with surrounding points utilized as secondary points - a mode that isn't present on the 70D.  Because I do a lot of video, I'm glad to have the 70D and will always use it for video over the 7D, but for sports photography, I am considering holding onto my 7D.  

We've got the 70D in stock and available for rent from both our locations, so let us know if you want to check it out.  

Canon C100 Low Light Tests

Tonight I did a few tests with the Canon C100 in a low light setting.  In hindsight, it wasn't that low light - the highest I had to go was ISO 2000.  But here they are:

The base configruation for both is the same

  • Canon EOS C100
  • Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 OS HSM Lens
  • Atomos Ninja 2

For this one, I was shooting at ISO 1250, f/4.0, 1/48th of a second.  

Here's the original footage before Vimeo

For the second test, I switched to 1080i60 to get smoother action and in post converted it to 720p60.

ISO 2000, f/3.2, 1/120th of a second

Here's the original footage before Vimeo

The 1080i60 to 720p60 conversion took a toll on the video, no doubt.  In part because I dropped it from ProRes 422 HQ to ProRes 4422 LT which is about half the bitrate.  I also had Compressor set on the simplest deinterlacing settings so it's not as smooth as it should be.  That being said, it's a good work around to shoot 720p60 video on a C100.  

On the whole, I have to say I am very very impressed with the low light performance.  The video is clean and the colors are great.  The problem is Vimeo, which took a real toll on the video and won't support the 60 fps from the 720p sample.  But, they'll give you a good idea what the noise and color performance is like.  

Rokinon Cinema Lenses, Canon C100 Bundles, LOTS OF ACCESSORIES!

Photo Credit: thelocationcrew.com

From Brian…

Every since we added the Canon C100 to our lineup, we've been working hard to add to our collection of video/cinema gear.  Here's a brief list of what we've added:

  • Canon C100 and 5D Mark III Bundles - We've designed four different bundles for the Canon EOS C100 and 5D Mark III to make it easier (and more affordable) to rent a package.  Check out our Canon C100 or 5D Mark III Pages for more information.
  • Rokinon Cinema Primes - Cinema lenses often cost thousands of dollars for just one lens, but the Rokinon Cinema primes offer cinema features (manual declicked apertures and geared autofocus rings) at a fraction of the cost.  We now carry the entire set (8mm - 85mm) and pass the savings along to you.  You can find out more on our new video lenses page.
  • Accessories, accessories, accessories - From follow focus units to field monitors and viewfinders, we've added a whole host of video-related accessories that are now avaialble for rent.  Check out our accessories page for more information.  
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Rokinon 35mm T1.5 Cine Lens

(Photo Credit: hirecamera.com)

Canon C100, 5D Mark III, Atomos Ninja 2

From Brian

I have always had a soft spot for video.  I got into doing video shortly after my son was born in 2007 and found that video was great to use in my real job.  My first real video camera was a Canon HF10 AVCHD camcorder I purhcased in 2008 and it was great (at the time!).  It offered HD video, including 1080p24 which enabled me to encode 1080p Blu-ray and AVCHD discs.  Fast foward to know and things are very different with the advent of HDSLR video.  But, the last few weeks have been exciting for me as three things happened: (1) The Canon 5D Mark III Firmware Upgrade (2) We added Atomos Ninja 2 (3)We added a Canon EOS C100 Cinema Camera

Photo Credit: www.atomos.com/ninja

#1 and #2 went hand in hand.  What some people don't realize is that as beautful as the video that comes off the 5D Mark III (and the other DSLRs) is, it's very heavily compressed using the H.264 codec.  (Codec is just a fancy word for format, similar to JPEG or RAW).  H.264 is a great codec and has enabled a lot of things previously unheard of, especially in the area of internet video.  But, it has two major drawbacks.  The first is that compression ends up throwing away information and the compression process has a detrimental impact on the video and this is especially true for low light video.  If you need to make adjustments in color the compression process got rid of some of the addtional color information so you're limited in what adjustments you can make.  The second is that if you really want to work with footage that was originally recorded in H.264, you've got to change it into a format that is easier to work with than H.264 such as Apple's ProRes or Avid's DNxHD.  While these formats take up considerably more room on you hard drive, they save you a ton of time and processing power in the editing process.  The problem is that the process of converting the footage from H.264 takes time, time you could be using to edit.

When the 5D Mark III came out it didn't offer clean HDMI out.  What that means is that if you hooked a display up to the the 5D Mark III's HDMI port you'd see the same image as you'd see in the back LCD of the camera, one that includes exposure information, time, etc.  Needless to say, you didn't want to record that.  The 1.2.1 firmware update added this clean HDMI out, which means that you can now record directly from the camera using an external recorder because all the other overlay information can be removed.  That's where the Atomos Ninja 2 comes in.  The Ninja 2 let's you record directly from the HDMI ouput on a camera and into either ProRes or DNxHD format on 2.5-inch hard drives that mount into the Ninja 2 itself.  This saves you a lot more color information thereby giving you more flexibility in post-production and saving you time.  Plus, you literally pull the SSD drive out of the Ninja and insert it into a dock that connects through USB 2.0/3.0 or Firewire and download the footage and you're ready to go - no more waiting for your footage to transcode.  

Photo Credit: thelocationcrew.com

#3 - The Canon C100.  A few months ago a client of ours asked if we'd be interested in carrying a Canon C300 camera.  After some research, we realized that we weren't ready to take that plunge, but the very capable C100 might be an option.  I had been looking at the C100 for a while and finally pulled the trigger on it.  The C100 is the little brother of the Canon EOS C300 and C500 cameras and uses an identical sensor and offers traditional video features.  If there's a downside to the C100 vs the C300, it's that the C300 can record in a 50 Mbps MPEG-2 4:2:2 codec (if that means nothing to you, don't worry) where as the C100 records in AVCHD which uses a 24 Mbps MPEG-4 AVC 4:2:0 codec (AKA not as good).  While AVCHD isn't bad, it doesn't give you some of the flexibility that the more robust codec in the C300 gives you.  But, the C100 has clean HDMI out and can be used seamlessly with the Ninja 2.  What this means is that you can combine the C100 and the Ninja 2 and get, as one person described it, "A baby C300 at a fraction of the cost".  I haven't had a lot of time to work with the C100 yet, but what I have I've been very impressed with the image quality even straight out of the camera.  


Same-day and One-Day Rentals

For a while, we've limited rentals to two-days regardless of whether you needed the gear that long - and we have good reasons for doing so.  But, over time we've had more and more requests for one-day and even same day rentals.  With that in mind, we are revamping how we define a "day" to offer same day and one-day rentals.  

Same-day rentals will be pickup and return on the same calendar day within a reasonalbe time frame (we don't like to do returns at 2am)

One-day rentals will be pickup and return within 24 hours.  So if you pick it up on Friday night and return it by the same time on Saturday, that would be a one-day rental.  

Two-day rentals will be pick and return within 48 hours.  So if you pick up Friday night and return by the same time on Sunday, that would be a two-day rental.  The same tolds true for three-day (72 hours) and on up. 

We hope this new "day" policy will give our customers more options.  

We want to hear from you!

From Brian

Canon 35 f2

This week Rick and I got together and that's always - I repeat - always dangerous because we're both gear heads and love thinking - "Wouldn't it be great if we had ….."  So we've added a few things to our list that we're planning on getting.  BUT… then we had a brain storm.  Instead of guessing what people would want to rent, we should ask!  And since we really want to hear from you, here's what we're going to do.  If you leave a comment and suggest at least one item you'd be interested in us carrying before Saturday March 9th @ Midnight you'll be entered in a drawing to win a $25 rental credit from pittsburghlenses.com.  One thing - we're planning for the short term to sticking to Canon and Nikon so you can suggest other systems, but it'd be most helpful if you recommended Canon and Nikon stuff.  And we're open to anything - bodies, lenses, flashes, etc.  



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