Struggles of a Prime Shooter

     Greetings once again to the blog. This week's post? Less of a tutorial and more of a confession. Like most art forms, there are tools that help us improve our craft. Be it newer/faster lenses, cameras, lights, microphones etc. Unfortunately, most of us (like myself) aren't fortunate enough to be able to purchase said gear. For the past year, I have been shooting with two lenses primarily. The Rokinon 14mm T/3.1 Cine and the Canon 40mm F/2.8 specifically. They're both fantastically sharp and perform pretty well in low light as well (being both are at F/2.8). However, just using these two lenses haven't been to my advantage.


One of my favorite shots with my 14mm prime. Yes, it's manual focus. Yes, it can be used at a location for amazing photos and video.


     Recently, I was assisting a photoshoot with a photographer and noticed one thing about my work... I HAVE to have the two lenses! There's no escaping it. I have to bring the 40mm and the 14mm lens. For slower events, this is no big deal. However, I wasn't assisting a slow event. I was moving around, and fast. I sometimes didn't even bring one of the lenses only because I feared dropping it while shooting. That would have rendered me literally "fixed."

     However, even with this hinderance I was still shooting in this system. Why? These lenses are sharp. Period. Nothing comes close to the 14mm at this price, and the 40mm has a legend all its own. But I know this can't last, especially since I'm going to be doing more shoots involving high action and a fast pace. I needed a new lens. That is why I recently picked up the Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 Macro. After using it for a month, I can absolutely say it's my favorite walk-around lens.


This was taken with the Sigma 17-70 @ 17mm & f/3.5.

     Expect a full review on this lens once I get to know it better. Until then, this has been your dose of the Tem.Teen Studios blog post. I will see you back next time for a whole new post. Take care everyone!

Using What I Have Part 1: Magic Lantern

     As technology advances, we get googly eyed over the newer and enhanced capabilities of cameras, computers etc. And unfortunately, we forget that the gear we already own could produce unbelievable results. So for the next few posts, I'm going to only use gear that I already have to create short films. First up, the Canon T1i w/ Magic Lantern RAW 2.0.

     Lately I have been looking into purchasing a used 60D for my video work. But thanks to modern programming (e.g: Magic Lantern), Cameras like my ancient T1i can shoot extremely high quality DNG (or RAW) video. But to be honest, I didn't know my camera was capable of loading that specific module. I assumed because it was a very old/beginner style camera, it couldn't handle the amount of data DNG files take up. I'm glad I was wrong.

     Shooting of this vignette was extremely simple. I just took my Ti1 & 40mm Pancake w/ me to lunch with my family and shot. The following photos are my settings in Magic Lantern:

I set up MyMenu w/ shortcuts to access these items without hunting for them.

I set up MyMenu w/ shortcuts to access these items without hunting for them.

This is the resolution I was shooting at. To make it 1280 x 720, I had to stretch it vertically 167% in post.

This is the resolution I was shooting at. To make it 1280 x 720, I had to stretch it vertically 167% in post.

This is where I control the FPS of the finished video. I have it set to the standard 23.976ps.

This is where I control the FPS of the finished video. I have it set to the standard 23.976ps.

     After I shot the footage, I needed a way to view it. Fortunately, I came across a post by Cinetic Studios about how to view/edit MLV RAW files. If you have the time, I highly recommend reading it if you use Magic Lantern RAW.

     Once I knew which clips I wanted, I exported as DNG files. One of the reasons I did this instead of ProRes 4444 files is that it's much easier for me to grade DNG files than ProRes 4444. I'm not a colorist, but I am a photographer who deals with RAW files (Canon .CR2), and this is very similar to that.

Screenshot of me grading another sequence soon to come.

Screenshot of me grading another sequence soon to come.

     I finished grading, then I exported the photos as JPEG's and imported them to FCPX. After combining each individual image sequence into a compound clip, I just cut it like I would a normal sequence. And there you have it! A vignette shot on a camera that can't even shoot video.

     Next week I'll be showing how to get cinematic visuals from an iPhone 4S, and my method for editing. Hint: I didn't import any footage into the computer. Until then, take care!

Finding the Flaw: A Lesson in Being Thorough About Backing Up

     Working with media on a regular basis means you have to have storage for them. In the good old days of film, the type of storage used were cabinets. Instead of cabinets, we use HDD's & SSD's. Unfortunately, unlike cabinets, HDD's can fail. And even though it's less likely, their motionless cousins SSD's can fail too. Fortunately, we backup our data... right? Well for the longest time, for me the answer was no. And this last weekend, I suffered the consequences.

My portable setup to counteract the problem I had.

My portable setup to counteract the problem I had.

     A couple days ago, my computer wouldn't turn on. After several failed attempts to restart, I took my old HDD out and booted externally off of that. This time, the computer booted up just fine. This led me to believe that the internal SSD itself was the issue. And after running some diagnostics, it only confirmed my suspicions. Fortunately, it appeared to be a logic failure. This meant that I could reformat the drive, and it will be working properly once again. Unfortunately... my most recent backups were from February... and I had just shot a band the week prior. If I reformatted the drive, I would have lost the shots. But if I did format the drive, my computer would be up and running again. So... I decided to bite the bullet and go through the process.

     I reformatted the drive, reinstalled OS X Yosemite, and recovered what I could. But after getting the computer running for 12hrs, it shut down again. To be honest, I was angry that it didn't work. However, this time I had the idea of reading the SSD OUTSIDE the computer. And something happened... It turned on! This meant that either the SATA connection is bad, or the motherboard wasn't reading the drive. Unfortunately... this also meant I reformatted for nothing. I could have pulled the drive out and docked it externally. Oh well... the next time this happens I'll know what to do.

     After this incident, I'm going to be more careful about backups. And now, I implement some new techniques in my backup routine:

My internal structure for Lightroom. Now all I have to do is re-log into my account if I lose them ever again.

My internal structure for Lightroom. Now all I have to do is re-log into my account if I lose them ever again.

  1. I link my photos directly into a Box account. When I import my photos into Lightroom, they are immediately synced to the cloud, along with all the changes I made to the photos.
  2. I clone my internal drive on a regular basis with Carbon Copy Cloner. This is to ensure I have a completely bootable backup incase it actually brakes on me.

     These two techniques are to make sure I never lose my data. Of course, something will go wrong. But when it does, I hope to be prepared.

My Evolving Review of the RØDE NTG-4+ (last updated 5/10/2015)

     Emulating the style of the independent filmmaking god himself (aka: Philip Bloom), I decided to make an Evolving Review of the RØDE NTG-4+. As usual, please read my ethics statement.

Disclaimer

     Before I say anything, I would like to point out that I am not an audio expert. I've picked up some tricks/techniques while working with cinema and video over the past three years, but I primarily work with the visual aspect of filmmaking. That being said, I am no stranger to how audio editing works and how it impacts a film. If a film has good audio and horrible visuals, it's sometimes forgivable. But if the reverse happens, it makes the film unwatchable. For Portrait of a Linguist, I knew that I needed solid audio. Given my limited access to resources at the time, I only had my iPhone 4S with me to record audio. But let me tell you, the audio that comes off that thing is SO much better than the in-camera audio from my T1i (which wasn't designed to record decent video in the first place).

The interview audio was recorded on my iPhone 4S and then synced with the scratch track from the camera.

3/23/2015 Tech Specs

Product photo of the NTG4+

Product photo of the NTG4+

     After getting that disclaimer out of the way, I can now talk about the RØDE NTG-4+. For a long time, I've wanted to purchase a proper shotgun mic and use it on my films. But I've always resorted to borrowing mic's like the RØDE VideoMic. While it's a great mic, it's not as expandable as I would like for it to be (i.e: you can't connect it to a sound board without converting the 3.5mm jack to XLR, which causes electrical interference). With the XLR's, I can use this with my Canon T1i (with an adapter), and when I upgrade to a proper video camera (C100 Mk2 or similar), I can still use the NTG-4+.

     As far as Tech Spec's go, here's what I found on B&H:

  • Directional Pattern: Super-cardioid (Similar to a reverse heart shape)
  • Frequency Range: 20 to 20,000 Hz (selectable HPF at 75 Hz)
  • Sensitivity: -32 dB re 1V/Pa (25 mV at 94 dB SPL) ± 2 dB at 1,000 Hz
  • Output Impedance: 200 ohm
  • Equivalent Noise: 16 dBA SPL (per IEC651)
  • Maximum Output: 7 dBu (at 1 kHz, 1% THD into 1 kOhm)

  • Dynamic Range: 119 dB (per IEC651)

  • Maximum SPL: 135 dB

  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 78 dB SPL (per IEC651)

  • Battery: 150 hours of phantom power on a 2-hour charge

  • Output Connection: 3-pin XLR, balanced output between Pin 2 (+), Pin 3 (-) and Pin 1 (ground)

  • Dimensions: 0.87 x 10.94" (22.00 x 278.00 mm)

  • Weight: 6.21 oz (176.00 g)

     Hope that means something to you audiophiles out there. For me, this translates into: Highly directional, reliable, self-powered audio source. Hope my interpretation is accurate and doesn't upset any professional sound recorders.

Screen shot of RØDE NTG-4+ on B&H Photo's site.

Screen shot of RØDE NTG-4+ on B&H Photo's site.

     This is just the tech spec's review and doesn't mean squat until I get to actually use the NTG-4+. Check back on this post in a few days to see my unboxing/initial thoughts on this microphone. Until then, peace out.

3/24/2015 Initial Thoughts

     Nothing is as exciting as getting a new piece of gear arrive in the mail. And today at 11:22 AM, the UPS guy dropped off this little beauty:

     The RØDE NTG-4+. Right off the bat I 'm going to say that this thing is built like a brick wall. I would imagine that if this thing gets dropped (déjà vu), it'll take the hit. After playing around with it for an hour, I can honestly say I fell in love with this mic. The sound quality right off the bat is really clear and is clean even when I pull the audio files up from -30dB to -12dB.

3/30/2015 Sample Files

4/07/2015 Song Recording

     Knowing that I wouldn't be able to take full advantage of the microphone without using a proper external recorder, I picked up a Zoom H4N Audio Recorder and began using it with the NTG-4+. Once I had this setup, I got two of my friends together and we recorded a song. 

My man Harley while we're recording  The Soundmaker  by  Rodrigo y Gabriella

My man Harley while we're recording The Soundmaker by Rodrigo y Gabriella

     The song isn't done at this point, however while I'm editing the tracks I can certainly say this: It sounds incredible. We were recording outside our local library and unknown to us, it was cleaning day for the park across the street. There were lawnmowers mowing, weed-whackers going, leaf blowers blowing etc. Suffice it to say... it was loud. But for the most part, the NTG-4+ didn't even pick it up. This microphone is so directional that it blocked out the noise that wasn't directly in front of it. This, along with the Zoom H4N's ability to record in 24bit/48kHz allowed me to record incredibly clean audio and make editing a piece of cake.

     Three weeks in to my using the RØDE NTG-4+ and I'm very pleased with the results so far. Check back next week when I go over how it sounds in a Podcasting situation. Take care everyone!

4/15/2015 Podcast Recording

     After getting the song somewhat done, I was ready to test how the NTG-4+ handles Podcasting. And to be honest, this one kind of surprised me...

Karl & I recording the podcast into the two mic's

Karl & I recording the podcast into the two mic's

     As you can see in the photo above, I'm using the NTG-4+ to record my voice into, while Karl is talking directly into the H4N. Both of our levels were set to around +75, and I was recording to 24bit/48kHz WAV files (my go-to settings). You can listen to the podcast below:

     After listening to the finished podcast, I noticed that my audio (using the NTG-4+) didn't sound as well as Karl's audio (using the built-in H4N mic). But after playing around with the audio files in Logic, I realized something interesting. Since the NTG-4+ is a directional mic, you can hear my voice, but not Karl's through my mic. However, the H4N's mic isn't directional. Meaning you can hear both of our voices through that one mic. This makes my track have more of an echo, while leaving Karl's audio sounding MUCH better. So essentially... My mic is making Karl sound better. I have to be honest, I was not expecting that. 

     Now almost five weeks in to my review, and I have to say I feel ready to close the end. Not yet though! I have one more update I want to do on this mic before I officially seal it. Check back in a week to see the final installment of My Evolving Review of the RØDE NTG-4+.

5/10/2015 Final Thoughts

    As far as the song goes, I'm not going to share it just yet. I want to refine my sound editing skills before I share that out to the world. But as far as the podcast goes, things have been working out really well. I talked to RØDE and figured out an ideal way to record the podcast without our voices interfering with each other's tracks. You can listen to episode 2 down below:

     It has been nearly two months since I started this review of the RØDE NTG-4+. And I have to say, it's incredible. In every scenario I've used it in, it has not only surprised me, but blew other mic's I've used at this point out of the water. From the podcasting, to the song recording, to just general use, the RØDE NTG-4+ excelled with flying colors. Would I recommend it? Absolutely!

     And with that, I am going to conclude my Evolving Review of the RØDE NTG-4+. Check back next week for a more timely update on what's going on with Tem.Teen Studios. Until then, ¡Adios!

Limiting the Gear

     I have been meaning to post about this for a while. As a Photographer/Filmmaker, I can't help and talk about gear. I know I've discussed at length about how the gear doesn't matter (you can check those posts out here), but I can't help it! Even though most people don't need to buy them, I know a lot of you out there are drooling over the new Sony FS7 and I know a lot of you are gawking at the recently announced Canon 5DS & 5DS R.

My favorite Wide-Angle Lens (Check out my review of it)

My favorite Wide-Angle Lens (Check out my review of it)

     But we have to stop and realize something: More gear won't always make a better photo/short film. Most people can agree with this right off the bat. But let's think about that for a second. Would a tripod help you in an outdoor sports scenario? Not really. Would an intervalometer help a portrait photographer? Possibly, but it's unnecessary. There's all these accessories that we could add on to make our photos better, but most of the time they usually hinder us from taking "the shot". In the case of a tripod, because of the weight, and in the case of the intervalometer, because of the extra wires.

My favorite walk-around lens (Check out my review of it)

My favorite walk-around lens (Check out my review of it)

     Having a lot of gear with you can sometimes be a problem if you're traveling. When I went to Washington DC a few months prior, I made sure to only bring the gear I knew I would use. My 14mm Rokinon (top picture), my 40mm Pancake (second photo), my 55-250mm telephoto, my tripod, YN-560III Flash, a softbox, two cards, and of course the camera and charger. But even with this little gear, I found myself only bringing camera and two of the three lenses. I felt that I could get better shots without the distraction of all the gear.

Shot with my T1i & Rokinon 14mm.

Shot with my T1i & Rokinon 14mm.

     Sometimes when I get a chance, I like to challenge myself to shoot with only one lens or only shoot a certain type of shot (motion-pans for example). Just recently, I decided to pull out my Canon SX230 HS Advanced P&S camera, blow the dust off of it, and take some flame photography with it. At first it seemed limiting. The focus wasn't reliable, the lens wasn't as sharp as I was used to, and it didn't shoot RAW. But once I figured out how to work with it, it was a lot of fun. And the results surprised me.

Important: Fire is dangerous. When taking open flame photography like this, make sure you have a multi-purpose fire extinguisher with you.

Important: Fire is dangerous. When taking open flame photography like this, make sure you have a multi-purpose fire extinguisher with you.

     When you don't bring all your gear with you places, it feels like a weight has been lifted off your back (literally and figuratively). You don't feel the pressure of using it just because you brought it, or that you might lose it. You brought only what you needed. No more, and no less.

 

     Thanks for reading the post! I guess gear has been on my mind for a while and needed to vent it somewhere. If you like, come back next week for another post. George out!