Rants of a Digital Bard

OMG! Who gave this idiot a blog?

What a difference $200 makes

For the first few months that I have been shooting with my new camcorder, I have been using a cheap ‘wal-mart’ photo tripod that I got for $40.  It’s fine when shooting indoor as long as I don’t need to pan or tilt.  It’s fine outdoor as long as there isn’t even a “hint” of a breeze, otherwise I get a lot of shake in the footage which has to be stabilized.

After many discussions with friends who are professional videographers, I bought my first professional tripod.  A Weifang 717E.  It has strong and heavy legs for stability with a wide base to prevent the camera from moving.  It’s got a great professional fluid head that does smooth pans and tilts.  It also cost $200.  But it was well worth it.

I went out and shot some new footage with it yesterday at Lake Shawnee here in Topeka, KS.  The early morning had only a light breeze, but the wind picked up as the day wore on.  After processing the footage last night I was pleasantly surprised to find NOT A SINGLE CLIP with any kind of wind shudder.  The only time the camera/tripod moved was when I did a pan or tilt (or the two times I accidentally bumped into the tripod).

I would highly suggest that the very second most important purchase after your camera is a good professional tripod.

November 2, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography, Videography | , , , , | Leave a comment

Hours of video…

While in California we were only allowed to visit with my nephew for a limited time since it was important for him to get his rest.  So that left me with a lot of free time.  I spent some of that time visiting with my daugher, my granddaughter, aunt’s, uncles, my grandmother and old friends… but it left me with a lot of time to shoot video with my camera.

The weather was bizarre with lots of morning fog, burning off in the afternoon, but returning quickly as the sun went down.  So it wasn’t “typical clear California weather”.  Especially on the coast.

Still, I got lots of footage of beaches, boats, people on the beach, the desert, oil pumps, California farms and a bunch of animals from a visit to the Santa Barbara Zoo with my brother and dad.  Much of which is processed and has been uploaded to my accounts on Pond5 and RevoStock.

I learned a lot more about my camera and shooting footage for stock while on my trip, which I’ll share…

First, a critical missing item from my camera bag was a zoom lens.  I had an opportunity to shoot the oil rigs off the California coast but the built-in optical zoom in my HF11 simply wasn’t up to the task.  I have got to get a zoom lens for my camera.

I only have two filters at the moment, a UV filter and an ND8 filter.  I could have used a polarizing filter.

I am still having major issues with the wind causing camera shudder while filming with my tripod.  I really need to get a heavier tripod made for video.  Fortunately, I have learned how to use Mocha for After Effects to salvage my jittery footage.

I did try turning on the optical stabilizer in my camera for my tripod footage to see if it would compensate for the jitter and to a small degree it did.  But mostly it wildly overestimated the camera movement and overcompensated.  Resulting in much smoother jittery footage, but still jittery.

The Canon HF11 absolutely sucks when shooting video with poor lighting or at night.  I experimented with every setting and I couldn’t get anything that didn’t have a LOT of noise.  My daytime shots are beautiful, but low-light and night shots are barely watchable.  The closest I came to anything decent was using the Spotlight mode and I still had issues.  So it looks like I’ll need a different camera if I want to shoot at night or in low-light.

I need to shoot everything I can on a tripod.  I really suck at shooting steady hand-held video, even with the optical stabilizer on, my shots wander.  I’ve been looking over some plans for making a home-made steadycam, I’ll probably try that and see how it works out.  Once again, thank goodness for Mocha to fix things, otherwise some really good shots would not be very useable for stock.

Overall it was a great learning experience and I got over 400 useable clips for stock from my trip.

September 18, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography, Videography | , , , , | Leave a comment

Example HF11 Footage

I don’t have a paid account on Vimeo, so this footage was downsized to 1280×720 but I did my best to ensure the quality was the same:

http://www.vimeo.com/5368773

June 30, 2009 Posted by | Videography | , , , , | Leave a comment

Canon Vixia HF11 HD Camcorder

This is the camcorder I got for my Stock Footage work:

http://www.usa.canon.com/consumer/controller?act=ModelInfoAct&fcategoryid=177&modelid=17384

You can go to the Canon site to get the technical details on it.  What I want to post here is some info that is harder to find, plus my general impressions…

First, it records to memory.  It has 32 gigabytes built-in plus a SDHC slot to add more memory.  The recording format is AVCHD.

You need a REALLY REALLY good computer with a lot of horse-power and RAM to edit AVCHD files.  So if you’ve got an older computer that is not at least Dual Core and you don’t have a MINIMUM of 2 gigabytes of RAM, you should not get an AVCHD camcorder.

The HF11 will record in 1920×1080 at 60i, 30p or 24p.  However, it encodes the video into the AVCHD files at 60i, even if you have selected 30p or 24p.  It just does some funky stuff with the fields inside the file to make it fit.  So keep in mind that to work with the video, you will probably need to transcode it into another format before adding it to your timeline.  And if you recorded in 24p, you’ll need to deal with the pulldown.

Also, 30p and 24p are a misnomer in the U.S.  30p footage is actually encoded at 29.97 and 24p is encoded at 23.98.

In a later blog, I’ll post some info on my workflow.  I record my footage using the PF30 (30p) setting and then I copy the H.264 stream from the MTS files into QuickTime .MOV files without re-encoding the video using FFMPEG.  I discard the audio altogether.

Whenever possible, I use a tripod and I try and set up my shots and camera settings before I record.  Thanks to a tip from good friend from Pond5, I use a white dixie cup to set the White Balance before each session.  And once the auto-focus has my subject in focus, I disable the auto-focus while recording.  I also have the digital zoom and optical stabilizer disabled.

June 30, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography, Videography | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finally got a good Camcorder!

Until a month ago, 99% of my Stock Footage portfolio was animations created in After Effects, Cinema 4D, 3D Studio Max, Vue, etc…  And judging by my sales, my stuff is improving all the time.

But animations take a long time to set up and render.  So I can usually only do about 5 to 15 a week depending 0n how complex they are.  Not to mention that animation makes up a small percentage of overall Stock Footage sales on the big sites.

To truly be successful, you need a good camcorder and you need to go outside and shoot some footage (well, the “outside” part is from my sweetheart, you could do studio shots indoors).  I can record 2 hours of footage over a 3 or 4 hours period and get 20 to 40 useable clips out of it.

So, I had been saving up to get a new camcorder.  I had settled on getting the Canon Vixia HF11 which was in my price range and has great reviews on all the various Indie Film and Camcorder Review web sites.  But times are tight and it was taking me awhile to save up the money.

Along comes my father to the rescue.  He offered to help me out by giving me $400 towards the purchase of a camera. But when the time came to pony up the dough, he instead just bought it outright from Amazon.com for me.  You’ll hear no complaints from me about parents or family for quite some time…  Thanks Again Pops!!

June 30, 2009 Posted by | Don't get me started..., Stock Footage & Photography | , , , , , , | 1 Comment