Balancing codec, media and workflow for 4K shoots

Balancing codec, media and workflow for 4K shoots

4K has more and more iterations now, with XAVC and XF-AVC. And it’s getting more efficient and easy to handle, with more and more possible ways in which you can edit. But as processing power catches up with high resolutions, you still need to be thinking about two things: getting the best from your camera and reducing bottlenecks in your workflow. 

New codecs and iterations of 4K are throwing us into another steep learning curve of codecs and bitrates. Just like when HDV allowed us to shoot HD footage on DV tape, you need to be thinking about what you are shooting, how to get it looking the best for the way you plan to process it, and the type of look you need. Quick turnaround video will obviously need a lower rate of compression compared to a more conceptual piece. Also, more cameras are putting out a Wide HDR Gamma, which is great as long as you’re shooting in a format which you can grade a bit in post. There’s no point having the widest DR for your shoot with even, flat images and shooting in a codec that can’t stand up to the rigours of a bit of work in post.

It’s important to bear in mind that each shoot will require a subtly – though sometimes drastically – different approach, and most of us don’t have the budget to have a camera cupboard that looks like the gun cupboard from Men In Black. So often we temper our wants to our needs to get a camera to use like a multi-tool.

Something like the XC-10 is a great example of the new generation of videographer multi-tool cameras: medium to large sensor, fixed lens, HDR Gamma, 4K Native, multi-media recorders. There’re always trade-offs with any camera that tries to keep budget over features, and with this camera, it’s XLR inputs and size that you trade off to keep the budget down. But it’s always a tipping point and complex balancing act, so the key now is to find the shooter for you and fill its gaps with accessories.

So take the XC-10 again, for example. Add a set of Tascam pre-amps and you have your XLR control back. The next thing to consider is media – the phenomenally expensive CFast. Which brings us to looking at codecs, as that relates directly to workflow.

The balance struck between codec, recording media and workflow would be amazing if it was always one of creativity. However, it isn’t. It’s often one of money and time. It needs to be affordable and it needs to be time efficient, otherwise we would always shoot RAW and always shoot 4K because it looks sexy and, in this ideal world, populated by faeries and uni-kitties, there would always be time to get everything 100% perfect and how you wanted it.

In the real world, “films aren’t ever finished, only ever abandoned” (to drop in a Richard Curtis quote, and one I’ve always identified with). Time runs out, and the more space you can give yourself, the better chance you have of getting everything perfect before the client comes knocking and it’s deadline day.

Shooting native codecs can give you one of the best chances of this. You have the camera that can do everything you need, but you want to cut down on rendering times and minimise processing power. Coupling the Atomos Shogun to the XC-10 will give you immense flexibility in post, as it gives you the ability to shoot and edit in a native codec, and four varying profiles of native DNxHR, for example.

With increased resolution comes increased bandwith strains and higher complexity compression. Take H.265 for example, which requires around three times more processing power than H.264. Using a DNxHR workflow in Media Composer gives you several things when you use the Atomos Shogun with the XC-10 or another camera to record 4K.

First, it gives you a much greater capacity to make the most of your HDR Gamma curves when grading your finished footage. Then it gives you a much less processor-intensive workflow when cutting than the internal codecs, driving down render times and therefore increasing the time you can work creatively to meet your delivery dates.

So, when looking for a camera and considering how to spend your budget to meet your needs, think beyond the camera into the workflow, and how additional accessories such as the right DTE recorder can increase creativity in shooting and flexibility in editing to maximise how you’re spending  your budget.

Want to know more? Give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com. For all the latest news, follow @Jigsaw24Video on Twitter or ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

Post-NAB 2015: Why you can’t afford to leave the Shogun out of your kit bag

Post-NAB 2015: Why you can’t afford to leave the Shogun out of your kit bag

I know, it sounds like marketing speak, but bear with me. This NAB has seen a myriad of camera announcements, all of them very exciting because the choice and quality of the cameras in the marketplace for every budget and shooting style is getting wider and more dynamic (pun intended).

Looking at large sensor alone, we have the new boys in the market – URSA Mini, C300 Mk II. We have the IBC cameras – FS7, C100 Mk II, GY-LS300 and the new AJA CION, which is getting a lot of buzz from DOPs for its colour reproduction. Then we have the tried and tested stalwart cameras that have been in the marketplace for a while, like the C300 and FS700.

Recently, the most pressing question has been how to get the most from your camera’s sensor and how, with increasingly complex compression algorithms, you decrease the processing strain on your edit suite.

A couple of years ago, the C100 became the camera of choice for many shooters because of the fantastic sensor, which, when combined with the Atomos Ninja, gave footage that did that sensor justice. Post-NAB, we have a load of brand new 4K cameras on the scene, all with varying degrees of complexity of codec, from ProRes shooters to XAVC and XF-AVC H.264 variants.

Combating the rising cost of media

Now there’s another issue to consider: with the increased data rate of the video files moving from 24-50Mbps up to in excess of 400Mbps, the cards used need a far faster write speed, and because of this the cost of the recording media has sky-rocketed. We have a new raft of CFast cards, SxS cards, XQD cards and Pak media, all of which may not actually be the best way of recording from your camera any longer or, oddly, the most cost-effective.

Take the FS7 with XQD media, a beautiful camera. You will spend roughly £350 for every 128GB and you will be capped to the internal QFHD XAVC 600Mbps codec, eating up a whole card every 22 minutes. An hour’s high quality recording time is going require 384GB of XQD cards and will set you back in the region of £1050 (ex VAT). This story persists across many of the new native 4K cameras using CFast and Pak media: your quality is capped and media is expensive.

This is where the Atomos Shogun can really democratise your shooting, and more so after NAB 2015 than ever before. Atomos have been meeting with Sony and AJA quietly in the background to find a way to meet these needs, and have realised timelines for FS-RAW updates and AJA RAW support at up to 60fps.

Calculating the total cost of your rig

With many cameras, you will want a standalone reference monitor as, let’s face it, the ones that come on the camera are often not quite up to scratch, and some new cameras are shipping without one at all. For an average quality monitor, you’ll need to spend in the region of £500. Then you’ll need to budget for all the new media you will need, as in many cases your old media won’t work with your new camera.

For an Atomos Shogun, you’re looking at spending £1150 for the unit and then around £200 for £480GB of  Sandisk SSD, which, when you look at what you can get for your money with the FS7 alone, means that for the cost of a reference monitor and enough media to go on a shoot, the Shogun gives you a crisp OLED display and more recording media, plus the ability to shoot RAW if you want to.

Further to that, every 480GB SSD you buy to go with your Shogun will be cheaper than 128GB of XQD media. This even applies to the CION, where without any view finder and with expensive Pak media it makes sense to invest in a Shogun in order to open up the options available in CION to include 60p RAW, not to mention that you’ll then be able to monitor your images.

The Atomos Shogun may not be the right solution for everyone, but now more than ever, Post NAB 2015, for me at least, having a Shogun in the bag makes more sense than not.

Want to know more about the Atomos Shogun? Get in touch with our team on 03332 409 306 or email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com. For all the latest news, follow @Jigsaw24Video on Twitter or ‘Like’ us on Facebook

Review: AJA CION camera first look

Review: AJA CION camera first look

It’s not long now until AJA’s CION 4K camera finally hits, and for me (and majority of video professionals), this is VERY EXCITING NEWS. Having got my hands on the CION back in April, I’ve been waiting for a chance to really put it through its paces, and start grading some footage. 

For anyone who’s looking into the AJA CION, or thinking about updating their video production workflow in general, this is why we’re all getting so worked up…

What is the AJA CION camera?

The AJA CION is a brand new professional camera from AJA – their first foray into actual cameras. Put simply, it’s a fantastic-looking shoulder mount production camera that’s designed to give a cinematic look to your footage. It’s able to output 4K raw data at up to 120fps via 4x 3G-SDI outputs (shoot directly to edit-ready Apple ProRes 4444 at up to 4K 30fps over Thunderbolt, ProRes 422 at up to 4K 60fps, or output AJA Raw at up to 4K 120fps), and records directly to AJA Pak SSD media at up to 60 frames per second.

Sensor-wise, you get an APS-C sized 4K CMOS image sensor with an electronic global shutter, 12 stops of dynamic range, and there’s a PL lens mount with manual back focus adjustment for attaching your glass.

What I first thought…

We first got our hands on the CION back at NAB 2014 in Vegas, and I had another chance to check it out just after too. The first thing you notice about it is the form factor and build quality. AJA are renowned for their design (check out what we think of their products here), and the CION is no different. Its sleek black body is complemented by a nice suede shoulder mount and wooden handles, which make it a real looker as well as being fantastically ergonomic.

Without compromising on quality, AJA have also managed to make it as light as they possibly can. The body weighs in at just 6.4lbs/2.8kg, but that will obviously ramp up once you start to add viewfinders, battery packs and a lens (the amount of glass in your lens especially affects this).

What I do really want to see is the actual quality of the footage. There has been some speculation around the ISO on the CION, with native ISO put at 200 on the pre-production camera. But AJA have put people’s fears to rest and let out that the final camera which ships will crank the ISO up to a more respectable level, making it brighter and better for shooting in low light. This should put it on a par with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, and close to the EOS C range at 850 ISO.

Lewis from Jigsaw24 gets hands-on with the AJA CION

Why the CION is special

The real selling point of the CION is its all-in-one, all-purpose ethos. While similar cameras like the Sony FS700, PMW-F5 and Canon C500 match it in terms of specs and similar pricing, the CION is really designed to give a more traditional ergonomic feel, with each section such as audio and option menus allowing for multiple users. The audio inputs are strategically placed so that a sound engineer can visually monitor the sound directly on the side of the camera without the camera getting in the way.

It also already has a built-in recorder, so you can shoot directly to AJA’s Pak SSD media – the same as you get with the fantastic Ki Pro Quad.

Perfect for large sensor lovers

I can see the AJA CION being perfect for the large sensor market. So anyone working in advertising, music videos, documentaries or that sort of thing, will benefit from the cinematic look and feel that the CION’s 4K CMOS sensor will afford them. The shoulder mount also gives it a bit more flexibility, and makes it much more portable than some other large sensor cameras. I wouldn’t say it’s the ideal option as a run and gun camera, but we’re almost into ENG-style ability and form factor here.

My recommended peripherals

When you buy the AJA CION, you are essentially paying for a chip and recorder based in a very stylish production camera body. Everything else is modular. With an expected price tag of $8999, it’s a big investment, so you should really think about your options before you take the plunge.

First of all, it’s a good idea to think about audio. Although the XLR and preamps are the same as the ones from the Ki Pro and are top-notch, considering your audio monitoring options is a good place to start. Because the CION already has its own recorder built in which records to Pak SSD (again, from the Ki Pro), you don’t need a separate recorder.

You will, however, need a lens and viewfinder. Lenses will vary depending on what you want to be doing with the CION, but I can definitely recommend the Cineroid EVF-4RVW EVF with retina display as a really good option, as well as the Alphatron EVF-035W-3G hi-res 3.5″ LCD EVF with 3G HD-SDI input. Battery-wise, I would go with the Anton Bauer or IDX battery plate. Lastly, you’ll need something to carry the whole lot around in. We’ll soon be looking at putting together special shooting kits with everything you’ll need to get up and running.

Shut up and take my money!

Hold on just a minute – the AJA CION isn’t actually shipping just yet, but we are taking pre-orders now. AJA’s official line is that it’s shipping in ‘Summer 2014′ which, judging by the length of British summers, should be imminently. As one of the UK’s largest AJA partners and biggest stockholders, it’ll be a good bet to get in touch with us for more information when it does drop though.

AJA CION on Jigsaw24

Want to know more about AJA and pre-order the AJA CION 4K production camera? Give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com. For all the latest news, follow @Jigsaw24Video on Twitter or ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

Why we love the Canon C100: a review/re-evaluation

Why we love the Canon C100: a review/re-evaluation

The Canon Cinema EOS C100 camcorder has been around for nearly a year now, and in that time we’ve seen some fantastic cameras join it on the market (Blackmagic Cinema Camera, take a bow). But still the C100 remains the best in class camera for what you get at that price point – unparalleled image quality and functionality.

So I thought it was about time I did, not a review, but a reevaluation of where the C100 stands next to its competitors. These are just some of the reasons why we recommend it so highly to customers…

Incredible image quality

People buy the Canon C100 because they know they’re getting incredible image quality. It only shoots in 25fps and not 50fps, but it’s the way that it handles noise that makes it a cut above competition like the Sony FS100 and AF101 – we’re even verging on Sony FS700 territory here.

With the same chip and sensor as its bigger brother the C300 (which comes in at around the £9k price mark), the C100 is a truly aspirational, broadcast quality camera. You get a shallow depth of field and really nice, sharp images with a very crisp focus, as well as the ability to set the colour temperature on the camera.

C100 and Ninja bundles on Jigsaw24

Pairing with a Ninja

Where the C100 really excels though, is when you pair it up with an Atomos Ninja recorder. This means you can bypass the 24Mbps limit  to get pristine 8-bit uncompressed footage and really make that excellent sensor produce some incredible results. It’s a union that’s made the Canon C100 and Atomos Ninja an industry standard, and we always recommend bundling the two together for an affordable shooting kit that gives professional quality footage. With the new Ninja Blade, you can even use the display as a critical monitor too!

Customisable camera controls

Another thing you get with the C100 that you don’t with the BMCC is fully customisable manual controls on the camera body. Under My Menus, you can map strings of commands to a single button to suit your particular preferences and workflow. This makes it a lot easier to get to a particular function, eg turning zebra effects to 50% using just one button press, rather than having to tap through all the menus like you have to on the BMCC.

This is especially useful for setting up your Ninja, which requires certain settings to be mapped to make it work properly. You can turn functions on and off without having to navigate menus, which is great if you need to change settings throughout a shoot or over the course of a day. In a school, for example, students don’t need to remember different places in the menu, but can instead go through the list of buttons the teacher has already assigned.

Easy transition from DSLR

Anyone who’s buying a production camera after coming from a DSLR background (the Canon 5D MkIII, say) will have no problems transitioning to the Canon C100. An EOS setting means you can shoots shots that match up with your DSLR footage without losing anything between the two. As it comes with an EF mount, you can easily continue using your Canon EF lens systems too.

Canon C100 on Jigsaw24

Flexible applications

The beauty of the C100 is in the wide range of applications it can handle. Whether you want to shoot cinematic-looking stuff, run and gun, or need a camera that will do the whole lot and deliver everything your clients are after, the C100 is up to the job. The new Autofocus upgrade is absolutely essential for event filming, for example, as there’s no need to pull focus yourself, so far less chance of messing up that perfect shot.

But really any corporate, ENG, gig, event or promo filming will benefit from the fast, stable workflow of the C100. It’s also comfortable with any jobs that need a shallow depth of field like interviews, and now even situations where pro-handheld cameras like the XF300 would normally be more suited.

The C100 is also great for education, letting students learn professional skills applicable to cinema or ENG which will set them up for going out into the industry. The manual buttons teach them shooting processes, they’ll learn how to work with a shallow depth of field, which is very fashionable at the moment, and the LOG codec means they can also learn how to grade. Whereas with the BMCC you might need to add a camera like the XF305 to your lessons if you wanted to teach broadcast production techniques, the C100 really does everything and means you only need to teach with one camera, and then all those skills can be applied across most cameras.

Canon also have the future in mind with the C100, and it’s already being developed to be better in ways that other cameras like it aren’t. A dual pixel autofocus paid firmware upgrade makes your DSLR lenses feel like a proper fixed lens focusing system. We’ve upgraded a lot of our cameras with this firmware already, and it’s the first stock in the UK to be available. Check out the firmware upgraded Canon Cinema EOS C100 here.

In summary…

So a year on, I still rate the Canon C100 as the best camera on the market at its price point. A complete package, it can be customised if you need to (like with separate audio), but it’s not a necessity like with the BMCC, which is essentially a sensor and codec which you’re required to add to for a full professional setup. With the C100, you can take it straight out of the box and start shooting with it straight away.

Canon C100 on Jigsaw24

Want to know more about the Canon Cinema EOS C100 camcorder? Give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com. For all the latest news and tips, follow @Jigsaw24Video on Twitter or ‘Like’ us on Facebook


4K on a budget with the JVC HMQ10

4K on a budget with the JVC HMQ10

There are currently a growing number of options for 4K shooters in the sub £10K realm, and the growing market acceptance of 4K is obvious when you look at Canon’s new range of 4K lenses and 4K chips to shoot HD, Sony’s new FS700, which promises 4K to come, or JVC’s HMQ10.

The JVC HMQ10 is currently the most cost-effective way of getting 4K footage, so it’s important to know how to deal with those files when shooting to them. The JVC 4K Clip Manager makes this very easy to deal with.

What you get when shooting to the HMQ10 is four 1080p clips on independent SDHC cards. In order to be 4K, this needs to be collated into one file. One option is to create a 4K timeline in your NLE (or in something like After Effects) and piece them together like some kind of fiddly puzzle, and that does work, but the JVC 4K Clip Manager does the same thing in a fraction of the time. Here’s how it works:

Ingest

It’s been said over and over again since the first move from tape to tapeless, but file structure is important. If you lose the file structure, you’re going to be fighting against the program to get your four videos into one 4K file. When ingesting, you may be able to connect all your SDHC cards to your workstation at once, but while that will make life quicker, it isn’t a necessity. 
The first thing to do if you can’t connect them all at once is to copy the folder structure across. You could do this as a .dmg (Disk Image) file through Disk Utilities, but it also works if you name a file after the SDHC card and then copy and paste the folder structure into there.

After this, you need to tell the JVC 4K Clip Manager where to find all the files by clicking on each Clip Locator and locating the master folder where all the folder structure is located. The Clip Manager will then find all the individual files and collate them into independent 4K clips in the browser.

File management

There are now two way to handle this, and it all depends on how you want to archive and back up your footage. You can either export these as 4K ProRes files or remove them from their original folder structure in their 1080p form for archive before ProRes transcode. Add the location that you want to copy the files to, and drag the thumbnails from the top bin to the bottom bin. This creates a new folder structure in the location you specified. Again, folder structure is key – don’t touch its make-up otherwise you’ll struggle to get it back.

 

Transcode

Select the clips you want to turn into ProRes and export them simply by clicking on the 4K Export button at the bottom right of the browser. Given the bitrate and quality of the AVCHD file that is recorded, ProRes LT will be fine for the majority of what you will be making and you won’t really be adding much in the way of quality if you go to a higher profile of ProRes.

AVC

 

 

ProRes

 

Edit

A best practice when thinking about cutting anything is to give some thought about bandwidth from your working storage. Minimising the possibility of bottlenecking as you transport your footage to be processed by your NLE is going to be key. This is where Thunderbolt storage and faster connections than Firewire 800 will start to become necessary, especially when cutting multiple streams of 4K. Try to use something like a Promise Pegasus or LaCie Little Big Disk (giving you transfer rates of around 700MBps) or a G-Tech G-speed or Sonnet DX800, depending on your budget and requirements. If you like to keep your working storage internal and have a few spare drive bays, consider an internal RAID.

In terms of non-linear editing, all the major NLEs will cut 4K these days. But if you’re already considering changing NLE and workstation, I would think seriously about combining Premiere Pro and a Quadro 4000 Graphics card. This will enable you to cut multiple streams of 4K without stressing your CPU, and let the Quadro 4000 take most of the work through Adobe’s Mercury Playback engine.

Monitoring

You can monitor 4K as 1080 if you want, but if you’re delivering to 4K – either for signage, projection or to one of the new range of 4K TVs that have started coming out – we can help you develop a 4K monitoring setup. But if you will be downsizing back to 1080 for delivery, then reference monitoring in the usual way will be fine.

In conclusion…

It’s not the best camera out there for 4K, but to say it comes in at under £4K the HMQ10 is pretty impressive and, as you can see, its workflow isn’t exactly complicated. Plus, it allows you to scale all the way from 1080p to 2K and 4K in a single camera – especially useful when you consider you’re unlikely to have to deliver 4K all the time.

Want to know more about the JVC HMQ10? Give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com. To keep up with the latest news, follow @Jigsaw24Video or ‘Like’ our Facebook page.

Is it time to leave your DSLR behind?

Is it time to leave your DSLR behind?

Canon 5D Mk III DSLRDSLRs like Canon’s 5D gained massive popularity because of their low price, efficient codec and wide range of lens options, which allowed users to be far more creative than any camcorder at a similar price point.

But even if you’ve built your business on DSLR, there comes a time when you have to accept that you’re trying to shoehorn a stills camera into a video production, and think seriously about whether its time to save up that extra £1620 and get yourself a jobbing production camera like the C100 instead of a 5D MkIII.  And it’s not just a practical argument: budget large sensor camcorders like the C100 now far exceed the creative capabilities of DSLRs too. Here’s why…

Image quality

We’ve got no problem with the image quality of DSLRs, and you can get some beautiful footage with a 5D. But if you’re working in low light environments, you need to think carefully before choosing to use a DSLR. Canon’s Cinema range have far better sensors and give sharper images than their DSLR counterparts, even in low light, and their 12 stops of dynamic range (complete with Canon Cinema Log Gamma support) will give you improved highlight and shadow detail.The C100 will also have far fewer rolling shutter issues, although it’s not completely immune to things like flash photography.

 

Oddly, the 5D MkIII does have better internal image compression thanks to its I-frame only codec. However, if you add the Atomos Ninja to your C100 and shoot Log to 220Mbps, your image quality will leapfrog the 5D MkIII. As far as I’m concerned, this is the C100’s current killer feature. As we saw at NAB, pairing a C100 and an Atomos Ninja-2 allows you to record to the C100’s memory card and the Ninja-2’s SSD or HDD at the same time using the Ninja’s new record triggering over HDMI, which is compatible with Canon cameras, so you get an instant backup copy. You can then use the footage recorded by the camera as a proxy if you wish, and keep the 10-bit ProRes 4:2:2 version on the Ninja-2 as an online master to grade.

Canon C100 camcorderAudio quality

Even the best preamps you can find for your DSLR aren’t a patch on the C100’s built-in XLRs, because you’re still sending your audio signal through the DSLR’s shonky minijack and audio processing. Moving up to a jobbing camera with professional quality audio is not only going to give you a massive jump in sound quality, it’ll also save you a few hundred quid on preamps, helping to close the price gap between your DSLR setup and your C100 one.

Recording times

Unless you were willing to shoot in the freezing cold or jump through hoops to work around the sensor issues, the Canon 5D MkII used to overheat and shut itself down after about fifteen minutes of shooting. The 5D MkIII gets all the way up to the legal still camera cap of just below 30 minutes, but compared to the C100’s max recording time of just under six hours onto a 64GB SD card, neither really cuts the mustard. If you’re shooting long form or just don’t think you’ll be able to swap out media regularly during your shoot, opt for the C100.

So, is it time to change?

The extra outlay required for the C100 does get you a better quality image and a more flexible camera, but ultimately if you’re not looking for a jobbing camera and are only going to be shooting in short bursts, need stills and video or aren’t planning to perform any post, stick with your DSLR. If you’re thinking of buying a new DSLR now, go for one that offers a clean feed out over HDMI.

Still not sure? Give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com. For all the latest news follow @Jigsaw24Video on Twitter or Like’ our Facebook page

FCP X’s first update – a closer look

FCP X’s first update – a closer look

Apple recently released the first update to Final Cut Pro X – FCP 10.0.1 – and already there’s a host of opinions all over the web from users who feel strongly one way or the other, making it one of the most contentious software updates in recent times.

I’ve taken a look at some of the new features in FCP 10.0.1, what they mean for the professional editor, and how FCP X relates to the multi-person post-production environment…

XML support

First of the new features, and possibly the most exciting, is rich XML support. It’s worth pointing out here that XML, as a way of handling data, has many different varieties, and this brand new flavour – FCPXML – doesn’t yet make it possible to directly import older projects from FCP 7’s XML (XMEML), into FCP X. However, this does mean FCP X can now export to third party applications. Currently, there are as many as 20 developers already building FCPXML into their software updates and we’re sure to see more professional finishing and mastering tools taking up this format, allowing import and export of FCPXML.

Two developers who have are DaVinci and Square Box. DaVinci Resolve 8.1, as well as accepting FCP 7’s XMEML, now accepts import through FCPXML. And for media houses who used Square Box’s CatDV for their asset management and as the entry point of their post workflow, this is great news. CatDV can now be used as a translation tool to transfer clips and sequences from old Final Cut Pro 7 projects over to FCP X. It’s also a great replacement for the now defunct Final Cut server, if you need that ongoing functionality and management.

Xsan shared storage

Secondly, having projects and events on Xsan is a great step forward, allowing storage over servers. Currently, however, this is only shared storage of the files, not actual shared project functionality. Full access to the project is still limited to one user at a time, so two people won’t be able to work on the same project simultaneously. But if you’re desperate for access to a project someone else on the Xsan is working on, they can send you an XML of the file and you could import elements of that into your project.

GPU-accelerated export

Thirdly, the GPU-accelerated export feature is something that is very exciting. As an FCP user for many years, I can remember my amazement at witnessing the speed of Adobe’s Mercury Playback engine as it used the power of the NVIDIA CUDA card. Having that kind of power and speed in FCP X, both in the edit and now in the export, is a wonderful thing.

For me H.264-based exports have always been a mixed blessing. The quality and size of the outputted movie is great but the speed and processor-intensive nature of the export was always a bitter pill, especially when outputting a large project. Previously, the only options for minimising some of FCP 7’s exporting headache were external devices like the Matrox MXO2 (because of their faster-than-realtime H.264 exports), or to leave your file exporting overnight. Now, with GPU-accelerated exports, the speed of the export increases with the speed of your GPU. So either way, the GPU you bought isn’t twiddling its thumbs while the CPU slowly does its job. If you’re thinking of getting a GPU to take advantage of this new found speed, Apple has released this list of compatible GPUs.

In other news…

The new camera import SDK means there will be support coming for cameras not yet supported natively, such as Sony’s XDCAM EX. The missing custom start timecode feature has been brought in, enabling the broadcast industry to meet certain delivery specifications, or add bars and tone. More broadcast features, such as multi-cam editing and Broadcast-Quality Video Monitoring have been promised in early 2012.

For more information on Apple Final Cut Pro X, call us on 03332 409 306 or email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com. You can also keep up with the latest news and offers by following @JigsawVideo on Twitter, checking our Facebook page or browsing our full video and post-production range.

Extra, extra! Creating student news with TriCaster 40

Extra, extra! Creating student news with TriCaster 40

NewTek TriCaster 40

 

I think people have always known video projects are great for the classroom – they support multimodal learning, promote teamwork, and allow you to sneak creative skills into other areas of the curriculum, all while giving students a voice. It’s just that many schools have struggled to find the space (and budget) for their own recording space, and don’t know what kind of kit they’ll need to start making video projects or a collaborative student news team. If this has been the problem for you, say hello to TriCaster 40.

The basics

What is TriCaster 40?

NewTek’s TriCaster solutions are used by broadcast professionals everywhere to create news bulletins, webcasts and feeds of footage to be shown at events. They let students share content three ways – by creating streaming TV, airing broadcast-quality video and sharing to the web and mobile devices. TriCaster 40 is a stripped down version of this, including only the features that you and your students need to film things like sports events, school plays and classroom projects, then share them online in realtime. Your students still get to learn the basics of a professional creative workflow, but you can focus on teaching skills, rather than wasting lesson time explaining repeatedly how the unit works.

What does TriCaster 40 let you do?

You can connect cameras, computer screens and iOS devices like iPad to TriCaster, which will then record whatever is being captured by the camera or shown on the screen. Students can work together to plan and create the content they’ll need, then hook it all up to TriCaster and cut between the different feeds to create their broadcast. They can add titles and graphics to give their work a more professional look, or even use the built-in 3D virtual studio to put backdrops behind presenters, so it looks like they’re being filmed in a news studio rather than a broom cupboard.

All of this can be done in realtime (so students get instant feedback on their work to keep them engaged) and using just the one box (meaning the workflow is incredibly simple). The final edit can be saved to internal memory or streamed live online.

What kind of projects can it create?

As well as recording lectures and making sure your school’s sporting triumphs are seen by all, you can encourage students to use their video skills across the curriculum by reporting on historical events, creating their own weather forecasts in Geography or recording breakthrough science experiments. The portability of TriCaster 40 also means it’s easy to get out in the community and get involved in local events, creating live online news bulletins or recording content for an editing team to shape into a short documentary.

The film crew

Filming a simple chromakey scene Whether you’re working in the classroom or out at an event, we’d recommend splitting students into groups and giving each member a different role. Here are a few suggestions – why not get students to take turns as each, so they get to practise different key skills with each project?

Three camera operators

A great job for creative students who want to polish their technical skills.

They’ll need… Cameras (we’d recommend something like the user-friendly Sony MC2000E, or one of their NXCAM range, which now have a 10% education discount), tripods and talkback mics so they can speak with the director and vision mixer.

Sound operator

Makes sure everyone is mic-ed up and the sound levels are properly balanced between inputs. TriCaster has its own audio mixer that they can control via a free iPad app.

They’ll need… A mixing desk will let youdo mixdowns or plug outputs directly into the TriCaster to use the onboard mixer, and a range of mics – wireless clip-on ones work best for recording lone speakers, or a boom operator could use a shotgun microphone to record interviews.

Presenters

The charming host (or teacher) delivering the content, as well as the opportunity for script writers.

They’ll need… A microphone and a text prompter (again, there’s an iPad app and camera mount for this).

Graphics artist

Get a team to create graphics, titles and backdrops to add live to your production. NewTek’s Live Text controller is perfect for this.

They’ll need… Some software to create effects in (Adobe’s After Effects or Photoshop, for example), access to TriCaster or a control surface. You can also add a green screen kit if you want to create your own chromakey backdrops. All of which you can get from Jigsaw24!

Lighting operator

Works with the camera ops and graphics artist to ensure everything is evenly lit, so that it looks professional.

They’ll need… Some lights and reflectors – we’d recommend a three-point lighting system, depending on your room.

Vision mixer

Manning TriCaster itself, the vision mixer’s job is to cut between different feeds to make sure all the key information is captured.

They’ll need… TriCaster 40 (complete with control surface if you need room for more than one student) and a talkback mic so they can give instructions to the camera operators.

Director

In charge of running the production, this
is a great way to give students some extra responsibility during the shoot.

They’ll need… A talkback mic so they can issue instructions to the rest of the crew, a gallery output for multi-view monitoring and impressive organisational skills!

…and then  action!

The finished, chromakeyed shotThe presenter presents, the camera operators operate and the vision mixer cuts between the different feeds, while others monitor shot lists, cue up prompts and make sure everything is properly lit and audible. Students can stream the video live to other groups (or your intranet site) over the web, and record it on TriCaster’s memory at the same time so it’s saved for assessment or revision.

The kit

The best thing about the setup you need for this (apart from the fact that you can move it anywhere) is that it’s completely modular. If your media department have analogue cameras, you can use them with TriCaster 40. If you already have an iPad, you can cross that off the list.

If you have a specific project in mind, you can build a whole solution around TriCaster that’s tailored specifically to your needs. Give us a call to find out more.

To find out more about getting started with the TriCaster 40, give us a call on 03332 409 333 or email learning@Jigsaw24.com. For all the latest news, follow @Jigsaw24Edu on Twitter.

 

First look: Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera

First look: Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera

Following on from NAB (where we placed the first UK order for the camera), we spent this weekend with Blackmagic Design at their Summer Reseller Event in Portugal, which was designed to allow us to have a look at their range of new kit. Most prominent were the two new items in the Blackmagic Design line up: Teranex and, personally most interesting for me, the Cinema Camera.

James using the Blackmagic Cinema Camera

There has been a fair amount of conjecture and so much unsaid about this camera, so it was great to get alongside it with the guys from BMD. In a very similar setup to NAB, we were able to get hands-on with the camera and its menu structure as well as a range of lenses and accessories. Alongside using the physical unit, we had the opportunity to talk in depth to the guys from Blackmagic on a number of levels, and it’s worth pointing out that the camera is still in development (and will be up to shipping, though you can pre-order it now) so the details are still fairly fluid.

Using the Cinema Camera: controls and codecs

From the pressing of the power button, it’s roughly three seconds until the screen is illuminated and you get to dive in. The controls on the touchscreen are available to use. Blackmagic are going to be referring to this as the ‘slate’, and with this in mind it certainly underlines the fact they are targeting it at more cinematic productions, something which is confirmed by the codecs that will be available for use.

In terms of codecs, people have been asking us about how many and what flavour of ProRes/DNX will be supported, and the details below help give some confirmation around this:

Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera menu screen

ProRes 4:2:2 HQ at 10bit 220Mb/s 1080p (scaled not crop).

This is the only ProRes option, so there is no low quality record function in this camera, but personally I don’t mind that. These days we have the storage and the machines to cut this at lower and lower costs. Plus, as the name and branding suggests, this is not a run and gun camera, this is a camera to take your time with, compose your shots and treat properly; it’s perfect for drama, adverts, staged interviews and those annoying shots where people have told you to shoot through a window.

DNxHD 220Mb/s 4:2:2 10bit 1080p (scaled not crop).

The camera deals with this in much the same way as ProRes. You’re still getting 13 stops of dynamic range, because that comes from the sensor not the encoding, but it’s only a 1080p output. There is only one flavour of DNxHD, so the opportunity to work both natively from the camera and in Media Composer in the one codec will make the whole Avid workflow easier and quicker.

12bit Cinema DNG RAW at 130MBps (dependent on frame rate).

This was very interesting to me, and I wanted to know exactly what it consisted of. CinemaDNG is recorded as still sequential images with .dng extension, an audio file metadata file. There are no Proxy record files involved in this, so if you want a proxy workflow for your offline edit you’ll have to handle that yourself, but Adobe Prelude, FCPX and Avid Media Composer all include easy ways to deal with that (although Cinema DNG files aren’t currently supported in FCPX).

The interesting bit for me was how this handles things like picture profiles and ISO. It is true RAW, in that it doesn’t bake any of this into the file itself (although it does if you record ProRes or DNxHD). All the ISO and profile information is held in the metadata. This way you always have the RAW unadulterated information and all the dynamic range. I would expect as well to get about 40-50 minutes on a 500GB SSD.

A word on RAW

To avoid any misunderstanding, it’s worth pointing out that the RAW format, or Digital Negative, doesn’t treat colour in the same way as a DCT-based compression (like any MPEG based codec, AVC XDCAM, ProRes, etc.) Cinema DNG RAW is the entire output of the sensor recorded. It doesn’t work in RGB, YRGB or YCrCb, it is the full readout of the sensor at that moment in time, much like film negative. It would only be once you debayer and transcode that into another codec that it would have a corresponding subsampling value (4:4:4, 4:2:2 etc).

Formatting your SSD

The SSD needs to be HFS+ formatted, and this can’t be done inside the camera – it needs to be done on your actual machine. For Mac users this isn’t an issue at all, but for Windows users it can seem like more of a problem. It isn’t really though, as a company called Media Four make a program called Mac Drive that gives users the ability to use and format Apple drives natively inside Windows. If Windows users download this then there should be no real issues with the camera workflow, although it will be worth investing in some SSD eSATA bays. Other than that, it’s the same qualified drives as the Hyperdeck series, including the Kingston V200+ and HyperX.

Using the Cinema Camera: recording times and picture quality

With the same data rates for both ProRes and DNX. you’ll be looking around 5 hours to a 512GB SSD, and about 70 mins shooting DNG RAW (but that will vary dependent on frame rate).

The sensor is, as we know, a 2.5K, single chip CMOS sensor with characteristics inbetween a one inch sensor and a micro four thirds sensor, and it comes with all the characteristics of a single chip, large sensor CMOS camera. It scans left to right in lines from top to bottom. and because of this it is possible to get some bending (“jelly lens”) with fast movement. We are, however, well-versed in these characteristics and know how to deal with them now, so I don’t really see this as an issue because, for £1,925, this is still a better production camera than anything in its price point.

Demonstrating the Blackmagic Cinema Camera's dynamic range

Dynamic range-wise, 800 ISO is where you get your full 13 stops of dynamic range, which is only one stop away from standard film stock. The best available film stock only has a dynamic range of 14 stops, so this shows you the kind of power that this gives. With the Blackmagic Cinema Camera it works out at around eight stops in the lowlights and five stops in the highlights. This is because it creates a far more natural look to the image as the human eye, with its 30 stops of dynamic range, is much more sensitive to low light than it is to high light. The images on the “slate” or the TVlogic EVF looked good, and the detail was fantastic, though setting exposure requires you to reconsider how you are approaching the shot, especially if you’ve been used to cameras with traditionally lower dynamic range where you generally have to leave parts of the image to burn out.

On to the crop factor. We now have a much clearer idea of crop factor, which is really useful when thinking about lenses. It is a crop factor of x2.3, which you need to take into account when selecting any lens. To put this into perspective, APS-C sensors in our 7Ds are around a x1.6 crop, micro four thirds is a x1.9 crop and the BMD Cinema Camera weighs in at a x2.3 crop. (A great illustration and comparison of crop factor has been put together here.)

The crop factor is most definitely not a bad thing, more of a consideration you need to factor in to your creativity. An ideal stock lens to have in the bag for this camera is the Zeiss Distagon T 15mm 2.8F, which would have a comparative field of view to a 35mm (34.5mm) lens on a on a full frame camera (5D). It definitely works as a positive for telephoto work, as you can get huge zooms without needing massive lenses. So for example, the classic 70mm – 200mm becomes a whopping 161mm – 460mm zoom without needing the associated price and weight that comes with a long zoom.

The EF mount on the front of the Cinema will take EF, EF-S and ZE mounts without a problem, but for other lenses you have to think about how to get it on there and the flange characteristics. Generally any mount with a larger flange will have an adaptor to adjust the flange distance to meet the lens’ requirements, but you can’t go back down to a smaller flange size. Here is a list of popular lenses and their flange distance:

Blackmagic Cinema Camera with lens adaptor

Sony E – 18mm

Micro Four Thirds – 19.25mm

Canon EOS (BMD Camera) – 44mm

Sony Alpha – 44.6mmNikon F – 46.5mm

Arri PL – 52mm

A lens is always calibrated to focus light to the sensor, which requires very exact measurements. Any slight deviation from these measurements will result in a change in the lens characteristics. Zeiss do, however, do a mount changing kit, so if you have a few CP2s with a PL mount it becomes very easy to swap out the PL mount for an EF.

Using the Cinema Camera: the menus

There is lots in the menus that you would expect: zebras at scalable rates (currently 5% increments); shutter angle at 45º, 90º, 144º, 172.8º, 180º, 270º, 360º; frame rates of 23.98, 24, 25, 29.98, 30; a choice of three ISO options (400ASA, 800ASA and 1600ASA) and a number of white balance temperature choices.

The touch screen, referred to as the slate, is 800 x 480 pixels and the fact that it’s called the slate gives you some indication of what they see it being used for. It is an interface for the menu as its primary function, with secondary reference. Realistically, you’ll need an EVF or a separate monitor for a few reasons, chief among them being that the screen isn’t high-res enough or good enough to use as reference, and in the wrong place when the camera is shoulder mounted (you shouldn’t be touching the glass of your critical preview monitor with your grubby fingers anyway). Take note that the HD-SDI output is 1080p or only, so the current Cineroid will not support it but the TVlogic we were using would be a advisable investment, as it also adds focus peaking.

Using the Cinema Camera: Thunderbolt out

The Thunderbolt output is something we didn’t get to see in action, but it’s designed to pass out live information to a Thunderbolt-aware version of Ultrascope running on either a Mac or, in the future, a Thunderbolt enabled PC. The available information really allows you to get the most out of a shot, but you’ll need your laptop close to hand as the current crop of Thunderbolt cables are limited to two metres long.

Using the Cinema Camera: Peripherals, accessories and audio

We saw a number of different mounts, rigs, controls and remotes. Manfrotto, Vocas and also a new Bebop rig specifically for this camera, with a specifically designed mount place, a wealth of mount points and a carry handle. The Canon lanc will provide record and iris control, but focus will be limited to lenses that support that feature.

Blackmagic Cinema Camera cage

On the audio front, the Cinema Camera has two balanced audio jack inputs but they have no phantom power, so these can either be used as reference audio for a location recorder or, by using an additional Beachtek or Shure XLR pre-amp that will give you phantom power, for audio control and monitoring that you can’t get otherwise.

There is so much more to say about this camera and we’re even more excited about it than when we first saw it at NAB, so if you want to know more about it feel free to get in touch.  We are accepting pre-orderswithout a deposit.

Update: Test footage and cases

Since this article first went up, we’ve had a couple of exciting announcements. Firstly, DoP John Brawley released some test footage stills on his blog, and the dynamic range looks fantastic.

“These are framegrabs out of Resolve for a little test I did this weekend with writer/director Ben Phelps,” John explains on his blog. “You’re looking at ungraded and then graded stills.  My Resolve skills are still amateurish at best,  and these grades are single node grades with no noise reduction or sharpening.The footage was shot using ProRes 422 (HQ) with the “film” curve.  This is still something that’s being feverishly developed, so it will still change by the time the camera ships, but you can see these lovely flat ProRes files are grading up beautifully.”

Once you’ve taken a look at that and decided that you really definitely need a Cinema Camera, head over to the Portabrace site, where they’ve just released details of a series of cases recommended for the Blackmagic Cinema Camera.

In the meantime, give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com. For all the latest news, follow @Jigsaw24Video on Twitter or Like’ our Facebook page.

First impressions: Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera

First impressions: Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera

Blackmagic Design’s Cinema Camera was one of the most talked-about products at NAB 2012. Now that the Twitter storm has died down and the first pre-orders are coming in, we thought it was time to ask our camera expert, James Graham, to give it a once over and see what chance it stands of living up to the hype.

The key specs

One more time for anyone who missed they key facts: the Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera has a 2.5K resolution, Micro 3/4″ size sensor and is capable of shooting 12-bit CinemaDNG RAW footage at 2432 x 1366 and ProRes and DNxHD at 1920 x 1080. It records to an internal 2.5″ SSD recorder (the SSD itself is removable, but Mac OS formatted, so PC users will need to install MacDrive to read it). You get four channels of HD-SDI audio and video (4:2:2 with a choice of film or video dynamic range), a Thunderbolt port to speed up transfer, two 1/4″ audio jacks and a headphone out, and DaVinci Resolve and UltraScope are thrown in, too.

Image quality

Image quality is the dealbreaker for any camera, and Blackmagic Design are promising great things. The Cinema Camera has 13 stops of dynamic range, which is more than most cameras and will hopefully mean we get detailed shadows and highlights, with plenty of latitude to work with in post (the below image, snagged from Blackmagic’s site, seems to bear that out – it looks really flat with the highlights and lowlights nicely exposed).

Currently the sensor is still an unknown quantity, so we don’t know its limitations, how organic any noise is, moire and where the signal to noise ratio might take over – but we’ll be the first in the UK to get stock, so we’ll do some experimenting and get the results to you as soon as. A definite good sign is that it’s compatible with Canon EF and Zeiss ZF lenses, giving you access to some really beautiful glass.

Battery and recording time

According to BMD’s specs, the camera has a 90 minute battery life and takes two hours to charge when not in use. However, there’s a 12-30V port for external power and a 12V AC adaptor, so you should be able to use additional external batteries if need be.

Blackmagic also reckon you can get 30 minutes of 5MB per frame RAW footage at 24p on a 256GB SSD, and about five times that amount of ProRes or DNxHD.

Audio

This is the other big question mark over the Cinema Camera. It’s got two 1/4″ audio jacks, so you’re obviously supposed to be able to attach a mic, but there’s no hot shoe on the camera or the official BMD stand, and no way to know how much a mic in the jack will rattle. Given how compact and lightweight it is (1.7kg), people are probably going to try using it handheld, and for that you’d ideally want a more stable audio setup.

You’re probably going to want to pick up a BeachTek adaptor and attach your mic via that. This is no bad thing in itself – the high end DSLRs this is competing against (5D MkIII, D4, 1D-C) need them too, and using an adaptor at least ensures you’ll have a flexible audio setup.

Build quality

Let’s be honest, it looks amazing, and from what we’ve heard so far it’s nice and ergonomic. It’s machined out of solid aluminium with a rubber facing and grip, and the members of our team who saw it at NAB were enthusiastic. We’ve haven’t had a chance to drop it from a great height in the rain or drive a tank over it yet, but so far it seems solid.

Metadata, logging and software

The bridge to post is where the camera really shows its Blackmagic roots. Resolve and UltraScope software is included, so you can hook your SSD up to your MacBook Pro and monitor your picture view, audio levels and phasing, or perform rough grades while you’re still on-set – great if you’re working to tight deadlines or in close collaboration with a post-production team and want to give them an idea of the look you’re after.

There’s also the slate, an intuitive interface that looks a bit like an iPhone keyboard but lets you log metadata directly into the camera, then search shots by tag, timecode, shot number or scene number. The metadata you input here should be compatible with your NLE, so your post team will get all your tags and shot info at the same time as they receive the footage, which is a great timesaver.

Is it for you?

If you’re considering buying a 5D MkIII or using something like a Nikon D4 with an Atomos Ninja, this is at a similar price point and seems to offer far more functionality (all that metadata management, plus extra dynamic range). However, if this camera is as good as Blackmagic say, it will be a worthy contender to the AF101 or FS100, making it well worth further investigation. Using 12-bit CinemaDNG RAW files will mean you to re-evaluate your workflow, but that’s another conversation. In the meantime, we can’t wait to get our hands on the first stock

Want to know more? Give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com. For the latest NAB news, follow @Jigsaw24Video, ‘Like’ our Facebook page or take a look at our roundup.