Thursday, December 14, 2006

Nikon D2Xs, HVX200 iMovie Clip: Stars Over Chincoteague

Post references:
Apple iMovie
Panasonic HVX200
Nikon D2Xs
Manfrotto Bogen Magic Arm
Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8
Refuge Inn of Chincoteague

Because the clips have been severely compressed from high definition, please try viewing in a darkened environment to watch the path of the stars. Thanks!

Stars Over Chincoteague (63 seconds, Google Videos)

I am soooo stoked.

I just "produced" my first project using a combination of time lapse, using (version 3) Apple's iMovie, with some shots I grabbed while on the eastern shore over the weekend on rocket launch that was scrubbed.


Driving down to Chincoteague Island Sunday, my mind swept through with thoughts of how to cover the Minotar rocket that was planned for a pre-dawn launch. Getting to Wallops, VA just as the Sun began setting, out came the HVX200 as I tried grabbing some footage since a rocket launch would only last a couple minutes at best.


Birds flew nearby and I quickly changed my shutter speed on the HVX200 to 1/30th, up one step from 1/15th second, as I had tried letting in more light. The flocks were making their way to bed down for the evening, and I grabbed a short clip of one of the final flocks that passed overhead.


A quick grab of the western horizon, and then a turn of the camera to the dishes within the fenced-in surroundings of Wallops to grab some time lapse footage, set at a frame per second to try gathering some orange-to-blue-to-black of the evening sky. Unfortunately, the camera dropped focus, and what was a nice crisp image of the dishes racked out of focus.


I moved the camera to the illuminated dishes pointing skyward, since they glowed with the sodium vapor lights below. Hoping to get a bite of food and a bit of rest, I packed up the gear, checked in to the Refuge Inn, (I give reference because of the excellent sky views and helpful staff) and became obsessed with finding a room with a view where I could clamp a Nikon D2Xs body and wide angle lens to grab a clear view of the northern sky since I wanted to try shooting some time lapse of the rotation of the ceiling of stars.

My first room was supposed to be 214, but I could hear several women laughing behind the closed door. Not eager to startle them, I returned to the front desk and exchanged the key for room 106, a beautiful room with a view of pine trees. The front desk clerks let me try room 205, but the canopy of an evergreen blocked the view from the room's patio deck. So I walked outside and checked the second floor rooms for their views and wrote the room numbers down. Settling for room 229, out came the gear and batteries, which I started charging. Remembering a recent time lapse experiment with a moonrise, I set my Nikon D2Xs body on a time lapse rate of 45 seconds, and made some test shots to find the correct exposure.

But I still wasn't happy with the view from my deck. While walking through the hotel to check for the locations of the emergency exits, I noticed a sign: "Observation deck. Quiet Zone," next to a door with no keyed doorknob. Opening it revealed a metal spiral starwell to the roof, which had a wooden deck with tables and chairs. Retrieving the camera and a Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 lens, I mounted it to the deck railing with a Manfrotto Bogen Magic Arm, positioning the camera to aim at about a 35 degree angle skyward, just steep enough to see the trees in the lower portion of the frame (for visual reference). Shooting test after test, the final exposure came to 30 seconds at f/4, with the lens zoomed out to 10mm length, and the ISO rating at "HIGH1," which is the same as ISO 1600. The image was shot in normal size and basic setting, which gave plenty of images for a 1-gigabyte card. The rate of time lapse resulted in one frame every 45 seconds, which seemed like a great rate of time lapse, since the stars and Moon creep so slowly across the night sky.


Starting the time lapse session, which would last all night, I piled some lounge chairs and a table behind the clamped camera (like that would stop anyone from stealing a camera) and ran out to grab some Chinese food up the street. Returning with Peking duck and pork egg fu yung (without the onions), I made regular checks of the gear to make certain it was still there, and everything worked.


Somewhere between midnight and 1AM, the camera stopped firing. Such a long process of image-gathering on a cold night can drain a battery, and the rechargeable was DOA. Grabbing another battery from the room, I changed lenses to a Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8 and aimed the camera just above a rising Moon. Resuming the time lapse process, I retired to bed for about 1-1/2 hours and came back to the set-up, pausing the camera, replacing the battery with a fresh one, and resuming the shoot.

Awake after setting the alarms on the room clock and my cell phone, I packed my gear, got ready for the 5AM meeting at the NASA Visitors Center, and retrieved the camera, which still fired. Driving the 7 miles to the center, I was told the news: the launch had been scrubbed. Uggh. That meant that I could have slept even longer.

Well, the launch didn't fly, but the footage did. I didn't know what to do with the clips until I decided to try editing it together in iMovie. Dragging the files to each window for the upload, and then pulling each scene around gave me a good idea on how to put together this little clip. It doesn't last long, but I gained some knowledge as my ultimate goal is mastering Final Cut Pro. If Final Cut is anywhere near the structure of iMovie, I think I'm good-to-go.

I was a little miffed that iMovie is based on the boring NTSC television format, which is 4X3, or 640X480 pixels. It made me have to crop the footage from both the HVX200 (which shoots in 16X9 and the 35mm digital format, which is 3X2. While looking at the software, adding some fades and transitions, plus some drone-like background and a clip of birds gave it some added life. Try it without sound, and it gets old, quick. Add some audio tone with a suspenseful sound... does it make you want to experience more?

Stars Over Chincoteague (62 seconds, YouTube Videos)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Stage is Set

Post content:

Panasonic Lumix FZ30
Focus Enhancements FS-100
Panasonic AG-HVX200
Macintosh G5 Tower
Baltimore Sun
Olympus DS-2 Digital Recorder

It's time for me to get ready to rumble. With multimedia, that is. The new schedule's set, which means the first 3 days of the work week will be spent by starting at around 7AM, gathering footage and producing packages for our website. Thursday and Friday will be spent sleeping in (to start the afternoon shift) and work general assignments, since there is a shortage of late night shooters.

Weekend time will be spent recharging the batteries for the next week. Yesterday was rough. While trying to understand a Focus Enhancements Firestore FS-100 100-gigabyte DTE (direct-to-edit) recorder for our production camcorder HVX200, I had to roll out to Catonsville to document the scene with the still camera where a resident was killed and a state trooper was shot while serving papers early that morning. The father was upset as I entered his home, and the family shared their accounts of what happened.

Grabbing the Lumix FZ30 to capture some footage, he talked to other family at the top of the stairs, showing the large number of bullet holes that tore through the walls, describing the events that he witnessed. The still images were an afterthought as he expressed his account of watching how his son died, and told about his upcoming birthday near the end of December.

The time neared 6:30PM as we wrapped up, and a couple of calls later, someone was ready and waiting in the office to edit and post the captured footage. Attempting to transfer the files into our FTP site, the transfer rate for regular video clips was so slow (even for our high-speed network) that I simply sent the first half of footage into the multimedia folder and grabbed a CD and burned the other 5 files, running them out to the web point-person to edit and post.

The editors seemed rather pleased at the finished package when I reported to work this afternoon. Dudley, Chuck and I talked so I could understand the new schedule and what was expected of my efforts in 2007, and I retreated to one of our Macintosh G5 towers to try mounting that FS-100 onto the desktop so I could extract the 40 gigs of high definition footage I had been capturing over the past several days for a project several of us have been working on.

Listening in to a conversation between Chuck and Lloyd nearby, I heard about a convict who had been released from prison after spending over 30 years in jail for a crime he says he never committed. Lloyd had taken some great images as the family met the released man outside court, and my own creative juices flowed, expressing the regret that we didn't shoot any footage for the web. "That's just what I want you to do," Dudley said. "Look at the daily log for interesting jobs and shoot some packages."

Torn between word of a family party to celebrate the release north of town, and having to shoot the Maryland Terrapins' men's basketball game just a couple hours later in College Park, I called Steve to let him know that I'd try to document the party. Parking nearby, I grabbed the trusty Lumix as well as an Olympus DS-2 digital recorder and small shotgun microphone to back up the audio, since there would be a house filled with loud, happy guests.

Maryland Terrapins' Ekene Ibekwe rejects a shot attempted in Maryland's 101-50 trouncing.

The guest of honor sat at the center of the dining room table as friends, family, and defense attorneys broke bread together, celebrating the end of their terrible nightmare. Lloyd and I tripped over each other once or twice as we captured the event, happy that no one from the television stations were even there. Wrapping up with about 9 minutes of footage, I returned, burned a DVD with the audio and movie files for Steve to edit and post, and then hit the road where I sit in our cubby after Maryland's 101-50 beatdown of Missouri-Kansas City. I put the new Nikon cameras back to work, leaving the HVX back in the office and shooting a couple decent frames with the D2Xs in the first half.

The images from the Catonsville shooting are still at work on the desktop, so be my guest and hop over to the Baltimore Sun online. On this current page, there's multimedia taken with the Lumix of the father after the shooting and soon there will be footage of the wrongly-convicted man released, but get it while it's hot; the site is regularly updated.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Quick Review: Nikon D2Xs

Independent Review References:
Nikon D2Xs
Panasonic AG-HVX200
Sigma 10-20mm f 4-5.6
Nikon D2Hs (preview)
Nikon D2H
Canon EOS 30D
Nikon D200

I'm sure you'll be inundated with the images taken during the daytime of all the fine low-ISO, high-color quality images of this camera. But I'm simply going to add just a little tweak, which is about low-light situations, and color-tweaking your camera.

Speed? What Speed?
The Nikon D2Xs can be your primary camera if you feel confident shooting at a reduced frame rate. With the setting in full frame mode, you aren't going to set any speed records in frame rates. After using the D2H for several years, I would have figured the D2Xs was going to be somewhere near the same frame rate of about 7 frames/second, what with better technology, stiff competition from other camera manufacturers and all. But this body isn't meant to fire off in rapid succession; that's what the D2Hs is for (I'll end up writing something about that one in a future post).

The D2Xs can bang out some pretty good files at a decent fps rate, with the high speed crop set to the ON position. Plus, you get the benefit of a tighter image size than with the crop removed. I was shooting with a 300mm 2.8 lens with the subject at the 50 yard line, and I felt like I was using a 400mm or perhaps longer lens while camped out at behind the end zone. The fps rate was much slower than the sports-minded D2H, but I quickly adjusted my shooting tactics. But you'll be shooting nothing but blue crab and turtle races if you want to keep up with your subject, sitting on the motor with the high speed crop off. I couldn't figure what was going wrong when my first job was shooting high school football. One minute, the running back is full frame; the next frame, it seems like he's knee up; the following image, and he's waist-up, coming at me full speed.

You should tweak your settings immediately. These Nikons are set to fire right out of the box, at point and shoot settings, so if you're clueless in Seattle, try just popping in a fresh battery, slipping on a Nikon AF lens, frame some subjects, and fire away. But you really want to set it yourself, right? The user settings seem much easier to manage than the Panasonic HVX200 camcorder, because of the thumb button settings, and a really cool cheat sheet with a "?" mark revealing whenever further explanation is stored within the menu. Panasonic (and any camera manufacturer that doesn't provide this vital feature in their high-end hardware) needs to rip a page out of this manual and follow suit, unless it's patented. If you don't understand the option in the menu that you sit on, and that question mark has popped up, just push and hold the corresponding button on the camera back and viola, an explanation about what the options mean.

Boring Color Tweaks

Rock taken at sRGB Version I.

Rock taken at sRGB Version II.

Rock taken at sRGB Version III.

Unpacking the new body from its box, the settings were pretty similar to the ones in the D2H. Setting the sensitivity down to ISO 100, I started shooting images of a boulder, in afternoon sunlight. But the images didn't have any pop in saturation. Keeping the settings on low contrast with the light setting on cloudy, a little experiment with the Adobe settings was done to grab similar images under different color profiles (yes, there's a "?" for that as well). For my tastes, I didn't care for the sRGB and kept the camera on Adobe, in color mode III. Do I understand the color profiles, other than what the camera tells me? Definitely, not. But I liked the saturation better with my current settings. Your tastes may differ.

Under the Stars

3216x2136 moonrise Raw untoned
Stars at moonrise, untoned image, directly from camera, 30 seconds at ISO 1600 (or HIGH1).

Using my settings on high contrast (altho I usually stick with low contrast for wider tonal range), I banged off some test images of some stars that impressed me while camped out in Chincoteague, VA. Putting a Sigma 10-20mm f/ 4-5.6 (a terrific piece of glass!) on the body, I ramped up the setting to ISO HIGH1, which is 1600 equivalent. Why don't they just call it 1600? Adding to that midnight clear night, 30 seconds of exposure, and high speed crop off, to take full advantage of the 10mm size, which has a lens magnification already in place with Nikons. Adding NR (noise reduction) only adds more write time which is a feature I turned back off, since that would lead to battery drain.

100pct zoom
Detail at 100%. The largest images are on my Flickr site.

Taking the camera to its limits (remember trying to shoot ANYTHING with a Nikon D1 series at night? If I have any images stored, I'll add them), I also pulled the file size back to small size and basic setting. And I was pretty darned impressed with what I saw, after being used to the loads of noise in previous Nikons (D2H, D2 and D1 series).

Tuba City Drive
Taken in the high-noise days with a D1H at ISO 800 where Lori Piestewa grew up in Tuba City, 2003.

I really wonder if adding NR will help or hurt in the long run. There are post-processing programs of all types out there. Simply dive into your camera's settings and try each one. And do one thing before changing your settings: make an audio recording of what you've done. Whatever is necessary, make sure to add that audio clip. The EXIF data that is like a thumb print of a picture file didn't have the ISO setting that I had used for the sequence I shot with the Sigma.

Firmware Upgrades, Old and New

Nikon has already released the ver. 2.00 D2Hs firmware upgrade, which add some options. It also has a firmware upgrade for the D2X, and people are whispering that the firmware brings the D2X to closely resemble the D2Xs! But if you choose to upgrade, you're on your own. I won't take responsibility if you screw it up. From what Jeff shared, it's worth adding the new firmware upgrades, and they are simple enough for both the Macintosh (you can tether the camera or drag/drop the file into an SD card, as long as it's recognized by the camera). As for Windows/Microsoft? I can't share any observations, since I'm Macintosh.

Nikon's website was simple enough with the information. You'd better keep your doggone camera on during the process, or you might have something like a paperweight, if the process is interrupted. I already did my D2Hs body, and there were 2 files, firmware A and firmware B, which took a couple minutes. Being a fidgeter with a camera in my hands, I was tempted to play with the buttons, but realized the danger and set it down, picking up a remote instead. Matter of fact, I have to download the D2Xs firmware, which is only about 1 megabyte.

Initial Thoughts
With the greater ISO range, bigger file size, and less noise, I'd say that I'm pretty happy with the D2Xs. It's still one loud camera, which makes it impossible to be ignored in a quiet room, unless the subject's way in their own world. And forget about catching the gremlins or Santa Claus; either one will bolt when hearing the clunk of the shutter. As I learn the camera's assets and limitations, I'll keep posting here. If I can find a way to make it a stand-alone section, I'll do that. The fact that there's an option for some double exposures is nice as well. Bring the film camera functions back into the digital age. It's just not nearly as fun doing it in Photoshop than doing it in-camera. Keep your eyes peeled for the D2H (I just got one, and will review that soon, as well) and other consumer-grade cameras (I keep hearing lots about the Nikon D200 and the Canon EOS 30D) that write very nice files with manageable quality in extreme conditions.

Get yourself some larger cards. Unless you'll be shooting a single frame of a rocket launch, you'll see how quickly a now-old 512 MB card can fill up with the camera settings on high file size and quality, let alone trying to shoot in RAW or TIFF. Try that in a 256 or 512 MB card, and your once-formidable CF card becomes tinky winky. If your card size isn't ready for the camera, set it temporarily until you get at least a 1GB, and perhaps a 2GB or larger card. That way, you can take advantage of the best image quality, instead of scaling it back, which then starts defeating the point of getting such a camera, in the first place.

But again, see where this is heading? The CD burn for storing files is way obsolete. Remember, CD's have now been used since the early 1980's. Their capacity was fine for the early computers. Just as we've outlived them, we're outliving the usefulness of CD data storage. At this stage, you'll start filling up 4.4GB DVD data disks, if you're shooting high resolution NEF and TIFF files, or if you're shooting several jobs in one day. So a nearby option may still be to start considering a now-expensive high-capacity disk burner and disks (BlueRay, HD DVD), or at the very least, a double-layer DVD burner. The 9GB disks are still pretty expensive, and their use will be temporary, since high definition media will be available for the masses when people start capturing video on HDTV cameras.

Friday, December 8, 2006


Isn't there a 1950's or '60s song titled, "Frustration"? If I had a voice, I'd be belting those tunes right now. That's been life behind the viewfinder of this camera.

No, I'm not about to give up. But I feel as though the world of change is coming pretty hard right now. Between learning (and remembering) all the settings of the HVX200 and trying to figure out how Final Cut Pro can be called "easy," I'm about to thrust my head through a brick wall. There they are, trying to show me how easy it is, and within 5 minutes, their words turn to mwah mwah mwah... reminding me of the teacher whose face you never see in the Charlie Brown TV specials (what was her name??)

It's frustrating. And it's also depressing. Shots that I've framed in the camera look good, but they just don't watch very well. You know, it's a bit like the viewfinder has the look of an Ansel Adams print. It's all right there. But when you look at what you've done, it looks so... amateur.

Dudley commented about my situation, today. "You're hitting a glass wall," he said. Right now, it's bullet-proof. Final Cut Pro looms ahead, as yet another thing I've got to master in short order, since I'll be shooting primarily video, some day. The HVX has 100 sub-menus, and I hate the way the camera doesn't keep its last-used settings. You turn it off, and you have to redo everything again. I've tried saving to an SD card, but I can't seem to figure the files' locations.

Somewhere online, I heard there was a website that has more information about the HVX menus, and I hope to some day create a section about that as well. Some parts of the menus are still out of my understanding, because work doesn't give enough time to let you learn new gear. It's just there and you've got to on-the-job it.

Another source of frustration is that so often, I've got to shoot stills of daily assignments. The HVX doesn't get used, which prevents me from getting a daily dose of training in the field. And with the daily jobs, I've been trying to shoot some movie footage. Yesterday, Bob revealed that he checked out some work I shot on a couple who help with a high school booster club.

"You didn't get enough to create a project," he said. That sounds like failure to me. I tried explaining that I had to shoot sports for deadline, and I didn't have time to work the boosters, which started 30 minutes before game time.

When things turn this way, my depression level balloons, and I feel as though it's gotten the size of a zeppelin. This is the first time in years that I've had self doubts. The frustration mounts. I'm not ready to hit the panic button, but I'm slowly running out of confidence.

Giving Them the Slip
Working on my small project didn't help my feelings that I've garnered some bad karma. In the field, capturing some footage of mass transit, I started wrapping up a shoot on North Av when a woman called to me across the tracks. "Sir, are you a Mass Transit employee?"

"No, I am not," I replied, and figured that was a good enough clue that perhaps I wasn't welcome there anymore. Knocking down the tripod, I packed the gear into my albino Honda and started to leave. Driving past the white SUV, there were MTA placards on the doors. And the woman, who was outside, ran back to get into the vehicle as I passed. "Do you want me to do a 'one-eighty'?" was the quote running through my silly head from Kevin Costner's "The Bodyguard," as I slowed to a stop at the traffic light, with the MTA employee right behind me. We turned right to head east and she followed my change to the left turn lane at Mt Royal Avenue, as I simply wanted to get out of there and hit the Jones Falls Expressway. With a traffic light making a long cycle, I sounded like a broken record: "Change, light. Change, light!"

West of the traffic light, rolling with lights and sirens, a police vehicle headed my way, blowing the light and breezing past me, turning left into the MTA stop. It was an MTA police! Just then, the light goes green, and I do a one-eighty, making a legal U-turn to take that highway ramp. The light turns from green to amber, and I've already made up my mind. Damn the red light cameras, full speed ahead! Fortunately, another SUV that had made a right on red at Mt Royal had gotten behind me, and created a classic basketball screen, stopping for the red light as my turtle bopped on the ramp. Of course, in my state of mind, rampant thoughts of fantastic possibilities ran through my head:

Is there an APB out for me?
Has Baltimore raised their terror level?
Will the MTA police come banging on my door as I sleep?
Have they sent my name to a federal watch list?
Will someone secure a warrant and use a ram to check my home while I'm away?

With all those wild scenarios floating through my head, I later returned (after downloading my clips), and saw an MTA employee sitting in his Explorer truck. Explaining what happened, I had hoped that he might call the police, to allay my fears. "I'm sorry, sir," he responded, "but we're forbidden to talk with the media."

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Panasonic HVX200 Shoot: Invasion of the Jaggies!

Steve is shredded by the camera through an effect called "jaggies."

I didn't even plan on writing about this, but video jaggies were on my mind.

I had made a cheat sheet to help me figure on-the-fly about avoiding "jaggies," which are the video artifacts you see during camera shake, or when there's a jolting of the camera during shooting. It's an ugly-looking phenomenon, and I was bitten during a shoot this past summer, during a barbecue contest.

Mmmmm. Barbecue. Oh - anyway, while powering up the HVX200, I had started shooting in a native format, which was set in the menu at 24PN, shot at 480, interlaced. The footage looked all right, but I didn't hear any sound while shooting Steve, who was part of the taking part in the 2006 Bel Air Barbecue challenge. So I switched to 30P at 480i, which finally gave me some audio.

I played back the new clip, and heard the audio, but noticed the picture looked...just a little ragged. Thinking it was perhaps the fault of the stock flip-open screen, I kept shooting, until I had 32 minutes of SDTV (standard definition) footage, so I retreated to my albino turtle to transfer the files onto my PowerBook, which can actually play the files at that size. But double-checking on the clips, I didn't like what I shot, one bit.

The jaggies had invaded my footage! Those interlaced erect tentacles that look like perfectly-parallel lightning bolts were embedded in every clip I had shot. Somewhere along the line, I needed to work something out. But I had little time, since a deadline loomed. Onward I pressed, shooting what I could as quickly as possible to finish out the next 32 minutes of clips.

Returning to my car, I figured that a nice crib sheet was in order. It could rest as desktop wallpaper for a while, until I could memorize what was needed. The image could then be stored in the wallpapers folder for future reference.

Finally setting the recording function to 30P at 720 progressive, I shot the rest in progressive high definition with sound, but could only capture 8 minutes of footage, since my 4GB P2 cards could only store 8 gigs total, since each minute of 720P footage needs 1 gigabyte of space. But the HD footage can be turned into "filmout," which translates into frame grabbing, in my case. (It really means processing the file into footage that will be exposed on culluloid film.)


Frustrated by not remembering the correct settings I wanted, I sat down after work and color-coded files to give myself a crib sheet so that I could look at a glance at my desktop if I ever needed to refresh my memory, or positively verify the right settings before a shoot. I just color-coded the files that gave good results in green, while the jagged edge videos were tagged red. The blue is just desktop color.


Well, that's all, all. I've gotta get home to crash and burn. Right now it's tough, because I'm waiting for the multicolored balls to stop rolling in Google, which tells me that they'ye gotten my footage. I'm also working on a project that needs completion perhaps by the end of the week. And I'll try to remember to write about some feedback that my boss, Bob recently shared.

It wasn't praise.

I leave you, hopefully, feeling a hunger pang, since I'm posting a detail shot and a clip it was lifted from, of commercially-grilled BBQ ribs (the one's the contestants serve the public). Enjoy! And return soon; I plan on posting some video of this shoot as well, to show the effects of jaggies, and how it looks when you've set the camera properly.

Down-rezzed clip from 720P HD of commercially-grilled ribs.

Still image lifted from the video clip above, which was shot in 720P high definition.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Upgrading Your Camera System? Plan Wisely!

Further Website Reading:

CompactFlash (CF Card) official site
Secure Digital (SD Card) official site
Minolta SRT-101 film camera information
Pentax K1000 film camera information

Storage Issues

Writing our digital images to CD media for storage are increasingly not the best option, since we've upgraded our cameras from the Nikon D70/D100/ D2H bodies to the D200/D2Hs/D2Xs cameras. The new bodies write such large file sizes, that it's getting more difficult to burn anything but a DVD data disk to store the raw images these produce. And what do we do with raw HD movie clips, when they record at a gigabyte per minute? This demonstrates that higher-capacity storage gear (like DVD burners and HD/DVD, BluRay disks and servers) have to be added to archive the larger files you'll write. That's the big issue as cameras now are built to document scenes in higher and better definition. That's one of the many issues you have to consider even before purchasing these newer cameras, like an HD camcorder and still cameras, even the more affordable ones.

What Fits?
Before diving into the options for purchasing replacement gear, don't lose sight of your most important option: Purchase the gear that fits what you're shooting for. If you plan on capturing family pictures or video to share with family and friends, do you need something that can bang off 8 frames per second? The camera prices tend to ramp up depending on the build quality. Therefore, gauge your purchase point based on the amount of shooting you wish to do as well as the image quality. And that means that the most crucial investment in camera gear should be the lenses. One can capture a tack-sharp image with the digital and film cameras being produced, as long as first-rate glass stands between your subject and the captured image. Always bear in mind that all a truly great camera must do is remain consistent, and most camera systems do just that. Google such terms as digital lens quality, camera optics, and other words or phrases that relate to lens reviews, since many worthwhile articles and lens tests have already been archived after being published in magazines and websites. Visit photo-specific sites, making certain that you weigh your decision against others' recommendations, understanding that some sites may actually be driven by a camera manufacturer instead of by independent reviewers.

Camera Cards
Scanning quickly through the Canon line of cameras, for instance, entry-level digital SLR's can produce 12.8 megapixel jpegs, while big papa EOS-1Ds Mark II can shoot a 16.7 megapixel image at 4 fps. With the capability of capturing raw images as well, camera users will be filling their 1-gigabyte cards up really fast. So, CF cards (CompactFlash), SD cards (Secure Digital) and other recordable/rewritable camera media need larger capacity, or you'll be spending more time pausing during your photo shoot, just to download your filled memory cards. Try buying higher-capacity cards, and you'll see the seemingly endless names and sizes of cards being introduced. You may want to go to the official CompactFlash and Secure Digital sites to sort through the confusion. While searching Google online, you'll quite often see many camera cards being sold at more affordable prices. Are they reliable? Will they also write fast enough to keep up with the camera you're interested in, at its fastest shooting speed? Will these cards be compatible with your camera? Those are questions that the prospective buyer must answer, in order to make a sound and logical decision before making a commitment to buy. And there's new technology on the horizon as solid state media has to perform faster than all the cameras being released.

Forward Compatibility
Quite often, we make purchases before taking a look at the needed accessories under consideration. Just because you purchase the same camera system, a new body may not be forward-compatible with some camera accessories you have in your arsenal. Several years ago, for instance, the Nikon D1-model bodies were being sold at discount in order to make way for the D2 system. The new cameras were built with updated electronic flash integration, making the flash units on the D1 line obsolete with new models. There are so many bodies within the Canon and Nikon digital systems that it can make your head swim. Camera manufacturers from Agfa to Toshiba are releasing digital cameras of all types, with more features that will make buyers more confused than ever! The only way to keep your mind focused is to ask yourself what you really want your camera to do.

Don't get Frustrated
A new body or system takes unlearning the hardware and/or firmware from what you've gotten used to using. Cameras are like automobiles. While you've adjusted to its qualities and shortcomings, the realist inside knows that you're living on limited use with what you have, since each day begins to test your comfort level as you're outgrowing your gear. Each day you still have your old gear, it slowly depreciates in value. Some people like to update their equipment regularly, which yields more money from your old equipment. One brand of equipment has better resale value, while another depreciates more quickly. Don't ask me which, though, because my gear is issued by work!

Patience, Patience
A good number of people have said that purchasing any new camera system will cost twice the amount of the retail cost of the cameras alone, in order to completely upgrade gear. For instance, with the addition of the AG-HVX200 camcorder (which was purchased in June), there are still several critical pieces of equipment that still need to be purchased to be able to maintain a smooth workflow from shooting footage to archiving the files. Be honest with yourself, in order to make the jump a successful one. Rushing too quickly to upgrade can make your daily work quite frustrating. Perhaps you've noticed that I had no recommendations. That's because you must make your own decision, by asking and answering your questions and researching all the options you have.

A Sadder Note
There are currently, about 25 DSLR bodies available from the larger and more popular camera manufacturers, in my estimation, that are currently in production in the U.S. market. But there are less, now, than I had originally thought. Konica and Minolta, who had joined together a number of years ago, had ceased production of their camera business, since March 31, 2006 according to their website. They also plan to slowly phase out their color film and photographic paper products, completing complete termination by the end of March next year, 2007. There is no longer official support for their film cameras, but their digitals are being supported by Sony. Do some of you remember learning photography with the 35mm film work horses, the Minolta SRT-101 and the Pentax K1000? Many schools purchased those cameras since they were durable and affordable. All you needed was a roll of film and hands to adjust and fire the camera. No beeps, color displays, or worries about dead batteries (as long as you could estimate the exposure) or even a light to moderate rain. Those cameras were so sturdy, it seemed like they could be used to actually hammer nails.

You know, I'm going to hunt for both of those cameras on eBay.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Lumix FZ30 Shoot: Hybrid Movie Clip From Video, Still Files

Software info:
Apple Quicktime
Hardware Review:
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30
Also, check out my own review here.

It's about time to start the "trial and error" phase of joining still images, movie clips and audio!

Writing from Glen Burnie, I'm trying something else with the Lumix FZ30. I shot some low-resolution images and I'm currently pasting the images together and then splicing the movie files for a walk-around of my albino Honda sea turtle.

Getting bored with driving up and down Route 2, trying to find one of those fake trees for the holiday (NOT for me; for my best friend and my godchildren), I gave up on the effort and turned to learning the cut and paste process. Hopping out of the albino, I grabbed the Lumix and started shooting some stills in the "" (unlimited shooting) setting. Dropping the camera's resolution rate back to the smallest "EZ" setting and switching the jpeg size to the smallest available, I began by making a movie file in-camera.

Holding my position, I turned the camera to "shutter priority," which was set on 1/25th second, the closest shutter speed that matches the movie camera frame rate (1/24th second). Grabbing a bunch of images as I started moving my position, I walked to the side of the car, stooped shooting stills, and switched again to shoot a small movie clip. The process of shooting still images (at about 2 frames/second or so), switching to a movie clip, and back to stills continued for the walk-around, until I was behind my car, with a trickle of battery power to spare. Adding a short bit of footage to finish, I burrowed back in the Panera Bread, which has wi-fi for free, for a little web-surfing at cable speed.

Joined Still image movie clip
Opening the finder and clicking on the still images, each image size was 2048 pixels wide, while my movie rate is 640 pixels wide! So, there will be several layers of post-production to make the still movies and movie clips all the same pixel size.

Being a still photographer for my whole adult life and still learning about things like iMovie and Quicktime Pro, here's the method I went through (and my processor is still cranking out down-conversion while I write):

  • Copy the files to the desktop.
  • Mark the movie clips to visually exclude them.
  • Create folders and drag all the sequenced still images into each one.
  • Using Quicktime Pro, make image sequences out of images in each folder.
  • Using iSquint, resize the movie file from current size (2048x1536) to 640x480, the same size of the movie clips.
  • Since the new files are .mp4 (for iPod video), open in Quicktime and save as .mov files.
  • Drop all the smaller clips in iMovie and place them in order.
  • Export all the sequences into one movie.

FZ30 Movie Clip frame grab
Desktop screenshot of the file size of a Quicktime movie, shot as a movie file with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30. Dimension size for the movie clip is NTSC standard, 640x480, and the clip length is only 19 seconds while the size of the clip is 22.7 MB.

The final file size was 78.2 megs and 2'00", so I optimized the file for posting online, by running it back through iSquint for Macintosh OS X. The desktop screenshot of the file size of a Quicktime movie, joined through the iSquint proggie, using still images and movie clips. Original file size, once at over 200 MB, is dropped to 14MB for 2 minutes of footage. I've been using it more and more as a movie clip resizing tool since I also have a video iPod, and the quality of the resized clips are decent enough, while the program is very stable:

Final FZ30 Test Clip Size

Yup, that's a lot of steps, and I haven't even gotten to the audio portion yet! As I learn Final Cut and Macromedia Flash, PostProd is certain (hopefully) to be streamlined. The next thing to learn is adding audio to the still-image movie files. So far, I haven't gotten any royalty-free music, but I tried adding some of the iMovie sound effects (like the revving engine) and haven't figured that out. And I'm getting frustrated tonight, so I'm ready to shut this down. With more work in post, you can bet that audio like cool music will be added, as I begin mastering multimedia production.

HVX200 Footage: I'm Trying a Google Video Post

I've been behind the 8-ball with work! On my way out, I noticed that the Google videos seem to look better than YouTube, so I'm trying a post to see what the Google upload looks like. I hope to write more in the next couple days!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

HVX200 Video! Plus, There's Always Something I Forget...

Stage fright.
You may get over it, but you never forget it.

I just finished with the guest speakers at McDaniel College in Westminster, MD, and I still get nervous when all eyes stare back at me! Terry Dalton, who has hosted the annual event in which professionals - mainly from different news-gathering entities - visit his class to share information about their field of work.

I had told Terry back in the summer that I had a surprising presentation and couldn't wait for November, yet I actually had nothing in hand to show. Usually, the talk would revisit the year's work. Last year, I shared my images from Hurricane Katrina and the Indonesian tsunami. This year, I felt my work was seriously lacking, since I've been swamped with learning the HVX200.

Being stoked about the shift towards multimedia journalism, called "the voice in the story," I gathered some finished work from some of the staff. Algerina's sound slides of the Basilica, Monica's work on Factor VII, David Hobby's images of a tree in the fall, and Chiaki's piece about the Pleasant family's double-whammy cancer fight were some pieces short and good enough to send a message. I saved Barb's project on Recher Rock for last, just to let the class watch a little about indie bands.

The message was the same that I learned months ago: don't just be a photographer. Or a camera operator. Or a reporter, or audio technician, gathering for radio. Do all of those things, and learn through practice. Being sure to make eye contact, I didn't let the students know that I'm actually introverted. Well, I did hint at that, when sharing the fact that I feel more comfortable behind the camera, silently documenting others.

Maryland Terrapins' DJ Strawberry hustles and dives after ball!!

Ending the chat with some HVX footage of a basketball and a cool clip I shot at a Maryland Terrapins game (which is WAY down-rezzed by the YouTube folks, but I hope you still can enjoy it), a couple of those listening seemed a bit in disbelief that people are actually doing well by creating multimedia projects and blogging online. One, who stayed after class, picked my brain about the concept.

Everyone in her class has taken photos. With the cameras of today, anyone can take a pretty darn good image, if they work on it. Regarding the hybrid cameras, just a couple of clicks on the dial, and your still digital can instantly begin capturing sound and video. So, if you have any kind of light budget (or know someone who wants to loan you the gear) you can put a hybrid camera in your hot mitts and start teaching yourself about how to document the world around you.

The important thing I failed to share was that a web visitors can be limitless. Instead of showing your product to your friends, you now have an audience that's worldwide (depending on internet access and whether any particular country will allow your work to be accessed). Newspapers have always trained their sights on local coverage. But the web allows for worldwide viewing of whatever might be published. So if a newspaper's subscription total was 250,000, locally, it would be seen by an estimated 500,000 people.

On the web, there are billions of people online, and the viewers are growing in numbers, so there will always be an audience, until or unless the web decides to stop or change. No one can even fathom that happening, so the only one stopping you, is you. The web has opened the whole world to those who can access it. And it lets you and I be our own journalists, columnists, publicists, critics, managing editors and publishers. That's why big media has stumbled. People now have the ability to cover each other. Instead of waiting for the local news at 6pm, or the next day's paper,you and I can simply post it online ourselves. CNN and Fox have been getting their news clips and information from daily blogs and YouTube posts. The infamous video of "Kramer" Richards losing control? It was captured by an audience member's cell phone.

Find your niche and work on it. Whether it's a sport (or love of one), a hobby, a particular rant you care to vent, or the latest bad driver that carelessly drove past you, remember the most important thing: many people are just like you, and feel the same way. And they're currently Googling phrases that you could have already been writing about.

Looking for Santa
Conor gazes into the night, his eyes trying to spot Santa and Mrs. Claus.

As for this blog entry, much of it was written in the parking lot of a Cactus Willie's during some down time between jobs. The rest was finished here, at a Panera Bread in north Baltimore, after I transmitted pictures of 4-year-old Conor, searching the skies for Santa at a tree lighting ceremony. So, keep your laptop with you, at all times; at some moment, you may suddenly get the urge to fire up your PowerBook and pound your keyboard during a brainstorm.

Don't give up on your passion if no one flocks to your site at first. If you want that, you have to expose your site and make it searchable and easily-accessed. That's one reason why I've switched from MySpace, since they require membership, just to view a person's page.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Review: Panasonic AG-HVX200


Equipment and software reference for this post:

Panasonic AG-HVX200 HD Camcorder (review)
Red Camera 4x Digital Super 35mm Camcorder (info)
Panasonic AG-DVx100 Camcorder (review)
Hybrid, multiformat camera (list)
Canon EOS 1DS Mkii (review)
Nikon D2XS (improvements)
Final Cut Pro 5 (review)
Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD (info)

We just received a Panasonic AG-HVX200 DVCPro HD camcorder and I tell you, it's got more menus than a powerhouse Chinese restaurant. It's not for people who enjoy the pyro-friendly camera; there are menus with the depth of a 15-layer cake. The reason is because the camera can be configured into over 100 different ways of shooting!

The HVX200 gives the new user a challenge to sink or swim, because it thrusts you into deep water. If you've ever shot with the DVX100, you'll adapt to the HVX quite well, from other reviews I've read. Being a still shooter for a major city daily newspaper, we're moving towards high definition gear to shoot movie clips and pull frames for news print. With this in mind, the camera's color retention are quality. But I wish the configs were a bit simpler. It's taken months of time to learn this new format of news-gathering, but I see the potential with this gear.

One big drawback that I see is that the menu buttons are on top of the camera, beside and beneath the handle. Try shooting in the field and change your recording format, and it's an awkward feat to accomplish, since you're looking through the viewfinder (or watching the fold-out screen) as you scroll through the layers to figure which is the best recording format.


Would I consider giving this camera up? Hail, no. It's a powerful tool, and the result is what the image quality is about. The color shift with reds and greens and blues are minimal, unlike other samples from competing cameras that I have seen. This, coupled with the ability to drop files into a PowerBook with Final Cut Pro makes it a fast and efficient companion to get files changed to .mov format to drop them into ftp for web publication.


Delete unwanted files as you record. Drop the files onto a hard drive and wipe your P2 card to shoot some more. But you'd better have your software and hardware in order before you plunk down $6,000 retail,, just for the camera (and no mounted boom microphone - sold as an acc). A 4gb card sells $600, the optional 100gb Firestore costs $2,000 (which is about the same price as a couple 8gb P2 cards), Final Cut Pro 5 costs $1,000, and you aren't even talking about the need for a GOOD fluid head tripod ($500), wireless microphone system ($700), Blu-Ray or HD/DVD burner (for the multitude of gigs of recording files), extra batteries and perhaps a large external drive to store clips as you figure how to keep all the hundreds of gigs of files from overloading all your open drive space. The HVX eats drive space like a great white eats people. It doesn't think, it just does, and at up to a gigabyte per minute.


Even with working for a newspaper, we still have to adjust our budget royally to get what's needed for one HVX camera. Add filters and a 4x4 filter system and, yeesh. Or, kerching. It's bling bling for the developers, while you've just spent the same amount for your camera, just to get it up, and running.

**Rule of thumb, boys and girls: plan to spend double the camera's cost to outfit a system; aka, you'll have to fork out over $11,000 to effectively shoot in the field and edit in-house.**


For those in the pro field, it's probably worth it. For the casual user, or someone just getting into indie film making or trying to make money off the business, it might be worth it to wait. The HVX200 is a groundbreaking camera, like digital cameras revolutionized photography. Tapeless production will be adopted and will change the face of video production in the coming years. The price will drop as others compete for market share.


Hopping on the new gear bandwagon can kill your budget. Think about it: If you plunk the five grand for the camera alone, and it happens to be updated or significantly changed, you suddenly have a dinosaur on your hands. Some suggest that you should get the gear whenever you're ready, and I tend to actually subscribe to this. The big question you should ask yourself is, when do you truly feel you're fully in the market for such gear? Because there are already more significant gains being created and developed now, that are making this equipment primed for obsolescence. The Red Camera, for instance, can shoot digital Super 35mm movies, which add up to 12 megapixels per frame. Its projected cost is $17,500, while it claims to shoot in UHD (ultra high definition) that could be more than the best high definition sets can ever project. But the interesting thing is that such quality is perhaps, better than the Nikon D2HS and D2XS, including some of the Canon digital 35mm cameras.


Technological history very well should follow the same pattern: Technology results in price cuts as the first generation UHD cameras yield to next-generation camcorders, with subsequent models achieving better quality, more compact sizes, and deeper price cuts. So I plan to go on a limb and predict that the UHD camera will become widely available within the next 5-7 years. The price cuts will drop the retail cost to somewhere in the $7,000 window.

So, here's where the clash will come:
  1. $7,300, the Canon EOS 1DS Mkii, with a 35mm full frame CMOS sensor, shooting 4 frames/second for up to 32 shots before it must pause to write.
  2. $4,700, the Nikon D2XS, with a 12.4Mp, shooting 5 fps in full size mode, with a 60-frame buffer at cropped mode (8 fps, too).
  3. Many entry-level cameras are gaining popularity as hybrid cameras, able to shoot stills or video, on the fly.
  4. More and more people will want to see high quality video on their high definition monitors, which are also gaining popularity, just like video.
  5. The HD and UHD camcorders, dropping in price, will gain critical options, like interchangeable lens systems.

traffic light

We're on the edge of a big and sweeping change in the next generation of hybrid cameras, which currently boast decent still image quality with a wide zoom range (between 8x and 12x, average) while able to capture standard definition movie files with sound, at 640x480. As these hybrids get ramped up to their own next-generation quality, the widescreen format will be addressed in the video files, while the quality issue MUST be addressed in order for them to be considered as the NTSC television sets are phased out and HDTV is phased in. This means that the video quality must shoot in some kind of HDTV, either 1280x720, or 1920x1080.


The issue we faced was that it was time back in March, to choose a camcorder that shoots in high-def. At the time, the HVX200 was the choice, and we've ordered another one since. The time to choose is now, but it's wrong to speculate and wait, when you're ready to purchase. You have to go with a choice, because there will always be gear waiting in the wings, ready to replace the most brand-spanking new gear that just replaced the latest obsolete equipment.

In closing, here are some clickable thumbs, shot in different resolutions from NTSC standard (640x480) to HDTV (1920x1080).

mans-best-friend Shoot voting 1080i-72dpi-a navy-tight DEMOLITION19P3 waiting bromo-tower country-rail-fence 1920x1080-200dpi worker lamp vertical-volleyball casting

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving, to You.

Please enjoy yourselves today, as best as you can. We get so caught up in our own lives that sometimes, we neglect thinking of others who are struggling with their lives, in one form or fashion. Please think about helping someone in need. Reach out and share your thanks, to help someone else smile.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Lumix FZ30 Shoot: First Video Embed; Frame Stills & Still Photo

These stills are frames from digital movie clips with the Panasonic FZ30. At the bottom is a comparison between the footage and an HQ still image, shot with the same camera.

Short Clip shot with the Lumix DMC-FZ30

As I wait for the accessories to start coming in for the HVX200, I'm training myself to learn how to creatively shoot digital film clips with the Lumix FZ30. It's actually a terrific starter camera for those considering video, considering it was around $500 new. It should be less, now that the FZ50 has been introduced. By allowing the user to switch between digital still and movie, an interesting process can be exploited.

Panasonic FZ30 footage clip: dashboard
Mac drives as the camera shoots from the dashboard.

I decided to record a subject who plans to design an ethanol plant, which forced me to work around a rather constricting location: his pickup truck. Mac drove his Dodge through the wind and rain of a strong nor'easter as we headed south towards Pocomoke City on the southeastern corner of Maryland. In that time, I shot about 25 minutes of footage while Mac shared the plans and vision of the plant.

Lumix FZ30 Footage: turning
The portability of the FZ30, working in the footwell.

But I also didn't want to conduct the interview outside for several reasons. First, it was a soaking, cold rain outside, and I had already begun feeling that tingly sensation in my throat, showing that I'm getting ill. I'm also using a camera with no external microphone, whose mic is built onto the upper left portion of the camera body, facing up.

Panasonic FZ30 footage clip: hand
A little hand detail captured while Mac speaks.

Remembering an important tip given by Brian Storm, I chose to let Mac speak about the ethanol process from inside the cabin of his truck, which is actually a truly great location to conduct an audio recording. The closed doors seal out much unwanted noise, and the interior creates a sound dampening room as the voice is absorbed, rather than reflected. The interior of such a tight space can be a challenge for someone who wants to express a creative side, but practicing the effort can yield better composition, creating visually appealing scenes by looking beyond the obvious.

Panasonic FZ30 footage clip:  eyes
A tight shot as Mac focuses on his destination.

The obvious scenes are capturing your subject from the position of the passenger. Shoot that way for more than a couple minutes, and the viewer will get pretty bored, because that turns the subject into nothing more than a talking head. They may as well stand behind a podium. Capturing such a perspective exclusively constricts your own vision, blinding you to other opportunities that can make the package fresh and appealing. Give your viewers angles that they haven't seen. Adding those unusual perspectives can heighten your audiences' interest, making them want to see what angle might fill the next scene.

Panasonic FZ30 footage clip: rain
Rain pelts the window while the FZ30 gathers audio.

What I love about a hybrid camera like the Lumix is that you can see composition by shooting digital stills. The FZ30 has the option to shoot still images in 3 formats: 4x3, 3x2, and 16x9. These are all formats currently in use in standard television, widescreen HDTV, commercial movie cinema, and 35mm film.

Panasonic FZ30 footage clip: mirror
Mac, framed in his rear view, rides to destination.

Switch between the 3 still formats and see how your composition changes. It's a mind-altering experience, because you now have a scene-capturing camera that acts as 4 different cameras at the switch of a preference or a dial. You'll see how composition really matters, depending on the format. If you don't adjust between format sizes, you will wind up wasting vital space (I'll try to remember writing about cropping in a later blog).

Lumix FZ30 Footage: pickup
A frame from the short, 7-second clip above.

By shooting footage, you may even be inspired to shooting some stills, switching your camera over to take some pictures, which happened to me, when we headed up to a farm that was purchased for the plant. I recorded him the first time we drove towards the farm, but wanted some still images, because the visual style I honed in on while shooting footage gave me some ideas to shoot the stills I needed.

Panasonic FZ30 footage clip: farm
Mac explains the proposed site, outside.

The majority of the footage was inside his truck, and Mac apologized for the bad weather, thinking it wouldn't make for a good camera day. But my opinion was that the situation presented itself well for a successful shoot, even though only a minute or so was spent physically on the property, outside his truck. After writing a caption for my Flickr page, I see now why the frame fits the subject.

Panasonic FZ30 footage clip: mirror
Frame still from footage while driving to the site...

Lumix FZ30 Still Photo: still-farm
...yields this portrait, which makes people look more.

The image captures a different-style portrait of Mac, a traveling man who was given the assignment to find a viable site for an ethanol plant. Photographing him outside made him look more like the owner of the place. Seeing this image and analyzing it, Mac is separated from the site by glass, sitting where he's best known to be: always on the go. As his task winds down, he plans to tow the portable trailer that he's lived in, back to Richmond.