Bruce A Johnson – ProVideo Coalition http://www.provideocoalition.com A Moviola Company Tue, 21 Feb 2017 14:31:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.2 http://provideocoalition.moviola.netdna-cdn.com/app/uploads/cropped-Moviola-Favicon-2016-32x32.png Bruce A Johnson – ProVideo Coalition http://www.provideocoalition.com 32 32 Blackmagic Designs Ursa Mini 4.6k with the B4 Lens Adapter http://www.provideocoalition.com/blackmagic-designs-ursa-mini-4-6k-b4-lens-adapter/ http://www.provideocoalition.com/blackmagic-designs-ursa-mini-4-6k-b4-lens-adapter/#comments Wed, 08 Feb 2017 04:21:53 +0000 http://www.provideocoalition.com/?p=45336 NOTE:  Please go to the addenda box at the end of the article to read about an embarrassing mistake and credits for all the help I got in creating this article. Fair warning:  If you are here to get a full, top-to-bottom review of the Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6k camera, I’m afraid you’ll be a

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NOTE:  Please go to the addenda box at the end of the article to read about an embarrassing mistake and credits for all the help I got in creating this article.

Fair warning:  If you are here to get a full, top-to-bottom review of the Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6k camera, I’m afraid you’ll be a bit disappointed.  I’ll get into that a little bit, but in reality I’m more inclined to examine a specific use-case scenario of the Ursa Mini with an accessory – the B4 lens adapter.

A B4 ENG lens mounted to the Blackmagic Designs Ursa Mini 4.6k camera

First, let’s define our terms.  What is a B4 lens?  Specifically, it is a lens most commonly mounted to electronic news gathering (ENG) video cameras, usually working with 2/3” imaging chips.  It is also a zoom lens, with varying degrees of wide-angle and close-up capability.  As a TV photographer for the last 35 years, I have become intimately familiar with the workings of both the B4 lens and the cameras they attach to.  On the other hand, the Ursa Mini 4.6k camera features a Super 35-sized chip, which is far larger than 2/3”.

 

 

 

(Side note:  In case you were wondering, it is the size of the imaging chip – in conjunction with properly-paired lenses – that makes ultra-short depth of field possible. Of course, there are other factors involved, including the F-stop your lens is operating at, but as a rule of thumb: Larger the chip, shorter the DOF. )

The beauty of the B4 ENG lens is simply this:  It is “parfocal,” which means that – when properly adjusted – you can zoom the lens from the wide end to the zoom end and stay in sharp focus every millimeter of the way.  In my experience, very few if any DSLR lenses offer anything close to this functionality.  I was recently on a shoot with a Canon C100 and a zoom lens, and I had a sudden epiphany – the reason you see so many DSLR shooters racking their focus in the middle of shots is because they have to – they zoomed in or out and the focus went soft. Canon, Fujinon and others have recently brought ENG-style large-format lenses to market, but with the exception of the around-$6000-with-handgrip Canon CNE 18-80mm, their prices are north of $20,000 – some over $70,000.

So, why have I come to this particular place?  I have to figure that a lot (if not the majority) of today’s DSLR shooters have never used a camera with a B4 lens on it.  If your production is in any kind of a hurry – and believe me, at any TV station, you are always in a hurry – the idea of carrying several limited focal range lenses and constantly swapping them out is just not practical in any way, not to mention that quite often you are a one-man band.  These days, I’m thrilled to have an audio person with me, and I can count on one hand the times I’ve had a focus puller, and never a lens wrangler. But even at that, there is no doubt that the future is coming, and incredibly capable camera bodies cost a mere pittance of what a camera cost as recently as ten years ago.  Is there a bridge for the B4 lens owner to make great HD pictures today, have the ergonomics and flexibility a true shoulder-mount camera offers, and have a path to the 4K future?

You can say a lot of things about Blackmagic Designs, but one word that will always crop up is “imaginative.”  The make a wide range of products, some great, some OK, but they do seem to be always striving to fill a need.  I will confess that I was very disappointed when they announced several cameras, including the Ursa, Ursa Mini, and Studio Camera, all featuring chipsets that could not natively take advantage of the thousands of B4 lenses that are out in the field.

 

 

Well, at least in the case of the Ursa Mini, they have addressed that problem with the B4 Lens Adapter.

 

 

 

 
To test the adapter, Blackmagic sent me an Ursa Mini, the ENG-style viewfinder, and the shoulder mount (all three parts are sold separately.)  A very forward-thinking inclusion on the Ursa Mini is a jack that you can plug the B4 lens cable into, which supplies power for the power zoom and iris controls.  I borrowed two B4 lenses from my employer, Wisconsin Public Television.  One was a fairly standard-issue Canon HJ17ex7.6B lens, with a zoom range from 7.6mm to 130mm, and the other is my favorite lens of all time, a wide-angle Canon J11EX4.5, with a range from 4.5mm to 50mm.  (Both lenses have built-in 2x extenders as well.)  The longer lens is found on Blackmagic’s approved lens chart, while the wide-angle is not; however, I didn’t see any ill effects from using it on the Ursa Mini.  Unfortunately, what was not included with the Ursa Mini was any kind of battery mounting device, so my actual testing was limited to the distance I could stray from a wall socket.  That oversight also required a bit of estimation as to the feel of the camera on my shoulder.  The first thing you sense when you pick up the Ursa Mini is “Hey! This thing is HEAVY!”

Wisconsin Public Television videographer Mike Eicher tries out the Ursa Mini.

But surprisingly, it’s not so much heavy as it is dense.  This thing is a chunk of METAL. (Magnesium, to be exact.) With the viewfinder, shoulder mount and the wide-angle lens on it, the Ursa Mini weighed in at about 14.5 pounds – add another two or three pounds for a lithium V-mount or Anton-Bauer battery on the back and that’s still several pounds lighter than the 2/3” ENG cameras that are common today.  Without the battery, the Ursa Mini was nose-heavy, but adding a battery would go a long way towards fixing that issue.  The shoulder pad slides fore and aft about 4 inches to personalize the balance to your situation.

 

Another nice design touch is found on the bottom of the shoulder mount.  There is a triangular wedge milled into the base that is designed to connect directly to the tripod plate on what we’ve always called a “Sony mount.”  In practice, it took some cajoling to lock in securely, but I’m sure that would get easier over time as the parts wear in.  (The “Sony-mount” tripod plate is not included in the shoulder-mount package.)

Blackmagic Design seems to pride themselves on what is often called “OOBE” – the “out-of-box-experience.” When you open the Ursa Mini box, you are first greeted with a small cardboard folder with an SDHC chip in it.  The chip contains the manual as a PDF file and an Ursa camera app.  I opened the manual and started paging through the menus on the 5” fold-out LED touchscreen.  Imagine my surprise when the menu pictures in the manual didn’t match the ones on the touchscreen at all!  After a little bit of head-scratching, I decided to run the Ursa camera app.  It turns out that the app’s singular function is to check if you are running the latest software – and I was not. A few minutes and a software flash later, things made a little more sense.

It’s important to remember that even though the Ursa Mini 4.6k has a Super 35-sized sensor, a B4 lens can only illuminate a small part of that.

Insert a 16:9 rectangle in the middle of that circle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(There is an field-of-view calculator at http://www.abelcine.com/fov/ that illustrates this issue beautifully.)

In the Ursa Mini menus there is a “windowing” option that essentially turns off the part of the chip that is not in use, magnifies the image to fill the monitors, and records the signal at 1920×1080 pixels.  This means that your depth-of-field is not going to be nearly as shallow as it would be with a Super 35 lens.  Still, if you keep your iris open and zoom in on your subject (by staying a bit farther away) it’s not hard to approximate the short-DOF look with a B4 lens.  There is no neutral density filter wheel on the Ursa Mini, but by adjusting the ASA, the shutter angle and using external ND filters, it’s not too hard to keep that iris open wide and your DOF short.

To a seasoned TV shooter, the display and language of the Ursa Mini will take a bit of getting used to.  For example, instead of gain in dB, the Ursa Mini offers ASA ratings (with ASA800 as the preferred setting.)  White balance is not achieved by pointing the camera at a white card and hitting the “white balance” button, but instead you have to select the Kelvin temperature manually from a range that runs from 2500 to 8000k.  Even more unusual is “shutter angle,” which is most analogous on an ENG camera to the “shutter speed” switch.  It has been several years since I found any reason to use the “shutter speed” switch on my ENG cameras, and that’s because tube-based computer monitors are almost completely gone from offices – a little manipulation of the shutter speed on the camera could often lose the roll-bar caused by odd monitor refresh rates.  On the other hand, shutter angle in film is often used to create a mood of heightened awareness or action – the D-Day landing from Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” is the poster child for narrow shutter angle.

Before color correction…

In my testing, I found the Ursa Mini to be a camera that needs a lot of light.  Even with the shutter angle at 360 degrees, a subject lit with a 650 watt tungsten light in a Chimera from five feet with the lens iris wide open barely got up to 100 percent video. (An aside:  Instead of a histogram, could there maybe be a waveform monitor and vectorscope displayed in the viewfinder? Thanks.)

 

 

 

 

…after 1 minute with Lumetri. Apple ProRes 422 codec.

Now, it’s not as if I couldn’t get a nice-looking picture out of the Ursa Mini; all it took was a few minutes in Adobe Premiere Pro’s Lumetri color-correction program to make a great looking picture.  However, remember what I was saying a few paragraphs back about being in a hurry?  News shooters can’t often devote that kind of time to a package.  On the other hand, documentary photogs probably can.

 

 

 
If you are going to be color correcting, it is to your advantage to record in a codec that retains as much information as possible.  The Ursa Mini offers a wide variety of RAW and Apple ProRes codecs to record into, depending on your needs.

Transport controls, audio level knobs and C-FAST2.0 slots.

Unfortunately, because of the enormous data rates involved in recording uncompressed RAW, the Ursa Mini requires the use of C-FAST 2.0 recording chips. Street price for a 128Gb C-FAST 2.0 chip is in the $350 US range right now, and at uncompressed RAW rates, that equates to less than ten minutes of recording.  At the HD rates we are exploring here, it’s about 70 minutes, but when you compare the cost of C-FAST 2.0 to an SDHC or SDXC card that costs twenty or thirty bucks, it is a data point that must be considered.  The Ursa Mini can hold two C-FAST 2.0 chips at a time.

 

 

 

When I installed the Ursa Mini’s ENG-style viewfinder, my first reaction was “Wow!  That thing is tiny!”  Truth be told, that was a reaction to the relatively huge viewfinders found on today’s ENG cameras, which usually double as monitors.  I have no complaints with the Ursa Mini’s viewfinder, with a very bright and sharp 1920×1080 OLED monitor inside a metal (!) casing.  Several of my colleagues commented positively on the peaking display in the viewfinder, which is a very thin green line – understated, but obvious enough for you to know just what is in focus.  Another thing that particularly impressed me and all my eyeglass-wearing fellow shooters was the diopter-adjustment ring.  It features a very wide adjustment variance and a lot of drag – it’s hard to move this accidentally.  And while we are on the subject, the fold-out touchscreen monitor on the left side of the Ursa Mini is bright and sharp as well, although it doesn’t take long for the touchscreen to start accumulating fingerprints.

The audio section of the Ursa Mini is basic but usable.  Twin XLR jacks sit on the top-rear of the camera, and there are onboard mics as well.  Audio settings are all menu-based except for the actual level knobs, which live on the panel behind the fold-out monitor.  I understand that software is far less expensive than physical switches, but to have to dive through menus just to make the headphones louder is not great design.

 

 

 

The Ursa Mini with my favorite lens of all time.

 

So:  Does the Ursa Mini with the B4 lens adapter make sense?  It’s a very mixed bag.  Positives include being able to use that old favorite lens you love, a camera that is complete and functional in every way without needing all kinds of accessories hanging on cheese plates, and being able to move into a more cinematic look in high-definition for a very reasonable price – along with the future-proofing a 4.6k chipset offers.  The downsides?  Expensive media is right up there, along with a camera that needs a lot of light.  So it boils down to a very personal decision, but if you are devoted to the workhorse B4 lenses you already own and don’t need to shoot 4k anytime soon, the Blackmagic Ursa Mini with the B4 Lens Adapter could very well be the bridge between your present and future needs.

Embarrassing addenda:  You’ll notice the title of this article mentions Blackmagic Designs.  This is in error – it’s Blackmagic DESIGN.  Apologies to the good folks at Blackmagic DESIGN, and thanks for the heads-up.  Also thanks to Chad Myers, chief engineer at Wisconsin Public Television, and my fellow photographers Mike Eicher and Mike Baron among others for giving the Ursa Mini a run-through.  And thanks as well to Nick Lampke at Filmtools for the loan of a C-FAST 2.0 card and reader.

 

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Lenovo P40 Yoga Laptop/Tablet http://www.provideocoalition.com/review-lenovo-p40-yoga-laptoptablet/ http://www.provideocoalition.com/review-lenovo-p40-yoga-laptoptablet/#respond Fri, 07 Oct 2016 04:59:10 +0000 http://www.provideocoalition.com/?p=39851 It took me a long time to get happy with editing video on a laptop. For quite a while, due to low-power mobile processors and underwhelming video systems, the experience was just not worth the effort. All that has changed radically, of course. Laptops that offer excellent processors and high-powered video subsystems have become very

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It took me a long time to get happy with editing video on a laptop. For quite a while, due to low-power mobile processors and underwhelming video systems, the experience was just not worth the effort. All that has changed radically, of course. Laptops that offer excellent processors and high-powered video subsystems have become very common. So common, in fact, that new models have to keep adding features to differentiate them from what has come before.

p40-laptop

Lenovo has certainly recognized that trend. They continue to come out with devices that, while varying in actual power, offer fairly unique twists to keep us interested. I recently reviewed the P70 ThinkPad, which featured a gorgeous 17″ 4k screen with built-in Pantone calibration support. And now I have in my hands the P40 Yoga, a four-pound, less-than-an-inch-thick ultrabook (e.g., no included CD/DVD/BluRay drive.) This time the hot feature is touch abilities on the 2560×1440 14″ screen, and an included Wacom-technology stylus to operate it with.

 

Is it a laptop? A tablet? Both?

tent-mode

The Yoga series takes great advantage of what Lenovo calls the 360-degree hinge, folding the display all the way around so it is back-to-back with the keyboard. Yep, the P40 Yoga is a tablet as well, one you can operate with either the stylus or your fingers.

An initially-astouding feature – at least to me – was that when you transition the Yoga into the tablet mode, the keys of the keyboard actually retract inside the case! Very, very slick.

 

 

The tech specs:

The P40 Yoga I worked with runs a 2.81GHz Intel Core i7 processor, with two cores and four logical processors. There is 16Gb of RAM onboard, and storage is handled by a 512 Gb SSD drive. Video duties are split between onboard Intel graphics and the much more powerful nVidia Quadro M500M graphics processor. While benchmarking sites around the Web infer that the M500M is a middling video processor, in test usage with Adobe Premiere Pro 2015.4 playback at 100% resolution of 1920x1080i footage from a Sony PMW-400L XDCamEX camcorder was totally smooth at up to four concurrent streams. Adding effects like color correction or blur to a layer would make playback suffer to an extent, however.

Editing on the road

in-car

The P40 Yoga is such a lightweight, appealing package that my first thought was to offer it to producers to test as a field logging and editing station, for those days when you are really in a hurry. At my station we record our XDCamEX footage to basic Class 10/UHS1 SDHC cards, and seeing that the Yoga has an SDHC card slot right on the side it seemed natural to deploy it as a field production device. Over the Labor Day weekend I was tasked with the very quick turnaround of a promo for an event the following week. I gave the Yoga P40 to producer Johnnatha Mayberry to log footage on the drive between locations, and other than some motion discomfort (certainly not the fault of the computer!) she pronounced the machine quite usable in that mode. I could easily see editing while in the passenger seat with the Yoga.

Tools for artists

stylus

The other standout feature of the P40 Yoga is the Wacom-enabled stylus, which lives in a “silo” on the left-bottom side of the machine. It is an active stylus, with two small buttons on the side and 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity. I have long wanted to experiment with editing in Premiere Pro with some sort of touch-based system, to see if “Minority Report” style gesture editing would be something I could get behind. I’m sorry to say it didn’t really grab me right off the bat, but on the other hand using the stylus in Adobe Photoshop was a revelation.

 

 

pshop1As I have stated many times before, one thing I most certainly am not is a designer, nor a trained artist. However, the potential is most certainly there for more talented folk to be able to create beauty in a hurry in a remote location.

The Yoga P40 features most of the ports and connections you would expect on an ultrabook – three USB3 ports, HDMI and MiniDisplayPort jacks for external displays, the aforementioned SDHC slot and a Lenovo-proprietary OneLink+ dock port. If you purchase the optional expansion dock you’ll add a VGA port, two DisplayPort jacks, an gigabit Ethernet port, an audio in-out jack, two USB3 and two USB2 jacks. And the Yoga features the by-now-expected spread of gesture controls that Lenovo is known for, including a clickable touchpad, buttons that duplicate right- and left-clicking, and the pointing stick in the middle of the G, H and B keys.

fn-ctrl

However, the P40 is also cursed with the maddening Lenovo reversed-function-and-control key layout. (There may be hope. I was recently in a Costco and noticed a Lenovo laptop with the control and function keys in what most sane people would consider the proper orientation.)

 

 

 

So: Will you edit your 4K epic film on the P40 Yoga? Nope, probably not, although proxy editing would certainly be within reach (with external USB3 storage, of course.) But if you work in the world where a lightweight, HD-capable logging and editing machine can make your life better, the P40 Yoga is well worth looking into. And if you are artist enough to be able to take full advantage of the Wacom stylus, this machine could punch your productivity into overdrive.

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Lenovo ThinkPad P70 Mobile Workstation http://www.provideocoalition.com/just-the-best-looking-laptop-screen-there-is-period/ http://www.provideocoalition.com/just-the-best-looking-laptop-screen-there-is-period/#respond Wed, 22 Jun 2016 18:35:36 +0000 http://www.provideocoalition.com/?p=35143 I guess it would be overstatement to call any 17” laptop “small,” but the Lenovo P70 I’ve been testing feels almost compact compared to many other large laptops I’ve used lately.  It certainly doesn’t skimp on features, though, including everything people expect on a laptop today and several nice surprises – and one Lenovo “exclusive”

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I guess it would be overstatement to call any 17” laptop “small,” but the Lenovo P70 I’ve been testing feels almost compact compared to many other large laptops I’ve used lately.  It certainly doesn’t skimp on features, though, including everything people expect on a laptop today and several nice surprises – and one Lenovo “exclusive” that might drive you nuts.

ThinkPad-P70-heroFirst, the guts:  The P70 measures about 17” x 11” x 1.35”, and weighs just north of 7 pounds with a battery. This is the first Lenovo laptop to incorporate an Intel mobile Xeon processor.  The E3-1505M is rated at 2.80 GHz, and has eight cores to crunch your data.  My review unit came equipped with 16Gb of ECC RAM, and can be topped off with 64Gb.  A 512Gb SSD provided storage for the machine, which was also equipped with a 720p HD webcam, a fingerprint reader for security, dual-band WiFi and Bluetooth.  The unit had Windows 10 installed, whose touch-oriented operational style sometimes clashed with a non-touch screen.  But more on the screen later.

 

 

IMG_3106

The Lenovo-trademark pointing stick is nestled inside the keyboard, in the middle of the “G”, “H” and “B” keys. The full-sized keyboard is just about the best “chiclet”-style keyboard I’ve ever seen, with large, nicely contoured keys in a well-spaced layout.

 

 

 

 

IMG_3099

However, the keyboard also contains the drive-you-nuts Lenovo “exclusive” of reversed control and function keys. This isn’t unique to the P70 – I still have an old Lenovo netbook (remember them?) with this totally quizzical combo.  As a “mouse” editor that is trying to add as many keystroke combos to my repertoire as I can, this is HARD.  Imagine hitting (what you think is) [ctrl]-[c], and then hitting [ctrl]-[v] and having NOTHING HAPPEN.  C’mon, Lenovo! At least offer some kind of remapper!

 

<takes deep breath>

IMG_3139

As you might expect, the P70 offers the whole gamut of modern connectivity, including two Thunderbolt/USB-C ports, four USB-3 ports, HDMI…

 

 

 

 

IMG_3140

…and Mini DisplayPort for external monitors, and a headphone and mic combo jack.  There is a slot to read SD/SDHC/SDXC/MMC cards, and the P70 even features an ExpressCard32 slot – better known to Sony videographers as SxS.

 

 

 

Screengrab2

Once you have a look at the display, you may wonder how you can ever use any other laptop again.  I apologize for not having an actual photograph of the screen in action, but in reality no mere JPEG can do justice to it.  The 17.3”, 3840 x 2160 in-plane-switching LCD is bright, sharp and deeply colorful.  And you know that the color is true, because just to the left of the trackpad is a little window labeled “Color By Pantone.”

 

 

 

IMG_3113

Yes, this display tunes itself.  In fact, the laptop will nag you once a week to run the app, whose official name is X-Rite Pantone Calibrator.  Start the process, click a few buttons, and then close the lid.  It beeps several times and bingo!  You are calibrated.  There are several presets in the app, but no official “video” version – maybe soon?  The display is rated at 92% of the NTSC color gamut.

If you have done much editing on laptops, I’m sure the high-frequency part of your hearing is now impaired by the howl of stressed computer fans.  It’s really quite striking how quiet the P70 is no matter what the load, due to what Lenovo calls “FLEX Performance Cooling.”  Two fans inside the body of the laptop trade off depending on which components are being stressed at any given time.  The silence is a wonderful thing.  And Lenovo is rightfully proud of the fact that the P70 has passed eleven military-spec tests for shock, vibration, temperature extremes and other environmental factors that might bring a lesser machine to its knees.

Screengrab1One thing you never think about before you get a 4k display is that your normal text will get really tiny.  Adjusting it up is a must. This box advising me that a hardware scan was about to begin was just this side of unreadable.

 

 

 

Screengrab5

I installed several parts of the Adobe Creative Cloud group of video applications, including Premiere Pro 2015.2, Media Encoder, Photoshop, After Effects and Illustrator, all of which installed without a hiccup. I spent quite a bit of time using Premiere Pro with both 4k and 1080 HD footage.  Surprisingly, even though the program was specifically set up to leverage the power of the nVidia Quadro video card and the Mercury Playback Engine, I had some trouble achieving smooth playback from single clips of 4k footage in several different codecs, with all eight Xeon cores pegged to the top of the use graph.  The P70 will definitely benefit from the use of proxy footage.On the other hand, 1080 HD footage played smoothly, and I edited 4-stream multicam HD – with different codecs on each stream – with little hassle.

Of course, the true value of the calibrated display really shines in Photoshop.  No more guessing what your colors will really look like – the X-Rite Pantone app is a real confidence-booster, and the sharpness and depth of detail will delight the pickiest pixel-pusher. In fact, as much as laptops have come into their own as video editing platforms, I think the P70 just might find its highest use with our graphic arts brethren.  I know several still photographers that keep their Datacolor Spyder5 color management devices close to their hearts and monitors.  Well, here’s a laptop that has it built-in!

IMG_3094

In summary, the Lenovo P70 is an impressive package.  It may not chew thru 4K and 5K footage like a fully-loaded desktop, but in reality that is still a heavy lift for a computer you can tuck under your arm. But if you have a gig where you have to be sure your colors are 100% correct, this laptop offers unique functionality, and I guarantee you’ll never tire of gazing at the beautiful screen.

 

 

 

Special thanks to Jim Feeley for the RED footage and the folks at Lenovo for technical consultations in the creation of this review.

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Review: Video Devices PIX-E Monitor/Recorder http://www.provideocoalition.com/review-video-devices-pix-e-monitorrecorder/ http://www.provideocoalition.com/review-video-devices-pix-e-monitorrecorder/#respond Tue, 29 Mar 2016 02:42:57 +0000 http://www.provideocoalition.com/?p=29355 I’m not going to kid you.  I’m no fan of cameras that make you jump through hoops to perform essential functions, and there is no more essential function than monitoring your picture.  If the camera makes using the attached monitor a pain (shall we make a list?  Canon? Panasonic? Red? Wave your hands!) then an

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I’m not going to kid you.  I’m no fan of cameras that make you jump through hoops to perform essential functions, and there is no more essential function than monitoring your picture.  If the camera makes using the attached monitor a pain (shall we make a list?  Canon? Panasonic? Red? Wave your hands!) then an external monitor is going to be required.  So, if you gotta have it, it better be good, affordable, and usable, and if it records video so much the better.  Video Devices PIX-E monitor fills this bill admirably.

IMG_9942
Video Devices PIX-E

I tested a PIX-E5, with a gorgeous, bright 5” 1920×1080 LED screen front and center.  To say this screen is incredibly sharp is a gross understatement – if you can’t focus your shot with the PIX-E, check your backfocus. (And turn on the peaking too, but more on that later.)  The monitor is packaged in an all-metal (yay!) enclosure that measures 5 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches and weighs about 1 pound unloaded.  This is a package that isn’t going to unduly weigh down many cameras.

IMG_9951
Connections

Input can come from either SDI or HDMI inputs (the less-expensive PIX-E5H offers HDMI only.) Power is supplied with either an AC supply (with a screw-lock connection on the monitor power jack – another big plus) or by Sony-mount batteries, two of which can mount simultaneously on the back of the PIX-E.

IMG_9964
Battery and SpeedDrive

Between the batteries is a slot which allows you to mount what Video Devices calls a SpeedDrive.

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Video Devices SpeedDrive

Essentially the SpeedDrive is a little USB3 sled that holds an industry-standard mSATA-format solid state drive. It rides securely on the rear of the PIX-E, and when it is time to transfer your footage, just power down, remove the SpeedDrive, plug it into a USB3 jack on your editor and transfer away. It really couldn’t be easier or – and this is important!  – more universal than that.

The monitoring features of the PIX-E are broad and deep.  The 5” screen is not just a pretty face – it’s also a touch screen. If you need to zoom into a part of the shot to check focus or some other detail, just touch it.  To zoom back out, touch the middle of the screen (to be fair, this takes a little practice.) That’s a good trick, but for truly critical functions you really want a button.

IMG_9956
Solid buttons

If you’ve ever used gear from Video Devices’ parent company Sound Devices you’ll know that high-quality buttons and switches are a point of pride, and the PIX-E features no fewer than 13 buttons across the face and a button/wheel on the side for menu operations. Truth be told, my only major nitpick on the build quality of the PIX-E is that the power switch doesn’t feel quite as stout as the rest of the controls.

Eleven of the buttons across the face of the PIX-E are “soft” buttons, whose functions vary depending on the state of the left-most ALT button.  In monitor mode, the functions include false color display, zebra on/off, waveform monitor, vectorscope, histogram, LUT selection, zoom, peaking and marker toggle. You are also only a button-press away from 4-Way mode, which displays the waveform, vectorscope, histogram and video all at once – and you can “fly back” to any one of those just by touching the screen.  Displays on the top of the video screen include timecode from a variety of sources, current file name, input select and two audio meters, all of which are selectable and which can be turned off at yet another button push.

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Recording controls

To access the recording functions, you press the ALT key. New button labels appear, including Audio, which allows you to arm or disarm up to eight audio tracks (via SDI; HDMI is limited to four tracks.) The Files button shows you what’s currently on the SpeedDrive, and sets up clips for playback. From there on, it’s a recorder, with the buttons you expect – Stop, << for rewind, Play, >> for fast forward, and the all-important Rec button. The PIX-E records HD or 4K files exclusively into Quicktime ProRes formats, from 422Proxy 10 bit all the way up to 4444XQ 12 bit. I’m a PC-based editor, and in the past this would have made me crazy.  However, the newest versions of my editor of choice work with ProRes without a hiccup, so I guess that’s one less thing to worry about.  Hooray for progress!

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The author shooting with the Video Devices PIX-E, photo by Mitch Dietz

I tested the PIX-E on a variety of shoots, from recording via HD-SDI from a Sony Anycast Touch switcher on several hour-long shows to EFP-style shooting with a Sony PXW-X160 XDCamEX camcorder with the HDMI input.  In all situations the PIX-E performed as expected.

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Peaking and zebra both easily visible

My major gripe when out on a sunny winter day was lots of glare on the glossy Corning Gorilla Glass screen, but that’s hardly exclusive to the PIX-E. On the other hand, the screen was easily bright enough to show off both peaking marks and zebra exposure information.  Audio types will definitely notice the presence of a fan in the PIX-E, but it isn’t ridiculously loud, and while the record options menu offers a helpful “turn fan off while recording” choice I’d tend to avoid it as the metal case gets noticeably warm after a few minutes of operation – even with the fan on.  I’d love to tell you exactly how long the Sony batteries last in use on the PIX-E, but I really can’t, as in my testing they never ran out.  (There are two battery status icons on the upper-right of the display that tell you the voltage of each battery individually.)

Battery status icons

Other nice features include loops for both SDI and HDMI inputs, a 2-channel audio line input on a 1/8” jack, 1/4”-20 screw mounts on the top and bottom, and an expansion port on the bottom for the available PIX-LR control pod which adds large transport buttons, XLR audio inputs and more audio metering.

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Video Devices PIX-E

I guess the takeaway is this:  If you are unhappy with the monitor on your camera, the PIX-E is a fantastic replacement, with all the features and scopes you will need.  And it’s a dynamite little HD/4K recorder as well, with recording media that should easily fit into almost any workflow.  If your editor can handle ProRes files – and who can’t, these days? – the PIX-E is a great multipurpose tool in a wonderfully compact package.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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From The National Drone Show: Deep Trekker http://www.provideocoalition.com/not-every-drone-flys/ http://www.provideocoalition.com/not-every-drone-flys/#respond Sat, 05 Dec 2015 23:05:05 +0000 It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that an RPV has to be some sort of aircraft.  The folks at Deep Trekker would like to gently correct you. Not all remotely piloted vehicles fly through the air.  The Deep Trekker DTG2 is an affordable underwater RPV with great capability and a pretty low

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It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that an RPV has to be some sort of aircraft.  The folks at Deep Trekker would like to gently correct you.

Not all remotely piloted vehicles fly through the air.  The Deep Trekker DTG2 is an affordable underwater RPV with great capability and a pretty low price to boot.

 

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From the National Drone Show: Christina Engh, COO, UASolutions Group http://www.provideocoalition.com/she-knows-the-rules-and-will-tell-you-straight/ http://www.provideocoalition.com/she-knows-the-rules-and-will-tell-you-straight/#respond Sat, 05 Dec 2015 17:50:23 +0000 US Army helicopter pilot-turned-consultant Christina Engh lays down the law on what you need to legally operate a commercial drone in the United States. With deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, Black Hawk helicopter pilot Christina Engh has put in the flight time to know how to fly safely.  And with her partners in the

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US Army helicopter pilot-turned-consultant Christina Engh lays down the law on what you need to legally operate a commercial drone in the United States.

With deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, Black Hawk helicopter pilot Christina Engh has put in the flight time to know how to fly safely.  And with her partners in the UA Solutions group, she consults on keeping our airspace safe, facilitating prudent use of unmanned aerial vehicles,  and keeping conflicts to a minimum.  Here’s the straight dope for someone who knows the rules inside and out.

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From the National Drone Show: Unmanned Vehicle University http://www.provideocoalition.com/learn-to-fly-safely/ http://www.provideocoalition.com/learn-to-fly-safely/#respond Sat, 05 Dec 2015 13:21:28 +0000 You just can’t throw a quadcopter up in the air and start making money.  It’s inperative that you learn and follow the rules, and the folks at Unmanned Vehicle University would like to help you achieve that objective. Fred Bivetto is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force, with experience in all

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You just can’t throw a quadcopter up in the air and start making money.  It’s inperative that you learn and follow the rules, and the folks at Unmanned Vehicle University would like to help you achieve that objective.

Fred Bivetto is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force, with experience in all kinds of aircraft all around the world.  He is now the Dean of the School of Unmanned Technology at Unmanned Vehicle University in Phoenix, AZ, aiming towards launching the careers of the next generation of aviators – but this time the vehicles are controlled remotely.

 

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From the National Drone Show: What I Learned On The Floor http://www.provideocoalition.com/what-i-learned/ http://www.provideocoalition.com/what-i-learned/#respond Sat, 05 Dec 2015 13:06:07 +0000 The Government Video Expo and the National Drone Show complement each other well, but there were plenty of surprises among the RPVs. The Government Video Expo has been a fixture in Washington DC for quite a while. It’s easily dwarfed by the behemoth National Association of Broadcasters annual convocation in Las Vegas, but once you

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The Government Video Expo and the National Drone Show complement each other well, but there were plenty of surprises among the RPVs.

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The Government Video Expo has been a fixture in Washington DC for quite a while. It’s easily dwarfed by the behemoth National Association of Broadcasters annual convocation in Las Vegas, but once you read the session subject listings you quickly realize that GVE is a different beast indeed. Subjects like “Video — A Powerful Enabler of Government Business Strategy for Communications and Workplace Learning,” “Planning for Police Body Camera Video” and a keynote by DC Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier all point in a vastly different direction than your normal NAB fare. But given the proximity to the centers of power, and considering the political football remotely piloted vehicles (herewith RPVs) have become, it makes all kinds of sense for GVE to add the National Drone Show to its agenda.

The RPV booths took up most of one of the aisles in the medium-sized conference hall at the Walter Washington Convention Center. The Drone Show was organized by Stampede Global, a 00032.MTS.03 11 34 06.Still001professional A/V distribution company based in Buffalo NY. While I don’t claim to know every RPV on the market, there was a wide selection to be seen, including the big guys like DJI, Yuneec and Walkera. The “Drone Cage” let the attendees see the RPVs actually take off, albeit limited to what looked like a 25 cubic foot space – no acrobatics here, just indoor hovering (which in itself is really pretty miraculous, considering where we were just five years ago.)

The most interesting information was found by talking one-on-one with about a dozen presenters, some of whom offered interesting perspectives in exchange for anonymity. By now, most of us know that to operate an RPV for money legally, we need at least three things – an FAA Part 333 exemption, a separate human with us as a spotter, and – most expensively – a private pilot’s license and medical certification. I’ve been flying radio control aircraft for almost 20 years (fixed wing only – non-quadcopter helicopters are far beyond my skill level.) I come from an airline family – my Dad flew in World War II and was an airline pilot. So were my two older brothers, and my oldest sister was a long-time flight attendant as well. Dad also owned a Cessna 195, so it’s fair to say that he had plenty of hours in the air. Once I got into R/C flying, I would often offer Dad the chance to take the sticks, and invariably he would fly outbound, turn the plane 180 degrees back towards us, and then dumb-thumb the plane straight into the ground. It’s not that he wasn’t a great pilot – he was – but it’s that everything he learned to do to keep his real plane in the air was totally at odds with what we do to keep the R/C craft in the air. What I was surprised to learn at Drone Expo was that this is NOT a rare occurence. I heard this take-away from several different folks, including real-plane pilots:

“The last person you want flying your RPV is a real-plane pilot.”

That’s an interesting observation, especially when you consider that getting at least a light-sport rating is the price of admission to making a buck with a $1000, four-pound… well, let’s just say it: Toy.

We are forced to spend several thousand dollars to learn skills that, by pilot’s own admissions, will make us worse at flying an RPV. Let’s be clear: I am not minimizing the imperative of safe operation in any way. The baby in England that recently lost an eye to an RPV should be a lesson to us all. But honestly, a pilot’s license? It seems the bar has been raised very high very quickly, and maybe it doesn’t need to be quite that hard to leap.

On the other hand, the takeaway from some of the panel discussions was almost as discouraging – it amounted to “Hey, don’t do this yourself, it’s too hard. Hire the pros instead.” The fact that it was the current pros themselves saying this points at a conflict of interest, doesn’t it? I believe there can be all sorts of opportunity in the RPV space, but discouraging folks right out of the gate seems to be an unfortunate choice.

My third takeaway was that while no one claims to be able to read the mind of the FAA, there seems to be some level of belief (hope?) that the RPV rules might – MIGHT – get somewhat more relaxed when next June rolls around. As someone that has little interest in getting a light-sport pilot license, I would welcome some alternative path to legal commercial RPV operation, and I bet a huge number of my fellow video pros who also happen to be R/C pilots would agree wholeheartedly.

Finally, I have to post this picture of a sign at the Panasonic booth:

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You can either make a living *or* make a movie. Actually, this has been a meme in television since long before I started in the biz. Indeed, since I started working at Wisconsin Public Television over 28 years ago, I’ve seen the following posted on a bulletin board:

“What’s the difference between a documentary filmmaker and a large cheese pizza?

A large cheese pizza can feed a family of four.”

I guess it’s official now!

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From the National Drone Show: X PlusOne Hybrid Drone http://www.provideocoalition.com/it-s-a-plane-it-s-a-drone/ http://www.provideocoalition.com/it-s-a-plane-it-s-a-drone/#respond Sat, 05 Dec 2015 08:11:16 +0000 Quadcopters (and hexcopters and larger) are useful devices, but they aren’t necessarily very fast.  The X PlusOne melds the hovering power of a quadcopter with the remarkable speed of a fixed-wing aircraft into an interesting hybrid – with lots of other tricks up its sleeve. Sometimes the old quadcopter is just too slow to get

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Quadcopters (and hexcopters and larger) are useful devices, but they aren’t necessarily very fast.  The X PlusOne melds the hovering power of a quadcopter with the remarkable speed of a fixed-wing aircraft into an interesting hybrid – with lots of other tricks up its sleeve.

Sometimes the old quadcopter is just too slow to get to where you need your camera to be. The folks behind the X PlusOne hybrid aircraft have melded the hovering chops of a quad with the remarkable speed of a fixed wing aircraft, with impressive results.  Bonus: The company just appeared on ABC’s “Shark Tank” and got funded by all five Sharks, so apparently there’s something here.

 

 

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Highlights From The National Drone Show http://www.provideocoalition.com/highlights-from-the-national-drone-show/ http://www.provideocoalition.com/highlights-from-the-national-drone-show/#respond Thu, 03 Dec 2015 03:08:33 +0000 Drone Video from the National Drone Show   On Wednesday I spent the day in Washington DC, where the first National Drone Show is being held in conjunction with the annual Government Video Expo.  I will post several very interesting interviews in the next few days, but in the meantime here’s a little drone flying

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Drone Video from the National Drone Show

 

On Wednesday I spent the day in Washington DC, where the first National Drone Show is being held in conjunction with the annual Government Video Expo.  I will post several very interesting interviews in the next few days, but in the meantime here’s a little drone flying footage from the Drone Cage to whet your appetite.

 

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