I’ve been testing the Reflecmedia LED LiteRing system for about a month now, and it wasn’t until I paired it with the ScopeBox software scope that I finally gained some real control in my shots! These products should be bundled in my opinion, because without a scope, it’s nearly impossible to tell on a preview monitor if you’ve got the correct gain or lighting from your LED LiteRing.
I first got my cue about using a scope from Alex Lindsay, who has also posted an article on shooting green screen here on PVC. He shares the importance of getting the green luminance balanced and centered in the middle of the green spectrum as close as possible to get the best key. I have over-blown some shots, had issues with not enough lumanence in the green channel and just overall poor screen coverage, relying on only the on-camera viewfinder as my monitor in the field! The results of improper balance of lighting the green screen – ESPECIALLY with the projected LED LiteRing, can throw off color balance, saturation and give you an overall horrible key! I’ve even used a balanced field monitor and thought I had a good shot but when I matched the same shot & lighting with a scope, I could see where I was off with both the background lighting and the foreground color balance.
This shot was done without any scope and we had to “guess” at our exposures and the amount of LED light we needed to get the key. We actually under-lit this shot with the LED LiteRing and had to work a bit harder in compositing with Keylight as a result. The built-in keyers in Final Cut Pro couldn’t handle it very well, as the background was too course and noisy. This was no fault of the Reflecmedia system, but only our own, as we didn’t have a proper way to measure this information on-hand.
Shooting without a scope and compositing results.
Notice there is still a bit of an edge around the subject’s shoulders, which would require further masking and matte refinement to resolve without affecting the area around his head. Note that this was also not the optimum setup for shooting a green screen shot, with only a couple of portable hot lights in tight quarters. If I had my portable Kino Flows on this shoot, there would have been a lot more control of the lighting and even without a scope, we could have had better results. But that’s another article altogether!
Shooting with the Reflecmedia LED LiteRing
When you first attach the LED LiteRing to your camera, and turn it on, you can’t imagine looking at the subject against this gray background that it could possibly produce a solid, bright green background! Even standing directly behind the camera you see a predominantly gray background with a soft green glow. It’s not until you look through the viewfinder or LCD monitor that you truly see what the camera lens is seeing. The LEDs emit a unidirectional beam that shines directly at the screen and the light bounces back into the lens in a bright and even pattern.
Looking at the subject next to the camera and through the LCD monitor to compare what the camera is picking up from the LED LiteRing.
The LED LiteRing is attached to the front of the lens on your camera and emits light by a variable controller onto the subject and the reflective background material, which bounces back directly into the lens of the camera. Since in most cases, the lighting on the subject is brighter than the LEDs, it will wash out any residual green spill that may appear on them. If your lighting is quite low, then you can adjust the LEDs to compensate to some degree, but too low and they won’t be effective at all. Conversely, if they are too bright, then you will get not only a spill on the subject, but an actual color shift occurs that isn’t easily corrected in post. If your subject is a few feet away from the background, then shadows are eliminated as well, but there is no concern for spill from the screen since the lighting is projected from the front in low quantity. You also don’t need to worry about bringing separate lights just for a green screen, so this makes portability a breeze.
The Reflecmedia LED LiteRing attached to a Panasonic HPX300 along with Kino Flo BarFlys for lighting the subject.
The intensity of the Reflecmedia LEDs are adjusted by a controller that gives you optimum adjustability. This works especially well when using a scope to measure the “sweet spot” in the green channel… otherwise, you’re just “eyeballing” it with the viewfinder or at best, a balanced studio monitor.
Note that the Reflecmedia system will not work outdoors and care must be taken that there are no highly-reflective items directly facing the camera (such as eyeglasses, jewelry, bottles, cameras, etc.). To shoot someone with glasses, be sure they are not facing the camera directly. The LEDs are really bright as well – many complaints of looking directly at them (or into the lens) is blinding and using a reflective teleprompter is out of the question. I’ve seen small LCD teleprompters that mount above the lens that work reasonably well with the LiteRings, but not for sustained periods of time.
Using ScopeBox with the Reflecmedia System
Though there are already built in scopes in Final Cut Pro and Adobe On-Location that you can use instead of a stand-alone piece of software, but the feedback and readability isn’t as easy to access, plus there are limitations to the type of graphing you can get. Check out these screen shots from Final Cut Pro, using the Reflecmedia system, in both an off state and adjusted to optimum levels, according to the data in the vector scope.
Using the scopes built into Final Cut Pro to measure the optimum green levels of the Reflecmedia system.
Notice in the preview window that even though the Vectorscope in Final Cut Pro shows the green in the optimum range, the color shift on the subject is darkened considerably from the original (or “off”) position. This is where you still may need to rely a bit on previewing or doing a test shoot to establish a usable baseline for your shot.
Next, we’ll compare this process to the ScopeBox software…
An important note when installing the ScopeBox software, is that it still must reside on a partition that has an installed version of Final Cut Pro, as it utilizes some of it’s resources to function. Of course I didn’t read the directions when first installing it and trying to run the program and it wouldn’t recognize my camera as a source. It wasn’t until I checked out the FAQ on the ScopeBox web site that I realized I needed to re-install on my external Firewire HD that has a boot partition running Leopard and Final Cut Pro. Then everything worked fine.
ScopeBox running with my own UI layout providing live data and screen preview – next to the Reflecmedia LED controller.
Connecting my camera with a Firewire cable to the MacBook Pro, I was able to get ScopeBox to recognize it immediately and start giving me live data feedback. The UI is amazingly clean and easy to understand – very intuitive for a first-timer such as myself. It allows you to view several scope types simultaneously and arrange the windows on your desktop how you like them. The best part is you can save this layout as your default if you wish. I chose to have the Preview window, Waveform, RGB Parade and the Vectorscope open as my default toolset.
Using the Vectorscope to zero-in on the green channel info, I could adjust the Reflecmedia controller until the point of the spike comes as close to the inside target in the green box. This assures me that I have sufficient luminance and I’ve maxed-out my green information. Anything more will affect the overall image and darken the subject (as shown in the comparison figure below). Using the RGB Parade, you can monitor your Red and Blue levels as well so you can fine tune a balance. The Preview window is a balanced and fairly accurate representation of your final recorded image, so it can actually replace a field or studio monitor (even when not shooting green screen).
TOP: LEDs off / CENTER: LEDs full power / BOTTOM: LEDs at optimum setting.
According to the ScopeBox web site, ScopeBox software also monitors audio (simulated VU meters), multiple camera input and monitoring and direct disk recording of your input signal. I didn’t try any of these other features in my tests, however I did notice a bit of a lag once I had it running for over 30 minutes. This may be due to it’s inherent buffering. They claim that the buffering allows you to record the input signal before you even hit the record button (similar to a pre-roll feature on many cameras).