Megan and Alex’s Wedding

I had the opportunity to film my friend’s lovely wedding last weekend at Lakedale Resort in Friday Harbor, WA. It was an unconventional shoot; since I was recovering from a recent surgery, I wasn’t even sure I could attend the wedding until a few days before the event, let alone film it.

As a result, I didn’t have a chance to film any of the preparations, first look, or any of the other conventional stuff that a videographer capturing the day would usually get. Instead, I just stole whatever shots I could during the ceremony and afterwards at the reception. What really saved me is that I was able to hook up a wireless lavalier microphone onto the officiant (Jason, a local friend) to capture the ceremony. All the audio in the video is from that single microphone, and it really gave the video a solid backbone.

This video was filmed with a Panasonic GH4, mostly at 24fps and occasionally at 72fps conformed to 24fps. The ceremony was lovely, although the lighting conditions were punishing from a photography standpoint – because the ceremony was outside and in direct sunlight, a lot of the colors were washed out by default and saturation had to be added back in in post. The microphone was plugged into a Zoom H4N (my poor Zoom H4N is slowly dying after many years of good service – pretty sure i will need an H5 soon to replace it). I used my standard cheap-o Polaroid rig to stabilize the camera, plus used a stabilization filter in post.

Technical elements aside, it was an emotional, joyous day. I hope the video is able to capture that.

A Video Portrait of Fremont Market

Recently, I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to sell my Blackmagic Pocket Camera. While I’m still in love with the image it produces, there are other cameras that I’ve been lusting after which fulfill different purposes that I’m now more interested in (including the Canon C100, the Fuji X100S, and the Canon XA25), and which don’t require the trade-offs that the Blackmagic demands.

Nonetheless, no one has taken me up on my offer yet, so this weekend, I decided to take the Blackmagic camera to Fremont Market and give it another spin. While I was initially just planning to shoot a bunch of b-roll and make a video montage, I ended up shooting several documentary-style videos.

As usual, these were shot using my Blackmagic, my cheap-o Polaroid rig, and a Tascam DR-05 (on-board microphones). Some of the audio is pretty rough, but my objective here was to maintain as low of a profile as humanly possible. All audio was recorded in impromptu interviews, and I think mic’ing people using a lavalier would have taken away from the spontaneity and made people less open on camera. It’s a trade-off for sure, but I think the audio is adequate.

Here’s a video of local artist Brittney Lyons, and her incredible gum wrapper art:

Here’s a brief profile I shot of Beanfish, a local company which creates delicious fish-shaped foodstuffs:

Here’s a local band, Elephant Gazebo, performing “Wrecking Ball.” Fun times:

My takeaway from these videos is that, while I think the footage still looks amazing, I really feel like I need at least a couple more lenses to get the most out of this camera. The Super 16mm sensor gives MFT lenses a crop factor of nearly 3x. Wide angle shots are challenging with my current, limited lens selection, as are shots with shallow depth of field (my favorite).

I remain conflicted about this camera, but I’ll keep trying to find logical uses for it before putting it on sale on Amazon.

Re-Appreciating Scott Pilgrim vs. The World


Sometimes, I make an essay that’s just for me. This Scott Pilgrim vs. The World appreciation was one of those times.

No one was begging me for my updated take on the film, but while I was doing some research for an upcoming video I’m working on (with the help of Edgar Wright), I felt compelled to revisit Scott Pilgrim and some of its themes. In truth, I also used the essay as a way for me to get a handle on some things going on in my own life. I’m glad it’s resonated with so many other people.

As of this writing, about 15 hours after publication, the video has received about 28,000 views. It was getting a decent number of hits at /Film, but then Edgar Wright tweeted it and it was posted at the still-massive Scott Pilgrim Facebook page, where it received a staggering 7.6K Likes. That’s what really helped tip this thing, I suspect. 

In the past couple of months, I’ve made a bunch of different videos that have received varying amounts of attention through different means. I’m hoping to publish a future blog post that sums up some of these findings, so look forward to that. 

The Engagement of Micah and Nicole


After acquiring my new Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, I longed for an opportunity to try it out. So I asked my colleague, Nicole, if she’d be interested in shooting an “engagement video” with her fiancé, Micah. Neither of us had never done such a video before, but the possibility of a relatively novel way to announce an engagement to their friends was exciting to everyone involved.

This video was shot at the Olympic Sculpture Park in Belltown (a very competitive spot for family/wedding photos, as there were 2-3 other shoots going on in the area at the same time as ours). For this shoot, I used the following equipment in addition to the Blackmagic camera:

Alright, baby. Let’s do this thing! pic.twitter.com/FLgmetZXtR
— David Chen (@davechensky) October 16, 2013

Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens – This lens was just refreshed and is now significantly pricier than its older brother. It delivers great image quality, although the lack of “manual focus” option makes using this lens manually a bit of a chore.

Polaroid Video Chest Stabilizer – When I first started investigating DSLR video, I was pretty shocked at how expensive some of the accessories were. $470 for a Red Rock Micro DSLR rig? Surely there was a cheaper solution. In fact, this $55 Polaroid stabilizer is just what the doctor ordered for Blackmagic Pocket Cameras. While the rig itself is really flimsy and hard to tighten to a degree that I really felt satisfied with, it worked perfectly for such a small device. It would also work with a DSLR and maybe a pancake/prime lens, but any more than that and I’d seriously start to question the safety of my gear. Overall, I think it gives the final video a good “handheld” look, without being overly jittery. As a bonus, it’s super light and easy to carry around. I could see myself shooting a bunch of footage with just this camera and this rig (audio would need to be captured separately).

Tiffen ND Filter – Essential for shooting outdoors and achieving shallow depth of field.

As usual, I used FilmConvert for most of the color grading. For comparison, here’s an ungraded shot and a graded shot. You can see how flat the initial image is, as well as how much info and detail is contained in the ProRes HQ file that can be pulled out in post.

The only thing I wish I’d been able to do was shoot more b-roll of the couple doing other activities. But the scope of this project was very limited (only about an hour of shooting in one location). Next time!

The Wedding of Lucas and Heather


A colleague/friend of mine, Lucas (a talented photographer in his own right), recently approached me with an interesting proposition: he needed me to edit his wedding video. This was a bit odd to me, both because I hadn’t attended or shot his wedding, and because he had gotten married nearly a year ago. Turns out, a friend of his had shot a bunch of footage from the wedding and Lucas wanted to see if I could put something together to surprise his wife with on their one-year anniversary.

It’s a really weird feeling to edit footage from a wedding that you didn’t shoot or attend. When I shoot, I typically have some kind of vision for what I want the final product to be. “B-roll goes here. Speech goes here. This sequence goes here.” When you have nothing but raw footage, it’s like having all the pieces of a puzzle but without a picture to show you how it’s all supposed go together. Also — in this increasingly strained analogy — you have the option of dictating what the final puzzle picture looks like.

In this case, it was important to me to understand Lucas’ priorities for what events he needed to have shown, and what order he wanted to show them in. The video is also set to music that has emotional significance for the couple. But the most important part of this entire process was watching and studying all the footage, categorizing it into easily understandable and usable chunks, and then being able to assemble different sequences in compelling ways. “Need a clip of a toast? I know exactly where it is and what section of the toast to use in the final video.” And so on.

One of the pleasures of the experience was seeing a wedding through someone else’s eyes. I edited down 2.5 hours of footage into this 7-minute video. Thus, the vast majority of footage didn’t make it in. But I was able to find some “money shots” that I think worked wonderfully. That feeling of discovery, and of incorporating that discovery into a finished, beautiful product, is pretty unique to editing a project like this.

Also: loved the last sequence from the video. Still kind of gives me chills.

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera – Initial Impressions and Footage

After two months of waiting, IT HAS FINALLY ARRIVED pic.twitter.com/NNjD9U0kDi
— David Chen (@davechensky) October 15, 2013

In early August, I placed an order for the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera at B&H. For months, I waited to receive word that my camera had shipped, and for months, all I received from B&H was the occasional note that they still had not received any stock. Finally, just a week or two ago, a miracle happened: Adorama suddenly and unexpectedly listed the camera as “in stock.” Not believing my eyes, I quickly placed an order and hoped for the best. A week later, I was unboxing my very first Black Magic Pocket Camera!


This camera takes any lens with a micro 4/3rds mount, which includes Panasonic’s wide range of Lumix glass. Never having used any MFT lenses before, I agonized over which one to buy and studiously perused a bunch of reviews (thanks to The Phoblographer for a lot of useful lens reviews). To be honest, I wasn’t sure how much work I was going to end up doing on the Pocket Camera, so I didn’t want to invest too much in glass quite yet. If I wanted to go all out, I probably would have ended up with the legendary Voigtlander Nokton 17.5mm. Maybe one day I still will.

Instead, I opted for the new Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 II. It’s a relatively new lens but I’d heard great things about it and more importantly, it was relatively cheap. I also recently ordered a Rokinon 7.5mm fisheye, which actually functions more like a wide-angle lens with the Pocket Camera’s nearly 3x crop factor.

Before I even bought the camera, here are a few things I’d already learned from watching/reading reviews about the Pocket Camera from the likes of CheesycamPhilip Bloom and Dave Dugdale:

  • The battery life is crap – I was able to get about 30-40 minutes of standby and recording time on a single battery. Buy extra batteries! Fortunately they are relatively cheap and easy to carry around.
  • The camera is very selective about SD cardsHere’s a list of compatible cards. I picked up a Sandisk Extreme 128GB on sale a few weeks back, and that worked just fine after the most recent Pocket firmware update. You must format cards on your computer, as the camera firmware is incapable of formatting cards in the camera. Furthermore, you can’t delete media off the card in camera either, nor does the camera tell you how many hours/minutes of space you have left. Kind of a pain, but okay if you know how to deal with it. 
  • The microphone is terrible – Any sound recorded onto the camera, even when using an external microphone, was likely to be unusable. I actually went out and bought a Tascam DR-05 off of Craigslist for the express purpose of using it to capture sound for Pocket projects.

Taking all this into account, I shot the following video at Pike Place Market in Downtown Seattle. The audio was recorded using the Tascam DR-05, and the video was graded using Filmconvert. Everything was shot handheld.


Here are some further thoughts I had while shooting with this camera:

  • Wow, these images are incredible! – Despite the smaller Super16 sensor size, this footage looks almost as good as the footage from the full-size cinema camera. The ProRes (and it is ProRes HQ only as of this writing – no CinemaDNG Raw yet) truly gives you a ton of flexibility in post and I look forward to experimenting more with the capabilities of the camera in the future.
  • The screen is far worse than I could have imagined – I’m spoiled from using camera like the Canon 5D Mark III, with its gorgeous, crisp, glossy screen. But yeah, the matte screen on the Pocket Camera is really difficult to use and quite challenging to focus with. That being said, a double tap of the focus button reveals in-focus areas in bright green on the screen (Thanks to Andrew Gormley for pointing this out to me).
  • Lack of meters makes life difficult – While recording, the screen has no meters of any kind except for a timer noting how long your current clip has recorded for. I did not realize how much I would miss the light meter until it was gone. When you’re using a crappy screen (with variable user-set brightness) and no light meter, you’re basically flying blind when it comes to shooting an image that will be properly exposed. Shooting in ProRes does allow you to correct a multitude of mistakes in post but that’s no substitute for a properly exposed image in-camera. Update: I should point out that zebras are available as overlays on the screen (which is okay, but in my opinion, no substitute for a proper light meter). In the heat of the moment, I neglected to use zebras for the above video, which may explain why many of the highlights are totally blown out. That, and also it was exceptionally bright inside the market. In retrospect, I should have exposed for highlights and tried to pull out shadow detail in post. Instead, I exposed for the subject.
  • It is exceptionally difficult to manually focus using an auto-focus-only lens! – This is a basic observation but it’s new to me with this MFT glass. The lens gear just doesn’t feel very good turning in my fingers, and I always felt like I was damaging the lens in some way. I really missed having a manual/auto switch on the lens, as I do with all my EF glass. Also, my camera iris would sometimes spaz out, meaning that the aperture of my lens would occasionally change all of a sudden and unexpectedly. In addition, sometimes the iris button would not function (I’d press it and nothing would happen). Pretty sure these latter two phenomena are connected in some way – perhaps my camera was getting a delayed reaction from the iris button presses? Either way, I would strongly recommend you adjust aperture manually on this camera, whether through the up/down buttons on the back of the camera, or, if you have a fully manual lens, on the lens itself.
  • ND filters are essential – Unlike a DSLR, the Pocket Camera doesn’t allow you to jack up the shutter speed in broad daylight until the image is properly exposed. That wouldn’t be advisable anyway, as high shutter speeds can affect the quality of the footage, but at least it was a possibility. The Pocket Camera only lets you control shutter angle, which I left at 180 degrees. Thus, ND filters are a must for any outdoor work. 

I’m planning on doing more shooting with the camera this weekend, and hoping to combine it with a very simple Polaroid rig. I’ll post the results when I’m done.

DSLR Dynamics Video Tour Review (2013)

I was excited to attend the DSLR Dynamics Video Tour today at the Seattle Hilton, which was held from 9 AM till 6 PM. As longtime blog readers/listeners know, I’ve been working hard on improving my video work and finally feel like it’s getting to the point where it’s pretty respectable. Having experienced some excellent photography workshops before, I was optimistic that this workshop would help me build my skill set. The class was run by Mitch from Planet 5D and cinematographer Barry Anderson. I paid about $160 for the class and attended the first 8 out of 9 hours of the class, along with 10 other people.

Firstly, let me say I have the utmost respect for both Mitch/Planet 5D (a resource I’ve used time and time again) and Barry, whose e-book provides an excellent overview of DSLR filmmaking. I can also say that if you have never shot DSLR video before, this class offers a great survey about the history and basics of the process.

That being said, the opening five hours were overview of the concept of DSLR filmmaking, including a detailed run down of things like what lens you should buy, what camera body you should buy, as well as the basics of shutter speed, shutter angle, aperture, and ISO. This was followed by discussions on basic lighting equipment, basic sound concepts, a sales pitch from Spyder4, and some basic tips and tricks for post-production. If all of that sounds like it would interest you, then this is totally the class for you.

In general, the workshop was frustrating to me personally for a variety of reasons. Primarily, I already knew most of the things discussed on the agenda, and I imagine that many of my colleagues also did (most had already shot video professionally, or at least had done photography professionally). Secondly, it felt to me like the vast majority of this information is easily available online. Sites like Philip Bloom, LearningDSLRVideo, nofilmschool, DLSRvideoshooter, Film Riot, Vincent Laforet, and yes, Planet5D already give you a lot of the information that is provided in this class.

It is pretty clear that they are still working out the kinks of this presentation, both from a content perspective and from a delivery perspective. On numerous occasions, Barry and Mitch did not take pretty clear social cues from the class about where we wanted the class to go. For instance, at one point, Barry went into a section about the use of circular polarizers and asked the class whether they had ever used polarizers before. Every one in the class had used one before! So why continue to spend time describing the benefits and showing examples (which is what happened)? Just move it along.

I have to confess, I’m a bit puzzled by who the target market of this workshop is. Presumably, if you’re a follower of websites like Planet5D, which was a part of the desired audience here, you already know a great deal about the benefits of DSLR filmmaking as well as much of the basics. I mean, we’re talking about a site that details how to implement the latest Magic Lantern Hack on your Canon 5D Mark III. You don’t learn about that unless you are already ready to take things to the next level. This workshop provides an extremely broad but shallow survey of the world of DSLR filmmaking. As a result, it doesn’t end up doing any one particular thing very well. This is in stark contrast with the Strobist workshops, which only focus on off-camera lighting but are incredibly informative. To be most effective, this class needs to decide what it wants to be and who it is for.

I still have fond memories of the life-changing seminar I took with legendary photographer Jerry Ghionis. That was a class that catered to both beginners and people who had been doing photography for decades. Ghionis’s sheer skill and the strength of his presentation skills and charisma made it so that everyone could learn something. I did not feel like this workshop lived up to that level, though the vast difference in price between the two workshops helps to ease that pain.

It wasn’t all bad. Barry is a very engaging instructor and clearly knows his stuff. Plus I got some solid gear recommendations out of the proceedings. Nonetheless, there are a few simple things that I feel could have improved the class significantly:

  • I think the class would’ve been dramatically improved if the instructors had been a little bit more serious about asking what the class’s needs were. For instance, while Mitch did survey the class and ask about what their experiences were (e.g. have you shot photos before? Video?), that Q&A took literally 1-2 minutes and it felt like none of that feedback was integrated into the class. If nobody needs to learn what aperture and shutter speed are, then maybe spend that 1-2 hours on something the class would find more valuable?
  • The format of the class could use a lot of work. 80-90% of the class is a powerpoint presentation, with either Barry or Mitch talking directly at the audience. For a trade that requires as much activity and hands-on know-how as videography, this is a huge disappointment. For instance, why not spend more time shooting rather than talking about shooting? The lack of showing (rather than telling) was mind-boggling to me. The class began at 9 AM. There wasn’t any demonstration with real-world equipment until 3:30 PM, when Barry did a lighting lesson. 
  • By far the best components of the workshop were when Barry and Mitch spoke from real-world experience. They would occasionally show footage and then discuss what went into making it. This was totally fascinating. Barry’s experience in particular was truly insightful, as he has worked on a variety of productions of differing scope. The prospect of getting a mentored is one of the reasons why people might come to something like this in person. More of this, please.
  • The lack of audience participation was a missed opportunity. Presumably, a lot of the audience members had already shot videos before. Why not allow them to share videos and open them up for critique? This is pretty standard for these types of workshops, and I firmly believe it would’ve been more useful than learning what aperture is.

It is easy to criticize (I would know). Conversely, it’s difficult to design a workshop that will be useful and applicable to wide swaths of people of varying skill levels. I truly believe that with the level of skill behind this project, it is possible to put together an amazing class that is beneficial for everyone. I hope the DSLR Dynamics Video Tour improves in the years to come and that it enables people to tell some great stories. But in my opinion, it is not there quite yet.

Shooting the 2013 NW Chocolate Festival


I had the pleasure of shooting the Northwest Chocolate Festival this weekend, which was held at the Seattle Convention Center. Amazing chocolate and some really interesting people there, many of whom are using chocolate as a means of changing the world.

Some footage was shot at 60fps, and slowed down to 24fps (the final framerate of the video). All footage was graded using FilmConvert. Beyond my Canon 5D Mark III, here’s the other equipment that I used to make this video happen:

Manfrotto 561B monopodWhen I was just doing photography, I never thought I’d ever spend over $200 on a monopod. But as I’ve entered the video world, I’ve started to see what an amazing deal this Manfrotto monopod is. It’s lighter and more compact than a tripod, and allows you the flexibility to get shots that even tripods might not be able to get. Highly recommended. I can’t imagine living without it!

Kamerar 23″ slider – Bought this slider on the recommendation of Caleb Pike and it is really cheap, as far as sliders go (most other options are at least double this much, and often run into the $500-800 range). As a result of its cheapness, it often needs some finessing to get a decent shot – and by finessing, I mean many, many attempts at the same shot. The slider is a bit flimsy so making sure it’s balanced correctly and positioned for an even slide throughout can take some doing. But the lightness also works in its favor. It’s easy to carry around all day, slap it down on a table, and get to work.

Kinotehnik LCDVF Viewfinder – Essential for helping to make sure you’re in focus, but attaches to the camera using a magnetic stripe that you glue around the LCD screen. In use, I found that it fell off really easily with only minor disturbance. Still, can’t really beat it at the price.

24-70mm EF lens (1st gen) – This lens is rapidly becoming the bane of my existence. I have always had sharpness issues with this lens. Coupled with shooting in Flaat 10 Picture Style, this has often made focusing very difficult. I’m thinking of investing in alternate options but there are just so many that I’m having a difficult time deciding which one. But the fundamental problem is that none of the footage is ever remarkable. However, it’s always at least usable. It’s a trustworthy lens, but I can never take any shots that I think are particularly interesting. Thus, inertia keeps me from changing my setup.

Currently on my list of possible replacements: the Canon 24mm f/1.4 and the Sigma 35mm f1/.4. I’m also on the lookout for a Canon 135mm f/2, which I’ve heard has unparalleled sharpness. I’d like to move to primes to shoot as they are lighter and offer better optics, but just waiting for the right deal for this to come through.

70-200mm USM II lens – Spectacular lens that has served me well since forever. Probably the last zoom lens I’ll ever buy.

Zoom H4n – Acquired 3-4 years ago, this thing is still going strong. Used the onboard mics (90 degree mode), positioned close to the subject, to capture the audio for all the interviews.

Rode Videomic (1st gen) – Not a terribly good microphone, but good for getting a scratch track and a decent backup when all else fails.

***

In all, it was a pretty run-and-gun setup. But for five hours of shooting and a few hours of editing, I think the video came out pretty nicely! Your thoughts welcome.

Shooting Amazing Footage on the Cheap

Philip Bloom has been running a series of articles/videos by David Kong about how to shoot amazing video with very little equipment or budget. Here’s a video that Kong shot using only $1000 of equipment (including the camera):


Here’s part 1 of his tutorial:


Here’s part 2:


[Evidently there will be three more parts. I’ll try to update this post when those post but in any case, these two videos already cover a TON of useful info]

I love the whole ethos of this series. Too often, people can get caught up in the consumerist mindset in the world of videography/photography. As someone who has experienced this personally, I can say that it’s really tempting to spend days just watching/reading reviews, researching gear, and dreaming about the possibilities. And while good gear can help you achieve great results, the truth is that if you have at least a Canon T2i ($500) and a decent lens, you can create wonderful stuff.

It’s incredibly easy to use lack of gear as an excuse to get out there and shoot. I’ve tried to counteract that temptation by just doing everything I can to shoot a video on a regular basis. Shooting with what I have (a very capable Canon 5D Mark III) helps me to appreciate what is possible with it.

That being said, I am nonetheless still planning on a future post detailing the agonizing decision-making process behind purchasing my next video camera 🙂

Black Magic MFT Cinema Camera – Test Footage

Last night, I had the unique opportunity to try out the relatively new Black Magic Cinema Camera with Micro 4/3rds mount. Local /Filmcaster Sam Kelly was kind enough to offer me an in-person tutorial. We met at Hilliard’s Beer in Ballard, which was hosting one of their many motorcycle meetups and just shot a bunch of footage in ProRes HQ. This is the result.

This footage was shot using SLR Magic prime lenses, then graded using FilmConvert. My first reaction to this video is: WOW! Shooting in ProRes gives you SO much more flexibility in post than anything that comes out of my DLRs. Details that might have otherwise been lost in shadows and highlights can be easily “pushed.” The video just has a “filmic” look that I’ve occasionally struggled to achieve with my DSLR footage. And FilmConvert works spectacularly with the BMCC “Film” Picture Style, which is what I used.

All that being said, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera is pretty clunky in a bunch of ways. The LCD screen makes it fairly challenging to focus, and the focus peaking overlay is sketchy at best, in terms of accuracy. The lens mount on the MFT version of this camera is passive, which is fine in theory but I didn’t like that there was no aperture reading on the screen that tracked with my adjustments. The lack of removable battery and the lack of charge in the existing battery means that an external battery solution is a must.

The firmware still has a lot of shortcomings. For instance, the inability to format your media or delete clips would probably drive me insane in the long term.

But in the end, when we’re talking about images of this quality for under $2000? I don’t think I will be able to resist purchasing one for much longer…

Big thanks to Sam for letting me play with this amazing camera, and to Hotels and Highways for the use of their song “People Have Spoken.”

Nike+ Fuelband Video Review

I’m a huge admirer of The Verge. While I often don’t agree with their opinions, I appreciate that they put a lot of thoughtfulness and classiness into the site’s design and content. I’m particularly appreciative of David Pierce‘s reviews, which are always filmed, edited, and narrated beautifully, with a blistering pace.

It was with this in mind that I tried shooting my very first video review. Here it is:



Obviously the Fuelband has been out for almost two years now, but I’ve only recently hopped on the measuring-everything-you-do bandwagon, so thought it was a good as product as any to try my hand at shooting/editing/narrating a review video. A few thoughts on the final product:

  • Wow, this really gave me an appreciation for what goes into a video review. Specifically, I didn’t think through precisely how important matching the narration to the video would be. This is considerably easier when you’re doing a review where the reviewer is on camera and speaking to the audience – no matching footage required. On that note…
  • As you can probably tell, I did not shoot enough b-roll. Very simple to fix; I just didn’t have enough time to take care of it this time around.
  • I didn’t even bother color-correcting the video, as it was shot in a variety of different environments with different color temperatures. As a casual exercise, I didn’t want to take the time to fix this, especially seeing as how it was shot on a normal DSLR.
Technical flaws aside, my question to you: Did the review help? Did it strengthen your understanding of whether or not you want to buy a Fuelband? And would you want to see more of them?

Thanks to Eva for modeling the Fuelband in the video!

More experiments with FilmConvert

After I got FilmConvert last week, I wanted to try out the program further to see how well it could really do at improving some of my images. So I shot some footage this weekend in Seattle and tried using FilmConvert to grade it.

Here is a video I shot of the 2013 Seattle Chinese Kite Festival, which took place at the Seattle Chinese Garden in South Seattle. This video was shot using the Prolost Flat Picture Style and graded conventionally to bring up saturation and increase contrast.



Now here’s the same video, but instead of using normal grading, all I did was use FilmConvert to apply the Fuji Provia 100 preset and set film grain to 0.



I was really frustrated with both of these videos to be honest. The shooting situation was very challenging – bright sunlight, no shadows, a ton of green everywhere. I wasn’t thrilled with how either of the videos turned out from a color perspective, although I do think the FilmConvert-ed footage achieves a consistent look throughout (whether I’m a fan of that look or not is a different question…).

Later Saturday evening, I was pleased to be able to attend Seattle’s Street Food Festival at Cal Anderson Park. Last year they held the event at Denny Park and I thought that was a much better time; the streets at Cal Anderson are just way too narrow to host thousands of people (plus, this year the lines were unbelievably massive). Nonetheless, good food and good times were had by all.

This video was shot using the flaat 10 Picture Style. I used FilmConvert’s Fuji 8543 preset and set film grain to 0.



I notice that FilmConvert presets can often jack up the contrast a bit too high and wash out some of the colors, occasionally to the footage’s detriment. For example, see the skin tones at around :28 into the video, which definitely need some warming up (a function that FilmConvert does supply – I just wanted to see how the presets would work on default settings). Otherwise, I think the grading looks quite nice, if you can ignore that terrible moire early on in the video.

All of this footage was shot on a Canon 60D. For the Kite Festival, I used a Manfrotto 561BHDV-1 Fluid Video Monopod.

FilmConvert – Initial Impressions

As longtime readers of this blog will know, I’m just getting started in the videography game. As such, while I have a decent grasp on certain concepts (e.g. aperture, depth of field, composition, shutter speed, etc.), I still have a long way to go when it comes to learning about some of the more complex workflows.

One of the things that still eludes me is color grading. I’ve tried using Final Cut Pro X with its built-in grading, but I find the tools frustrating to use and never really get the results I want. I’ve also tried playing with presets you can find online, such as those available at Color Grading Central. They are okay in a pinch, but I was really looking for a more effective solution.

Enter FilmConvert.

Many illustrious filmmakers, including Philip Bloom and Vincent Laforet, have espoused FilmConvert’s virtues, so my curiosity was already piqued. Plus, the demo videos I’ve seen all look spectacular. The fine folks at FilmConvert were kind enough to offer me a copy to test out. For the purposes of this blog post, I used only the Final Cut Pro X plug-in, and not the stand-alone software.

Loading up FilmConvert is pretty easy, as is inputting the .fkv registration key. After you do so, a “Film Emulation” category is added to your Effects box. When you apply this to a clip, you see the following window in the “Inspector.”

One of FilmConvert’s selling points is that they analyze the unique color profiles and Picture Styles for a huge variety of cameras. By taking into account this information, they are able to let you make modifications to color and exposure that would otherwise be much more challenging (see the explanation on their homepage for more info). Click here for a partial list of the available “Source camera” profiles. As you can see, the list is massive and they are adding more every day. Note, though, that each time you want to obtain a new color profile for a new source camera, you must download a fairly bulky file (300+MB) from FilmConvert’s website.

FilmConvert then allows you to change Exposure, Color Temperature, and to select film/size options. You can see the latter drop-down menu choices below.

I was particularly keen to get a hold of this software since I’d just shot a video about my friends’ daughter Eowyn, and I was not particularly happy with the final results from a color perspective. I didn’t spend as much time as I should have during the grading process and for most shots, I ended up just applying a preset to them. For outdoor shots, the result was actually pretty impressive, but for some of the indoor low-light shots, they not only didn’t really match the other footage, they just looked plain bad.

Below is a before/after comparison of two frames. The first is from the original video; the second is from the video regraded with FilmConvert.

I realize that the second result could have been achieved with any other grading software. But with FilmConvert, I felt like I was able to speedily match many of the elements in all of my footage, and retain a ton of detail in the shadows and highlights. Also, here is the ungraded image straight out of the camera. As you can see, it’s very underexposed:

Here is the full video regraded using FilmConvert. For the wide shot with my two friends, my settings were to convert to KD5206 Vis3 with size being 35mm FullAp, plus I zeroed out the film grain. For the other footage, I and set it to FJ Prov 100 using Super 16 at the default level of film grain (100), to provide a contrast between the two types of footage. The film grain results are extremely impressive and the program gives you a lot of control over the quantity and quality of the grain that you want added. Note: I’ve just noticed that Vimeo’s compression really messes with the film grain effect. The actual file looks considerably better from a grain perspective than what you see below.



For comparison, here’s the original video:



The regraded video definitely has a more “film-like” look in my opinion. The dynamic range feels a lot higher, the “looks” of each type of footage are more subtle, and the parts of the footage with film grain look really authentic. I’m not going to say the regraded video is unequivocally better, but if you’re like me, then you want the footage to resemble our conventional conception of film whenever possible. FilmConvert is a really great shortcut that can help get you a significant part of the way there.

Here are some other thoughts:

Pros

  • The Exposure and Temperature settings are executed incredibly well and in my opinion are far easier to use than Final Cut Pro X’s native support for these functions.
  • Spectacular attention to detail, with continuously updated camera profiles.
  • The grain looks amazing!
  • Responsive staff/customer service.

Cons

  • Not really a con, but I wish that in addition to having a “temperature” dial, they also had some kind of “tint” setting for adjusting the spectrum from greens to purples. That would make this thing perfect. (See Update below. It’s coming!)
  • A personal con: only provides support for 5D Mark III’s native “Standard” Picture Style, which is a suboptimal Picture Style. Other supported Picture Styles must be loaded onto the camera using the EOS Updater. 
  • Relatively expensive compared to other similar presets, such as Gorilla Grain
  • Documentation on their website is relatively sparse. This review is my way of contributing to the internet’s collective knowledge about this product. I hope to do so again in the future.

After playing with it for a few hours, I’m really looking forward to incorporating it into my workflow further.

FilmConvert is sold as stand-alone software, or as a plug-in for Photoshop, After Effects, Final Cut Pro, and Sony Vegas. The bundle seems like the best deal and they seem pretty understanding with how they handle licenses.

UPDATE: A spokesperson from FilmConvert responded to one of my points above:

“We are in the process of adding all of the color wheels other color correctors from the stand-alone into our plugins, along with OpenCL Hardware acceleration. We are just putting the finishing touches on the Premiere/After effects update. This should be out within a week. The FCPX plugin is next up for an upgrade.”

Eowyn

My friends named their child Eowyn, after the character in Lord of the Rings. I asked them why. This was the result.



This video was shot using a Canon 5D Mark III. Sound was recorded using a Zoom H4n (onboard microphones) and then synced up in post. For all of the shots, I either went handheld or used the brand spanking new Manfrotto monopod I just purchased. I did not think it was possible to spend more than $200 on a mononpod, but having used the Manfrotto, I now don’t feel I could ever live without it. It is super easy to use, convenient, and extremely effective at stabilizing shots.

Matt and Nell’s Wedding Video

I was absolutely thrilled and honored to be able to take part in Matt and Nell’s wedding in Houston, TX this past weekend. Matt and Nell have been dear friends for years and they are some of the nicest, most generous, and amazing people I know.

During my time there, I shot about 90 minutes worth of video, which I then condensed into the 5-minute video above.  Everything was shot using 60 fps, and some footage was slowed to 24 fps. The video was shot entirely handheld, using a Canon 60D and a 50mm f/1.4 lens.I agonized over which lens/body to bring with me, and what other equipment might be necessary. In the end, I went with something light-weight and simple, and I think the final setup allowed me to grab a few more shots than I would have if I’d used a bulkier setup.

Music via PremiumBeat with some color grading help from Color Grading Central.

One Year in the Life of David Chen

Here it is. After endless seconds recorded and a dozen hours of editing, I’ve finally completed this video that features one second for every single day of this year of my life. I don’t know how much I have to add beyond the previous blog posts I’ve made on this topic, but a few lessons learned come to mind:

– The biggest challenge is to continue making seconds each day. It becomes exhausting to either a) create interesting moments, or b) find unique images in day-to-day life. As days went by, my motivation started to waver, as did my willingness to pull out a camera whenever something spectacular was happening. In these moments, I had to trust that the final product would be worth it. But to be sure, when I show this to people and they get excited about doing it themselves, the one thing that I warn them about is to make sure they have the commitment and discipline to take this project to its completion.

– On that note, recording food became a huge temptation. The reason for this is because if you think about it, food is one of the few things that is noticeably different from day to day, especially if you work a regular 9-5 job. It was an easy fallback, a crutch. As a result, more shots of food ended up in the final video than I probably would have preferred.

– Storing, organizing, and editing the video snippets became onerous. If you attempt this project, I’d strongly recommend you update the video every few months or so, rather than doing them in one fell swoop at the end. Cesar Kuriyama’s 1 Second Every Day app apparently automates this entire process to a huge extent.

– Watching and editing this video was an emotional experience. I remembered profound moments that I might’ve otherwise forgotten. I re-lived moments of lasting significance. My heart broke while contemplating the connections I’ve lost, and swelled at the relationships gained. More importantly, the project encouraged me to try to live life to its fullest – to find beauty in every day, and in the subtle moments that we might not think of. I might not have always succeeded, but I tried. In the end, the production of the project became as worthwhile as the final product.

– I’m still looking for a way to go beyond this project. One Second Everyday can convey a lot, but I still find it restrictive and wish there were a better way to capture my life and the lives of those around me in a way that will result in a watchable, enjoyable final product. Oftentimes it’s within significant constraints that art is made. I’m just searching and hoping to try out some different constraints in the near future (let me know if you have any ideas!)

– I’ve put together a version of this video that features a no audio except for a soundtrack backing it. I’ll release it later. I’m pretty happy with the version featuring a soundtrack, but I think this version with audio is the definitive version.

– If I were to title the video, I’d go with this: Huge Stretches of Monotony, Punctuated by Moments of Awesomeness. Perhaps that’s an apt description for many of our lives.

On a personal note, it’s been an absolutely crazy year. I changed jobs, changed lives, changed everything I’ve ever known. The least I can do is thank the people who appeared in these seconds or made them possible. They have made my life in Seattle what it is and have inarguably changed it for the better.

Sasquatch 2013

For the second year in a row, I had the privilege of attending the Sasquatch music festival, out at the Gorge Ampitheatre in central Washington. Just like last year, the views were spectacular, the music was mind-blowing, and the atmosphere was electric.

This year, I was able to bring my Canon 5D Mark III with 70-200mm lens, along with my Fuji x100, to shoot some footage. The below video is what resulted.

It was also a joy to photograph the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis performance on opening night. Macklemore (age 29) is an incredibly gifted performer, and gave us a show we would not soon forget. Click through to see the full set of photos.
  Macklemore 11

Shooting the Pacific Northwest Regionals Yo-Yo Championship

PNWR Yo-Yo Championships 1
I had the privilege of shooting the Pacific Northwest Regionals Yo-Yo Championship this weekend at The Armory in the Seattle Center. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I had guessed that it would either be 1) a few guys doing some mediocre yo-yo tricks, or 2) an awesome display of talent from a subculture that I was only barely aware of. It was definitively the latter. Hundreds of people showed up at The Armory (dozens of yo-yo enthusiasts, along with their parents). These people have spent thousands of hours honing their skills and it shows. After watching them do a myriad of yo-yo tricks over the course of two days, I started to realize the appeal: there’s something magical about the ability to make a small, circular device at your fingertips appear to defy gravity.

For the entire shoot, I used only my Canon 5D Mark III and my 50mm f/1.4 lens along with my trusty 70-200mm f/2.8. There are unique challenges to shooting a yo-yo competition that I did not anticipate. You are shooting in a low-light environment, in a situation where both the subject and an object in the subject’s hands are moving rapidly. Thus, I had to shoot with the aperture wide open (f/2.8 or lower) but still be focused on the subject to get some decent bokeh out of it AND have a high shutter speed to freeze the action, lest both subject and his yo-yo become blurred beyond recognition. For most of these shots, I used an ISO of 2000 combined with f/2.8 and a shutter speed of 1/400th to 1/500th of a second. As expected, the Mark III’s high-ISO performance was exceptional.


I took a few hundred shots and only a few dozen were at a sharpness that I’d consider to be usable. There were two failures here: one is the fact that I haven’t mastered all the intricacies of the Mark III’s incredibly complex autofocus system, and the other is the fact that the 50mm f/1.4’s focusing motor just doesn’t feel like it’s well-designed for action. After some experimentation, I realized that all I really needed to make some compelling shots (compelling for me, at least) was to try and capture these performers’ expressions as sharply as possible. If the yo-yo was in focus, that was an added bonus.

Video on the other hand was much easier. I shot at 60 fps and ran the shutter speed fairly constant at 1/125, thus giving me the freedom to close down the aperture significantly. Even so, maintaining focus was challenging on some occasions. Note that I was going hand-held for nearly all of these shots, carrying a very heavy lens with no rig, and trying to focus simultaneously.

Here’s a video I put together of the event:

And here’s video of Zach Gormley, who I believe was this year’s champion. After you watch the mind-blowing things he does in this video, you won’t be surprised: