Category: Gear

Surface Pro 3 as Creative Tool (part 1): Introduction

I was at Adobe Max this year when  Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella came on stage to talk about the Surface Pro 3 and their deepening collaboration with Adobe. His speech featured this video:

Although a lot of the applications and features showcased in the video were prototypes I, like many others in the room, was just starting to think that maybe I should look into a Surface device when Nadella announced that everyone in the room was getting a Surface Pro 3 to take home. It took a couple of seconds to sink in and then the room went nuts. It was like a geeky version of Oprah’s car give away: “You’re getting a Surface, and you’re getting a surface. We’re all getting a Surface!”

This wasn’t the first time this year that Microsoft has given away thousands of these machines to get them in the hands of influencers and out on the street: they’ve given them to journalists, analysts and techies but this was the first time they’d targeted creatives. It’s a pretty bold move on their part because the creative field has long been dominated by Apple. I’d guess that 9 out of 10 laptops I saw at Adobe Max were MacBooks and, at work, where I prefer to use a windows desktop, I am the anomaly. Microsoft want this to be a machine that’s all things to all men. They want it to be accepted in the corporate world as well as on university campuses, worldwide, coffee shops and in creatives’s designer messenger bags. They also want it to replace both your iPad and your MacBook Air and their TV ads are challenging the Macbook Air’s dominance in the ultrabook category. Click for more

What to buy from CraigsList: Lowel Lights

CraigsList has got a reputation as a hangout for flakes and shysters. If you’ve tried to get work through CraigsList, this might have been you’re experience, but it is still a place to find some filmmaking bargains. One of those, I suggest, is Lowel tungsten lights.

Lowel lights have fallen out of favor in recent years as people have been looking for ‘cooler’ (pun intended) alternatives. Florescents, CFLs and, especially, LEDs are the flavor of the day. Each has its pros and cons but compared to the workhorse Lowels they’re all expensive and delicate. Lowel light kits were the go-to lights for video journalists, students and corporate professionals for years. The reasons that that was true, are same reasons you should think about adding a Lowel light kit to your arsenal: they’re cheap, tough, adaptable and have great quality to the light they produce baked in.

Omni Kit

About 1/10 the cost of the new kit, and still going strong.

Because they’re so tough, and they have been sold for so many years, they are plentiful and you can still easily find parts to fix or replace anything that is broken or misplaced in an old kit. Because they’re not very fashionable, you can find decent kits for cents on the dollar and CraigsList would be my shopping venue of choice. You could try eBay, but kits can be heavy, so shipping charges can be prohibitive. The advantage of CraigsList is that you can pick them up locally and you check that they’re as described when you do.

I just picked up a Lowel Omni 4 kit, just like this kit B&H sells for $1,241, except that mine was made in the late 90’s and contains a few extras, like some light modifiers, and bares the scars of use. My cost was, $140 and a gallon of gas. At that price, how can you go wrong? Guerrilla filmmakers have always looked to the Hardware Store for cheap equivalents of expensive film tools, but you ‘d be hard pressed to get a set of halogen work lights for this money and the Lowels are made for filmmaking, not for lighting job-sites. I did quite a deal but, with a little patience, you can find something similar. I bought mine from a college that was selling off it’s hot-hot lights. Many companies, organizations and individuals are doing the same. You can find pre-packaged kits, like I did, or pick up odd lights here and there. Don’t be afraid of a few battle scars and evidence of heat. These lights were built to take abuse and you can still get just about every part you need to fix something broken in that abuse goes too far. Don’t worry about evidence of them running hot – they were designed to run this way. A brand new light only needs to be run for  a few hours before you know it’s not new anymore.

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The H6: Zoom’s Response to the Tascam DR-60D

Zoom H6It was only a couple of weeks ago that Tascam announced the DR-60D field recorder that is designed with the enthusiast filmmaker in mind. I thought it was one of the three most interesting products at NAB 2013 but, no sooner than the buzz from NAB had began to die down than Zoom returns fire with the announcement of the Zoom H6 at the Musikmesse fair at Frankfurt.

Details are limited but we can see that Zoom has designed the H6 with video applications in mind. Most excitingly it has four on-board, XLR/TRS inputs, expandable to six with an optional, interchangeable XLR/TRS head and it will record all six channels simultaneously and each channel has a dedicated, hardware, level control knob. That’s making the Tasam Dr-60D’s mere two XLR inputs seem a little paltry by comparison. And that could be Zoom’s intention: you might have been just about to order the DR-60D but Zoom’s press release will give you pause – if you can wait a little longer, being able to record 6 channels from XLR at once could be worth your patience.

Why would you need so many channels? Options. With 6 channels being able to lav and boom all the talent on set will give you so many more options back in the edit bay. Hopefully you’ll be able to input one mic into two channels set at different levels; one dialed back for safety but both from the same source.

But this is just speculation as Zoom haven’t announced a shipping date or price yet. If the H6 is adopted by enthusiast filmmakers with as much enthusiasm as they’ve taken to the H4 over the past few years then Zoom will have another huge hit on their hands. Of course this depends on them pricing the H6 correctly and getting it out to the market before Tascam do any serious damage to Zoom’s fan-base.

Top 3 Most Interesting Products at NAB 2013 for Guerrilla Filmmakers

If you follow video production products and technology you can’t help but notice that NAB 2013 has just closed. I was watching the news and press-releases from afar and here are the top 3 products that peeked my interest and that will be of interest to Guerrilla Filmmakers. Perhaps we wont be dashing out to buy these tomorrow but they do give us some insight into the direction that products may be heading in the next year or so:

BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera

No surprise what my top most interesting product of NAB 2013 is the BlackMagic S16 Pocket Cinema Camera. No surprise it’s of interest but I don’t think many people saw this one coming. For about a grand you get a pocketable video camera that records with 13 stops of dynamic range in lossless format to cheap SD cards and takes micro-four thirds lenses. Name one filmmaker who isn’t intrigued by the idea of a cinema quality camera that fits in your pocket. If it delivers on its promise of being small enough to carry anywhere but flexible enough and adaptable to scale into the heart of a full on film rig, BlackMagic are going to sell thousands!

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Plastic Fantastic HDSLR Shoulder Support

Let’s take it as read that the DSLR used for making HD video is a beautiful but flawed compromise. This statement is true of almost every aspect of the format but nowhere more so than the form factor which is especially obvious when you take the camera off your tripod and try to hand hold it. For taking stills it is perfect but when taking video without the optical viewfinder available it is clunky and awkward. So an exclusive cottage industry has been built around the idea of making your HDSLR feel more like a real, movie camera.

If you have an unlimited budget there are some beautifully engineered rod and rails camera systems out there. Industry professionals may be able to justify a shoulder support that costs as much as their camera, it may even seem cheap to them, but to the rest of us working stiffs, it is an expense that is hard to justify. So, like many other enthusiasts, I was excited when the Adorama Shoulder Support surfaced for $45. If I’d waited I would have been able to get the same thing for about $10 less from Cowboy Studios but even on my meager budget this accessory was more than worth taking a chance on. When it arrived about a year ago I played with it a bit but it has taken me many months of occasional messing around to get to the point where I’m happy with this rig. Click for more