Tag: review

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

Review: Manfrotto 701HDV

Manfrotto 701HDV

If you are are photog, or you know one well, you will know that, after cameras and lenses, their gear obsession is often directed at finding the perfect bag and the perfect camera support. You will also know that it is an unending quest that results in a closet full of more bags than Carrie Bradshaw, although significantly less stylish in design. It also results in a stack of sticks and heads that can be combined in an infinite number of combinations depending upon the, the situation, the subject, the camera and if the capture is for still or moving images.

It’s that last issue that trips up many photogs who start playing with making movies. In general, their existing camera, lenses, camera bags and tripod legs will all be adequate for video but their existing tripod head will not be useful for anything other than locked off shots. Still tripod heads often have an infinite number of movements to get the camera’s viewpoint exactly in the position the photographer wants but no smooth way of getting there. Video heads are generally limited to 2 axises but they can move very smoothly within them to create gentle pans and more complicated camera movements all film makers want.

A dedicated movie tripod may be the ideal for video work but they can be heavy and expensive and not always what the combination still/movie creator needs. One tripod is heavy enough – who wants to lug around two? Better to maybe take your favorite still tripod legs and head and a fluid head in addition in case you need it.

Manfrotto 701HDV with Sanyo FH1 & Canon 5D II

This is where the Manfrotto 701HDV seems to come in. It’s a head that fits on a standard tripod legs 3/8″ screw rather than a video tripod bowl. This in itself is both an advantage and a disadvantage: it’s an advantage in that it will mount on your existing tripod’s legs but it’s a disadvantage in that, without the bowl, it’s a lot more tedious to get level. A dedicated video tripod has the head mounted in a bowl so you can set the legs and then level the head ready for use. The head must be level if you want to avoid slipping of an axis during a pan. With a video head on still legs you have to set the legs and head level at the same time by altering the relative height of the three legs independently which can be fiddly. The 701HDV does have a built in bubble level to help in this task.

Once the legs are set the next job is to get the camera on and balanced. This is achieved through setting the included quick-release plate in the correct position on the head. The 701HDV’s plate has enough travel for most circumstances; if you need more travel a longer plate is available as an accessory. It has a screw lock on the right side of the head to set it’s position and it has a red release button on the left when you want to remove the plate from the head. This means you should accidentally drop your camera when setting it up. The plate only exits from the rear of the head which is different from my other video quick release plates that can be removed from the front of back of the head.

This is a true fluid head and the drag is locked via a prominent lock screw for the up/down axis and a less obvious finger screw for the left to right movements. The drag itself is fixed but seems balanced for HDSLR use. A nice, long, adjustable handle to provided for controlling your camera’s movements and it can be fitted to either side of the head depending upon your preference. You can fit 2 handles at once if you prefer that configuration and an additional handle is available as an accessory. It takes a little practice but you can achieve nice, smooth and steady camera movements with this head.

There are cheaper alternatives to the 701HDV but not many and very few with this build quality. The little Manfrotto is manufactured in Italy and is very solid with no plastic components that I could see. It is finished in the Monfrotto standard black with with red accents from the Monfrotto logo and the quick release button. Its street price is about $150 which is very reasonable. If you’re a still photographer just getting into video this is on piece of equipment you won’t outgrow very quickly. Even when you do get a dedicated video tripod you can still use the 701HDV for your second camera or when you want to travel light.

Highly recommended.

Reviews: 4 YouTube Marketing Books

There’s a bit of a contradiction going on, if you acknowledge that video is the only way people want to communicate, but you want to read a book about YouTube. Then again, you’re currently reading a blog about video so perhaps I should shut up. However, I’ve got to acknowledge the inappropriateness of the medium and the following quote, if you substitute ‘video‘ for ‘architecture‘ seems appropriate:

Writing about painting is like dancing about architecture.”

So, what’s so inappropriate about a print copy of a book on the subject of YouTube? The most obvious thing is that, the net moves pretty fast; by the time a book on some interweb subject leaves the presses it is, most likely, already out of date. These  books include features that have changed and restrictions that have being removed. Why read something that is wrong?

Then there’s the amount of fluff you have to wade through. All books include a description about what YouTube is and how to navigate your way around. If you’ve gone to the expense of buying a book on YouTube, then you probably already know what it is and how to navigate around it. And why do we need to read a long-winded history of YouTube when a paragraph would suffice? Or how to upload a video when YouTube’s own ‘help’ is a better resource? You just get the feeling that the authors are unthinkingly following a publishers template for technical books.

Putting the inappropriateness of the print medium aside (maybe you’re reading it on your Kindle or tablet), let’s take a look at a four examples:

YouTube for Business: Online Video Marketing for Any Business

The author of this example, is Michael Miller; a self-proclaimed prolific writer, with more than 100 non-fiction books to his name in the past two decades. I’m all for generalists but YouTube marketing is a subject that warrants a bona fide expert not someone who has written the Complete Idiots Guide to Conducting and Windows 8 PC for Seniors. Mr Miller is a nice guy, but shouldn’t this course be written and led by someone who lives and breathes video marketing, not someone just cutting another notch in their bookshelf?

A lot of the information in the book is very general and basic and not really about marketing at all. The whole of Part 2 of this book is about producing videos and Part 3 is about managing your YouTube videos – both are things you should know but the information is basic better described elsewhere, and this book is supposed to be about marketing. I could only really recommend this to someone just starting out using YouTube.

YouTube Marketing (Video)

To call this a video is a little generous: it’s more like a PowerPoint deck with audio laid over the top for much of the time. Again, we’re talking about the power of video on YouTube and this doesn’t really hit the bar. It’s really a subset of the above book, read to you.

YouTube and Video Marketing: An Hour a Day

Marginally better than the above efforts but suffers from many of the same faults. One of your first daily hours is taken up by a “A short History of YouTube”. Month one is about video production again: there are better ways to spend a month learning video production. Chapter 4 has you watching popular YouTube videos for a month – few of which were created for marketing purposes.

Chapter 10 includes some case studies that are worth reading but apart from that I didn’t get much out of this book.

YouTube: An Insider’s Guide to Climbing the Charts

This book is getting a bit long in the tooth now as it was first published in 2008, but, at least it was written by two YouTubers who have had some success on YouTube and it wasn’t made to fit some technical-book template. It’s not written from a marketing perspective but, rather, from a perspective of people who have (or want to) ‘make it’ on YouTube. As such, it has a lot of useful information but you will have to pick and choose what you can use. There’s nothing very deep to this book, and you do have to get over the authors’ constant self-promotion, but it wasn’t such a chore to read, compared to the two previous books.

Beyond Viral: How to Attract Customers, Promote Your Brand, and Make Money with Online Video

The best of this bunch: still not perfect but at least the author is proven both as a YouTube personality and marketeer. Nalts recognizes that most businesses using YouTube think they want a video to go viral, but that there’s many people who successfully use YouTube to market their company without getting millions of views. There’s a bunch of useful case studies included and a lot specific information about implementing a practical, marketing strategy that incorporates YouTube. Working out how to apply this information to your own business is the tricky part but isn’t that usually the way?

The book is the most detailed, entertaining and thoughtful of this bunch and so it is my “Must Read” recommendation on the subject

… if you still want to read about YouTube marketing.


Book Reviews of the Month

Audio for Single Camera Operation by Tony Grant

Tony Grant is a knowledgeable cameraman, with many years of experience working for the BBC. This book aims to educate the professional cameraman about sound considerations, but it was published in 2002, so it does feel a little dated at times. DAT is referenced as a new technology, and when he talks about taping, he really means with a tape and everything. With that said, sound recording technology, beyond formats and medium, hasn’t advanced quite as much as video technology in the intervening years, so there still much of value to the one-man production shop within these pages.

Microphone technology, concepts and techniques, in particular, haven’t changed that much, so the chapters on mic placement and use for specific, common video situations remain pertinent and useful today. What I found especially useful is the series of practical exercises Mr Grant includes for getting to know mics, placement, mixing and track recording. For the visual person we sometimes neglect to train our ears and get familiar with our specific equipment – these exercise help you learn to listen and to get familiar with your specific, equipment combination.

Despite being in need of an update, there is little fluff here, and lots of useful information on a subject which is often neglected.

Photocine: Digital Filmmaking with DSLRs by Lou Lesko, Michael Britt & Snehal Patel

Although there is a plethora of sites, articles and videos on the subject, on the interwebs, if you are of a certain age and background, it is sometimes nice to be able to go to one reference tome for all information on a subject. That is what Digital Filmmaking with DSLRs sets out to be. To some extent it succeeds, but it is hard to compete with the whole of the internet, especially in a field that is moving so fast. The book dedicates too much time to a single camera, the Canon 5D mkII; an important camera, yes, but, yesterday’s news. It also attempts to educate us on a couple of important figures and works in the field but it’s view is a little skewed.

Some excuses can be made, in that, this book is already two and a half years old which, in DSLR video years, is about a decade. In the end, you might want one book to replace all those sites, links and bookmarks that you have but you quickly feel the shortcomings of the print media, and find yourself returning to the chaos of the web. If you’re starting out, and are playing catch-up, this book could be a good way to get up to speed, but, for the the more experienced, I’m not sure it offers that much.


Burn Your Portfolio: Stuff they don’t teach you in design school, but should by Michael Janda

So here’s the star of this month’s books. You might think that a book aimed at graphic designers is not going to have a lot pertinent to video and filmmakers, but you’d be wrong. Their industry is creative and ruled by clients and project management and collaboration just like ours. The advice Mr Janda gives is immediately,  practically useful. I’d estimate that less than 10% wasn’t applicable to the video creation business but why should that be a surprise? The overlap between graphic design and video bleeds in through animation and titles and infographics, etc.

It’s an easy and fun read and it’s a book you can go back to for refreshers and tips over and over. It’s as useful for a new graduate as it is for an old-hand. This book is a little-known gem but don’t just take my word for it – check out the enthusiastic reviews on Amazon from experienced graphic designers. If you’re a filmmaker who considers themselves, or aims to be, a professional, do yourself a favor and skip reading one technical book this weeks and read “Burn Your Portfolio” instead.

Adobe MAX 2013: A Newbie’s Perspective

The type of conferences I usually get sent to for work can be more of a chore than anything else, not least because I’m usually working and not an attendee.  So it was much anticipation that I attended Adobe MAX this week (6-8 May, 2013) at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Billing itself as the “Creativity Conference”, I, along with 5,000 other designers, developers, video, film and industry leaders, went along hoping for plenty of inspiration and I was not disappointed.

The first keynote was the more corporate of the two keynotes, giving Adobe a platform to showcase their new products and announce their direction for the coming year. As a newbie to this conference I was told that there had been a focus on developers at MAX in the past but this year the focus seemed much more on creatives. Few of the announcements seemed to be geared towards developer’s tools or code with a majority of the time devoted to the Creative Cloud.

Click for more

Inspired: Side by Side

If you’re on Amazon Prime or Netflix (if you’re into movies you must be on at least one) and you have 99 minutes to kill I heartily recommend the documentary Side by Side. It’s a documentary that its tagline describes as “about the science, art, and impact of digital cinema“. Keanu Reeves is our guide and a producer of this doc’ in which we get to hear from a multitude of famous filmmakers about their opinion on the current transition from film to digital. These voices, apart from perhaps Robert Rodriguez, are the opposite of Guerrilla Filmmakers. They are the establishment and the old guard. They are either waxing-nostalgic, celluloid-holdouts or they’re technocrats leaping into the digital age and embracing the newest, most expensive toys. These filmmakers are not talking about cameras or processes that your average Guerrilla can afford to use but the debate is interesting despite this. The interest lies in watching the Luddites claiming that digital is the end of cinema as they feel their monopoly and control failing. That’s as it should be: revolution is not without pain.

A small section deals with the HDSLR movement in an off-hand way with established filmmakers predictably dismissing them while up-and-comers embrace them.  The whole thing reminded me of the arguments in still photography a decade ago that are now mostly forgotten. Side by Side is well crafted (digitally natch) but I wonder if it is of interest to anyone but other filmmakers and how long it will be at all relevant. That’s a pretty small audience and a pretty tight window. In the meantime, get it while you can as and I’m glad that these documentary filmmakers took the time to mark this moment in cinema history.

Joel Schumacher: The people who’ve come before us gave the world new ways to dream. I think it’s our job to continue that and to try to give people new ways to dream.