Author Archives: bobkrist

Video Shootout Part Two

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In the previous post, I started talking about the difference between shooting an HDSLR or an APS-sized chip camcorder for video.  I use the APS-sized chip camcorder for a comparison, since these are the only fairly reasonably priced camcorders that can give you the same narrow depth of field that is all the rage. But alot of the pros and cons (save the DOF thing) can be said of any camcorder.

What is reasonably priced to our video-shooting brethern is, um, a little different from what we still guys might consider reasonable. The cheapest current example of an APS chip camcorder is the Sony NEX VG 10 and it’s $2 grand with a kit 18-200mm lens.  The others coming in from Sony and Panasonic are $5 grand and up for the body only…and that’s still considered “reasonable” in video circles….(those guys must make some $$$, but that’s a post for another day!).

After spending 24 days running and gunning on a charter jet tour around the world with a pair of D7000s, and then being offered another similar assignment almost directly afterwards, I decided to try a different tack.

I was pleased with the D7000 imagery, etc. but frankly, an SLR is designed primarily for stills, and I rarely had time on these fast stops to truss up the SLR with all the accoutrements—mic, LCD, shoulder brace……plus, when I did,  it made the unit too big to lug on and off buses, regional aircraft, and pull in and out of my camera bag.

Earlier this year, when I was waiting to take delivery on my D7000s (I got mine about 2 months later than everybody else, being a Nikon insider:-)), I had a video job and I broke down and bought the Sony NEX VG 10.  This camera could have been killer, but Sony hobbled it with a goofy menu system and a lack of certain key controls that would have made it a must have.  (Of course, they did that to protect their market for the $8000 “pro” version that was coming out six months later).

I never sold the thing when the 7000s came out, despite some grave reservations about it. But one thing was for sure—-it is designed to shoot video and it was a lot easier to use on the run than an SLR.

So, since these jet trips are essentially event coverage, with no time for preplanning, reshoots, etc. etc. I decided to take the Sony to shoot the second trip. I also had a D7000 and a couple of lenses, and for a second body to swap lenses with, I picked up a Sony NEX 5 with a 16mm f/2.8 pancake lens and ultrawide and fisheye lens adapters for the 16.

Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of using Sony as opposed to the Nikon.

CONS

The Sonys use the dreaded AVCHD file system. It’s a terrible high compression format that computers gag on, especially Macs. So you have to convert all the files to a more Mac friendly .MOV format, or sit there and wait as iMovie tries to struggle with the files. I don’t know why Panasonic and Sony are so married to this format…even PC guys struggle with it. But apparently, it’s really cool if you connect your camera directly to your HDTV…like so many of us do! Not.. So, add a day of workflow to convert the files…terrible waste of time.

The NEX VG 10 menu is god awful…and it’s hidden away behind the LCD screen, so you can’t access it while you’re shooting with the eyepiece.

Image quality–The Sony lenses just don’t hold up to the Nikkors. Yes, you can buy adapters to use any lens you want (and I have them to use my fast Nikkor primes), but part of the reason for using this camera is convenience, and the Sony glass just doesn’t have the snap of the Nikkors.

PROs

There’s a lot to love about a camcorder design though. Let me count the ways.

Articulated LCD screen AND Electronic Viewfinder—Whoa, this is a convenient way to shoot. If it’s bright and sunny, use the viewfinder…it articulates too so you can look down into it if you’re on a tripod. But even in bright sunlight the LCD screen is delightful and sharp and being able to tilt it means you can get those low angles without stooping….a big plus for arthritic, clumsy, aging shooters (hey, you lookin’ at me???). I like this so much that I’ve pre-ordered a D5100 solely for that flip out LCD screen.

Live Histogram—Oh Nikon, you have to put this in your cameras for video! We’ve all heard the mantra of not judging exposure from our LCD screens in the still world…well, the same goes for video. But without a live histogram, how the hell can you tell what you’re getting in video mode? This feature on the Sony is incredibly useful.

Superior Audio–The Sony has a four capsule mic with an included dead cat windscreen that is wonderful for capturing natural sound. So, for nat sound,  you don’t have to do the dual audio system (using an audio recorder and syncing sound in post). BUT, and this is big but, Sony in their marketing wisdom, took manual control of audio out of the equation.

It’s all automatic gain control levels, so for interviews, I’ll still use the Olympus LS 10 for recording the audio because of the manual controls. But, in a pinch, I’ve plugged in a wireless or wired lav mic right into the Sony (thankfully, it does have headphone and mic jacks) and the AGC (Audio Gain Control) hasn’t done too badly with interview levels. But for natural ambient sound, the onboard mic is terrific.

Better Autofocus–Yes, it’s true, the Sony AF is surer, but not any quicker, than the Nikon in LiveView mode. I try to use manual focus in video shooting, but when you’re talking about covering fast moving events, having reliable AF is a plus.

Here’s a little piece shot with the Sonys. It’s about a wacky village festival not far from where I’m staying in Southwest England. And it’s the kind of event where the camcorder shines.

Keep in mind, when comparing it to the Nikon  D7000 piece from Papua New Guinea in the previous post, that this is no where near as exotic or colorful an event, it was a few hours of coverage, not a few days; and it was edited by me in iMovie, whereas the PNG piece was done by a skilled editor, John Campbell, in Final Cut Pro.

In the next post, I’ll give you my unscientific (as always) conclusions on working with these two systems, and wax a bit lyrical about the NEX 5, the little backup camera that could, and a definite keeper.

 

 

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Shootout—HDSLR versus APS-chip Camcorder

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It’s been an insane two months (and it’s not over) but I thought I’d try to pull my head up from the computer (what country is this?) and check in.  I’ve been covering two, back-to-back, 3 week-long charter jet tours for National Geographic Expeditions and TCS&Starquest Expeditions. Covering them entirely in video (fortunately, I don’t have to edit all this stuff!)

These tours move like lightning, spending no more than three nights per location and going all over the world. It’s like a Whitman Sampler of world culture. And for a rookie video shooter, it’s a challenge…you get one crack at a location or activity, it’s brief, and there’s no going back for reshoots, there’s no assistant, no soundman, no second cameraman.

I shot the first 24-day trip with Nikon gear…two D7000’s, a battery of lenses, and a bit with the late, lamented Sanyo Xacti HD 2000 handicam. The gear behaved flawlessly, but it was a heavy load slogging two bodies, 5 lenses, a little LCD light and a soundkit, on and off buses, landrovers, small charter planes, etc. 

Here’s an example of what we did during a brief trip to the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea with this setup.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the pros and cons of using an HDSLR in fast breaking documentary coverage.

The pros: Nikon optics…can’t beat ’em, ability to grab stills if need be, familiar form factor. Built-in intervalometer makes doing timelapses very easy. Easy access to all controls and a very complete and logical menu system.

The cons: Attaching and unattaching an LCD loupe is a hassle when things break so fast…and you can’t fit a body already fitted out with one in any camera bag that I own. So you end up not using one a lot of the time and  it’s hard to see in bright light.

Onboard sound, even with a good shotgun mic, is okay at best, there is no live histogram to judge exposure (and it’s very hard to judge exposure on an LCD, if you can’t see it!).

And the weight of the bag became daunting (of course, I am not getting any younger, so that’s a factor:-).

In the next post, I’ll talk about the second trip, which I shot with a completely different setup.

 

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Hands on Impressions of the Nikon D 5100

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I had the distinct pleasure of being one of the photographers shooting for the Nikon D5100 brochure produced by Nikon, Japan. As such, I got to play extensively with prototype versions of this new camera.

Note please that the headline said “impressions” pieces and not “review.” Why? Because I’m not technically adept enough to do reviews….but I do get hired to make pictures now and then with new gear:-), so I can at least give you my impressions of working with the gear, albeit prototype gear.

It’s hard to really do an exhaustive review when the firmware of the prototypes is getting upgraded in increments every hour of every day you’re trying to shoot with them. That’s one of the distinct, um, pleasures of shooting material for a camera before it’s officially finished, er, I mean released.

If you are the type of shooter who wants a big brick of a “pro” camera that weighs a ton and can drive nails, you can stop reading.

If you crave high performance, light weight, and affordability, you are going to be a happy camper. 

Image quality looks damn similar to the D7000, which is to say great. But I what I really really love about this camera is the small size AND the articulating screen. It wasn’t until I started using it that I discovered how useful it can be, and for shooting video, that screen is a joy. It makes doing floor level shots, flying a camera on a stabilizer, and doing hail mary angles—-useful for stills but absolutely necessary for video—easy as pie.

The added option of 1080p 30fps is welcome (but 60fps, for smooth slo-mo, would be even more welcome…I’m sure it’s coming in the next pro body release). They give you a mic jack too, so you can use your auxiliary mics with this baby and get usable sound.

The special effects menu—miniature effect (tilt and shift look), selective color, in camera HDR (the camera takes two frames and blends them), and color sketch effect —are a lot of fun, but for me, it’s only the miniature effect and the HDR that are of really interest. 

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You have to double check me on this (again, I was working on prototypes) but I’m 90% sure that there’a built in intervalometer on the D5100, which makes it an awesome time-lapse shooting machine. 

Nikon continues to put more and more great innovations in their new consumer cam releases that you wish, you pray, would be available for older, higher end models. Would I like 30fps option for my D7000? Oh yeah.  The miniature effect? You bet. But I don’t think they’re going to issue firmware upgrades to do this retroactively. It’s the nature of camera marketing.

The D5100 uses the same small battery (EN-EL 14) as the D3100 family, so that means carrying an extra charger and carrying a second type of battery and charger (takes up just that much more space).

There wasn’t any time during my two weeks working with this camera that I felt like throwing it against a wall or tossing it into the Pacific…that’s high praise from me! The smaller lighter body is something I got used to very quickly and it’s going to make it easy to use a smaller stabilizer or steadicam to “fly” the camera. That’s a good thing, because you’d be surprised at how tired your arm can get working with a stabilizer.

In fact, after working with them for that long, my D7000s felt big and chunky in comparison when I got back.

So I’ve got one on order to be my third body (“two and a spare” is the way I’ve been traveling with cameras since…well since a long time ago). But I have to tell you, the D7000 better watch out, because the new kid in town is pretty damn cool!

You check the camera and brochure out here.  It was more kids and animals than I’ve shot in a long time….and you know what they say about working with kids and animals! They say it ‘cuz it’s true:-).

 

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The Nikon Coolpix P 300

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On this last trip, I had an opportunity to carry the new Nikon Coolpix P300 and put it through its paces. A truly pocketable, high quality compact camera has been a dream of mine for some time now, and while I’m not ready to say my dream has come true, it’s gotten a lot closer.

I’ll post the specs at the end of this entry, but everyone wants to know how it stacks up against the closest competitor, the Canon S95.  The answer, in short, is pretty well.

Let’s look at the Nikon’s shortcomings first.  The Canon still has a larger sensor, it shoots RAW, and it has a more robust set of effects, and of course, Canon is very good about making waterproof cases for seemingly every compact it puts out.

The P 300 has a wider lens (24mm vs. 28), it’s faster (f/1.8 at the wide end vs. f/2), higher res video (1080p 30fps vs. 720 at 24fps). The P300 allows you to zoom while shooting video (nice!), locks the autoexposure down the minute you do video (about time!). The P300 also has a cool 120 fps mode for slow-mo, albeit only in VGA resolution.

The Nikon is about $75 cheaper, give or take.

Size-wise, it’s close. I haven’t shot the S95 but the P300 handled well and I’m pleased with it (I loved the P 7000 too, but it’s a brick and cannot be classified as “pocketable”). Do I miss RAW? Kinda, but this is a grab shot camera and it’s not a deal breaker for me.

Here’s the deal, though. With smartphones and all their apps absolutely kicking the asses of compact camera sales, one wonders why camera manufacturers are not pulling out all the stops to load as much stuff into these compacts as possible to make sure they can compete? Not with other compact cameras, but with smartphones!

Why not put an interval timer in a camera like this, so we can shoot timelapses? That’s one feature that smartphones don’t allow, and it’s a big deal.  Why not offer in camera HDR?  C’mon. The time to pull punches in this competitive market is over.

So while the P300 may not be a total homerun, it’s a good stand-up triple, and that’s earned it a pouch on my belt!

Here’s the specs:

Price$329.95*MSRP

4 / 5

Supplied Accessories

  • Camera Strap AN-CP19
  • Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL12
  • Charging AC Adapter EH-69P
  • UC-E6 USB Cable
  • Audio Video Cable EG-CP16
  • Nikon ViewNX 2 Software CD

Specifications

  • Type
    Compact Digital Camera 
  • Effective Pixels
    12.2 million 
  • Image Sensor
    CMOS 
  • Sensor Size
    1/2.3 in. 
  • Total Pixels
    12.75 million (approx.) 
  • Lens
    4.2x optical Zoom, NIKKOR glass lens
  • Lens Focal Length
    4.3-17.9mm (angle of view equivalent to that of 24-100mm lens in 35mm [135] format) 
  • Lens f/-number
    f/1.8-4.9 
  • Lens Construction
    7 elements in 6 groups 
  • Lens Zoom
    4.2x 
  • Digital Zoom
    Up to 2x (angle of view equivalent to that of approx. 200mm lens in 35mm [135] format) 
  • Vibration Reduction
    Lens-shift VR 
  • Autofocus (AF)
    Contrast-detect AF
  • Autofocus (AF) Focus-area selection
    Auto (9-area automatic selection)

     Center

    Face priority

    Face priority tracking

    Manual with 99 focus areas

    Subject tracking

     
  • Focus Range
    [W]: Approx. 1 ft. (30 cm.) to infinity

     

    [T]: Approx. 2 ft. (60 cm.) to infinity

    Macro close-up mode: [W]: Approx. 1.2 in. (3 cm.) to infinity

     
  • Focus Lock
    Yes
     
  • Maximum Autofocus Areas/Points
    9
     
  • Monitor Size
    3.0 in. diagonal
     
  • Monitor Type
    TFT-LCD with Anti-reflection coating
     
  • Monitor Resolution
    921,000-dots
     
  • Monitor Frame coverage (shooting mode)
    100% horizontal (Approx.)

     

    100% vertical (Approx.)

     
  • Monitor Frame coverage (playback mode)
    100% horizontal (Approx.)
     
  • Storage Media
    SD memory card

     

    SDHC memory card

    SDXC memory card

     
  • Internal Memory
    Approx. 90MB
     
  • Storage File System
    DCF

     

    EXIF 2.3

    DPOF compliant

     
  • Storage File formats
    Still pictures: JPEG

     

    Sound files (Voice Memo): WAV

     
  • Movie
    Audio file format: AAC stereo

     

    Full HD: 1920x1080p / 30fps

    Movie file format: MPEG-4 AVC H.264

     
  • Voice Memo Function
    Yes
     
  • Image Size (pixels)
    4000 x 3000 (12M)
     
  • ISO Sensitivity
    ISO 160-3200

     

    Auto (auto gain ISO 160-1600)

    Fixed range auto (ISO 160-400, 160-800)

     
  • Lowest ISO Sensitivity
    160
     
  • Highest ISO Sensitivity
    3200
     
  • Exposure Metering
    224-segment matrix, center-weighted
     
  • Exposure Control
    Programmed auto exposure with flexible program

     

    aperture-priority auto

    exposure bracketing

    Exposure compensation (-2.0 to +2.0 EV in steps of 1/3 EV) 

    manual

    motion detection

    shutter priority auto

     
  • Exposure Modes
    Aperture-Priority Auto (A)

     

    Manual (M)

    Programmed Auto (P)

    Shutter-Priority Auto (S)

     
  • Automatic Exposure Scene Modes
    Yes
     
  • Scene Modes
    Back Light

     

    Beach

    Black and White Copy

    Close Up

    Dusk/Dawn

    Fireworks Show

    Food

    Landscape

    Museum

    Night Landscape

    Night Portrait

    Panorama

    Party/Indoor

    Pet Portrait

    Portrait

    Scene Auto Selector

    Snow

    Special Effects

    Sports

    Sunset

     
  • In-Camera Image Editing
    Crop

     

    D-Lighting

    Filter Effects

    Quick retouch

    Skin softening

    Small Pic

     
  • Exposure Compensation
    ± 2 EV in steps of 1/3
     
  • Exposure Lock
    Yes
     
  • Exposure Bracketing
    Yes
     
  • White Balance
    Auto

     

    Manual

     
  • Shutter
    Mechanical and CMOS electronic shutter
     
  • Shutter Speed
    1/2000-8 sec. (M mode)
     
  • Top Continuous Shooting Speed at full resolution
    Up to 7 shots at approx. 8 frames per second
     
  • Continuous Shooting Options
    Continuous

     

    Continuous H 60

    Continuous H 120

     
  • Self-timer
    Can be selected from 10 and 2 seconds duration
     
  • Built-in flash Range (approx.) (ISO sensitivity: Auto)
    [W]: 0.5 to 6.5m (1 ft. 8in. to 21ft.)

     

    [T]: 0.5 to 2.5m (1ft. 8in. to 8ft. 2in.)

     
  • Built-in Flash Control
    TTL auto flash with monitor preflashes
     
  • Built-in Flash
    Yes
     
  • Interface
    Hi-speed USB
     
  • Interface Data transfer protocol
    MTP

     

    PTP

     
  • Video Output
    NTSC

     

    PAL

     
  • HDMI Output
    480p

     

    720p

    1080i

     
  • I/O terminal
    Audio/video (A/V) output

     

    Digital I/O (USB)

    HDMI Mini Connector (HDMI output)

     
  • Supported Languages
    Arabic

     

    Czech

    Chinese (Simplified and Traditional) 

    Danish

    Dutch

    English

    Finnish

    French

    German

    Greek

    Hungarian

    Indonesian

    Italian

    Japanese

    Korean

    Norwegian

    Polish

    Portugese

    Romanian

    Russian

    Spanish

    Swedish

    Thai

    Turkish

    Ukranian

     
  • Power Sources
    One Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL12 (supplied)
     
  • Charging Time
    4 hours (when using Charging AC Adapter EH-69P)(Approx.)
     
  • Battery / Batteries
    Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL12
     
  • Battery Life (shots per charge)
    Nikon Rechargeable:

     

    240 shots (CIPA)

     

     
  • Tripod Socket
    ¼ (ISO 1222)
     
  • Approx. Dimensions
    Height: 2.3 in. (58.3mm)

     

    Width: 4.1 in. (103mm)

    Depth: 1.3 in. (32mm)

    Excluding projections. Method of noting dimensions and weight is in accordance with CIPA DCG-005-2009 guideline.

     
  • Approx. Weight
    6.7 oz. (189g)

     

    with battery and SD memory card. Method of noting dimensions and weight is in accordance with CIPA DCG-005-2009 guideline.

     
  • Operating environment
    Temperature: 0 to 40°C (32 to 104°F)
     
  • Supplied Accessories
    • Camera Strap AN-CP19
    • Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL12
    • Charging AC Adapter EH-69P
    • UC-E6 USB Cable
    • Audio Video Cable EG-CP16
    • Nikon ViewNX 2 Software CD

    *Supplied accessories may differ depending on country or area.

     

 


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Jiving in Java

These Javanese schoolgirls cornered me during our visit to the famous Buddhist temple, Borobodur, to practice their English. Check out how they just dissolve into laughter everytime I mention the two Indonesian words I know, nasi goreng, which is the name of their favorite fried rice dish.

 

Apologies for the exposure, but I started shooting the video blindly from the chest when I thought that we were going to have some fun with the conversation. I didn’t want to miss the moment by bringing the camera to my eye.

 

The Legendary Cultures tour has been moving along nicely…some bumpy air and a bout of food poisoning, but I’m still standing and in the home stretch.

 

Next stop for the Legendary Cultures tour: Bhutan!  I’ll keep you posted…

 

Here’s a still of the girls posing for a snap.
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