First off…Happy New Year as you may well be reading this well after I wrote it or you are living in a part of the world that has already said goodbye to 2009 and the first decade of the naughties.
I thought about doing a review of the past ten years but that is more like a book than a blog post.
First off 2009 has been a really crazy year for me professionally, done lots of great jobs, started using a whole new breed of video cameras, spent months abroad, met some amazing people and a lot more. What I want to do in this post in talk about some of the gear and software that I have used this year that I love. Most of it came out this year but there will be a couple of things that came out earlier but I only got this year so bear with me on that!
This list is in no particular order…
Obviously the key thing for me this year was the Canon 5DmkII, although it was released in late 2008 I bought mine at the end of April this year after hesitating for some time about getting one. It arrived on May 3rd when I was in Hawaii!
The lack of manual controls in video mode was the killer for me, but the ability to use my Zeiss ZF lenses with an adaptor which gave me manual iris control sealed the deal for me. Although it wasn’t until the manual firmware did come out with the ability to keep the same exposure between shots and actually select the ISO and more importantly the shutter speed that it became a really usable video camera for me and many others. Although the lack of any frame rate other than 30p still hampers it new firmware in, hopefully, early 2010 will fix this. But a FULL FRAME camera that can capture full HD video was utterly unique and really was a game changer, for me and many others. Couple that with affordability when taking into account what it is capable of image wise this was THE camera of 2009 and for most likely will be for 2010 too when that firmware comes out. Of course decent lenses are always essential when using any camera, that’s why I do recommend avoiding the slow kit zoom lenses if you can and look at the more expensive constant aperture F2.8 zoom lenses or some nice fast primes. This camera is killer in low light, but only when you have a nice fast lens to go with it.
The short film that I made that had the biggest impact was just me going out with the 5DmkII and a zeiss ZF 50mm f1.4 and handheld shooting random people in the street. You can see the video below.
I now have two of these babies and they have revolutionised my work in the past few months. I cannot recommend this camera enough. Oh…one more thing, this camera re-ignited my love of taking still photos, something I haven’t done seriously for years. The stills from it are mind blowing and I had my first paid stills job using this camera, a nice big billboard all over Bulgaria for M-Tel, although I was also shooting a video commercial at the same time. That’s convergence for you.
A camera that did come out this year and was also revolutionary was the Canon 7D. Cheaper by around $1000 that the 5DmkII. It had a smaller chip with the APS-C so not full frame but still massive in video terms. Very similar in size to the chip in the Sony F35 and the Red One but just $1600!
Proper 24p, 25p, 30p in full HD and 50p and 60p in 720p we finally had proper frame rates in a Canon DSLR. It also had many improvements over the 5DmkII. Better weatherproofing, better autofocus in stills and much more. I also liked the dedicated video button, no more going through menus to make sure video mode is on. The crop sensor of 1.6x also meant that with an adaptor this camera was usable with Cinema lens, whereas on the 5DmkII you just got a massive vignette. A big plus for filmmakers.
The 720p 50p/ 60p mode gives you the ability to do in camera slow motion but does suffer a bit more of the moire that plagues the Canon HD-DSLRs. But it is very effective and way better than filming at normal speed and then slowing down in the edit.
The day I got the 7D I was on my way to Dublin to do a DSLR masterclass for F-Stop Academy. I didn’t get a moment to look at the camera until around midnight but I had to do something so I knocked together this utterly bizarre little short film of me shaving all done in 50p slowed to 24p.
At the end of workshop we went out to celebrate with a few drinks. Of course my camera was with me and the end result was some nice 24p footage called “Dublin’s People” that went down pretty well too…it’s currently my most viewed film on Vimeo. Far from my favourite though…
The 7D really is a superb stills and video camera. Same limitations as the 5DmkII has with sound, rolling shutter, compression etc. But capable of beautiful images and can be used in many versatile ways.
Hampered by a low bit rate recording codec, this is Panasonic’s first venture into HD video in their G line. I tested out the GH1 for about 3 weeks and thought it was lovely, the lens was great with the best autofocus I have seen on a video camera, it tracked faces smoothly but it was a bit slow, I have since switched to using fast primes only with it and love the result.
It also had full manual controls for the camera. A big deal. It also had an articulated screen and an EVF. The 1080p mode was a bit weak at 17mbs but the 720p 50p mode was great. It’s a shame that the camera records 25p in the EU embedded in a 50i stream and 24p in a 60i stream rather than straight out of the camera like that, so it meant a bit more post. But I really liked the camera. Very easy to use, very light. Now if they can just up that bit rate…I asked Panasonic to release the camera in body only and they listened to my advice and have just brought it out. I thoroughly recommend body only with the pancake 20mm F1.7 lens.
Shot with stock lenses and some Zeiss Ultra Primes.
PL mount adaptor supplied by hotrodcameras.com
Mattebox was supplied by Genustech.tv
Filters supplied by Tiffen Filters
Later this year Panasonic released the GF1, a stripped down version of the GH1. We lost the EVF (there is an add on EVF but it’s rubbish resolution), the articulating screen, the full HD mode, th
e 720p 50p mode (now 24p or 25p), the mic input, the stereo mic BUT it’s smaller and that is great. Same great stills. The video too is still very good but for some odd reason they have removed the manual controls. PLEASE Panasonic put it back in. The GF1 is such a great camera, it’s the one I carry around with me every day but I want manual control for video please.
You get such great high quality stills from this micro 4/3rds camera, the size of the chip is equivalent to around a 16mm sized or 2/3″chip.
I haven’t talked about this camera yet anywhere as I have only just got it, but it was pipped to the post the Lumix TZ7 and FT1, both wonderful compacts that I love. The FT1 is waterproof and the TZ7 has a nice long optical zoom, both shoot 720p video very well. What I love about the Sony is the new Exmor R chip in it which makes for cracking low light ability. It also shoots 720p video but just at 30p. It has a great low light mode and even does a cool sweep panorama mode where you simply move the camera in a horizontal movement and it takes 10 photos very quickly and instantly stitches them together. Very impressive. It’s also nice and small, has a great LCD screen on it. Shame about those damn memory stick duo things! The lens is a superb 24-120mm and is F2.4 at it’s widest. Very nice indeed!
Click on the above Panorama to see it bigger.
There are loads of great compacts out there. Most, like this one with small chips in. Look for one with a nice wide angle lens like this one and one that can do at least 720p HD video. There are more small cameras coming out with larger sensors. The Sigma DP2 has an almost APS-C sensor in a compact body, fixed lens mind…but this is the shape of things to come. But I am really enjoying this little Sony camera, the low light, video quality, panorama, wide lens and size makes this my favourite pocket camera of the year!
With the advent of these DSLRs that shoot HD video we needed a way to make them usable as handheld cameras due to the terrible ergonomics. Zacuto, a company I do have a relationship with now as an affiliate, but more importantly are my friends, brought out their new range of supports. I have to point out my relationship with them so you can read what I say knowing this, but like anything I recommend, relationship or not, there is no point if it is shitty! I will just get a lot of people complaining to me. Not worth the hassle.
I have tried all three variations of the Gorilla kits, yes they aren’t cheap but they work better than anything else I have used and it makes handheld much easier. I like the most expensive Tactical Shooter and the cheapest, the Rapid Fire the best. The Rapid Fire is easily the best value for money at half the price of the tactical. I use that for most things as it’s really light and I get rock steady handheld. Zacuto are continually working on these things and looking at ways to improve them. Am sure 2010 we will see even better stuff from them.
Far and away my accessory of the year. Not cheap, but absolutely essential. Superb build quality, lifetime warranty including any accidental damage and it gives you a 100″ LCD screen in your eye. This baby gives your 5D/7D/D90/ GH1/ GF1/1dmkiV etc a viewfinder. As a cameraman, this is essential to me. looking at an LCD and trying to get focus really sucks. I can get focus with this. I also use it for stills in really low light when trying to do pinpoint focus on F1.2 lenses. I love this a lot, and so does the buying public, it’s almost always backordered. They just can’t make them quick enough because as soon as you look through one you see what all the fuss is about. I simply cannot shoot handheld without it and in fact have shot a number of short films just with the Z-Finder and no gorilla kit when I wanted to go minimal. LOVE THIS.
This is such a fun camera, it is tiny, shoots full HD and comes with a variety of mounts. I bought two of the motorsports packs which consist of a waterproof case and a simple suction mount and it works a treat. The menus suck, you need the manual to understand what is going on, there is no LCD to show you what you are recording but then again it is $300.
Below is a simple car shot of the camera stuck on the front of my rental car for my drive from Skywalker Ranch to San Francisco Airport
I have used the Glidetrack compact before but I believe Alastair Brown of Glidetrack has improved on it a lot. Totally ignore the pictures of it being used as a handheld rig, I don’t think it is very good for that, but for really nice simple dolly moves this is great. There are longer versions of the Glidetrack but I love the shooter. The size is perfect, goes in a suitcase easily and goes on the floor or a table and has legs to even it out or can go on a tripod with a head mounted on it like in the above picture on a manfrotto tripod with 701 HDV head. Nice combo. I think the HD version is better, but the SD is cheaper and lighter. If you are going to load it up then get the HD one.
My short film below shot on the Canon 1DmkIV in Prague the other work has a number of shots done on the Glidetrack, including the opening shot…I love this piece of kit and it goes on EVERY shoot with me!
Thanks to Rick McCallum, Albert Hughes and Daniel Bird (both Rick and Daniel appear in this)
Why this mic? It doesn’t have the best sound in the world and the rubber bands snap BUT it is very affordable, does have good sound and has a terrific little light on the back of the mic which sits in your eyeline so you know it is on and working. Essential when working with DSLRs. I have a number of mics for my 5DmkiI and 7D with 3.5mm stereo jack leads on them but this is the one I like the best for the above reasons and actually performed really well when I shot a little personal project in Venice Beach. All the sound you will hear below is from the Rode Video Mic. I was really impressed with what it picked up and the nasty auto gain control of the 7D wasn’t too noticeable.
I like to record sound separately when using my HD-DSLR and this is my audio recorder of choice when doing sound myself. It’s not ideal for proper sound recordists as it only has two XLR inputs and one control for both levels, but again it is cheap. Has some great little directional microphones which when combined with the two XLR inputs give you 4 channels of audio. You can record in all sorts of different bit rates and format up to 24 bit WAV. It takes SD cards and the quality is superb. I have used this a lot in the past 6 months and it has performed like a trooper. Check it out here.
This is one of the best plug ins I have ever come across. When recording sound separately like with the above zoom you have to sync up in post. This takes all the hard work out of it for you. As long as the camera has reference audio (preferably from the Rode) then this plug in will match the audio waveforms and make all the sound and video line up with no effort from you. This really is a joyous product and I cannot recommend it enough. Please support my site by buying through this link. I cannot offer any discount am afraid but again I get a small commission.This really is wonderful and I can’t recommend it enough.
Check out my tutorial here to see just how damn easy it is. Bruce Sharpe the man behind it is also a lovely fella so it’s great to support the little indie companies like Singular Software and Glidetrack.
When working with file based recording you need a good way of offloading. You don’t get better than this piece of software from Imagine Products. I have been using it solidly for over a year. I had some Snow Leopard issues recently which have now been resolved and I was absolutely lost without it. It works with everything really. SxS, P2, AVCHD, RED, Canon DSLRs etc and can simultaneously copy the contents of your card to up to three locations. As I recommend three backups for file based recording this is the baby you need. It also verifies the files are there. This will REALLY speed up your workflow. Their customer service is also top notch. They get back to you fast and are really helpful. Again, if you are shooting tapeless get this, it’s effin brilliant! It works for Mac or Windows.
This is the monitor I have for my 5DmkII and 7D and its great. Lovely sharp image, works in bright sunshine outside, has peaking. A joy to use. It’s currently the only LCD monitor I recommend for the Canons although it isn’t cheap am afraid, but quality often comes at a price. I have it to work with Sony L Series batteries.
I would love it to have an HDMI passthrough so we can run two monitors out of the one output…maybe in a future model?
Magic Bullet isn’t new but it is still the best thing out there, but Mojo is new. The brainchild of Prolost and SFX mastermind Stu Maschwitz it gives simple gritty “Hollywood look” with a few clicks. You can get this, quick looks and MBL for 20% off with my code Bloom20 at checkout.
Simple but essential if you have the zoom and plan on using the directional microphones outside. It comes in different colours. Slips on the mics and cuts out that wind. It’s dirt cheap, made by a lovely man in Hawaii and that’s all you need to know about it. It’s brilliant! Click here for more info.
Now I am useless with this. It needs time and practice. It’s sitting in my studio waiting for me to find time to use. I want to as it’s an awesome affordable piece of kit and many of my colleagues like Cristina Valdivieso and Joe Simon do incredible work with it. Joe wields it like a weapon and it’s like watching ballet when he uses it. Best I have seen with the Glidecam 2000. I think this is the “steadicam” to use with the DSLRs. Great price, great build and with practice, great results.
Now this product is REALLY special. If your camera can output uncompressed, like the EX1 and EX3 you will be able to record in astonishing high quality 280mbps 4:2:2 making you “prosumer” camera an enormously powerful professional tool. The brainchild of Mike Schell (another lovely guy!) this is a big step forward from the XDR which I found too big. Using the HDSDI or HDMI of your camera you simply plug it into the Nanoflash and off you go. It’s being improved constantly and when someone gets uncompressed HDMI out of the 5DmkII and 7D this baby will be snapped up by everyone as it will make the camera simply unbeatable.
I have one for my EX3 and not had a chance to really use it properly yet but I did use it when i visited SkyWalker Ranch in December and we were getting amazing results with it at 280mbps albeit with huge file sizes.
Why mention a computer in here? Well it really has stood out for me as the computer of the year. I have the imac quad core i7 with 8gb of ram and have done lots of editing of HD stuff with it and used it for all my work and it simply is the nicest computer I have ever used. Along with my little 13″ MBP which goes everywhere with my it has cemented my love of Apple. Yes I have heard of the issues but not come across them my self. Love this baby and am writing this blog on it right now. One thing… make the wireless keyboard bigger please!!
Well those are the products that really stood out for me this year, I have to mention the Genus Matte Box too as it’s a nice lightweight affordable Matte Box and I have used it very well for a number of projects.
Other honorable mentions including the Canon Rebel T1i/ 500D. The consumer DSLR with 720p 30p video recording but no manual control. Final Cut Studio 3 has brought some nice improvements for Final Cut Pro. Better speed tools, Nice new formats like ProResLT, perfect for the Canon DSLRs.
Of course there is the Canon 1DmkIV which I shot the Prague short film above with. Is it out? Can you buy it? It’s borderline for this year’s best of…maybe next year’s one instead?
I have some great gear waiting to be reviewed right now. Hopefully very soon…
First up is the ultra affordable D-Focus from Jag35.
It’s the cheapest decent follow focus I have seen and just with my quick play I really think it’s great value for money. A proper review coming soon but for around $135 you get a follow focus! It can’t compete with the pro models but at that price you cannot compete! Check it out here.
More follow focus goodness to come with the Hocus Focus. The cheapest remote follow focus on the market. Again I have played around with it but not tested it so far but it really is very well made and I have high hopes for it!
Yet more follow focus joy to come is from this interesting use of skateboard wheels from iDC photography. I have this to test out and will report back soon…I don’t recommend the Hoodman below as to be honest I think it isn’t very good!
Dolly Trax is a very interesting doorway dolly that is taking up my lounge. I will test this out soon!
What is really exciting me to use is the Pocket Dolly from Kessler Cranes. A review sample arrived along with the pocket jib before Christmas and it looks superb. Nice crank for super smooth Dolly Moves. CANNOT wait to try this out!
Well that’s it for me for this year. A HUGE thanks to all the readers/ visitors of my site who have motivated me to make it what it is today. Big thanks too to Den Lennie, Tom Guilmette, Sara Collaton, Rick McCallum, Mike Blanchard, Jon Connor, Cristina Valdivieso, my great friend Steve Weiss, Zacuto Sue, Joseph Stunzi, Tom Lowe, Albert Hughes, Sam Farley, The Jag35 boys, Scott Karlins, Rodney Charters, Brian Reubal and all my twitter friends and SOOOO many more I just couldn’t name you all!
I am looking forward to 2010, should be a great year. 2009 ended with a really wonderful December as many of you already know when I got to stay at the Skywalker Ranch and do some work with the Canon DSLRs, whilst there I made this film below which again am sure you have seen but I guess it sums up my year and much of what I have featured on here is used in the film…
Next year I go back to Skywalker to do more with them, also am off to Dubai to shoot a feature documentary using the 7D in January. Have speaking engagements at BVE and SXSW…it’s going to be a fun ride, I hope you stick around and if there is anything you want to see on my site let me know.
So product of the year, well it has to be something that was launched this year. It was close between the Z-Finder and the 7D. But it had to be the 7D, a camera with this power for so little money. It has to be the winner!