Over the summer of 2013, Michele and I moved from our place in Homer to Haines, Alaska.  Autumn is in the air, the woods are wet, the firewood is not in, and wild mushroom and berry-picking add to the many distractions this wonderful place offers to keep us busy as all-get-out.
I expect to be back in production soon, editing clips shot over the summer as well as current shots.  Once winter sets in, I should, I hope, have time to start publishing my content shot over the summer (three trips across Alaska and Yukon Territory!) as well as many other small trips and day sojourns with my camera.
Due to prehistoric internet service here in Haines, my uploading will be slower and more selective – but if you need Alaskan or Canadian mountain/tundra scenics (timelapses, pans, vistas, and variations with trucks, RV’s, etc) or driving POV shots, feel free to ask – I may have just the shot for you on my drives!

A Step Up- Sony’s NEX-FS700

I’ll admit it – I’m one of the FS700’s early adopters. By early I mean within the first year it was available. Who knows what nightmares the future may bring as its shortcomings and gotchas come into the light. What marvelous new product might pop up just around the corner, putting this otherwise amazing bit of technological marvelousness to shame, and oh, what angst will I feel at not having waited just a bit longer to step up from the HDV cams, HVR-Z5U and HVR-V1U, that I had been using for years?

There was a bit of a quandary just before my purchase. I thought perhaps the new PMW-200 might suit me better, and I still think it might be a “better” camera. But ultimately, the lure of interchangeable lenses, the hope that the FS700 was better in low light, and yes, even the prospect of Super Slow Motion all conspired (among other things) to sway me to the contraption known as the NEX-FS700.

In short, I like it, but I also kinda hate it. Being used to the Z5, (which is what the PMW-200 looks like) I really hate having weird configuration doodads and cables hanging off every which direction, and it takes me many addition (crucial!) seconds to get set up and shooting. This will get better with use, and with the further development of a rig that I can trust, and possibly even toss about as I would the Z5 or V1. Hopefully it survives.

The internal codec is certainly superior to that of HDV in color depth and the lack of hideous, blocky artifacts, especially in slate-blue skies and clouds, but when it comes to finely detailed motion, it falls apart pretty fast. What this camera has going for it is the fact that the larger sensor affords the use of shallower depth-of-field, thus keeping distracting detail from being lost, since it’s not there in the first place…case in point: Tracking a soaring eagle past distant trees. It’s a lot better if you can get that background blurred – not only for the artistic sense of it, but also to hide the unsightly mush.

I will be doing tests with the PIX220 fairly soon, after winter preparations slow down and allow me to spend more time mucking about with gear and driving myself nuts pixel-peeping. Nothing too scientific will be going on here, mind you – I leave that to the trained professionals. I’m just looking for solutions to problems that plague me in everyday shooting, where I don’t know what I’ll be pointing the camera at from one moment to the next.

I’m hoping the aliasing I’ve seen hints of here and there don’t become a problem. One thing I do is to always shoot at 60fps. I may be wrong in this, or foolish to admit it, but I figure if you want that “film-look” judder or pacing, then it’s fairly easy to create that from something shot at 60fps. Obviously it’s not so easy the other way around. But I notice that shooting at 24fps and 30fps, the lower bit rate of these as implemented in the FS700 tends to be a little lacking when it comes to re-creation of fine diagonal and horizontal lines, and also patterns, especially if they are moving…..and these are things I shoot a lot, so it’s not like I’m in the position of asking an actor to change out of that striped shirt. Artifacting due to aliasing is not so evident at the 28Mb/s 60p. I also use this when shooting slow-motion…..for the same reason, but more so, as the SSM does cause a noticeable loss of visual quality. Almost too much to stomach, actually, but it’s something I’ll have to learn to live with.

I’m messing about with Picture Profiles, like everyone else seems to be. I’m about to dial in this one, as suggested by Alister Chapman, whose articles have been extremely helpful to me. It will be interesting to me to compare the settings I’m about to try to the settings I currently have, which are as follows (slightly modified and intermixed settings gleaned from multiple sites):

Black Level -2
Gamma Cine 2 (interesting – I thought it was on Cine 4 – I must have been messing around and forgot!)
Black Gamma Range Low, Level -5
Knee Mode Manual, Manual Set: Point 80, Slope -2
Colour Mode Cinema Level 8
Colour Level 0
Detail Level 0 Manual Set On (all 0 except B/W Balance = Type3, Limit 7)
Color Phase 0
Color Depth R 0, G 0, B 0, C 0, M 0, Y 0

OK…so I must have been messing about in my sleep. But I do know that of the various PP settings in camera at the moment (most have been slightly modified, if not more, by me) this one is what IU like best so far. So now we look at Alister’s latest Picture Profile, designed to maximise dynamic range, and allow for maximum grading decisions….something I prefer, as I tend to make the wrong decisions in the field, and would rather have all my attention available for framing, focus, exposure, and not falling off whatever I’m balanced on, getting hit by a truck, or getting eaten.

Alister’s Profile:

Black Level +1
Gamma Cine 4
Black Gamma Range Low, Level +7
Knee Mode Manual, Manual Set: Point 105, Slope +5
Colour Mode Pro Level 8
Colour Level -2
Detail Level -7 Manual Set Off
Color Phase -2
Color Depth R+2, G-1, B 0, C-1, M+2, Y 0

I’ll report later, and after I settle in for the winter a bit, I’ll post some footage or something….maybe even some Aurora footage, if I can work with what I got last night!

OK….finally, a note about lenses. I purchased the kit lens with this camera. I kinda hate it. Worst $600 I’ve spent….maybe I should have sprung for a faster Sony prime so I could play with the autofocus tricks and the stabilization, but there are a few things I can’t stand – like the fact that there is already dust inside the lens! And I’ve been taking care of it too…I haven’t had a chance to abuse anything yet! Also, it’s darn slow. And when I put the Metabones adapter on, and stuck a Canon 100-400mm L lens on that, the difference was immediately apparent in the dinky little thing Sony calls an LCD screen. Yes, the screen is too small for real use, but hey, it’s just there so you can smudge something. Anyway, the Canon glass really rocks, and this is supposed to be an “OK” lens…not great…so what does that make the Sony 17-200mm kit lens?

Anyway, in case you really like my drivel, here’s the text from my review as written on B&H – I’ll leave you with this, for now, and promise some sort of positive write-up after I get better acquainted with this camera!

Review on B&H (I will re-edit and update this original review now that a year has passed! See Reviews section on this site)



Strange Seedpod/Seedhead ID!

If I’m going to keyword these clips correctly, I should know what this plant is…I’m looking mainly at the seedpods or seedheads (which become burrs, apparently) but also curious about the dark red stranded plant with the spindly stalk in the second photo.

Spiral Snow Labyrinth mk I

I’ll NEVER be bored in winter again….not that I’m ever actually bored, but now I’ll be looking forward to each storm on the windswept slopes across from the house!

Glacial Ice Treasure!

How to Deal with Computer Problems (Apple G4 computer death by fire)

I took the most effective path to dealing with my issues with a broken computer. Trial by fire if you will. I figured if it survived having 12 volts DC and 120 volts AC (60hz) applied randomly to the various wires protruding from the motherboard connector, it might be worth fixing. No such luck.

A Video on a Video Site! Amazing. Alaska 2011

PJPEG Rendering Test: Percentage Difference Masks

I was doing what I was told, and wondered. Now I no longer wonder. At least I won’t wonder about this until another bit of information comes along to cast that bit of doubt that will have me seeking another level of learning, which is where I’m at usually on one point or another. But we’ll build this castle one stone at a time, OK?

Disclaimer: I may well expose a lack of understanding or incomplete knowledge in this article. Should you detect that I am doing so, and have a moment, I’d appreciate a heads-up! If you are here because you, too are seeking knowledge, then understand that you should back up anything you think you learn from this article by doing your own research.

They said that rendering with the PJPEG codec in a .mov wrapper was the way to go. OK. That’s the “industry standard” as it were. Who am I to complain? I didn’t then, and still don’t now, know enough to argue the point, although with some new information, I am beginning to get suspicious. But that is not for this post. At any rate, for best results (quality/filesize considerations) they told me to render out at a quality level of at least 75% but no point in going up over 90%, at least not by much, certainly not 100%, as the resultant files get bigger, and you can’t see a difference in results.

Today I did a test. I rendered the same clip 4 times, and compared the results with each other, and with the original prior to rendering, using difference masking. Difference masking allows one to see the difference between two (or more, apparently) frames when situated one over the other on different timeline tracks. A perfect copy will yield either perfect black or perfect grey, depending on who you ask.

In my case it was black, or very nearly so, and the differences were apparent as slightly lighter areas. If I moved one of the clips over by a frame, or more, these differences became much more pronounced. It was intriguing that one could move them a LOT and end up with some really strange and interesting effects.

The bottom line is that I am going to continue rendering my PJPEG files at 88.5%. The test I performed was at 8 bits – I did not bother with the 32-bit renders. I could not discern a difference worth worrying about as far as the time to render the file, and while I could see the difference between the 75.4% render and the 86.8%, it was very slight. One had to REALLY look at the masks. The biggest difference was the file sizes, and being that the differences were negligible, I will stay at 88.5%.

It is said that at 100%, the resulting clip is a RGB 4:4:4, in other words, NOT subjected to “chroma subsampling”, that is, all the color information is there, whereas lesser percentages result in chroma subsampling, Y’CrBr 4:2:2 files. You’ll have to read up on this yourself if you are not conversant…..this is a big topic.

It may well be that a clip subjected to chroma subsampling will be more difficult to color correct, and will degrade more quickly in situations with multiple generations of heavy effects, compositing, etc. In these situations, you would want something as close to the source as possible, and in your workflow, you would want to render multiple stages uncompressed, or at least into an advanced intermediate codec such as Avid’s DNxHD, Cineform, or Apple ProRes. These codecs have several different “flavors” being choices between bit rates; usually the higher (or highest) available bit rates of each are 4:4:4, and the lesser are 4:2:2.

Being that my camera shoots HDV, a 25Mb/s 4:2:0, transcoding or rendering up to to 4:2:2 is sufficient for most situations. NOTE: If you are a potential buyer, and you want either the original .m2t file, or a render of an existing clip at uncompressed or at a higher bit rate or different codec than PJPEG, drop me a line.

Transcoding to a less compressed intermediate codec DOES NOT add information, or make the picture any prettier, or more colorful. The purpose for doing such a transcoding or recording in a better codec with higher bit rate is to preserve the information that is already there, and for longer. This gives you more room to work. In some experimental situations where I have color-graded HDV clips, rendered to PJPEG .mov, and then done further work with the resultant files, I have noticed increased latitude in the ability to mess with the colors, the contrast, brightness, and anything else that affects the “look” of the clip.

All this will change for me soon, as the PIX 220 will be arriving next week, but that’s yet another story. I’m sure there will be a lot of interesting caveats and learning. For one thing, I’ve recently begun to understand why when speaking of different bit rates, different codecs are more efficient and others not, so it depends on how you are using the numbers! Right. Let’s get back to our test, shall we?

This was a 21-second clip of snowy meadow and bright blue sky with gradients lightening to a brilliant sun as the camera panned. Significant color correction was applied. I’m working on my laptop since my Puget machine is in for servicing, so the render times are considerable.

Here are the numbers I’ve gleaned from the render test:

75.4% 48 min. 48 sec. 254 MB
86.8% 44 min. 36 sec. 297 MB
93.4% 46 min. 41 sec. 337 MB
100% 48 min. 41 sec. 368 MB

This isn’t very suffisticaded, but for these stills, which are full-rez, I recommend opening each in its own tab so you can click between them and see the differences without delay. Feel free to download them to do your own tests.

Here is the original clip, with processing plugins, but not rendered: OG Snowfield Clip

Here is the “worst” of them all, the 75% render: 75% Snowfield Render

Here is the 86.8% render: 86.8% Snowfield Render

Here is the 93.4% render: 93.4% Snowfield Render

Here is the 100% render: 100% Snowfield Render

Just to keep things from getting TOO tedious, there are only three or four more frame grabs, where if I was really going to do this fully, there would be many more iterations….and I think what I’ve shown here is that as far as the percentage choices go, given the tradeoff between perceived and real quality and file size, existing faults that won’t go away due to the PJPEG codec itself and the 4:2:0 HDV source, the 88.5% Quality setting is just fine for general stock work.

Here is the result of the difference mask between the 100% render and the 75.4% render: Difference Snowfield 100-75%

Fascinating, isn’t it?

Here is the difference between 86.8% render and the original before render: Difference Snowfield 86.8

Here is the difference between 100% and original: Oops…nevermind….not worth it!!

I could do all the other combinations, but it’s tedious, and I don’t see the need.

See a lot of difference? Neither do I. I might be doing something wrong, but here, wait, before you get bored and go away, this “proves” that if there is a difference between renders, you’ll see it with this technique.

Difference between 100% render on one track, duplicated, compared against the same clip, but with contrast increased to 0.10 on one of them:
Snowfield Difference 100/100 + contrast 0.10

And finally, for fun, here is the result of the 100% render, one on each track, no contrast difference, with an offset of 3 frames.
Snowfield 100%/100% offset by 3 frames

And finally again, a crazy offset of 15 seconds or so: Wierdness

OK….I think I’m done. Let me know if I screwed something up, and I’ll get onto finding something else to do that is exciting and wonderful.

Wild Alaska Weather Rocks Our Reality

This is quite mild, relatively speaking, but when the house shakes, the outlets gush cold air, the windows flex, and we are still cold despite the wood disappearing at a prodigious rate, it’s still intense. I feel for the folks out there on the west coast – they are being hammered, for sure!

It’s a balmy 12 degrees now, the wind howling like a whole band of banshees, whipping the trees and the snow into frenzied dances, and I’m heading out to see if I can’t capture some more exciting footage!

Here are some examples:

A Dizzying Effect

My head is spinning. Could be the wine, but the whirling sensation is more likely to have been caused by the never-ending stream of events, activities and projects that I do welcome, as they are all fun, they offer opportunity and experience, but by GOLLY! I simply don’t know how I am going to get all this work done!

One project of note, recently finished, and now onto the next phase of it, is the Kickstarter promo video for Caressa Starshine. You can view this intense but whimsical video


Caressa just launched her campaign last night at her performance at the Bunnell Street Gallery in Homer, Alaska, and one of the upcoming video projects is to weave together shots of that performance into a music video for her. Please show your support for independent musicianship and art by visiting her Kickstarter page, and know that every little bit counts! Thanks!

In other news, the Burning Basket project has become much larger than originally intended, and is rife with potential. I haven’t really counted, but I’m sure that I’ve got well over 30 hours of footage, well over a terabyte, to go through. There ae many facets to this particular project, and I’m hoping to have something to show for it online within a month. It might be a highlights reel, or it might be the original idea come to life: A time lapse of the entire event, from sand and rocks, through building, creating, weaving, and burning, to sand and rocks. We’ll see.

I sent the Atomos Ninja back to B&H. It wasn’t a “bad” unit…in fact, I miss it. However, I had little time to return it after I ascertained that it was not for me in the long run. I will have to come up with another $1000 to purchase the Sound Devices PIX 220, but I think it will suit my working style better. Without going into too much detail, here’s what I will miss about the Ninja vs. the PIX 220:

The Ninja has excellent battery life, a VERY useful carrying case, uses inexpensive 2.5″ SATA HDD OR SSD drives – I could record almost all day straight through without worry – and the super-simple touch-screen interface was a boon to quick setup and recording confirmation.


With the PIX220 I will appreciate the ability to record in the DNxHD codec, with more bit rate choices, as well as the XLR mic inputs, the more robust construction, and most of all, a larger, more hi-rez screen, equipped with focus assist, with which I can actually gauge my focus when shooting, instead of guessing. There are a few more benefits, but one drawback is that it is not designed to use mechanical drives, which is a factor of cost, but not performance.

I’ll let you know how it goes, with a more complete review, and screen shots, if they ever actually make the damn thing available!

What else? I’ve been invited to shoot a series of high school plays, and am looking forward to shooting more people-oriented video for stock. I’ve a few fun clips up my sleeve, waiting to be fulfilled – some are dangerous, which makes careful planning more important – there will be no “Take 2!”

And winter is coming. Soon we will be snowshoeing out to the VW or the Toyota – not so bad if you are just carrying groceries, but my kit is getting heavy! We haven’t gotten sufficient wood in, the house needs some work, the vehicles need some TLC, and yet all I can deal with is the day-to-day involvement in this videographer’s lifestyle. It will come, though….the balance I seek.

And in the meantime, the cello beckons … my half-forgotten friend …

(Still whirling, but by now it’s most assuredly the wine)


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