Monthly Archives: October 2011

Bringing a gun to a knife fight. My Video Rig

I finally have some free time to post pics of the DSLR rig I’ve been building for the past month. Parts come from various manufacturers, as it wasn’t an out of the box solution. I did plenty of research before choosing the pieces. I must admit I felt like a kid again, playing with my legos (albeit these are somewhat more expensive lego blocks) I built the rig based off the canon’s L lenses’s iconic red strip so Essentially mostly every piece is black with red –yes, us boys do like to accessorize as well–.

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At the core, is the Canon T2i. I could of gone with a 5DII, but quite frankly, with 3 1D series cameras, I couldn’t justify another SLR just for the sole purpose of doing videos. Videos will be a side hobby after all, so I couldn’t justify the costs. A full frame sensor would be nice, but there have been many reviews and tests. Essentially the 5D does better in low light, but for 80% of the types of shots, they are identical.

I think the only drawback of this rig, is A) it looks like a spaceship. And the problem with spaceships, is people love to steal them! So It’s not like I can walk around with this and shoot for fun. It does attract a bit of attention.

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Since all DSLRS (Or real professional film cameras for that matter) are manual focus, the three items I’ve acquired to help achieve focus are:

The only issue I have with the 7inch lilliput monitor is it is a bit on the heavy side. The 5inch is a bit more expensive, so I usually don’t bring it along with me unless I know I’ll be stationary or will require some oddly angled shots. Though there are many viewfinders in the market, some are inexpensive, but Zacuto is essentially the top brand, so I went with that one =) It is very versatile, and can be used outdoors in the bright sun. It essentially magnifies the back of the LCD by 3X, and lets you view the LCD in daylight without glare. Be careful though, if you leave it on the back of your rig for too long, it may take out the LCD due to the weight. So use the Z-Bands which help attach to the camera body to give it support. Or you could use their gorilla mounts, but I wasn’t about to spend 100 dollars on a small mounting plate. I’m somewhat on a budget! =)

The other drawback is the fact that I can’t use the z-finder and the external HDMI output at the same time. It is either one or the other, so you have to switch back and forth depending on the application. It would be convenient if this were the case, but it is just not possible. The moment the camera detects an HDMI cable present with a signal, it will disable the back LCD.

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Follow focus gears, though not crucial, do help during focusing applications. They are standard .8 pitch gears, mounted on the industry standard 15mm rails. They make focusing a bit easier by allowing a 90 degree knob that you can turn to focus, vs putting your whole hand around the focus ring, introducing camera shake, and it’s just more ergonomic to focus with a follow focus. These babies range from 150 dollars, to a few thousand dollars. The difference is in accuracy. The lower end models have a bit more “play” as they call it. Or wobble. What that means is since the gears aren’t accurate, if you spin the knob, it may spin for a good few millimeters before the gears kick in and then move the lens.

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That’s fine for the average Joe, but it may not be fine for a high budget movie production. Since I’m the average Joe, a 150 dollar follow focus works fine with me. You have to buy gears to put on each of your lenses. Those aren’t that cheap if you think about it $30.00 per gear. I opted to buy three of them, to put on my 24-70L, 85L, and a 24mm Yashica Prime. Those are usually the lenses I normally shoot video with.

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For lighting, I use one of these LED banks from Amazon. If I could do it over again, I would of picked up one of these: LEDs but it’s 4x the price so I’m going to use what I have for now. What’s good about the later one is it has dual batter packs, and you can switch to Tungsten via the knobs on the back. Very cool stuff.

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The other doo hickies I have are a friction arm to hold the LCD monitor. I have been very pleased, this thing is very very strong. I may pick up another one of these for good measure. It does have a red accent, so it matches my rig perfectly!

Other items in my bag of tricks is a Manfrotto 701 Fluid head Which allows for panning and tilting smoothly during filming. The bummer though, was when I bought this, I had no idea I was going to build a rig around my camera. This is rated for 8.82lbs, while it’s larger brother (the 501) is rated for 13.23lbs. So I’ll have to be more cognizant of the weight I put on the rig.

But essentially it allows me to be planted on the ground, and if I need to go mobile to run and gun things, I can detach the base from the tripod, and mount it on my shoulder on the go. So far I’m loving my new toy, I just need more opportunities to shoot and learn the craft. I still feel like I don’t have a clue as to what I’m doing yet. And I think that’s part of the fun.

I’m still working on getting the flow for tear up and set down, tweak the weight ratios and really I need more practice on focusing. But It’s a good start. My recommendation to people who want to build their own rig, is plan out your budget. But get ready to plunk down some cash. I find that these parts aren’t cheap, even the ebay ones, most of them ship from China, so even though they are 10 to 15 dollars for a clamp. The 20 dollars in shipping will add up quickly.

Also, the home depot or Lowes really won’t help you. Tried getting some DIY parts to mount to the rod support, and I ended up having to buy rail clamps online simply because I can’t find the parts locally. And expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better. You could spend thousands on a follow focus and Zacutto/ redrock gear, but your vids will still suck! Yup, I said it. Doing videos is no joke. It literally takes multi-media literally. You have to deal with shots, focusing, sound, and handle the technical aspects like you normally would with film, depth of field, lighting etc.

But my advice is to gear up. Pick the lenses you plan to shoot videos with, buy a good set of ND filters. Since videos require on avg 1/30 to 1/60 secs of exposure, that’s letting a lot of light in. And if you want you depth of field shallow, you’ll need to kill a lot of light coming in, so a good set of ND filters is key. But to get them to fit all your lenses, you have to get setup rings to mount on them all so they are all standardized. It helps when switching lenses and using the parts interchangeably. Since I didn’t have it in my budget to get a matte box with 4×4 filters, I opted for this route. It is way cheaper, and I think the matte boxes, though they do give a professional feel to your camera, do add some level of intimidation. If anything I learned from my years of experience in shooting stills, it’s ‘get the client comfortable’. Giant camera rig, plus uber scary matte box doesn’t help! But here’s a link to a matte box for reference.

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Gini Rig First Field Test

Had an opportunity to do a small mini documentary for a family today. The original intent was to document their 2 year old, and a newborn. I had some ‘brothers’ theme in my minds eye before the shoot began, but things took a different turn. Basically, most shots for videos are planned, rehearsed, and executed. When shooting children, planning, rehearsing goes out the window, and all you have left is the execution. And if you blink, you’ll miss everything. It was much harder than I thought it would be. But I think in time, I’ll be quicker and have a better idea of what I’m doing. Basically, during post process, you’re at the whim of the footage you took to piece together some semblance of a theme.

I opted to not to bring along my lilliput field monitor. My clamps did not arrive yet, and it would be too bulky to attempt to mount it to my tripod or slider. The equipment I did bring was:

Body:
-Canon T2i
-1Ds MK II (for stills)

Lenses:
-24-70Lmm 2.8
-14mm 2.8
-24mm yashica
-35L 1.4
-85L 1.2

Misc:
-.6 ND filter
-rhode shotgun mike
-zacuto viewfinder
-Konova 1meter slider
-1 tripod, 1 lightstand (to support the slider)
-extra batteries

The 24mm prime was brought along just in case the 24-70 ended up being too heavy to get certain shots. I had time to setup, and plan for the establishing shots. Setting up the slider wasn’t too bad. The problem with using a fluid head with the slider though meant that I was limited to horizontal or Z-axis shots. The other caveat is, since the slider is 1 meter long, I essentially need two tripods to support the slider’s weight.

The shoulder rig worked flawlessly. It added some stability to the shots, and I think what really saved me was the Zacuto viewfinder. All the ambient light outside rendered the 3inch built in LCD useless. I’m curious how the Lilliput would fair under such conditions, and I’ll bring it along during my next shoot to see how it fairs outdoors. I learned a lot during this first gig. But most importantly, I’ve figured out two basic principals.

#1. you MUST nail the exposure on all the video shots. I don’t have the hardware to run fancy post processing on the videos, so the exposure has to be close to right the first time around. It’s not like I can shoot RAW and edit post process if I miss by a few stops.

#2 you MUST nail (or come close to hitting focus). I’m still awaiting my gears from d|focus. So I left my follow focus at home. Pulling focus is crucial, and it’s hard to try to keep do that, plus try to get the proper exposure during changing lighting conditions, all while trying to maintain as close to 1/30 or 1/60 shutterspeed, and composing the frame on the fly.

#3 Shooting good video is very hard. Things that I’ve brought to the table from my film shooting has helped to some extent, but to do video, you need to always be on your toes and think on your feet. It’s not as forgiving as shooting stills.

Here’s the final output. Used AVS video editor. It’s the easiest software that I have to edit quickly. It doesn’t have the strong features of Premiere, but I’ve tried that and it’s a best of an program. Maybe one day when I upgrade my computer.

The shooting time took roughly 2hrs, and editing was about 3-4hrs to complete.