Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Canon 5D Mark II Video Sample At High Frame Rate

It started snowing earlier today, so I grabbed my Canon EOS 5D Mark II and headed outside to get some footage at high frame rate. I have the Firmware update applied to my 5D so I have full manual control over ISO, shutter, and aperture in video mode. High shutter speed in video mode can produce a really cool effect. Cramming so many frames into a short time gives optical overload. You'll notice high framerate frequently in a zombie movie, or I've even noticed it in action movies when you're supposed to be sitting on the edge of your seat. As a note, higher frame rates are NOT intended for everyday use - definitely not the nice flowing video that you're used to seeing.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Fuji FinePix S5000 Review

This review is a blast from the past on the FujiFilm FinePix S5000 . This is the first camera that I used to shoot candids at weddings. The honest truth is that I don't think I ever switched the camera to anything but Auto because that was the skill level I was at then.

The camera definitely isn't a professional camera, but it was at least a starting point for me. Looking back, it probably wasn't the best camera even for a newbie like me.

I did like the fact that I could store a bunch of pictures on the camera with the low megapixel count. With it being so low, I wouldn't have been able to do any larger prints, but I didn't have any stellar images to print anyway.

My biggest problem with this camera was during the reception. It's an "SLR-Like" camera. I didn't think that would make a big difference, but in low-light scenarios, it definitely did. It was practically impossible to see what I was shooting in lower light because all I could see was the digital approximation of what came through the lens. If I wanted to even attempt taking a shot, I'd have to either start to take a picture which sent the flash into crazy flash mode (ie flash machine gun bursts), or I'd have to not look at the camera at all and take my best guess of what the camera was looking at. Even if I could have seen what I was shooting, focusing was a joke.

This camera was decent to learn some basic concepts of photography like what to shoot and when to shoot, but it wasn't production quality. If I had wanted a camera in a similar price range (at least it was back then) that would have solved most of the issues I had with the Fuji, I could have gone with the Canon Digital Rebel. The Rebel is a GREAT starter camera. Honestly, I could still be using the Rebel if I had a decent lens to go with it. But live and learn - I started with the Fuji instead, and I still managed to learn a few things with the camera.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Canon EF 50mm f1.4 vs 50mm f1.8

The Canon EF 50mm f1.4 Lens and Canon EF 50mm f1.8 Lens are both great lenses for Canon users in the market for a prime lens. Being a prime lens means that the focal length is fixed at 50mm, so the only zooming is done with your feet. At 50mm, I've found that I'm usually the right distance away from people anyway, so that's really not too much of a problem for me.

I started out using the f1.8 lens early on for one simple reason - price. At under $100, it's an AMAZING value. I was looking to improve my wedding pictures, and this was the lens that started the journey. The 1.8 aperture was perfect because I could consitently get a really blurred out background, which gave my pictures that professional feel that I wasn't getting with my f5.6 lens. Being able to open the aperture up to f1.8 also worked well with my natural light style of shooting because that let in more light. The optical quality of the glass was good - exactly what I would have expected for a prime lens. The image sharpness was consistently sharp. It was much better than the sharpness using the lens I had gotten with the camera.

While the f1.8 could open up to a fairly wide open aperture, I had a hard time using the lens in some low-light scenarios like at wedding receptions. The problem I had was getting the lens to focus correctly. The focus motor was loud, but at the reception this wasn't too big of a deal. When it finally did focus, I found that frequently the moment that I was trying to capture was over or the focus wasn't completely correct.

I never had a problem with the f1.8 breaking, but I always felt like I was holding a toy. The lens was obviously plastic, and didn't feel like the build was too solid. I never felt comfortable with the lens in the rain because I had a feeling it wasn't built to take the moisture.

I ended up getting the 50mm f1.4 to replace my f1.8. It turned out to be a good upgrade. The price was still fairly reasonable - especially when compared to Canon's L series lenses. The focus motor was the USM version, which I had heard good things about. The build quality was MUCH more solid. It definitely didn't feel like a toy any more. This was a serious piece of equipment for professional photographers.

I didn't think I'd end up needing to open the aperture up to 1.4 too often, but I've definitely used that more than I would have expected. Bonus! The clarity is a little better, which is an improvement over the f1.8's already good clear images. The only thing I'm a little dissapointed about with this lens is that the "USM" motor is not nearly as good as the USM motor in an L Series lens. I've managed to make due at wedding receptions because it's easy enough to get the focus dead on after a couple tries, but it's not nearly as smooth or exact as some of our other lenses. Only after purchasing the lens did I find out that "USM" doesn't always mean the same thing - there are multiple types of USM motors. Good enough for most situations, but I don't think I'd use this lens at a basketball game because of the motor.

I've been considering upgrading to the Canon EF 50mm f1.2 L Series Lens. I'm guessing that this would completely solve the focusing issues because this has the REAL USM motor. It's possible that I might even use the 1.2 aperture, not sure. With L series glass, I can't even imagine how perfect the image quality would be. The only real drawback I have is the price. I guess I'm a little spoiled with the fairly low prices of the f1.8 and f1.4 counterparts. I can still make do with the f1.4, so it will still probably be a few years before the f1.2 enters my collection of lenses.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Canon 5D Mark II Video Review

When the Canon EOS 5D Mark II hit the market, having HD video in a digital SLR created a lot of buzz. It created enough buzz for me to buy one and try to use the camera's video mode during weddings that we were shooting to create "fusion" videos for our clients. Using the video feature in weddings has been an uphill climb, and whether it ends up being a regular part of our packages is still up in the air.

The first major issue that was an obvious obstacle was the shakiness of the video when I was hand-holding the camera. I used a couple of different lenses, and all the lenses showed significant shakiness when hand-holding. When I was physically moving, there was even more shaking. It was definitely not good enough to show clients as a finished product and expect them to purchase the videos. I looked at quite a few different solutions for steadying the video, but most of them wouldn't work as well in my scenario because I was shooting candids and video at weddings. I ended up getting a SteadyTracker Video Stabilizing System to stabilize my video. This helped enough to show the video to clients. The SteadyTracker didn't have the silky smooth video like a Steadicam, but I felt that switching between photo and video would be a lot easier if I went with the SteadyTracker.

I also found that I was quickly eating up space on my 8 GB Compact Flash . Shooting video clips throughout the day for an entire wedding was impossible in HD mode. Even when taking the video down from HD, I found that 8 GB was pushing the limits, and I was taking video conservatively by the time I got to the reception for fear of running out of space. Upgrading to a 32 GB Compact Flash gave me enough memory for a wedding provided that I still didn't shoot video in HD. Plus shooting in HD would eat up my hard drive space much quicker and would take longer to process when I was putting videos together.

One of the things that came up frequently when we were showing our wedding video highlights was that the brides wanted to hear audio from the vows and at the reception. The onboard audio for the Mark II is definitely not ideal. Even if the audio was better, I'd still need a way to record the vows from a source that was closer than my camera. I ended up getting by using a Digital Voice Recorder because the quality was good enough for using in the video, and the price was a lower than a wireless mic.

Earlier on, I had a problem with manual controls of my shutter, ISO, and aperture in video mode. I was even considering using Nikon lenses to control the aperture. It's a good thing that problem was fixed whenever Canon released the firmware update because I think Canon was about to start losing lens sales to Nikon for people using the 5D.

After all the "upgrades" to get video working for weddings using the 5D Mark II, I'd say that it's to the point where I can get decent video and also manage to get the candid's that I need. The setup still isn't ideal, but I can make it work. I'll be watching for better stabilization systems that are versatle enough to switch between photo and video. I may eventually also pick up a wireless mic. It all depends on how much demand there is in the future for the fusion videos we're putting together.

The bottom line for the Canon 5D Mark II video is that it CAN produce professional quality video with the right equipment and in the right hands. BUT doing both photo and video at the same time is still too tough to make it a 5 star deal for me.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Dazzle DVD Recorder Vs Roxio Easy VHS to DVD

So I had a pretty simple task from a customer - transfer videos recorded on a camcorder to dvd. I thought I already had the equipment that I would need except for the camcorder which I was anticipating would have the RCA outputs that I needed to feed straight into my computer.

The good news is that I was right about the camcorder being able to output to RCA, but the bad news is that the RCA jacks on my computer didn't work - nuts! I had visited Office Depot a few weeks back and saw a product that would convert RCA to USB. Perfect!

I bought a Roxio Easy VHS to DVD, and it looked like it would be perfect. It looked like it was even going to save me the step of saving to an AVI before burning to DVD. The program installation was simple, and the device to connect the camcorder to the computer was intuitive. This should have been a piece of cake.

Roxio forced me to use their custom software, but that really wasn't a show-stopper because all I wanted to do was burn camcorder tapes to a dvd. The sound sample being played back through the computer speakers sounded like the audio was being broadcast from inside a tin can. It reminded me of streaming audio on dial up internet. I'm guessing there wasn't enough bandwith being dedicated to audio and more was going to the video. Not really sure. Either way, I found a way around it because the Roxio software let me use my regular mic plugin from my pc, which gave good quality audio.

After getting the audio taken care of, I started recording to a dvd. For a few minutes, everything was fine. Roxio's burning software tried to do me a favor by finishing off my DVD chapter whenver the clip was over. The software detected that there was no video signal, which really meant that there was "video snow" on the recorder separating the next clip. That would have been fine, but it never started recording again for the next chapter - not so good. What this really meant was that every time a clip finished and there was a few second break until the next clip started, there was manual interaction required to stop the camcorder, restart the recording, then restart the camcorder. I looked through the program options, which took all of 2 minutes, and didn't see a way to turn off the auto-create scenes option. I also looked online for other people who may have found a solution, but noone online had a way to turn this off either. With over 7 hours of video to burn, I wasn't about to sit in front of the computer waiting for the next scene to click record again. Easy VHS to DVD was not so easy after all, and I returned it to the store.

Office Depot didn't have any other camcorder to DVD products in stock, so I went over to Best Buy. I found a Dazzle DVD Recorder, and bought it hoping that I wasn't going to run into the same issue.

As far as getting everything set up, the Dazzle DVD Recorder was just as easy as the Roxio version. The program was just as easy to use, but there were a few major differences that made me love the Dazzle version. First off, the audio quality was good, so I didn't have to use my computer's microphone slot. This ended up being a big deal because I didn't see a way in Dazzle's software to record audio from anything but the Dazzle USB device. I didn't hear the "tin can" audio like I did with the Roxio version.

Then came the real test. Would the Dazzle DVD Recorder stop in the middle of my video playback to create new scenes or would it continue to record to the DVD? Lucky for me, 2nd time is the charm. The video continued to record straight through the breaks between clips. I could click record and walk away from the computer to do the 1000 other studio tasks that still needed to be done before I went to bed.

My guess is that for some applications the Roxio device would have done just as well if not better than the Dazzle device. I could see a school play that lasts the full duration of the tape being ideal using Roxio. Also, if you don't mind sitting in front of the computer, auto-creation of scenes on the DVD could be kind of cool. For me though, the Dazzle definitely came out the winner.

TJ's Photography Reviews Online

Just to give you a little background about myself, I'm TJ. My wife and I own and run Larissa Photography in Belleville, IL. I have a degree in Computer Science, and worked as a programmer for 9 years before going full-time here at the studio with Larissa.

I'm hoping to provide good reviews of stuff that you guys are interested in. I'll do my best to keep it down to earth and discuss the stuff that I really like and don't like. If you have anything to contribute, add a comment after my post.