Major speed boost to my P2 workflow

I have been a long time user of the Panasonic P2 format, going back to the days of the HVX200. There have been numerous improvements to the cameras, media and offload tools over the years, but the biggest change to date may have been the move to the MicroP2 card.

microp2The MicroP2 card looks like an SD memory card, but is designed for high throughput. When used in my PX270 camera, the MicroP2 card is the only way to record 1080p60, a full-size P2 is just not fast enough.There are more pins on the card itself to facilitate moving the data.

Another nice feature of the SD form factor is that I can pop the card right into my Mac for easy offloading. I never though about the time it took to offload the media since it was a background task and not on the forefront of my mind.

When I upgraded my main edit station to the MacPro last year, I lost the built-in card slot. Since the MicroP2 card did not work in any external SD readers I  owned, I decided to pick up the Panasonic AJ-MPD1.

The unit is a two-slot, USB3, bus-powered drive, with a street price of around $325. My first 5 card reader was $2500!Micro P2 Reader

Here is the part that surprised me. This unit rips through the offloads at blinding speed. I am seeing a 5X increase over the built in reader. I even ran the tests twice just to make sure. Enough said.

 

 

 

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OWC Thunderbolt2 Dock: mini review

Offload StationI have been looking for a dock for my field work centered around my MacBookPro, mainly offloading and some light editing.

Since the last Retina MBP ditched the firewire and ethernet ports, I have been forced to use dongles to gain access to these connections. The rub there is that there are only two USB3 ports, and two Thunderbolt2 ports. Take one TB port for Firewire and one USB for ethernet and it becomes harder to connect everything.

 

Enter Other World Computing’s new Thunderbolt2 dock. It offers 5 USB3 ports including two that offer power forOWC TB2 Dock higher draw devices, ethernet, analog audio in/out, Firewire800, and HDMI – all off 1 TB2 port. Sounded perfect for what I needed, so I ordered immediately.

It was nice to see a new product being offed that is actually available at that time. No need to pre-order. I received it in about 2 days and set it up right away.

No love for OWC SSDMy first task for the dock was to offload some content on an OWC SSD bus powered drive to a Pegasus raid. No problem, I thought, just plug the drive into the high-power USB3 ports and away we go. The copy started, and then about one minute later the drive ejects without warning and I get a low-power on USB message. I think this can’t be right, as I plugged into one of the two powered ports. I double check my connections, and make sure the power is connected. I try again with the same result.

After plugging the drive in directly to my Mac, I was able to copy, so a call to OWC was in order.

 

The call was answered after about a 5 minute hold, and after a brief conversation, the tech tells me that the OWCIMG_3371
SSD drive pulls too much power for the port, and that it will not work unless I buy a power supply for the drive.

This to me seems like a major mistake. Since OWC includes a power supply with the dock, I do not see a logical reason to have a low power warning. The tech did say that other devices should work, but for my needs, a big fat NO.

Aside from this issue, the dock does provide a useful array of connectivity, and will likely stay in my bag.

Week One with my DJI Inspire1

Inspire1 on the included road case, waiting for flight.

Inspire1 on the included road case, waiting for flight.

I took delivery of my DJI Inspire1 on Monday, tested it briefly on Tuesday, and shot a job with it on Wednesday. I thought I would share my experiences.

First, the backstory. I have owned several DJI Phantoms, starting with the Phantom 1, and my main craft prior to the Inspire1 was the Phantom2 Vision Plus. The camera was the weak link. My main use for aerials is shooting b-roll on golf courses.OTEK's Phantom2 Drones

I ordered the Inspire1 immediately after watching the press event in November. I first ordered the single controller model from B&H. I was on the fence about ordering the dual controllers so I cancelled by B&H order and placed an order with Dronefly.com for a dual setup and extra TB47 battery about a week later.

I was very excited to be in the first batch, since I had a golf shoot scheduled for the first week of January. The timing did not work out, but I was anxious to test.

The case that was included is nice, but maybe not for air travel or shipping. Jury is out on whether I get a Pelican or not.

The controller is awesome, with buttons for video record and photos right at your fingertips. I can now keep my hands on the controller, not the iPad during flight.

The integration of Lightbridge is fantastic. I had previously purchased this for my P2V+, but the setup was a bit awkward and I could not use the iPad for video display. Now it is a complete turn-key rig. One issue I had with the Lightbridge was using an iPad Mini 1, which is not powerful enough to stream the video. Once i switched to a new iPad Air2, everything was great.

The aircraft itself is large, much larger than a Phantom. It feels well built, and looks impressive and intimidating at the same time.

The Nitty Gritty

So how does the quality of the new camera compare? Better than I expected. I have used both the Vision+ camera and a GoPro Hero4 Black on my shoots. The Hero4 was much better than the Vision+ camera, but it lacked an easy way to view live video and control the settings once in the air. The Vision+ was “good enough” for most things, although it always left me wanting a little more.

The Inspire1 camera offers great video quality, perhaps better than the Hero4, with all the control that I could wish for. Want to play back a shot? No problem, just click play and it streams to your iPad. You don’t even need to bring the unit down.

The App apps-side-x-sideis very nicely designed. Much nicer than the Ground Station App that I used with the Vision+.

Oh The Drama

In my past dealings with DJI support with my Phantoms, I would say that my expectations were low with respect to service. After all, the Phantom2 was a sub $1000 drone from a Chinese company with little to no American presence. There was more  peer-to-peer support via message boards than from DJI directly.

With the introduction of the Ronin, I noticed an appearance of change (since I did not buy a Ronin, I cannot speak of their new support). With the Inspire1, I notice the same commitment to make the support better.

The first drama came when Mark Taylor posted a video of his Inspire1 crashing into his garage using auto takeoff. What followed next was a series of posts, second hand information, and a wild frenzy about grounding all Inspire1’s until issues are worked out.

I can say that I tried to reach the Inspire1 support team via live chat, and was told to leave my info and someone would call back in an hour. That call never came, ever. I called and waited on hold for about an hour. I did speak with a knowledgable english speaking person, who was polite and somewhat helpful. There is still a long way to go for pro level support.

I will post some video soon, so stay tuned.

Flights of the Phantom: One Videographer’s adventures with drones

OTEK's Phantom2 DronesThey go by different names, like Drone, UAV, or Quad copters. They carry cameras, and take amazing video and stills from crazy heights. Every videographer and photographer wants one. The attack of the drones is upon us.

I write this blog post to detail my journey, my pitfalls and the choices (or compromises) I have made.

PHANTOM I

My journey began in September of 2013, when I purchased a DJI Phantom 1 from Amazon for $679. The idea was to use the drone to film fly-overs on corporate golf outings. Everything seemed simple; get the drone, drop a GoPro camera on the mount, and go shoot. And that is what I did.

The Phantom 1 was a good craft, very easy to setup and fly out of the box, although I did have a small learning curve to overcome.

The problem I had with this setup was the lack of smooth video. What I needed was a gimbal, like the Movi, but for small crafts. The gimbals was available, but some cost more than the drone itself, and all required taking the drone about, and soldering in wires.

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A 3D printed GoPro shockmount for the Phantom.

I did try this simple, low cost, 3D printer contraption, but with only minimal improvement.

Even the cheap gimbals (<$200) made a huge difference in the quality of the video as one of the members of the NJFCPUG demonstrated one meeting.

All of this was a bit outside of my comfort zone, so I decided to pass on the gimbal option for the time being.

To add insult to my injuries, DJI reduced the price after I purchased by $200, so I decided to return the unit, and chalk the whole thing up as a learning experience.

PHANTOM II

Flash forward a few months, to April 2014 at the NAB Show in Las Vegas. DJI had a large booth in the main hall, and they had several new versions of the Phantom, but the one I was interested was the Phantom 2 with a 3 axis gimbal pre-wired.

DJI Booth at NABI purchased one right on the show floor, very anxious to get my hands on one. I only waited a week, as my drone had shipped mere days after NAB.

The results were stunning. The Zenmuse 3D gimbal made all the difference in the world, smoothing out the bumps a newbie pilot makes in flight. Everything was great, except…

While the video that my Hero 3+ recorded was stellar, I yearned for a way to live monitor what the camera was shooting. I needed a way to frame and orient the tilt axis on the camera.

Again, DJI to the rescue, or so I thought.

LIGHTBRIDGE

At NAB, DJI showed off a long range digital HD video transmitter for their drones. It was relatively expensive compared to the cost of a drone, at around $1500, and it was not available yet.

I waited and waited, chewing through props all the meanwhile. DJI posted a few videos that show how great it worked, but they did not tell the whole story.

The LightBridge works on the 2.4Ghz radio frequency, same as the stock Phantom flight radio. After installing the LightBridge on my P2, I quickly realized something wasn’t right. I could not control the motors or anything. Frustration begins.

LACK OF SUPPORT

Phantom2 and LightBridgeI tried calling the DJI support line directly several times, only to be told that due to high call volume, my call could not be taken at this time, and to try again later. I did try again later, numerous times later, with the same result. It appears that DJI just doesn’t take calls now.

There are several dealers listed as well, and I called a few. All the ones I spoke to had never seen a shipping version of the light bridge, nor had they any answers to my questions.

It turns out, that in order to use the LightBridge, you need to purchase a controller that can tether to the LB so the frequencies don’t interfere. So I purchase a Futaba radio that some others on the forums had recommended. That did indeed work, but the controller needed to be “programmed” to learn the phantom controls, and in the end, did not behave the same way in terms of easy of use.

Most frustating was the lack of a Mac updater tool for the LightBridge. DJI has a Mac utility for the Phantom, so it does not seem like a stretch to expect Mac support for all of their products.

After a week of kibbles and bits, I was able to get the LightBridge to work, and it worked well in my limited testing, but the setup was a bit gangly.

 

iPAD GROUND STATION & AUTONOMOUS FLIGHT

Around the same time, i was watching some videos about the DJI Ground Station, and autonomous flight modes. With a couple of add-on pieces, you can literally plot points on a map, and allow the drone to fly by itself at user determined points. This was perfect for me on the golf course, being able to let the drone fly down the fairway without me screwing the flight up.

So I ordered a Ground Station kit for the Phantom2, only to realize that it is incompatible with the LightBridge. Do you see a pattern here? Not blaming DJI or anyone for that matter, but the lack of clear and concise information on this is frustrating. Especially when the price point of this gear is aimed at green-horns.

The Ground Station is amazing from the technology to the interface. I was able to plot a few routes and have the drone fly all by itself. It was a bit scary at first, but it worked. For me, this feature trumped LightBridge for my use.

PHANTOM VISION+

Shortly after NAB, my friend bought a DJI Phantom with an integrated camera, called the Vision. It touted a live video transmitter to an iPhone or iPad for realtime FPV. The idea was good, but for me, the lack of a 3 axis gimbal was a deal breaker.

Enter the Vision+. The Vision+ is an update to the original Vision, but includes a re-designed camera AND a 3 axis gimbal. Plus, it includes the Datalink hardware in the unit. For me, this was almost all I wanted. Once again to Amazon.com to order.

FOURTH TIME’S A CHARM

So the Phantom Vision+ arrives and I start the all to familiar drill of  assembling, charging, and updating firmware on the drone. Once all was set, I went out to do some testing. Immediately, I had an issue the the drone not talking with the radio. Double checked everything, but no luck.

Back to the support lines. Who would answer the phones first? Atlanta Hobby answered first, and the tech suggested I read the manual, which I had, about linking the controller to the drone. After a second call, another tech walked me through the steps. Still no go. Call DJI he says. HA!

I really did not have time for a long round of call attempts, so I simply returned the unit to Amazon, and they advance shipped me a replacement. I figured it was worth a second attempt.

The new Vision+ I am happy to say worked out of the box. My review on this drone will follow soon.

SUMMARY

The entry point for this technology is incredibly low for a professional user, which makes it very attractive. The UAV industry is at a crossroads now, where technology is developing by leaps and bounds. I would still categorize this like the wild west though. Every pro can buy one, but it’s buyer beware. Not just from the hardware, but also the law. The FCC says that these craft for professional use are not approved without licensing. That process is out of reach for most in the category. You may get away with it once or twice, but the law may catch up with you at some point.

Then there is the safety element. I personally don’t fly my drones over people in a public space, and try to minimize the impact if my drone drops from the sky. Others do not take such precautions and those are the stories you hear on the news.

As a matter of fact, I am launching a support group for video pro’s who are getting into the world of drones.

Be safe, be patient, and have fun!

Real World testing of the Canon C300 Auto Focus Firmware

Art Aldrich and his Canon C300 sporting a Canon 400mm prime at the Farnsborough Air Show.

Art Aldrich and his Canon C300 sporting a Canon 400mm prime at the Farnsborough Air Show.

I recently had my trusty C300 upgraded by Canon for the Dual Pixel Autofocus firmware. This feature added live continuous auto-focusing of Canon EF lenses, and is a $500 factory installed firmware update.

Shortly after the update, I had a shoot that would put this feature to the test. The location was just outside of London, at the Farnsborough International Air Show. I wanted to shoot some of the planes that would fly that day, and my lens choice was the Canon 400mm F4 prime, which I rented from the good folks at Lens Pro To Go.

The autofocus works on a section of center frame, and can be locked via a user button, or disabled altogether. Read the details here.

I shot this clip with 3 stops of ND, at ISO 320, and an aperture of f5.6. Take a look for yourself.

Needless to say, this would be a very tricky focus pull for a single operator to pull off.

Mini Review: Zacuto C300 Helmet, Handle, and Z-Finder

I have owned a Canon C300 for almost 2 years now. Mostly shooting from tripods, sliders, or dollies. I have had a few occasions to shoot hand held, but only in a minimalist configuration.

c300 car mount

My shoulder mount kit consists of a ARRI dovetail system with a All Star Cine shoulder Pad and a Zacuto C300 grip extender. The system was ok, but my biggest gripe was the last of a true eye-cup viewfinder. For the most part, I was OK using the Canon EVF, especially since you need it for audio. I did not feel like I wanted to add another small monitor for such a dedicated purpose.

When the Deity Mira came along, I almost purchased one, but decided against it based on a few reviews.

2014-01-30 18.23.25

Movcam C300 Top Handle

Around the same time I was looking for a replacement top handle for the C300. The Canon factory handle was ok, but I was always a little leery of it’s strength. I purchased a used Movcam handle from a DVXUser member. It was a major step up in strength, plus added numerous mounting points for accessories. The biggest flaw for me was the sheer size of the handle.

Just before NAB, Zacuto released a new handle kit for the C300/C500 cameras which was much more compact than my setup, and since I spend most of my time on the road, I felt like this kit would save space.

 

Zacuto C300 Helmet

Zacuto C300 Helmet

I ordered the “helmet” and handle with the cold shoe adapter. The helmet is a single piece that screws into the top of the C300 camera, like the factory handle, put it provides two more screw points on the sides. The handle then connects to the helmet with a single z-rail. Right off the bat I was impressed with the rigidity of the handle. It offers a fair amount of flexibility in position and orientation. The handle itself is wrapped with wood, and feels smooth and sturdy. There are two cold-shoe attach points for the EVF, so no loss in functionality either. In terms of space, it takes up less room than Canon’s handle. Win-Win! The handle and helmet retail for $465. A no-brainer purchase for me.

Since I was happy with the handle, I decided to try the new Z-Finder as well. The Z-Finder is really a eye-cup for the Canon screen, with a 1.8x magnifier built in. There are 4 drop-in diopter lenses included to fine tune it your liking.

IMG_8249

Fully kitted C300 with ZFinder

The Z-Finder attaches to the helmet with another speed rail, and includes a bracket which allows for placement of the Z-Finder based on your rigging. The eye-cup itself attaches to the EVF with a cleaver pressure mount which is quick and easy to take on and off. Zacuto even includes a little plastic lever to prevent the EVF from folding up when pressing your eye against it.
Like all Zacuto parts that I own, they feel well made. For $695, I feel it makes my hand-held shooting more comfortable, in the sense that I can now accurately get focus.

IMG_8250My only concern is that the Canon EVF cables may constrain how far you can push the Z-Finder forward on your rig. I know that I am planning on having my cables lengthened by Canon when it goes in for the AF upgrade next month.