Camera, Light, Projector and Sound Rental in Milwaukee & Chicago

            Renting cameras, audio, lighting & grip for Milwaukee, Chicago, and the surrounding area.


  1. GH4 Video: Tips and Tricks

    The Panasonic GH4 is an awesome addition to nearly any video shooter’s bag, especially for those of us who have gotten used to DSLRs like the Canon 5D mark III and 7D.  I’ve had a chance to take the GH4 out on a few shoots so far, and have some tips and tricks for getting great results in your video.

    panasonic-gh4-camera-rental1. Get to know your shooting modes, and assign them to a custom button.  There are HD modes, two 4K modes, an over/undercranking mode, and a crop mode/digital zoom feature.  You don’t want to have to dig through menus to change from one to the next.  I find myself switching between QHDp24 and 1080p variable a lot.  If you’re only using the camera for video, you should assign all your custom buttons to useful video settings, like zebras and peaking, for example.

    2. If you’re mixing and matching cameras on a multi-camera shoot, use the cropped sensor to your advantage.  The Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L paired with the 2.3x crop of this camera makes for an incredible close up for live events.  I even tried it with the 1.4x teleconverter and still felt like sharpness in 4K was acceptable at f/4.  There’s no easy way to get IS working, yet [Metabones now has an EF to MFT adapter that supports image stabilization!] but with a solid tripod, you’ll get shots you used to need a 500mm lens for.

    3. Use that ISO!  The GH4 native ISO is 800 according to Panasonic. It’s definitely the best option when shooting V-log. I think a native ISO of 400-640 would be more appropriate for 4K in the other picture settings. For a 1080p delivery I would be comfortable shooting almost everything pushed to 3200, as long as the footage was run through a denoiser. Video caps out at 6400 ISO, which looks significantly cleaner downsampled to 1080p than the Canon 5D mark III at 3200.  Don’t forget to update to the latest firmware to take advantage of intermediate ISO settings, like 640. You’ll want a crazy fast lens or a speedbooster to make this the right camera for nighttime documentaries, bar and club shoots, etc.  If you’re not used to shooting native ISO at 800, remember to bring an ND filter set with you pretty much everywhere.

    4. Stay in 4K whenever you can.  If you don’t need the higher frame rate, you’ll get a significantly better-looking final product than shooting at 1080p.  Downsampling to 1080p in your editor is definitely the way to go.  The other exception to this would be for rolling shutter. Pro tip: if you shoot at 96 FPS, 1/100 shutter in 1080p, and play back your footage at 4x speed in 23.976, rolling shutter is significantly reduced.  You do give up a stop of light and the ability to record sound, though.

    5. Sound is still a pain in the ears.  If you only buy or rent one add-on for the GH4, consider a Rode VideoMic Pro. In my non-scientific testing, the preamps for the GH4 sounded pretty good vs. the 5D mark III, but it’s still nothing amazing. The lowest gain setting on the GH4 is much higher than Canon DSLRs, so you might not use the +20dB setting as much as you’re used to. If you’re using the GH4 in a studio setting and need audio, it’s probably easier to use the YAGH extension unit and record directly into camera, instead of using second system sound.

    6. Focusing isn’t 2.4 times easier vs. a fullframe camera.  You’ll still want a follow focus, and geared lenses, when possible.  Yes, focusing at a specific f-stop is a bit easier, but I found myself shooting wider to better match the “film look” we’ve gotten used to from other cameras.  Plus, 4K is even less forgiving than 1080p.  I spent a lot of time between f/2 and 2.8, which seems like a reasonable aperture for the GH4.

    7. Cinelike-D.  For people who have been shooting on Panasonic, you’ve known about the Cine-D profile for a long time.  It’s really the only picture profile I use for video.  I keep the blacks pushed up slightly (+2) most of the time, except when I’m in murky or overcast lighting.

    Closing thoughts

    As cinematographers, we used to have to carefully choose which camera we bought, and screentest different models to decide which one would best suit our film’s look.  As the bodies continue to get more affordable and portable, we gain the option of keeping more than one in the kit at a time.  I can still see an advantage to keeping a 5D mark III in your bag (far superior stills, and so far no MFT glass equivalent to  the options in the 16-24mm range).  The a7S is a naturally well-paired camera with the GH4 as well, giving you unreal latitude and low light performance.  The GH4’s killer feature, to me, is good-looking 4K in a camera body that’s only a little over a pound.

    Posted by Jon Kline

  2. Equipment to Make an Awesome Kickstarter Video

    kickstarter-indiegogo-300x225Some of the most popular questions we get are from people who are setting out to make their first Kickstarter, IndieGoGO or other crowdfunding video.  There are lots of tutorials out there about what to say, but not a lot about how to make them.  I’ve worked on multiple Kickstarter videos, both successful and unsuccessful.  In terms of the technical stuff, the key is to make something that is easy to watch and easy to listen to.  You also want to make something that is representative of the quality of your finished product.  If your finished product is a video or film, that can put a lot of pressure on your fundraising video.  My suggestion is to keep the production simple.   A good portion of your video should be a direct appeal, with one or more people talking directly to the camera.

    What kind of camera should we shoot it on?

    To make this work, you’ll obviously need a camera.  For most productions, the quality of a camera doesn’t matter a great deal.  If you’re running a 4-digit campaign, any HD camera you can put on a tripod will do.  You just want to be sure the audience can see you.  If you’re comfortable shooting on a DSLR, you can rent a budget DSLR camera kit.  If you’d rather set-it-and-forget-it with autoexposure and autofocus, you can use a camcorder that can do that for you.

    As long as you’ve got enough light, an affordable camera shouldn’t hold you back.  Most productions don’t need to rent a second camera.  If your appeal is completely scripted, you can easily edit single-camera footage.  If your appeal is not scripted, you may appreciate having an alternate angle to cut to when things get weird and need to be edited out.

    What audio equipment do we need?

    For a Kickstarter video, audio is more important than video.  Your audience needs to hear and understand you clearly, or the whole point of the video will be lost.  The easiest way to get great audio is to use good audio equipment.  If you shoot on a $5,000 camera, you probably have a great audio system built in.  For budget cameras, it’s easy to use a separate audio recorder kit.  You can use a shotgun mic on a boom, or a lav mic, depending on what is easiest for your production and crew.  A basic sound recording kit includes everything you need for clear audio recording.

    Do we need to use lighting?

    In a word, yes.  Good lighting is the difference between looking shifty and looking trustworthy.  Remember, most of the people who will watch this video have never met you.  This is your first impression, and you want to be in your best light.  That doesn’t mean you need to rent a huge lighting package, but you at least need to be conscious of how the available light is affecting your shots.  Shooting indoors is usually easier for sound, but it can be too dark for some cameras to look their best.  That means you probably want to be near windows, and not directly under any lighting fixtures that can cast weird shadows or leave eyes looking dark.

    Adding one flattering, soft light over the camera (working as a key light or eye light) can help make people look their best.  The Kino Flo Diva is my favorite fixture to use for this, but budget filmmakers often get creative.  For under $30, buy a 500-1000 watt painters’ light and sheet of white foamcore.  Bounce the light into the foamcore near your camera and onto your subjects’ faces.

    When you’re mixing light sources, you have to be aware of the different colors from the different types of light.  Pro fluorescent and LED fixtures can match a variety of lighting conditions, but mixing budget lighting with daylight is much more challenging.

    How much should we spend?

    Never spend more than 10% of your fundraising target on your appeal video.  Most of the budget will probably be equipment, but it’s a good idea to borrow what you can from friends and family.  If you have to rent everything, you should still be able to get all equipment in under $250/day for most productions.  Crew time should be donated.  If you do need to rent, we list all our rental rates on our product pages to make budgeting as easy as possible.

    Posted by Jon Kline

  3. MARNmovies VIII – Film Criticism 101

    The next MARNmovies has just been announced!

    Meet filmmakers, share shorts, & make new friends at MARNmovies VIII at the Hamilton on Milwaukee’s East Side.

    If you have access to a computer or a smart device — and can manage to form a simple declarative sentence, voilá — you’ve suddenly got what it takes to voice your opinion in bold print.
    Not so fast, Jeff Craig!
    While not an exact science, film criticism requires a certain discipline and understanding to be taken seriously.

    Our presenter is film critic Mack Bates. He writes for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and Milwaukee Magazine, and has been the recipient of the Crystal Pillar award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, as well as multiple Milwaukee Press Club awards.

    We follow his presentation with screenings of local short films and videos. Bring your short film on USB, Blu-ray or DVD and share with the audience!

    Friday, July 25, 2014
    6 to 9 p.m.
    The Hamilton
    823 E Hamilton St

    $5 at the door/Free for students and MARN members

    MARNmovies VIII presented by The Electric Sun Corp
    with additional support provided by
    MKE Production Rental
    Flipeleven Creative
    Milwaukee Independent Film Society

    Please join us on the Facebook event page.

  4. Cinematographers and Camera Operators


    Cinematographer James Van Trees, ASC, enjoyed a career that spanned both silent pictures and “talkies.”

    Is there a difference between a cinematographer and a camera operator/videographer? Absolutely!  The differences go back to the roots of film and video. Even though the lines are blurring between television, film, and commercials, the distinction is more important than ever.  A quick history lesson is helpful to understand what the words have come to mean today.

    Camera operators* (or in the less politically-correct past, cameramen) historically worked for news organizations.   Their objective was objectivity.  This drive to convey information, as opposed to emotion, is the key component of videographers/camera operators/news photogs today.  They typically use cameras mounted at eye level, seeing the world as we see it with our eyes.  They shoot their subject in available light, and capture moments as they happen.

    In the early 20th century, their tool of choice was a rugged 16mm  film camera. The 1960s saw a migration of newsgathering to video, and that trend continues today.  Studio camera operators, once a popular job at local television stations as well as national broadcasters, have become less common as motorized camera systems allow for more automation.  Sports camera operators typically shoot from fixed positions with cameras optimized for live event shooting.  The goal is to be able to get out of the news van, turn on the camera, and capture the story as easily as possible.  Today’s news camera operators use ENG/EFP (Electronic News Gathering/Electronic Field Production) cameras to capture their stories.

    Cinematographers (also called directors of photography) historically worked for film studios.  Their objective is emotion, and they use all the tools and takes they need to get the desired result.  Hiring a cinematographer has become a standard for larger-budget  commercials, narrative television, and music videos.  Today, many members of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) shoot much of their work for television and the internet.


    My friend Brian is a videographer for a Milwaukee TV station by day, and a producer/editor/cinematographer by night.

    Throughout the entire 20th century, cinematographers typically shot on 35mm or larger film cameras.  Technology advances, spurred by advancements in video, meant film’s heyday couldn’t last.  The cameras used by television stations weren’t designed to be used as 35mm film camera replacements, so a new type of camera was born: the digital cinema camera. Digital cinema cameras give cinematographers all the tools in a traditional 35mm film camera, plus the advantages of working in digital.  While most digital cinema camera packages cost upwards of $50,000, there is a growing market for affordable cinema cameras, with entry-level options just a few thousand dollars.

    Today, the lines are blurring between video and digital cinema cameras, and the difference between cinematographers and videographers/camera operators is more nuanced.  The key component is no longer the camera or the crew, but rather the objective.  If you want a video to capture things “as they are,” whether it’s an event, news story, or presentation, you’re probably looking for a camera operator or videographer.  If you’re trying to tell a story with lights, perspective, lens choice, and other cinematic tools, you’re probably looking for a cinematographer.

    Posted by Director of Photography Jon Kline

    *In this case, I don’t mean the term “camera operator” as used on a motion picture set.
  5. ISOs, sensitivity, noise, and grain

    This is part three in our “Exposure for Video” series

    When shooting video, the third piece of the exposure puzzle is ISO, also called sensitivity, ASA, or gain.   All the other ways to adjust exposure are physical changes, they change the number of photons involved in your exposure.  In a DSLR or video camera, the ISO adjustment is electronic.  Adjusting your ISO will change the quality of your image in a few critical ways.

    Much like shutter speed, doubling or halving your ISO is a one-stop change in your exposure.  So going from ISO 50 to ISO 100 is one stop brighter, and going from ISO 400 to ISO 100 is two stops darker.

    Digital cameras use one or more CMOS or CCD sensors to collect light.  Each one is made up of thousands of tiny light-sensitive cells in an array, working together to make the image.   These cells are called pixels. They convert the photons of light into electrons, much like a teeny-tiny solar cell.

    When recording a video, each of these cells “dumps” its collection of electrons to the computer once each frame.  When you’re in a dark situation, there are only a few electrons to dump, and the margin of error goes up.  These inaccuracies show up as noise, and (since we perceive light logarithmically – we’ll save this for another blog post) they are most visible in the darker portions of our image.  Noise can be distracting and make an image look cheap, especially in moving pictures. Most of the time, we want the least amount of noise possible.

    The more gain you use (the higher your ISO), the more noise you will introduce into your image.  Using less gain will reduce noise.  Noise is blocky and unnatural-looking, and most noticeable in the dark areas.  Compare the green areas of the photo below to see varying levels of noise in the 100 and 1600 ISO exposures.


    Click the image to enlarge

    The amount of gain you use will also affect the latitude of the exposure.  Latitude is the camera’s ability to record detail in the extreme highlights and shadows of an image.  Most digital cameras will gain a half a stop or more of latitude as you increase your ISO.  If you reduce your ISO, you’ll reduce your latitude and the image will appear more contrasty.  Most of the time, we want to maximize our latitude, since we can always increase contrast in post, but we can’t reduce it.  Look at the details in the center of the flower in the image above.  You can see the texture in darker areas much more clearly in the 1600 ISO exposure.

    So, we want the lowest ISO possible to reduce noise and the highest ISO possible to increase latitude?  Not exactly.  For digital cameras, the manufacturer determines a particular ISO that gives superior noise performance and acceptable latitude performance.  This is called the native ISO, and is dependent on a lot of factors, including pixel size, heat handling, in-camera processing, and aesthetic preferences.  Most DSLRs are rated around 100 or 160 native ISO.  Other cameras vary, but nearly every camera available in 2014 has a native ISO between 100 and 800.

    Most photographers and cinematographers find a few settings on a camera that they like, and stick with them when they are in certain situations.  On a camera like the Canon 5D mark III, I usually find myself somewhere between ISO 160 and 640, depending on circumstances.  I suggest experimenting and finding what looks you like with your camera.  Eventually, you’ll learn what to expect as you adjust your ISO and the rest of your exposure settings.

    Posted by Jon Kline

  6. 24/7 Emergency Service


    Things don’t always go wrong on the right schedule. If you need help after hours, send us a text or voicemail at (414) 939-3653. We’ll respond as quickly as we can.

    For new rentals ordered and picked up outside of our regular business hours, we charge a $59 fee, and our minimum order charge is $99.  Insurance requirements still apply for emergency rentals, so we encourage you to keep an insurance certificate on file with us, just in case.

  7. Lighting and Grip Rental in Milwaukee

    Shooting your video in Milwaukee and you need lighting and grip rental?  Whether you need a few apple boxes or a van with all the lighting, power, and grip that fits, we’ve got you covered.  We also offer cameras, lenses, tripods, and just about everything you need for a great video shoot.  We specialize in small productions (with crews usually under 10 people), and have partnerships with other rental companies to get you pretty much anything your production needs.


    Milwaukee has a tight-knit community of non-union production crew, including great gaffers and grips we’d be happy to recommend.  Even if you’re not sure what grip and lighting equipment you’ll need, we encourage you to get in touch.  Give us a call or send us an email and we’ll show you why Milwaukee is an easy place to get your project done right, on your budget.

    We’re the only lighting and grip rental company in Milwaukee who publishes our prices online in our rental catalog.  We can also help you with production support equipment, like tables, chairs, food and beverage support, popup tents, and pretty much everything else you might need. Request a quote for your production and we’ll get back to you the same day.

    Film and Video | Stage and Event | 3200K Tungsten | 5600K Daylight

    Apple Boxes | Carts | Chromakey | Flags and Butterflies | Sand Bags | Stands | Effects

    Production Support
    Tables | Chairs | Popups | Coolers


    (414) 939-3653

    [email protected]

    Posted by Director of Photography Jon Kline

  8. Sony Z100 4K Camcorder Real-World Test

    sony-z100-testI was recently approached by Flipeleven Creative to direct photography on a promotional piece for the Skylight Music Theatre in Milwaukee.  The project proposal was creative, ambitious, and unique, and I thought it was a great opportunity to put Sony’s latest 4K camcorder through its paces, even if it may have seemed like an odd camera choice for the project.

    The PXW-Z100 features 4096×2160 resolution with 4:2:2 chroma subsampling and 10-bit color, which made me feel pretty confident about using it for green screen and compositing shots.  We decided the promo would be a single composited shot, about 60 seconds long.  The foreground element would be 24 fps, and the background elements would be 60 fps, conformed to 24.  We matched the camera moves by accelerating the camera motion 250% in the 60 fps version.  With a limitless budget, I would have leaned toward a Red Epic with remote follow focus and a dana dolly, but we used a homemade PVC dolly and a camera package about a quarter of the cost.

    The overall shooting experience went well.  The wifi control feature was very helpful, making it possible to start and stop recording and pull focus remotely.  The web interface for controlling the focus was usually very effective, but sometimes a bit twitchy. I ended up blowing about 20% of the takes due to the focus racking in the opposite direction I told it to.  Since we were shooting indoors, we shot at f/2, making focus more critical than most applications.  For version 1.0 of a HTML interface, the wifi feature is pretty impressive, but I’d love to see improvements as Sony updates the firmware.  The ability to control focus with a keyboard instead of sliders would be a nice touch.

    We were shooting indoors under theatrical lighting, around 3000K.  Given the opportunity, I would have liked to have been closer to 5600K, since the camera seems to handle noise better at higher color temperatures.  We ended up keeping gain at 0 dB, but there was still visible noise in the 4K source footage, since a large portion of the frame was dark at any point in time.  An extra stop of sensitivity would have been appreciated, but the Z100 was adequate.  We shot flat, since we knew we’d be doing a very heavy grade in post.

    Phil from Skylight handed lighting cues using the house board.  The muslin drape was diffusion for the subject's key light.

    Phil Warren from Skylight handed lighting cues using the house board. The muslin drape was diffusion for the foreground subject’s key light. Kyle and I are hiding on stage. Photo by Chad Halvorsen.

    After the shoot was over, it was time to try keying and compositing.  The first thing I realized was I should have turned sharpness completely down for VFX!  I had only done some very brief greenscreen tests with the camera before our shoot day.  Reviewing the footage, there was a two- to three-pixel band of black between our subject and the chroma green.  Fortunately, the matte choker handled it pretty well,but it would have been much better to add sharpness in post, since the Z100 seems to be pretty heavy-handed with the default sharpness setting.

    The other “shoulda” on my list from this shoot was a smoother dolly ride.  We had to make a lot of tweaks to take out the wiggles as we hit the tiny junctions between PVC pipes, and the slight bend of the tracks made things a little more complicated.  A heavier camera would have meant a heavier dolly, making things smoother, but it might not have been possible to get 30 feet of steel pipe and a full-size dolly properly supported over the vintage seating, either.  Fortunately, the bumps didn’t seem to cause any rolling shutter artifacts, which was a pleasant surprise.

    The keying experience was definitely much nicer than any non-raw camera I’ve used.  I think the results speak for themselves, so I’ll let you be the judge of the effect.  We had some serious green bounce from under the subject, but the camera’s codec definitely kept all the color information it got.  Some cameras (e.g. DSLRs)  have a fantastic sensor but limited processing power, encoding, and bandwidth.  Other cameras, like the Z100, have incredible recording ability, but are most limited by their sensor.  In this way, the Z100 reminds me of Panasonic’s HVX200.  I’m sure once Sony releases the lower bitrate options in a firmware update, most shooters will be happy trading high bitrates for longer record times.

    Our deliverable was 2K resolution, but we did some substantial zooming and cropping in post.  The project turnaround was so fast, we didn’t have time for noise reduction, and subtle noise was added over all the elements as one of the final compositing steps.  Basically, I suggest you watch it as a complete piece, and don’t use this as a pixel-peeping comparison.

    Special thanks to the incredible team at Skylight Theatre who teamed up with all my friends at Flipeleven to make this awesome promo!

    Posted by Jon Kline

  9. N-Series vs S-Series XQD Cards in the Sony Z100

    xqd-cardsWe recently added the Sony PXW-Z100 to our rental catalog, and one of the first things we wanted to test when we got it out of the box was real-world performance with N-series and S-series XQD cards.  Since S-series cards are, at the moment, much more expensive than N-series cards, we wanted to know what that extra cost was buying, in performance terms.  A scarcity of supply has driven the price of S-series cards up even further over the last six months.  We also wanted to clear up some of the confusion around XQD card speed ratings in general.  At one point, Sony offered H-series cards (with speeds similar to N-series), but those have been discontinued, so we did not test them here.  The S-series cards come in several varieties, rated by their read speeds (which don’t necessarily correlate with write speeds).  The S-series card we tested was the faster 180 MB/s variety, but Sony claims the 168MB/s S-series card is fully compatible with all Z100 video modes as well.

    For our test, we used two N-series 64GB Sony XQD cards and one S-series 32GB Sony XQD card. We recorded with a Sony PXW-Z100 with firmware version 1.01.  Each card was formatted in-camera before each test.  As of this firmware version, the camera only supports recording in one codec, XAVC, the same format used in higher-end cameras like the Sony F55.

    For the first test series (Test A) we recorded clips in mixed lighting, on a tripod with manual exposure and gain set to 0dB.  For the second test series (Test B), we recorded clips in a very dark room, handheld, zoomed in to max, walking around, with gain at 18dB.  We felt this was probably the most likely to max out the PXW-Z100’s bitrate, and represented a worst-case scenario for the cards.  A test was marked as a pass (✔) if the camera recorded successfully for 6 minutes, and a fail (✖) if recording was automatically stopped.  We tested each more than once, and used two different N-series cards, but we got identical results with each repeat test.

    For all settings of the camera, the N-series card returned a message “Not Guaranteed Media,” and for all settings with the S-series card, there was no message.  All of our failed tests stopped recording within the first 30 seconds of the clip.

    N-Series Card S-Series Card
    Guaranteed Test A Test B Guaranteed Test A Test B
    1920×1080 all framerates
    3840×2160 23.98p
    3840×2160 29.97p
    3840×2160 59.94p
    4096×2160 23.98p
    4096×2160 29.97p
    4096×2160 59.94p


    A quick peek at the file sizes indicated that the same 600Mb/s bitrate was reached for the 4096×2160 60p and 3840×2160 60p settings under all test conditions.  To put it another way: the bitrate is based only on the video size and framerate, not what is being recorded.

    The upshot is, if you’re recording in HD, or in 23.97p framerates, paying extra for the S-series cards will only buy you peace of mind.  If you’re looking to stay budget-conscious, or want to wait out investing in extra media until the price drops, N-series cards may be the way to go.  But N-series cards simply can’t handle 4K at framerates greater than 24p, yet.  To keep things interesting, Sony is expected to support writing lower-bitrate formats AVCHD and XAVC LongGOP with a scheduled firmware update.  The firmware update is also expected to enable the single SD/MemoryStick card slot, which is completely unused in the current version.  For shooters comfortable with AVCHD files, XQD cards may become completely unnecessary after the update.

    Posted by Jon Kline