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

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


  1. More Tips for Shooting Video on Canon DSLRs

    shooting-video-6dOur post on shooting video for the Canon 6D generated a lot of conversation and questions, so I wanted to follow up and go into some greater detail.  Now that the Canon 6D is a year old, I think we all have a better understanding of how it fits in the Canon full-frame DSLR lineup, relative to the 5D mark II and 5D mark III.  I know this post is epically long… but I’ve learned a lot.  Feel free to skip to the relevant parts for you!

    Lately, when I’ve had the choice of either a Canon 5DmkII or a Canon 6D to take on a video-only shoot, I’ve been taking the 5DmkII.  Yes, even though the camera is more than twice as old as the 6D, it is simply easier to use for video.  The 6D does have some advantages, namely better low-light performance, much improved low-light focusing for photos, wifi and GPS.  While those things are great if you’re using the camera for stills, or want to be able to share pictures on the fly, they don’t get used much by video shooters.  Of course, now that so many video shooters have realized they want a 5D-series camera over the 6D, the 6D camera price has dropped considerably and used 5DmkIIs are selling for oddly high prices.  So the value equation keeps shifting.  If you’re buying a camera for photo and video, I think you’ll get the best value sticking with the 6D.  If you’re just a video shooter and you can find a 5DmkII for under $1800, that’s probably the way to go, especially if you want to experiment with the raw video hack in Magic Lantern.

    Magic Lantern is still in beta for the 6D.  It will crash from time to time.  It is, however, better than not shooting with ML.  Unless your camera crashes at that critical moment.  That’s the excitement of event work, right?

    Without Magic Lantern, the 6D is really just a still photography camera.  ML is still in development for the 6D, but you can use the dev kit to install an early alpha version and at least get basic exposure and focus assist features.  This is a huge help when shooting video.

    I had my first really bad experience with moire after my last blog post on the 6D.  It was bad, really bad, terrible moire.  I interviewed a lawyer and his jacket just went nuts.  It wasn’t a patterned jacket, but the fibers in it must have been the perfect size to cause trouble.  I didn’t notice it in the display, of course, but I probably spent three hours in After Effects filtering, blurring, and mapping something, and then digitally zooming and cropping to make the area less noticeable.  It was chroma, it was luma, and it’s some of the worst I’ve ever seen.  After the fix, the client never said anything, but I’m super nervous about it now.  The 5DmkIII’s 3×3 pixel binning really solved this problem, and hopefully the 6D is the last full-frame camera Canon makes that uses line-skipping for video.

    Since my bad moire experience, I’ve been shooting 6D interviews and “brick wall” type shoots with a Tiffen HDFX 1 filter, and I haven’t noticed a problem.  I tried one of the in-camera OLPFs  (optical low-pass filters) but it makes me nervous popping one in and out of the camera body like that, and it only works on medium to long lenses.


    We offer a cinema kit for each of our full-frame cameras

    The big question I get about DSLR shooting (whether it’s the 6D, 5Dmk3, or a crop-factor camera) is “what accessories are worth it?”  Of course, the answer depends on what you’re shooting, if you have an assistant, and your own personal style.  I tend to take my cameras out in one of three basic configurations.

    Suggested Configuration #1: Cinema Style

    If you’re shooting something narrative, and you have an assistant camera person, you can really dress the camera just like you would a Red Epic or Arri Alexa.  I suggest a cage, rails, mattebox with filter trays, followfocus with whip, monitor (ideally HDMI in and SDI out), and a nice set of NDs, ND grads, and a polarizer.  Put it on a heavy duty tripod and head, get a shoulder mount and handle for the cage, and add your choice of lenses with focus gears, and you can take it pretty much anywhere.

    Now, if you’ve done that, you’ve eliminated most of the advantages of shooting with a DSLR in the first place.  You’ll need an AC for changes, shoulder-mounting gets heavy, and moving quickly is almost impossible.  You do get beautiful fullframe video on a budget, and you get to make the camera look pretty respectable.  It’s still a DSLR, though, so you should either have great control over your lighting or be shooting with the 5DmkIII’s raw hack.  Spending an extra $80 for a light kit rental will do a lot more for your image than covering your camera with hardware.

    Audio for this kit is second-system only.  Slate is optional, depending on your post-production style.  The terrible in-camera audio should be enough to get sync with a program like PluralEyes, even without a slate.

    Usually, the lenses for this kit are primes.  If I were going to pick three, I’d take our 28mm f/1.8, the Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T*, and the Rokinon 85mm T/1.5.  Adding something on the wide end, like our 20mm f/1.8, and something with a bit of reach, like the 105mm f/1.8, fills out a prime kit nicely.  If shooters add zooms, they usually start with the 70-200 f/2.8L IS or the 24-105mm f/4L IS.  The IS is great for shoulder-mounted shots.

    Suggested Configuration #2: Run and Gun

    DSLRs offer a key advantage over cinema cameras like the Red Epic and ENG-style cameras like the Sony PXW-Z100.  They are tiny.  You don’t need a massive Sachtler head and sticks, or huge counterweights on your jib arm.  They are so light, I’ve actually taped them to things when I needed to get the shot.  If you’re shooting doc style, your kit should be three things: small, steady, and easy-to-use.

    A shoulder rig is very important, since you often won’t have time to set up your tripod shots.  I built a frankenrig out of two different shoulder rigs from one of those nobody brands on Amazon.  I found a way to combine the rear counterbalance weights, my preferred handles, 15mm rails, and my preferred 1/4″ mount all into one rig.  I suggest not going with a full cage, since that just adds bulk and takes up your hot shoe.  I added a few mounting blocks to the long 15mm rail so I have a place to mount a monitor arm or sound recorder.  I have seen people try to mount their wireless microphone receivers onto their shoulder rig.  This is just silly!  Get a shoulder bag and put your audio recorder in it, and run your wireless receivers up the shoulder strap.  Trying to balance the extra weight above your eye level all night is exhausting.  The only audio gear I put on my shoulder rig is a videomic pro in the hot shoe.

    Get a lightweight tripod.  Manfrotto’s carbon fiber legs are pretty affordable, and combining it with a 701-size fluid head should be good for most shoots.  Sometimes, I end up mounting the baseplate on the bottom of the shoulder rig, so I don’t have to deal with screwing and unscrewing plates all night.  Sometimes I put a manfrotto-compatible base on the shoulder rig’s camera plate, but this messes up the height of the rails, so I need a rails offset if I want to use a followfocus.  I shot for years without a follow focus, but I get MUCH better results with one.  I use the D Focus v4, although FFs are a very personal choice, and you should experiment with a few to know what you like before you buy one.

    Since your run-and-gun kit can’t include a matte box, you’d better have some screw-in filters.  If you only get one, make it a 4-stop ND or variable ND.  Your second filter should be a polarizer.  If you can get a ND kit, great, but remember you need to drag it around with you and stop to change filters as needed.

    The first lenses I take out with this kit are usually zooms with IS.  Since I usually can’t set up shots, it’s nice to be able to make focal length adjustments without changing lenses.  I consider image stabilization basically mandatory for DSLR video shots handheld at longer than 50mm.  I usually shoot with the 24-105mm f/4L IS, but some shooters I know sacrifice the telephoto end for an extra stop of light with the 24-70mm f/2.8L IS.  I prefer to have lenses for handheld and lenses for dark places, rather than the f/2.8 compromise on an IS zoom lens.

    If you’re shooting with more than one shooter, a lot of this lens advice can go out the window, since you can mix and match a few different lenses on each body and get a really full set of options and coverage.  If you’re shooting in cramped spaces, forgo the stabilization and take something fast and wide.  If I were shooting in a car, for example, I’d probably take a Sigma 20mm f/1.8 and the 50mm Zeiss Planar T* f/1.4. A 35mm f/1.4 Rokinon would be a great option for night vehicle interiors.

    Raw video at this level of production is silly.  Just expose well, shoot flat, and get it right.  Trying to handle a terabyte of data from a single shoot day doesn’t make sense without an AC and DIT.

    A lot of videographers spend their whole lens budget on a “do-everything” lens like the 24-70mm f/2.8 IS.  I think this is a mistake.  You can shoot almost anything on that lens all day long, yes, and you’ll get a solid B+ in the image category.  But you’ll get much better results from choosing a lens that fits your specific needs for a particular shoot.  24mm is wide, but it’s not iconic like a 20mm.  70mm is okay for portraits, but you’ll wish you had more reach. f/2.8 isn’t slow, but indoors, you’ll still be wishing you had more.  For the price of that one lens, you can get a kit of photo primes plus the 24-105mm f/4L.  Unless you simply can’t bring the extra lenses with you, the 24-70 is the jack-of-all-trades lens that can make you complacent.

    Suggested Configuration #3: Guerrilla Filmmaking

    You can’t take a matte box outside of the TMZ without getting some stares.  People are fascinated and intimidated by the moviemaking process, and usually, this makes it harder.  There are some places where getting permission is impossible, but almost no one will stop the tourist with a camera.  Want your documentary crew to follow your subject on Amtrak or an airplane? Good luck!  If you’re shooting in a foreign country, you may be expected to pay “fees” (bribes) to get your gear through customs or security checkpoints, and shiny new equipment tends to disappear when you’re not looking.  The less intimidating your equipment looks, the better.

    If what you need is the smallest possible camera you can intercut easily with a full-frame DSLR, Canon’s new SL1 (100D) is the hands-down best choice.  The 1.6 crop factor is a small tradeoff for the teenie-weenie camera body.  With a 40mm pancake on it, it could be mistaken for a point-and-shoot.  Everyone will assume you’re a camera-happy tourist. Put some dirty gaff tape and an old strap on it, and you’ll look like you’re shooting on a Rebel from 2001.  This only works if you put it in a junky bag and don’t wear anything flashy.

    If you’re somewhere where someone really doesn’t want you to be, consider a camera with dual media.  You may be able to hand over the SD card in your 5DmkIII, and still walk out the door with the CF card.  In the “old” days of tape, shooters using the HVX200 would turn over their DV tapes to authorities, even though the camera was recording to P2 media.  I’ve been asked by an armed US soldier to turn over my media before, and it’s a scary feeling.  It takes some real guts to lie to a guy holding an automatic weapon.

    If you need the full-frame (and I’m pretty sure you don’t, but that’s a discussion for another post!), the 6D is a relatively small camera.  Without a battery grip, and with a few small lenses, you’ll probably be able to shoot on public transportation, at events, etc. without drawing a crowd or raising suspicion.   Since you’ll want to skip the shoulder mount, though, make sure your lenses are either really wide or IS, and run sound from a wireless lav to a recorder so you don’t have to keep it visible.  Sound gear is a lot easier to hide, and usually sound is the most important part of doc-style shooting.  Zoom H1s go anywhere, fit in pockets, and can connect to wireless lavs like the Sennheiser G3.

    Camera support tends to become a very personal decision at this point.  I like to bring a gorillapod, since it’s versatile but not big.  Bringing a “real” tripod will always get some attention, but you may decide it’s worth the trade-off.  Manfrotto makes a few super-portable photo tripods that can fit in a backpack.  A shoulder rig can be tough to travel with, and usually gets some stares, too.

    Lens-wise, the 40mm f/2.8 pancake is about as small as lenses get.  The plastic 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 is less intimidating than any L-series lens, and has a lot of versatility (and image stabilization).  If you want a second prime, I’d suggest either going for the 85mm f/1.8 if you’re shooting on a full-frame camera, or pairing Canon’s 28mm f/1.8 and 50mm f/1.4 on a crop factor camera.  Some of your choice of lenses will depend on the time of day, the style of the piece, and your personal tastes.  Definitely try a few lenses out before committing them to a long trip.

    What have you learned in the year that the 6D and 5DmkIII have been available?  Share your experiences in the comments!

    Posted by Jon Kline

  2. 5 Hacks to be a Better Photographer Instantly

    Think you don’t have an eye for photos?  Use these simple hacks to get better pictures instantly.


    Even pros take some bad shots… it’s okay.

    Put some tape over the bottom of the screen.  This will force you to reframe.  Often, when we take pictures, it’s tempting to put the thing we’re focusing on right in the center.  By covering part of the screen, you’ll push the “center” to the top of the image, without even thinking about it.

    Move to the light.  If you spend $3000 on a camera, it can almost see in the dark.  If you spend $300 or less on a camera, you’re going to need more photons.  Pictures outside in daylight are usually crisp and clear.  Photos inside or at night tend to be blurry.  Before giving up, try to move things closer to a light source.  And if you’re inside and your photos are blurry, put your subject near a window or outside.

    Turn off the flash.  Flash would look totally natural if we walked around with headlamps on all day.  Notice how professionals almost never point the flash directly at someone from right over the camera?  You shouldn’t either.  If your flash doesn’t rotate to bounce off nearby walls, just turn it off.

    Don’t be a square. We see the world from angles, not always straight on like a game of Super Mario.  Don’t let your subjects face the camera directly.  Tell them to point their feet slightly away from the camera and they’ll look slimmer, and you’ll look like a better photographer!

    Take more than one.  Don’t ever stop after just one picture.  You’re not paying to develop the film, so don’t be stingy!  Even the pros need a lot more than one shot to get it right.

    Ready to take your shooting to the next level? We can get you started with a Canon T3i rental!

    Posted by Cinematographer Jon Kline

  3. When and Why to use Variable ND Filters

    We created a test of the 77mm Promaster Variable ND filter on a Zeiss 50mm Planar T* f/1.4, to help demonstrate the impact the filter can have on the image, as well as test for any color shifting, fringing, or “x-darkening” common with poorer quality filters.  We’ve tried some of the other common variable ND filters, including budget filters and Polaroid, but now we rent exclusively Promaster, due to its far superior performance.  This is also a good example of how adjusting f-stop can impact the depth of focus.


    Exposure with no filter.


    Exposure with Promaster Variable ND set to MIN, approximately 1 2/3 stop reduction in light.


    Exposure with Promaster Variable ND set nearer MAX, approximately 5 2/3 stops of light reduction.

    The shots were all done with the same settings, 125 ISO, 1/50 shutter.

    The only drawback of the Promaster variable ND is endemic to all variable NDs and polarizers, as well.  It tends to cut reflections, even the good ones.  While this makes for a more vibrant sky, it can also make flesh tones more flat, and organic surfaces like the skin of the apple (or a person) lose luster under the higher ND levels.  For staged shots where we have time to change filters, we’ll still use classic ND, but with more shoots getting smaller, we think the variable ND has earned a place in our camera bag.  After using Promaster variable ND filters in the real world for almost a year, we’re happy to include them in our rental catalog.

    Posted by Jon Kline

  4. How to Choose a Video Camera

    Looking for a video camera or camcorder?  If you’re an amateur and don’t aspire to be a cinematographer, you probably want a camera that will handle exposure, focus, and other adjustments for you.  We suggest you start by looking at camcorder or sport camera… and this post is for you.

    We’ve broken these down by price, but before you figure out your budget, remember to leave some room for accessories.  A few memory cards, an extra battery, a carry bag, and a decent tripod or camera mount are all important parts of any camera system.


    Camcorders (sometimes called palmcorders), differ from sport cameras in one key respect.  They offer a zoom lens.  They are usually designed to be handheld or mounted on a tripod.  Most of them aren’t meant to get wet or be dropped, either.

    Under $200

    First things first, you get what you pay for.  Anything around this price is going to be a bit difficult to use, and not give the greatest image when compared to the bigger-budget cameras.  We feel the Sony HDR-CX-220 is about the only camera worth looking at in this price range.  Plan on spending another $100 on memory cards, batteries, a bag, and other accessories. Mediocre in low light, and pretty close to impossible to use with manual settings.  If you want to set up a camera to record sporting events in adequate light, this might just do the trick.  If you’re shooting indoors on a stage or general indoor lighting, your footage will end up grainy and not so easy to watch.  It’s still light years better than most older consumer camcorders.  And this camera, like every one on our must-have list, doesn’t need tapes or other difficult media.  Just feed it memory cards and save yourself time at the computer later.  If you have a standard definition camera, this will seem like a real upgrade in both image quality and ease of use. Just remember, you’re not going to win awards with any camera around this price point.

    Under $400

    The Canon Vixia HF R40 is our favorite in this category.  You’re still going to have the limitations of the budget camcorders, but at least you get a touch screen, wifi, and some improved optics.  If you’re shooting in daylight, this camera will get the job done.  Indoors and in low light, you’re going to see some noise.  This camera has enough built-in storage for about 30 minutes of video, but a 32GB memory card will only cost you about $20 and record for an extra two hours.

    Around $1000

    hf-g20_This is the point in pricing where you can finally start to get the image quality in line with some older professional cameras.  Our favorite in this category is the Canon Vixia HF G20.  Even grandpa should be able to get an adequate image out of this camera, most of the time.  It’s designed for the amateur but offers some features for the aspiring professional, including the option of full manual settings.  Your extra money is being spent on a much higher quality sensor, a better lens, and a near-pro feature set (despite being crammed in a consumer-looking camcorder body).  If you’re an amateur trying to record indoors, or a young filmmaker who wants to dabble with manual controls, this is a great option.  Most organizations, clubs, and groups we talk with end up going with the HF G20 for recording concerts, dances, and other performances, since it looks and sounds good, and can be operated by almost any volunteer.  If you invest in a fluid-head tripod, you can get very watchable footage without much practice or technical know-how.

    Sport Cameras

    gopro hero3This category of camera is all about action.  Usually designed to be worn, strapped, or clamped to something, they tend to be resistant to water and other hazards.  They use wide lenses, which means that things up close will look great, with a lot of perspective.  Things far away will look impossibly small.  Mount the camera on your head and even your feet will look small!  These are the cameras to use while skydiving and snorkeling, not for a dance recital.  Sound varies between mediocre and terrible, but that shouldn’t matter for your motorcycle ride or deep-sea dive, anyway, right?

    Under $200

    If you’re thinking about getting a sport camera and don’t need high framerates, the Go Pro Hero 3 White Edition is easily our favorite option under $200.  With wifi, the best image in its class, and the huge library of Go Pro mounts and other accessories, this sport camera stands out. And when your buddy leaves it at the bottom of the lake, at least it was only $200!

    Under $400

    A recent price drop on the Go Pro Hero 3 Black Edition brought it to around $330.  If you want to use the money you save to buy some accessories, we suggest a 32GB micro SDHC card and extra batteries.  Video from this camera is used on major broadcast networks and in commercials, and is some of the most incredible footage we ever see.  The only downside is the price drop means a new one is probably on the way.  Our crystal ball says the Go Pro Hero 4 series will be here in time to put under the Christmas tree.

  5. Back to School Bonus

    film-student-discountAre you a film, video, or photography student?  We used to be, too, so we know what it’s like!  That’s why we’re making it easier and more affordable than ever for students to rent equipment.

    Bring your student ID, and we’ll give you 20% off any rental that includes a camera body!  Whether you need it for a day or a week, for a midterm or a final project, you don’t have to be stuck with whatever’s left in the back of the campus closet when it comes time to make your masterpiece.  Plus, we’ll help you figure out the new gear, including a one-on-one camera 101, where we go over the hows and whys of your particular camera. To qualify for the discount, you must be a current student at an accreddited college, provide proof of insurance, and reserve at least five days in advance.

    With camera packages starting under $100, you don’t have to be held back by technology on any budget!  Contact us today to reserve your rental!




  6. Camera Lens Rental in Milwaukee

    rent-lens-milwaukeeIf you’re looking to rent a lens for your camera in Milwaukee, you’re in the right place.  We offer an ever-growing collection of rental lenses you can pick up today from our Milwaukee office in Bay View.

    Our Most Popular Zooms

    Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS
    Canon 20-35 f/2.8L Zoom Lens
    Sigma 24-60mm f/2.8 EX DG IF zoom lens
    Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Zoom Lens
    Tokina EF 11-16mm f/2.8 Wide-Angle Zoom Lens

    See all zoom lenses

    Our Most Popular Primes

    Rokinon 85mm T/1.5 Cine Prime Lens
    Sigma 20mm f/1.8 EF Mount Wide-Angle Lens
    Zeiss ZE Planar T* 50mm F/1.4
    Canon 50mm Macro f/2.5 Prime Lens

    See all prime lenses

    More than half of our lenses are EF mount, but we carry adapters for Micro Four Thirds (MFT) and Sony E/NEX so you can mount them on mirrorless cameras, as well.  We also have specialty lenses, including tilt-shift and fisheye.  If you need a very hard-to-find lens, we can use our network of other rental companies to help you find exactly the lens you need.

    We can add a temporary focus gear to any lens you like, so you can use it with your follow focus.  We’re adding new lenses all the time… and we make our inventory decisions based on your requests!  Let us know what you’d like to see next!

  7. Invoicing and Getting Paid – Getting Started in Film and Video Production

    Invoicing PaperworkIf you’ve finished your first gig in video production, chances are the producer has asked you to send an invoice. It can seem complicated at first, but it’s actually really simple.  Here’s what you’ll need to know to create a video production invoice, whether you’re working as a production assistant or anything else.

    Video production companies need invoices so they can keep track of production expenses.  Since you’re not a salaried or hourly employee, you’re considered a contractor. Your payment probably won’t be a payroll payment with payroll taxes and other expenses taken out. Instead, it will be a lump sum, similar to how you pay a plumber, cleaning service, or other business.  Your invoice is basically a receipt for their records, and a reminder that they need to pay you.

    Invoices are pretty easy with a program like QuickBooks, or you can make your own invoices for free using Google Drive whatever else you’re comfortable using.  Remember, just because you’re invoicing doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay taxes on your income.  Talk with your tax professional about your potential tax liability, especially when you’re just getting started!

    A good invoice should have all of the following information on it:

      • ◘ Your name, or if you’ve incorporated, your company name.
      • ◘ Your mailing address for checks, tax paperwork, and other correspondence.
      • ◘ An invoice number, for your records.  I usually number my invoices starting with the year (Invoice 2014-01, 2014-02, etc.) for simplicity later.
      • ◘ The name of the business or person that you’re invoicing.  Usually I put the company name, followed by ATTN: and the individual who handles payments and accounting.
      • ◘ A project number or purchase order number from your client.  If they don’t provide one, put a short description of the project here, so accounting knows where to put your charges
      • ◘ A due date.  The standard due date for most video production invoices is 30 days after the invoice has been sent. This is sometimes called “net 30”
      • ◘ The date the invoice was prepared.
      • ◘ A detailed listing of charges.  Usually I suggest using columns to list items  in a table like this
        Date Item Units Unit Cost Line Total
        8/1/2014 Production Assistant Day Rate 2 $200 $400

        Often, you’ll be billing a day rate, but sometimes you’ll need to bill hourly, or add line items for overtime, etc.

      • ◘ A subtotal line
      • ◘ Any additional lines needed, like tax, discounts, etc. In Wisconsin and most other states, you probably won’t need to charge sales tax on your labor.  If you do, you’ll need to get a certificate allowing you to do so.
      • ◘ A total line.  I suggest putting this in bold.

    If you want to be sure your payment is processed ASAP, it can help to include a completed W9 form.  Download it, print it, fill it out, scan it and you can send the same one with all your invoices.  You can use the same W9 whether you’re a production assistant, camera operator, videographer, or have any other job on set.

    Pay attention to what the producer asks for.  Your expenses may need to be invoiced separately, and you may need receipts.  These days, 99% of my invoices are electronic as a PDF, but sometimes, people want a hard copy mailed to them. If you don’t get your payment in 30 days, send them a reminder invoice and let them know you still haven’t received payment.  Always be nice!  Assume they forgot to send a payment, even if they’re avoiding your calls.

    Here’s a sample invoice in a few common formats: PDF Excel OpenDoc

    Once you’ve got more than a few invoices, it might make sense to use a bookkeeping program, so you can run reports, manage unpaid invoices, and keep track of everything.  Remember to keep your forwarding address information current, because many video production companies will send you tax documents in January, up to 13 months after you’ve completed working for them.

    Good luck and happy billing!

    Posted by Jon Kline

  8. Canon 50mm Prime Showdown

    We recently added the Canon 50mm f/2.5 Macro prime lens to our rental inventory.  Naturally, the first thing we did was take a picture of Kyle’s eyeball.  The second thing?  We compared it to the Canon f/1.4 50mm prime lens.  We wanted to know if it was safe to leave our 50mm f/1.4 behind when we have enough available light and the Canon macro lens in our bag.  And since the price difference isn’t huge, we think a comparison of these two lenses isn’t completely out of order.  Here’s some of the obvious and not-so-obvious pros and cons of each lens:

    1) Up close, the 50mm macro is fantastic.  The 50mm f/1.4 is great for people, but if you want a closeup on a baby or pet, or are shooting anything smaller than about 9″ across, you’re really limited without the macro option.  The 50mm f/2.5 at close focus distance is 1:1, perfect for coins and jewelry. On a crop-factor camera, you’ll have even more apparent close-up power.

    2) The 50mm f/1.4 is a much better available-light lens.  1 2/3 stops more speed makes a big difference in the dark.  On a crop-factor camera, f/2.5 is “good enough” for portrait work, but being able to go into f/2 or beyond gives you more versatility as a portrait lens.

    3) For everyday shots, the 50mm f/1.4 obviously, clearly, blatantly outperforms the f/2.5 macro.


    Sample shot from the Canon 50mm f/2.5 macro at f/2.8.  Click to enlarge.


    We tested both lenses with a Canon 5DmkIII body on a tripod at f/2.8, and focused on an object at the end of a hallway. We brought RAW images into photoshop with identical settings and saved them as high-quality JPEGs.

    The biggest differentiator is sharpness.  Looking at the 1:1 comparison crops, the 50mm f/1.4 is much sharper.  Even in our video tests (2MP resolution), you can see a slight difference in sharpness between both lenses.  Note, in both images you can see artifacts from digital sharpening, but it’s the same amount for both shots.

    The f/1.4 performs better in other areas, too.  In our tests, vignetting was much less noticeable on the f/1.4.  It has two fewer elements, which means that even at the same apertures, it lets in a bit more light.  Our guess is about 1/6th of a stop at the center and almost a full stop in the corners at f/2.8.


    Canon 50mm f/1.4 at f/2.8

    Sample shot from the Canon 50mm f/1.4 at f/2.8. Click to enlarge.

    The only place where the 50mm macro might be said to have an edge in our sample shots is in geometric distortion.  When putting the shots over each other, you can see a slight barrel distortion in the 50mm f/1.4.  The additional glass in the macro may be helping to square up the optics, making it slightly more rectilinear.  This makes the macro seem the tiniest bit wider, at least in the corners.

    In our high-contrast scene, both lenses seemed to perform reasonably well, without much ghosting or fringing, and a small amount of  chromatic aberration.

    For video shooters, both lenses seem to breathe about equally.  Our opinion was the breathing was pretty natural, and certainly acceptable for a sub-$1000 lens.


    One-to-one crops for pixel peeping

    The upshot?  It looks like we’ll be taking both 50mm lenses along on our shoots.  The macro features are too awesome to leave at home, but the better optics of the f/1.4 make it a much better choice on almost anything more than 18 inches away.  Want to make the comparison for yourself?  You can rent all our 50mm lenses for your own tests!

    Posted by Jon Kline

  9. Wisconsin, Film, and Film Tax Incentives


    We’re considering opening a MKE Production Rental office in Thailand.  Kyle is not pleased.

    This is a call to all the Wisconsin lawmakers out there who want to take credit for creating jobs.  You’re doing it wrong.  At the end of the day Friday, the Wisconsin legislature put the nails in the coffin of the film tax incentives, and shut the door on dozens, if not hundreds, of entrepreneurs who took a chance on Wisconsin becoming a state that is friendly toward film.

    Over the last seven years, businesses like RDI Stages and  Tilt Media rode the wave of enthusiasm and made huge capital investments to build studio space.  Smaller companies like us could count on a few extra customers from out-of-state, who would rather rent equipment locally than pay an airline all the extra baggage fees. The idea was so simple, it was approved quickly, with bi-partisan support.

    The slide into ambivalence has been a slow process.  The film office closed in 2005.  The tax incentives began in 2008.  They were capped (or perhaps we should say “crippled”) in 2009, with an annual state limit of $500,000.  Then they added a $500 fee just to apply for the incentives.  Film Wisconsin added a per-project cap of just $100,000.  Medium-sized projects (under $500,000 or so total budget) had the hurdle set too high.  And large-scale multimillion dollar productions saw too little return after the cap.  Film Wisconsin drifted from its original aim of being an advocate for local production, to being a sales funnel for the few projects that still wandered in the front door.  Now, we’re left with an industry full of employees, offices filled with equipment, and  we’re forcing the exodus of talented film and video makers to other states.

    Film tax incentives made sense, and they still do.  The kerfuffle over accounting in 2009 muddied the waters, and shows that Wisconsinites want a clear picture of what they’re buying for their money.  I think that’s only fair, but it’s something that’s only going to happen when lawmakers do what they obviously should have done in the first place:  build a plan that makes sense, with simple administration, transparent accounting, and feedback from people in the film and video industry inside and outside Wisconsin.

    Bringing back the film office sounds like a radical idea in this political climate, but can anyone argue that the experiment in public-private partnership that is Film Wisconsin has worked?  Stamping one organization “Wisconsin-approved” isn’t the same as having an office that can answer questions, connect you with resources, and advocate for local workers, all without being motivated by private interests.  Film Wisconsin was a well-intentioned idea run by some of the most-vocal advocates for Wisconsin’s film industry, but it wasn’t the solution we needed.   We need to admit it, fix it, and move on.

    Wisconsin doesn’t need to be a copycat, we need to think Forward.  Creating a system that rewards local hiring, local buying, and local renting isn’t complicated.  Writing it in a way that doesn’t leave taxpayers on the hook to pay Hollywood salaries only makes sense.  And yes, a decade from now, if Wisconsin’s film and video industries are booming, let’s talk about scaling the program down or phasing it out.  But don’t invite all the filmmakers to a party just to take the rug out from under us.  We’re entrepreneurs who are fighting to create a new industry in Wisconsin, just like the technology-driven and green industry sectors.  Our new businesses will fail 50% of the time even under the best circumstances.  We don’t need any help to make things harder.

    As a filmmaker who learned almost everything I know while in the state of Wisconsin, I’m left stunned.  Of course, I fully expect to be in Wisconsin next year, and MKE Production Rental will be there to help our customers and fellow filmmakers.  We hope that Wisconsin’s recovery eventually catches up with the rest of the country.  But in a fragile economy, in a bruised industry, with the tax laws tilting our customers into neighboring states, it’s time for lawmakers to stop talking about jobs and start making it easier for the skilled people that are already here to get back to work.

    Posted by Jon Kline


  10. Shutter Speeds and Frame Rates – Exposure for Video

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

    Shutter speed is one of the variables that helps control exposure and the overall look of your video.  If you’re an amateur photographer, you might be familiar with shutter speed, but there are some key differences between photo and video.  Frame rate also factors in for moving images.  Let’s start with frame rates first.

    The video frame rate is the number of images (frames) shown per second.  We abbreviate this FPS.  This can be anything from around 12 (the minimum to “fool” the eye into seeing motion) to more than 1000.  But film and video have converged around a few standards.  Here are the ones you should try to remember:

    Frame Rate    Most Common Use
    15 Old web videos
    23.976 Digital cinema
    24 Classic cinema
    25 PAL (foreign) TV
    29.97 Almost all SD TV in the US, lots of HD TV
    30 SD TV in the US before color
    48 Peter Jackson’s movies
    50 Some HD TV outside the US
    59.94 Some HD TV in the US


    I’m sure whole books could be written about why some of those frame rates seem so ridiculous, but the difference between 30 fps and 29.97 fps is actually really important, I promise.

    If you’re making movies or web videos in 2013, I strongly suggest shooting in 23.976 fps.  If what you do ends up on television, you’re probably better off with 29.97 or 59.94.  But let’s get back to shutter speed, which is the whole reason we started talking frame rates in the first place!


    Photo: Flickr/wwworks
    Longer shutter speeds make moving things streakier.

    The shutter speed is the amount of time the frame of video is exposed to light.  The longer the exposure, the more light is recorded.  Of course, under normal circumstances, the shutter speed can’t be any longer than the time between one frame and the next.  So if you’re shooting 24 fps, the most light you could let into each frame would be 1/24th of a second.  Makes sense, right? Your shutter speed can be a lot faster, however.  most cameras will let you adjust your shutter to 1/8000 or so.  This would let in a lot less light.

    Photographers have used fast shutters in millions of photos to freeze motion.  Since even fast-moving things appear relatively stationary over 1/8000th of a second, they can be “locked in place” without any visible motion blur.  Other times, photographers can use very long exposures to intentionally blur backgrounds or leave trails to indicate motion in a still shot.  But cinematographers have a different challenge.  Since video and moving pictures are all about capturing motion, each of the still images has to work together with the ones around it to create the illusion of motion.  The motion blur that photographers are often trying to avoid is the same blur that we can use to make motion seem fluid and natural.  The illusion of motion in moving pictures depends in part on the smooth transition from one frame to the next.  In modern video, we usually set a shutter speed at about half the frame rate.  In an homage to the film cameras of the 20th century, this is called a 180-degree shutter.

    There are times when the 180-degree shutter might not be the right choice.  Sometimes you may be shooting something that flickers, such as a televison or LED clock, and don’t want to emphasize the flicker. Other times you may be shooting in such darkness that you’d rather have the extra motion blur and get all the light in every frame possible.  There is no shutter speed that is right 100% of the time, but I usually start at 1/50th (when I’m shooting at 23.976fps) and make adjustments as necessary from there.

    There are artful ways to use faster shutter speeds, too.  In Saving Private Ryan, for example, the action scenes are shot with a 1/200th shutter, even though they are 24fps.  This tends to make the motion look “strobey” or stuttery, and reminiscent of old 16mm newsreels.

    Remember that shutter speed is just one of the four variables that affect exposure.  We’ll talk about the rest as we get further into our “Exposure for Video” series.

    Posted by Jon Kline