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

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  1. Sony FS7 updated tips and tricks

    fs7-tips

    You’ll want to use a lens support when mounting heavier lenses to the Metabones Speedbooster Ultra.

    I’ve been shooting with the Sony PXW-FS7 and Metabones Ultra Speedbooster EF for about six months, yikes, about four years! For some of my earlier notes, check out my first post on the FS7. This post is updated and current as of October 8, 2017, and covers some of the updates available in the FS7 mark II as well.

    The FS7 and the C300 mark II have definitely squared off as direct competitors. Excluding a few fanboys on either side, most operators and producers will say both cameras perform relatively equally. The cost to buy, cost of ownership, and flexibility all tilt in Sony’s favor. Canon appears to have the edge in durability and name recognition.

    The battery options have gotten a lot better, and most modern BP-U series batteries have been updated to work with the FS7 and FS7 mark II. I’ve had great results from BP-U90 batteries made by Vivitar, with two of them lasting all day. If you’re running on a gimbal/stabilizer, you’ll probably want to scale down to multiple BP-U30 batteries.

    The XDCA-FS7 really brings the camera close to the features and functionality of the much pricier F5 and F55. If you’re using the camera professionally, it’s a no-brainer to buy one. Of course, everyone who has one isn’t looking to sell it, so they are pretty rare to find used.

    After beating an FS7 up for four years, a few parts are going to break or fall off. In particular, consider reinforcing the connection between the EVF and camera body. Also, be aware the shotgun mount is a target for abuse, and the EVF mount is less than ideal. If you’re able to swap for the mark II version of the EVF mount, I strongly suggest it. At a minimum, you’ll want to trade out the short rod for a longer one to better position the EVF for shoulder work. Be careful, as the screws strip out easily if you’re heavy-handed.

    The stream of constant firmware updates has ended, and the latest version is probably the right choice for anyone who is not in the middle of a project. You don’t want to brick your rig halfway through a week’s shooting, or find out that highlight handling or something was changed halfway through your shoot. There are still some weird things about the way the FS7 handles settings, in particular if you’re setting general settings like framerate and resolution. More than once, I’ve gone through all my settings from top to bottom, and then realized that by changing some value, I’ve reset other values as well. And then there’s the menu items that end up grayed out without explanation. I suggest writing your most commonly used settings to an SD card, so you can recall them quickly, rather than spending 10+ minutes making sure every last setting is right or doing a factory reset every shoot.

    My key reason for preferring the FS7 over the Canon Cx00 series is the NEX/E mount. The extra flange depth leaves room for optical tricks like speedboosters. There are two big things to know about the Metabones Speedbooster Ultra. First, it needs to be adjusted before you can get infinity focus with most lenses, particularly wide lenses.

    speedbooster-infinity

    Terrible English aside, this is how Metabones suggests you adjust infinity focus on the Speedbooster.

    I’ve seen this issue with two different EF Speedbooster Ultras, and have heard about the same problem on the F-mount Nikon version. I needed to rotate each one between 2/3 and 7/8 of a turn counterclockwise before I could get infinity focus on a Zeiss CP2 21mm or a Rokinon 14mm. This seemed to pull the focus witness marks a little closer to accurate, as well. It’s tempting to rotate until you can get past infinity, but I suggest tweaking just enough to get your widest lens happy. Sloppy third-party wide lenses like the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 are probably best avoided completely.

    Second, sometimes things just don’t work. If you disconnect and reconnect, this will usually fix the problem, but occasionally, I’ve needed to reset the camera before I could get electrical functions on my lenses using a Speedbooster.

    sony-fs7-tricks

    With wide lenses, the arm sometimes needs to come off or be flipped back to stay out of the shot.

    LUT handling is limited in the camera, and I don’t expect a firmware update that enables preview in one LUT while recording in another. I was using the Gratical HD for awhile, but lately have preferred the Atomos Shogun Flame to help manage LUTs (as well as anamorphic desqueeze and a few other features).  Having the EVF set up to view log and the medium-sized monitor for a “normal” color is quite useful.

    What are your experiences with the Sony FS7? Let us know in the comments below.

    Posted by Jon Kline

  2. Sony FS7 Tips, Tricks, and First Impressions

    Sony FS7 tips

    The Sony FS7 in Times Square at night.

    An update to this entry was published on May 19, 2015.

    The Sony FS7 and Metabones EF to E Ultra Speedbooster have been in my hands for about two weeks, and that’s long enough to learn some of the biggest strengths and limitations of the duo. This post is current as of Sony’s firmare v1.01 and Metabones’ firmware V0.38, which are the most recent available today (December 20, 2014).

    First things first, the Sony FS7 is easily my favorite camera under $15,000.  When the FS700 came out, it was a direct competitor to Canon’s C300, which still dominates docu and reality work. With the release of the FS7, Sony has no direct competitor in this price range, and it seems likely that the camera could become the leading choice of docu and reality shooters. It’s also an incredible film-look camera, and will be my first choice for a lot of commercial work.

    There are some notable limitations to the camera right now.  Here’s a list of the caveats and the considerations you’ll want to consider before buying or renting an FS7 package.

    Electronic lenses aren’t working great, yet.  Sony knows that the iris control on the FS7 is a bit “loose” feeling. There is no click-equals-1/3-stop, it’s much more of a spin and pray feel right now. This is across both Sony E-mount and adapted EF-mount lenses, so it’s not just a Metabones issue. Sony has talked about addressing this issue in firmware.

    Some EF lenses have issues where the f-stop “twitches,” making the image flash.  Some high speed lenses are reported by the Metabones to be slower than they are, because Sony firmware doesn’t support lens speeds faster than 1.0. In our tests, a Canon 50mm f/2.5 macro wouldn’t adjust f-stop at all, locking wide-open at f/2.0.  We’ll do a comprehensive test of all the lenses in our inventory, but for now, I suggest you test all the EF lenses in your kit before you take them on a shoot. I have every reason to believe that eventually, nearly all EF-mount lenses will work great. It will just take Metabones some time to get the bugs worked out.

    The best lenses for now are either Sony’s native E-mount or fully manual lenses. Zeiss CP2s or Rokinon cines make for trouble-free operation. You’ll want to use rails and a lens mount, since the Metabones Speedboosters aren’t particularly good at handling heavier weight lenses.

    Waveform or LUT preview work separately, not together. And worse, if you switch between shooting modes, waveform will be disabled by default. The second problem will be addressed by Sony in firmware. Until then, if you change modes and your waveforms turn off, you’ll need to adjust the outputs of the camera to SDI 1080p and HDMI off.  You’ll also need to disable LUTs on all outputs (or enable them and record a baked-in LUT).  The second problem is possibly too processor-intensive to correct in firmware. If you want to monitor in a REC709 space while you have waveform or histogram on the viewfinder, you’ll need a LUT box or LUT-enabled monitor, for now.  I’ve been shooting and previewing in slog3 with waveform on, and have had great results. If I have a shoot with a client over my shoulder, I’ll be sure to bring a DP7-PRO or something else with LUT support, so we can have some idea of what the final product will look like.

    Batteries are a b*tch. Sony ships the FS7 with a BP-U30, which will give you 50-70 minutes of real-world use. Sony brand BP-U60 batteries are expensive, with a full day’s worth costing above $1000.  Sony’s engineers made sure to sell them, though, by blocking aftermarket batteries from working with the FS7. Even BP-U series batteries that work with the EX1 and EX3 won’t work with the FS7. Want to use an aftermarket battery with a Sony barrel connector, instead? No problem, until you want to charge it with Sony’s latest BP-U series charger. The Ikan BP-U65 battery I tested wouldn’t take a charge on the Sony charger, either. As we learn of aftermarket batteries that work with the Sony FS7, we’ll post a link here.

    The configuration is designed to be customized. I’ve experimented with several configurations to help balance the weight when mounted on a shoulder rig. My preferred method moves the shoulder pad back about 2 inches, puts a V-mount battery behind me, and leaves the viewfinder where it is. Other shooters prefer to move the viewfinder and the handle forward (suggested if you’re not using V-mount batteries). Swapping the stock rod for a 10″ 15mm rod will let you move the viewfinder, and an Arri rosette dogbone will solve your handle problems. Figure out how you’re likely to be using the camera before you figure out how you’re going to pack it.  You’re stuck choosing between a bulky bag that’s ready-to-shoot or a compact bag that needs a few minutes to get set up.

    You’ve got to put in the time. If you haven’t used the Cine EI mode on Sony’s cameras like the F5 and F55, or you’re not familiar with log color profiles (specifically Slog3), you’ll need to read up before you’re ready to get the most out of the Sony FS7. Alister Chapman has a world-class overview of Slog3 and LUTs for the FS7, great for getting started with the camera. There is, as always, no replacement for real-world experience, though. It’s going to take a few missed shots before you’re regularly getting great results from the FS7 in Slog3. It’s definitely not an expose-to-the-right picture profile, and does much better with underexposure than overexposure.

    What are your experiences with the Sony FS7? Let us know in the comments below.

    Posted by Jon Kline

  3. Using Bounce – Available Light

    You know lighting has a huge impact on how people look in photos and video.  But sometimes adding lights is complicated, expensive, or just plain impossible.  Using available light isn’t just the “easy” way out, sometimes it’s the most effective.  In this series of posts, we’ll talking available lighting.  Tool number one: bounce light.

     

    silver reflectorYou’ve probably seen a photo/video reflector (sometimes called 5-in-1s, collapsible circles, flexi-fills, or multi-discs) on a photo or video shoot before.  You may have also seen more professional reflectors, like shiny boards, or budget-friendly options like beadboard, foamcore, or even aluminum foil.  These are all different ways to bounce available light.  Some are expensive, but you can find a basic photo/video reflector for under $20.

    Why to use bounce light

    Bounce light can do a few things very well.  When used as a fill light, it can soften wrinkles and make skin more even.  It can create a catchlight (eyelight) that makes eyes appear more alive.  It can also help control contrast, especially when working in direct sun.  These are all ways to make the subjects of your video and photos look more attractive.

    When to bounce light

    I often use bounce light both outdoors and inside.  When shooting outside, it can be challenging to choose the background you want while still putting the subject in flattering lighting.  Three-point lighting is often the goal, but the sun usually gives us either two-point lighting (the direct sunlight and the sky) or one-point (under clouds, where everything is even and the light is soft, but flat).  Adding a reflector is adding another light source, giving you more tools to flatter your subject and move the lights to where you want them.

    What to bounce with

    There are about seven bounce surfaces I use on a regular basis.  The most basic is a white card or fabric.  This type of bounce is great for the fill side of the face when the key is in direct sunlight.  The diffuse light will soften shadows and reduce contrast.  It’s also the surface I use most often for bouncing artificial lights.

    Another popular white surface is bead board, sometimes called platypus.  This is white styrofoam sheets, often used as building insulation.  Bead board tends to be softer and more flattering than a white card, but the effect is similar.  In my opinion, the greatest advantage of bead board is that it holds up well in water.  I’m not just talking rain, either.  Water rolls right off, but it floats, too.  It’s great for fill when you’re shooting in a small boat or other watercraft.

    Another common bounce surface is silver.  This is a semi-reflective fabric surface that gives some directionality to the light.  If your source is a hard light, it will create shadows, although they will be a bit softer than direct sunlight.  If your light source is very soft, like an overcast sky, the bounce will be very soft as well.  Silver is great as a key light on extremely overcast days, since you can add contrast where there otherwise wouldn’t be.  You’ll need to be very close to your subject.

    Many reflectors include a gold side.  The end result is much like silver, but the color of the light is warmed.  Using the gold side allows you to vary the color temperature of your light sources without needing to use gels or other methods.  Gold is a great tool to have on a mostly overcast day, especially for particular skin tones.  Many people with very light or very dark skin can look great under a warmer-looking key or fill source.

    Some reflectors are gold-silver combo.  They are usually arranged in a fine zebra pattern.  When gold is too warm, but silver is too cold, this is the perfect option.  This usually works great for fair skin and on days when the sun is partially hidden behind haze.

    Shiny boards are a standard 42″ square, and have a flat surface with a foil-like covering.  They bounce light much more directly, and are great for using over longer distances.  If you need a direct light indoors, away from a window, you can set a shiny board outside and direct light down a long hallway or into a deep room.  Shiny boards are also commonly used with an additional bounce or diffusion, and can make it look as if sunlight is coming from 3 or more directions at once.  They are usually mounted on heavy-duty stands.  You can improvise your own shiny board by taping aluminum foil to a hard surface like a foamcore card.

    Mirrors are the ultimate bounce.  I usually don’t use them to light people.  When I want a very precise line of light on my background, or there is simply not enough space to get a light where I want it, a mirror is a useful tool.  Covering a mirror with clear tape and breaking it allows for a nice breakup, throwing random-looking slices of hard light (please be careful when intentionally breaking mirrors).

    Other common bounce surfaces include bleached muslinunbleached muslin, and supersoft bounce. Each has unique strengths, depending on the application.

    Reflector before and after

    Both images were captured on a hazy/overcast day. The sun is over the model’s right shoulder, but in the image on the right, a gold-silver bounce has been placed just out of frame right. It warms the skintones, fills in wrinkles, and can be seen as a reflection in the eyes.

    catchlight

    (Image detail) You can see the reflector as a shiny circle in the subject’s eye. This is often called a catchlight, and helps make people look more alive. It’s even more impactful on very dark eyes.

    How to place your bounce

    Usually, three-point lighting is a good starting objective.  You can use direct sunlight as your key or as your backlight.  If you don’t have direct sunlight, you can use the cloudy sky as your fill and a shiny surface close to the face as your key.  Under haze, you can usually use the sun as key, fill, or backlight, depending on what you need.

    Be conscious of the height of your bounce.  If you are too low, you can create odd shadows, especially when the source is a hard light.  If you are too high, the eyes can be lost to shadow.  The goal is usually to light up the eyes, avoid too much light under the chin, and see the reflector in the iris of the eyes.

    Just like regular lights, moving the bounce toward or away from the subject will increase or decrease the amount of light they receive.  Moving the source closer also has the effect of softening the light, and creating a larger reflection in the eyes (or other specular surfaces).

    Learning by doing

    You can read all about how to bounce light, but the easiest way to learn is to get out there and try it yourself!  Don’t forget, when you’re using a reflector or board, they can turn into a safety hazard if you’re not careful.  They can become sails in high wind and can hurt people if they are mounted improperly.  Always practice safe grip.

    Have a favorite way to use bounce light? Sound off in the comments below!

    Posted by Jon Kline

     

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. Five Holiday Gift Ideas for Shutterbugs

    Having a hard time finding stocking stuffers for the photographer on your holiday shopping list?

    Stop sneaking on their Amazon wishlist and give them some FUN gifts they didn’t even know they wanted! Perfect for pros and hobbyists, you can’t go wrong with these gift ideas.

    1. Lens adapters for their iPhone or Android

    Lens adapters for phone cameras have improved a great deal in the last few years. We like this wide angle/macro lens from Xenvo because it’s useful and works with most devices.

    Starting price: $39

    Info: https://amzn.to/2CZV3TI

    2. Handmade camera straps

    Create a custom camera strap from a company that’s been making amazing guitar straps for years.  Get the vitage look with a product made locally in Chicago. They are fully adjustable, made with upcycled seatbelts (as the backing) and stable to boot. Pick your pattern and let creative sparks fly!

    Price: $35 and up

    Info: http://www.souldier.us/

    3. Subscription to PDN

    “Keeping up with industry news” may or may not sound completely riveting. But this magazine is RIDDLED with the latest photographic work AKA inspiring visuals. A monthly magazine to keep your Shutterbug in the know of the latest technology and workshops coming to your area. Available in both digital and print forms, it’s great for the iPad or to cutout images and keep around the studio to fuel creativity.

    Price: 12 issues (one year) of Photo District News Digital $45/Print $65

    Info: http://www.pdnonline.com/

    4. A Fashionable Camera Bag

    Photographers are often too practical for their own good, repurposing bags to carry their camera gear. Pick out something stylish that they’re sure to keep their camera equipment safe for years to come.

    Price: $39 and up

    Our Favorite: Canvas MOACC Bag

    4 ½. Pelican Urban Elite U160

    Okay, so your favorite Shutterbug isn’t into the whole “looking fashionable with a camera” thing (see #4), but wants a new, reliable camera bag. The Pelican Urban Elite U160 is a waterproof, aluminum-spined, crushproof case with plenty of room for all accessories. Note: does not come in sexy Italian leather.

    Price: $219

    Buy: www.amazon.com

    There ya have it! Leave your shutterbug with a smile on their face and have a very Merry Christmas from all of us at MKE Production Rental. Let us know how your giving goes by tagging us on social!


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