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

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Tag Archive: kline

  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.

    6D-rig

    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. 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.

    Canon-50mm-f25-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.

    pixel-peeping-canon-50mm-macro

    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

  3. 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!

    motion-blur-shutter-speed

    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

  4. Stops, F-stops, and Lens Speed – Exposure for Video

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

    When shooters talk about speed, they’re really talking about light.  Light is measured in stops.  If lens A lets in twice as much light as lens B, lens A is one stop faster than lens B.  If it lets in four times as much light, it’s two stops faster.  So, if we “stop up” or “open up” we are adding more light and if we “stop down” or “close down”  we are taking light away (relative to where we started).  All lenses have a maximum aperture (also called iris size or f-stop), but can be stopped down to reduce the amount of light coming in.

    Photo: flickr/sodaniechea

    Photo: flickr/sodaniechea
    In some images, you can actually see the iris in the photograph. Here, you can tell the iris has six sides, making hexagon-shaped lens flares.

    Lens speeds are measured in f-stops.  Don’t confuse a stop with an f-stop.  A stop is half or double a certain amount of light.  An f-stop is the measurement of the diameter of the iris in the lens.  They are related, but not the same.  I’m going to explain this with some math, please bear with me.  If you can commit it to memory, you’ll be halfway to being a professional shooter.  If it bends your brain too much, just skip to the chart and try to memorize the pattern.

    The F-stop is a ratio that measures the iris diameter relative to the focal length f.  That’s why it’s represented as a fraction, f/x.

    The cool thing about exposure is that as long as f is a constant, it doesn’t matter what it is. We can ignore it for this example, just remember that the number we’re focusing on is the denominator in a fraction, so a bigger denominator is actually a smaller number.

    If I double the diameter of a circle, the area of a circle will become four times as large (remember that πr² equation from geometry class?).  So if I double the diameter of the iris by going from f/8 to f/4, the iris gets four times bigger, and will let in four times as much light.  Four times the light… that’s two stops (because 4=2×2).  Eight times the light?  That would be three stops brighter.  One sixteenth the light?  Four stops darker.

    Now, as promised, the chart of f-stops:

     

    <--Opening up            Stopping down -->
     .      .      .      .      .      .      .
    f/1           f/2           f/4           f/8
          f/1.4         f/2.8         f/5.6
    
    

    What does it mean?  It means that there is a one-stop difference between f/1 and f/1.4.  There is a three-stop difference between f/1.4 and f/4.  And you can extend the imaginary chart out as far as your mind wants to go by just doubling or halving the f-stop ratios.  If you want numbers in-between…. you’d better bust out your geometry textbook (or use an f-stop calculator).  To be practical, we’ve never seen an f-stop beyond f/0.7 on the open side or f/32 on the closed side, and optics tend to get a little crazy as you approach extremes, anyway.

    Remember, the iris (aperture/f-stop/whatever you might call it), is just one of the four parts of exposure.  You will need to combine f-stop, shutter speed, sensitivity, and the amount of light in the scene to get the full equation.  The good news?  F-stops are the tricky part!  The rest gets much simpler.  And now you have one of the tools to compare two lenses side-by-side.  We’ll have more information on exposure in our next installment in the Exposure for Video series.

    Posted by Jon Kline

  5. Tips for Shooting Video on the Canon 6D

    Jon wrote a follow-up to this post in November 2013.

    I first started shooting DSLR video in 2010.  Having such incredible cameras at a low price point has changed the way we work.  The democratization of filmmaking is underway, and the Canon 6D is a milestone on that path.   The key to standing out isn’t spending $40,000 on a camera, it’s taking the time to know your camera and equipment and get the best results.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far while shooting with the Canon 6D.

    Use a monitor.  The 6D supports higher resolution output while recording than the 5DmkII, so you can actually focus while shooting.  You also don’t have the glitch in HDMI signal between standby and recording.  If you’ve been using a 480p monitor, it’s time to upgrade.

    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.

    6D-rig

    We prefer our 6D all dressed up in a cage and mattebox

    You have a new, extended clip-length limit of 29:29.  This makes using the camera for sit-down interviews and events a bit easier.  It’s also quite likely that Magic Lantern will be able to eliminate the clip length entirely, now that Canon firmware has removed all the other obstacles to longer shot lengths.

    Moire is not as bad as everybody says it is.  I spent half a day running around the office trying to create it and I can’t.  I’ve seen some sample shots online, but nothing that 30 seconds in After Effects couldn’t improve.  It’s no reason to ignore a great camera.  Just like rolling shutter and compression artifacts, it’s something that your audience should never be paying attention to, as long as you’re telling a good story.  If you’re really worried about it, try one of the optical low-pass filters, which seem to do the trick as long as you’re not on a wide lens.  And remember that a few years ago, professionals were still shooting 480i to tape.  Trust me, if your picture sucks, it’s not the camera’s fault.

    Don’t be afraid of the dark.  Compared with a crop-factor camera, the 6D has 2-3 stops more room to work with.  The T2i/T3i/T4i tends to get “fuzzy,” especially in the blacks, at 800ISO and beyond. I would say the 6D at 3200ISO looks cleaner than the T2i at 800ISO.  The difference is so big, I usually don’t take crop factor cameras out of my bag indoors anymore.  If you’re also shooting photos, the 6D is a great indoors camera.  While the action-focusing doesn’t keep up with the Canon 5DmkII or III or the 7D, the low-light focusing performance on the center point is unmatched in any DSLR I’ve ever shot with.

    Use All-I compression modes.  The camera supports IPB compression, but why would you intentionally reduce the quality of your video?  The real bottleneck for DSLR filmmakers has always been the data rate.  Canon gave us an incremental improvement with the All-I option.  Just make sure you have a fast enough memory card to handle the extra data.  We recommend the Sandisk Extreme Pro series.  Since Magic Lantern unlocks even more data rate options, you’ll be glad you spent a little extra for the higher-speed card.

    Give it some glass!  If you wanted performance like this ten years ago, you would have spent, literally, $250,000 or more on the camera body.  Why would you shoot through a $99 lens?  The 24-105mm is the logical walking-around lens, since the IS will help on the shoulder mount.  But you can get 2+ more stops of light out of a prime kit.  Take a prime lens kit out for a shoot at night and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  The limiting factor on almost every shoot in 2013 isn’t the camera, it’s the lenses.

    Accessorize.  If you want results that look like film, you need to shoot like film.  Having a nice matte box on rails, follow-focus, filters, and monitor can be a huge boost to image quality and productivity on set.

    If you’re on the fence about buying your own 6D, consider renting the 6D from us and letting us know how you liked it!

    Posted by Jon Kline

  6. Keys to a Great Demo Reel

    In the days before internet video, the reel was an essential piece of self-marketing, the capstone on top of a polished resume and project list.  These days, a killer reel can give you a leg up on the competition, especially if you’re trying to make new contacts, or stand out in a field of dozens of candidates.  In the world of social media, each of us is our own brand, and it’s up to us to make a sizzle reel that gets potential clients excited.  Here’s my top ten list for how to make a reel jump through the screen and get gigs on your calendar.

    1. Start at the top.  In almost every other video, you want to build to a climax.  With a reel, you’re starting at the end of the third act.  Open with something awesome, and set the bar high.

    2. Keep it short.  There is no reason a reel should be more than 90 seconds, ever.  Closer to 60 makes even more sense.  If the audience needs more, make them click “replay.”  A good reel should be short enough to make them ask questions, and they should still remember the beginning when they get to the end.

    3. Stay specific.  Don’t show me one project you edited, another you wrote, and a third you were assistant camera on.  I’ll just assume you have no idea what you want to do with your career.  If you really want to showcase your work in multiple positions, try making a different reel for each category of work.

    film4. Don’t cheat!  I’ve gotten reels where I KNOW who actually worked on the project, and it wasn’t the person who was taking credit.  I assure you, your resume will end up at the bottom of the pile for a very long time if you take credit where you haven’t earned it.

    5.  Over-text is so 2009.   In montage (sometimes called “collage”)  reels, pacing is more important than context.  You can give the viewer context in the video title, in the video description, and in the email you send with the video link.  We don’t need something to read while we’re supposed to be watching what you’ve done.  A long list of brands or campaigns will take us out of the visuals and turn your reel into a video resume.  If you’re making a scene reel (where you’re only showing 3-4 excerpts each about twenty seconds long) a very short description may be appropriate.  Personally, I think scene reels are too short to be useful, and just long enough to risk being boring.  If I’m hiring a director or editor,  I will ask to see some other work samples, and this is where I learn about their ability to cut together scenes and tell stories.

    6. Don’t just cut to the beat!  I’ve seen other people suggest just exactly that, and it’s terrible advice.  The term for this is “Mickey Mouse Editing” and it will seem amateurish and predictable.  Use the motion within the shots to connect with the music. Finding the internal rhythm of the clips will seem more professional, and leave the audience wanting more.  If you’re not a pro editor, consider hiring someone to edit it for you.   A professional editor will also be a big help if you’re trying to mix multiple formats, frame rates, and aspect ratios in a single reel.

    7. End your reel with a simple way for your audience to get in touch with you.  This is where it’s okay to use text and logos.

    8. Put it online.  Of course, you should probably have a hard copy of it with you if you’re in an interview, but these days we expect everything to be online. Sites like Vimeo and YouTube make it very easy.

    9. Ask for feedback.  Your audience will see things that you don’t, and be confused more easily than you might expect.  Show your friends, show your mom, and definitely show other people in the industry.  Try to listen without being defensive.  Remember, you won’t be there to defend your reel when a potential gig is on the line.

    10. Keep it fresh.  I suggest updating your reel at least once a year.  If you’re continuously improving, then your most recent work should always be your best, so show it off!

    So go cut a killer reel, get it online, and share it!  Post it in the comments and we’ll even give feedback!

    Jon Kline is a Cinematographer/DP living in Chicago.  You can see his reel here.


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