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Camera Geek Alert – Sony RX1 Hands-On Review

Small cameras with big sensors are clearly an important part of the future. From the shockingly affordable cinema cameras from Blackmagic Designs to my beloved Olympus E-M5, it’s clear to see that camera manufacturers are responding to a demand for compact camera systems. Sony is up there toward the front of the “big sensor/small camera” charge and seem to be pushing the technology forward, with last years Cybershot RX100, and now this years Cybershot RX1, which packs a full-frame 35mm sensor into a camera body that could almost fit in your pocket.  

All that goodness comes at a price though. When the camera was first announced, my studio geeked out a little since we often get advanced or first run versions. Such was the case with the RX-1. Being camera nerdy we dug into the thing as soon as it arrived via pals at BorrowLenses

My first comment? “Interesting form factor.”

Erik’s first comment? “I just can’t see myself dropping nearly $3,000 for a fixed-lens camera, no matter what kinda guts it has.”

Norton’s first comment? “Gotta give this a chance since its got 24 MegaPixels, ISO 100-25600, dedicated focus, iris and macro rings, and 5 fps burst mode”

Fair ’nuff. We were heading into an intense month of work and travel ahead, so Erik carted this thing around for a few weeks (Thanks E)… Initially it arrived just in time for our Chase Jarvis LIVE broadcast with Julien Smith and the badass band My Goodness.  During our setup/soundcheck day, between directing duties, we snagged a few of our first shots with the RX1.

James Franco (or Norton. I can't remember) standing in for lighting before the band arrived.

My Goodness

Erik’s Notes. The RX1 feels great in use.  It’s much smaller than I expected it to be, but the sizable lens, with it’s manual focus and aperture controls built-in, give it just the right amount of grip.  The layout of the rest of the controls are great too.  Just about every function I care about has a dedicated button, and I love the exposure compensation dial on the top.  My only problem with the build of the camera is the lack of a viewfinder, which can be purchased separately for a billion dollars.  Quick personal note to camera manufacturers… Stop skimping on built-in viewfinders.  I’d MUCH rather have even a POS viewfinder than the nicest pop-up flash you can make.  The Olympus EM-5 got it right by building the viewfinder into the body and including an add-on flash with the kit.  I use that viewfinder every time I shoot with the camera and I have never once used the flash.  Sorry, back to the RX1…

My thoughts: The fixed 35mm Zeiss Sonnar f/2 lens is pretty dope, though for the price of the camera it would have been nice to seen that lens be able to come off the body.  It’s a tasty beast, but the inability to swap lenses is going to be a big turn off for people. Concession: luckily Sony picked a sweet-spot of a focal length to stick us with.  So while the camera has no zoom, I’ve got legs – the best zoom in the business. So shooting both wide shots and closeups isn’t that big of a problem.

My Goodness

Joel from My Goodness

After the Chase Jarvis LIVE broadcast, we tidied up the studio and packed our camera bags for a commercial shoot in Belize.  Since Erik would be shooting video primarily with a main kit consisted of a couple of Canon 5D mkiii’s with a handful of lenses (ie a handful) any other cameras would pretty much only be used for casual snapshots while we weren’t working.  It would be a perfect setting to test the RX1. Erik’s confession: “I still brought my Olympus E-M5 kit.”  Seemed he just couldn’t fully commit to being stuck with one lens in such a beautiful place.  That plain ol’ 35mm lens just couldn’t keep him covered, and here’s a good example:

Blue Hole Belize

Flying over the Great Blue Hole, E had to time my shots just right to get the composition I wanted.  I was focused on hanging out of the helicopter and directing the pilot, so it was catch and catch can for Erik’s personal photos. His gripe: “This shot would have been exactly what I wanted if I could have zoomed out just a little bit.

Back to Erik for some more details: When the days calmed down and the mood was more casual, the RX1 became a delight to shoot with. The camera is really small and unobtrusive, yet still totally sweet looking.  It’s a great conversation starter, and you feel like a Rockefeller when the inevitable “so how much does that cost?” question rolls around.

Let’s talk about the leaf shutter, which is built into the lens, thus saving space inside the camera body and aiding the RX1 in retaining its slender girlish figure.  It’s also slightly quieter than a butterfly hiccup, and I hate it.  I’m genuinely curious to know if anyone agrees with me that a quiet shutter is super unsatisfying.  I know this is entirely superficial, but I like my camera to make a little noise when I take the shot.  I wanna feel something mechanical move.  It should be a point of praise for the smooth functionality of the camera, and it must be great for those weirdos who want to discreetly take pictures of strangers, but I can’t get behind it.  I want motor-driving to sound like a motor driving.

My overall reaction (chase):
The image quality is all fine and good.  The above image was shot by Erik at ISO 2500 and still looks pretty clean.  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a relatively spendy camera that doesn’t produce a nice image at high ISO’s, so image quality in new cameras isn’t nearly as much of a concern to me – especially since it’s not my “pro” camera.  I’m much more interested these days in the experience of using a camera.  Is the camera fun to shoot with?  The RX1 is pretty cool, but the lack of a built-in viewfinder (ala Erik’s point earlier) made me miss it. Also like E I found myself reaching for my Olympus E-M5 instead of the RX1 on several occasions.  I will say that I am interested to see what the future holds for this camera line and I hope Sony continues to push the compact camera envelope. We all win when that happens, regardless of camera choice.

Erik’s roundup. So is it worth the nearly $3,000 price tag?  For my money, no, but here’s my recommendation; everyone who’s reading this should go buy it.  Create a huge market for compact full-frame cameras and give Sony the motivation to develop an upgraded version of the RX1 with interchangeable lenses.  Now THAT’S something I’d buy.

ISO 1600 - f/2.0 - 1/100 sec

ISO 800 - f/2.8 - 13 second exposure

The Best Camera — The Everyday, Can Do No Wrong Camera Kit

One of the most common questions we hear from all of you is, “What is your everyday kit?” Our digital cinema guru, Erik, wanted to take a minute to chat gear with you and answer that question from his perspective. Please give him another warm welcome… This post is another installment of a series that our staff is doing about the gear that we consider essential for our work…the stuff we don’t leave home without. -Chase

Thanks Chase. As I sit here on my couch writing this blog post, I’m surrounded by no less than 22 cameras in my living room alone.  Some are decorations, some are used on occasion, some are only used for video shoots, and one gets used every. damn. day. I’m a collector [read: junkie] and I can’t get enough cameras, so when one becomes a regular fixture of my daily creative arsenal, it’s worth taking a moment to recognize its greatness.  Right now that camera is the Olympus OMD E-M5.  I picked mine up last may, and have since taken it around the world and shot the hell out of it.  My kit consists of the E-M5 camera body, an Olympus 14-150mm f/4-5.6 lens and a Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens, all wrapped up in a Think Tank Retrospective 30 shoulder bag. It’s a simple setup, but it’s yielded results good enough for me to keep bringing it out of the house while my bigass DSLR kit stays on the shelf.

There’s a lot to love about the E-M5.  It’s weather sealed, it’s got a slick retro design, and the image stabilization is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  But for me, the camera really shines in two categories: speed, and low light capability.  Everything about this camera is fast, from the startup time to the autofocus to the frames per second it can fire.  Even the layout of the buttons and dials make for a brisk shooting pace.  In regards to low light, the image quality holds up quite nicely at high ISO’s.  I don’t like to use a flash, so this is a huge bonus for me.  ISO 3200 on the E-M5 looks like ISO 1000 on my Canon 7D, it’s crazy, and everything shot at ISO 1000 or lower looks the same, so grain and noise are rarely a concern.  Throw the cameras insane 5 axis image stabilization into the mix [which allows for shooting at slower shutter speeds] and you can shoot in the dark with results like this [click to enlarge]:

This picture was shot at ISO 3200, f/1.7 at 1/13th of a second. If you can't do the photo math on that, trust me, it was dark.

Now let’s talk lenses.  Keeping my kit lightweight is important to me, so I’ve paired it down to just two lenses; the 14-150mm zoom, and the 20mm pancake lens.  The zoom lens keeps me covered for just about everything I want to shoot as long as there’s enough light.  With the 2x crop factor on the E-M5’s sensor, it’s effective focal length is 28-300mm.  That’s some range.  Check out these shots from our recent trip to Villefranche for an example.  They’re shot from the same spot using the same lens zoomed all the way out on the left, and all the way in on the right.

The only drawback to this lens is that its aperture is a little “slow”. The widest aperture on the lens is f/4, and f/5.6 when zoomed to 150mm.  While that’s fine and good for bright landscapes, it doesn’t lend itself well for indoor or night photography.  This is when I switch to the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens.  This was the first lens I picked up when I started using a micro four thirds camera 2 years ago [the Panasonic GF1], and it might be my favorite lens of all time.  It’s super sharp, it’s tiny, and it can see in the dark [as shown in the above photo of Mike Horn holding the giant wine bottle].  Its focal length is a sweet spot in my opinion.  At 20mm, or 40mm equivalent with the crop factor, you can take a few steps closer to your subject and take a portrait with no weird lens distortion, or take a few steps back and get a wide shot with no lens compression.  Here’s a portrait of Norton looking like a baller on Fancy Friday, shot with the 20mm:

And here’s a landscape from the Guardian Peak Winery in Stellenbosch South Africa, also shot with the 20mm:

The final component of this camera kit that I think is worth mentioning is the oh-so-classy Think Tank Retrospective 30 shoulder bag.  Think Tank nailed the design of this bag with one simple characteristic that ALL other camera bag manufacturers need to take note of; it doesn’t look like a camera bag.  There are no bigass logos anywhere to found, no hideous bright green interior, no giant awkward straps for securing tripods or trekking poles or whatever else you wanna weigh yourself down with.  This bag looks like something your cool grandpa handed down to you after he retired from chasing his secretary around.  The bag is smart too.  I love the deployable “Sound Silencers” that cover up the velcro so you’re not the noisy photographer swapping gear in and out of their bag.  The Retrospective 30 is my preference since it holds my camera body, lenses, batteries, and the occasional iPad with room to spare, but they make them in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, so check out their website to see if they have what’s right for you.

I hope you found something useful from this minimalist approach to photography.  If you’d like to try any of this photo gear out, it’s all available to rent from BorrowLenses.com.  Feel free to tell us about your walkaround kit in the comments section and, as always, keep snapping.


5 Things GoPro Nailed with the Hero3 and Why You Need To Care (NOW)

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GoProHero3Hey friends – want to take a second to re-introduce Erik, my on-staff video guru. He’s been with us for a few years now and, as a film school grad and long time commercial shooter, his opinions are a great asset to my own. One thing we’ve both agreed to lately? That GoPro is an amazing company and–it’s becoming increasingly clear–they really understand what their consumers want. So I’m kicking this one to E-rock (affectionate nickname) for his opinion on GoPro and their increasing success…

Thanks Chase. Erik here folks. A few weeks ago when GoPro announced the new Hero3 cameras, we were lucky enough to be in attendance for the unveiling and even luckier to walk away from the event with a Hero3 Black Edition in hand – one of just a handful in existence.  To date, they have listened to feedback and made big improvements on each iteration of their Hero camera line and this is no exception.  The Hero3 Black Edition is a perfect example of their ingenuity.  Of course the image  quality has been improved and 4K is cool and all, but take a spin through the number tabs above this post and read about the 5 new features that I find most useful on the new Hero3.

Impossible Pictures of Pictures

Impossible Instant LabHey photo friends, Erik here with my quick 2 cents on a new product that has sparked some debate here in the CJ Studio. The Impossible Project has a Kickstarter campaign for their new “Impossible Instant Lab”, which will “transform your digital iPhone images into real instant photographs that you can touch, caress and share with friends.”   Take a look at the Kickstarter video for all the details:

I should love this thing.  I mean, it combines Polaroids with iPhone Photography with Kickstarter! What’s more hip and awesome than that?  The charm wears off for me quickly though when I realize that all of this is just taking pictures of pictures.  Is there any artistic merit here?  I respect the tangible nature of instant analog photography, but more than that I respect the difficulty, unpredictability, and commitment it takes to do it well.  In my opinion, all of that is lost when you’re using an instant camera more or less as a printer that connects to your iPhone. We LOVE our iphone dearly, but this gadget isn’t about that. Does an analogue printer of digital undermine instant analogue photography?

What do you think? Like I said, I should love this thing, but I don’t know

What the Foap?! How to Sell Your iPhone Photos [But is it Worth It?]

The iPhone application Foap says $10. Actually…$5 after they take their cut. Here’s the rundown…
Foap is a micro stock photography app made exclusively for iPhone photography. You upload your photos for review using their app, and then when/if they’re approved they become available for purchase in their market for editorial or commercial use by third party companies. There’s no end to the number of times a single photo can be sold (at the fixed $10 rate), so there’s a lot of potential to earn money  ($5 per sold photo) if your work is popular enough.


So what do you think? Sound like a good deal? Personally, I’m torn about whether or not I like this concept. Photographers get an incredibly easy way to put their photos on the market, buyers get super cheap images, and Foap gets to split the profits. So who wins in this scenario? Have any of you used this or other micro stock photography services with any success?

If this sounds intriguing to you, check out the Foap site for more information, or better yet, take the app for a test drive.

Bio of a Commercial Shoot: 9 Days in 4.5 Minutes

Last year during our winter photo/video campaign for REI, Chase asked me to shoot a few behind the scenes stills every day to contribute to his Diary of a Shoot blog series. The following is what he got in return. This is what happens when you ask the video guy to shoot stills.

Too fast for you? Take spin through Chase’s blog series for the daily play by play of the shoot. It’s packed with useful information.

The music is “Eyes Be Closed” by Washed Out. If you dig it, you can buy it here.

60-Second Video Portrait of the Debonaire Mike Relm

Here’s another 60 Second Portrait, starring Mike Relm this time. I shot this after our recent episode of chasejarvisLIVE. If you dig it, check out the rest of my 60 Second Portraits here.

My Favorite CameraBag of Tricks

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Camera Bag 1 on Chase Jarvis BlogHey photo friends. Erik here with a quick recommendation for an inexpensive photo editing solution.  I’ve been playing around with the CameraBag 2desktop software for the last couple months and I’m blown away at the capabilities packed into this affordable editing tool.  If you’re new to photo editing and wanna save a few bucks, or you’re like me and find inspiration in trying out new photo apps, I highly recommend you download this software. [20 sample photos by clicking the image tabs above…]

Here are my 3 favorite features:

1. Presets: CameraBag 2 is loaded with dozens of awesome presets. Scott recently wrote a blog post and then another blog post about the pros and cons of using presets. It sparked considerable debate and it was a pretty even split between the fans and the naysayers. I am a fan. Presets are a throw back to the inherent experimentation that photographers had with film and help to discover new possibilities and styles. It’s great way to take a fresh look at your photos. But, even as a fan, I believe that presets are useless without the following functions.

2. Customization: The “Style” presets are customizable via the built-in “Remix” slider. It’s fast and it’s slick. The software also comes preloaded with about 80 presets in the “Favorites” tab that, when applied to your photo, display every effect and adjustment in play at the bottom of the screen. You can tweak each effect and rearrange them to see how the order affects the final image. Infinite customization.

3. Quicklook: The Quicklook view is just plain badass. Clicking it gives you a proof-sheet view of options for styles, adjustments, borders, or favorites. Executed as a full-screen, side-by-side preview of what’s possible it is a speedy and brilliant tool to find the aesthetic you’re looking for.

That’s just a handful of notable features. Be sure to take a spin through this gallery of images atop this post that features before and after shots (from some of my bts snapshots). More questions? Checkout the CameraBag 2 website

Selective Focus Can Be Your Friend — Tilt Photography on the Cheap

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Hey photo friends – Erik here. While I’m typically the video guy around these parts,  I wanted to hop on the blog to quickly tell you about a piece of camera gear that I’ve been enjoying lately.  I picked up a Tilt Transformer from Lensbaby about a month ago and it’s now a permanent piece of my walk-around photography kit.  The Tilt Transformer allows you to mount your Nikon lenses to a Micro Four Thirds or Sony NEX camera and then swivel the Tilt Transformer around for some dramatic selective focus shots. Tilting the lens creates a “slice” of focus that can be adjusted vertically, horizontally, or diagonally, and the size of the focus slice can be adjusted by changing the aperture on the lens.  It’s a great way to create tilt-shift style photography for a fraction of the price of a single tilt-shift lens.

Q: What is the benefit of a tilt or tilt/shift lens?
A: The benefit of a tilt (or tilt/shift) lens can be myriad, but mostly it’s incredibly effective at removing visual noise and focusing or drawing the viewer’s eye to the intended subject.

Use the image tabs atop this post to take a spin through a gallery of photos I shot with it and my Olympus E-P3 and see what I mean. Also take a peek at the Lensbaby site for more details.

The 50 Greatest Cameras of All Time?

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50 greatest camerasHey photo friends, Erik here.  I recently stumbled upon Photography Monthly’s article on “The 50 Greatest Cameras of All Time”.  I was a little surprised that my beloved Olympus E-P3 didn’t make their list, but I put together this little collection of some of my other favorites with some bits of information about them for your perusal. 

And whoa are there some doozies in there. The list is fascinating, lots of history and indications of the future. Click thru the gallery tabs above to see the rest of the cameras and then let us know what your favorites are – whether they’re on the list or not. Commentary? Why do you love em? Inquiring minds want to know…

Buying Mics & Hacking Audio for Your DSLR Video Setup

Zoom H4n on D7000HDSLR video is a great way to get high quality footage on a micro budget; and a great way to keep that budget micro is to be picky about what accessories are right for your setup.  I recently received an email question focused on this and–in particular–if I had to choose between the Rode Stereo Videomic or the Zoom H4n, which would I use?  So here’s a little background on my thinking…

1. Cost. They cost roughly the same amount, and I use both on a regular basis, so the question is a tough one.
2. The Rode. I recently did a blog post about the Rode Mic a few months ago. You should read it, but to summarize; I love the thing for its straight forward simplicity.  It allows me to just shoot and not worry about sound, but…
3. The Zoom. …When I DO need to worry about the sound (such as an interview or a scene in a narrative film) I bust out the Zoom H4n. It captures better files that the straight camera – remember it’s sole function is audio.

So, while my preference is to have both, if forced to chose one, I would buy the H4n. Here’s why: with a little hack, spending a little more cash and buying one extra cable plus a hot shoe adapter you can turn the Zoom H4n into a badass on-camera mic. Here’s how:

First, get a hot shoe adapter like this one and mount your H4n on top of your camera.

Second, plug this line-out splitter into the headphone jack of the H4n and plug the male end of it into the mic input on your camera.  Now your camera will record what the H4n’s microphones are picking up and your H4n will record a high quality, AGC (automatic gain control) free backup file.

Third, you can even monitor what the H4n is recording with 1/8” headphone jack on the fancy new cable you bought.

Lastly, an important tip. Make sure the H4n is recording!  It’s easy to forget to start your audio recorder when the director just yells “Roll camera!”.

This is a little more of piecemeal one-man-band kinda setup than using just a microphone like the Rode, so make sure you’re familiar enough with your equipment to make it work properly without slowing down the production while you make adjustments.  You’ll probably be in the role of be being audio guy and camera guy, so make sure to practice to get good at both.

Here’s an enlarged image of the thumbnail above, highlighting the cabling. Keep in mind that these cables were purchased at RadioShack a while back just to test out my original hack job/experiment. If you buy the cables I linked to above from B&H, your setup will look much slicker than this first attempt pictured here.

Zoom H4n on D7000

Here’s a picture of my setup with cables purchased at RadioShack. If you buy the cables I linked to above, your setup will look much slicker than mine.

When The Music Matters–Interview with Commercial Composer McKenzie Stubbert

McKenzie Stubbert in StudioErik here…As the resident video editor here at Chase Jarvis Inc, I’m on a never ending search for music. Often times the music drives the edit. The rhythm of the music can have a huge influence on the pace for the cuts and the mood can make a hilarious moment tragic. In other instances I get the luxury of having custom music created which is based on my edit of the footage. When that opportunity presents itself, we reach out to skilled composer and our frequent collaborator, McKenzie Stubbert. Most recently he created the music for our ‘Dasein: The Art of Being’ documentary. While putting the finishing touches on the score in his Portland studio, I seized the opportunity to pick his brain a little about what he does.

How did this become a career for you? What’s your musical background?
I started music/piano lessons at around four years old. With the combination of supportive parents who encouraged and paid for lessons and a school system that still had money for music, I was able to get a lot of opportunities to practice and perform. After high school I went to music school and got a fairly formal education focused on composition. After that I had to teach myself the technological and business side of being a composer who can earn a living. They didn’t teach me those things in college. Add that on top of a basic natural ability for music and voracious appetite for all forms of art and…ta-dah!

How would you describe your “sound”?
McKenzie Stubbert in Studio 2I’m still working on this and in a way hope that I never firmly land and stay anywhere. At one point a friend described what I write as “sad clown music” with “twinkles”. While I haven’t written circus music in a while, I’m still drawn to more melancholy harmonies and icy/metallic textures. But, as a commercial composer, I try to be versatile and write to the needs of the creative goal. Sometimes that means writing something quite different from what I would normally write for myself.


What are the various ways you get hired? How do you market yourself?
The adage “you’ve gotta know a guy” is still true. This translates into trying to get to know a lot of people.

At one point, I spent about a month solid calling and emailing people around the country trying to get them to check out my work. It netted about a 1% return. I’ve found that it’s very important to have good work and a clean website with which to share. My good friend Jason Glaspey (interactive wizard) told me that “your website needs to tell a story and, in this case, the story is: ‘I am good at what I do. I am available for hire and here are some examples of work I’ve done, and people I’ve worked with. When you’re ready to hire me, here’s how to get in touch.'” His advice helped me focus everything about my approach.

I still have to contact a lot of people. Looking for work doesn’t really ever stop But, the more projects I work on, the moreMcKenzie Stubbert Studio people become familiar with my work and no longer need to be convinced that I’m good enough at what I do to be hired.

I’m certainly guilty of coming to you on several occasions with my hat in my hands, hoping you’ll compose some magic for a project with a challenging budget or timeframe, how do you decide what projects are worth your time and effort?
With every project there are three possibilities:
1) The people are good.
2) The project is good.
3) The money is good.

I have to have two of those to take the job. This isn’t a philosophy of my own invention but one that I try to abide by.

McKenzie Stubbert Studio 4Talking specifically about our Dasein documentary, what about that video made you want to take it on?
I’m always looking for projects that are so good that if I saw it later and didn’t work on it I would be really annoyed. Also, I’m a sucker for slo-mo b/w film of New York. Chase and Co make pretty pictures that are hard to resist.

What’s your process like?  Where do you start?  Do you start writing right away or do you allow time for the content to simmer?
How much time I spend before I start writing is directly related to how much time there is before the music is due. Each project is essentially a puzzle which needs the right sounding piece to fit in the space. In designing the piece I have to decide what the sound should be. What is the vibe/groove/feel/etc?. The real writing often doesn’t start until I’ve solved this problem.

I’m always impressed by your ability to take your musical cues from moments in films that I never expected. Can you give some examples of that in the Dasein video?
The Dasein logo that spreads out was an obvious “hit point”. It was actually my wife who said, “I want to hear a deep sound like a helicopter there”. That ended up shaping the pulsing sound that kind of anchors the entire piece. Also, the nature of the slo-mo b/w footage suggested a kind of dream was happening. Almost as if Chase is talking and remembering everything that you are seeing.

What equipment do you use to compose your music?
I use a Radio Shack tape recorder and make every sound you hear with my mouth and a piece of wax paper.

And…Apple Logic and myriad of virtual instruments. The Kontakt player is pretty vital to me.

How do you figure pricing/licensing for your work?
Usage is key. A 30 second spot for a tiny website is going to cost way less than a 30 second national TV spot. But that cost always seems to change. It would be much easier if there was a national index I could consult every morning like I was selling gold. Well…I am selling gold, but just not the kind that everyone can agree on. Music has value only McKenzie Stubbert Studio 5when everyone agrees on it. It can be tricky to know what that is because people are essentially guessing based on their previous guess, then using that new guess as the precedent for the next guess. All that to say I try to do my best to come up with a number that’s fair to all involved.

What advice can you give about maintaining relationships with clients and collaborators?
Frank Zappa said “talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” Being that the very subject of my work is often hard to discuss, I try to be as clear as possible when it comes to every other aspect of my work. Before I send off every email to a client I ask myself…am I being/have they been clear? Clarity of language is key for me. It’s important for me to document what decisions are being made at every step so we can refer to those as we go along the process of the project. I also try to remember that this isn’t a commissioned work of art. What I’m doing has to serve not only the project, but the client’s desires for the project. I find that when I convey that goal to my clients, they trust my instincts a bit more.



For a refresher of what McKenzie does, give Dasein: The Art of Being a LISTEN:

Gear Details: How We Shot “Dasein: Art of Being” Documentary

NYC street doc setupHey friends.  Erik the video guy here. We’ve had a bunch of YOUR questions come in about what gear/process/technique we used to make the Dasein docu-short we posted a couple days ago so I thought I’d chime in with a quick gear- and technique-specific follow up on how this film was made. 

First, Chase was the director on the project but wanted to remain focused simply on the overall look and feel. Plus, since he was in front of the camera most of the time, he specifically did NOT want to get sucked into all the details to get the look he wanted, so that put me squarely in the Director of Photography (DP) role, in charge of all the details he wanted to avoid. This worked out great – we collaborate really well in this capacity.

Since I knew heading to New York that we’d be working at all hours, around Chase’s crazy schedule and with no permits, no location assistance, and (in the best way) no solid plan on when and where we would be shooting, I made the call that one of our main objectives was to stay light and quick with our gear selection.

Given that an important part of this short film is about time–creating time in your life for creativity–Chase wanted the film shot in a way that arrested time visually…that is, he wanted it shot in slow motion. This was a part of the initial treatment he’d written for the piece. And while we originally discussed shooting with a RED One or Epic, I ultimately thought this might not mesh well with the “light/fast” motto I’d already decreed above. I wanted everything, minus the tripod and dolly, to fit in one bag – something I could manage by myself — in this case, one of our fav bags, the Lowepro Classified 250 shoulder bag. And it’s small…

So here’s what I lugged around:

NYC street doc setup

Let’s start with the CAMERA/LENS SELECTION. Factoring that Chase wanted the high frame rate, that he’d not be shooting at all–only directing–, PLUS the limited budget he’d allocated to make this film happen (not enough to bring in a RED and a bunch of primes for a month), I made the call that I would simply use my own personal camera/lens gear. So I shot the piece with my Canon 7D. I’m good with a range of cameras, but the 7D made sense because it gave the film 60p slow motion that Chase required, plus it was small, very light, and since I own it personally, it was free. I also carried 3 of my own lenses; the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC, the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, and an old Nikon manual 85mm f/1.8 with a Nikon-EOS adapter.  They’re nothing fancy, but I was sure they’d do the job. The Tamron is a great all-purpose lens and the vibration compensation is fantastic for shooting handheld.  Most of the footage was captured with that lens.  I used the Tokina the least, but was great when Chase wanted a dramatically wide shot, and the Nikon 85mm was for when we needed that extra bit of focal length and space compression.

  We captured Chase’s interviews with a Sennheiser Evolution G3 wireless lavalier set and a Zoom H4n Handy Recorder.  Pretty straight forward, not too exciting, so let’s move on to the really fun stuff…

CAMERA SUPPORT:  For this project we acquired two of my new favorite toys; the Zacuto EVF Pro and the Kessler Pocket Dolly.  These two products are brilliant on their own, but when their powers combine they create a silky smooth shooting experience.

Zacuto EVF and Kessler Pocket Dolly

The Zacuto EVF is an amazingly powerful LCD monitor packed into a compact and lightweight package.  It’s powered by the same battery that the Canon 5D/7D use and offers a plethora of helpful functions such as monochrome viewing (very helpful when you’re filming a documentary that will be black and white in the end), zebra stripes and false color for checking exposure, focus peaking assist (my personal favorite), frame lines, and a lot more.  The monitor works with or without a Z-Finder snapped onto it, and on the Pro and Flip models the Z-Finder mounting frame swings up to get out of your way when you don’t need it while keeping the Z-Finder close by so you can quickly snap it back into action.

Zacuto EVF Pro on Canon 7D

The ultra portable Kessler Pocket Dolly was great for getting some much needed movement into our shots.  We got ours with the optional outrigger feet for shooting low to the ground, and the feet are adjustable so you can maintain a level dolly move on uneven surfaces.  The dolly also has various screw threads on the base so you can quickly secure it to a tripod.  It becomes a bit of a beast when it’s setup like that, but it breaks down pretty quickly when you need to move.  I’m always amazed at what a difference a little camera movement makes in video shots, even with just a little more than three feet of track.  I highly highly recommend it.

Kessler Pocket Dolly and Zacuto EVF

Like I said earlier, these two products make a great combination.  All of us on the CJ crew consider a dolly or some sort of moving camera support mandatory for capturing dynamic footage, and the addition of the Zacuto monitor is a great way to keep from having to lay down on the ground to see what you’re shooting from your worm’s eye view camera angle.

We cut the piece together using Apple Final Cut Pro. And we did all the color (B+W) grading in FCP as well.

So there ya go.  That was my setup, front to back. Hope you can dig into this stuff in more detail this weekend. And hopefully this post has showed you how–with some good artistic vision–a fairly minimalist video kit can produce dynamic results like this:

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